This is a Birding Tour. The goal of this tour is to see as many birds as possible, with a particular focus on Caribbean specialties and endemics of the island. However, cameras are perfectly welcome, and you are free to take photos on this tour, when the opportunities arise.
This tour can been linked with Puerto Rico: Enchanted Island Endemics for yet more Caribbean specialties and island endemics.
Jamaica is a small island (smaller even than the US state of Connecticut), with 29 endemic bird species all of its own. In general, Jamaican birding is easy going, so that even in a short trip, there is a realistic chance of seeing them all. This is done by focusing on the two main birding areas on the island, which are both located in eastern Jamaica; the Blue Mountains, and the infamous Ecclesdown Road in the parish of Portland. While in the Blue Mountains there will also be a chance to sample their Worlds famous coffee.
Day 1: Arrival in Kingston. After arrival in Kingston, you will be transferred to a local Kingston hotel for the night. The tour starts with an evening welcome dinner with the guide.
Day 2: Hellshire Hills & Hope Gardens to the Blue Mountains. Our Jamaican tour with a pre-dawn start to ensure we make it the short distance to Hellshire Hills a short time after dawn, before the intense Caribbean heat makes the place unpleasant to bird. We should need only a short time here to find the key species, Bahama Mockingbird, which has just two small populations on the island, and Jamaican Mango. Then we’ll move to the tranquil enclave of Hope Gardens (located near the rainbow-colored Bob Marley Museum), where parrots will be on the agenda; this site provides the best chance on the tour for the endemic, and handsome Yellow-billed Parrot. While there we may also find “Jamaican” Parakeet (an endemic subspecies that may be split off from the widespread Olive-throated Parakeet).
After lunch in Kingston, we shall head north into the pleasantly cool Blue Mountains, an area famed for production of some of the most revered coffee in the World, and also one of the ultimate sites for endemic birds on Jamaica. In the afternoon, we will check in to the serene surroundings of our mountain chalet, which comes equipped with busy bird feeders, and endemic birds right in their well-manicured garden. We will spend two nights at a comfortable chalet in the Blue Mountains.
Day 3: The Blue Mountains. A full day will be spent birding in one of the most idyllic locations in Jamaica, the Blue Mountains. Here the habitat is montane forest at an elevation of some 4000ft/1225m, which provides not only streams of endemic species (all but a few of the endemic birds can be found there), but also a pleasing climate, in sharp contrast to the heat and humidity of Kingston and other lowland coastal sites. Our target here will be to amass more than 20 of the endemic species, including some of the scarcer ones, for which this represents arguably the best site on the island, like Jamaican Blackbird (a strange, bromeliad-loving forest icterid), Crested Quail-Dove, and the well-named Blue Mountain Vireo. Some of the more common endemic birds include the hulking Ring-tailed Pigeon that regularly pass overhead; Jamaican Pewee, which regular flit from their regular perches; White-chinned Thrush that often hops on and off the dirt roads that cuts through the mountain, and the super Jamaican Tody, which, by voice, appears to be around every corner!
Our mountain chalet comes with a small set of sugar feeders, which attract one of Jamaica’s most famous birds. Known locally as the “Doctor Bird”, the Red-billed Streamertail, is Jamaica’s national bird, proudly adorning roads signs, and tourist paraphernalia, this is the most regular visitor to the chalet’s feeders, located on a balcony overlooking their well-managed garden. Other birds that may drop in for the “sugar harvest”, include Jamaican Oriole, the endemic Orangequit, and perhaps too a wintering American warbler or two. Among the other endemic targets will be Jamaican Becard, Sad Flycatcher, the stunning Jamaican Spindalis, and Arrow-headed Warbler. At night we can take the chance to search for a Jamaican Owl or Northern Potoo too.
Day 4: The Blue Mountains to Port Antonio. We will have a final morning in the Blue Mountains to search for any “missing” endemics we might still need like the subdued Jamaican Elaenia, the chocolate-headed White-eyed Thrush, or striking Yellow-shouldered Grassquit (not your average grassquit for sure with its saffron back, burnt red vent, and coal black underside), before we move up to the north coast, some two-hours’ drive away.
Day 5: Happy Cove and Ecclesdown Road. Early in the morning, we will visit a beautiful cove in the northeast of Jamaica, where White-tailed Tropicbirds nest on the scenic cliffs. After that, the morning and afternoon will focus on the lowland forests and woods at the base of the John Crow Mountains, alongside the famous Ecclesdown Road. This is one of the most famous birding destinations in Jamaica and can lay claim to hosting every single one of Jamaica’s endemic birds. Therefore, it provides an excellent backup site for any that may have been missed in the Blue Mountains (which is still a necessary site for some of these, providing the optimum chances for species like Blue Mountain Vireo, Crested Quail-Dove, and Jamaican Blackbird); it is also the only good site on the tour for the Black-billed Parrot, the local Black-billed Streamertail (that is confined to the northeast of Jamaica), and Jamaican Crow, (which is strangely absent from southern Jamaica). The final night of the tour will be spent in Port Antonio.
Day 6: Port Antonio to Kingston for departures.This is merely a travel day, as we drive from Port Antonio to Kingston airport, arriving at 11am in time for several afternoon departures.
PACE: Easy. While early starts are required, this is a physically easy tour. Sunrise is at around 7am in this season, so breakfasts are likely to be taken at around 6am with a 6:30am departure. Sunset is at around 6pm. There will be a night or two tour dedicated to finding the endemic owl. The pace is fairly relaxed.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. The walking on this trip is generally easy, with no steep or difficult hikes. Most of the walks will be on roads. There is no high elevations on this tour, even in the Blue Mountains. The longest drive on this tour is only around 3 hours between Port Antonio and Kingston on the final day. The roads on this tour are all paved and in fairly good condition.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All places have en-suite bathrooms, full time electricity, and Internet.
CLIMATE: Average temperatures at this time of year through the region are 69F – 86F (21F – 30C), so it is still very hot in the lowlands of the Caribbean, even in this cool, dry season.
WHEN TO GO: This part of the Caribbean is generally cooler and drier at this time of year, and therefore has been timed for the most pleasant time to bird it (i.e. December to March). This is also the time of year when the Caribbean residents are supplemented by a substantial number of boreal migrants wintering from North America, making this arguably the optimum birding season.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: E
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For citizens of most countries a Travel Authorization needs to be completed online within 72 hours, of leaving. For all foreign citizens, please check the ever-changing restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Tropical Birding cannot be responsible for changes in entrance policy or restriction levied by the Jamaican government. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to all people except porters and Tropical Birding guide; accommodation from night of day 1 through night of day 5; meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 6; one arrival airport and one departure airport transfer (these might be shared, and may be an official airport shuttle); ground transport to all the sites listed on the itinerary in a suitable modern vehicle; entrance fees to all sites on the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for any luggage porters (if you require their services); international flight; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; any Covid tests required; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.