We had long considered a trip to Jamaica as we like the Caribbean and it has 28 endemic birds of its own but had never taken the plunge due to Jamaica’s poor reputation for violence and crime. However, after a long conversation with Shireen of the Mockingbird Hotel at the 2007 British Bird Fair we made the decision to go. We booked a 10 night break through Motmot Tours in the UK which gave us an itinerary designed to see all the endemics but also including other more “touristy” things such as a tour of Kingston and rafting on the Rio Grande. All in the entire itinerary gave something for myself as a birder and something for my wife, Janet, who is not a birder. The itinerary worked well and we saw all the endemics and had a great time as well. Our fears of Jamaica proved totally unfounded and everyone that we met was friendly and helpful, the scenery was superb and we felt Jamaica as a holiday destination out-performed St.Lucia and Cuba that we had visited recently and was at least on a par with The Seychelles. We stayed only in small hotels and guesthouses and visited only the Eastern part of the island. The food everywhere we stayed was excellent as was all the accommodation.
Our first accommodation was at Lime Tree Farm in the Blue Mountains, about two hours from Kingston Airport. The farm has three guest cottages and is reached up a long track passable by 4WD only. The accommodation is simple but very nice and our cottage offered stunning views through the mountains to the sea. The farm is run by Charlie and his wife Susie and his friend Roger. All cooking is done by Susie and is excellent. Roger and/or Charlie will take birders out to such places as Hardware Gap, Abbey Green and Cinchona Gardens where many of the islands endemics can be found, a good number can be found without even leaving the farm.
After Lime Tree Farm we stayed one night in Kingston at the Mona Visitors Lodge of the University. The accommodation here is excellent and it is easy to get a taxi into Kingston for an evening meal.
Our third stop was Greencastle Estate, just west of Annotto Bay where we stayed in the magnificent Estate House on a working farm that had cattle, organic coconut oil production and orchid growing. The farm is vast and 101 species have been recorded on the property to date. All meals are provided and were of excellent quality, the rooms were superb and the views across the estate from the house were magnificent. The farm also has a number of ponds so that various water birds can be seen and has resident Barn Owl, Jamaican Owl and Northern Potoo. They also offer a tour of the estate for visitors and it is well worth taking. Angie, the business manager was particularly helpful in looking for the owls (see later).
Our last port of call was the Mockingbird Hill Hotel just east of Port Antonio. This environmentally friendly hotel has everything you could want and is set in superb grounds. Rooms give great views out over Port Antonio to the sea. From here it is easy to visit Ecclesdown Road which has many endemic bird species and the hotel can arrange many other activities such as rafting on the Rio Grande.
We can recommend all of theses places, so if you are thinking of visiting Jamaica, book them! You won’t regret it!
1 February BA flight from Gatwick to Kingston, arriving early in Kingston at 1705. It then took 90 minutes to negotiate immigration-but at least they were friendly, if slow! We were then collected by a driver who drove us to Mavis Bank in the Blue Mountains where Roger from Lime Tree Farm with his 4WD, which took us up the rough track to Lime Tree Farm, met us. Susie had done her homework on my gluten free diet and we had a superb meal before retiring to bed.
2 February I was awake at dawn and set off to explore the farm and the entrance track. The first birds to be found were Prairie Warblers and Northern Mockingbirds and then the first endemic-White-chinned Thrush, showed itself. There were Black-faced and Yellow-faced Grassquit’s in abundance and a Jamaican Oriole showed well by the side of the track whilst Red-tailed Hawk wheeled overhead. Two Orangequit’s posed in a tree by the dining room. Roger drove us to the Cinchona Botanical Gardens for what was not planned as birding day but nonetheless it proved an excellent site. The gardens were very well maintained and no other visitors were present so whilst the gardener showed Janet around I looked for the birds! On the entrance track were an Arrow-headed Warbler and Jamaican Euphonia whilst the gardens themselves had many Red-billed Streamertail’s and Vervain Hummingbirds. Rufous-throated Solitaires called all around but didn’t show themselves but White-chinned and White-eyed Thrushes did show well as did Jamaican Spindalis, Orangequit, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Vireo and Greater Antillean Bullfinch. Bananaquit’s and Black-throated Blue Warbler’s were common.
3 February I was up early, after a night of reggae music drifting up the valley until 4.00 a.m. to go to Abbey Green with Charlie. We were scheduled to meet our bird guide, Ryan Love, in Mavis Bank at 5.30 a.m. but managed to miss him so set off by ourselves towards Abbey Green. At our first roadside stop I found a pair of Jamaican Elaenia’s showing in the tree tops and then Ryan arrived, we had expected him to be on a motorbike and he was in a 4WD, which had fooled us in Mavis Bank. Still, no harm done, so we set off up some horrendous tracks through coffee farms on the back way to Abbey Green. We found Ring-tailed Pigeon, Olive-throated (Jamaican) Parakeet, many Red-billed Streamertails and Vervain Hummingbirds, at least six Jamaican Todies, Jamaican Woodpecker, another Jamaican Elaenia, Rufous-throated Solitaire, White-chinned and White-eyed Thrushes, Ovenbird, Myrtle Warbler, many Orangequit’s and Jamaican Oriole’s. We then called in at Jah B’s place to have what must be the best cup of coffee in the world-freshly ground in a wooden pestle and mortar in front of you! On the way back Charlie stopped at a spot on Lime Tree Farm where he had seen Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo in the past and we spent an enjoyable hour finding Jamaican Pewee, Jamaican Spindalis, a pair of Jamaican Woodpecker’s, two Jamaican Euphonias, Jamaican Vireo, White-crowned Pigeon, Common Ground Dove, Antillean Palm Swift and White-collared Swift. Another of Susie’s delicious meals was washed down with wine and rum and we retired to bed early ready for an early start the next morning.
4 February We were up at 4.30 and had loaded Roger’s 4WD by five and set off to meet Ryan at Hardware Gap at 6.30. We met Ryan without any problems this time and he suggested that we first head for an area where there was one of the few streetlights in the area as this attracted insectivorous birds. This proved correct as we saw Rufous-tailed and Sad Flycatchers, Blue Mountain Vireo and the only Jamaican Becard of the trip in this area. A Swainson’s Warbler inhabited a densely vegetated garden and an Osprey soared overhead. Loggerhead Kingbird, American Redstart, Jamaican Spindalis, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Red-billed Streamertail, Vervain Hummingbird, Orangequit and Arrow-headed Warbler were all seen but try as we might we could not find Jamaican Blackbird. Again after much searching, we found a stunning male Yellow-shouldered Grassquit and during a futile quest to see a Crested Quail-dove (we heard it fly away) we found a Greater Antillean Elaenia.
The Gap Café was closed so we drove down through Newcastle, stopping to watch the Jamaican Army drilling on the parade ground (that you actually drive across) to the plush Strawberry Hill Hotel for a coffee before going on to Kingston.
We checked in to our surprisingly smart accommodation in the university and then strolled through the extensive grounds. In the evening we got a taxi into Kingston and had a superb meal at Norma’s in Devon House.
5 February I was to be met at 6.00 a.m. and taken to the nearby Hope Gardens for early morning birding, and after a bit of confusion, I found my driver, Marcus, who had set out from Port Antonio at 2.30 a.m. to meet me. We strolled around Hope Gardens until 8.00 a.m. seeing many Yellow-billed Parrots and one Black-billed Parrot, along with Prairie Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Palm Warbler. Green Heron, Little Blue Heron and Common Moorhen frequented the pond. I was told that the parrots are all birds confiscated from poachers and released into the park so it’s up to you how you count them.
At 10 we were met by our guide for the day Juliet, and embarked on a tour of Kingston for the day before finishing with a late lunch at Devon House after visiting the Bob Marley Museum and numerous other interesting sites. Marcus (how he was still awake I don’t know) then drove us North through the mountains to Greencastle Estate, west of Annotto Bay. After some confusion, as the only sign to Greencastle led us to the estate office, not the house, we arrived at our superb accommodation and were greeted by Angie, the business manager. Outside our room was a hummingbird feeder and on it was a Jamaican Mango! After a great meal we retired to our room feeling like true “lords of the manor” in this superb old house.
6 February I was awoken by a Caribbean Dove calling outside our room but unfortunately it flew off in the poor light of dawn as I went outside, frustrating my efforts to see it. As dawn broke I walked down the main entrance track from the house seeing Ruddy Quail Dove, White-crowned Pigeon, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Vireo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Sad and Stolid Flycatchers and Greater Antillean Bullfinches before finding a Caribbean Dove calling from a shaded branch next to the trail. I headed back for breakfast and later Janet and I walked down to the seashore finding a magnificent pair of Chestnut-bellied Cuckoos on the way. There were two ponds behind the shore with numerous Killdeer and one Wilson’s Snipe present. A Magnificent Frigatebird flew overhead and a flock of eight Cave Swallows swirled around. Back at the house Jamaican Mangos and Red-billed Streamertails flitted around the flowering plants. We walked the trails of the estate for the rest of the day hardly seeing another person. In the evening Angie picked us up and we set off on an Owl and Potoo hunt. After a few failures a Jamaican Owl flew in front of our vehicle and we were able to watch it perched in a large tree at our leisure before it flew off into the night. Another bird called from nearby. We drove to an area where Angie regularly sees Northern Potoo but unfortunately they didn’t want to show themselves although we did hear one but couldn’t locate it. Two Barn Owls were seen, one of them perched on a roadside fence a few metres away from us.
7 February Ryan, our bird guide, came to meet me early in the morning and we toured the estate in his 4WD, getting to places that I hadn’t managed on foot. A large pond held numerous Moorhens, single Brown Pelican and Belted Kingfisher, Least Grebes and a family of Pied-billed Grebes. Janet was taken on a tour of the estate and shown how they produced their organic Coconut Oil whilst I wandered around with Ryan. Late morning our taxi arrived and we set off on the long journey to Port Antonio. The whole journey took twice as long as it should have because of the horrendous road works on the coast road-just like home, if not worse! We arrived at Mockingbird Hill in the early afternoon and had a leisurely lunch on the terrace watching Black-billed Streamertails and Jamaican Mangos feeding in a flowering tree by the pool.
8 February It was an early rise for me again whilst Janet opted for the lie in and to catch up with me later. Ryan took me to Ecclesdown Road where there is still some untouched forest in the John Crow Mountains. The first bird we found was a Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo and then it started to rain heavily and thunder. We sheltered in the car until it eventually abated but the best time of the morning had been missed so birding proved hard work. A flock of nine Black-billed Parrots was tracked down feeding by the road and close by were eight Jamaican Crows making their absurd gurgling sounds. Jamaican Tody, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo and Rufous-tailed Flycatcher were seen but the main quarry, the rare Jamaican Blackbird remained elusive Our taxi set off back to the hotel to pick up Janet for our trip to Reich waterfalls and Ryan and I continued our quest for the Blackbird. Eventually, just as the car returned with Janet, Ryan heard a Blackbird and we eventually tracked down two feeding quietly in bromeliads by the road-it had taken five hours but at last I had seen one! We had a leisurely visit to Reich Falls and then drove back via the coast road past beautiful white-sand beaches empty other than for a few Royal Terns or Magnificent Frigatebirds patrolling them.
9 February We set off after breakfast to go down the Rio Grande on a bamboo raft but just as we were about to cast off the heavens opened so we ran for cover until the rain stopped. We were then punted down the river for two hours passing Tricoloured Herons, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Green Herons, Belted Kingfishers and Greater Yellowlegs at close range. It was a really relaxing experience but the sight of a Coot swimming in front of us snapped me out of my torpor-“follow that Coot” I said to our boatman and as we got nearer I could see that it was a Caribbean Coot-a scarce species not often seen at this end of the island. After disembarking we had lunch at a small restaurant run by a local fisherman before his son took us out in their boat to an island where Errol Flynn used to have a casino. The island was very overgrown but hidden in the undergrowth was a boat named “Errol Flynn”-his wife, who is in her 90’s apparently still lives nearby.
10 February Of the 28 endemics I had seen 27 so Ryan and I set off early back to Ecclesdown Road to try and pin down the 28th. . At our first stop we heard our quarry and set off up the road to track it down only for our driver to frantically call us back and point into a roadside bush. Sitting quietly in the shade was a Crested Quail-Dove, I got my bins on it and it immediately flew and disappeared. Apparently while we had been walking up the road it was walking around the car! We spent the rest of the morning on the Mockingbird terrace watching hummingbirds as the sound of gospel music drifted up from the village below before spending the afternoon on nearby San San Beach sipping rum punches.
11 February The morning was spent around the hotel seeing Chestnut-Bellied Cuckoo, White-eyed Thrush and a flock of Yellow-billed Parrots before embarking on the tortuous 3+ hours journey to the airport. I think that this road, where there is some of it left after the hurricanes, has the world’s supply of potholes! Next morning saw us arrive at Gatwick to be greeted by a police sniffer dog-welcome home!
I hope that this has given a flavour of how wonderful Jamaica is. If you want to try it here a some contact details-
Mockingbird Hill firstname.lastname@example.org
Lime Tree Farm email@example.com
Greencastle Estate firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryan Love RyanLove2k3@yahoo.com
Motmot Travel 01327 830918
Least Grebe (Tachybaptus dominicus) One in Hope Gardens and two at Greencastle Estate
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) Three adults & six juveniles Greencastle Estate
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) One Greencastle Estate and three Kingston.
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) One Greencastle and seven Port Antonio.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) One Spanish River and two Rio Grande
Great Egret (Ardea alba) Small numbers on most river estuaries.
Tricoloured Heron (Egretta tricolor) One Spanish River and three Rio Grande
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) Widespread-largest count 12 Rio Grande
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) Two Spanish River and 16 Rio Grande
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) Widespread and common
Green Heron (Butorides virescens) Singles at Spanish River, Hope Gardens and Rio Grande
Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors) Up to twelve on the ponds at Greencastle
Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominica) One Greencastle.
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) Common-seen daily.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) One Hardware Gap
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) Small numbers widespread, largest count 4 Lime Tree Farm
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) Two or three seen daily.
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) One Greencastle Estate
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) One Hope Gardens and 20+ Greencastle
Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea) One Rio Grande, Port Antonio
Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa) Up to five Greencastle on both days.
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) Up to 10 Greencastle.
Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata) One at Greencastle on both days.
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) One Greencastle, three Reich Falls and one Rio Grande
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) Two Rio Grande.
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) Two Rio Grande
Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) Twenty Annotto Bay,11 Boston Bay, six Port Antonio.
Feral Pigeon (Columba livia ''feral'') Present in Kingston and larger towns
White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala) Small numbers Lime Tree, Greencastle and Mockingbird Hill
Ring-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas caribaea) Four Abbey Green, four Hardware Gap , three Ecclesdown Rd.
and two Mockingbird Hill.
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) Three Hope Gardens and two Greencastle.
Zenaida Dove (Zenaida aurita) Widespread, max.daily count 10 Greencastle.
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) Odd ones at Lime Tree, Hardware Gap & Greencastle
Common Ground Dove (Columbina passerina) Small numbers noted daily.
Caribbean Dove (Leptotila jamaicensis) One seen well and 3+ heard Greencastle.
Crested Quail-dove (Geotrygon versicolor) One Ecclesdown Road after a lot of effort.
Ruddy Quail-dove (Geotrygon montana) One Greencastle and three Ecclesdown Rd.
Olive-throated Parakeet (Aratinga nana) Widespread, more often heard than seen.
Green-rumped Parrotlet (Forpus passerinus) Two Greencastle and two Mockingbird Hill.
Yellow-billed Parrot (Amazona collaria) 20+ Hope Gardens and 20+ Mockingbird Hill.
Black-billed Parrot (Amazona agilis) One Hope Gardens and nine Ecclesdown Road.
Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) Two Greencastle plus others heard at Ecclesdown Road.
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo (Coccyzus pluvialis) Two Greencastle, one Ecclesdown Rd. and one Mockingbird Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo (Coccyzus vetula) One Ecclesdown Road.
Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) Six Lime Tree Farm and nine Greencastle were the highest counts
Barn Owl (Tyto alba) Two Greencastle
Jamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus) One seen well, one glimpsed and two heard Greencastle.
(Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis)) One heard Greencastle
White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris) Widespread-largest count 60+ Hardware Gap
Antillean Palm-swift (Tachornis phoenicobia) One or two daily over Lime Tree Farm and three Kingston.
Jamaican Mango (Anthracothorax mango) Daily around Greencastle and Mockingbird Hill
Red-billed Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus) Common Cinchona Gardens, Abbey Green , Harware Gap
one seen at Mockingbird Hill.
Black-billed Streamertail (Trochilus scitulus) Seen daily at Mockingbird Hill and on both visits to Ecclesdown Road.
Vervain Hummingbird (Mellisuga minima) Up to six at Cinchona Gardens, five at Abbey Green but only singles at other sites.
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) One Greencastle, one Spanish River and five Rio Grande.
Jamaican Tody (Todus todus) Six Abbey Green, one Hardware Gap, two Greencastle & Ecclesdown Road.
Jamaican Woodpecker (Melanerpes radiolatus)Common in suitable habitat, seen daily,largest count 7 Greencastle Estate
Jamaican Becard (Pachyramphus niger) One female Hardware Gap.
Jamaican Elaenia (Myiopagis cotta) Two below Abbey Green and one at Abbey Green were the only
sightings of this species.
Greater Antillean Elaenia (Elaenia fallax) One Hardware Gap and one Ecclesdown Road.
Jamaican Pewee (Contopus pallidus) One Lime Tree Farm and one Hardware Gap.
Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus) Common, seen daily.
Sad Flycatcher (Myiarchus barbirostris) One Hardware Gap and three Greencastle
Rufous-tailed Flycatcher (Myiarchus validus) One Hardware Gap, two Ecclesdown Rd. and two Mockingbird.
Stolid Flycatcher (Myiarchus stolidus) One at Greencastle was the only sighting
Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva pallida) 8 on one day and 11 the next near the beach at Greencastle.
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) Common around Lime Tree Farm and at Greencastle, surprisingly scarce around Mockingbird Hill!
Rufous-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis) Heard at Cinchona, Hardware Gap & Ecclesdown, seen well at
White-eyed Thrush (Turdus jamaicensis) One seen well at Cinchona Gardens, singles at Abbey Green,
Ecclesdown Rd and Mockingbird Hill.
White-chinned Thrush (Turdus aurantius) Common-seen daily.
Jamaican Crow (Corvus jamaicensis) Eight at Ecclesdown Rd on first visit with a single on the second
Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) Small numbers at Greencastle Estate.
Jamaican Vireo (Vireo modestus) Singles at Cinchona Gardens and Abbey Green, three Hardware
Gap and two on both days at Greencastle.
Blue Mountain Vireo (Vireo osburni) Three at Hardware Gap.
Jamaican Euphonia (Euphonia jamaica) Seen at Lime Tree farm, Cinchona Gardens, Greencastle and Mockingbird Hill.
Northern Parula (Parula americana) Seen at Hope Gardens, Greencastle, Ecclesdown and Mockingbird Hill.
Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina) Two bright males in Hope Gardens.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) Seen daily
Myrtle Warbler (Dendroica coronata coronata) Four at Lime Tree Farm were the only sighting.
Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) Up to ten around Lime Tree Farm and Cinchona Gardens and five Hope Gardens.
Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) Singles in Hope Gardens and Greencastle Estate.
Arrow-headed Warbler (Dendroica pharetra) One Cinchona Gardens, two Hardware Gap & one Ecclesdown.
Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) Odd ones at Abbey Green, Hardware Gap and Ecclesdown rd.
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)
Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorus) One Ecclesdown Road.
Swainson's Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii) One Hardware Gap
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) One Abbey Green and one Ecclesdown Road.
Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis) One Greencastle Estate.
Louisiana Waterthrush (Seiurus motacilla) One Reich Falls.
Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) Common-seen daily.
Jamaican Spindalis (Spindalis nigricephala) Common-seen everywhere except Hope Gardens.
Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus) Small numbers Lime Tree Farm, Hardware Gap and Greencastle
Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor) Up to ten Lime Tree Farm, two Hardware Gap , one Greencastle
Yellow-shouldered Grassquit (Loxipasser anoxanthus) One male Hardware Gap.
Orangequit (Euneornis campestris) Common-seen daily.
Greater Antillean Bullfinch (Loxigilla violacea) One male Cinchona Gardens, pair Greencastle, three males
Jamaican Blackbird (Nesopsar nigerrimus) Two Ecclesdown Road.
Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger) Common Hope Gardens, Greencastle & Mockingbird Hill
Jamaican Oriole (Icterus leucopteryx) Widespread in small numbers, seen at Lime Tree Farm, Abbey Green, Hardware Gap, Greencastle and Ecclesdown Road.