I may be biased but I think Trinidad has a beautiful national bird – the Scarlet Ibis. One of the most important habitats for the Scarlet Ibis in the world can be found in Trinidad, at the wetland reserve of Caroni Swamp. This reserve has existed since 1953 and it was created specifically to provide a habitat for the Scarlet Ibis. A visit to see this bird is a remarkable experience, which would explain why I have been to the reserve three times now!
The Scarlet Ibis
The bird can be found in tropical South America and on some islands of the Caribbean. While the juvenile is a grey/brown colour, the adult is a brilliant red – hence its name. The Scarlet Ibis gets its colour from its diet of red crustaceans. The bird’s other distinctive feature is its long, narrow curved beak, which is also red! Scarlet Ibis live in flocks of over thirty birds but for protection, flocks tend to congregate into colonies of hundreds, if not several thousand, birds! Seeing a large flock or colony pass over head really is an absolutely stunning sight!
It’s a simple tour, a visit to Caroni Swamp. Basically you sit in a boat, putter around for a while, and then wait for birds to fly overhead. But it is actually more fun than it sounds! The only downside is that it isn’t a small tour, normally speaking. You will likely share your boat with up to 20-ish people. Try to position yourself to grab a seat near the front of the boat and to the side, especially if photography is important to you.
The guide will caution you to be quiet during the boat ride as too much noise will scare away birds and wildlife. If you are lucky, your fellow tourists will actually listen. The last time I went, there was an obnoxious fool whose phone kept ringing and he would answer it!
The chance of seeing actual wildlife along the shoreline is slim. The only things I have seen in my three trips have been snakes. And at least one of those is a fake! How do I know? Well, the guide makes a joke saying one particular snake may or may be not real. Also, it is the same looking snake in the exact same spot the three times I’ve gone!
If you have a quiet boat, cruising down the waterway is pretty cool. The thick bush and mangroves that surround you make you feel like you’re exploring an Amazonian tributary! It’s beautiful. You may pass by a pile of lumber on one stretch of shore line – this used to be a viewing tower and I have vague memories of climbing it as a kid. It is too bad it wasn’t up kept.
Eventually, as the sun starts to set, you pull into a “lake” and the boat settles into waiting for the arrival of the main event: the Scarlet Ibis. Flamingos may be in the area as well, so you and your camera will be well occupied by them. But as sunset draws even closer, flamingos will be a secondary thought as flashes of deep reds catch your attention. They fly in ones, twos, threes, wheeling high above your head. And then a giant flock of deep reds glowing in the setting sun appears, making everyone around you cry out in delight. The Scarlet Ibis truly is an amazing sight.
Company: I’ve only ever gone with Nanan’s Tour Operators and have never had any problems with them. Definitely recommended.
Photography: Between the setting sun, the movement of the boat, and the nature of wildlife photography, getting a good shot of the birds is difficult. Ensure you have a great lens!
What to bring: Mosquito repellent, a waterproof bag for your camera if it rains, cash to pay for your tour.
Transportation: You will either need your own car (there is a safe parking lot available) or arrange a trusted driver to drop you and pick you back up.