The morning sun rose to the most beautiful sounds of bird song coming from near and far.
I was waking up to my first morning at Asa Wright Nature Center on the beautiful tropical island of Trinidad, and I was so excited to be starting my vacation on the veranda of this world-renowned birding hotspot. We had been planning this trip for months to celebrate our 20th anniversary with this grand birding adventure.
The day before had been very long and hectic: we got up at 3 am to be taken to the Baltimore airport by 4:30 (now that is friendship above and beyond for sure!), our flight left at 6:30 am and 5 hours later we landed in Houston (where we lost an hour to time zone changes), we had a 5 hour layover in Houston (which does not offer wifi, meaning I hope to never be stuck for a layover in this airport again), finally we boarded our flight to Trinidad where we landed at 10:30 pm (jumping ahead two hours to Atlantic time zone).
After clearing customs, we walked out of the airport into the balmy air of the tropics. How nice to have left winter behind! We were met by Sookdeo Ramdass (but he asked us to call him Ramdass). He told us he would be one of our local birding guides during our stay in Trinidad and that he would now drive us up to Asa Wright Nature Center.
If you’ve ever traveled along the Blanchissuise Rd from Asa Wright Nature Center in either direction, the idea of renting a car, driving on the wrong side of the road, navigating hundreds of hairpin turns along a road that seems hardly wide enough for one way traffic, let alone two way traffic, with a steady stream of large trucks heading to the quarries along a road with very few guard rails above cliffs that drop straight down for hundreds of feet.
I was so grateful to Ramdass for so expertly driving us along this road! It’s kind of a terrifying drive in the dark, but he got us safely to Asa Wright and checked in to our room.
He told us the rest of the group would meet on the Veranda the next morning at 6:30.
And that brings me back to the beautiful sunrise and the amazing sounds of bird song from this porch overlooking the Arima Valley. (Scroll to bottom to start the slideshow)
History of Asa Wright Nature Center
The Asa Wright Nature Center describes its mission as:
To preserve a part of the Arima Valley in its natural state; to create a conservation and study area; and to protect the wildlife thereon for the enjoyment and benefit of all persons of this and succeeding generations.
Comprising nearly 1,500 acres of mainly forested land in the Arima and Aripo Valleys of the Northern Range, the AWNC’s properties will be retained under forest cover in perpetuity, to protect the community watershed and provide important wildlife habitat.
Bill Murphy, author of The Birdwatchers Guide to Trinidad and Tobago describes Asa Wright this way:
The Asa Wright Nature Centre is located on a ridge side in the Arima Valley at an elevation of 360 m (1,181 ft.), 12 km (7.5 miles) north of the city of Arima (an Amerindian name meaning ‘place of water’). A former coffee-cocoa-citrus plantation known as Springhill Estate, the Asa Wright Nature Centre has been allowed to return to a wild state and is a grand place to spend some time.
From the veranda the entire length of the Arima Valley can be surveyed and flying Channel-billed Toucans, White Hawks, and Ornate Hawk-Eagles can be studied. It is also possible to obtain very close views and photographs of hummingbirds, tanagers, and honeycreepers at the fruit-filled feeders. Nature trails radiate from the estate house towards several different habitats – along and into the lush rainforest, along the bird-rich entrance road, and to Dunstan Cave, home of the famous Oilbird. One very easy and rewarding stroll is along the 1.5-km (roundtrip) entrance road. Blue-headed and Orange-winged Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, Great Antshrike, Cocoa, Bare-eyed, and White-necked Thrushes, and Crested Oropendola can all be seen here. Often a Tegu lizard forages beneath the fruit-filled bird feeders.
This property began its existence as the Springhill Estate, which Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer purchased for his son Charles William Meyer to create a cocoa, sugar, and coffee plantation in approximately 1906. Sadly Charles fell on hard times and was unable to support his family from the sale of cocoa and coffee so he abandoned Springhill Estate in 1925.
The property was then purchased by Joseph Holmes in 1936, and extensive repairs to the main house, laborers quarters, and cocoa drying sheds was begun. Holmes was responsible for fly-proofing the main house, improving the fireplace from wood-burning to charcoal burning, and piping in water from a distant spring to the house, the kitchen, and the recently constructed showers. Holmes also brought electricity to the estate by installing a small hydro-electric generator.
After World War II, Holmes was approached by Dr. Newcome Wright and his wife Asa, frequent visitors to the Springhill Estate, who expressed interest in purchasing the property. The Wrights continued to cultivate cocoa, coffee, citrus, and bananas which they sold in Port-of-Spain.
Newcome passed away in 1955 and Asa continued to manage the estate on her own. Asa frequently welcomed Dr William Beebe, an American Ornithologist from the New York Zoological Society as a guest to Springhill Estate.
Dr. Beebe created the Simla research station (now called the Tropical Research Station of the New York Zoological Society) which comprised several parcels of land also located in the Arima Valley.
Asa Wright continued to welcome these researchers, ornithologists, and naturalists to her home at Springhill Estates as well as renting out bedrooms at her home to these visiting naturalists.
Asa Wright Nature Center
Asa Wright’s health began to decline in 1966, and a trust was set up to create a Nature Center to ensure that the area and its resident wildlife would be protected in perpetuity. The Asa Wright Nature Centre was officially opened on November 5th, 1967, and is now one of the premier birding destinations in the world.
The famous veranda looks down on a landscaped wildlife garden replete with many hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders to attract many of the colorful and amazing birds to visit the gardens visible from the veranda, as well as giving great views of the Arima Valley and the raptors and other birds who soar across the valley.
Many trails twine through the property, making it easy to spot Trogons, Bearded Bellbirds, Manakins, many types of hummingbirds, a whole slew of Tanager species, and one of the most accessible spots in the world to visit an Oilbird cave.
As the sun rises over the valley, birders gather on the veranda to observe the many avian visitors to the gardens and feeders below. And after spending the day wandering the many trails, birders return to the veranda in the evening to sip the famous Rum Punch and recount the day’s adventures.
I was able to visit Asa Wright Nature Center on a tour with Field Guides Birding Tours with Megan Crewe as our guide. (Please see my review of Field Guides Birding Tours). Also see the triplist of the birds and other critters we got to see on this trip to Trinidad and Tobago.
Please click any photo below to watch the slideshow of many of these amazing birds.
Follow my adventures in Trinidad and Tobago:
- Birding in Paradise
- The Traveling Birder
- The Scarlet Ibis of Trinidad
- Birdwatcher’s Guide to Trinidad and Tobago
- Travel Writing with an iPad
- A Review of Field Guides Birding Tours in Trinidad and Tobago
- Birds and Wildlife Gardens of Guatemala
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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