Monday, July 9, 2018

The Caroni Wetlands

Little Blue Heron
One of the places I had really been looking forward to exploring was the Caroni Swamp. It's surrounded by wetlands and has a lot of birds not found at Asa Wright. 

Young birders discover a Boat-billed Heron
The Caroni Swamp is known for their endemic and national symbol, the Scarlet Ibis. I was really looking forward to seeing this amazing nightly show. But as I was doing my research, I had been seeing records of American Flamingos showing up in the swamp. Oh my gosh!  Would I finally get to see my first flamingos?!!

Masked Cardinal
As we made our way down into the mangrove area, we stopped and looked at reptiles, crabs and mammals.  In between it all were plenty of birds!  

Birders modeling appropriate swamp gear.  Note the stylish pants tucked into the socks.  This supposedly helps keep chiggers off your body.  It didn't work with me. 
On our way down to Caroni, I went with a group straight out of a birding outfit magazine.  They were all wearing the model gear and I had a laugh. And while writing that last line, I need to mention this info for you all interested in birding Trinidad or Tobago. No camouflage clothing in Trinidad or Tobago!  The guy on the right somehow lucked out.  They made a baby strip down to nothing but diapers in the airport because the kiddo was wearing camouflage.  Apparently this is military apparel and should only be worn by the military.  

Pied Water-Tyrant
Anyhow, for those of you familiar with Trinidad, they used to take people to a hotspot known as the Trincity Sewage Treatment plant.  Well, it's no longer there but there is another spot nearby found here.  There were caiman in the ponds so be careful.  The Pied Water-Tyrant was a friendly bird and reminded me of our Vermilion Flycatchers here in Tucson. 

juvenile Purple Gallinule, note the blue shield
We walked the tropical sludgery.  A storm was coming and I could feel it in the air! My body is a living barometer.  The higher the moisture; the more I sweat and get uncomfortable. Thankfully, I brought my umbrella with me everywhere I went. I had one big backpack.  It had my water container and umbrella. 

I walked carefully with our guide Magis along the muddy road keeping my eyes open for the large reptiles nearby.  

Eventually we boarded our boat and headed down the mangrove highway into the open waters of the swamp.  There we'd spy snakes and a few little Silky Anteaters all rolled up into a ball. 

the Trinidad tree boa is a common snake found resting in tree branches above the waters of the mangrove forests, the latin name is Dormilona(the sleeper) or Corallus ruschenbergerii

As the mangrove opened up to us, I had to make a decision.  My mouth dropped wide open.  To the left, we spied American Flamingos and on the right, it was Scarlet Ibis city. And in between, there were life birds galore.  I didn't know where to begin so I just did my best to document as best as I could.  No where on my trip would I see these birds again as they were hidden well within the boundaries of the preserve. 

Nelson was our group leader who has a lot of family history here at the Caroni Swamp.  His Grandfather proposed to save the wetlands decades ago and was beaten for getting the movement started. People wanted(and continue) to poach this area for food, but the swamp was decimated by locals who had almost destroyed this fragile ecosystem. Sadly, years later, he died from brain injuries. His father continued with the conservation project until his death.  And now, Nelson keeps an eye out and works within this very important wetlands.  Recently, as of last year, American Flamingos had returned to the swamp. When word got out, all 6 of these rare-to-Trinidad flamingos were shot and killed for their special meat.  What meat?! They are not endemic to the islands but they are protected as are the Scarlet Ibis. 

the subtle beauty of a Cocoi Heron
It is now up to Nelson and others to call upon the Trinidad government to monitor these waters from poachers. There are A LOT of poachers in Trinidad. I saw them sporadically during my bird searches.  When a visitor saw this flamingo massacre happen, he filmed it and put it on Facebook.  The government was horrified that people were viewing their country in this light and began patrolling the swamps once again to protect the sanctuary thanks to Nelson's suggestion and pressure from the international community. Recently, Nelson had some equipment stolen from his company.  The government is now helping him out to keep Caroni free of crime. It is really one of the few places to visit in Trinidad that holds a bit of magic for all travelers and locals alike. Today, due to the protections, this bird sanctuary is healing and many species are returning to the area in better numbers. 

And because of this government support and his efforts, over 100 hundred American Flamingos have returned to the swamp.  I had originally thought that the Scarlet Ibis would steal the show but it was the free Flamingo that stole my heart.  Have you ever seen a wild flamingo in flight?

Magis brought a nice cold bottle of rum punch with him and since I was on a boat full of kids, no one really touched the bottle.  I let my guard down and just began to relax and watch the incredible show at sunset!

How many times have I seen flamingos in the zoo and walked past them?  Finding them in the wild was a show stopper and a completely different experience.

juvenile Scarlet Ibis
The Scarlet Ibis, meanwhile, were flying in the thousands to their roosting place adding to the dramatic backdrop. 

The scarlet red colors dotting the vibrant green vegetation reminded me of a Christmas tree. Instead of lights, there were red bows. 

We parked our canoe boat as two flamingos flew over my head.  They were pink batons with wings. 

Some were very light pink while others were a darker rosy pink.  

Then a huge red flush surrounded us as the Scarlet Ibis went to roost one final time.

As we headed back in the dark, I had a nice buzz.  There was one last life bird that we spied on the way back.  I thought I had seen this bird before but I took the pics anyway as he hung out near the nest.  Come to find out I hadn't seen this bird!  So I'm glad I focused a bit.  The confusion?  The more tropical you go, the more names and hyphens are added. 

Black-throated Mango female
 This was clearly one of the mango species.  At the lodge, there is the Black-throated Mango.  And in the swamp, it's the Green-throated Mango.  Ok.  

When I submitted the list to ebird, I discovered an extra lifebird.  So I did the research and discovered that I had confused the Green-throated Mango with the similar sounding Green-breasted Mango we had seen in Costa Rica last year. That was a close one.  I would have kicked myself for missing this bird.  Note to self, relax on the rum punch:)

Green-breasted Mango
The wetlands were a real treat to see.  When I hear the word swamp, it doesn't sound so nice to me, but it really is a beautiful place where you can only find certain species of birds.  It was an easy trek on a boat and an enjoyable experience.  

As we left the shallow waters, I glanced one last time upon these little islands to memorize the landscape.  This will most likely be the last time I ever visit this place in my lifetime.  I hope it stays protected and beautiful forever. For my reports, click on the "here" button for more pictures of birds not mentioned in this post. 
For the new sewage treatment coordinates, click here.
For Caroni Swamp, click here.
In next week's report, we'll explore some of the superstars of the Trinidad birding world.  


  1. Beautiful post and photos. I want to go see this some day, love the Scarlet Ibis. But, all the birds are lovely. Happy Birding, enjoy your day!

  2. Looks like you got your Scarlet Ibis fix!! Incredible sight to see so many roost in the greenery. Wonderful pics of the Flamingos, too! My fav was probably the Pied Water-Tyrant. Good photos all the way!

  3. Wonderful photos and a fascinating blog to visit. You are having a great trip - I am so envious. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

  4. What a wonderful post and photos. It must have been amazing to see Flamingos in the wild - am so envious! :) And I just love the Scarlet Ibis.


Thanks for stopping by!