All bird images copyright by Roger Neckles
The Scarlet Ibis is Trinidad & Tobago’s national bird, found on Trinidad’s coastal and inland mangrove swamps such as the Caroni Swamp. During the day, it probes the mud with its long, curved beak searching for crustaceans such as Fiddler Crabs. In the evening, thousands of these birds fly in a “V” formation to their nests in the mangrove trees, a spectacular sight for all visitors. Sadly, mindless poachers who supply black market traders, such as unscrupulous restaurants owners and wild meat fanciers, persecute this protected breeding resident.
The Southern Lapwing, left, is a very elegant breeding migrant to our islands. The four subspecies can be distinguished by the variations in their facial markings. This is an aggressive bird that gives out a loud call when it is disturbed and farmers sometimes use it to guard their property. It is a terrestrial nester laying two to four eggs on the grass. The Lapwing sports a sharp red spur on the shoulder of each wing which it uses to wound predators by swooping down at high speed on the intruder and making contact with the spur.
Born in Trinidad, then raised and schooled in London, England, Roger Neckles is one of the Caribbean’s leading wildlife photographers and naturalists. His award-winning images have graced the pages of numerous international natural history books and magazines, including National Geographic, Natural History, Audubon, Wild Bird, Birding, Birdwatcher Digest, and Caribbean Beat.
He currently spends much of his time filming the native fauna and flora for film documentaries, filming threatened or endangered species and habitats through the region. He also occasionally finds himself on the other side of the camera, as in productions for the BBC and National Geographic. Roger considers one of many pinnacles in his career to be his association with two authoritative books: Birds of Trinidad and Tobago co-authored with Richard ffrench and released in May 2004, and his solo book An Introduction to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago Vol.-1.
Another highlight was a commission in 2001 by Trinidad and Tobago Postal Corporation (TTPost) to create 10 stamps featuring rare or threatened native species, followed by an additional 20 stamps, many still available in limited edition at selected TTPost outlets.
Roger has played an invaluable role as a conservation educator about Trinidad and Tobago’s unique fauna and flora. For nearly 20 years, he has taken his passion for wildlife to schools on both islands. “It is the area of my career that brings me the most satisfaction,” he says. Visit his Avifauna Tours website.
The Speckled Tanager, left, is one of the most sought after species in Trinidad. It prefers higher mountain elevations and is easily overlooked because its speckled plumage allows it to blend perfectly into its environment. This species travels in small loose flocks and often joins extended flocks of several other species of Tanagers and other forest dwelling birds (as many as 18 different species) which work together to flush insects from their hiding places.
One of the birdwatchers’ favorite resident species, the Red-capped Cardinal, right, is a very patriotic-looking species, sporting the colors of the Trinidad and Tobago flag. It is a localized bird that seems to pair for life, inhabiting mangrove swamps along Trinidad’s west coast where it feeds on insects, berries and buds. It especially likes areas where there are partially submerged sticks and dead bushes that protrude from the water or where bare shoreline is exposed. This gives easy access to insects hovering near the water’s edge.
Established by photographer Roger Neckles in 1983, Avifauna Tours was one of the earliest tour operators in Trinidad and Tobago catering to both amateur and avid birdwatchers. The company has built an enviable reputation for delivering authentic and memorable tours, reflecting a variety of budgets and special interests. Itineraries may be customized to the needs of individuals and groups of all ages and from all walks of life.
While specializing in birding tours, general nature tours are also a popular theme. As eco-tourism increases annually in this beautiful twin-island country, it is Avifauna Tours’ challenge to introduce visitors to its unique features, from Weeping Capuchin and Red Howler monkeys to exotic butterflies to a selection of its 460 bird species, all there to be discovered against a backdrop of rainforests, swamps, rugged coastlines and mist-shrouded mountains. Avifauna Tours, tel: 868-633-5614 (office); 868-788-5755 (cell).
The Orange-winged Parrot, right, is the most common member of the parrot family found in Trinidad and Tobago. This very gregarious species is seen in pairs or in extended flocks of several hundred, mainly at dusk or dawn. Quite an urbanized species, it pairs for life. The male feeds the female while she incubates the eggs, then they take turns feeding the young. They feed on a variety of vegetation and are considered pests by many because they frequently descend on cultivated lands to consume the growing produce.
The Violaceous Trogon, left, is one of three Trogan species in our islands. Found only on Trinidad, it has a rather sluggish disposition, often making it difficult to detect. Violaceous Trogons nest in termite nests and often scoop the termites into their feathers, causing the aggravated insects to douse them with formic acid, which in turn rids the bird of harmful mites.
The Rufous-tailed Jacamar, right, may appear to be a giant hummingbird 10 inches in length, but it is not related; in fact, it is more like the Eurasian Bee-Eater as it also nests in burrows excavated in sandy banks. It feeds almost exclusively on insects making short sallies, snatching them from the air and repeatedly returning to the same perch. The Jacamar is certainly one of the top ten most exotic species in Trinidad and Tobago, sporting metallic multi-colored wings.
Measuring 18 inches from beak to tail, the Blue-crowned Motmot, left, has a mesmerizing appeal for both nature lovers and birdwatchers. Legs are very short, not designed for hectic locomotion, so Motmots spend long periods perched on one spot, from which they pounce on prey. Close encounters are frequent in Tobago with observers getting to within a few feet of some individuals, whereas the Trinidad population is far more wary. Motmots nest in forest bank tunnels up to 10 feet long where they lay about four eggs.
Trinidad & Tobago’s official tourism website: www.gotrinidadandtobago.com. T&T’s Dry Season runs from January to May, and Wet Season from June to December. Recommended time to visit is the Dry Season when it is most pleasant to be outdoors and pursuing activities such as nature exploration, hiking, cycling or kayaking. Birding is a year round activity, but local experts concede that November through April is best for spotting the greatest variety.
Two more Trinidad articles in our collection: Check out our feature on Trinidad’s adventurous byways and backroads, and a spotlight on small, distinctive accommodations along the way.
Trinidad is a great place for a family to rent a holiday cottage on a beautiful clean sandy beach.
Love those birds? Visit our other popular photographic showcase and insightful commentary on the rare and endangered Birds of the Hawaiian Islands by Jack Jeffrey.
With 38 years experience, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours offers 140 birding and natural history tours and cruises to over 100 destinations. Expert leaders and local guides ensure fun, educational, and memorable trips, while supporting local conservation organizations. See tours to Belize, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Indonesia and the Galapagos Islands. www.ventbird.com.