Birding on the Main Ridge – Tobago

Even to a novice, who had never thought birding was her thing, it was stunning. The Blue-Backed Manakin, with its shocking-red tuft, sat calmly on the branch, looking around. We had been listening for half an hour to the sounds of it ‘displaying’ for the benefit of a female.

Newton George, our guide, had been listening too, ‘We will see one soon,’ he promised. And as if he conjured him up himself, cheeky Manakin appeared. It sat on the branch for a long time, allowing us to ogle and admire its beautiful wings through the scope.

The best way to see the beauty of the rainforest is in the company of Tour Guide George. We met up on Roxborough-Parlatuvier Road at 6:00 a.m., one morning; the morning mist and dew still hanging in the chilly air. George began with a little history of the Main Ridge reserve: it is the oldest protected forest in the Western Hemisphere, established in 1765, to protect the island’s main watershed. Its 4,000 hectares of lower alpine forest cover is home to Tobago’s most colorful species of birds, like my new friend, the Blue Backed Manakin and his feathered friends, the White tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Yellow Legged Thrush, Fuscous Flycatcher, Great Black Hawk and Collared Trogon.

George mentioned that he had once seen more than 100 different species of birds in the forest in one day. Birds will be pleased to know that the Rufous-breasted Hermit, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Stripe-breasted Spinetail, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Plain Ant-Vireo, Redlegged Honeycreeper, Golden-olive Woodpecker and the Great Black Hawk are just a few of the other species that can be spotted by eagle eyes.

The forests on the Main Ridge are filled with tall, evergreen trees, palms, trumpets trees and wild cocoa; colorful flowering plants like the bright-red balisier and various species of heliconia; and a multitude of ferns and orchids.

The reserve is one of the reasons that Tobago has been given titles such as the ‘Best Eco Destination in the World’ (World Travel Awards) and the #1 Eco-Destination in the Caribbean’ (Caribbean Travel Awards Committee). Of the 6,000 species of plants and animals that make their habitat here, most can be found in the reserve, which has the highest density of bird species in the world.

George, a born teacher, conducts his own crash course in forest creatures. He points out almost-invisible circles in the mud, camouflaged by leaves and vegetation. He pressed gently into the mud and a perfectly round corklike ‘door’ rises upwards to reveal a neat hole, the entrance to the spider’s burrow. The trapdoor is hinged on one side with silk threads. The spider waits for prey, holding on to the underside of the door with their clams. When ‘food’ disturbs the ‘trip’ lines the spider hangs out at its trapdoor and leaps out of its burrow and nabs it.

As wildlife goes, the agouti, the tattoo (armadillo) and the iguana are the main prey for hunters. Unfortunately, their numbers are very low now from over-hunting.

Useful info:

  • ‘    We recommend that you wear good walking shoes that can take mud.
  • ‘    A helpful guide rents boots at the entrance to the rainforest.
  • ‘    You should also carry a change of clothes during the rainy season (from June to December).
  • ‘    It will also come in handy if you carry binoculars, a camera, a water bottle, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
  • ‘    There are no toilet facilities so prepare mentally for using the closest bush in case of emergency.
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