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JAMAICA 2009, March 28th - April 4th

...with Mark Finn

This tour to Jamaica was the first by Birdwatching Breaks and was an immediate success for the company recording all the endemic species (28) including the scarce Jamaican Blackbird and the beautiful Crested Quail-dove. The tour covered all the important bird areas of this unique island situated on the western extremity of the West Indies. In addition to these areas visits were made to a selection of wetlands and lagoons for migrant waders and ducks.

My thanks go out to Ann Sutton for her knowledge and expertise on Jamaican birds and where to find some of the more elusive species. I am sure the following tour report and bird list will bring back many happy memories of an enjoyable tour to this under bird-watched island in the Caribbean Sea.

March 28th: Gatwick, Montego Bay, Greenwood
Daily total n/r New trip birds n/r Running total n/r
Weather: Cloudy and warm 28c

At 0630 we assembled at Gatwick for the flight over the Atlantic Ocean to Montego Bay in western Jamaica. Landed on time but immigration and customs was slow due to heavy air traffic. After passing through we entered the sometimes manic traffic systems of the island. Montego Bay water treatment works held Ruddy Duck, Cave and Barn Swallows and several unidentified terns. We stopped at a hotel garden recording the endemic subspecies Loggerhead Kingbird and White-chinned Thrush. Next on the agenda was our base at Greenwood east of Montego Bay. Checked in for the night and enjoyed a local meal on the beach front.

March 29th: Greenwood, Marshalls Montego Bay Water Treatment Works, Spring Pond, Marshall’s Pen
Daily total 71 New trip birds 71 Running total 71
Weather: Warm and sunny 30c

The birding started outside the gardens of Emerald Villa Resort with singing and displaying Grey Kingbirds a summer visitor to Jamaica. Larger trees adjacent to Emerald Villa held several White-crowned Pigeons, Olive-throated Parakeets, Grey-rumped Parrotlets and Loggerhead Kingbirds. Low scrub was attractive to migrant American Redstarts, Prairie Warblers and Northern Parula. Isolated fruiting trees proved to be a magnet for White-chinned Thrushes, Stolid Flycatcher, Jamaican Woodpecker and prolonged views of the shy Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo. Near a half-built building we observed the spectacular Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Mango and fly-by Vervain Hummingbirds the latter being the second smallest world bird. Near the junction another tree added Jamaican and Black-whiskered Vireos, Jamaican Euphonia and Bananaquit. Back to the villa for breakfast where the gardens held Smooth-billed Ani and Yellow-faced Grassquits. Afterwards we headed back to Montego Bay and stopped opposite the water treatment works. The pools here held Ruddy Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Least and Pied-billed Grebes and two female Lesser Scaup. Around the pool edge Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons, Brown Pelican, Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer. In trees a few Black-crowned Night Herons could be seen. It was time to head in a southerly direction passing through small villages and settlements. Along the way American Kestrel, Turkey Vulture and Northern Mockingbirds were particularly common. On reaching the coast Magnificent Frigatebirds controlled the skies. The main point of interest was Spring Pond a small freshwater lake surrounded by reeds and trees. On the lake Northern Jacana, Common Moorhens, American Coots and four Masked Ducks the latter a speciality of the pond. At 1400 hours we reached Marshall’s Pen an isolated plantation house situated near the town of Mandeville. Lunch taken followed by a walk at four o’clock along the trail system. The bird feeders here attracted Red-billed Streamertails, Black-faced and Yellow-faced Grassquits, Zenaida and White-winged Doves. A major highlight was a daytime roosting Northern Potoo sitting right next to the track – fantastic views. The walk around the trail system added Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Jamaican Orioles. On a ridge we eventually caught up with White-eyed and White-throated Thrushes, Jamaican Spindalis, Jamaican Becard and Jamaican Oriole. Back to base with the final bird being Jamaican Owl perched in the open on a horizontal branch. A great birding day in Jamaica with at least twelve of the islands endemic birds.

March 30th: Marshall’s Pen, Treasure Beach, Parrotee Pond, Elim Pools
Daily total 75 New trip birds 33 Running total 104
Weather: Warm with scattered clouds 29c

We met up at 0615 to start a leisurely walk around the trails before breakfast. The bird table and feeders held similar birds to yesterday afternoon but in greater numbers. The first new species was a pair of European Starlings an unwanted colonist to Jamaica. In trees around the bird table we quickly located Jamaican Tody, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Caribbean Dove and the beautiful Orangequit. We revisited the quail-dove trail recording at least two pairs of Jamaican Becards establishing territories, Greater Antillean Bullfinch and Jamaican Orioles. In a sector of taller trees Jamaican Euphonia and Jamaican Vireos were recorded. A walk down a narrow trail provided us with Jamaican Peewee and migrant American Redstarts. On the return route a pair of Rufous-bellied Cuckoos was eventually found high in the canopy, calling and gliding from branch to branch. Returned to the veranda where we had a later breakfast. Arranged to meet up at 0930. Brandon took over from Anne who was busy finalising her photographic bird guide of Jamaica. Another area of Marshall’s Pen visited with Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel and Cave Swallows overhead. On the field edge, close views of Jamaican and Black-whiskered Vireos. In a field we located the endemic Yellow-shouldered Grassquit feeding on berries. In the adjacent wood the distinctive calls of Ruddy Quail-dove although we were unable to locate the bird. Back to the house and gardens where the uncommon and localised Jamaican Eleania was found hawking for insects in a stunted tree. Mike located a Black and White Warbler feeding along a tree trunk. After lunch we headed towards the coastal village of Treasure Beach. The large lagoon here attracts many birds with Pied-billed Grebe, American and Caribbean Coots, Blue-winged Teal, Royal Tern and Brown Pelican being present today. A little further on a small muddy area next to a marsh attracted Common Moorhen, American Purple Gallinule and surprisingly three Sora Rails in the open. The road from here to Parrote Pond is in a very poor state so progress was slow. At Parrote Pond a wide range of herons and waders were present including a white phase Reddish Egret. Black-necked Stilts were particularly numerous with migrant Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and a lone Grey Plover. An old building attracted roosting Royal and Sandwich Terns, Laughing Gull and Brown Pelican. Our last birding stop was Elim Pools located in an area used for sugar cane production. Luck was with us as the first bridge had a pair of West Indian Whistling Ducks a rare and declining endemic species of the Caribbean region. Recently burnt areas attracted Common Yellowthroat. At the end of the track a section of open water and river is reached. This was productive for water-birds of which Least Bittern and Yellow-breasted Crake were the highlights. Back to base with a Barn Owl en route, another excellent birding day in Jamaica.

March 31st: Cockpit Country, Marshall’s Pen
Daily total 50 New trip birds 8 Running total 112
Weather: Early morning fog giving way to warm and sunny conditions 29c

An early departure in order to be in Cockpit Country before first light. On arrival we quickly located Yellow-billed and Black-billed Parrots, Ring-tailed Pigeons and Jamaican Crows. A berry-laden tree attracted Jamaican Spindalis, Jamaican Euphonia, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Northern Parula and Bananaquits. After consuming our packed breakfast we headed off down the old road on foot. Common birds along the way included Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Vireo, White-eyed Thrush, Rufous-tailed Flycatchers, Orangequits and Red-billed Streamertails. Near the end of the trail we eventually found the skulking Arrowhead Warbler feeding in low bushes. Ahead of us brief views of Ruddy Quail-dove flying off the path. The return to Marshall’s Pen went smoothly with a short diversion for Grasshopper Sparrow near Mandeville. At 1630 arrangements have been made to walk along the quail trail near the main gardens at Marshall’s Pen. Nothing new along the trail although views of Sad and Rufous-tailed Flycatchers sallying for insects. The bird table had the usual species plus a Eurasian Collared Dove a new colonist for Jamaica. Tomorrow we leave Marshall’s Pen and head east towards Kingston and Hardwar Gap.

April 1st: Marshall’s Pen, Portland Ridge, Kingston, Hardwar Gap
Daily total 56 New trip birds 3 Running total 115
Weather: Warm and sunny, cooler at higher altitudes 19c/28c

At 0615 we embarked on our last walk around Marshall’s Pen taking the quail trail. We stopped at the bird table where the usual birds were present plus a male Black and White Warbler in a nearby tree. The trail was fairly quiet although another Northern Potoo was located in a distant tree. Migrants noted included Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler and American Redstart. Back for breakfast and a departure time of 10am to Portland Ridge. The journey to Portland took us through a rather dry and featureless landscape and onto one of the poorest areas of Jamaica. Habitats here comprise of low thorn bushes, mangroves and isolated clumps of large trees. After a little bit of searching we located Bahama Mockingbird a rather scarce species on the island. A real bonus came in the form of a Plain Pigeon perched high up in a mature tree. The journey to Kingston passed quickly, followed by the slow, winding, climb up to Hardwar Gap. The road is poor in places but offers spectacular views down into Kingston itself. Beyond the old army base of Newcastle a stop was made adjacent to wooded slopes and bushes. Rufous-throated Solitaire and Orangequit were recorded and observed in good numbers. On the way to base luck was with us as a Crested Quail-dove appeared on the road and gave us extended views. A rather bizarre bird as it pumps its tail whilst walking on the ground. Arrived at the aptly named Starlight Chalets where we spend the night.

April 2nd: Hardwar Gap, Kingston, Yallahs, Porto Antonio
Daily total 55 New trip birds 5 Running total 120
Weather: Cool at Hardwar Gap, warm in the lowlands 15c/28c

Before breakfast we started birding on the rough road leading to the guesthouse. The familiar Jamaican birds and regular North American warblers were present in reasonable numbers. After a little searching the scarce and localised Blue Mountain Vireo, was located low down in a roadside tree. Further down the road a wintering Indigo Bunting was found by Mike. Back to Starlight Chalets for a late breakfast and onto Kingston to join the main east road. Various stops made en route to Kingston with brief views of Jamaican Blackbird. Lunch taken at Devon House in Kingston before joining the pot-holed east road. The harbour held Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Royal Terns. A short stop at Yallahs Pond added Great Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted and Least Sandpipers to the day list. In a seaside village we stopped again for a flock of White-collared Swifts. On arrival at Frenchman’s Cove the lawns had Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

April 3rd: Port Antonio, Ecclesdown Road, Hectors River, Frenchman’s Cove
Daily total 46 New trip birds 2 Running total 122
Weather: hot and sunny 30c

This morning we headed in an easterly direction to Eccleston Road which runs adjacent to the national park. The first stop at a patch of forest produced Ring-tailed and White-crowned Pigeons, Caribbean and Zenaida Doves, Black-whiskered and Jamaican Vireos, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Vireo and the range-restricted Black-billed Streamertail. Another section of forest about three kilometres up the road added Black-billed Parrots, Olive-throated Parakeets, and best of all a Crested Quail-dove feeding along the road. The final stop in the forest was on a bend opposite trees with ferns, mosses and bromeliads. After waiting for some-time we eventually had good views of Jamaican Blackbird the most difficult of the endemic birds. Back to the coast road for White-tailed Tropicbirds which duly obliged before flying offshore. Returned to Port Antonio picking up patties for lunch. At 1545 we embarked on a birding walk around the extensive gardens of Frenchman’s Cove. At the bridge two adult Yellow-crowned Night Herons stalking for prey. A large flowering tree was a magnet for birds including Black-billed Steamertail, Jamaican Mango, Bananaquit and Orangequit. Our walk passed some old trees attracting American Redstart, Black and White Warbler and calling Sad Flycatchers. Next on the agenda was an exploration of a grassy field bordered by gardens. The latter had Olive-throated Parakeets. A visit to the beautiful shoreline produced nothing at all. On the return a pair of Vervain Hummingbirds performed for us in a small bush. Tomorrow we travel west to Montego Bay and the flight back to England.

April 4th: Port Antonio, Robins Bay, Saltmarsh, Montego Bay
Daily total 60 New trip birds 3 Final total 125
Weather: Warm and sunny 30c

Our final day in Jamaica started with a voluntary walk around the grounds at Frenchman’s Cove. Regular occurring species present plus a migrant Prothonotary Warbler in the river area. After checking out we started the long journey west towards Montego Bay. Beyond the town of Port Antonio the road has been upgraded as in good condition. Our first birding stop was the road leading to Robins Bay. Lowland fields attracted good numbers of White-collared Swifts. Near the coast a section of fields with wetlands proved to be attractive to Least Grebes, Masked Ducks and the commoner marshland birds. Returned to the main highway with a stop near Falmouth for chicken jerk lunch a form of barbeque cuisine. The road towards Montego Bay passes by several important wetlands with the first having Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, and several waders including the endemic subspecies
of Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Willets. Our final birding stop at Greenwood was an excellent place for wetland species. High numbers of egrets, Blue-winged Teal and at least three Northern Shovelers. Onto Montego Bay airport where we said our goodbyes to Ann and checked with Virgin Atlantic for the flight home.

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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