David's Diaries 2007
Tobago February 3 to 17 2007
Though our Excel flight departed a little late, we landed in Tobago more or less on schedule at 4.55 local time. Collecting the baggage off the carousel was hell: there were far more luggage than the carousel could manage, and it took nearly an hour for our bags to appear. Everyone else had already collected theirs by the time ours arrived. The next chore was collecting the hire cars, and replacing one of the Suzuki Carrys with a somewhat larger and more expensive Toyota Lite Ace. We managed to fit people and luggage in, leaving the airport as the light was fading. There was a slight problem with the navigation (hardly surprising in view of the poor sign posting), as we ended up in Scarborough, which, on a Saturday night, was heaving with people. We turned round, threaded out way out again and finally found Arnos Vale.
The reception is at the top of the hill, so having arrived I then had to reverse back down again. We eventually found our rooms, which were rather as expected: fine, but in need of a revamp. At least the bed is enormous. The buffet dinner was surprisingly good, though it took the staff ages to set the table for us. In bed, feeling whacked, at 10pm.
I was woken at 2.20 by chacalacas making a din outside our room. I looked at my watch and thought it read 6.20. I did go back to sleep again, though waking frequently, and by 4am I was wide awake. I eventually ventured out at 6, meeting Richard and Lucy on the beach. The deeply curved beach here is most attractive, a real tropical paradise. There were numerous short-tailed swifts whizzing overhead, and a few brown boobies out to sea. A spotted sandpiper flew in and landed next to us, looking just like a common sandpiper. Though very warm, the temperature was extremely pleasant.
Daylight revealed the hotel to be nestled in a valley, lush with exotic trees and bamboos. The rooms are fine and spacious, but in need of renovation as all the fittings look old and tired. The hotel gardens provide a fine habitat for a variety of birds. I then walked up to the tennis court, seeing lots of birds as I did so. Bannaquits were everywhere, as were bare-eyed thrushes, and there were also numerous white-tipped doves. Orange-winged parrots called raucously overhead, and red-crowned woodpeckers proved common. I also saw barred antshrikes, house wrens and a yellow-bellied elaenia.
We all gathered at the restaurant for breakfast at 7.30; numerous birds were dining outside on the feeders, too. The hummingbirds were terrific: copper-rumped were commonest, but a splendid male ruby-topaz put in numerous appearances, and there was also a wonderful male white-necked jacobin. Add in rufous-breasted hermit and black-throated mango and we had seen all but two of the hummers on the Tobago list.
Also coming to the feeders were numerous eared doves, plus palm, white-lined and blue-grey tanagers and red-crowned woodpeckers. All were tame and approachable, taking little notice of us. We came back again after breakfast to meet the rep from Just Tobago, Just before we met her a merlin flew over, and while we talked to her I saw an osprey fly across the bay.
An expedition to find the local supermarket took us to Plymouth, and here we saw numerous frigate birds low overhead. The small supermarket wasn't very good, but supplied the basics of water, bread, cheese and beer. We also bought a bottle of Italian wine which I'm drinking as I write this: only 8% and not very good.
A pre-lunchtime walk gave good views of most of the birds we had already seen, and we also scoped motmots and a jacamar and saw our first tropical kingbird on the tennis court. From the beach we scoped a belted kingfisher, originally spotted by Gabriel, and a couple of little blue herons, one a white phase bird.
Several members of the group joined us in our room for open cheese sandwiches, with a plentiful supply of sliced tomatoes.
Swimming in the sea proved invigorating, with sizeable waves rolling in. It was a bit rocky underfoot, so it was best to keep swimming and not touch the bottom.
After siestas we gathered again for tea on the terrace. Not so many birds came in as in the morning, but the variety was still excellent, and I managed to digiscope a number of species, including a co-operative motmot. Its bright colours contrasted with the brilliant bougainvillea behind. The tame, wing-clipped orange-winged parrot that lives on the terrace proved entertaining.
I was unimpressed with dinner. The lobster bisque soup was rather like salty brown gravy while my fish was served cold. Fortunately not everyone thought it as bad as I did. Wine is prohibitively expensive, with the least expensive bottle close to £20 when tax (15%) and service (10%) has been added.
We met on the beach at 6am, just as lightness was creeping into the sky. It was a time before the first birds appeared, but eventually numerous short-tailed swifts were overhead, looking rather like African spinetails with their rapid wing beats and lack of tail. From the beach I saw my first brown pelican of the holiday, and the belted kingfisher was spotted once again.
A yellow-headed caracara flew across the bay, disappearing from view almost as soon as I got onto it. Could this be the mystery bird our English friends had described?
We walked back up the stream, soon getting good views of a neat northern waterthrush, which confusingly is really a warbler, not a thrush.
A pair of barred antshrikes also allowed a good look. We struggled over a small flycatcher in the canopy of a tree - probably yellow-breasted flycatcher - but did get a good view of a yellow-bellied elaenia. Another flycatcher proved a struggle to identify: it was a fuscous. A pair of martins perched on wires high above the road proved to be the first of many Caribbean martins seen during the morning. They are large chunky martins with dark blue heads and breasts.
As we walked back a large woodcreeper flew across the road in front of us, then gave excellent views. There are only three species to be found on Tobago, so it was simple to name this bird as a cocoa woodcreeper.
After breakfast (when I photographed a few more birds at the feeders) we had a break for the swimmers to swim, before setting off to the small wetlands near Pigeon Point. Thanks to good navigation from Pepita we soon found our destination. The birding was good, with an array of new species. We started with a wattled jacana with four well-grown chicks, followed by a green heron that flew past (the first of three, all seen briefly). Some Carib grackles flew over, and a yellow-crowned night heron gave some of us a brief view. On the pools were a variety of egrets: mainly cattle, snowy and great white, though there were also a few little egrets (a new colonist here). They are best distinguished by much less yellow on the legs (just yellow feet) and no yellow lores.
I was delighted to find three species of ducks: several white-cheeked pintails that showed well, a flock of at least 30 red-billed whistling ducks that didn't do anything except sit, and a single female blue-winged teal. There were also several least grebes on the pools, plus moorhens (same as we get at home).
Another new heron was tri-coloured or Louisiana: we saw several that were tame and approachable. We also saw a distant southern lapwing. The other waders included several greater yellowlegs, a few spotted sandpipers, a single whimbrel of the North American race (with dark rump) and a (one-legged) willet that allowed a close approach for photography. A flock of anis flew across the road, but we didn't get good views. Though the sun was hot the temperature was moderated by a brisk breeze that made it more bearable.
There were two species of birds of prey: an osprey that soared round and gave good views, and a single yellow-headed caracara.
After all this excitement we set off in search of lunch. We drove towards Pigeon Point where we saw a flock of laughing gulls, along with several Sandwich terns and a royal tern perched with them. We then turned back and eventually had lunch in a roadside roti bar. My chicken roti was just $TT16, and tasty it was too. On our drive home we stopped to hire flippers for various members of the party, and to buy some more water and beer.
The flippers were well tested during the afternoon. I found an osprey perched, watching the bay. It flew and landed next to a yellow-crowned night heron that I hadn't noticed until then. There were in fact a pair of the herons, sitting next to a nest. Scanning out to sea, I saw a distant tropicbird fishing.
Dinner was at Fads, in nearby Plymouth. We were the only diners in a pleasant, simple restaurant where the choice was fish or chicken. All the meals came with a good variety of vegetables while the service was slow but with a smile. However, for such a simple restaurant the price was high at around £15 each: it would have been fair value at £8 each. We won't be going back.
We had a 6.15 start, driving a short way up the Arnos Vale road where we had a good walk. Though there were plenty of birds around, we struggled to see them, eventually getting good views of a yellow-bellied flycatcher. In contrast, a white-fringed antwren was only glimpsed and proved highly elusive, as did a rufous-breasted wren.
After breakfast I walked down to the end of the stream, just behind the beach, where I found a green kingfisher, but failed to show it to anyone.
We spent the morning winding our way up the west coast, stopping off at a couple of the delightful bays. At Castara Bay Richard was given a demonstration in playing the steel drums while we watched royal terns and saw our first white-winged swallows. Brown boobies put on a fine fishing display in front of us. New birds were few, but we did stop for a pair of giant cowbirds and a flock of smooth-billed anis. We had lunch, a sort of open roti, at a beach shack snack bar at Englishman's Beach.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at Arnos Vale, while in the evening we ate at Dillons seafood restaurant. We had a good fishy meal at a reasonable price. On the way back a white-tailed nightjar flushed from the edge of the road and landed on a roadside wire.
Despite promises from the front desk staff, our packed breakfast failed to materialise. So we set off for Roxborough shortly after 6am without food. It took an hour to meet up with our bird guide, Newton George, at the Roxborough fire station, and our first task was to buy cereal bars at the nearby snack kiosk. We then drove up into the forest, with rain falling to dampen our spirits. Fortunately it eased as we stopped for our first birds: chivi vireo, streaked flycatcher (large, heavily streaked and with a hefty beak with a hooked tip), ochre-bellied flycatcher and house wren. At the next stop most of us saw a white-collared thrush and gained a distant view of a red-legged honeycreeper.
It was pouring with rain when we reach the entrance to the trail, so Newton gave us a quick introduction to the forest before we set off on the trail. It was muddy, but the mud was never deep, so we managed well enough in our boots and trainers without resorting to the wellington boots that were available for hire.
New birds came steadily, starting with olivaceous woodcreeper, though not everyone managed to see it. We eventually gained good views of white-tailed sabrewing, the local speciality and a hummingbird absent from Trinidad. Olive-green woodpecker, rufous-breasted wren, spinetail and a female collared trogon all followed, but it took a long time to see yellow-legged thrush, the male of which looks just like a blackbird except for his yellow legs. We also saw fuscous flycatchers, various other hummers and an American redstart high in the canopy. The only manakin to give a good view was an immature male with red cap but no blue back.
As we made our way back up the trail, the first tourists appeared, accompanied by local guides. None had binoculars.
At the top we drove a short distance to our next stop, a short trail with a blue-backed manakin lek. Two males soon put in an appearance and displayed briefly just feet from us, giving a great view. Absolute stunners.
Newton then took us back along the road to the end of the trail, where a black-breasted mango was nesting on a power line. It had two young in the nest, which we watched being fed before the female settled down to incubate them. We retraced our steps, stopping for a fine pair of great black hawks that displayed overhead, one of which was mobbed by a broad-winged hawk.
Descending from the ridge, we stopped again for an elusive violaceous euphonia, while crested oropendolas proved more co-operative. We also had a great view of a feeding parrot, picking up the flowers with his feet. Newton's last trick was showing us a roosting common potoo, which (as expected) looked just like a piece of wood. Here we also sampled raw cocoa beans, or rather we sucked the sweet fibres off the beans.
After bidding Newton farewell we stopped for a simple lunch in Roxborough (noodles or rice), then made our way home, getting back at about 3.45, in time for swimming and snorkelling.
In the evening we went to Bonkers at the Toucan Inn, which was so full it was surprising that we could be seated. However, our charming, smiling waiter had his work cut out as he twice had to come back to us to report that our choices on the menu were unavailable because they had sold out. As a result Stephen was given a complimentary lobster, which several of us managed to sample. Overall, the quality of the food was thought to be pretty good. The bill, with lots of beers, was quite reasonable.
As we didn't get back until 10.45 the night before, we had a 6.30 start, driving down to the sewage pools. Here we saw most of the birds we had seen on our previous visit, ranging from white-cheeked pintails to least grebes, but we added brown-crested flycatcher, yellow warbler and lesser yellowlegs. We managed to see the latter close to, though not next to, the greater yellowlegs, which made a good comparison. Other birds of note seen included a belted kingfisher and a yellow-crowned night heron that posed for its portrait.
After breakfast (we got back just in time, as breakfast is only available until 10) a few members of the group joined me for a short drive back to Grafton Bird Sanctuary, where we had a pleasant walk. Motmots and jacamars showed well, as did a variety of other species, but we must go back again first thing in the morning when it's cooler.
An afternoon at leisure. Jan and I played tennis: the concrete court is fast and surprisingly good to play on. While we played a pair of parrotlets flew over, then later a broad-winged hawk. At dusk Richard and I went up to the look-out to watch for falcons: a merlin streaked by a couple of times.
We went for dinner to Patino's, where I'd stayed for one night three years ago. We had an enjoyable dinner (with a heavy emphasis on shrimps) that was enjoyed by everyone.
An early start for the Grafton Bird Sanctuary, but when we arrived we found that it was still shut. We drove a short way back up the road to Fort Bennet, where we enjoyed the commanding view of the two bays. We were lucky to be well sheltered, as a heavy shower hit us, passing on out to sea where it produced a glorious double rainbow. From our viewpoint we saw royal terns, laughing gulls and pelicans, while most interesting was a whimbrel that flew past, displaying a distinctive pale rump and back typical of birds of the nominate race that we see in Europe, as opposed to the dark rumped North American birds of the race hudsonicus. An intriguing record.
We then drove round to Grafton, where the gate was open. Here we spent an enjoyable hour and a half, watching a wide variety of birds from chacalacas to motmots. We once had six motmots in view at once. There were no new birds for us, but white-fringed ant wrens were seen several times, and we enjoyed good views of a white-necked jacobin perched, a broad-winged hawk soaring overhead, parrots flying in superb light, and an elusive scrub greenlet (or was it a green scrublet?)
Back at the feeders there were scores of pale-vented pigeons and chacalacas feeding on the grain put out for them, while I managed to photograph a fine male barred antshrike. Lots of tanagers, BQs and a pair of red-crowned woodpeckers were also coming in to be fed. A delightful place, and well looked after.
After breakfast we drove to the Hilton to view the pools, which can be productive. We smiled sweetly at the female security guard who was happy to let us in, and the first bird we saw as we parked the vehicles was a yellow-headed caracara. It was hot, but there was a breeze, and we only stopped under the shade of trees.
We soon had good views of southern lapwings, green herons, wattled jacanas and lots of cattle egrets, some of which were in their full breeding plumage. On the first large lake there were anhinghas, several moorhens, a family of least grebes (four grebelets), a pair of blue-winged teal and a single neotropic cormorant. On the second lake we watched a fishing anhinga, with its body almost completely submerged, proceeding in a curious jerky motion. There as also a flock of 40 or so red-billed whistling ducks sitting in the shade under the trees.
We went back to the first lake in the hope of watching a pair of ospreys fishing, and while looking at a snowy egret Gabriel spotted a large alligator on the bank. It was probably about seven feet long, with an impressive row of teeth. It slid into the water as I approached it.
On the way back several of us stopped at Mount Irvine, where we had an excellent roti cooked for us by a charming lady in a roadside stall. It cost a mere TT$12 each. Eating a roti elegantly is impossible, and I was in too much of a mess to use binoculars to look at a passing parrotlet. After eating we went down to the beach to watch the surfers riding the waves. While climbing back up off the beach, the sand collapsed beneath me and I ended up scratching and cutting both legs beneath the knees. This was really a lucky escape, as the sand was full of broken glass and I could have been badly cut. I washed my legs off in the sea, reckoning that salt water would do the wounds good. (It did.)
An afternoon at leisure: Jan and I played tennis again, but rather later, and this time the court was in the shade. Once again a pair of parrotlets flew over as we played.
Before dinner we had drinks by the pool, in front of the beach. Dinner was at the Fortune Chinese restaurant, which was very good. Richard deftly managed to order an impressive selection of food, nearly all of which we managed to eat. The price was modest, too.
Only Richard joined me for the pre-breakfast excursion. We stopped first at Turtle Bay where we watched a party of pelicans diving for their breakfast, with numerous laughing gulls in attendance trying to steal their fish. One gull was even seen perched on a pelican's back. Several Sandwich terns were also fishing here, while a couple of royal terns sat on boats offshore.
We then drove on the short distance to the Grafton Bird Sanctuary, where a leisurely walk of the trails produced the usual variety of birds, including yellow-breasted flycatcher, plus several views of white-fringed antwrens. We also had good views of a pair of broad-winged hawks whose presence panicked the doves and chacalacas at the feeders.
After breakfast we did a circular tour, driving across to Scarborough then winding our way up to the Hillsborough reservoir that proved to be invisible from the road. It was a rough, unmade track through the forest, though easily passable for the cars. Though the scenery was attractive we saw little of note in the way of birds. A flock of passing frigatebirds included an osprey, and a broad-wing also seen. Introduced bamboo appeared to be the dominant plant. We did see a small selection of butterflies, including a Morpho (called the emperor on Tobago) and several postmen, an attractive black and red butterfly.
We finally reached the Caribbean coast, so went for lunch at the Footprints Eco Resort where we managed to persuade the sleepy waiter and the chef to provide a modest salad for lunch. When we first asked we were offered either beefburgers or hot dogs, not really the sort of grub one expects from an eco resort. It was a pretty spot to eat, but birds were few. I only saw ruby-topaz hummer and a BQ. The resort didn't appear to be doing much business, but expansion was clearly in progress.
At the end of the afternoon Jan and I played tennis again, this time with fellow guests from Hampshire, Malcolm and Sue.
Ava had booked us in for dinner at La Tartaruga at Buccoo, a rather smart Italian restaurant. Its most extraordinary feature is its extensive wine list, exclusively Italian and amazingly comprehensive. The average priced per bottle was around TT$300-500, and the top price was over TT$6,000 for a 1976 vintage "with original label". Dinner was good, but I would have enjoyed some salad with my lasagne, and Jan's ravioli main course would have been more suitable as a starter. Both VAT and service were added to the bill, while there was also a space on the credit card slip for a tip. What's the 10% service charge for if it's not a tip? The addition of a bottle of Sicilian wine made it by far the most expensive restaurant meal so far, but the ambience was good, the service excellent.
A day off, so Jan and I walked up the track from Arnos Vale before breakfast. No surprises, but we did see another brown-crested flycatcher.
After breakfast I took Gabriel and Angela to Turtle Bay, where we watched several pelicans fishing, accompanied by a couple of hundred laughing gulls, some now in full breeding plumage. The gulls were parasitising the pelicans, trying to scrounge what they could from the pelicans' pouches. They even went as far as perching on the pelicans' backs. Several Sandwich terns were also flying around, while both Gabriel and I were sure we saw a tern of Sandwich proportions with a yellow beak. The ffrench book makes no suggestions. We also saw several royal terns.
Gabriel and I had a good walk along the trails at Grafton Bird Sanctuary, and were rewarded with several good views of male white-fringed antwrens, which are handsome little birds. We also saw another cocoa woodcreeper. We bought rotis for lunch from the delightful roadside stall at Mt Irvine. Freshly made, they're very good, especially at TT$12 each.
At the end of the afternoon Jan and I had another couple of sets of tennis, and as usual saw parrotlets fly over the court. Pre-dinner drinks on the beach again, then back to Bonkers for dinner. In hindsight this was a mistake, as the food wasn't reckoned to be nearly as good as on our previous visit. The kingfish, described as catch of the day, was thought to have come out of the freezer. My lamb curry was fine, but could hardly be described as a curry.
Gabriel, Richard, Lucy and Stephen joined me at 6.15 for the cuckoo hunt. We drove down to the sewage pools, and then searched the scrubby forest between the pools and the sea. I soon found a cuckoo, and we had excellent close views of (eventually) two birds. One caught a juicy green insect, which he presented to his mate (the equivalent of flowers?) and they then mated.
Mangrove cuckoos aren't the most active of birds, so they stayed in view for some time. We were now searching for American warblers. A pair of rather dull blackpoll warblers was glimpsed, but yellow warblers put on rather more of a show.
We checked out the pools for new additions, but nothing of note (and no whistling ducks), but I did find a fine purple gallinule in the marsh on the other side of the road. Everyone got good views, but I failed to get a decent picture of it.
We negotiated our bill after breakfast and managed to get a US$10 refund pp for the missed breakfast, which was satisfying. This came from the owner, as the girl behind the desk was less than helpful. The overall bill was considerably less than I had braced myself for - had they forgotten one of the dinners? (I'm sure they had. This was a good saving that helped offset the extra cost of the upgraded hire car.)
After returning the flippers and filling the Carry with fuel (TT$60) we packed the cars for our drive north to Blue Waters. It was a bit of a squeeze, but we got everything in. The winding drive along the west coast was attractive, though, of course, very slow. We stopped to eat our lunch (sandwiches from Rosie's for most of us) at the look-out point next to the road. Here two delightful local ladies of very ample proportions managed to sell us fruit juices and homemade cakes. The slices of the latter were huge, and well worth the TT$15 charged. Judging by the size of the women, they must eat any cake left over before they go home.
We didn't stop much for birds, so made our way through the forest and down to Roxborough and then along to Speyside and Blue Waters. The bay in front of the hotel was a wonderful deep blue, sparkling in the sunshine. Our simple rooms here are on the upper deck and very pleasant, with the wind blowing strongly through. Out to sea we can see good numbers of red-billed tropicbirds and frigates cruising past Little Tobago island.
Dinner in the hotel restaurant was disappointing. Pepita thought it was the worst we've had so far, so we will go in to Speyside tomorrow.
Breakfast wasn't much better, but it was fun watching the turnstones on the beach. Two were ringed, and one had a small green flag on its left leg.
After breakfast we left for our morning on the mountain. We left later than I'd planned, as breakfast didn't start until 8, while it's a slow drive to Roxborough and the turn off for the mountain road. We paused on the way up, seeing a good variety of birds, including shiny cowbird, streaked flycatcher, violaceous euphonia (lovely name!), jacamar, orange-winged parrot, chivi vireo and what we were reasonably confident was a Venezuelan flycatcher. At our next stop we added great (though long distance) views of red-legged honeycreeper feeding on red flowers. This really is a stunning little bird with its bright blue head and purple plumage.
The manakin lek was a little disappointing, as only one bird came in and displayed rather half-heartedly. I found another lek a little farther down the trail, but though I got good views of one individual I failed to see any birds displaying, though I could hear them doing so.
As we descended we had a brilliant view of a great black hawk that had been feeding at the side of the road. It paused and perched briefly close to the road, but failed to provide a photo opportunity.
Back in Speyside we met a man taking his hounds off hunting. He had three couple of mixed foxhound x beagles, but they all looked as if they could do with a decent meal. He was off to hunt for agouti. (We saw him again the late afternoon right at the top of the hill, having covered a great deal of ground.) We had lunch at Redmans Simple in Speyside, and very good it was too. I would even say it was the best meal we've had here so far. It was kingfish, salad, noodles and creole rice. We each shared a portion, so it came to just TT$75 each. Unfortunately it's shut tomorrow: the cook/waitress/owner (Mrs Redman) said her husband was taking her to Trinidad for St Valentine's Day.
After an afternoon of swimming and snorkelling we drove across to Charlotteville in the late afternoon. It was a steep drive up and an equally steep drive down. The town itself is quite large, has a good anchorage for yachts but no hotels. It also had lots of free-range chickens wandering on the beach and along the roads and a large football pitch with SAY NO TO DRUGS written in huge white letters along one side.
On our way back we drove up to Flagstaff Hill, gaining a spectacular view over the north end of the island, and a commanding look at St Giles and Melville Islands. We also saw London Bridge Rock, a natural arch over the sea.
For dinner we went to the Speyside Inn. Nearly everyone reported a good meal - my steak was excellent, and was grilled rare - but Richard and Angela's fish wasn't so good. However, I wouldn't hesitate to go back again for another meal.
The advance party left at 6.30 for Speyside, with the rear guard arriving at 8.15. By the river my group watched a fishing blue heron, grey kingbirds flycatching, mockingbirds and tanagers. We drove up to the waterworks on the far side of Speyside, where we enjoyed seeing a pair of streaked flycatchers as well as anis and elaenias.
The Birdwatcher's Restaurant hadn't opened at 8, so we had breakfast instead at the Speyside Inn. Not bad at all, service with a smile, and cheaper than Blue Waters. Back at BW, I gave the turnstone flock a treat when I fed them Angela's kingfish from the night before.
The morning was spent relaxing on the beach or swimming, with just a short excursion into Speyside at noon for shopping and to buy a roti. At 1.15 we lined up for our visit to Little Tobago, though the boat didn't leave until nearly 1.30. It took a little over ten minutes to reach the island, riding the waves easily thanks to twin 75hp Yamaha engines on the back. The landing stage on LT is on the leeward side, so it was hot, hard work walking the first part of the trail, which is quite steep. We eventually reached the first viewpoint and enjoyed our first view of the breeding cliffs, with the wonderfully elegant red-billed tropicbirds patrolling. We also managed to see both red-footed and brown boobies, though it wasn't until we reached the second, higher viewpoint that we managed to scope them. There were a number of pairs of red-footed boobies to be seen, mostly with large, fluffy white chicks in their nests. All the red-foots were of the dark brown phase, though with distinctive white tail and rump, and they all had distinctive blue beaks. Blue-faced or masked boobies also occur, though we failed to see any.
As we watched, so the numbers of tropicbirds increased: by the late afternoon scores were riding the wind, and occasionally flying in to feed their chicks. They are obviously hopeless at walking, so landing isn't something they relish. There was a tropicbird's nest close to our viewpoint, holding a mother and well-grown chick that we were able to photograph.
We left, somewhat reluctantly, at 3.30, walking back down to the jetty to meet our boat that whisked us back to Blue Waters. The bill for the trip was TT$500, which seemed reasonable and was much better than the other quotes we had been given.
Before dinner we drove up to the water treatment plant to look for nightjars. We saw our first bird as soon as we stopped, and went on to enjoy excellent views of it through the scope, perched, using the cars' headlights for illumination. There was a pair present, and as we left a third bird chased across. Behind us fireflies shone in the darkness.
Dinner was at the Birdwatcher's Restaurant, and very good it was too. It's a simple wooden shack, with no frills. A small boy was practising on the steel drum as we waited to be served. No nonsense with menus, just a choice of fish, shrimps, chicken or lobster. Most of us opted for shrimps. They came with steamed vegetables, grilled plantains, salad, egg plant and chilli potatoes. Lucy declared it the best meal we've had so far, and I agreed with her. It was also the cheapest meal so far.
Woken at 5.45 to the song of the tropical mockingbird, competing with the sound of the surf. Not long afterwards the chacalacas joined in, making their usual raucous din. At 6.30 a few of us walked up the trail behind the hotel. It was quite hard work as it rises steeply. No exciting birds, but it was good to scope a ruby-topaz hummingbird.
We all drove down into Speyside for breakfast. Mrs Redman seemed to be shut, so we went instead to Jemma's Seaview Treehouse Restaurant. The website had warned that it was something of a Tobago institution, but had become a commercialised tourist trap. The girl seemed a bit surprised to have such a big party for breakfast, and the service was hardly speedy, but we ended up having the best breakfast of the trip so far, with decent orange juice and excellent scrambled egg.
Several members of the group went off snorkelling around Goat Island, where they reported beautiful, crystal-clear water, though not an abundance of fish. However, they had a good time. For lunch we drove to Charlottesville where a variety of bargain take-away lunches were eaten, from fish and chips to roti. We saw large kingfish being butchered in the fish house, with the guts and trimmings thrown to the laughing gulls and frigates that hang around on or over the beach in hope.
After lunch we drove along the north-west coast road. According to the map it is still a dirt track but it has now been completed, though not much traffic uses it. We paused to look for birds, and Angela cleverly managed to spot a male collared trogon sitting quietly in the bamboo. It never came out into the light, but I got a recognisable photograph of it, and everyone saw it.
There was some excellent birdwatching here. We watched oropendolas at their hanging nests, enjoyed the parrots and saw a variety of other species we had only seen one or two times before. These included streaked flycatchers, white-tailed sabrewing, white-collared thrush, violaceous euphonia and golden-olive woodpecker (glimpsed). At the next stop I twice had good though brief views of a chivi vireo, though I struggled to get Stephen and Richard on to it. We did see blue-black manakins. Our species total for the day was well over 50, or over half the birds we've noted on the whole trip.
In the evening we went back to Jemma's for dinner, and enjoyed an excellent home-cooked meal, starting with pumpkin soup and following it with Creole shrimps and a wonderful variety of vegetables. Jemma doesn't have a licence, so I drove back to BW to get our remaining supply of beer. The price of the dinner was very reasonable, but when the dreaded VAT was added it wasn't a bargain. Curiously, VAT hadn't been added to breakfast. I managed to book a farewell dinner with Mrs Redman.
Our last full day. Most of us left at 6.15, back to the other side of the island to the area we had looked for birds yesterday. Unfortunately the weather was against us, with light raining falling, and the visibility very poor. Our first stop was for a great crowd of short-tailed swifts, swirling in the air above a road-works depot. One of the workers, an albino, came out to chat. The weather cheered up by 8.30, and we were eventually rewarded with excellent views of a golden-olive woodpecker, first spotted by Jan. It allowed itself to be scoped, so everyone had good views. It was the best bird of the morning.
Back to Jemma's for another excellent breakfast (TT$60pp). This time VAT was added.
It wasn't a great morning for swimming and sunbathing, as the wind was strong and it was mostly cloudy. There was even some rain as we drove Gabriel down to the airport. Just before leaving Richard pointed out to me a black hawk soaring over the hotel. It showed only a narrow band of white on its tail, suggesting that it was a common, rather than a great, black hawk.
The island may be only 28 miles long, but the road to the airport is exceedingly slow, so it took an hour and 20 minutes to get there. After bidding farewell to the intrepid Irishman ("I get more butterflies in my stomach when I do this sort of thing these days than I ever used to") we paused at Pennysavers supermarket to buy four bottles of South American wine from a somewhat surly girl. Wine isn't cheap here, even in a supermarket, and the cost was TT$276 including tax (about £5.75 a bottle). We managed the journey back slightly faster than the journey down - perhaps due to less traffic, or because the road was now dry.
According to the hotel information, 5 to 6pm on a Friday was special, as the manager dispenses free rum punches and house wine from the bar, together with snacks. Unfortunately the manager had either forgotten this, or didn't like giving away free booze, as nothing was forthcoming despite Stephen's protests. We had to seek comfort in our own supplies of rum.
We had dinner at Mrs Redman's simple restaurant, with the wooden tables and one shining light bulb (though fairy lights decorated the downstairs). There was some concern that Maria (for that is Mrs Redman's name) wasn't expecting us, but she appeared with plates, cutlery and glasses, followed soon afterwards with a large bowl of rice and another of salad. Further vegetables followed, including plantain and guava, together with pork, chicken and beef stews. Finally, a plate of mixed sponge cakes arrived, and these circled the table until the plate was finally empty. It was a tasty, simple, home-cooked meal, and at TT$860 was excellent value.
We returned to BW, where a steel band of eight blokes and a girl were entertaining a small party of tourists, mostly American birdwatchers. They weren't, so I was told, very good, but they were clearly enjoying themselves and making a lot of noise. Stephen and Pepita even felt moved to dance.
Breakfast at Redmans, but though it was quite fun it wasn't a patch on Jemma's. However, the big shock was the bill: TT$940, or rather more than dinner the night before. I really should have queried it, but I suspect that Maria had decided that we were a soft touch, and that she ought to make a bit more out of us. She also lost merit marks by giving everyone her address, asking us to send our change to her to help pay for her daughter's wedding.
There was time for a swim when we got back, while the (white Trinidadian) manager kindly printed out my boarding card for my flight to Varna. I resisted telling him that we thought his restaurant's food was lousy. We left at 11am, having decided to drive down the west side of the island. It was a pretty drive, and we stopped for a few birds on the way. Bloody Bay was particularly attractive, and on the river here we saw greater yellowlegs, spotted sandpiper and a belted kingfisher.
We had lunch at Englishman's Bay, and most of us finished with an ice cream afterwards. I ate my ice admiring the beautifully polished wheels on the ice-cream man's 4x4. They like their wheels, these Tobagans.
We stopped for fuel in Plymouth, and as we were running early, stopped again at Turtle Bay for a last bit of birding. There is a freshwater lagoon behind the beach which looked worth investigating. It held a pair of southern lapwings, little blue and green herons, spotted sandpipers and our first solitary sandpipers. Confusingly, the latter were conspicuously spotted on their backs, unlike the spotted sandpipers. There were at least three solitarys, and I managed to photograph one satisfactorily. A whimbrel also showed well.
While we were busy watching the waders a religious party arrived at the back of the beach and sang (or chanted) a few gospels.
Then it was on to the airport to drop off the two cars. Here there was unexpected hassle when it was revealed that the upgrade from Carry to Lite Ace had cost me US$65 a day, not TT$. As the bill was over $900 I wasn't exactly thrilled. Argument followed and the supervisor was sent for. He refused to move, while the girl insisted that she had quoted me in US$, which she most certainly hadn't. If she had I would have stayed with two Carrys and used a taxi for luggage transfers. I eventually got the bill reduced by $120 because the supervisor reluctantly agreed that the weekly rate for the upgrade was somewhat lower than the daily rate. Shame, as it meant we left Tobago with a sour taste in the mouth.
There was the usual chaos checking our bags in, while everyone had to pay their TT$100 departure tax, despite the official tourist board brochure saying that it didn't apply to the over 60s. I was amused to see our hand luggage checked for drugs by a British-bred, American-trained chocolate Labrador. The flight left early, but was by far the most uncomfortable flight I've ever experience. We sped along at 700mph in the jet stream, but the turbulence was horrible, and we bounced and crashed around for hours. It was an unpleasant experience, and left Jan quite sick. Shame, as it had been a good holiday. Despite landing 90 minutes early, it took almost as long again for our bags to join us, but I at least had plenty of time to catch my flight to Varna. Tuck, meanwhile found himself in a queue behind 600 or so Indians, freshly arrived from the sub-continent.