Loggerhead Kingbird, Fern Hill Hotel, San San. A common and conspicuous species in Jamaica
We were searching for somewhere we could get some winter sun and birding. After looking for flights on the net for a while we tried a real live travel agent who found a fairly last minute flight with First Choice from Gatwick to Montego Bay for a very reasonable £319 each. We also booked the first five nights of our two week stay through them at the Emerald View Villas in Greenwood, about 20 km east of Montego Bay. We planned a circuit of the island including the well known sites such as Marshall’s Pen and the Blue Mountains for the rest of our stay.
Jamaica is the third largest island in the Caribbean but has more endemic species than the larger islands of Cuba and Hispaniola (28, though as Clements doesn’t split the parakeet at present make that 27 if you are a stickler). There are also several more near-endemics shared with various other West Indian islands. Both White-tailed Tropicbird (family tick) and Masked Duck (which had eluded me on several previous trips to the neotropics) are possible. There is a nice selection of wintering North American wood-warblers plus waders and wildfowl, which I always enjoy. We had been to Cuba previously so didn’t try for all the near endemics, having seen several of them on that trip. A couple of these, Black-whiskered Vireo and Gray Kingbird, arrive later in the season but were both common on our April Cuba trip.
Jamaica has something of a reputation for crime but as is often the case in such places we found people we met to be very helpful and friendly. This might partly have been because we were mainly in small hotels and guest houses and in rural areas rather than the big resorts such as Monetgo Bay and Ocho Rios that we thought were unappealing. Jamaica is not a cheap destination and prices for eating out seemed rather high. Hotels and guest houses are also fairly expensive, though seemingly less so than in some other parts of the Caribbean such as St Lucia. The exchange rate was about £1 = J$120 at the time of trip but it did vary from place to place. Prices were often quoted in US$, which was a bit annoying as we didn’t take any. Cash points were available in larger towns e.g. Mandeville and Port Antonio. Overall the trip was relaxed, the weather was good and the birding went well making it an ideal winter break.
4 February 2008
Overnight at the Europa Hotel, Gatwick, which offered a room plus 15 days parking for £79. This was the cheapest offer we could find and it was adequate, though the courtesy bus does not go as frequently as it does from some slightly more expensive hotel/parking options.
1000 departure on the direct flight with First Choice to Montego Bay. The flight was good for a charter airline with more leg room than usual, decent seats and reasonable food and entertainment. Though slightly late departing we arrived on schedule at 1535 local time. After clearing immigration we picked up the pre-booked hire car from the Budget office. This had been booked at what we thought was a comprehensive US$657 (£349) for a group N car (VW Polo or equivalent) for the whole two weeks. As always seems to be the case there was an additional charge – this time US$10 per day to add to this figure. Eventually we were ready to leave and headed east on the main coast road and found our hotel on a hillside overlooking the north coast without difficulty. It was by now almost dark so few birds were seen though a Merlin chasing a bat at dusk was notable and two Jamaican Parakeets flew over.
Walked the track near the guest house up to the big house 0700-0930 seeing our first rush of endemic species including the gorgeous Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Euphonia and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit. The last was seen again here at Greenwood but only once elsewhere on the trip. Other notable species included more Jamaican Parakeets, Greater Antillean Bullfinch and Jamaican Oriole. Wintering American wood-warblers included Northern Parula, Prairie and Black-and-white warblers.
After an excellent late breakfast we visited the famous Rocklands feeding station from lunch time until mid afternoon. This is now run by Fritz who worked for the former owner and carries on the tradition of feeding the numerous birds in the garden and the looking after some of the surrounding forest. Both Jamaican Mango and Red-billed Streamertail will land on your finger to take sugar water from tiny hand held feeders. Caribbean Dove, Common Ground-dove, Black-faced Grassquit, Bananaquit, Orangequit and Jamaican Woodpecker were all at the feeding station while the garden held Jamaican Tody, Ovenbird and other American wood-warblers. The nearby shop had sold out of pattis so we made do with the traditional ‘bun and cheese’ instead for our lunch.
Further exploration near the guest house at Greenwood produced a singing male Vervain Hummingbird and excellent views of Sad Flycatcher.
Left at 0610 (after slight delay – egress from the guest house delayed by a padlocked gate) and arrived at Rocklands at 0705. Fritz does guided birding round the property and I had arranged for a couple of hours first thing in the morning for a rather pricey J$4000. He knows the birds and their calls and is sharp, so as well as roosting Northern Potoo (an endemic subspecies occasionally split) I had nice views of Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo (not seen again), Rufous-tailed Flycatcher and Jamaican Pewee (both seen only once subsequently) as well as three Ruddy Quail-doves, Arrow-headed warbler, Greater Antillean Bullfinch and my first Jamaican Spindalis. Stolid Flycatcher was heard but not seen. I then returned to the hotel via the local shop which this time still had some pattis for my late breakfast.
After a swim at the guest house in Greenwood we had an excellent lunch at the Big Flag jerk stall on the outskirts of Falmouth (tasty and good value jerk chicken and pork). From here we took the Martha Brae Road to the Good Hope Estate making a few birding stops en route and more round the estate itself. This is on the northern edge of Cockpit Country and has ranch type grassland with numerous patches of woodland and some nice big epiphyte encrusted trees. The best birds were seen by walking the quiet road in the area close to the estate itself and included at least two Yellow-billed and four Black-billed parrots, Sad Flycatcher, Jamaican Crow and a male Jamaican Becard.
Rather a lazy day birding round the guest house at Greenwood before breakfast then heading east along the coast with stops at Salt Marsh and Rio Bueno before looping back inland via Jackson Town and Clarks Town. At Greenwood the best birds were Mangrove Cuckoo, Vervain Hummingbird, Stolid Flycatcher (this was the only place I saw this near-endemic as we didn’t go to Portland Ridge for Bahama Mockingbird, which we had seen in Cuba) and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit. Otherwise the highlights were some common waterbirds along the coast and Yellow-billed Parrots near Clarks Town.
Birded the Greenwood area again first and last thing. Photographing waders on the beach last thing, after fixing a puncture, but nearly all my bird pics from this trip were lost in a hard drive crash (blub). Spent late morning at Cranbrook Flower Forest which had decent forest with a good trail to a waterfall and pool in the river. The best birds here included the rather localised Jamaican Crow and good views of Ruddy Quail-dove on the deck.
Another brief pre-breakfast walk at Greenwood then off to Marshall’s Pen. The route took us via Montego Bay, Anchovy, Shettlewood, Bethel Town, Woodstock, Leamington, Middle Quarters and Lacovia before we called in at Elim Ponds as it began to get really warm. Being a Sunday the pools were extremely busy with fishermen so there was a lot of disturbance. I was keen to see Caribbean Coot but struggled to find any coots at all for a while and then could only find American. A big flock of 75 West Indian Whistling-duck was of note, and with them was a single Black-bellied, a vagrant to Jamaica, which stood out like a sore thumb. Eventually Janette spotted one more coot to check and it turned out to be a Caribbean! The directions here in Gruff Dodd’s report were spot on. We finally pressed on to Marshall’s Pen arriving in time for a brief walk before dark with three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers the highlight. Ann Sutton stayed out with us to look for the owls in the garden as it got dark but there was no sign. She reported that they had been quiet of late, probably because they are breeding.
All day at Marshall’s Pen walking the trails and fields, apart from a foray into Mandeville to buy supplies and visit a cashpoint. The day got off to an excellent start when I stepped out pre-dawn and thought I could hear the owl calling. It immediately stopped so I stationed myself by the favoured tree and, after a frustrating probable fly-over, picked it up perched on a horizontal branch. After a few seconds it flew right over my head into the thick cover where Ann reported they had been roosting. A Northern Potoo also flew overhead as dawn was breaking. After breakfast I concentrated on the lizard-cuckoo as they were reported to be quite vocal. I eventually heard one and it showed well in the tangle of vines in mid canopy before melting away again. Plenty of other good birds were seen during the day including Mangrove Cuckoo, Ruddy Quail-dove, Jamaican Parakeet, Vervain Hummingbird, Arrow-headed and Worm-eating warblers, Ovenbird, Jamaican Spindalis, Orangequit and Jamaican Oriole. The day ended as well as it began with crippling views of a superb Crested Quail-dove in the open on a track for five minutes.
Early morning at Marshall’s Pen with more of the same but still so sighting of White-eyed Thrush that had been heard calling first and last thing each day at this site. We then drove to the south coast at Treasure Beach where Ann has a property, Heron’s Reef, right on the Caribbean. This is an idyllic spot only 25 metres from the beach and the area has various ponds that are good for Masked Duck, which I needed. They fluctuate greatly from year to year with up to 45 on a single pond in some recent wet years but few in what has been a very dry season this year. Ann only knew of one pond that had held a bird as recently as a week previously but since dried up completely. After lunch I explored some of the ponds in the area going as far as Parrottee and stopping at Hill Top. This was good for waterbirds though the best fresh water pond was that at Treasure Beach itself, which held 120 American and at least nine Caribbean coots – much more co-operative than at Elim Ponds. There were also decent numbers of ducks, waders, herons and other water birds in this general area.
Treasure Beach early morning checking out the dry scrub around the beach and the pools, where birds were much as the previous evening but included a female Green-winged Teal. Left at 1000 and headed to Kingston where we stopped for lunch at a Juici Patti outlet on the outskirts. The route through Kingston to the Blue Mountains has caused problems for other crews and does require some concentration. With only one wrong turn we managed it rather well. It’s at least an hour up the road up to Hardwar Gap where we eventually plumped for the Gap Café which has a single self-catering room and can do meals during opening hours (it closes after 1700, after which it’s very quiet up there). It’s right in the zone for the specialities. Birded the road up to and beyond The Gap from 1530 until dusk at 1815. Great views of White-eyed Thrush and heard two Rufous-throated Solitaires but it was quite hard work.
All day in the Hardwar Gap area. Walked the nice forest beyond The Gap from c.1km towards Section as far as the houses. Fine breakfast at the café including superb Blue Mountain Coffee. Then walked the Oatley Mountain trail in nearby Hollywell NP during the heat of the day (cloud bubbled up late morning but still hot and mainly sunny at this time). After lunch of curry goat and rum cake overlooking the superb views down to Newcastle and Kingston (well it was Valentine’s day) walked the road from the Woodside turn from 1600-1730 and then further towards Section until 1800. Three lifers were all in the pre-breakfast session: Jamaican Elaenia, Rufous-throated Solitaire and Blue Mountain Vireo. Other good birds during the day included Arrow-headed Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and Greater Antillean Bullfinch.
Started walking towards Section 3.3km beyond the Gap where the forest was probably the best quality in this area with big trees and lots of epiphytes. At 0800 I heard what sounded like Jamaican Blackbird calling fairly near the road but I couldn’t see it and the calls moved further away. I walked back up the road to get a different angle but could see nothing and it had stopped calling. Back at the original spot I noticed a movement and there was the blackbird, the most elusive endemic, in full view on a tree trunk! After about 30 seconds I decided a photo might be nice but of course it then immediately flew out of view. After that everything was an anticlimax but this was a birdy stretch of forest and various other endemics were seen there.
After breakfast we headed back down to Kingston, the road north to Buff bay being questionably passable in our 2-WD. We called in at Hope Botanical Gardens, Kingston seeing a few Yellow-billed Parrots but no Saffron Finch (but we didn’t really know where to look and it’s a quite big site). Fantastic ginger beer there at the cafe. Then carried on on the very slow and winding road to the north coast and headed east where the road was being ‘refixed’ almost all the way to Frenchman’s Cove. This took ages and we wished we’d had a go at the Buff Bay route, but I suppose it will be a decent road once works are complete (until the next hurricane trashes it again). The roads at this eastern end of the island were by far the worst we encountered. Stayed at the Fern Hill Hotel which had wooded grounds and good views down to the coast.
Set off in the dark to Happy Grove arriving at 0710. White-tailed Tropicbirds were fooling about offshore, doing their synchronised display flights and coming nice and close to the cliffs at times. Fantastic birds and a family tick for me. At 0750 I tore myself away and headed for Ecclesdown Road birding around km 5 (ish). The forest along this road was excellent holding good numbers of both parrot species, Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher and my first Black-billed Streamertails. Many birders seem to only visit this end of the island to see the streamertail but in fact this road holds nearly all the endemics including the blackbird. Back at the hotel for a late breakfast I finally caught up with Green-rumped Parrotlet in the garden and had great views of a lizard-cuckoo on the approach road.
After a swim we went to the Mockingbird Hill Hotel for a fine lunch and a drink on the balcony overlooking flowering trees that held more streamertails, this time giving superb views. We then foolishly flogged back to Happy Grove as I hoped to show Janette the tropicbirds but it was a tiring drive at this time of day (about an hour as the road is very uneven with badly potholed stretches) and they were nowhere to be seen.
Out in the dark at 0550 to Ecclesdown Road (to find it turn right off the coast road S of San San signed to Windsor Forest then after 1.1km turn left onto the Ecclesdown Road. Good habitat starts after about 2km. I went to 8.7km from the coast road concentrating on seeing the Ring-tailed Pigeon, my only remaining endemic (dipped). Later chilled on the beach at Frenchman’s Cove, eating jerk chicken and swimming in almost the only rain of the trip (also a couple of showers at Marshall’s Pen). In late afternoon I tried Fern Hill Hotel grounds again and scored the pigeon there – open a Red Stripe immediately!
One hour on foot before breakfast at Fern Hill Hotel. Then we had a long drive back along the north coast and stopped again at Emerald View Villa in Greenwood.
Brief pre-breakfast walk at Greenwood. Quick look at the coast there then another stop near fishing shacks nearer Montego Bay. Flew back to Gatwick in the afternoon.
Emerald View Villas is a quiet, locally owned and run guest house about 20 minutes’ drive east of Montego Bay with fine views down to the coast a km or so down the hill. It is a friendly place with nice big comfortable rooms and a swimming pool. Meals are available though need to be arranged in advance. We always had breakfast here with fine Jamaican (e.g. ackee and salt fish) or more American (pancakes, bacon and eggs etc) food and fresh coffee ably cooked by Peggy. There is dry woodland, gardens and scrub right next to the hotel with some nice birding, while the nearby coast held a few waders and other coastal species.
Marshall’s Pen is a working cattle ranch that has lots of forest and is a well known birding site. It is owned and run by Ann Sutton who is an accomplished birder and naturalist who leads bird tours on Jamaica and elsewhere. You need to be a birder or naturalist to stay there ($40 per person per night) and to arrange this in advance. You stay in half of a large self catering annex to the big house with two bedrooms and its own kitchen, sitting room and bathroom. It is only ten minutes from the town of Mandeville, which has plenty of shops, banks etc.
Treasure Beach is a small resort on the quiet south coast where Ann Sutton has a small self catering property right on the Caribbean. We stayed here one night (US$80) as it is a good area for Masked Duck and fantastic for chilling out by a quiet sandy Caribbean beach.
The Gap Café is situated in the Blue Mountains right by Hardwar Gap. We stayed there in their single B+B apartment which was comfortable if slightly damp (we might have been the first guests for a couple of weeks or so and we did arrive unannounced). There are some cooking facilities but they are fairly modest. It is well situated for finding the Blue Mountains specialities. The breakfasts were great and they also do excellent meals during the day but close at 1700, after which it is a very quiet spot. We can recommend the curry goat and the rum cake. Others have had trouble with electricity here, which prevented them from cooking, but we had no such problems.
Fern Hill Hotel is at San San about a km from the coast road (opposite Frenchman’s Creek and a few km SE of Port Antonio). It has big comfortable en suite rooms with balconies and air con and extensive grounds with adjacent forest (and an excessive three swimming pools, though we only found two). It was rather expensive at US$115 per night including continental breakfast (which we sometimes had to insist was provided – slightly irksome) and the restaurant was a bit disappointing, considering the price. It was nonetheless a nice place to relax in comfort for the last few days.
Greenwood is about 20 minutes drive east along the coast road from Montego Bay. Our guest house was situated about 1km inland. Take the track/road opposite the Texaco Garage, go past a shop on the right, straight on at the minor crossroads then bear left up the hill. Above the guest house there is still a decent amount of undeveloped land with dry forest. Birding the edges of this, a track leading through it for a km or so, and the adjacent gardens produced some good birds. The most notable was probably Yellow-shouldered Grassquit that I saw regularly in low scrub near the guest house. This was the only place I saw Stolid Flycatcher, which is a dry woodland species. The coast is largely developed with small locally owned properties most of the way along it but it was possible to reach the shore from the garage forecourt and a nearby vacant lot.
Species list (dry wooded hillsides, gardens etc): American Kestrel, White-crowned Pigeon, White-winged and Caribbean doves, Common Ground-dove, Jamaican Parakeet, Mangrove Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Antillean Palm-swift, Red-billed Streamertail, Vervain Hummingbird, Jamaican Woodpecker, Sad and Stolid flycatchers, Loggerhead Kingbird, White-chinned Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Jamaican Vireo, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Prairie and Black-and-white warblers, Bananaquit, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Spindalis, Yellow-faced and Yellow-shouldered grassquits, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Greater Antillean Grackle and Jamaican Oriole.
Coast: Magnificent Frigatebird, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Grey, Semipalmated and Wilson’s plovers, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Turnstone, Laughing Gull, Royal and Sandwich terns, Belted Kingfisher.
The famous bird feeding station at Rocklands is open in the afternoon for a charge of US$12 per person. It’s well worth it for the hand feeding of the hummers alone and various other species give great views at the feeders. We explored the immediate area for a while but in mid afternoon it was fairly quiet. I arranged for Fritz to give me two hours of guided birding first thing the following day for a much larger charge. He charges US$25 per person per hour (it’s the per person bit that I find a bit unfair). He was pretty sharp, knew the calls and found some good birds including roosting Northern Potoo (only seen pre-dawn subsequently), Rufous-tailed Flycatcher and Jamaican Pewee that I each saw only once more. Most notably I saw my only Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo of the trip which he picked up on call and hastened to show me. There is no food or drink available here (they are missing a trick, surely!) but there’s a small store in the small hamlet back at the road to Anchovy where you can buy pattis (if they have not sold out), bun and cheese etc.
Species list: Osprey, White-winged and Caribbean doves, Common Ground-dove, Ruddy Quail-dove, Jamaican Mango, Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Parakeet, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Northern Potoo, Antillean Palm-swift, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Sad, Stolid (heard only) and Rufous-tailed flycatchers, Jamaican Pewee, Loggerhead Kingbird, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Vireo, Northern Parula, Prairie, Arrow-headed, Black-throated Blue and Worm-eating warblers, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Spindalis, Bananaquit, Black-faced and Yellow-faced grassquits, Orangequit, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Jamaican Oriole
Inland from the north coast town of Falmouth this area is on the northern edge of Cockpit Country. The abrupt limestone hills of this area hold some good forest and are noted for both the endemic parrots. We visited in the afternoon taking the Martha Brae Road which is signed off the main coast road near Falmouth. We didn’t have very detailed directions or a map that showed all the roads but the route to Good Hope was reasonably well sign posted. We just birded along the road in the vicinity of the estate itself which has several viewpoints across to good forest. There are big epiphyte encrusted trees by the road here and also more open grassland areas. It is possible to stay on the estate but it is expensive and sleeps 10+ people.
Birds included: Zenaida Dove, Jamaican Parakeet, Yellow-billed Parrot (two flying past at close range), Black-billed Parrot (4+ including one scoped perched in a big tree), Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Sad Flycatcher, Jamaican Becard (male), Jamaican Crow (8), White-chinned Thrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, waterthrush sp., Greater Antillean Grackle.
Cranbrook Flower Forest
Situated about 18 miles west of Ocho Rios and 1 mile west of Chukka Cove it is signed from the main coast road. This site has small formal gardens that give way to decent forest along the Little River. There is a trail that leads to a waterfall and pool where you can swim. The main drawback here is that the river is quite noisy so it’s hard to hear birds calling. There is an entrance fee of US$10 per person and the site is open from 0900 to 1700. There is a cafe selling drinks and snacks. Paul Noakes reported Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo and Jamaican Becard here, plus Northern Potoo before dawn, so it does hold some quality birds but the best we saw (at a poor time of day) were:
American Kestrel, Zenaida Dove, Jamaican Parakeet, Jamaican Mango, Jamaican Tody, Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Crow, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Vireo, Black-throated Blue Warbler, American Redstart, Bananaquit, Jamaican Euphonia and Orangequit.
We called in at this wetland site en route from Greenwood to Marshall’s Pen, following the directions in Gruff Dodd’s report, which were spot-on and are summarised here. Head north off the A2 in East Lacovia immediately east of the Texaco Garage and signed to Maggotty. Zero your odometer here and after 6.6km you will be in Newton and take the right fork. You quickly cross a creek and take the track to the right (at 6.8km). The track is broad and smooth at first with what look like fish ponds on the left with numerous egrets and some Glossy Ibis on our visit. The track soon gets narrower and the sides are tree lined with few opportunities to pass any oncoming cars or to pull off and park. At 13.4km there is a right angle left turn after which it opens up and there are more obvious areas of open water on both sides of the track with many places to park. As it was a Sunday most of the parking spots were occupied by locals out fishing and enjoying their day off so there were few birds near the track. In fact the whistling-duck flock was seen shortly before reaching the right angle turn through one of the few gaps in the trees. Coots were few and far between but we eventually found a single Caribbean. They were much easier at Treasure Beach. A visit in mid week and not in the heat of the day might well be more rewarding but we still saw a decent selection of birds including a vagrant Black-bellied Whistling-duck.
Species included: Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green herons, Cattle, Great and Snowy egrets, Black-crowned Night-heron, Glossy Ibis, West Indian (75) and Black-bellied whistling-ducks, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, Moorhen, American (8+) and Caribbean (1+) coots, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Northern Jacana, Zenaida and Caribbean doves, Tree Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-faced Grassquit.
The cattle ranch and private nature reserve of Marshall’s Pen is one of the best known birding sites in Jamaica. The reserve is owned and run by Ann Sutton and Brandon Hay who are both well known birders and naturalists with an excellent knowledge of the birds and other wildlife of Jamaica and lead bird tours here and elsewhere. You need to prearrange any stay or birding visit here and can email asutton(at)cwjamaica.com for details. The cost was US$40 per person per night for the large self catering apartment. The adjacent garden holds some good birds, most famously the owl, which usually nests here. There is a network of trails through forest and pasture with excellent birding. The town of Mandeville is only five minutes away. Ann tried for the owl with us on the first evening and provided very helpful information about where to find some of our wanted birds and other wildlife.
The site is not signed off the road but the directions in Gruff Dodd’s report allowed us to find it with no problem (repeated here). Arriving from the west at the roundabout on the outskirts of Mandeville bear left and take the left turn after 1.4km (a little way after a garage). Turn right at the T junction and take the track on the right between the stone pillars opposite a bar (2.1km from the roundabout).
Birds included: Green Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, White-crowned Pigeon, White-winged and Zenaida doves, Common Ground-dove, Caribbean Dove, Ruddy and Crested quail-doves, Jamaican Parakeet, Smooth-billed Ani, Mangrove Cuckoo, Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo, Jamaican Owl, Northern Potoo, Red-billed Streamertail, Vervain Hummingbird, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sad Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cave Swallow, Jamaican Crow, White-eyed (heard) and White-chinned thrushes, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue, Arrow-headed and Worm-eating warblers, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Bananaquit, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Spindalis, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Orangequit and Jamaican Oriole.
Treasure Beach and Parrottee areas
Ann Sutton owns another property on the south coast at Treasure Beach including a small self catering beach bungalow, Heron’s Reef, right on the Caribbean. This was an idyllic spot only 25 metres from the beach for which we had a discount on the usual rate because of our two nights at the pen, paying US$80. It’s a fantastic place to chill out and also has some good wetlands nearby with a good chance of Masked Duck (which I need). They fluctuate greatly from year to year with up to 45 on a single pond in some recent wet years but very few in what has been a very dry season this year. Ann knew of one pond that had held a bird only a week before our visit but unfortunately it had since dried up completely. I explored some of the ponds in the area going as far as Parrottee and stopping at Hill Top. The area was good for waterbirds though the best fresh water pond was that at Treasure Beach itself, which held 120 American and at least nine Caribbean coots – much more co-operative than at Elim Ponds. There were also decent numbers of ducks, waders, herons and other water birds in this general area.
Birds included: Least and Pied-billed grebes, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green herons, Great, Cattle and Snowy egrets, Glossy Ibis, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged and Green-winged teals, Ruddy Duck, American Purple Gallinule, American and Caribbean coots, Moorhen, Grey and Semipalmated plovers, Black-necked Stilt, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Sanderling, Royal and Sandwich terns, Mourning Dove, Antillean Palm-swift, Smooth-billed Ani, Northern Mockingbird, Prairie, Cape May and Yellow-throated warblers, Northern Parula, American Redstart, Bananaquit, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Yellow-crowned Bishop.
This area, to the NE of Kingston, has mountain forest which holds specialities such as Blue Mountain Vireo, Rufous-throated Solitaire and the elusive Jamaican Blackbird. The first challenge is to find your way here through Kingston. We followed signs for Half Way Tree then for the Bob Marley Museum and Hope Botanical Gardens. Heading E then NE along Hope Road then Old Hope Road follow the signs to Papine where you bear left. You then start the long winding climb to Newcastle, Hardwar Gap and beyond but need to turn left after a few km, before you get to Gordon Town. Luckily we nailed this easily missed turning first time though did take one wrong turn in Kingston itself. The maps in the Rough Guide were more useful than our road map at finding the route.
The stretch above Newcastle as far as The Gap is good as is the stretch beyond it as far as Section. The Gap Cafe is conveniently situated right in the middle of this area and this is where we stayed. You can also stay in cabins at the Holywell Recreation Centre just up the road and part of the Blue and John Crown Mountains National Park.
Some of the trails off the road have been closed so all our birding was done either along the road or on trails within Holywell RC. The road is relatively quiet so traffic wasn’t a big problem. The best forest, in my view, was towards Section from a starting point 3.3km beyond the Gap – here were the biggest trees with the most epiphytes. I wonder if this patch was less affected by recent hurricanes than some other stretches. Some of the forest near that Gap itself has a dense ground layer of ginger, an invasive alien plant here, which might affect its bird community.
Birds: Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Ground-dove, Red-billed Streamertail, White-collared Swift, Antillean Palm-swift, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Elaenia, Jamaican Pewee, Loggerhead Kingbird, Jamaican Becard (nest only), Rufous-throated Solitaire, White-eyed and White-chinned thrushes, Jamaican and Blue Mountain vireos, Black-throated Blue, Arrow-headed, Black-and-white and Prairie warblers, American Redstart, Louisiana Waterthrush, Common Yellowthroat, Bananaquit, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Spindalis, Black-faced Grassquit, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Orangequit, Jamaican Blackbird, Jamaican Oriole.
We stayed at the eastern end of the island at San San near Port Antonio for the nights of 15th-17th. This end of the island is the only area with Black-billed Streamertail and since this form was split this is why most birders visit. I noticed that a site called Ecclesdown Road was a main focus for a recent trip by a Travelling Naturalist group and that it holds excellent forest with most of the endemics. I was also keen to see White-tailed Tropicbird, a family tick for me, at Hector’s River. This end of the island has a high rainfall matched only by the mountainous areas of the interior but it seemed worth a more lengthy stay than just popping in to tick the streamertail. It is also relatively quiet without large scale tourist development. The road from Annotto Bay to Port Antonio was being repaired after hurricane damage so it was slow going. Generally this area had roads of very variable and often poor quality compared with much of the island.
Ecclesdown Road is reached by taking the right turn off the main coast road about half way from San San to Happy Grove (near Fair Prospect). This is signed to Windsor Forest. After 1.1km turn left in Windsor and you are on the Eccledown Road. Good habitat begins from about 3km from the main road and I went as far as 8.7km. I just stopped where I could on this mainly narrow road and where there was decent forest rather than the patchy cultivation that is found along the first part of the road.
Birds included: Merlin (on the forest edge behaving more like an Accipiter!), White-crowned Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, Ruddy Quail-dove, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Yellow-billed and Black-billed parrots, Jamaican Mango, Black-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo, Sad and Rufous-tailed flycatchers, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Crow, Rufous-throated Solitaire (heard), White-eyed and White-chinned thrushes, Arrow-headed Warbler, Jamaican Spinadlis, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, Orangequit
San San was a site mentioned in the Travelling Naturalists report, specifically the road behind the police station. I checked this out as I was struggling with my one remaining endemic, Ring-tailed Pigeon, which they had seen both here and on Ecclesdown Road (where I failed to find it). In fact views of the forest were not that great from this road and I decided that I stood a better chance from the grounds of the nearby Fern Hill Hotel where we were staying. Views from here were better, particularly from the upper parts of the grounds. I saw 11 Ring-tailed Pigeons here one afternoon, most flying past but also feeding in fruiting trees, with another the next morning. In the afternoons in particular there were flights of mainly White-crowned Pigeons going to roost over the hotel.
Birds in and near the hotel included: White-crowned and Ring-tailed pigeons, White-winged and Zenaida doves, Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Jamaican Parakeet, parrot sp. (calling), White-collared Swift, Black-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Becard, Cave Swallow, White-chinned and White-eyed thrushes, Arrow-headed Warbler, Ovenbird, Jamaican Spindalis, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Orangequit, Jamaican Oriole.
After the species name ‘E’ denotes a Jamaican endemic species, ‘N’ a near-endemic (confined to the West Indies), * was a life bird for me, the first number is the number of days on which the species was seen and the second the number of bird-days.
Least Grebe 1, 1
One at a pond at Hill Top near Parrottee on 12th.
Pied-billed Grebe 3, 13
One at Elim Ponds on 10th, one at a pond at Hill Top near Parrottee and five at Treasure Beach on 12th then six at the latter, including a full grown juvenile and two small stripy chicks, next day.
White-tailed Tropicbird * 1, 15
At least 15 near the mouth of Hector’s River viewed from opposite Happy Grove School from 0710-0750 on 16th. They were flying about, quite close in at times, singly, doing their synchronised display flights in pairs, or in small groups. 15 was the highest count at one time but more might have been present.
Brown Pelican 7, 42
Small numbers noted along the north coast, especially at Salt Marsh, and at Elim Ponds and at the Treasure Beach/Parrottee area with up to 12 in a day.
Magnificent Frigatebird 11, 23
Small numbers seen most days round all coasts visited with a maximum of five in the Treasure Beach/Parrottee area on 12th. Sometimes also seen over hills close to the coast, such as at Greenwood.
Great Blue Heron 3, 6
Two at Greenwood on 9th, three at Elim Ponds next day and one at Parrottee on 12th.
Great Egret 11, 229
Small numbers recorded along coasts and at freshwater wetlands but much larger numbers, estimated at 200, at Elim Ponds on 10th.
Snowy Egret 3, 4
One at Rio Bueno on 8th, one at Elim Ponds on 10th and two at Parrottee on 12th.
Cattle Egret 13, 1076
Widespread and common on lowland pastures, wetlands and other open areas with up to 150 recorded in a day. Apparently absent only in the higher parts of the Blue Mountains.
Little Blue Heron 7, 27
Small numbers noted along the coast with larger counts at Greenwood (up to eight, with birds seen on tracks through dry scrubby areas near the hotel as well as on the coast here) and Elim Ponds (11).
Tricolored Heron 4, 9
One or two at Salt Marsh on 8th and 9th, five at Elim Ponds on 10th and one at Parrottee on 12th.
Green Heron 3, 3
Single birds seen at Elim Ponds on 10th, Marshall’s Pen on 11th and Treasure Beach on 12th.
Black-crowned Night Heron 1, 1
An adult in flight at Elim Ponds on 10th.
Glossy Ibis 3, 66
30 at Elim Ponds on 10th, three at Parrottee and three at Treasure Beach on 12th with 30 at the last next day.
West Indian Whistling-duck N 1, 75
A flock of 75 at Elim Ponds on 10th.
Black-bellied Whistling-duck 1, 1
One with the flock of West Indian Whistling-ducks. Its large white wing patches drew attention as the flock flew a short distance, pinky-red bill and legs, and black belly being noted when it was on the deck. A vagrant to Jamaica not mentioned in either of the bird books listed below but reported in one trip report I read.
Blue-winged Teal 3, 539
Nine at Elim Ponds on 10th, 340 at Parrottee on 12th and up to 110 at Treasure Beach.
Green-winged Teal 1, 1
A female at Treasure Beach on 13th, a scarce bird on Jamaica.
Northern Shoveler 3, 16
Two drakes at Elim Ponds on 10th and up to eight on the pools at Treasure Beach.
American Wigeon 2, 24
Up to 13 on the pools at Treasure Beach.
Ruddy Duck 2, 10
Five both days on the pools at Treasure Beach with just one drake on the last date.
Turkey Vulture 15, 305
Widespread and common throughout with up to 60 in a day. A piebald part albino was at Ecclesdown Road on 16th.
Osprey 2, 3
One over Rocklands on 7th and two at Elim Ponds on 10th.
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis 8, 9
Scattered sightings of single birds at Falmouth, Elim Ponds, Marshall’s Pen, Treasure Beach, Blue Mountains, Eastern Jamaica (three sites) and Greenwood. The race jamaicensis is found on Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the northern Lesser Antilles.
Merlin 2, 2
One chasing bats at dusk over Greenwood on 5th and one on the edge of forest at Ecclesdown Road on 17th.
American Kestrel Falco sparverius 13, 41
Widespread and frequent throughout the island except for the highest part of the Blue Mountains. Often seen in pairs, several of which were clearly setting about breeding. Nearly all were pale birds with very white underparts but one pair with rich rufous underparts was seen en route back along the north coast on 18th. According to Raffaele et al. Jamaican birds are of the race sparveroides which also occurs in Cuba and the Bahamas and is the only one with two colour morphs. Sutton, however, lists them as dominicensis.
American Purple Gallinule Porphyrula martinica 2, 18
Up to 10, adults and 1w birds, on the pools at Treasure Beach.
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus 3, 115
15 at Elim Ponds on 10th and up to 60 each day on the pools at Treasure Beach. According to Clements they are of ssp. cerceris (Greater and Lesser Antilles) though their affinity to the American cachinnans group was evident with their large bright shields and laughing calls.
American Coot Fulica americana 3, 228
At least eight at Elim Ponds on 10th and up to 120 on the pools at Treasure Beach.
Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea * 3, 14
One at Elim Ponds on 10th. Easier to see well on the pools at Treasure Beach where nine were located on 12th in a good grilling of the coot flock. There was also an apparently intermediate bird there with a larger frontal shield than American Coot, much like that of Caribbean, but with tiny purple-brown knobs at the top.
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola 5, 8
One at Greenwood from 7th to 9th and four at Parrottee on 12th.
Wilson's Plover Charadrius wilsonia 1, 2
Two, a pair, at Greenwood on 9th.
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus 2, 8
One at Greenwood on 9th and seven at Parrottee on 12th.
Killdeer Charadrius vociferous 1, 2
Two at Greenwood on 8th on waste ground near the coast.
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus 2, 80
60 at Elim Ponds on 10th and 20 at Treasure Beach on 12th.
Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa 2, 11
Three at Elim Ponds on 10th then one at Parrottee, one at Hill Top and six including a full grown juvenile at Treasure Beach all on 12th.
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca 3, 5
One at Greenwood on 9th, one calling at Elim Ponds on 10th and four at Parrottee on 12th.
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes 2, 2
One at Parrottee on 12th and one over the pools at Treasure Beach next day.
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia 2, 2
One at Greenwood on 9th and one at Elim Ponds on 10th.
Willet Cataptrophorus semipalmatus 4, 8
Up to three at Greenwood on three days and three at Parrottee on 12th.
Sanderling Calidris alba 1, 6
Six at Parrottee on 12th.
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla 1, 7
Seven at Greenwood on 9th.
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1, 2
Two at Greenwood on 8th.
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla 3, 35
Small numbers seen along the coast between Greenwood and Montego Bay, with a group of 30 on the last morning after scraps where fishermen were landing their catch.
Royal Tern Sterna maxima 8, 189
Regular along the north coast around Greenwood with a maximum there of 40 on 8th. 60 in the Treasure Beach/Parrottee area on 12th.
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3, 64
42 at Greenwood on 8th with two next day and 20 at Parrottee on 12th.
White-crowned Pigeon Columba leucocephala 11, 151
Small numbers up to four in the Greenwood area and one or two each day at Marshall’s Pen. Much commoner in the east where seen at Ecclesdown Road and up to 70 at the Fern Hill Hotel at San San.
Ring-tailed Pigeon Columba caribaea E * 1, 12
11 from the garden of the Fern Hill Hotel, San San on the afternoon of 17th. Most flew over singly or in small groups but one was feeding in a fruiting tree in the grounds, as was another bird the following morning.
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica 12, 59
Widespread with small numbers at most sites and higher counts of up to 12 at Greenwood and 15 at Marshall’s Pen.
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita 9, 44
20 at Good Hope Estate on 7th but otherwise recorded in small numbers at Greenwood, Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen, Hope Botanical Gardens, Ecclesdown Road and San San.
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura 3, 4
Only seen in dryer areas of the northwest and south with one near Greenwood on 6th and one or two at Treasure Beach on 12th and 13th.
Common Ground-dove Columbina passerina 13, 118
Widespread and locally common. Up to 40 seen at Rocklands feeding station and smaller numbers at various other mainly quite open sites, favouring tracks, roadsides and gardens.
Caribbean Dove Leptotila jamaicensis 5, 15
One or two at Rocklands each day, one at Greenwood on 6th, one at Elim Ponds on 10th and up to five daily at Marshall’s Pen. Rather tame and easily seen at the first and last of these sites. The nominate race is confined to Jamaica.
Ruddy Quail-dove Geotrygon montana 4, 7
Three at Rocklands on 6th, one at Cranbrook Flower Forest on 9th, one at Marshall’s Pen on 11th and two at Ecclesdown Road on 17th.
Crested Quail-dove Geotrygon versicolor E * 1, 1
Excellent views of one on a trail at Marshall’s Pen on the late afternoon of 11th following a heavy shower.
Jamaican Parakeet Aratinga (n.) nana [E *] 12, 102
Frequent in open woodlands, forest and gardens. Recorded at Greenwood, Rocklands, Good Hope Estate, Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen, Hope Botanical Gardens and San San. Commonest at Greenwood (up to 12) and Marshall’s Pen (up to 20) but rather scarce in the east of the island. Clements currently considers this a subspecies of Olive-throated Parakeet, also of Mexico, but the Mexican forms are split by Howell and Webb, and by WOC, as Aztec Parakeet A. astec.
Green-rumped Parrotlet Forpus passerines * 2, 4
Only seen in the east with two at Fern Hill Hotel, San San on 16th and two at Ecclesdown Road next day. An introduced species.
Yellow-billed Parrot Amazona collaria E * 5, 61
On the northern fringe of Cockpit Country two at Good Hope Estate on 7th and five near Clarks Town next day. Five at Hope Botanical Gardens on 15th where they have long been established as breeding birds though it is sometimes suggested these originated from captive stock. Commonest in the east of the island with at least 30 seen at Ecclesdown Road on 16th and 19+ there next day.
Black-billed Parrot Amazona agilis E * 3, 7
On the northern fringe of Cockpit Country at least four at Good Hope Estate on 7th. In the east at least two at Ecclesdown Road on 16th and at least one there next day. On 16th both the birds of the pair had red in the wing, while the bird there next day did not. More Amazona parrots were heard but not seen at Ecclesdown Road and also at San San.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor 2, 3
Two at Greenwood on 8th and one at Marshall’s Pen on 11th.
Jamaican Lizard-cuckooSauothera vetula E * 2, 3
One at Marshall’s Pen on 11th (with others heard), one at Ecclesdown Road and one at San San on 16th.
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Hyetornis pluvialis E * 2, 3
Two at Rocklands on 7th were the only ones seen. At least one calling at Ecclesdown Road on 16th.
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani 9, 41
Seen daily in small numbers in the Greenwood area, round Marshall’s Pen and at Treasure Beach. Not seen in the Blue Mountains or in the east.
Jamaican Owl Pseudoscops grammicus E * 1, 1
One seen before dawn in the garden at Marshall’s Pen on 11th. An endemic genus.
Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis 2, 2
One roosting at Rocklands on 7th and one in flight before dawn at Marshall’s Pen on 11th. The nominate race is endemic to Jamaica.
White-collared Swift Streptoprocne zonaris 4, 203
50 at Hardwar Gap on 13th. In the east seen in the afternoons over the hotel at San San each day with 110 on 15th.
Antillean Palm-swift Tachornis phoenicobia 5, 10
One at Greenwood on 6th, one at Rocklands next day, four in the Treasure Beach area on 12th, two at Hardwar Gap on 13th and two at Hope Botanical Gardens on 15th.
Jamaican Mango Anthracothorax mango E * 4, 8
Two or three at Rockland each day where hand fed, one at Cranbrook Flower Forest on 9th and singles at Ecclesdown Road and Mockingbird Hill Hotel on 16th.
Red-billed Streamertail Trochilus polytmus E * 11, 83
The fabulous birds were fairly common everywhere apart from the extreme east where they are replaced by the next species. Present in a range of habitats from dry coastal lowlands to high in the Blue Mountains favouring gardens and woodland edge. The highest count was 15 in the Blue Mountains on 14th. Visiting feeders at Rockland, where hand fed, and at the Gap Cafe. An endemic genus.
Black-billed Streamertail Trochilus scitulus E * 3, 8
Confined to the east where one or two seen at Ecclesdown Road, Mockingbird Hotel and Fern Hill Hotel, San San. Best views were in the two hotel gardens where there were more flowers. An endemic genus.
Vervain Hummingbird Mellisuga minima N * 5, 6
A singing male at Greenwood on 6th with another there on 8th and a pair on 19th. Otherwise seen singly at Rocklands on 7th and Marshall’s Pen on 11th. The second smallest bird in the world is also found on Hispaniola.
Jamaican Tody Todus todus E * 11, 15
Widespread and frequent in small numbers in well wooded sites at Rocklands, Good Hope Estate, Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen, Blue Mountains and Ecclesdown Road. This fine family is confined to the Greater Antilles.
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon 4, 4
Single birds on the north coast near Greenwood on three dates and once at nearby Salt Marsh.
Jamaican Woodpecker Melanerpes radiolatus E * 13, 42
Widespread common and often noisy in wooded areas and gardens almost throughout with the only exception being the dry southern coast near Treasure Beach.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius 1, 3
Three in one tree at Marshall’s Pen on the evening of 10th.
Jamaican Elainea Myiopagis cotta E * 1, 1
One beyond Hardwar Gap towards section on 14th was quite vocal.
Jamaican Pewee Contopus pallidus E * 2, 3
Two at Rocklands on 7th and one near Hardwar Gap on 15th. Formerly treated as a race of Greater Antillean Pewee which is now divided into Crescent-eyed (northern Bahamas and Cuba), Hispaniolan and Jamaican pewees.
Sad Flycatcher Myiarchus barbirostris E * 5, 10
The commonest Myiarchus seen in small numbers at Greenwood, Rocklands, Good Hope Estate, Marshall’s Pen and Ecclesdown Road.
Rufous-tailed Flycatcher Myiarchus validus E * 2, 3
This big distinctive Myiarchus was not common with just one at Rocklands on 7th and a pair on Ecclesdown Road on 16th.
Stolid Flycatcher Myiarchus stolidus N * 4, 5
Fritz heard one calling at Rocklands on 7th but I only saw them on three days at Greenwood where the dry forest habitat is typical. Did not go to Portland Ridge where they are apparently quite common.
Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus N 15, 87
The commonest tyrant-flycatcher on the island was seen daily in a range of wooded and more open situations. They are noisy, often perch on wires and can sometimes be quite approachable.
Jamaican Becard Pachyramphus niger E * 4, 4
Thinly distributed in areas with good forest or big trees. A male at Good Hope Estate on 7th, a nest near the road between Hardwar Gap and Newcastle on 14th (birds not seen), a pair rebuilding a nest right over the Ecclesdown Road on 17th and a female in the garden at Fern Hill Hotel next day.
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor 1, 2
Two at Elim Ponds on 10th.
Cave Swallow Pterochelidon fulva 4, 38
Scattered in small numbers including two at the abandoned cricket stadium near Falmouth on 8th and up to six around San San. A colony at Marshall’s Pen were nesting in our accommodation and up to 25 seen there. A few unidentified hirundines were seen from the car.
Jamaican Crow Corvus jamaicensis E * 6, 22
Quite localised with small numbers seen at Good Hope Estate, Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen and Ecclesdown Road. Often initially located by their noisy and varied gargling and cawing calls.
Rufous-throated Solitaire Myadestes genibarbis N * 4, 1
Heard each day around Hardwar Gap with up to five calling each day but only one seen, on 14th, responding to a tape. Three singing along Ecclesdown Road on 17th. The race solitarius is endemic to Jamaica.
White-eyed Thrush Turdus jamaicensis E * 6, 12
Heard calling at dawn and dusk, but not seen, at Marshall’s Pen. Easier around Hardwar Gap with up to three seen daily, some giving excellent views. On 17th at least four seen along Ecclesdown Road and two in the garden of Fern Hill Hotel.
White-chinned Thrush Turdus aurantius E * 14, 102
The common resident thrush, found in all areas but commonest in the Blue Mountains (up to 20 in a day) and in the east (20 on 17th).
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottus 13, 101
Widespread and common resident in open areas including gardens.
Starling Sternus vulgaris 4, 12
Localised introduced resident seen in small numbers near Montego Bay, at Cranbrook Flower Forest and at Marshall’s Pen.
Jamaican Vireo Vireo modestus E * 10, 24
Widespread in woodland and woodland edge seen in small numbers at Greenwood, Rocklands, Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen, Blue Mountains and San San.
Blue Mountain Vireo Vireo osburni E * 1, 1
The only one I saw was found by Janette between the Gap and Section in the Blue Mountains on 14th.
Northern Parula Parula americana 9, 17
Widespread, with small numbers, no more than three in a day, seen in all areas apart from the Blue Mountains.
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia 1, 3
Three in riverside trees at Elim Ponds on 10th. The race eoa occurs on Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
Cape May Warbler Dendroica tigrina 1, 2
Two at Treasure Beach on 13th.
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica virens 13, 45
The second commonest wintering wood-warbler seen almost daily in all areas with up to six in a day.
Arrow-headed Warbler Dendroica phareta E * 6, 14
Quite widespread in decent humid forest from high in the Blue Mountains to much lower altitudes. One at Rockland on 7th, three at Marshall’s Pen on 11th, up to four each day in the Blue Mountains, two at Ecclesdown Road on 16th and one at Fern Hill Hotel, San San on 18th.
Black-throated Green Warbler Dendroica virens 1, 1
One at Good Hope Estate on 7th.
Yellow-throated Warbler Dendroica dominica 1, 1
One in dry scrub at Treasure Beach on 13th (yellow-lored nominate race).
Prairie Warbler Dendroica discolor 9, 19
Small numbers noted at Greenwood, Rocklands, Treasure Beach, Blue Mountains, Hope Botanical Gardens, Ecclesdown Road and Fern Hill Hotel, San San.
Black-and-white WarblerMniolilta varia 4, 4
Single birds seen at Greenwood on 6th and 9th, Marshall’s Pen on 11th and Blue Mountains on 15th.
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla14, 76
The commonest wintering wood-warbler with up to 10 seen daily in woodland, scrub and gardens in all areas.
Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorus 3, 3
Two single birds at Rocklands on 7th and another at Marshall’s Pen on 11th.
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus 3, 3
Single birds at Rocklands on 6th, Marshall’s Pen on 11th and Fern Hill Hotel, San San on 18th.
Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus motacilla 1, 1
One in a roadside trickle of water near the Gap on 14th. An unidentified waterthrush was by the river at Good Hope Estate on 7th.
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata 4, 6
One at Rocklands on 7th, two at Elim Ponds on 10th, one in the Blue Mountains on 13th and two at Ecclesdown Road on 16th.
Bananaquit Coereba flaveola 13, 132
Widespread and locally common in gardens, forest and scrub in all areas with up to 20 in a day at Marshall’s Pen. The race flaveola is endemic to Jamaica.
Jamaican Euphonia Euphonia jamaica E * 7, 12
Small numbers up to three in a day seen at Greenwood, Rocklands, Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen and the Blue Mountains.
Jamaican Spindalis Spindalis nigricephalus E * 11, 45
Small numbers widespread and frequent in woodlands, gardens and scrub, commonest in the hills. Seen at Greenwood, Rocklands, Marshall’s Pen, Blue Mountains, Ecclesdown Road and Fern Hill Hotel, San San.
Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolor * 5, 43
Locally common with up to eight at Rocklands where hand fed, and up to 20 each day in the Blue Mountains.
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivacea 6, 32
Small numbers noted at Greenwood (up to eight daily), Rocklands, Elim Ponds and Treasure Beach. Usually in long grass on tracksides and roadsides.
Yellow-shouldered Grassquit Loxipasser anoxanthus E * 3, 4
Only seen at Greenwood, with one or two males on 6th and 8th, and Ecclesdown Road on 18th. An endemic genus.
Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea N * 7, 14
Small numbers seen at Greenwood, Rocklands, Marshall’s Pen, Blue Mountains (commonest here with up to four in a day) and Fern Hill Hotel, San San.
Orangequit Euneornis campestris E * 10, 79
Locally common in areas with humid forest with sightings at Rocklands (including birds visiting feeders), Cranbrook Flower Forest, Marshall’s Pen, Blue Mountains, Ecclesdown Road and Fern Hill Hotel, San San. An endemic genus.
Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger N 8, 113
Small numbers seen in open areas in the Greenwood – Montego Bay area, 50 around Good Hope Estate and small numbers in the east of the island near the coast.
Jamaican Blackbird Nesospar nigerrimus E * 1, 1
One in forest with larger trees and lots of bromeliads about 3.5km towards Section from the Gap on 15th. Probably the trickiest endemic, which can also be seen on Ecclesdown Road. An endemic genus.
Jamaican Oriole Icterus leucopteryx N * 10, 29
Widespread and frequent in woodland and gardens with small numbers seen at Greenwood, Rocklands (including some at feeders), Marshall’s Pen, Blue Mountains and Fern Hill Hotel, San San.
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer 1, 1
One in non-breeding plumage at Treasure Beach on 13th was feeding on the roadside with some Yellow-faced Grassquits, close to suitable wetland breeding habitat. An introduced species established at Caymanas Pond, according to Sutton, but perhaps now spreading.
There are over 50 species of bats in Jamaica, about half of them endemic. We often saw them at dusk in various areas but we had no way of identifying them. The only mammal we did identify was Small Indian Mongoose (Herpestes auropunctatus), which is an introduction and a pest of ground nesting birds and other native creatures. They were all too common and widespread with up to three being seen on seven days throughout the trip.
Butterflies were often numerous and spectacular but apart from recognising a few families such as swallowtails, fritillaries, skippers, browns and buckeyes they were admired but not named. The exceptions were Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius) and a chunky green skipper Astraptes jaira both along Ecclesdown Road and identified from photographs. I lost all my pictures, apart from those taken on the last three days, in a hard disc disaster so was unable to identify ones from earlier in the trip. Before I lost them I did manage to identify a dragonfly at Treasure Beach – a Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata).
Over 3,000 species of flowering plants have been recorded from Jamaica of which 830 (28%) are endemic. There are at least another 82 endemic fern species (out of 580 species recorded from the island). So the flora was impressive but overwhelming and as usual there ‘just wasn’t time’! We did manage to identify the spectacular Nun Orchid Phaius tankervillae flowering by the Oatley Trail at Hardwar Gap but that was about it.
Books, trip reports and sound recordings
Raffaele H. et al. (1998) Birds of the West Indies. Helm
Downer A. and Sutton R. (1990) Birds of Jamaica - A Photographic Field Guide. Cambridge
We also took the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet guides to Jamaica.
We used various trip reports to help in planning the trip of which that by Gruff Dodd from a September 2000 trip was particularly comprehensive and helpful. Others consulted were by Mark, Linda, Richard and Brent Sutton (November to December 1994 – the only one that actually had some maps so very helpful), The Travelling Naturalist (January 2007), Avian Adventures (March 2004), Paul Noakes (July – August 2007), Tony Smith and Lester Mulford (February 1993), Jay Carlisle (April 2004) and A. and E. A. Greensmith (September – October 1988).
Mark and Linda Sutton kindly lent me their 1:300 000 road map of the island (Berndtson and Berndtson Publications), which though over ten years old proved adequate for most sites, though it doesn’t show every small road. They also lent me a tape of Jamaican bird calls and songs produced years ago by Steve Whitehouse. I used it very sparingly as I don’t really like taping stuff in but it was useful for a handful of tricky species.
Clements J. F. (2007) The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World (sixth edition). Christopher Helm
Howell S. N. G. And Webb S. (1995) A Guide to The Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press
John and Janette Martin