On-Site Trinidad: Serene Safari Meets Amazing Avian Spectacle at the Caroni Swamp
This, was a mistake.
That rueful refrain kept racing through my head at the onset of my excursion into the Caroni Swamp in Trinidad a few weeks ago. It wasn’t fear of the Spectacled Caiman, or the “relatively aggressive” Cook’s Tree Boa snakes, both notable Caroni residents, that had me so unnerved either.
No, the real source of my trepidation was the young 20-somethingish kid sitting next to me on our tour boat. The problem: he was wearing nothing short of his Sunday best.
Call me crazy, but when I sign up for an eco-adventure (emphasis on the word adventure) into the heart of a sprawling, 490-acre swamp (the largest mangrove wetland in Trinidad) that’s teeming with rare birds and other unique forms of wildlife, I don’t expect to see some clean-cut kid dressed in ultra-pressed finery tagging along. Just the sight of him – his hair parted just-so, his shoes bearing a mirror-perfect shine – burst my bubble for any real adventure that day.
Persistent smoke-outs, courtesy of our boat’s sputtering outboard engine, further dulled the eco-shine on this excursion. When my fellow “explorers” weren’t gagging and coughing, they were chatting and laughing loud enough to keep most of the wildlife away.
It wasn’t what I had originally wanted, but I was happy enough with the peaceful, serene boat ride, and all the great photo opportunities it presented. We had a seen a few boas and iguanas along the way, plus a couple four-eyed fish (really!), so that was good too. By the time we arrived at what seemed like a random spot up against one of the mangrove islands, I was content, thinking the experience was over and looking forward to dinner back in Port-of-Spain.
Boy was I in for a surprise!
Suddenly, our guide called for us to look off to the west. There, we saw what appeared to be whitecaps riding along the surface of the otherwise perfectly still Caroni waters.
This, of course, was not some rogue wave barreling in to upset the swamp. Well, not a wave of water, anyway.
It was, in fact, the first “wave” of thousands upon thousands of birds that return to the Caroni Swamp each evening after spending the day feeding over in Venezuela, some 11 miles to the west. Every day they make the commute, arriving home at a select few mangrove islands in the Swamp just before the sun goes down.
No exaggeration: this was a natural spectacle the likes of which I have never seen.
Wave after wave after wave of birds racing inches above the water toward home, then exploding into the trees in a torrent of feathers, squawks and, undoubtedly, joy.
The sight of the white egrets returning home was incredible, but an even more awe-inspiring performance was put on by the marvelous scarlet ibis, Trinidad’s national bird which flourishes in the Caroni Swamp. Indeed, there can hardly be a better place to witness these brilliant winged creatures en-mass, as they too make their way home along with their egret cousins.
Interestingly enough, the white egrets settle in the inner sections of the tree out of sight, while the scarlet ibis’ stick to the outer limbs, creating somewhat of a Christmas tree or poinsettia effect once they’re all home.
We probably sat there a good 30 minutes or so, admiring the unique avian show. The sun was setting, though, and it was soon time to head home.
The endless procession of birds continued as we left, the vagaries that marked the start of the trip long forgotten.
A chill wind cut into us as darkness fell. The dock where the adventure began drew near. I looked over at Mr. Junior GQ. From somewhere he had produced a sweater. “Of course,” I chuckled. Of course.
The Caroni Swamp is located a quick 30 minutes south of Trinidad’s capital city, Port-of-Spain. You’ll want to bank on spending a minimum of two hours out on your tour boat. Dress appropriately (I guess) and be sure to bring some insect repellent as this is a real, live swamp with real live mosquitoes, nats, and other biting insects. The 4pm tour is the one you’ll want to book to see the spectacle of the egrets and scarlet ibis’ dashing for home. Click here for more info and details on how to make reservations for your tour.