<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Avian Adventures Tour reports
Costa Rica
The Gambia

Spanish tour
Jamaica, Friday 19th to Tuesday 30th March 2004

The lovely Caribbean island of Jamaica was host to a new Avian Adventures tour in March.  We were treated to a birding bonanza in this tropical environment of dramatic mountains, cascading waterfalls and lush green rainforests where vividly coloured flowers attract a wealth of jewel-like birds.

Starting our tour in the southern marshes of the Great Morass, we encountered scores of wetland birds and American wood warblers.  Amongst the multitude of birds were LeastBittern, Tricoloured & Little Blue Herons, Black-and-white, Black-throated Blue and PrairieWarblers, American Redstart and Common Yellowthroat.

The superb Marshall's Pen and Cockpit Country produced a host of specialities, including Northern Potoo, White-eyed Thrush, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Elaenia and Jamaican Crow.  Our delightful Lodge in the Blue Mountains gave us top quality morning birdwatching from the balcony, with Cape May Warbler, Blue Mountain Vireos, Orangequits, scores of Red-billed Streamertails and Greater Antillean Bullfinches taking pride of place. 

Red-billed Streamertail Red-billed Streamertail:Photo Tim Loseby.

For the epilogue we moved to Mockingbird Hill, Port Antonia.  Here we visited two superb locations: Hector River, where majestic White-tailed Tropicbirds soared above the clear waters of the Caribbean; and Ecclesdown Road, an area of rainforest where we located the rare endemic Jamaican Blackbird amongst the abundant birdlife.  On our last day we even found time to try bamboo river rafting on the Rio Grande! 

All 28 endemic species were seen well by the whole group.

Day 1: Friday, 19th March

Gatwick to Kingston, then Black River. Our scheduled British Airways flight arrived at Kingston on time and without incident.  We then drove to Black River, a journey of about three hours.

Day 2: Saturday, 20th March

Our first experience of Jamaican bird species was on the Lower Morass, where we enjoyed an excellent period of birdwatching.  There were large concentrations of egrets, Little Blue &Tricoloured Herons, Royal Terns, Sandwich Terns and even four or five Gull-billed TernsMagnificent Frigatebirds soared menacingly overhead, whilst Willets and Greater & LesserYellowlegs busily fed along the shoreline and in amongst the spidery mangrove roots.  A host of other birds were present, including White & Glossy Ibises, Roseate Tern and Semi-palmated Plover

Moving further along the Lower Morass, we reached a freshwater pond at Parity.  Although at first glance there appeared to be little avian activity, this tiny piece of water turned out to be an outstanding bird haven.  A number of avian gems were soon discovered, including Masked Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Purple Gallinule, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Least & Pied-billed Grebes, Solitary & Spotted Sandpipers and Northern Jacana - proving how deceptive first impressions can be, and the importance of patience and observation. 

During this marvellous early morning period several bird species were encountered that would soon become familiar, and very much part of the Jamaican birding experience: Loggerhead Kingbird, Greater Antillean Grackle, Zenaida Dove and Yellow Warbler

After a well-earned breakfast we set out to bird the upper part of the Great Morass.  Passing by fishponds that were stocked with Red Snapper (a local favourite), we viewed the accompaniment of Great Egrets but also located two Belted Kingfishers, Osprey and a few Snowy Egrets.  At one stop on the narrow track, 'pishing' attracted a number of North American wood warblers, including American Redstart, Yellow & Black-and-white Warblers and Common Yellowthroat.  At the end of the track were a number of lagoons, which held wetland species including several Least Bitterns, Tricoloured Heron, Green Heron, CaribbeanCoot and Blue-winged Teal.

At different points on our memorable walk back to the coach, many colourful wood warblers made a real sight to behold: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Northern Parula, Worm-eating & Black-and-white Warblers and a male American Redstart to name but a few.  A simply fantastic first day in Jamaica.

Day 3: Sunday, 21st March

A boat trip on the Black River was a delightful way to start the day, and we were in a totally relaxed mood as the boat negotiated a way through the channels.  In this tranquil setting we experienced a number of bird species at very close quarters - Little Blue Herons were perhaps the most confiding of all, giving photographers good opportunities.  Amongst other species present were Pied-billed Grebe, Green Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Osprey, Peregrine, Purple Gallinule and Northern Jacana.  The final highlight was a close encounter with an American Crocodile!

On our way to Marshall's Pen we visited firstly Pedro Pond and then Treasure Beach.  At Pedro Pond we found large numbers of coots - mainly American, but with a few Caribbean amongst them – also Pied-billed & Least Grebes, Blue-winged Teal, Royal Terns, Greater & Lesser Yellowlegs and Grey Plover.  A pleasant lunch interlude at Treasure Beach was enjoyed, whilst watching Wilson's & Semi-palmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones and Least Sandpipers.

After this very enjoyable period we drove to Marshall's Pen.  Along the driveway, and just before the house, we stopped the vehicle to view a small stand of trees - a known roosting site for Northern Potoo.  We were in luck, as Adrian suddenly shouted that he had located the bird, and we enjoyed full-frame telescope views.  Birdwatching in the gardens was unfortunately curtailed by rain, and we sat down to dinner at 7.00 p.m.

Day 4: Monday, 22nd March

Today we had a very early start (5.00 a.m.) and headed for the Burnt Hill Road area in Cockpit Country.  The odd-sounding name is apparently derived from the shape of the landscape's topographical features - hills with a number of valleys that suggest the shape of cock-fighting pits.  The area is outstanding for a number of Jamaica's endemics and specialities, and our time here was very rewarding.  One of the first birds to present itself for inspection was Jamaican Elaenia, an endemic species not easily seen.  This was soon followed by observations of a number of specialities, including Jamaican Crow, Rufous-tailedFlycatcher, Jamaican Oriole and Black-billed & Yellow-billed Parrots in flight. 

After our picnic breakfast we walked along the lane, and enjoyed a wonderful birding experience amidst panoramic scenery.  Gorgeous Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanagers displayed their colourful plumage whilst feeding on fruiting vegetation, and dainty Jamaican Todies competed well for top spot with their own version of a 'many- coloured dreamcoat'. 

Red-billed Streamertails and tiny Vervain Hummingbirds busily fed on flowering shrubs, the former species being very aggressive in defence of good feeding zones.  One particularly magical moment was when a Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo was seen perching in full view at very close range.  Black-billed & Yellow-billed Parrots were eventually located, also perching, which allowed us better scrutiny of their facial patterns.
Several North American wood warblers vied for attention, including Black-throated Blue, Prairie & Worm-eating Warblers.  Returning to Marshall's Pen, we had lunch, then birded the gardens and trail; in addition to the wonderful array of birds, we particularly enjoyed super views of a Northern Potoo which we had located the previous day, and we later discovered a second Potoo nearby.

The day ended in great style when we were treated to views of the resident Jamaican Owl - a most exciting few minutes.

Day 5: Tuesday, 23rd March

The day commenced with a walk on the main trail, with the aim of seeing Quail-doves.  A tremendous start was achieved, for not only did we see Crested Quail-doves, but Ruddy Quail-doves as well.  Leaving the trail, we entered a section of meadows and located Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, before joining the wooded trail where a surprise find was a female Merlin perching on a dead tree limb, and also a Jamaican Pewee

After breakfast we said farewell to Marshall's Pen and drove to Portland Ridge, an area of mangroves with adjacent forest.  This is the habitat for the endemic Stolid Flycatcher and also Bahama Mockingbird, a speciality of the area.  While searching for the target birds we encountered a high density of Northern Mockingbirds before locating Stolid Flycatcher, which gave us first class views.  The Bahama Mockingbirds also provided us with excellent observations, and we were delighted to have such a close encounter with the species, after working so hard to locate it.  The mangroves and lagoons were also host to many other birds, including Snowy & Great Egrets, Little Blue & Tricoloured Herons, Willet, LeastSandpiper, Black-necked Stilt and Glossy Ibis

Departing Portland Ridge, we set off for Forres Park in the Blue Mountains, an area famous for its high quality coffee.  Our route took us via Kingston, and we arrived in the late afternoon.

Day 6: Wednesday, 24th March

On our first morning at Forres Park we rose early and birdwatched from the balcony, viewing the shrubs and plants directly in front.  A profusion of bird species visit these prime feeding spots and pride of place must surely go to the gorgeous male Red-billedStreamertails.  Also competing for our attention were Bananaquits, Vervain Hummingbirds, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, endemic species such as Orangequits and Blue Mountain Vireos, and migrant North American wood warblers - Cape May and Black-throated Blue Warblers and American Redstarts.

Later we walked through the coffee plantation to the gully, observing a number of species en route.  Jamaican Woodpecker, Common Ground-dove, Prairie Warbler, Northern Parula, Ring-tailed Pigeon, Black-faced & Yellow-faced Grassquits were all showing well.

After eating a tasty breakfast we were taken to a private property called 'Paraiso', a delightful location with panoramic views all round.  Many birds were present in the gardens, and we had great views of White-chinned Thrush, Loggerhead Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo and Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanager.  However, the prize bird was certainly the Arrowhead Warbler, which was viewed for several minutes.  A super way to end the morning.

In the afternoon some of the group went to the coffee factory, while the others did more birding in the lodge grounds.

Day 7: Thursday, 25th March

Unfortunately, the heavy overnight rain continued throughout the morning, making it impossible to go to our planned venue for the day - Abbey Green.  This denied us the opportunity to look for the Jamaican Blackbird, Rufous-throated Solitaire and Crested Quail-dove amongst others.  However, our group kept in good spirits and were content to relax and birdwatch from the balcony, observing Red-billed Streamertails, VervainHummingbirds, American Kestrels, White-crowned Pigeons, Bananaquits, Orangequits, BlueMountain Vireos, Black-whiskered Vireos, Cape May & Black-throated Blue Warblers, Jamaican Oriole and Greater Antillean Bullfinch.

During the latter part of the morning and early afternoon we visited the valley and river below Mavis Bank and saw Little Blue Heron, Zenaida Dove, Ruddy Quail-dove, CaribbeanDove, Prairie & Black-and-white Warblers and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit.  We enjoyed a very relaxed dinner with wine, and talked about our wonderful few days at Forres Park.

Day 8: Friday, 26th March

A relaxed morning began with pre-breakfast birdwatching from the balcony, where Red-billed Streamertails, Cape May & Black-throated Blue Warblers, Orangequits and GreaterAntillean Bullfinch showed well.  After a leisurely breakfast we departed for Mockingbird Hill, travelling via the John Crow Mountains.  Stopping at the Army Barracks, we saw a number of Indigo Buntings and Nutmeg Manakins, but at Hardware Gap we saw very little because the rain was so intense - although we did hear Rufous-throated Solitaire.  The day then became very eventful, for a landslide trapped our coach!  After about two hours, it was freed and we were able to continue our journey to Mockingbird Hill.

Jamaican Tody Jamaican Tody: Photo Tim Loseby

After a late lunch we birdwatched in the grounds of the hotel and observed Chestnut-belliedCuckoo, Sad Flycatcher, Prairie Warbler, Black-whiskered Vireo and Jamaican Tody, amongst other species.

Day 9: Saturday, 27th March

Once again we awoke to intermittent rain, but it did not dampen our spirits as the cloud was certainly more broken.  We left the hotel at 6.00 am, taking a picnic breakfast with us.  Our first port of call was Hector River area to look for White-tailed Tropicbirds.  Lady Luck was with us for we immediately located about ten birds offshore; although somewhat distant at first, they eventually moved closer to shore - a great start to the day.

We then moved on to Ecclesdown Road, an area of tropical rainforest, and one of the best sites for several of the endemic species - particularly Jamaican Blackbird.  In this marvellous environment the birding was superb, and by walking slowly along the roadside we enjoyed some splendid views of the resident birdlife.  Black-billed Streamertails were one moment actively feeding and chasing rivals, and the next surveying the scene from a favourite perch.  Sad, Stolid & Rufous-tailed Flycatchers were vocalising from song perches, JamaicanEuphonias, Orangequits and Jamaican Orioles busily fed on flowering trees, whilst Black-billed & Yellow-billed Parrots flew overhead at regular intervals, occasionally perching in mixed groups and allowing excellent telescope views.

It was after this scintillating start, but still early in our walk, that our guide halted and announced that he had heard Jamaican Blackbird.  Two birds suddenly appeared, typically feeding amongst bromeliads, and allowing us prolonged views.  Many other species were also observed well, including Ring-tailed & White-crowned Pigeons, Crested Quail-dove, Jamaican Crow, Loggerhead Kingbird, American Kestrel, Jamaican Tody and NorthernParula.  We then returned to the hotel for lunch.

During the afternoon we paid a visit to a local wetland at the mouth of the Spanish River.  Unfortunately, the recent rains had flushed muddy water into the marsh, but we still encountered a number of wetland species including Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Great & Snowy Egrets and Green & Little Blue Herons.

Day 10: Sunday, 28th March

Black-billed Streamertails and Jamaican Mangos made a nice hors d'oeuvre, followed by a very tasty breakfast of fruit and freshly-baked bread! 

We then departed on an 'avian adventure' in the true sense of the words - bamboo rafting down the Rio Grande.  This proved to be a very pleasant and relaxed way to enjoy the environment and experience the birdlife, particularly heron species.  During the two-hour trip, a total of 25 Green Herons were counted and many more than that of SnowyEgrets and Little Blue Herons; Great Egrets and Tricoloured Herons were also present.  Shorebirds were represented by Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpipers.

As the raft meandered slowly downriver - expertly steered by the raftsman (Captain) - many of the birds were encountered 'eyeball to eyeball'.  As we neared the end of the ride, a couple of vocal Belted Kingfishers signalled our unwelcome presence with their rattling call.

After docking at the estuary, everyone was in agreement about how much they had enjoyed the experience.  We then returned to the hotel for lunch and spent a leisurely afternoon - swimming or birding around the gardens.  This was the end of our birding adventure in Jamaica - a superb tour.

Day 11: Monday, 29th March

After a leisurely breakfast we said our goodbyes to the owners of Mockingbird Hill (Shireen and Barbara) and headed for the airport.  A few birding stops were scheduled, the first of which was the best - Hector River, where the White-tailed Tropicbirds were flying really close inshore, making a fitting finale to the birding. 

Our flight departed on time and we arrived back at Gatwick on Tuesday morning, 30th March.

Full Bird List

Avian Adventures
Website by Birdtours.co.uk