For those with short memories (like me), or those that don't read everything I post here (also like me), I offer this background to our recent trip to Trinidad and Tobago. You can also read about our then-far-off trip in a post from last April. - Mike
It's not often you find yourself on a tropical island after making an offhand comment. Well, unless you live on a tropical island, then you can't really help it. But my point is I've never found myself on a tropical island because of something I tossed out without really thinking.
Last autumn, long before I thought about staring my 40th birthday squarely in the eye, my wife asked, "So, what do you want this year? I mean, 40. It's a big one. Maybe a new guitar?"
I'm satisfied with my current stringed instrument status and there wasn't anything else really on my wish-list horizon. It wasn't until December, probably while enviously reading about someone else's exotic birding trip, I mused, "You know what? I want to travel. Somewhere new. Where there are lots of new birds to see. Lots of birds. I want to be overwhelmed, reduced to weeping and cowering at the sheer volume of new species. New genera . . . no, new families of birds."
I guess I said it out loud, and within earshot of Donna's bat-like hearing, so we discussed the options. After a few days of financial analysis, some debate, a touch of arguing followed by copious amounts of begging and pleading, my logic finally prevailed. "All right, we can make that happen," spoken with just the right amount of resignation. This would be a birthday to remember.
Now, where to go? Initial thought: Peru. I'd been talking with colleagues at the Cornell Lab (including Tom Schulenberg, author of The Birds of Peru) and Peru kept coming up, usually instilling a faraway, dreamy look in everyone's eyes. But that's just one possibility. What about Ecuador? Chile? Brazil? Panama? Belize? Mexico?
I had already ruled out trips to Africa, southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and others, I felt those are more in line with the half-century mark. Staying within my home hemisphere was more of a 40-ish celebration.
But in there lay a rub: I didn't want a trip just for me, I wanted to go with my wife and daughter. I love birding pre-dawn to after-dark and racking up lifers as much as the next lister, but I wasn't anxious to spend 3,000-plus (after travel) of our well-saved US dollars so I could be led around a new country, bird by bird. Well, I was anxious, but it wouldn't mean as much. Of course I wanted to see lots of birds, but I wanted my family to experience the vacation. I would have my cake and I would it eat it, too, dammit.
The question became whether my target countries offered enough to entertain a birding-friendly spouse and a five-year-old. She's great on hikes and experiencing nature, but to a point. What about a place that offers new birds, interesting hikes and critters, and beaches? What about the Caribbean?
I'll spare you the island-by-island evaluation, but by early spring we ultimately, and happily, settled on twin Caribbean islands that lie on the South American plate. Not a big endemic list (one: Trinidad Piping Guan), but a reasonable species list (467, according to a recent check on Avibase), lots of interesting families represented, easy to get to, and travel domestically once there. Perfect. And T&T is a well-established birding destination, meaning lots of information available about where to stay, when to go, what to do.
The "when" question was answered by the other obligations already on the calendar, which whittled away at dates until we were left with the beginning of October.
The next phase of research was set to begin. Where do those 467 birds spend their time when they're on T&T? And how do we route them into our vacation? That turned out to be a fairly easy question to answer.
At least in theory.
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