The only place in the world to catch a glimpse of the Scarlet Ibis!

The large pirogue, manned by an almost silent boatman/guide, veered onto the dark, mangrove lined Aquatic Avenue. Seemingly counterproductive to nature voyeurism, the boatman/guide played a deft hand by taking our rowdy group through a dimly lit section of the recently renamed Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary in honour of the late pioneer who sought to preserve the area for decades.

As he slowed down, the pirogue grew dangerously close to the sharp mangrove roots and angry looking mangrove crabs. A few moments later, he shifted the pirogue about a slight hair-pin bend and in an instant a clear flat lake underneath a light blue sky burst through the end of the tunnel. The collective audible gasp of delight brought a knowing smirk to his face. Mr. Boatman knew what he was doing.

For bird and nature lovers, the Sanctuary offers a serene voyage on a dark green liquid pathway through hundreds of mangrove trees, although it’s mainly their wibbly-wobbly roots. Lined along the river, in startling contrast, the paved roads on either side gave way to more and more skeletal trees. The Swamp is unapologetic in its natural state, brazenly showing off her fallen trees and broken branches with aplomb.
. Strange looking crabs scuttle across the spindly roots as the motorboat chugs by and mangrove oysters cling to the roots for dear life. Sightings of caimans and boas are rare, but they do call the sanctuary home. During the three hour journey, our guide stopped a few times to showcase other bits of flora and fauna.

On the flat expanse of the man-made lake (according to the guide), white egrets walk along the edges of marshland with leggy grace. But it’s the bright vermillion that we’re all looking for; the pride of the Swamp and Trinidad and Tobago’s national bird, the Scarlet Ibis. The sky is blotted with streaks red, pink and dots of grey as evening grows near. The Scarlet Ibis goes home for the night, but above the many boats that anchor to watch, herons and other birds join in the aerial bedtime routine.

Located on the West Coast of Trinidad, the Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary is the largest mangrove wetland where the Caroni River meets the Gulf of Paria. According to the Caroni Swamp Ramsar Wetlands document, ‘the Swamp is ecologically diverse, consisting of marshes, mangrove swamp and tidal mudflats in close proximity. The wetland provides a variety of habitats for flora and faunal species and as such, supports a rich biodiversity…’

Mostly the trip is an eyeful rather than earful. There’s always something to catch the eye. A mysterious movement in the water, a wayward breeze lifting a suspicious leaf or the sudden scuttling of some kind of water creature seems to capture the most attention. There are no spooky sounds, other than the rumblings of the motor boat and faint laughter.

The lure of the Winston Nanan Caroni Bird Sanctuary is the serenity and shameless natural beauty. Bird lovers go for the Scarlet Ibis and other birds, but nature lovers go for the entire experience. I guarantee that any visit to this haven for all living aviary and aquatic things will leave you feeling both relaxed and regretful at the same time. Regret only, since the end of the journey means leaving the simple serenity behind.

For more info on tour times and prices:

Nanan’s Caroni Swamp Bird Sanctuary Tours

Address: Bamboo Grove Settlement, Valsayn, Trinidad
Phone: (868) 645-1305

Madoo Bird Tours

Address: #37 Bamboo Settlement #1
Uriah Butler Highway, Caroni, Trinidad
Phone: (868) 663-0458, (868) 737-2069

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