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JAMAICA


01 - 08 April 2008


by Gary and Marlene Babic


Summary


This week-long trip was arranged through Ann Sutton and guided by Brandon Hay. For several days we were fortunate that Ann joined us as well. Others had reported that three or four days are all that is necessary to see all of the endemics, and Ann had suggested that our seven days would give us plenty of time to see all of the Jamaican endemics and specialties, with time for sightseeing. In fact, we used all of our time and still struggled to find several – but managed to get them all. Ann and Brandon said that they have never had a group that has not seen all of the endemics – quite a feat.


Detailed Itinerary


This tour was originally set to be with an international birding group, but the trip fell through when several of the participants had to cancel. Consequently, the owner of the company put us in contact with Ann Sutton, who this company was going to use for local logistics anyway. We then opted to have Ann run essentially the same trip for us privately and, by the way, at a lower cost than we would have paid in the original group.


Although others have reported on birding trips in Jamaica and had no logistical problems, we had Ann set up the trip and Brandon to drive all of the time for several practical reasons: the roads in some parts of Jamaica are poor, and are in dire need of repair after hurricane damage in 2007; we wanted to maximize our chances of seeing the key birds; and, because of the last-minute cancellation, we had not done any real research or preparation for the trip. It turned out we needed all of Ann’s and Brandon’s skills to see the endemic birds. Brandon in particular had a fantastic eye and ear for finding the birds.


April 1: Arrival: PM: Marshall’s Pen


After flying into Kingston and quickly clearing Customs, we were met by Brandon and Ann and picked up our rental car. We rented through Advantage Car Rental, locally operated as Island Car Rentals, but Avis is also there. Along the road exiting the airport we saw Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, and a large wader that was probably a Pectoral Sandpiper. We then proceeded to Ann’s B&B, called Marshall’s Pen, north of Mandeville. This is about two hours’ drive northwest of Kingston. Within a few minutes after arriving we had seen Caribbean Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Jamaican Oriole, Orangequit, Bananaquit, Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Tody, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle, Yellow-faced and Black-faced Grassquits, and migrant American Redstart, Ovenbird and Worm-Eating- and Black-throated Blue Warblers. All these birds were seen around Ann’s B&B! After unpacking, a late afternoon walk along a trail on the property added Jamaican Spindalis, White-eyed Thrush, Sad Flycatcher, Olive-throated Parakeet, and White-crowned Pigeon. Quite a start!


After dinner we made a vigil to see the Jamaican Owl that resides in a large tree on Ann’s property, but it did not show. The weather was quite overcast, which could have had an affect. Ann also told us that a nearby tree, which had been a reliable spot for Northern Potoo, had come down in the hurricane and she now does not have a known place for the potoo on her property. Overnight at Marshall’s Pen.


April 2: AM: Marshall’s Pen; PM: Upper Morass


An early-morning walk along trails on the property added a good look (and several flushed bird looks) at Ruddy Quail-dove, plus White-winged and Zenaida Doves, Mangrove Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, White-collared Swift, Antillean Palm-Swift, Jamaican Pewee, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Jamaican Becard, Loggerhead Kingbird, Jamaican Vireo, Black-whiskered Vireo, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, and Greater Antillean Bullfinch. Most of the birds seen at Marshall’s Pen would turn out to be common and seen at least in one other location as well, so I will not list most subsequent sightings of these birds. It was nice to have these already seen after one day so we could focus on the remaining key species.


At mid-morning we left Marshall’s Pen and drove west to an area known as the Upper Morass / Elim Lakes. This is an area of lakes and marshes. Our target was Yellow-breasted Crake. We made several stops, but water levels were not as expected and we did not see the crake. At our first stop we located a flock of West Indian Whistling-Ducks. At other stops we also saw a variety of waterbirds and waders such as Masked Duck (one), Ruddy Duck (one), Least and Pied-billed Grebe, Least Bittern, Sora, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Northern Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Great Blue-, Little Blue-, Tricolored-, and Black-crowned Night- Herons, and Great and Cattle Egrets plus some Osprey and Red-tailed Hawks. At dusk we made another vigil for the owl, with no success. Ann said we should not worry because they could be seen elsewhere, but of course we did begin to worry. Overnight at Marshall’s Pen.


April 3: AM: Cockpit Country; PM: Marshall’s Pen


We hade an early start to reach the Cockpit Country, an hour east of Marshall’s Pen by dawn. The targets here were the two endemic parrots. While walking along the road, we were able to get scope views of both the Black-billed and the more common Yellow-billed Parrots, plus Blue Mountain Vireo, Black-whiskered Vireo, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo, Ring-tailed Pigeon and the tiny Vervain Hummingbird (which is easy to see, usually perched on the end of a branch, if you can hear its high-pitched call). We returned to Marshall’s Pen for a late lunch, and in the afternoon walked along trails there looking for the few final birds we could expect to see there. After a lot of searching, we finally found a single Jamaican Elaenia and Jamaican Euphonia.


At dusk we again waited around for the owl, and again we did not see it. After supper, we decided to try further. Ann led us around her property, playing tape constantly, and eventually we heard a distant Jamaican Owl which called every minute or so. But whenever we moved towards it, by its next call it had moved away. Eventually, after trudging through lots of brush fo rover an hour, we saw a perched Jamaican Owl. The brush was so tall that Ann, who is short, could not see it at all. We were very pleased to have seen the owl, and it turned out we never heard another.


April 4: AM: Portland Ridge; PM: Hardwar Gap


This morning we headed to Portland Ridge, along the coast west of Kingston. This is the well-known area for Bahama Mockingbird. After reaching the small village of Portland, we continued to drive east, seeing lots of Northern Mockingbirds but checking for Bahama Mockingbird periodically. At these stops we saw a Grasshopper Sparrow (another one to find if you can hear its high-pitched call) and Stolid Flycatcher. Eventually we reached an area where we had several Bahama Mockingbirds responding to the tape and giving good views.


We then made the long and winding drive up to Hardwar Gap, north of Kingston. The hurricanes had damaged the road, making it even more exciting than usual. Once we reached the Gap area, we made a few stops. We had a few Arrowhead Warblers and Rufous-throated Solitaires were calling and we had nice views. Jamaican Tody was especially friendly. An amazing moment was when Brandon pointed out a Northern Potoo perched atop a branch, across a valley, about 500 meters away. If you know how well-camouflaged this bird can be, you will appreciate how unbelievable it was that he spotted it with his naked eye – even with a scope view it was hard to see. At about 3PM it began drizzling, and because of the poor condition of the road we decided we better head directly for our hotel (Starlight Chalet) past the small junction town of Section. As we drove on the access road to the hotel, we had a Crested Quail-dove walking along the road about 50 meters ahead of us. Because this was a winding road, we were able to get out and follow it on foot around a few curves for excellent views.


The Starlight Chalet, which is about 3 km past Section when taking a right at the small village, is a very nice B&B with clean and comfortable rooms, hot water and A/C, and the woman who owns the place prepares great food. Highly recommended. It was almost empty on the day we arrived but the next day, the start of the weekend, it was full, as this is a common weekend trip from Kingston to the cooler highlands and coffee country.


April 5: AM: Hardwar Gap; PM: to Port Antonio


Today began a few days where birding was difficult and trying. Ann had driven up to join us this morning, and another birder from the Dominican Republic who was staying at the hotel also joined us, so we had a full crew of birders looking for the two key remaining specialties here, Jamaican Blackbird and Greater Antillean Elaenia, as we walked/drove along the road between Hardwar Gap and the Starlight Chalet. We had intermittent rain and spent at least an hour in the car in-between efforts to bird. Eventually, at about noon, we had to abandon the effort, not seeing either bird.


After lunch at KFC in Kingston, we made the long drive to Port Antonio. Normally it is possible to take a short cut from Hardwar Gap to Port Antonio but both roads are now washed out and impassable, so we had to go south down to the coast and then all around the east end of the island. Because the roads along the coast were washed out in places, this trip took us five hours instead of the typical two hours. We arrived at Frenchman’s Cove hotel at dusk. This hotel had been a very high-end resort in the 1960s and 1970s, but let’s just say it has seen better days. We were able to get a two bedroom “cottage” here at a very reasonable rate, but bathroom plumbing problems in the cottage and the inedible chicken at supper made it “one of those days”. No new birds seen today.


April 6: All-day: Ecclestown Road


We spent most of the day along a road known as Ecclestown Road, which runs parallel to the coast but in the foothills of the John Crow / Blue Mountains. It took a full day of concentrated birding, but we finally had two distant views of Jamaican Crow, a bird that Brandon says is usually quite easy. We also had a small feeding flock of Green-rumped Parrotlets. The normally common Black-billed Streamertails also proved elusive, but we eventually had good views – the “whirring” sound of their tails is quite distracting. At mid-day we took a lunch break and stopped at a few flowering trees to try for Jamaican Mango but did not see any. It was almost dusk when Brandon saw what might have been a very distant Jamaican Blackbird in flight, but even he was not sure which shows how far away it was. Eventually we all got a moment’s view of the bird as it flitted high up in the treetops. This would have been a very shaky “tick”.


Although Ann had said we would have another chance at Greater Antillean Elaenia at Ecclestown Road after missing it at Hardwar Gap, once we were at Ecclestown Road she changed her assessment and decide that they had moved up the mountain as we neither heard nor saw any. This was to be our only “dip” of any significance.


April 7: AM: Ecclestown Road; PM: Kingston


This morning started in a bit of a panic. We had not yet seen Jamaican Mango, the final unseen endemic, and since it normally is very common Brandon had no special place to look for it. All we could do is drive around to some likely spots. One such spot was the hotel on Mockingbird Hill near Port Antonio. Apparently the current owners do not welcome birders who are not paying guests, but we arrived very early and avoided anyone. And we eventually saw a pair of Jamaican Mangoes, thereby maintaining Ann and Brandon’s perfect record. There were also a few Yellow-crowned Night-Herons at Frenchman’s Cove, where apparently they are regular.


We then returned to Ecclestown Road to try again for the elaenia and to get a better look at the blackbird. We came up empty with the elaenia, but had marginally better views of a distant Jamaican Blackbird in flight. This time a single call helped us feel better about the identification.


When we drove over to Port Antonio, Ann brought along snorkeling gear as she was confident we would see all six of our target birds in a single morning on Ecclestown Road and have a full free day. As it was, we needed the full 1.5 days and we missed the elaenia, our views of the blackbird were borderline, and the normally-common Jamaican Mango was the last endemic seen – a good example of how unpredictable birding can be.


En route back to Kingston, we had some views of White-tailed Tropicbird along the coast neat Port Morant, which is their breeding spot. We then checked into our Kingston hotel, and made preparations for our departure the next day for a short trip to Grand Cayman, which is covered in a separate trip report.


Contacts


Hotels:


Marshall’s Pen / Ann Sutton – 876-904-5454


Shirley Retreat, Kingston – 876-946-2679


Starlight Chalets, near Section - 876-927-9278


Frenchman’s Cove. near Port Antonio – 876-993-7270


(Note: numbers in Jamaica can be dialed as U.S. long-distance)


Ann Sutton: asutton@cwjamaica.com


Recent report with some updated info and maps:


http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/jamaica/jamaica-6/Jamaica-aug-07.htm


Other reports with directions and slightly different info and/or times of year:


http://www.naturalist.co.uk/reports2007/jamaica.php


http://maybank.tripod.com/Caribbean/Jamaica-12-2006.htm


http://www.travellingbirder.com/tripreports/view_birding_tripreport.php?id=149


Birds Seen:  (island endemics in boldface)


BIRDS SEEN

COMMENTS

 BOLD = endemic species, italics = local subspecies

 

   Least Grebe

Upper Morass

   Pied-billed Grebe

Upper Morass

   White-tailed Tropicbird

along coast near Morant Bay

   Magnificent Frigatebird

common

   Brown Pelican

common

   West Indian Whistling-Duck

small flock at Upper Morass

   Masked Duck

one at Upper Morass

   Ruddy Duck

one at Upper Morass

   Reddish Egret

one at Upper Morass

   Tricolored Heron

common

   Little Blue Heron

common

   Snowy Egret

common

   Great Blue Heron

very common

   Great Egret

common

   Cattle Egret

very common

   Green Heron

common

   Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

at Frenchman's Cove

   Black-crowned Night-Heron

Upper Morass

   Least Bittern

A few at Upper Morass

   White Ibis

Upper Morass

   Turkey Vulture

very common

   Red-tailed Hawk

common

   Osprey

three in total

   American Kestrel

common

   Sora

one at Upper Morass

   Purple Gallinule

several at Upper Morass

   Common Moorhen

common

   American Coot

common

   Northern Jacana

common

   Spotted Sandpiper

near airport

   Ruddy Turnstone

near airport

   Semipalmated Sandpiper

near airport

   Least Sandpiper

near airport

   Pectoral Sandpiper

possible (?) near airport

   Stilt Sandpiper

common

   Black-necked Stilt

common

   Semipalmated Plover

common

   Wilson's Plover

near airport

   Royal Tern

common

   Rock Pigeon

common

   White-crowned Pigeon

very common

   Ring-tailed Pigeon

several at multiple locations

   Mourning Dove

common

   Zenaida Dove

common

   White-winged Dove

very common

   Common Ground-Dove

very common

   Caribbean Dove

Marshall's Pen

   Crested Quail-Dove

Hardwar Gap

   Ruddy Quail-Dove

Marshall's Pen

   Olive-throated Parakeet

Marshall's Pen

   Green-rumped Parrotlet

Ecclestown Road

   Yellow-billed Parrot

Cockpit Country

   Black-billed Parrot

Cockpit Country

   Mangrove Cuckoo

Marshall's Pen

   Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo

Marshall's Pen

   Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo

fairly common

   Smooth-billed Ani

very common

   Barn Owl

one near Port Antonio

   Jamaican Owl

Marshall's Pen

   Northern Potoo

Hardwar Gap

   Black Swift

several at multiple locations

   White-collared Swift

Marshall's Pen

   Antillean Palm-Swift

Marshall's Pen

   Jamaican Mango

only a pair near Port Antonio

   Red-billed Streamertail

Marshall's Pen

   Black-billed Streamertail

A few along Ecclestown Road

   Vervain Hummingbird

common

   Belted Kingfisher

a few at Upper Morass

   Jamaican Tody

common

   Jamaican Woodpecker

several at multiple locations

   Jamaican Elaenia

only one seen at Marshall's Pen

   Jamaican Pewee

Marshall's Pen

   Sad Flycatcher

very common

   Rufous-tailed Flycatcher

Marshall's Pen

   Stolid Flycatcher

Portland

   Gray Kingbird

common

   Loggerhead Kingbird

very common

   Jamaican Becard

several at multiple locations

   Jamaican Crow

a few along Ecclestown Road

   Jamaican Vireo

several at multiple locations

   Blue Mountain Vireo

Cockpit Country

   Black-whiskered Vireo

Cockpit Country

   Rufous-throated Solitaire

Hardwar Gap

   White-chinned Thrush

very common

   White-eyed Thrush

Marshall's Pen

   Gray Catbird

common

   Northern Mockingbird

very common

   Bahama Mockingbird

Portland

   European Starling

very common

   Caribbean Martin

along coast west of Kingston

   Northern Rough-winged Swallow

common

   Barn Swallow

common

   Northern Parula

A few

   Yellow Warbler

A few

   Black-throated Blue Warbler

Marshall's Pen

   Black-throated Green Warbler

A few

   Prairie Warbler

A few

   Arrowhead Warbler

several at multiple locations

   Black-and-white Warbler

common

   American Redstart

common

   Worm-eating Warbler

two near Port Antonio

   Ovenbird

one near Port Antonio

   Grasshopper Sparrow

Portland

   Bananaquit

very common

   Jamaican Spindalis

common

   Jamaican Euphonia

Marshall's Pen

   Yellow-faced Grassquit

very common

   Black-faced Grassquit

Marshall's Pen

   Yellow-shouldered Grassquit

Cockpit Country

   Greater Antillean Bullfinch

Marshall's Pen

   Orangequit

Marshall's Pen

   Jamaican Oriole

Marshall's Pen

   Great-tailed Grackle

common

   Jamaican Blackbird

one at Ecclestown Road

   Greater Antillean Grackle

very common

 

<>Bird Guide Book Used: 

A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies   edited by Herbert A. Raffaele


Gary Babic  --  e-mail


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