Tobago Holiday 2024

 At Easter 2024, Siân and I spent two weeks on holiday on the Caribbean island of Tobago (27th March to 9th April). Although not specifically a birding trip, I did spend some of the holiday exploring the area local to our hotel in South-West Tobago and a day in the central Main Ridge Rainforest Reserve. I also spent half a day on the island of Little Tobago at the North-East end of the main island, a protected seabird reserve.

I am not a photographer, so the images accompanying this blog are essentially ‘record shots’ of some of the birds I encountered using my Nikon B700 bridge camera. Some birds were very obliging; others were far trickier to get images of! I always try to leave the birds undisturbed and let them come to me.

The hotel grounds

I’ve never been to Tobago before, and the only time we have visited the Caribbean was Grand Cayman 24 years ago on our honeymoon. When I am on holiday in a new location, I try to get to know the commoner local species as quickly as possible, as this increases the chance of noticing less common birds. Therefore, I got up at dawn on our first morning and walked the reasonably extensive hotel gardens, where I saw: Tropical Mockingbird, Bananaquit, Carib Crackle, Rufus-vented Chachalaca, Ruddy Ground Dove, Palm Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager and Spectacled Thrush.

Hotel gardens

Tropical Mockingbird

Spectacled Thrush

Rufous-vented Chachalacas in the hotel gardens

Before breakfast, a walk on the beach also added: Laughing Gull, Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern, Ruddy Turnstone, Spotted Sandpiper and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

Spotted Sandpiper

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Magnificent Frigatebirds constantly in the sky above the island

The hotel buffet breakfast allowed us to see Bananaquit, Carib Crackle and Palm Tanager at very close range!

Bananaquit at breakfast

I like my OJ served with a Palm Tanager!

In the hotel gardens throughout the rest of our stay I also saw: White-winged Swallow, White-tipped dove, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Blue-black Grassquit, Barn Swallow, Caribbean Martin, Pale-vented Pigeon, Black-faced Grassquit, Yellow-headed Caracara, Tropical Kingbird, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Eared Dove, Grey Kingbird and Copper-rumped Hummingbird.

Green-rumped Parrotlet

Copper-rumped Hummingbird (best photo I could get in the hotel gardens!)

Tropical Kingbird

Black-faced Grassquit

Grey Kingbird

Eared Dove

'Record shot' of Yellow-headed Caracara

Our hotel had a private beach with a ‘swimming lagoon’ protected by a sea wall of rocks. This rock wall provided an excellent place for gulls, terns and waders to roost during the day. There was always a flock of up to eighty noisy Laughing Gulls on the wall and usually a few terns too. Up to ten Royal Terns were usually present on the wall, and Roseate Terns grew from a flock of five or six on the first days of our stay to over one hundred by the end of the holiday! Presumably, these birds were stopping off on their progress north to breed. Other birds seen on the lagoon’s rock wall were Ruddy Turnstones, Spotted Sandpiper, a Brown Pelican, an Anhinga, Sandwich Terns, a Cabot's Tern, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, two Semipalmated Plovers and a Willet.

Laughing Gulls & Roseate Terns (one tern has a ring which I can read so I will investigate!)

Royal Tern

A pair of Semipalmated Plovers


Royal, Roseate, Sandwich and Cabot's Terns


90% sure that this is a 2nd year Lesser Black-backed Gull (please comment if not!)

Brown Pelican

The birds on the rock wall would let you swim quite close to them. What an absolute pleasure to swim in the warm Caribbean Sea and observe tens of Roseate Terns from just two meters away!

The local area

I took several birding walks in the local area (less than 2 miles from the hotel). One area I visited a few times was Pigeon Point, a protected and managed park incorporating a beach, gardens and mangrove forest edge. I also visited the Bon Accord sewage ponds (who doesn’t like a tropical sewage pond?) and the area near the ponds that was the back of a mangrove-fringed lagoon.

At Pigeon Point, birds I added to my trip list were: Yellow-headed Caracara, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Mangrove Cuckoo, Grey Kingbird, Smooth-billed Ani and Peregrine Falcon.

Pigeon Point

Smooth-billed Ani

Mangrove Cuckoo

Green-rumped Parrotlets at Pigeon Point

Peregrine Falcon

Green Heron at Pigeon Point

Rufous-vented Chachalaca (Tabago's national bird) at Pigeon Point

The Bon Accord sewage ponds, five freshwater ponds, were a great place to see water birds; herons, Anhingas, ducks and other waterfowl. Birds seen here were: Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, three Blue-winged Teal, Common Gallinule, Great Egret, Black-crowned Night Heron, Wattled Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Cattle Egret, Least Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Great Egret.

Great Blue Heron & Anhinga

Common Gallinule & Black-crowned Night Heron

Common Gallinule, Wattled Jacana & Purple Gallinule


Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Near the ponds was a road, then the path that led to the back of the mangroves. Along the road were drainage ditches that held several waders, including a Willet, two Hudsonian Whimbrel, three Lesser Yellowlegs, a Greater Yellowlegs, five Southern Lapwing and four Spotted Sandpipers. Also, several Tricoloured Heron and one Little Blue Heron. On some open ground, interspersed with trees and bushes, I saw Rufus-breasted Hermits visiting flowers (unfortunately, never stopping long enough to be photographed) and another family of Smooth-billed Ani.

Mangrove crabs

Southern Lapwing

Two Hudsonian Whimbrel (I wasn't expecting to see these in a swamp!)

Spotted Sandpiper

Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

Immature Little Blue Heron

Tricoloured Heron

On a walk around the airport which was close to our hotel, I found a pair of Barred Antshrike and about a dozen Brown Booby resting on some large buoys out in the sea from the end of the runway.

Male Barred Antshrike

Brown Boobies

Main Ridge Rainforest Reserve

On Monday, 1st April, I booked a local guide, Hans Phillips, to take Siân and me to the rainforest. Hans drove us up the island's Atlantic (eastern) side before heading up to the Main Ridge Rainforest reserve, the oldest protected rainforest in the western hemisphere (apparently). Just as we passed into the reserve, Hans pulled up, and we got out onto the road as Hans wanted to show us a nesting colony of Crested Oropendola. There were about seven birds around, but none posed long enough for me to get a photo of them! While waiting for the Oropendolas, a Rufus-tailed Jacamar came, perched close to where we were parked, and gave some fantastic views.

Rufus-tailed Jacamar

Hans then heard a distant calling Collared Trogon, so Hans repeated the call by whistling. Over five minutes, we had an exciting time as we could hear the Trogon getting closer and closer with each return call. The male bird emerged from the rainforest to appear high in a tree above us. Then another male Collared Trogon appeared a few meters away from us at eye level, and a third male appeared in a tree behind that bird! Hans was very excited as he’d never had three males together before.

Collared Trogon

Another Collared Trogon

Collared Trogon 'B side'
Hans, whistling up a Trogon or three!

We then spent a couple of hours walking into the rainforest along the Gilpin trail. The new birds seen here were: Cocoa Woodcreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, White-lined Tanager, Yellow-legged Thrush, Golden-olive Woodpecker, White-tailed Sabrewing, Orange-winged Parrot and Stripe-breasted Spinetail. We heard several Blue-backed Manakin calling, but they seemed to be on the other side of some dense vegetation, so we never saw them. We also heard a Venezuelan Flycatcher calling.

Orange-winged Parrot guarding the entrance to the Gilpin Trail

Yellow-legged Thrush

White-tailed Sabrewing hiding its white tail!

Some shrill calls made our ears prick up, and Hans said it was a call from a Great Black Hawk. We looked above us and eventually saw a juvenile bird calling perched on the treetop visible from the trail path.

Juvenile Great Black Hawk

Another highlight was watching a pair of White-tailed Sabrewing mobbing a Motmot, which is notorious for devouring hummingbird eggs and chicks.

Trinidad Motmot

Red-legged Honeycreeper hiding in a parrot apple tree

Being inside the rainforest was a fantastic experience, which Siân and I thoroughly enjoyed.

After emerging from the humid, damp forest back into the warm sunshine, we made our way for lunch at ‘Aunty Shurl’s Bird House Café’. Aunty Shurl was there to serve us a Dolphin fish lunch as we fed hummingbirds from our hands!  White-necked Jacobins, White-tailed Sabrewing and Copper-rumped Hummingbird were feeding on the day we visited. We also saw an adult Great Black Hawk over the forest and dozens of pairs of squawking Orange-winged Parrots. Short-tailed Swift whorled about the place.

Motmot on Aunty Shurl's birdtable

Two males and a female White-lined Tanager

Rufous-vented Chachalacas at Shurl's

White-necked Jacobin feeding from Siân's hand

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

White-tailed Sabrewing feeding from my hand

Copper-rumped Hummingbird on Siân's hand!

White-necked Jacobin, my hand

After lunch, Hans took us to the Argyle Waterfalls for a refreshing swim. House Wrens were nesting in the building that was the entrance to the falls. On the stream that we walked along heading to the falls, we heard then saw a Green Kingfisher flash by. While swimming, a Motmot stood guard overhead, and Sabrewing fed from flowers on each side of the waterfall.

Argyle Waterfalls

Little Tobago

On Friday, 5th April, I took a taxi for 90 minutes to the Blue Waters Inn in Speyside on the far North-East side of the island. Here, I took the boat out to Little Tobago. On the island, a guide took us up the path to the seabird observation area. On the way up, we came across an Audubon’s Shearwater chick, which had wandered out of its nest borrow.

View towards Little Tobago

Landing on Little Tobago

Audubon’s Shearwater chick

From the observation point, we had fantastic views of Red-billed Tropicbirds as they wheeled through the sky and over the forest and sea. From that point, as well as hundreds of Magnificent Frigatebirds, we could see Red-footed Booby and Brown Booby nesting sites.

View from Little Tobago

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-billed Tropicbird on the nest

Red-billed Tropicbird chick

Red-footed Boobies

On the way back down to the return boat, we saw Crested Oropendolas, a Giant Cowbird, and I found a Chivi Vireo.

I enjoyed our holiday in Tobago and the chance to see some new species of birds, and I had some wonderful experiences seeing them. The total tally for the trip was 86 species seen or heard. Here is the complete list in the approximate order that I encountered them:

 Laughing Gull

Tropical Mockingbird

Magnificent Frigatebird


Carib Crackle

Rufus-vented Chachalaca

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Ground Dove

Blue-grey Tanager

Spectacled Thrush

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Spotted Sandpiper

White-winged Swallow

Royal Tern

Cabot's Tern

Brown Pelican

White-tipped dove


Sandwich Tern

Copper-rumped Hummingbird

Roseate Tern

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Yellow-bellied Elaenia

Blue-black Grassquit

Barn Swallow

Palm Tanager

Caribbean Martin

Pale-vented Pigeon

Black-faced Grassquit

Yellow-headed Caracara

Tropical Kingbird

Green-rumped Parrotlet

Red-crowned Woodpecker

Eared Dove

Mangrove Cuckoo

Trinidad Motmot

Great Blue Heron

Blue-winged Teal

Common Gallinule

Black-crowned Night Heron

Wattled Jacana

Purple Gallinule

Cattle Egret

Least Grebe

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Grey Kingbird

Feral Pigeon

Smooth-billed Ani

Green Heron

Barred Antshrike

Brown Booby

Southern Lapwing

Cocoa Woodcreaper

Great Black Hawk

Red-legged Honeycreeper

White-lined Tanager

Yellow-legged Thrush

House Wren

Blue-backed Manakin (heard)

Venezuelan Flycatcher (heard)

Golden-olive Woodpecker

Green Kingfisher

Rufus-tailed Jacamar

Collared Trogon

White-tailed Sabrewing

White-necked Jacobin

Short-tailed Swift

Orange-winged Parrot

Crested Oropendola

Stripe-breasted Spinetail

Rufus-breasted Hermit

Peregrine Falcon

Snowy Egret

Audubon’s Shearwater (chick)

Red-billed Tropicbird

Red-footed Booby

Chivi Vireo

Giant Cowbird

Semipalmated Plover


Hudsonian Whimbrel

Lesser Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Tricoloured Heron

Great Egret

Little Blue Heron


Mammals and reptiles seen:

Green Iguana

Giant Ameiva Lizard

Common House Gecko

Red-tailed Squirrel


Giant Ameiva Lizard

Back end of an Agouti disappearing into the forest!

Common House Gecko

Red-tailed Squirrel


  1. Fantastic post Paul! Some wonderful photos of some wonderful birds there. A magical place. All the best. Matt.

    1. Thanks Matt! Yes, a wonderful place, lovely people and easy birding. Thanks for your help with some of the IOC updated naming of birds.


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