Perhaps the most unlikely bird sanctuary in Trinidad, the remarkable Point-a-Pierre Wildfowl Trust is a series of greenery-swathed pools right in the midst of the huge Petrotrin Oil Refinery at Point-a-Pierre, just north of San Fernando. The reserve came into being in 1966, when a hunter who worked at the refinery realized that wildfowl stocks were diminishing, and set aside an area within the complex to breed the birds. In time it became an established reserve, supported financially by the Canadian and British governments as well as by Shell – though barely at all by Petrotrin itself. Today, the reserve’s attractively landscaped grounds surround two lakes filled with lotus and water lilies and bordered by wooden walkways. Many rare bird species can be seen here, including the wild Muscovy duck, the red-billed whistling duck, the white-cheeked pintail and red-capped cardinal. Notwithstanding the fact that some of the rarer birds, including scarlet ibis, are caged within an aviary to allow breeding programmes to continue, the reserve doesn’t feel at all like a zoo. Indeed, the ibis breeding programme has been something of a landmark project, particularly as some of the released birds have chosen to stay on the site, allowing you the only chance you’ll get in Trinidad to see wild scarlet ibis up close; at Caroni Swamp, home of the scarlet ibis, you’re usually some distance from the ibis roosting trees.
The learning centre at the entrance has good photographic displays of the reserve’s flora and fauna, plus a small collection of shells and insect specimens alongside Amerindian artefacts, with a very informative account of the culture and belief systems of Trinidad’s original inhabitants. The trust’s guides are vastly knowledgeable not only about the birdlife, but also the medicinal qualities of Trinidad’s indigenous plants, and though you can explore the reserve independently, you’ll get a lot more from your visit if you arrange for a tour. The best time to visit is before 11am or after 3pm, as many birds hide in the shade during the hottest part of the day; spend the midday hours enjoying lunch on the veranda of the Petrea Place restaurant.