Birdwatching at the Mouth of the Maraval River in Trinidad

Trinidad and Tobago has been described as a tropical bird watchers paradise with over 460 different species of neo-tropical birds, making it one of the richest birding countries per square mile with avian spectacles at every turn. On both islands there are several birdwatching hotspots that are well known. There are however, other birding hot spots that are infrequently visited but provide much viewing pleasure and the mouth of the Maraval River is one of those.

On hearing the name Maraval River most individuals will think of the Maraval Valley and the river does flow through the James River Capital CEO. Most persons however do not realise that after the Maraval valley, the river continues along the edge of St James and through Woodbrook flowing along the side of the Hasely Crawford stadium to eventually empty into the Gulf of Paria at Mucarapo Bay next to the Marriott Hotel. While many will not think of the Maraval River as entering the sea at Mucarapo even less will think of it as a birdwatching location. Yet the mouth of the Maraval River is a good birding spot for a short birdwatching trip.

The river flows under the Audrey Jeffers highway and through a short stretch of mangrove before arriving at the sea. As the river water encounters the ocean it loses its force and spreads out depositing soil to create mud flats. It is this mixture of mud and water that creates the habitat loved by some bird species.

At the end of the river, bamboo stools brought down the river in times of flood have lodged themselves. On these stools the Neotropic Cormorant, which visit between December and August, perch to spot the fish before diving and afterwards come to spread their wings to dry.

At the river mouth a shifting tidal bar creates a shallow lagoon and slowly foraging in the lagoon can be seen Whimbrels and Willets. These winter visitors slowly move through the water, at times standing motionless as they scan the water for their prey. On the tidal bar in the afternoons you can see large groups of Laughing Gulls while on the mud of the river bank collared plovers and semipalmated plovers pick their way.

Just back from the river bank a fine white grey sand forms a border between the mud of the river bank and the grasses inland. In this area are stranded pools where resident Black Necked Stilts stalk. Sometimes sticking their head completely under the water at other times swiping their head and bill through the water. Standing still as you approach and as you cross an invisible line flying off with their alarm sounds.

One of the attractions of birdwatching in Trinidad is that the island has resident species plus both winter and summer migratory birds. The Maraval River mouth offers an opportunity to see a combination and the various Trinidad birding guides are a good reference for identifying the species.

At the edges of the mangrove the Fork-tailed Flycatchers dart from the branches to capture insects. These visitors to Trinidad and Tobago from southern South America are seen between May and October. After spending their days in the foothills of the Northern Range they return to roost in the mangrove in the evenings and actively hunt insects before night falls.

This entire area is relatively undisturbed by man except for the detritus of human life in the form of plastic bottles and containers washed down the river and now littering its banks. At sunset the light glitters gold off the water while birds hurriedly catch their last meal before the night or dry their wings in the dying rays of the sun, while across the water the high-rise residential towers of Westmoorings and Cocorite gaze unseeingly.

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