Friday 7 December 2012

Blue Waters Inn, Tobago

Old news, old news, but the next few posts, added together, are going to form a trip report, that you can access from my Trips Page. Anyway, it's not as if I've seen any birds here - in fact I've barely been out of the house other than to go to work.

So, Tobago. Wonderful. Go. Go now. Actually, scratch that. Don't go now, go next November, for right about now the prices tend to skyrocket, such that a week in January costs 2.5x what a week in November costs. This is apparently the distinction between the wet and the dry season, though for the first six days of our stay we had approximately 40 minutes of rain. Perhaps we were just lucky, but it made our holiday seem like a complete bargain. We flew British Airways (the choices of airline are fairly limited, and it's only a weekly flight, via Antigua), and also booked our hotel, the Blue Waters Inn, via their website. The morning flight, from Gatwick, was pretty long, made longer by the enforced stop in Antigua, and by the time we got to ANR Robinson Airport at Crown Point on Tobago, it was 5.30 in the evening and basically dark - the time difference is four hours. But it was WARM, and as we stepped out onto the pavement, rum punch in hand, a steel band was playing. Holiday mode was immediately engaged! We had prebooked a transfer to the Blue Waters Inn, just over an hours drive away, but in doing so paid well over the odds. It was nice to have no hassle immediately upon arrival, but  the actual fare is $50, or 300 local dollars, known as TT.

The first thing you notice about Tobago is that everybody knows everybody, and the common way of saying "Hi" is to hoot your horn. So, one arm out of the window, the other on the horn - essentially constantly, leaving, er, no hands for the wheel....and the roads to Tobago once you get past the capital, Scarborough, become quite bendy. Lucky then that it was dark. Needless to say, we made it one piece and by 9pm local time were sitting in the Shipwreck Bar of the Blue Waters Inn drinking the second of many rum punches. I had chosen this place for several reasons - the primary one being the location. It sits just north of the small village of Speyside at the eastern end of the island in the secluded Batteaux Bay. This end of the island is the hilly part, with secondary forest coming right down to the shore. The western end, where the airport and the main tourist district are, is the flat part. There are birds there of course, but let's just say there is a reason why all birders stay in Speyside! The second reason was that the hotel was lowrise, and small, just 38 rooms, all of which were right on the beach. I'm not a fan of big hotels with gazillions of guests. This hotel had it's own beach, own jetty, secluded basically. Oh, and it was where the boats to the Red-billed Tropicbird colony on Little Tobago go from.... Many months after I had booked the holiday I asked various birding associates if they had ever been to Tobago - those that had been had all stayed, and I mean 100% of them, at the Blue Waters Inn. Curried Shrimp and a beer later and we were ready to hit the sack.

We awoke at 4am to the sound of birds. Unknown birds. Naturally I leapt out of bed and tried to identify them in the dark. Turns out the first one to start off is the Tropical Mockingbird, followed shortly afterwards by the uniquitous Bananaquit, which sounds like a cross between a hyperactive Dunnock and a Firecrest. Once you've had about a quarter of an hour of duet of those two, the very noisy Rufous-vented Chachalacas start up, a kind of small turkey-like fowl - the national bird of Tobago.

Rufous-vented Chachalaca
It got light before six, and so we started to explore our surroundings. The hotel is literally on the beach - a couple of bungalows and then two small groupings of rooms separated by the bar, restaurant and pool. I estimate that the distance from my bed to the water was easily under six metres, and were it not for the low wall I reckon I could have got from one to the other in under five seconds. As it was, twenty seconds was about the norm, though everything happens much more slowly than you would expect on Tobago. This is both a good and a bad thing. Good in that you cannot help but relax, but bad in that anyone who that you might expect is there to see to your holiday needs is in fact much more relaxed than you are, and consequently - and despite your advanced state of relaxation - you cannot help but get frustrated at just how long it takes for a beer to get from the bar to your table.

We went for our first swim before breakfast, and it was delicious. The warter is properly warm. Not quite bath warm, but warm enough that any testicular fears you may have evaporate instantly. Over the course of the week I spent many happy hours simple floating on my back (I have excellent natural buoyancy....)  watching Magnificent Frigatebirds floating over. My list of birds seen whilst swimming was pretty good. Frigates easily the most common, but regular Red-billed Tropicbirds in the distance, Brown Pelicans and Osprey overhead, Great Black Hawk, Peregrine, Orange-winged Parrots and quite a few others.

Breakfast was a leisurely affair, a buffet of fruits and so on, endless coffee, and then hot food if you felt like it. And all with a brilliant view of a sandy beach - complete with the friendliest Turnstones in the world, Spotted Sandpiper, and Yellow-crowned Night Heron - and verdant scenery down to the water's edge. There was a lot of happy sighing.

Trinidad (Blue-crowned) Motmot
I mentioned that this wasn't a birding holiday - indeed it wasn't. Much time was spent sitting around. Swimming, reading, snoozing, outright dozing in fact. My biggest downfall was the presence of Hummingbird feeders between the rooms and the beach - and there a great deal of time was spent, as I have already shown here. A non-photographer could have had a much more sedentary week. Of the seven days we spent on Tobago, five and half were spent no more than fifty yards from our hotel room - it was that kind of holiday. Tthe grounds of the hotel encompassed several acres, and the manicured areas quickly gave way to wilder habitat, and it was this edge that was probably the most productive. Is it time for a list? I think it is!

Blue Waters Inn
Rufous-vented Chachalaca
Magnificent Frigatebird
Red-billed Tropicbird
Brown Pelican
Brown Booby
Magnificent Frigatebird
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Little Blue Heron
Great Black Hawk
Yellow-headed Caracara
Spotted Sandpiper

White-tipped Dove
Pale-vented Pigeon
Orange-winged Parrot
Smooth-billed Ani
Grey-rumped Swift
Rufous-breasted Hermit
Copper-rumped Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Trinidad Motmot
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Barred Antshrike
White-fringed Antwren

Yellow-breasted Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird

Grey Kingbird
Scrub Greenlet
Tropical Mockingbird
Blue-grey Tanager
Blue-black Grassquit
Crested Oropendola
Great Cowbird

I've no idea how many that is, but whilst a few birds were omnipresent, you had to go looking for many of them, and so in the quiet hours before the hotel was up, that's what I did. This quickly became the routine - a spot of birding before a swim and a leisurely breakfast, another swim, a quick photo-session before lunch (all photos in this post taken no more than twenty seconds away from our room), lunch, beer, more swimming etc. Fairly strenuous really, I don't know how I coped.

A few thoughts on the hotel - fabulous surroundings, all I thought it would be on paper. Slightly let down by largely indifferent cooking - if you stuck to the daily grilled fish you were largely OK, but overall we thought it was pretty average. Not that we went there for the gourmet experience you understand, but top-quality nosh is always appreciated and this wasn't. Similarly the cocktails were all standard pub-style cocktails, ie not very good, or at least not versus what a real cocktail ought to be - half the time they had no limes, which is ridiculous as I found a lime tree in the grounds whilst birding! My guess is the staff were just too relaxed to go and pick them - and this was probably the most annoying thing. I can relax up there with the best of them, but there are limits, especially when you're working in a service environment. Then again, perhaps I shouldn't attempt to apply western european standards to the Caribbean, and this is what it is like all the time and if you go often you just expect it. So in summary, setting great, birds great, room great, food, drink and service mostly average. Nothing to warrant complaining about, but equally nothing to write home about either. Like I said, I went there for the former rather than the latter, so no real worries. And when you have Bananquits sat on railings as you eat lunch, who cares?



  1. Fantastic write-up. I want to go...NOW!

  2. Hi Jonathan, can I ask what lens you took these pictures with? I am looking to go to Blue Waters in June with my partner (for a beach holiday) but I can't resist a colourful motmot or a turnstone as above!

  3. Hi Jonathan, can I ask what lens you took these pictures with? I am looking to go to Blue Waters in June with my partner (for a beach holiday) but I can't resist a colourful motmot or a turnstone as above!

  4. I used my Canon 800mm on this trip. However the Turnstones were with my 100mm macro as they were exceptionally tame.

    1. Actually I take that back, I also owned at that time a 300mm f2.8 lens, and used that for the Turnstone photo above. Possibly the Motmot too actually. Tropicbirds were with the longer lens, and I have Turnstone headshots with the macro! My advice is to take a flash btw, and know how to use it before you get there....