Trip report: Jamaica Custom tour (March 2015) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods . This was a custom tour, with almost exactly the same itinerary as our set departure tour.

The islands of the Caribbean are species poor relative to the nations of mainland Central America. However, what they lack in species richness, they more than make up for in terms of endemic species; Jamaica alone boasts up to 29 endemic species of birds (dependent on taxonomy), in a country smaller than the US state of Connecticut! With the ease of access from the hub of Miami (Florida), it is an easy choice for a short getaway, or a first dip into the avian riches of the Caribbean. In this case, a short trip does NOT mean an abridged bird list; it is highly possible to see all of the Jamaican endemic birds, even in only a short visit. This tour was no exception; it was set up for a birding father and son combo, who had limited time available to work within a spring break, and Jamaica fit the bill perfectly of a destination that they had not yet been to, offered a healthy set of lifebirds, all of which were likely to be seen within this short venture onto the island. We managed to find all 29 of the endemic species, with minimum fuss, and time to spare. On top of that, we also added some Caribbean specialties too, like Bahama Mockingbird, Plain Pigeon, Antillean Palm Swift, Vervain Hummingbird, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Loggerhead Kingbird, Stolid Flycatcher, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, and Jamaican Oriole; not to mention birds like White-tailed Tropicbird (photo below) too. Thus, the first timers to the Caribbean among us, walked away with in excess of 40 new birds. Among the favorites within the endemic horde were, of course, the Jamaican Tody (title page), Yellow-shouldered Grassquit (not your average grassquit), Crested Quail-Dove, Jamaican Owl (that gave exceptional views on several days-photo next page), and Jamaica’s resplendent national bird, the Red-billed Streamertail.

In order to amass all of these great birds we started out in Jamaica’s bustling capital, Kingston, the infamous origin of reggae music, and late, great Bob Marley; from there we visited the nearby hot coastal lowland scrub of Hellshire Hills. After picking up the site’s celebrity species, Bahama Mockingbird, we moved into the city itself, and the peace and tranquility of Hope Gardens, where parrots were on the agenda. From there we moved up into coffee country, and the pleasantly cool climate of the Blue Mountains, the source of some of the World’s most revered coffee. The vast bulk of our endemic target list was found there, including the scarce Crested Quail-Dove and inconspicuous Jamaican Blackbird, before we headed north into the humid forests of the Ecclesdown Road, near the laid back city of Port Antonio, within the parish of Portland. The tour finished with the sight of White-tailed Tropicbirds darting in and out of their nesting cliffs beside a private deserted beach within the grounds of our hotel, while a daytime Jamaican Owl slept nearby – a perfect way to end the perfect introduction to Caribbean birds!

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (7 MB file)