Caroni Bird Sanctuary: Spectacular Avian Safari in Trinidad

Caroni Bird Sanctuary: Spectacular Avian Safari in Trinidad

This, was a mistake. That rueful refrain kept racing through my head at the onset of my excursion into the Caroni Bird Sanctuary in Trinidad. 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-something-ish kid sitting next to me on our tour boat. The problem: he was wearing nothing short of his Sunday best.

Swanky, Smoky Start

Call me crazy, but when I sign up for an eco-adventure (emphasis on 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 – hair parted just-so, shoes bearing a mirror-perfect shine – burst my bubble. I thought…

How could there be any real adventure today?

Serene Swamp
Entering the Caroni Swamp, Trinidad | Photo by Steve Bennett

Persistent smoke-outs from our boat’s sputtering engine further dulled the eco-shine on this excursion. When my fellow “explorers” weren’t gagging and coughing, they were chatting and laughing. No doubt they were being loud enough to keep most any wildlife away.

Oh well, I thought. At least the natural beauty was truly incredible.

Serene Swamp Surrounds

As the sun began to set, the river widened and we entered into a broad, open area dotted with small mangrove islands.

Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary
Deep into the Caroni Swamp | Photo by Steve Bennett

It wasn’t what I had originally wanted. I was happy enough, though, with the peaceful boat ride. The great photo opportunities it presented weren’t bad either.

In terms of wildlife, we saw a few boas and iguanas along the way. We also encountered a couple four-eyed fish…Really!

So yeah, that was good too.

Eventually, though, we arrived at what seemed like a random spot up against one of the mangrove islands. I was content, thinking the experience was over. My main thought at the time centered on dinner back in Port-of-Spain.

Boy was I in for a surprise!

Caroni Bird Sanctuary Big Show

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.

Caroni Swamp
Here they come! | Photo by Steve Bennett

This, however, 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 Bird Sanctuary. They return each evening after spending the day feeding over in Venezuela 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.

Home at Last | Photo by Steve Bennett

Egrets Upstaged

The sight of the white egrets returning home was incredible. An even more awe-inspiring performance, though, was put on by the marvelous Scarlet Ibis.

Trinidad’s national bird flourishes in the Caroni Swamp and Bird Sanctuary. 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.

Scarlet Ibis returning home to Caroni
Scarlet Ibis returning home | Photo by Steve Bennett

Interestingly enough, the white egrets settle in the inner sections of the tree out of sight. The Scarlet Ibis’, though, stick to the outer limbs. This creates somewhat of a Christmas tree or poinsettia effect once they’re all home.

Sweet Ending

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.

Tips for Visiting Caroni Bird Sanctuary

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. Caroni is a real, live swamp with real live mosquitoes, nats, and other biting insects, after all.

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.

Last updated by Steve Bennett on .

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