18 - 22 March 1995
by Gail Mackeirnan
"Doctorbird, Mountain Witch and Wild Pine Sergeant"
Things started auspiciously on Barry's and my Jamaica Air flight from Baltimore to Montego Bay, with champagne and fresh orange juice for breakfast.The reported temperature in MoBay was 86F -- perfect for ditching the winter blues and also searching out some island endemics. Our friends Rose Jagus and Charles Huston were thumbing through their copy of Downer and Sutton's "Birds of Jamaica" while we perused Craig Faanes' and Mark Oberle's trip reports for the umpteenth time.
Jamaica is blessed with more endemics than any other Caribbean nation, from 26 to 29 depending on whose taxonomy you follow, and in our quest to see all the West Indian birds it was our natural next stop after Puerto Rico in 1994. Armed with books, maps, bird tapes, trip reports and a copy of Craig's Travelin' Jimmy Buffett tape, along with a few changes of clothes and our bins, we were ready!
Hot and sunny at the airport, we collect baggage and our rental car -- the folks at the Discount car hire were a bit concerned as the automatic mid-size we reserved was not available, and all they had for four people was a manual right- hand-drive car -- but no problem mon, we have two Brit drivers with us (B and R)! We stopped briefly at the Ocean View Guest House to register ($35/night, right next to the airport-- adequate if not absolutely quiet). ANTILLEAN GRACKLES on the guesthouse grounds.
Then off and running for Rocklands Feeding Station southwest of MoBay, only one wrong turn in town. The road up to the station is narrow and rough, just when we began to worry there was an arrow and a sign "birds" on the left. The station has been operated by Lisa Salmon for about 40 years -- she is now 90 -- and opens at 2 pm. There we saw our first splendid RED-BILLED STREAMERTAIL (or "Doctorbird," the national bird of Jamaica), JAMAICAN MANGO, JAMAICAN ORIOLE, the lovely ORANGEQUIT as well as Black-faced Grassquit, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Bananaquit (the black-throated Jamaican form, which also has a different song from the ones I was used to in the Bahamas) feeding from or near the hand. On the ground, Common Ground Doves and White-winged Doves were joined by three beautiful white and rose CARIBBEAN DOVES, with their soft "who cooks for yooou..." call. In trees around the porch, JAMAICAN TODY, the endemic race of the STRIPE-HEADED TANAGER (a potential split) and JAMAICAN VIREO. The vireo has a very long and active tail, not mentioned in the guides, and a variety of calls. Lisa ordered Rose and Charles over to a window and spoke briefly to them, informing them that the Doves are attracted by white cheese squares. As Fritz from the station said, "the Bird Lady is very formidable..."
We took a walk in the late afternoon with Fritz, through the ruinate woodlands below Rocklands. Fritz has amazing eyes and picked out a number of other birds on the walk, including a JAMAICAN POTOO asleep in the sun on a dead snag. We saw even more endemics: RUFOUS-TAILED FLYCATCHER, SAD FLYCATCHER, ARROWHEADED WARBLER, WHITE-THROATED THRUSH as well as Greater Antillean Bulfinch, Loggerhead KIngbird, Zenaida Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove (briefly), the nest of a Jamaican Becard (but no becard!) and a number of North American warblers like Worm- Eating, Parula and Prairie. I had a brief glimpse of a White-Eyed Thrush, but no one else saw it.
Back through MoBay, stopping to buy picnic food, ticking up ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFT on the way -- then east to Falmouth on the way to Windsor Caves for the owl. It was now getting dark, and we thanked Craig Faanes from the bottom of our hearts for his excellent directions. No wrong turns to Sherwood Content, no hassles there (which Craig had experienced), and the narrow road to Windsor was clear. It was pitch dark when we parked, and the stars were incredible overhead. A Potoo called in the distance. It was 7:30 and we knew we had a wait for the owl, which is supposed to perch on the posts near the entrance hut about 8:30 pm.
To make a long story short, we waited and waited, getting ever more hungry. Erik, a local fellow from Windsor Great House, appeared out of the darkness and told us that the owl should show up "soon." But even "sooner" arrived others in a loud truck, unloading (loudly!) bottled drinks at the hut. We were all suffering from hypoglycemia at this point (having not eaten since breakfast on the plane), so finally decided to bag the scene at 8:30 (no owl yet) and try tomorrow. Sherwood Content was jumping with a reggae band at the corner of Mac's supermarket, good sounds but we were looking for dinner.
A stop at Lorie's 24-hour restaurant across from the Holiday Inn for a very late supper, back to MoBay and bed. But not until after picking off dozens of tiny ticks (ticks, not chiggers) from our ankles -- despite repellant -- showering, respraying everything with permethrin and hitting the sack!
We overslept! but were still on our way east before dawn, a quick stop at Lorie's for excellent coffee and equally welcome fried egg sandwiches, take- away. The owner was delighted to hear that Barry was from Kingston (England) and chatted with him animatedly. We had already noticed that many Jamaicans did not pick up on the Brit accents at first and were later surprised when they realized that Barry and Rose weren't Americans.
Arrived without incident at Windsor, everything very quiet on Sunday morning. Windsor Cave is a park/reserve at the north side of Jamaica's Cockpit Country, an area of karst limestone with wet tropical forest, very remote and mostly untrammeled. At the entrance hut, we were met by Franklin, a friendly sort with rasta hair and only three teeth. He offered to take us into the caves later, and said we were free to bird anywhere. With that encouragement, we were off into the mild sunny morning. We had barely cleared the bridge when we saw two pretty JAMAICAN EUPHONIAS feeding above us in a breadfruit tree, soon joined by a JAMAICAN ELAENIA. Screeching sounds from a tree resolved into JAMAICAN or JABBERING CROWS, not parrots. They emit an amazing variety of calls, including dull caws, oropendula-like gurgles, the liquid jabbering that gives them their common name, and parrot-like squawks.
Just before the trail started to move up into the woods, we heard a Golden- winged warbler-like song, and were delighted to spy another endemic, the YELLOW- SHOULDERED GRASSQUIT, which is not a grassquit at all but an endemic genus and species most closely allied to the Greater Antillean Bulfinch. We were delighted with the little party of three, as it is a bird missed by some visitors, being local and often reclusive.
A right turn at the fork led to the mouth of the cave, where you could see the stalactites. The forest here was wonderful, with many large trees, but dark, so we took the left fork into the sun and climbed. Along the way, parrots flew unseen (but heard) overhead, and we managed to get close looks at RING-TAILED PIGEON, another endemic, feeding on berries just above the trail, as well as more Jamaican vireos and a GREATER ANTILLEAN PEWEE, or as has been proposed in the literature, JAMAICAN PEWEE.
A right turn through a wire gate with cattle troughs led to a small meadow with scrub. This was a very birdy spot, and we rapidly added JAMAICAN PARAKEET, a recent split from Olive-Throated Parakeet, several Sad Flycatchers (or as we soon called them, Despondent or Depressed Flycatchers), and then overhead, finally good views of YELLOW-BILLED PARROT, one of two endemic Amazona parrots on the island. More Jamaican Euphonias were building a nest in a bromeliad. We had let Barry wander off, a very bad move on our parts, as he came hurrying back, saying, "I had one of those doves.." "Ruddy Quail Dove? " "No, the blue one... " But when we returned to the side path, the Crested Quail Dove was no longer visible. Luckily we were all friends, for a while anyway.
We heard an promising low clucking note, so decided to play a cuckoo tape. Soon a huge, beautiful CHESTNUT-BELLIED CUCKOO flew into sight, but we also heard the answering higher pitched cackling of the Lizard Cuckoo. Another hit on the tape and two JAMAICAN LIZARD CUCKOOS flew in for crippling views; one came in with crest up, calling as it flew. Wow!
We slowly made our way back to the car, enjoying the forest and the bright day. At the car, a quick lunch and then a walk to the east along a dirt road, through coffee plots and by Windsor Great House, now converted to a rustic guest house. The sky was darkening with rain, and we added no new birds but enjoyed good looks at several Y-B Parrots feeding in a tree and more parakeets. Rain started in earnest as we drove away, and we opted to try the Falmouth Fish Ponds as it seemed a fall-back to more hiking.
There we added Snowy, Cattle and Great Egret, Little Blue, Tricolored and Great Blue Heron, Semipalmated and Blackbellied Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs and other shorebirds, but no Jacana nor any ducks. It had started to rain in earnest, and we were afraid of getting stuck on the dirt tracks, so abandoned the ponds for Fisherman's Inn, where we drank Red Stripe beer and perused the menu for later. Royal Terns and Pelicans offshore.
As the rain lightened, we tried to locate and drive the Barbecue Bottom Road from Kinloss. After several fits and starts, we found *the* road (which had eluded Craig F.) However, said road rapidly deteriorated into a wet, greasy, wind-y track so we turned around (not without difficulty) and tried another option. It started to rain again, hard. This was pretty frustrating as we were losing a lot of birding time. A pond west of Clark's Town which had in June yielded Masked Duck to birders was dry. Finally, heading north we left the clouds and parked along a side road south of Rock. A walk here revealed two Yellow-Shouldered Grassquits, a minute VERVAIN HUMMINGBIRD singing from a twig, Jamaican Pewee, Bulfinch, Zenaida Dove and not much else.
A short confab, then we set off into the brightening sky for Good Hope Plantation, near Sherwood Content. This lovely house is set on the top of a steep hill, with spectacular views of the karst Cockpit hills to the south. We drove in and asked permission of the owner to bird as a number of people had seen some good birds in the vicinity. Good Hope is now a fancy hotel (we were afraid to ask for the rates), but everyone was gracious and they showed us where the bird feeders were and gave us carte blanche.
The feeders had Streamertail, Mango and Vervain Hummingbirds at arm's length, as well as Bananaquit and Orangequit. From our hillside perch we saw Yellow-Billed Parrots winging away in pairs to the distant woods. (No Black-Bills, this was getting frustrating!) We sat for a long while looking southwest into the afternoon sun behind the Chinese-like karst landscape; very very peaceful.
Driving out north, we stopped just beyond the plantation entrance and walked along a side road. Almost immediately, we saw two Mourning Doves, not common here, and then two STOLID FLYCATCHERS, quite different from the Sad and also different to my eyes from the once-lumped LaSagra's. To add to the mix of flycatchers was another Pewee, an Elaenia, a Rufous-Tailed, and Loggerhead Kingbirds. Not too much more, so we journeyed on, stopping once to scan through a flock of swallows: Barn, Cave, Rough-winged but no Golden (unfortunately). Also a lone Palm Swift.
We stopped for an early supper at Fishermans's Inn. I had curried goat, as they were out of jerk chicken. Fortified with food and Red Stripe, we set off after sunset back to Windsor Caves for the owl. When we got there it was quiet, too quiet, no Potoo, nada. But we waited. And waited, occasionally shining our flashlight on the posts or playing the tape. A LIMPKIN called from the stream. Finally, when exhaustion from our long day was universal, we left at 9:30. No owl for us this trip. Too bad.
At the hotel, a tick check -- more of them, nasty little things -- a shower and then to bed. We slept like rocks.
This time we didn't oversleep, and pulled out at 5:30 with all our gear, heading east for the Blue Mountains. First, another stop at Windsor Cave as we still lacked the other endemic Amazona, the Black-Billed Parrot *plus* most of us had not seen the Quail Dove. This could not be allowed to stand!
Windsor was noisier as cane field workers were starting out and they called to each other as we walked up the trail. Perhaps because of this, there were fewer parrots in the valley and we saw none that weren't Yellow-billed. The bridge area yielded a brief look for Charles of a BLUE MOUNTAIN VIREO, but we missed it. A thrush flew into a tree and it was a WHITE-EYED THRUSH for everyone, finally! Ruddy Quail Doves called ahead as we climbed, and we flushed one from the woods but saw nothing but a dark shape.
Back at the little meadow, it seemed quieter today. Perhaps the rain -- first in over a week according to locals -- had contributed. However, our spirits perked up when we heard a quail dove call from the direction of the side trail, so Rose and I set off to check it out. And so it was -- a beautiful CRESTED QUAIL DOVE, one of the most spectacular Jamaican endemics, walked out into a little patch of sunlight and posed all too briefly for our greedy eyes. Barry and Charles hurried up too late as Rose and I felt mingled relief and pleasure at gripping this spectacular endemic. It's strange "WOOF-ooooo" call gives it the Jamaican name of "Mountain Witch."
We waited a while for parrots, when a local wood-cutter walked by. He told us that the parrots were now nesting and harder to locate, and pointed out that most of the birds we were seeing were in pairs rather than flocks. After a while, we walked back down, looking and listening, but saw nothing new until -- at the bridge -- a pair of little CARIBBEAN PARROTLETS flew in and sat preening each other. This is an introduced species whose range is expanding; introduced or not, they are charming little birds.
As we started up the dirt road, Sugarbelly (the manager of Windsor House) came up and greeted us. Hearing of our failure with the owl (which he said was not always on the posts, it had other night perches, *plus* it often came in as late as 10:30 or 11 pm), he volunteered to check a couple of daytime roosts with the caveat that "the bird uses lots of different places to sleep." He also invited us up later to look at the guest book. Our walk down yielded great looks at another Chestnut-Bellied Cuckoo and more Parrotlets, but no Black-Billed Parrots. Uh-oh, another dip as this species is not found to the east, our next destination.
Unfortunately, Sugarbelly didn't find the owl in residence, so another time, another trip. Next time we will stay at Windsor or Good Hope and avoid the long commute. The guest book at Windsor had many foreign names, and I recognized only a few US birders over the last two years. The rooms looked nice, but I was unsure of the water situation -- because of the ticks, one would need to take showers or baths daily.
After a quick lunch at the car, we bade Franklin good-bye, and received a travel blessing from an 90-year-old woman, Marian Campbell, who had arrived to chat with us. She said that if we rolled the years back (how long ago, we wondered?), we would not have been able to visit this area, it was plagued with bandits who would have robbed us and then run to hide in the caves. Now through the good efforts of those who lived nearby, this region was safe to visit and all could enjoy the beauty of the area. With these good thoughts in our brains, we said adieu to Windsor.
We passed up the fishponds for expediency, and headed east on A1 to the Blue Mountains. Because of the two-lane road, this is a long and often slow trip. A quick stop at Ocho Rios to replenish our lunch supplies and cash, also a Burger King Whopper for old time's sake, and on to Buff Bay. The coast here is lovely, and there is lots of potential habitat. It was mid-afternoon as we turned south and immediately began the hairy climb to Hardwar Gap. Charles was driving and quickly got into honking at turns on the very narrow road with its steep dropoff. The road narrowed more and more until we reached an area where a landslide (from Hurricane Gilbert in 1989, we were later told) had blocked the way, and now barely cleared. Squeaking through this, we arrived at Hardwar Gap and the Green Hills Guest House, perched on a cliff overlooking the most beautiful view in Jamaica (or one of them to be sure.)
After some problems locating the caretaker (we went to the next house down, where his mother lives, and got the key), we unloaded the cars and picked rooMs. Green Hills is perfectly situated, very rustic with only one bathroom. We were the only guests. Mrs. Henry made us coffee (Blue Mountain!) and we sat and relaxed for a bit, but couldn't stand it any longer, grabbed our bins and went scouting. Just uphill, the garden yielded oodles of Streamertails, a pair of Euphonias, Black-Throated Blue Warblers, Bananaquits. White-throated Thrushes hopped, the Jamaicans call them Hopping Dick.
Walking slowly up the road yielded Bullfinches, and then a suspicious black bird that flew out of a bromeliad across to another, then disappeared into the darkening woods -- Jamaican Blackbird, maybe? An endangered species, hard to find -- the Wild Pine Sergeant of Jamaica. Everywhere we heard the incredible whistles and songs of the Rufous-Throated Solitaire, the characteristic sound of the high mountains of Jamaica. But we could not seem to actually SEE one -- very annoying!
Barry leaned over a ravine and pished, and a bird flew out of some low bushes and away -- small, large-headed, black, white panels on wings -- JAMAICAN BECARD, male -- Mountain Judy to Jamaicans (because the rufous female, the "Mountain Dick," is a brighter bird.) The rest of us told him emphatically that he couldn't count it. We passed a tree filled with white blossoms and male streamertails whizzing and whirring; they also have a very sharp call that is amazingly loud for such a small bird.
By now it was getting pretty dark, so we walked back. Lloyd, for such was the caretaker's name, had not returned from Section (the next town down). His mother had told us that if we bought food, he would cook it for us. So Barry and I and a local chap who knew him started off to find him and hit the store. Halfway down, we met Lloyd and a friend coming up so back down past Section to the * next* town, where we purchased chicken, rice, peas and beer -- a fine repast. But good to remember for next time -- buy your food on the way UP.
Dinner was late as the chicken had been frozen, but it was quickly wolfed down, and then we went to bed. The electric water heater had not yet done its duty, so no hot baths tonight -- luckily, no ticks either!
Up before dawn and Lloyd too to make us coffee which we had with biscuits. Then out into the brightening but cool morning for the short drive up to Hollywell National Park. This park is at the top of Hardwar Gap, and protects considerable wet montane forest. There are a number of new facilities, including rental cabins which looked nice, so this is an alternative place to stay. The entry booth was not manned while we were there but there were park personnel in the office. We parked in the lot and started to walk downhill on a road which skirted a ravine on the right and with sloping woods to the left. Many areas of the park still show considerable damage from Hurricane Gilbert, with broken-off trees and lost canopy, but this is spotty and some parts of the park appear untouched.
As we walked down, the day brightened and birds started to sing. We soon IDd a number of Orioles, Tanagers, then a small falcon flew in and it proved to be a MERLIN, a winter visitor. A rollicking song was traced to our first good view of a BLUE MOUNTAIN VIREO, a unique species with a large sturdy bill. Everywhere around us Solitaires were tuning up, and we let Barry wander ahead (slow learners, we) and he hurried back with a report of a Solitaire singing just along the trail. And so it was -- RUFOUS-THROATED SOLITAIRE, a beautiful little bird with an amazing repetory, though perhaps not quite as ethereal as the Black-faced Solitaire of Costa Rica.
Lots of Hopping Dicks, White-Eyed Thrushes ("Glass-Eyes"), Orangequits, Arrowheaded Warblers, Orioles, Bullfinches, Jamaican and Blue Mountain Vireos. A pair of parrots flew overhead, which we knew were Yellow-billed as the species we NEEDED isn't found in the Blue Mountains (and the Y-B are themselves rare). Three COLLARED SWIFTS -- old friends from Costa Rica -- glided overhead.
Back to the car, we ate an early brunch sandwich. We then drove up over the gap (past a nice restaurant, closed in the morning) and parked south of the pass in good habitat. However, no new species were seen, although we enjoyed more nice looks at the regular birds as well as views of Kingston far below us.
At the gap, we tried the Fairy Glade Trail which goes up steeply into elfin forest, perfect-looking for blackbirds along part of its length, but in reality very quiet except for an abundance of Redstarts and Black-Throated Blue Warblers.
By lunchtime, we were ready for a little rest. The restaurant was now open, and we all trooped in for coffee and carrot cake, to wash down our canned corned beef sandwiches. Prices were not cheap; the restaurant serves lunch but not dinner. It also has a very nice giftshop. After this snack, Rose and Charles opted to explore the overlook area while Barry and I walked down the road to the guest house. When we reached the Becard spot, I leaned over and pished and immediately the same bird flew out from the same place, giving a sharp startle call -- I got long topside looks as it flew downhill of its big-headed, short- tailed shape, the black color, the white scapular bands but it never stopped so I still felt unsatisfied. A BVD bird for sure.
Just beyond the first house below the gap, we heard some debris falling out out a tree and hitting the ground. Audrey Downer's book had noted that the best way to find the secretive Blackbird was to listen for the sounds of its tearing bromeliads apart. We searched the tangled foliage and were rewarded with a black bird flying out, down along the road, and immediately diasappearing into another tangle. Not a very satisfactory look at the endangered JAMAICAN BLACKBIRD but as two motorcycles zipped by, the bird zipped out and up the hill, so that was that.
We walked back up the road and met Charles and Rose at the park -- they had scouted out some trails near the cabins "which look perfect for Blackbird but they didn't see any." Then they were off downhill with the car to pick up Lloyd and buy the evening's food and beer. Barry and I set off immediately in the direction of the cabins and the good trail. This starts behind the rental cabins and leads to a waterfall, passing through untouched forest alternating with hurricane-flattened areas now filled with bracken and shubbery.
No sooner had we passed into the first patch of mature forest when we heard debris falling from a tree and this time we were able to eventually get onto a JAMAICAN BLACKBIRD foraging in a bromeliad just off the trail. It flew in above us and actually disappeared into the cup of the plant, while bits and pieces rained down onto the forest floor. Up the hill from us we heard another bird similarly engaged. They never called. A very unblackbird-like icterid -- in some ways more like an oriole. Lack's book compares this species with convential blackbirds and with orioles, and it apparently exhibits intermediate (or mixed) characteristics in behaviour, breeding habits and voice. Maybe the local name, "Wild Pine Sergeant, " which I like better anyway, is more appropriate. After very long looks at the bird in full sunlight, including a few photo ops, we pressed on.
We could just hear the waterfall in the distance when we realized that we must turn back to meet our friends at the appointed time. This trail was very birdy, but the only other species of note was a fine Chestnut-Bellied Cuckoo. We saw the blackbirds on the way back in the same place.
At the parking lot, we met only Charles who said they had purchased the food and that Rose was walking up, birding on the way. He was on his way to the restaurant at Hardwar Gap to buy some t-shirts. We decided to start down on foot. It was starting to get grey and overcast, and patches of fog were rolling in -- a not-uncommon late afternoon phenomenon in the mountains. The coffee pickers were quitting for the day, and groups passed us on the way down, always with a greeting. Birding was slow and soon we met Rose on her way up. She looked rather concerned when we recounted our Blackbird sighting and she hurried uphill. Gripped off -- a serious thing to Brits!
By now we were back at Green Hills guest house, and pretty knackered, so we popped in for a cup of coffee with Lloyd -- we told him what birds we had seen, and he gave us the Jamaican names. As is common in areas where people live closer to the land, he knew them all. He also told us that Crested Quail Dove was most easily seen in June (which agrees with David Lack's book), and that locals trap them for food. Lloyd confessed that when he was growing up, he ate the Dove "but not now!"
About this time Charles drove back and was upset to learn that Rose was not at the house -- he hadn't seen her on the road. We hazarded a guess that she was off to find the blackbird, but as fog was closing in, this might become a problem. Off he went back uphill to find her. We stayed put and watched the fog roll around the guest house. Even the Solitaires were muted. After a little while Rose and Charles were both back, she *had* seen the two Blackbirds along the trail, albeit at some cost to everyone's peace of mind. Birding was over for the evening, so we sat and waited for supper (chicken again) and went over the trip list. We had seen almost 100 species between us, and all the endemics except the owl, the parrot and the not-attempted Black-Billed Streamertail.
It would be an early rising to get downhill and us to the airport. No birding tomorrow except for stray stops. We all took nice hot baths and went to bed.
WEDNESDAY, March 22:
Up at 5:30 for coffee and then goodbyes to Lloyd and then downhill. The trip down was much faster, aided by gravity and lack of traffic in the early morning. Lots of Hopping Dicks on the road. It wasn't until Buff Bay that we began to see significant numbers of people.
Beyond Pt. Maria we stopped to scan the sea cliffs and were rewarded with two WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDs soaring across the face of a distant island. While we watched, a local man stopped to scope *us* out and remarked that they called the TB "Booby." He was quite specific that this name was for "the white bird with the two long tailfeathers, with black on the wing." I don't know what they call the actual Booby.
No more birding but we stopped for an excellent (though not inexpensive) breakfast at Collette's Cafe (recommended), just outside of Ocho Rios. Collette took our pictures for the rogue's gallery on her wall. At The Hibiscus Inn, we dropped off Rose and Charles for their two-day "kick back" vacation after the birding. The Inn looks like a great spot, perched on a cliff over a reef, lots of blue-green water, no telephones in the rooms, a bargain at about $85/day.
Barry and I made good time west, so when we got to Falmouth we decided to give the fish ponds one more go in the sunshine. This proved a good idea as we added NORTHERN JACANA at 15 feet away, plus a Glossy Ibis.
Then a quick stop in the shade to pack everything away, bag our trash, and once more around the round-about into the MoBay airport. After turning in our car we had time for some airport shopping, rum and t-shirts mostly, and then into the plane. We left on time.
As Jamaica dropped away we saw our last bird, a Great Egret. A good look at Cuba (an inevitable future destination for those hooked on Caribbean birding) as it passed beneath the plane, then more champagne and food until we landed at Baltimore.
It was 48F and windy. Welcome home!
Jamaican Trip Report: Bird List
We saw 25 endemic species, 26 if the Pewee is considered a split, as well as two endemic subspecies which are potentially good species. In addition, we saw a number of Caribbean specialties. Total number of species seen was 93. The following is a list of most interesting and "target" birds:
White-Tailed Tropicbird Pt. Maria, offshore
Limpkin Windsor Cave
Northern Jacana Falmouth Fish Ponds
White-Crowned Pigeon mid-elevations, various locations
Ring-Tailed Pigeon* Windsor Cave
White-Winged Dove Rocklands
Zenaida Dove widespread, Rocklands, Cockpit Country
Common Grounddove widespread
Caribbean Dove Rocklands
Crested Quail-Dove* Windsor Cave
Ruddy Quail-Dove Rocklands, Windsor Cave
Jamaican Parakeet* Windsor Cave
Green-Rumped Parrotlet Windsor Cave
Yellow-Billed Parrot* Windsor Cave
Chestnut-Bellied Cuckoo* Windsor Cave, Hardwar Gap
Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo* Windsor Cave
Smoothbilled Ani widespread in pastureland
Jamaican Potoo Rockland, Windsor Cave
White-Collared Swift Blue Mountains
Antillean Palm Swift the common small swift, Good Hope, Montego Bay
Jamaican Mango* Rocklands, Good Hope
Red-Billed Streamertail* Rocklands, Windsor Cave, Hardwar Gap
Vervain Hummingbird Lowlands, coastal, Good Hope
Jamaican Tody* Rocklands, Windsor Cave, Hardwar Gap
Jamaican Woodpecker* common, Rocklands, Windsor Cave
Jamaican Elaenia* Hardwar Gap, Rocklands, Good Hope
Greater Antillean Pewee or (Jamaican Pewee*) Windsor Cave,Rocklands, Hardwar Gap, Good Hope
Rufous-Tailed Flycatcher* Rocklands, Blue Mountains, Windsor Cave
Sad Flycatcher* Rocklands, Windsor Cave
Stolid Flycatcher Good Hope
Loggerhead Kingbird common, widespread
Jamaican Becard* Hardwar Gap
(Antillean) Cave Swallow Good Hope
Jamaican Crow* Windsor Caves
Rufous-Throated Solitaire Hardwar Gap
White-Chinned Thrush* Cockpit Country, Blue Mountains, Rocklands
White-Eyed Thrush* Hardwar Gap, Rocklands, Windsor Cave
Jamaican Vireo* Rocklands, Windsor Cave
Blue Mountain Vireo* Windsor Cave, Hardwar Gap
Black-Whiskered Vireo Good Hope, Hardwar Gap
Arrow-headed Warbler* Rocklands, Hardwar Gap
Bananaquit common, endemic race (potential split)
Orangequit* Rocklands, Hardwar Gap, Good Hope, Windsor
Jamaican Euphonia* Hardwar Gap, Windsor Cave
Stripe-Headed Tanager endemic subspp, potential split, Rocklands, Windsor Cave, Hardwar Gap
Greater Antillean Bulfinch Hardwar Gap, Windsor Cave, Rocklands
Yellow-Shouldered Grassquit* Windsor Cave, vic. of Rock
Yellow-Faced Grassquit Rocklands
Black-Faced Grassquit common
Jamaican Blackbird* Hardwar Gap
Greater Antillean Grackle common
Jamaican Oriole* Rocklands, Windsor Caves
If we repeated the trip, we would fly into Montego Bay and fly out from Kingston, which some tour groups do and which have been possible on our flights. This would save considerable driving time. Also, we would stay closer to Windsor Cave or perhaps at the new Orange River Lodge near MoBay which, according to a recent tour book, is located on 1000 acres of Cockpit Country and is set up for, among other things, birdwatching. Options in the Blue Mountains are fewer if you wish to stay near Hardwar Gap. The Green Hills Guest House is rustic but acceptable; the new cabins at Hollywell National Park may be an alternative for folks who can bring sleeping bags, etc. Otherwise a lot of time will be spent driving up from below.
Accomodations at the "tourist prisons" are expensive, although some places like the Hibiscus Lodge in Ocho Rios are bargains. We stayed at guest houses, which range from $25-50/room and although not luxurious, are fine for the birdwatcher who just needs just a place to sleep.
Driving was not a serious problem other than the rather hairy trip up to the Gap (honk at the curves!); drivers were generally OK, although there is the usual percentage of crazy self-destructive types, so be aware. Left-hand of the road of course. Mid-size car from Discount Rental was $59/day, all in.
Food at restaurants, as on all islands, was not cheap. The Fisherman's Inn in Falmouth was fairly reasonable. We bought lunch materials at supermarkets.
Security: We had been warned, and with good reason, by some other birders and even a travel agent or two, that Jamaica was not a pleasant destination. A number of folks have been threatened and harassed in town and in the countryside. Thus we went with some expectation of trouble. We had none, in fact, quite the opposite -- we met a lot of interesting and helpful folks. Whether this was simply good luck, whether it was because we were a group of four and thus not as vulnerable as the single traveler or twosome, I don't know. This good experience may not be repeated, of course, but we would have no hesitation in going back based on our March trip.
Jamaican Bird Names: It helps to know the local -- and often more evocative -- Jamaican names. After all, which sounds more exotic -- "Jamaican Blackbird" or "Wild Pine Sergeant"? This is not a complete list, just the ones we learned.
Ruddy Quail Dove Partridge or Brown Partridge
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Old Man Bird
Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo Old Woman Bird
Jamaican Owl Patoo ("with the big eyes")
Jamaican Potoo Patoo ("with the long bill")
Vervain Hummingbird Little Doctorbird
Jamaican Tody Robin Redbreast
Jamaican Elaenia Little Tom Fool (also Pewee)
Rufous-Tailed Flycatcher Big Tom Fool (also Stolid FC)
Gray Kingbird Petchery
Jamaican Crow Jabbering Crow
White-Chinned Thrush Hopping Dick
White-Eyed Thrush Glasseye
Bananaquit Banana Bird
Jamaican Euphonia Blue Quit
Stripe-Headed Tanager Markhead
Jamaican Blackbird Wild Pine Sergeant
Gail Mackiernan, Gail@umdd.umd.edu