Tobago Bird Watching - Birdwatching with Peter Cox
Tobago abounds with tour guides. Many claim to be acknowledged specialists in their field, or to have been trained by the island’s leading experts. As you would expect, most Tobagonians know more about the local birdlife, flora and fauna than the average visitor. It often takes little more than one of those huge ‘Gonian smiles and a nice line in chat to convince the unsuspecting tourist that they are, indeed, in the company of an expert and to extract the requisite number of dollars for a tour. I am strongly tempted to name the so-called bird-watching guide who did not know that the locally-named “sugar bird”, probably the most common bird on the island, was more commonly known as a Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola).
The honest truth is that there are very few full-time professional tour guides on Tobago. The vast majority of these guides offer tours as a second or even third and fourth-string to their regular jobs. Many of them are perfectly competent and can provide an amusing and informative tour that visitors may long remember with affection. However, visitors who require anything but the most superfluous introduction to the natural life of Tobago are strongly advised to go with one of the ‘expert’ guides featured in our reviews.
Few people would disagree that when it comes to environmental and ecological matters on Tobago, Peter Cox is probably the island’s best-known guide. His primary area of specialisation is the flora and fauna of the island, although he is increasingly recognised as a top bird-watching guide.
Peter's love of nature developed at a very early age. He is extremely passionate about preservation of the island’s environment and ecology and is a very active campaigner for these matters. He provides regular and informative lectures at several popular hotels; most noticeably at the Turtle Beach Hotel. His involvement in this education goes far beyond any commercial exercise to solicit business.
Although I have long known of Peter and indeed have met him in previous years, I confess that my busy itinerary writing accommodation reviews had never given me the opportunity to go on one of his tours until this year. Even then, various factors meant that we were unable to commit ourselves in advance, so it was very much a matter of arranging something at very short notice. As a result, I will not attempt to describe a ‘typical’ Peter Cox tour – I can only offer our personal views after an ad hoc morning with him.
Instantly recognisable in his trademark floppy burgundy West Indies cricket team hat, camouflage shirt and multi-pocketed birding vest, Peter collected us up from the Coco Reef Resort. Our first stop was the excellent local bakery along the Milford Road – Peter had been out protecting turtle eggs since dawn and was desperate for some nourishment. Ignoring our protestations that we had already eaten breakfast, he bought extra. I am ashamed to admit that the pies he bought were so delicious that I think we probably ate more than just our own share. After all, he was driving. By the time we stopped and he could dig in, there was little left.
Too polite to say a word, Peter took us to Turtle beach. He had been called out by one of the hotel guards around dawn when beach dogs were seen scratching at the sand. Keen-nosed beach dogs had scented a Giant Leatherback turtle nest. After all, the patrons of the adjacent hotel would be having eggs for breakfast, so why not the dogs too? Of course beach dogs are not as endangered as Giant Leatherbacks, so it was no contest as far as Peter was concerned.
Having satisfied himself that the Leatherback nest was secure and the oncoming shift of hotel security guards keeping an eye on more than the hotel guests, Peter took us back to the Bon Accord mangrove swamps. Having had lots of time during the journeys to discuss the ecological problems of conservation of the seriously endangered Leatherbacks, it was now time for Peter to show us the other conflict that Tobago faces – the diminishing area of mangrove swamps as land is drained to make way for luxury villas and houses. The Bon Accord flats have always been a wonderful area for wildlife and it is tragic to see how much smaller this area is now, compared to just a few years ago. Having said that, just as at the ‘Hilton’ sewage treatment works on the Tobago Plantations development, the sewage ponds are a clearly providing a wonderful habitat for so many birds of myriad species.
In fact, although this is not specifically a bird-watching guide, I have to tell you that in our short stay in the Bon Accord mangroves we saw 18 different species of bird and were able to study them in great detail through Peter’s powerful ‘scope. The species were:
Blue-winged Teal, White cheeked Pintail, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Green Heron, Wattled Jacana (locally known as Jesus Bird because they walk on the lilies), Gray Kingbird, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Yellow-headed Caracara, Tricoloured Heron, Whimbrel, Woodpecker, Green Rumped Parrotlets, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Smooth-billed Ani (known locally as the “Brick-wall bird” because of the bird’s stubby bill), Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Spotted Sandpiper and Southern Lapwings.
The heat of the day was building and lunchtime looming. Worried that we might demand another round of pies, Peter headed out of Bon Accord and we meandered up the Atlantic coast. Jill had mentioned that she hadn’t seen any caimans on this trip, so Peter took us to Mount St.George and the Hillsborough East River and sure enough, found us a two-metre caiman basking in the sun, just a few metres from the main Atlantic coast road.
Softly spoken and exhibiting a good sense of humour, Peter proved to be an excellent guide and companion. He quickly determined and pitched the tour at exactly the right level for our expertise and interest and seemed to have a good instinct for knowing when we had “had enough” and wished to move on. Without doubt he is a knowledgeable and expert guide in all matters connected with the flora and fauna and wildlife of Tobago. As such, I can thoroughly recommend him to our readers.
General questions and reports about this service should be posted in our Tobago discussion forum. Please contact the firm direct for information about prices and availability.
Peter Cox Nature Tours
Telephone: (868) 751-5822