Tobago: And then there were two
This is Part 5 (and final post) about our trip to Trinidad and Tobago.
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We bird the Gilpin Trace, which is the oldest trail in this UNESCO-listed Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve. The Main Ridge is a tropical rain forest with bromeliads, palm trees, cecropia trees and ferns and is well maintained. Birding is easy, but there are hills and valleys so I take it slow. Our guide, Jason is a superb birder and keeps his eye on our group of 12 as we search for birds. I can tell he’s keeping an eye on me because I’m taking up the rear. I make sure to give him a wave and say, “I’m good, you guys keep going,” so he doesn’t have to worry. Steve lingers back with me, also to make sure I don’t go missing. I’m used to being the slow one and have given up being too overly concerned about it.
Birding in a group–especially one as large as ours–can be tricky. Unless you can split up into smaller groups, the group is only as fast as the slowest person. It’s why I prefer traveling in much smaller groups and especially when it’s just Steve and me–just the two of us.
We find what I first think is the Blue-crowned Motmot, but this one is a darker version and so recently was split off and now this one is called Trinidad Motmot.
Motmots are always stunners and I don’t want to take my eyes off this shy bird while I have a chance to see it. Steve and I stay behind while the group goes ahead and are out of sight.
Then I’m stunned when we’re joined by a few goats on our trail. They skip down the path unconcerned with us and our search for birds. (Click video below.)
We look for the White-tailed Sabrewing, which is one of the world’s rarest hummingbirds. It was once thought to be extinct then was rediscovered in 1974. We don’t find it, though.
There are other birds I’m not finding because I stay back and spend time looking at the motmot and Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and I realize I’m not a lister or ticker, but really someone who just wants to watch birds. I want a moment with one bird at a time more than a list.
Jason takes our group to a mountain overlooking Bloody Bay. The bay has a different origin story depending on who you ask and both stories are part of the folk lore on Tobago. In the area loggers lived here and harvested the bloodwood tree for homes and furniture, sending it across the river to the mill. The red sap of the trees made the river that spills into the bay red, hence, Bloody Bay.
But there’s also another version of the story, which is the one I find most-referenced online. In 1666 the island was under British rule and the British defended Tobago in a brutal battle against France and Holland’s combined navies. The war took place at sea and though the British won, it was a devastating fight, leaving many dead, filling the bay with their blood.
We have said goodbyes to most of our group who left to go back to their homes in the US and I am relieved I don’t have to keep up with anyone. Steve and I stay an extra day to have some time to ourselves and we arrange to have Zee, our guide who led us on Little Tobago island, take us birding for a day. Finally, just the two of us–well, three of us when you count Zee.
The Collared Trogans (TWO!) are the highlight, giving us great looks for a very long time.
We skulk around a dense, shadowy forested area where there is no path, moving limbs and vines out of our way. I make sure to look for cleared areas to put my feet. It’s a little precarious leaving the security of a trail, but Zee hears a Blue-backed Manikin calling and we eventually find him. I cannot get a good picture of him, because I am no expert in using my camera in the shadows, so I eventually put down the camera and just watch the little bird sing and hop around as he looks for love.
Zee finds a Common Potoo doing his best imitation of looking like part of a branch. Just a few feet above the ground is a female White-lined Tanager. Sure, she’s a bit drab and perhaps not as impressive as the Potoo, the Collard Trogons or the Blue-backed Manikin, but I’m always happy to see the female birds as much as the males. It is the females that the males are all trying to impress, no?
Our last night in Tobago we eat dinner at the hotel. The fish of the day is still tuna and I order Angostura Lemon and Lime Bitters soda because I am still not tired of it. After dinner we move over to the outdoor couch just off the restaurant patio where we hear the surf lapping up onto the beach. I am sleepy and Steve is about to doze off when a man arrives and sets up a steel drum.
“Hey,” I say to Steve, nudging him awake with my elbow. “A steel drum! I don’t think we’ve heard any steel drums the whole time we’ve been here.” He opens his eyes to see the steel drum set up a few yards from us, nods and closes his eyes again as we listen to the steel drum version of the 80’s hit, “Just the Two of Us.”