Jamaica 2016

...with Mark Finn

18th - 25th March

Jamaica once again proved to be a popular birding destination with the group recording all the possible endemic bird species. There were many highlights during the week which are mentioned in the following report.

My thanks to Ricardo for leading the group and taking us to exceptional birding habitats of his home island. Without his birding skills and knowledge of where to find some difficult birds the tour would not have been the success it was.

March 18th/19th: London, Kingston, New Kingston, Hellshire Hills, Portmore Sewage Ponds, Hope Gardens

Weather: Warm and sunny with light winds 33 C

The group met up at Gatwick North terminal for the direct flight to Kingston in Jamaica. We arrived on time and passed through passport and customs formalities. Ricardo was there to meet us and we had a short time to do some birding along the airport road. A series of quays attracted Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Sandwich and Royal Terns and a wintering Ruddy Turnstone. Near the port the menacing shape of Magnificent Frigatebirds could clearly be seen. Checked in at the hotel for the night.

Next morning we met up at 0630. The hotel gardens had a few trees and shrubs which attracted White-crowned Pigeon, Common Ground Dove, Zenaida and Eared Doves, Northern Mockingbird, Vervain Hummingbird and the very common Northern Mockingbird. On our way to Hellshire Hills the coastline attracted Cattle Egret, Laughing Gull, Smooth-billed Ani, Greater Antillean and Great-tailed Grackles and a Mourning Dove. The last two species are recent colonists to Jamaica. Arriving at Hellshire Hills we found an arid area of thorn scrub and limestone. Bahama Mockingbird, a scarce regional endemic, was quickly located singing from the top of a shrub. Turkey Vultures and an American Kestrel patrolled the skies whilst skulking Yellow Warblers sang their short songs from thick cover. A short walk along the track added Jamaican Mango and Stolid Flycatcher. On leaving the area a pair of Jamaican Orioles were noted plus a fly-by White-winged Dove. Next on the agenda were the sewage pools at Portmore where we located Great and Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. In another area Northern Jacana and Yellow-crowned Bishops feeding on seed-heads. A careful search of the surrounding area added White Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, Cave Swallow and best of all a Solitary Sandpiper an uncommon visitor to Jamaica. We had a traditional Jamaican lunch and a return to base before heading out again at 1500 hours to Hope Gardens. On arrival at the gardens the large fruiting trees around the car park attracted Cape May, Prairie and Black-throated Blue Warblers and several American Redstarts. A pair of Jamaican Woodpeckers put on a show for us as they clambered up tree trunks to give us exceptional views. In older trees adjacent to the car park the group watched American Kestrels and several Yellow-billed Parrots. After about an hour we finally entered the park where a male Red-billed Streamertail showed in a flowering tree. In other trees we added Northern Parula, Bananaquit, White-chinned Thrush and overhead European Starlings, a less than welcome colonist to Jamaica. A walk through the park provided us with more views of the birds mentioned above plus a juvenile and adult Northern Potoo perched in large, mature trees. We ended the day with sightings of Chestnut-sided Warbler, Jamaican Euphonia and Antillean Palm Swifts.


March 20th: New Kingston, Soapberry Sewage Lagoons, Hardwar Gap, Starlight

Weather: Hot and sunny with easterly winds 26 C / 30 C

Breakfast was taken at 0630 hours. An immature Peregrine Falcon was seen perched on a nearby building and was constantly mobbed by an American Kestrel. Our main birding destination was Soapberry a water treatment plant on the outskirts of Kingston. The entrance road is bordered by sugar cane fields and then woodland and scrub. By the cane fields views of Northern Parula, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Loggerhead Kingbird. Further along the track a Common Yellowthroat and Palm Warbler on the track and a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a telegraph pole. We obtained permission to enter the plant with the first lagoon holding Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least, Western, Spotted and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Killdeer, Grey Plover and Laughing Gulls. A nice bonus came when two American Flamingos were seen flying near the docks complex. In the deeper pools Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler and Common Gallinule. A freshwater pool nearby attracted the commoner herons and egrets, Black-crowned Night Heron and a group of Stilt Sandpipers in flight. Back to the hotel followed by a lunch of jerk cuisine. Later in the day we started the drive up towards Hardwar Gap with the lower elevations having Red-billed Streamertails and American Redstarts. A short walk into the forest was an amazing experience as the group located White-chinned and White-eyed Thrushes, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Spindalis, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Prairie Warbler and a Crested Quail Dove walking along the road swaging its rear body. On the return walk we encountered Jamaican Becard, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, Jamaican Woodpecker and Sad Flycatchers. Arrived at Starlight which is ideally based for birding in the mountains.

March 21st: Blue Mountains and John Crow National Park

Weather: Sunny with cloudy periods on a south wind 25 C

Ricardo had arranged refreshments for 0600 hours in order for us to watch bird activity around the feeders. Plenty of Red-billed Streamertails, Yellow-faced and Black-faced Grassquits, Orangequit, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler and a skulking Ovenbird. The first stop along the road produced a Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo and Ring-tailed Pigeons. Further on a wintering Louisiana Waterthrush and a Crested Quail Dove walking slowly uphill on the ground. Next was the endemic Arrowhead Warbler gleaning leaves for insects. Nearby several Black and White Warblers were noted searching for insects on tree trunks. Jamaican Peewee and Greater Antillean Bullfinches were added to the list and close views of a Jamaican Tody. On the return a Blue Mountain Vireo sitting quietly preening in a tree. Back to base for brunch and out for a walk late morning. The birds had gone quiet with the addition of Jamaican Vireo and Jamaican Elaenias. Before our afternoon excursion a male Merlin showed well in the hotel gardens. In late afternoon we revisited the same areas again with good views of Jamaican Euphonia and White-eyed Thrush. The remainder of the day was spent wandering down the road viewing the birds of the mountains plus calling Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo. A bonus came when a Rufous-tailed Flycatcher was found sitting quietly on a branch. Nearby a Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo showed in a vine covered tree. At dusk a juvenile and adult Jamaican Owl were heard.

March 22nd: Starlight, Cascade Road, Blue Mountains

Weather: Overcast with sunny spells 26 C

After coffee and tea a walk down the dirt road searching for birds. Good views obtained Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Oriole, Northern Parula, Prairie and Black and White Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Orangequit, Yellow-faced, Black-faced and Yellow-shouldered Grassquits. A bonus came when a Black Whiskered Vireo came into view a summer visitor from South America. Back to Starlight for breakfast followed by a drive to the road towards Cascade. This proved to be a shrewd move as a Jamaican Blackbird was located searching bromeliads for food. Further down the road a Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo came into view and put on a superb display as it flitted from tree to tree. In the background we could hear Caribbean Doves. Towards the end of our walk the group were entertained by at least five Jamaican Woodpeckers calling and searching for food in old and decaying trees. Back to base for lunch and an afternoon of leisure and out again at 1730 in search of the owl. Ricardo tried a few places on the road down to Kingston. Luck was eventually with us on the return journey as we stopped near some houses where a young owl was calling from cover. The gruff call of an adult nearby resulted in close views of the bird perched in a spindly tree. All of us were delighted to see this Jamaican endemic which is widely spread.

March 23rd: Starlight, Greencastle Reservoir, San San Police Station

Weather: Mist at high elevations followed by hot and humid conditions on the coast 24 C / 34 C

Our last morning at Starlight held the usual birds plus an Ovenbird on the entrance track. The journey down towards the coast went through some spectacular scenery with fast flowing rivers and wooded mountain sides. On joining the coast road we encountered Magnificent Frigatebirds, American Kestrels and groups of Cattle Egrets. The main birding area today was Greencastle Reservoir which is located in an area of forest and abandoned agricultural land. The group parked up and walked to an elevated position overlooking the reservoir which is surrounded by trees, long grasses and degraded reeds. Luck was with us as West Indian Whistling Ducks were present along with another regional endemic in Caribbean Coot. A scan over the water and adjacent areas added Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, Common Gallinule and Belted Kingfisher. On the return walk Caribbean Dove, Ruddy Quail Dove, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher and a Jamaican Mango. Lunch taken at a roadside restaurant followed by a short journey to Goblin Hill our last stop in Jamaica. The grounds held a Black-billed Streamertail near the reception office. Late afternoon a walk along the road near San San Police Station which was largely uneventful apart from a Ruddy Quail Dove walking along the road edge and a Worm-eating Warbler feeding high in the canopy.

March 24th: Goblin Hill, Hectors River, Ecclesdown

Weather: Warm and humid with light east winds 30 C

The usual birds were in and around the gardens at Goblin Hill. After breakfast the coast road was joined as far as Hectors River. This is a well known spot for White-tailed Tropicbirds which duly obliged as they flew offshore and towards the cliffs. Ecclesdown is an area of pristine forest and the higher slopes are probably untouched by man. At the last house a stop was made for the rare and unusual Jamaican Crow which was giving its peculiar calls. Also present were Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-billed Parrot and a pair of Shiny Cowbirds feeding high in a tree. Several walks were untertaken along the little used forest road where we watched a female Ruddy Quail Dove, Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo, Sad and Rufous-tailed Flycatchers, Jamaican Tody, Arrowhead Warbler and Black-billed Streamertails. Returned to Port Antonio for lunch with Green Heron, Snowy Egret and Spotted Sandpiper on the beach. Later in the afternoon a return visit to Ecclesdown proved to be good for views of Crested and Ruddy Quail Doves, Black-billed Parrot and Olive-throated Parakeet.

March 25th: Goblin Hill, Kingston, Miami, San Juan, Hatillo

Final species total : 119

Our last morning in Jamaica was spent travelling to Kingston for onward travel to Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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