Trip report: Jamaica Custom tour (March 2016) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods . This was a custom tour.

Picture postcard images of Jamaica typically depict bikini-clad tourists relaxing on beautiful beaches. However, many are not aware that Jamaica is a rugged island boasting mountain peaks rising to 6,600ft (2200m), and home to rainforests too. It is here that we spent the most time, in order to chase after the 30 or so endemics (27-30 depending on taxonomy) on the island. Jamaica boasts an extraordinarily high number of endemic birds, considering the size of the country – Cuba is TEN times the size of Jamaica, and yet holds fewer island endemics. Furthermore, not even a week is needed to see them all on Jamaica, whereas a trip to Cuba rarely gets them all, and generally requires a stay of around 2 weeks. While many tourists fly into Montego Bay on the western side of the island, and experience little of the “real” Jamaica, when staying in all-inclusive beach resorts; we traveled purely in the eastern side of the island, spending five days birding, in two main areas, racking up the full compliment of specialties in the process-ALL the endemic bird species were seen. This allowed us to see parts of Jamaica that are sadly missed by other more generalist tourists, not least the pleasantly cool Blue Mountains, where the Lion’s share of the birds were added to our list, and where we also got to sample the revered and famously expensive local coffee, and were able to purchase some directly from the local supplier. The Blue Mountains were combined with the foothills of the John Crow Mountains further north, where the relaxed seaside location of Port Antonio, allowed us to combine personal images of the endemic birds with the classic images of Jamaica’s beaches referred to earlier.

While seeing the “full house” of Jamaican endemic birds was normal and expected, we also saw some other less predictable birds, like Caribbean Coot, West Indian Whistling-Duck, and a very popular American Flamingo near Kingston, which outranked all of the endemics for choice of top bird of the tour. While the latter was a less predictable highlight, birds like the tiny, strikingly beautiful “Robin Red Brest” (i.e. Jamaican Tody-photo page 2), “Old Man Bird” (Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo), “Old Woman Bird”, (Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo), and “Doctorbird” (Red-billed Streamertail-photo below), were all more usual highlights for this trip. We also saw a healthy contingent of American Wood Warblers, preparing the group for the forthcoming spring back home on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. To hear these regular attendees of Magee Marsh (Ohio), (touted as one of THE great warbler spots in North America), state ”this is as good as Magee!” at times, also reflected well on the great warbler viewing we had on this tour, with some 14 species seen well (including an endemic one all of their own-Arrowhead Warbler), along with an equally regular procession of specialty parrots, hummingbirds, flycatchers, doves, thrushes, and even a single owl and woodpecker only found on this idyllic Caribbean island.

For these people looking for a quick getaway, to work their cameras on some new birds, and hoping to leave little behind, this tour fit the bill perfectly. They got the birds, got some good photos, and departed feeling like they had seen much of what Jamaica offers the birder in just a week in the country…

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