The reopening of beaches in Tobago has been hailed as a sign that tourism on the island is slowly reopening to the world.
But for Scottish couple Michael and Helen Cox, the return of direct flights to the island allowed them to continue their mission to view and photograph all the species of birds in the world.
Michael's adventures have taken him to 42 countries while his wife is a bit more experienced having visited 52 countries.
They landed at the ANR Robinson International Airport in Crown Point, Tobago, aboard a British Airways flight last Monday.
The couple have been married for 26 years and are fully invested in their hobby.
"We were slowed down by the covid19 pandemic, which was difficult. But with countries reopening their borders, we are on a Caribbean tour which will take us to Trinidad and then Jamaica.”
For their latest quest, they retained the services of experienced tour guide Jason Radix, owner of Eureka Natural History Tours.
Michael told Newsday, "We are in Tobago to see the environment, habitat and wildlife. We are about getting into the forest and the countryside.”
Michael, who described himself as a wildlife photographer who specialises in birds, said he came to Tobago because although it is a small island it boasts of a wide variety of birds and wildlife diversity.
Radix, a former marketing manager at Asa Wright Nature Centre, was the ideal guide for the birders on their wetlands tour.
Newsday caught up with Michael and Helen on Wednesday morning at the entrance of Magdalena Grand Beach and Golf Resort, Lowlands ahead of their tour.
Michael said Tobago was on their bucket list for quite some time, as it provides an unspoilt habitat for birds.
“Depending on who you ask, there are 10,000 to 11,500 species of birds around the world, and Tobago has over 250 species. A number of the countries we have been to, the wildlife has been pushed back. The animals have been hunted down and the forest has been constantly eroded. In some countries there is nothing wild, only concrete.
“That’s why we like coming to places like Tobago, because the forest is still protected and there is lots of greenery around, and when we go out on the porch at the hotel (Cuffie River Nature Retreat Lodge) where we are staying, we are surrounded by nature and birds.”
Michael said he thoroughly enjoyed the wetlands tour, which took them to Tobago Plantation wetlands, Canaan sewerage pond, Bon Accord sewerage pond, Bon Accord lagoon and the Pigeon Point coast. He said he was able to see 40 lifers, a term used in bird watching to describe the sighting of a new species.
Among his memorable sights were the ruby topaz hummingbird, eared dove, green-rumped parrot and the white-cheeked pintail duck.
Although many tourists come to Tobago to visit the renowned Englishman's Bay, Pirate's Bay, Pigeon Point beach, Store Bay and other beaches, Michael said he does not enjoy beaches.
“I will not be going to the beach – I get bored after an hour. I will be trying to see as much of the natural landscape as possible.”
On Thursday Radix carried them to the Main Ridge Reserve for a rainforest tour, and later to Little Tobago.
At the former, they were able to see birds such as the blue-backed manakin, collared trogon, and white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird. Other wildlife spotted included the red-tailed squirrel, red-rumped agouti, and diurnal bats.
Radix said working with Michael and Helen was very easy. "They are very knowledgeable, and I have been a tour guide for 30 years. So, I am very experienced in the natural history of Tobago.”
Asked whether the pandemic presented any reservations for choosing Tobago as a destination, Michael said, “No, our travel agent advised us on the state of the pandemic and restrictions in Tobago, so we knew what was possible.
He added, “I was a victim of covid19 on three occasions, but I am fully vaccinated and boosted. This is actually our first trip since the pandemic started, and we are happy with our choice
“We have not had any bad experiences. Tobago is quiet, peaceful and beautiful, and the people are very friendly and laid back. We have made a great decision.”
Radix said he made contact with the couple through an affiliate US company, Caligo Ventures, which specialises in bird watching and nature tours.
“While they are in Trinidad and Tobago, I am responsible for their tours and transfers.
Radix said the last recorded data showed that Tobago has 267 species of birds, while Trinidad and Tobago combined, has 480 species, which makes TT one of the highest density bird population in the world, in relation to the size of the island.”
Gambia, he said, which is a small island on the west coast of Africa, also has a high density of birds.
The couple were scheduled to do a nature trail at their hotel in Moriah on Friday, before leaving for Trinidad.