Nesting Leatherback Turtles Bring a Bonus to April through July Trinidad and Tobago Birding and Nature Tours

Leatherback Turtle on a Trinidad Beach, photo by Howard Topoff

Leatherback Turtle on a Trinidad Beach, photo by Howard Topoff

Nesting Leatherback Turtles provide an April to early-August bonus to year-round popular Caligo Ventures birding and nature tours and for those that prefer travel on their own – Independent Birding Ventures. Seven to ten day guided group birding and nature tours are based out of the Asa Wright Nature Centre and Lodge in Trinidad. This world-renowned ecolodge is set in a lush, tropical second-growth forest, a former plantation turned wildlife sanctuary, in Trinidad’s scenic Northern range. Birders have flocked here for over forty years; many return to enjoy the famed Verandah from which many have spotted thirty or more life birds before breakfast.

Many know about its world-class birding, but few know that Trinidad hosts some of the worlds’ largest and most productive Leatherback Turtle nesting sites. Matura and Grand Riviere are two sites that Caligo travelers visit, Matura Beach being the larger with a 12-mile stretch of undeveloped beach. Grand Riveire is often the chosen site for film crews recording this event, being smaller but in a prime location, this is the mostly densely nested beach known.

Watching Leatherbacks is an experience few have the opportunity to witness. With Asa Wright’s expert guides working in tandem with staff from a Trinidad-based non-profit group formed to protect turtles, one can safely venture out to await the giant Leatherback coming ashore. In May and June you can watch Leatherback females, much more at home in water than on land, drag themselves onto the sand to lay their eggs. This is a vulnerable time for them, and they nest only every three to five years. Standing close to them, seeing the effort it takes for them to find a safe and remote beach, and lay their eggs is a remarkable event to experience. Females make every effort to hide their nest, sweeping large arcs of sand with their massive flippers. These females weigh close to a ton, and can reach five to six feet in length. They lay about 80 eggs at a time, and will return several times over the April to July season, to spread their reproductive effort out. Eggs typically take 60 to 70 days to reach gestation. If conditions are right, visitors later in the season need to watch where they tread as nests can erupt at your feet and you could see hundreds of hatchlings scrambling across the sand to the sea.

These largest and strongest members of ancient sea turtle lineage arrive on Trinidad beaches having spent the summer feeding in cold waters of the North Atlantic, as far away as northern Europe. In this century, the marvel of their body functions and architecture – honed by 100 million years of history – was put to risk of extinction by the thoughtless consumption by humans, and disregard for the fairly simple needs of these ancient reptiles who share the planet. Estimates of the critically endangered Pacific population may be less than 2000. The Atlantic has become their stronghold. Trinidad once had extensive poaching, but it is now a rare problem with tourism providing income for local guides that are trained to view turtles in ways that do not discourage their nesting. Your visit supports conservation, evidenced by populations in Trinidad the tide of decline has turned and Leatherbacks are increasing in number. Trinidad is critical to the Atlantic population, hosting perhaps 80% of nesting individuals in the Caribbean. Guyana, Suriname, Puerto Rico and Florida are other sites, but none host the numbers one finds in Trinidad.

Caligo Ventures, now operated by Naturalist Journeys, LLC, has been the exclusive booking agent for the famed Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad for 30 years. Travel Planners can help you book a trip in which turtle viewing is one element in a whole array of birding and natural history wonders, or they can craft a turtle-focused stay for you using two lodges – the Centre and a hotel located right on one of the turtle beaches.

AWNC VerandahNo visitor to Trinidad should miss time at Asa Wright Nature Centre, where the experience of staying there, immersed in nature, is often described as the best introduction to Neotropical Rainforests around. The Lodge is of great appeal to birders, but expert naturalists at the Centre are also versed in botany, butterflies and other insects, reptiles, amphibians and general natural history. The Centre recently hosted a Bioblitz, recording the island’s biodiversity. At close-in feeders and flowering shrubs that rim them, one finds Tegu Lizards and Agouti alongside honeycreepers, tanagers, motmots, and other tropical birds. Toucans, manakins, bellbirds and oilbirds draw professional and amateur birdwatchers alike. In summer months rates for visitors are particularly favorable, and for several weeks of July there are programs provided for children during Family-Friendly weeks at the Centre.

For information contact Naturalist Journeys 866.900.1146, or Caligo Ventures at 800.426.7781. Email: info@naturalistjourneys.com info@caligo.com

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