Monday, July 2, 2018

The Asa Wright Nature Centre

Over the years, I had heard birders and photographers speak fondly of a place known as the Asa Wright Nature Centre.  I didn't know much about the place until I did some research. At that point, I understood why people had fallen in love with this lodge. It truly is the national gem of Trinidad for international travelers and locals alike.  It was the first time I saw a nature lodge attract EVERYONE to the dinner table, not just people who wanted to bird. 

Located in the Trinidadian mountains covered in lush rain forest, this former cocoa plantation is now a protected area from poachers and people seeking to use the land for agriculture. It is home to hundreds of bird species and a place all birders must visit in their lifetimes. 

I didn't want to do anything predictable this year.  The word "Trinidad" made me curious.  Over the past several years, I've birded the Americas and wanted to do something different.  The place came highly recommended by friends who had visited the centre.  I called them up and made a reservation for a week and instantly fell in love. They picked me up at the airport and within 30 minutes I walked down this corridor of history to the veranda.  Like the thousands of visitors before me, I walked out to overlook this amazing world of forest.  For the days to follow, I would explore the grounds alone or with others. 

During my first day, I saw so much activity. Like a baby learning his first words, I began to say the bird names out loud for the first time. Not all of them rolled off my tongue like I had hoped.  However, after a few days, I was a pro and began calling out birds for people on the veranda. 

It is said that some locals kill and eat anything from the wild.  Several vacationing Trinidadians saw the Brazilian Agoutis(also known as the Red-rumped Agouti) and started talking about how great they tasted. They said the meat was tough so it had to be properly prepared.  I'll take their word for it.  It was the only time I saw agoutis on the island. 

The Bananquit(above) got into everything.  If you didn't watch your fruit dish, they'd sneak a piece off your plate. During my stay, I had hoped to see a Purple Honeycreeper as they are quite common at the lodge.....or so people had said.  But not once did I spy one.   

The infamous veranda was often VERY busy and full of people.  It was here I met Yosanna, my guide for the first couple days.  She is a kind soul and quickly became a new friend during my stay in Trinidad. The guy to the right is Nick.  He was a character. He's doing research right now on the vegetation around the property and trying to figure out a way to save the Trinidadian piping-guan, a critically endangered bird.  The centre would like to bring these guans back to the property and right now Nick is in charge of mapping out the forest. If they can find a way to establish a food source, they might have a chance to help bring this species back from the brink of extinction. 

Copper-rumped Hummingbird
The Centre is a popular place for photographers, specifically for people who love hummingbirds.  Oh my gods did people love their hummingbirds.  And with reason, the hummers are beautiful and also easy to ID! I met so many people who just sat on the veranda all day capturing hummers feeding from flowers. While there, I had 12 new species of hummingbirds flying around the patio and gardens. 

Crested Oropendula
Asa Wright is the name of the woman who had lived on the property until her death in 1971.  Much like the Tucson Audubon's Paton Center for Hummingbirds of Southern Arizona, it was purchased by a biological research group to preserve the grounds.  Today it is run by a non-profit group that meets twice a year to oversee the management, projects, funding and other matters concerning the Asa Wright Nature Centre.  While I was there, the board met for their bi-annual meeting.  It is made up of 11 Trinidadians and 10 foreign members. I don't know how it all works out for them, but as a person participating at the centre, it is really cool to see ALL people enjoying the property and not just international travelers. It gave me the unique opportunity to speak with others living on the island during our meals. 

Speaking of meals, when you get a place at Asa Wright, all your meals are included.  They served breakfast, lunch and dinner.  In between there was always coffee and tea.  And at 6 every night, there was rum punch!  And if you still craved to munch on something, they had a bar fully stocked with beer, chips and other goodies.  It really is a place for people to just go birding and enjoy.  There is no need to want as they take care of you during your stay. 

Hands down, the star of the hummingbird show at Asa, the male Tufted Coquette
Every morning I would wake up and find something new on the property.  It was so exciting.  After several days, I had to work hard to spot several birds like the very vocal Great Antshrikes.  Barred Antshrikes were super common and NOW I have their calls memorized.  Every movie that takes place in the tropics uses their calls.  wa ah ah ah ah, AH AH!  I had always thought those calls were monkeys.  Now I know better:)

Turquoise Tanager
The property is full of danger as well.  You need to be careful. Slippery trails, armies of biting ants, huge crabs that pinch and cool looking scorpions were just a few of the obstacles to avoid while in search of those cool looking birds. 

This is terrible to say but every time I saw this common crab, I got hungry.  They were aggressive suckers.  People crab just beyond the borders of Asa Wright.  They are not allowed to collect crabs on the grounds but we saw people just outside the border doing it.  Poaching was active and obvious on the island. 
There are two types of poisonous snakes that hang out on the trails. One is the Fer-de-lance.  And yes, I saw them.  I ALWAYS stayed on the trails because there were terrible bugs and snakes under the leaf litter. Sometimes you couldn't avoid the leaf litter and my legs were a casualty of these treks. Yes, I used every spray and powder possible but it never works on me. I even wore long pants with geeky socks covering up the bottom of my pants to keep the chiggers out.  It didn't work. One time I was SO careful that I got stabbed by a dangerous palm! When did palm trees become like a cactus?? The back of my leg was covered in spines and blood.  It acted very much like a Cholla cactus here in the Sonoran desert.  After that incident, I was super careful and avoided brushing against palms. 

Dog sized lizards known as the Tegu would slink from the bushes, recently split goes by the latin name, Tupinambis cryptus

It rained every day while we were there.  During those moments of sunshine, I utilized my time to capture the brilliance of their plumage and scales.  White-necked Jacobins(below) dominated the feeders and chased off many of the hummingbirds reminding me of our aggressive male Rufous Hummingbirds that buzz through this month in Southern Arizona. 

Violaceous Euphonias were also very common.  Their name is so strange to say.  There is a similar Euphonia called the Trinidad Euphonia.  I never did get to see them.  They have a blue throat and like to forage HIGH up in the canopy of the rain forest. 

Someone told me that Woody the Woodpecker was inspired by the Linneated Woodpecker below. 

My favorite part of the day was breakfast in the dining room.  There we had the best omelettes made from scratch.  

When the rain began to fall, it was out on the veranda.  Here we'd see birds of prey hanging out on branches waiting for the things to calm down. 

Double-toothed Kite
Between the breaks or after hikes, I'd go to my cabin below and shower.  It was very humid. 

During the course of my stay, I met so many amazing people.  The board was really a fun group of people. I met Julie Fannon of Caligo Ventures. This birding company is located in beautiful Portal, AZ of all places.  It's important to know the name of this company as they do exclusive packages with Asa Wright for birders from North America.  And I'm sure they do work with people outside of North America as well.  They will organize everything for you like your day trips, etc.  I didn't know that a lot of the day trips etc were scheduled with Caligo so I had a little bit of extra work to do on my own.  And I got it all done, but it would have been easier going through their company.  HOWEVER, I'm my own person and do much of my own guiding alone.  I am trained in the ways of the force:) and don't like going through 3rd parties if I don't have to.  I have spent thousands and thousands of hours researching places around the world.  And as a guide, I think it's important for me to figure things out on my own to keep me on my toes.  So one can lodge at Asa Wright and bird the property but if you are looking to do day trips that will require some planning.  Caligo Ventures makes it easy for you.  Julie was awesome and it was great to get to know her and the company better. 

It is my personal opinion that every birder should visit this historic place.  I saved money for it all as it can be a little pricey.  And I did A LOT of research before I went.  Asa Wright Nature Centre was an awesome experience.  It's Trinidad's national treasure and the country is VERY proud of this preserve.  I felt safe and protected.  I never went hungry.  The people were awesome and super friendly. If you are on a budget like I am, plan to go in the summer when it's the off season.  Rooms go for 150 dollars a night (but this also includes your meals and professional guides on the veranda). My plane ticket was also reasonable at around 600 dollars round trip.  This was a very special experience for me and I liked being a lone wolf.  People were surprised that I was traveling alone in Trinidad and not with a group.  I'm an independent one.  I'm the first born in my family and prefer doing things on my own often.  Asa Wright gave me that safety net to help prepare me for the week to follow on my own.  They say that one can get 40 lifers before breakfast right from the veranda and they weren't lying:)    

Our next visit will be to another Trinidadian gem, the Caroni Swamp/Wetlands.  Stay tuned for more fantastic adventures from Trinidad. 


  1. Wow, so many beauties in this post!

    1. Yes. Lots of colors the closer you get to the equator:) Even with all their bright colors, they're still stinkers to find:)

  2. Chris, after reading your post and seeing your photos. Asa Wright is high on my want to visit list. I will keep Caligo Ventures bookmarked. Wonderful report and photos.

    1. You'll love it Eileen. It's so easy to do. They pick you up at the airport and the rest is super fun. When you get to that point and have any questions, just FB me or email. Caligo and Peg Abbott are really good at getting it all put together for people.

  3. Wow! What an absolutely amazing place. Wonderful photos Chris. It sounds like the trip of a lifetime. So glad you saw so many species and enjoyed it so much :)

    1. Thank you. It was an interesting trip and I had fun. Every place is always so interesting and different.

  4. Think I'll pass on the actual trip and just enjoy your photos of the beauties......

    1. LOL! It's not for everyone, but the birds made it worthwhile:)

  5. We just came back from the Asa Wright Nature Centre!!!!
    Birded many places around the globe, by far Trinidad and Tobago and Asa Wright in particular has been my favourite. Close encounters with hummingbirds, toucans, bellbirds, motmots parrots and soooooo many others. Great value for many and really friendly people.My wife and I are already saving for a return visit next summer. It was that good!!!


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