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A Report from

Jamaica: 4-14 April, 2004,


Jay Carlisle, Vermillion, SD, USA;


Main purpose of this trip was visiting a friend working on a Smithsonian Institution study of wintering American Redstarts in southwestern Jamaica (Westmoreland Parrish).  However, included in this trip was a 3-day journey around the island - largely in search of endemic or Caribbean specialties but also to see the sights & changing scenery around the island.

I drew extensively from 2 very informative trip reports I found by searching and following links to these reports by Gruff Dodd and Alex Kirschel:

Therefore, my notes here on birding sites are not exhaustive.  But, I do hope to bring attention to a couple other places of interest that we came across.

Total # of species: 133
Total # of endemics seen/heard: 26 (28 if "Jamaican" Potoo and "Jamaican" Parakeet are included)

Misses: Jamaican Owl (did not try overly hard), Jamaican Blackbird (not enough time in appropriate habitat), Caribbean Martin (??), Greater Antillean Elaenia (not enough time in appropriate habitat)


. Car rental:  I rented a car from Jamaica Car Rental ($50 US/day) for the first 4 days.  Friendly service & I was even given a free ride to the bus depot & given assistance in finding the correct bus for my trip back to Whitehouse.  Not the newest car but it got us around with no trouble to speak of.
. Safety:  We encountered no problems and most people, especially in the country, were very friendly. 
. Communication:  Local dialect can be difficult to pick up and, as with all travel to foreign countries, a little patience is required.  However, with time, things became clear & most folks are willing to be helpful.
. Map & navigating:  I used the Globetrotter map of Jamaica (& Caymans) and it was generally very helpful.  Biggest problem is lack of road signs in many places.  Common sense in map reading & asking locals if you're on the right track will aid in your navigational success.

4 April: arrived at Montego Bay, picked up car, and drove to Whitehouse to pick up my friend.  Loaded car and headed off.  Night at Milk River Bath (~$30 US for 2 people; mineral bath with healing properties - nice place).  Saw a very likely Jamaican Owl (too small for Barn) in silhouette across the headlights - torturous.

5 April: arose at 5am for drive to Portland Ridge.  Followed directions from above-mentioned trip reports past Portland Cottage and heard & saw Bahama Mockingbird fairly soon after passing through the village.  The end of the peninsula is gated (owned by local hunting & fishing club) and we were fortunate to have access.  My companion acquired access & I'm honestly not sure how easy it is.  I imagine that inquiries to JCDT (Jamaican Conservation and Development Trust) may help but am not sure.  However, I think all species of interest can be seen before the gate but getting up onto the ridge & the lighthouse was worth the view.  Extensive mangroves along the road seemed rich with birds.  Other highlights included hearing Mangrove Cuckoo and Clapper Rail and seeing wintering migrants like Cape May Warbler.  Shiny Cowbirds were seen in several places.

Drove in late am to Kingston & then, in afternoon, to Holywell National Park in the Blue Mountains.  Night in very nice cabin in Holywell (~$50 US for 2).

6 April: Birded Holywell NP & Hardwar Gap in the AM.  Hiked Oatley trail within park as well as N along main road towards Section.  Saw most high elevation species but missed Jamaican Blackbird, Greater Antillean Elaenia, and Crested Quail-dove.  Would have hiked to Catherine's Hill if time allowed - supposedly good for these species too.

Drove down to N coast and made our way to Port Antonio.  Stopped in at Mockingbird Hill Hotel (very accommodating - we ordered some drinks) for great views of BB Streamertails from balcony.  Heard that a Jamaican Owl lives on premises but we did not stay.

Spent night at Long Bay (east of Port Antonio; nice B&B style place along beach; can't remember name - maybe "Sea Scape" or something like it - but nicest place in town).  Saw 2 silent, & thus unidentified, nighthawks flying over at dusk.

7 April: awoke before dawn and drove road from Long Bay up past Windsor Forest and Paba to Ecclesdown (not much of a town - just a few agricultural clearings) area in the John Crow Mountains.  The area between here and Reich (sometimes mislabeled as "Reach" on maps), also known as the Drivers River Valley, seems to hold great potential.  Just by walking the main road we had great looks at both YB & BB parrots, saw huge morning flights of WC (especially) and Ring-tailed Pigeons, and heard many Ruddy Quail-doves and a few Crested Quail-doves.  Also, on the N side of Reich (~ 8 km from the intersection with the A4 road near Manchioneal) there is an old stone road leading west up into the mountains - there is also a sign here for the Blue & John Crow Mountains National Park.  We walked a bit of this and heard & saw Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo among other good birds.  From talking to locals, it seems this road leads much higher up into the mountains and might be a great day-hike for those wishing to explore & find another site for quail-doves, blackbirds, and other mountain forest birds.

Next stop was near Hector's River to look for WT Tropicbirds.  We did not know exactly where to go (we found out later that the best spot is the cliffs below the sports fields at the local school) and only saw 1 tropicbird at a distance.

Next stop was Yallahs salt ponds which yielded a few shorebirds (waders) and terns but nothing to write home about.

8 April: started morning at Elim Pools/Upper Black River Morrass (see directions in above trip reports).  Highlights included Caribbean Coots (2 or 3 among many Americans), Limpkin, West Indian Whistling Duck, and a singing Grasshopper Sparrow.  Also had great looks at Mangrove Cuckoo and a Jamaican Mango along the entrance road in from Newton.

Continued up to the N side of Cockpit Country through Maggotty, Siloah, Union, Balaclava, and Troy to the small road-end town of Tyre to hike a bit.  Scenery along this drive was great.  I did not arrive until 9 am but still saw & heard a # of montane birds (but still no blackbird or Crested Quail-dove).  This was a nice trail &, according to the travel guides (i.e. Lonely Planet or Rough Guide), it should be possible to be dropped here for a 10 mile hike to Windsor at the other side of Cockpit Country.  Would be a very nice birding hike with good chances for many species - especially at times closer to dawn & dusk.  Warning: a friend that surveys birds there (local Jamaican) had his car broken into at Tyre just a couple months before.  I was alone and had no such trouble with my rental.

I then tried navigating up through Warsop & Spring Graden to the Burnt Hill & Barbecue Bottom (B10) road but apparently took a wrong turn & was mis-directed down the wrong road (thru Albert Town & Ulster Spring to Jackson town).  I heard from locals that Barbecue Bottom is one of the better areas to try for blackbirds but it was noon by the time I had tried.

9 & 12 April: drove to mudflats at Parottee Beach (south of Black River, seen directly from road) on separate occasions to view shorebirds (waders) & other waterbirds.  I was also hoping to see Caribbean Martin but had no luck (here or anywhere on entire drive around island).  There are extensive mudflats adjacent to mangroves here that were rich with birdlife.  Terns (Least, Royal, and Sandwich), gulls (Laughing and Ring-billed), most herons & egrets (including 2 white-phase Reddish Egrets), and a good # of shorebirds including Least, Semipalmated, Western Sandpipers as well as a single White-rumped Sandpiper.  Many other species too.

13 April: a quick afternoon jaunt up to Quick Step (another community at N edge of Cockpit Country) with a local birder in order to look for Crested Quail-doves.  Quick Step is reached from the S by going N from the A2 road at East Lacovia towards Newton and then Maggotty, then E on the B6 road to Siloah, then a left turn just after Siloah and pass thru Aberdeen, Ringtail Hall, and on to Quick Step.  The first couple miles of this trail (actually a stone road passable in 4WD for a few miles) have some agricultural clearings along the edges but also passes through nice patches of forest.  I'm told the forest just gets better the further along you go.  Even though most of our time there was during a hot afternoon, we easily heard & saw many BB Parrots and Jamaican Crows.  Also heard and/or saw both of the larger cuckoos (Chestnut-bellied & Jam. Lizard) as well as other mountain forest birds like pewees and a RT Solitaire.  Highlights, however, were the doves; as the evening grew closer, the dove activity picked up.  We heard several & I finally saw my first Crested Quail-dove.  We also heard at least 1 male Ruddy Quail-dove, 3 singing Plain Pigeons (& 1 probable in flight), and many Caribbean Doves.  Early morning or late afternoon is recommended.


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