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Houston Audubon Jamaica: Easy Caribbean - Birding Tour

Tour Overview:

Tropical Birding have teamed up with the Houston Audubon to bring you a series of short, relaxed birding tours. Participants can book, knowing that part of their tour fee will be donated to the Houston Audubon Society, a very active conservation group, preserving important, threatened, bird habitat in Texas. The tour has been specifically designed, so that only three hotels are used on the tour, so you only have to unpack a few times.

 

This tour focuses on two key areas on Jamaica. The Blue Mountains, where the majority of the specialty birds can be seen during only a short visit, and where World famous (and high-priced!) Blue Mountain Coffee is produced. A tour of a Coffee farm is also included on the tour.  We will also visit the coastal lowlands around San-San and Port Antonio on the north of the island to add our final endemic bird species and visit some cliffs for White-tailed Tropicbirds too. We will be looking for spectacular bird species like Red-billed and Black-billed Streamertails and Jamaican Tody, which only occur on this island, and occur alongside migrant warblers, like Prairie and Black-throated Blue Warblers that call Jamaican home during the boreal winter. This is one of the easiest tours that we offer, with no especially long drives, no super early starts, and a relaxed pace. Most days will feature some down time during the middle of the day. 

Tour Details:

2025

Dates: 1 - 6 March

Price: TBA (2023 price was: $3270; single supplement: $330)

Length: 6 Days 

Starting City: Kingston

Ending City: Kingston

Pace: Relaxed

Physical Difficulty: Easy

Focus: Birding

Group size: 10 + 1 TB leader

Notes: The tour fee includes a donation to Houston Audubon

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Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Kingston

After arrival in Kingston, you will be transferred to a nice local hotel for the night. The tour starts in earnest with an evening welcome dinner with your guide, where you can sample the famous local jerk chicken if you wish! There is no birding on this day.

Day 2: Hellshire Hills & Hope Gardens to the Blue Mountains

In the morning, we will take in two sites near the city of Kingston. To start with, we will check in on Hellshire Hills, where will look for two local species, Bahama Mockingbird and the interestingly named Stolid Flycatcher. After a short visit there, we shall drive over to nearby Hope Gardens via a local site for the nocturnal Northern Potoo, which can often be found roosting by day. In the heart of Kingston, this sprawling garden is a sea of tranquility within the city, and home to the endemic Yellow-billed Parrot and the tiny Vervain Hummingbird, which at less than two and half inches in length, including its bill, is one of the smallest birds in the world. After lunch at a famous local restaurant in Kingston, we will drive up into the nearby Blue Mountains, a drive of some 90-minutes only. Two nights will be spent in a mountain chalet, within beautiful forest in the Blue Mountains, close to the coffee producing areas too. On this night or the following night, we can go in search of the endemic Jamaican Owl before dinner for those who wish to do so.

Day 3: Birds & Coffee of the Blue Mountains

This day will be spent in the peaceful setting of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, famous amongst birders as a place where many endemic bird species occur, and to everyone else as home to some of the best coffee in the World! We will get to sample both on this day. The habitat here is montane forest at only 4000ft/1225m elevation. The altitude is high enough to ensure we have escaped the intense heat and humidity of Jamaica’s lowlands (i.e. Kingston), but low enough that no significant altitude problems should occur.

 

A heady crop of exciting birds occur, with as many as 20 endemic birds on our shopping list. Among these are the dramatic Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, the cute Jamaican Tody, and a warbler only found on Jamaica, the Arrow-headed Warbler. However, most sought after will likely be Jamaica’s national bird, the so-called “Doctor Bird” or Red-billed Streamertail, a glowing iridescent green hummingbird with a spectacularly long tail. Among the other specialties that we will be seeking are Blue Mountain Vireo, the odd, bromeliad-dwelling Jamaican Blackbird, the reclusive Crested Quail-Dove (known locally as the “Mountain Witch”), and the familiar White-chinned Thrush. The latter can regularly be found hopping along the quiet mountain roads in the area, earning it the local name of “Hopping Dick”.  A second night will be spent in the Blue Mountains.

Day 4: The Blue Mountains to San-San

After some final leisurely birding in the Blue Mountains, we shall head to north coast of of Jamaica, staying in a wonderful set of villas overlooking a secluded bay with aquamarine waters in sight. Two nights will be spent in San-San, close to Port Antonio, and close to the lagoon where the famous Brooke Shields 1980 film, “The Blue Lagoon” was filmed.

 

Day 5: White-tailed Tropicbirds & the Ecclesdown Road

In the morning, we will visit a secluded cove to look for White-tailed Tropicbirds, which nest locally. The remainder of the day will see us focus on the Ecclesdown Road, a legendary Jamaican birding venue, where almost all of the endemic bird species of the island can be found. In particular, it is good for Jamaican Crow, Black-billed Parrot, Jamaican Mango, and Black-billed Streamertail, which are difficult elsewhere on the tour. By the end of this day we will hope to have seen all the Jamaican endemic bird species, some 28 species currently, plus some other Caribbean specialties to boot, and all while birding at a relaxed pace. A second night will be spent at our comfortable coastal villas.

 

Day 6: San-San to Kingston for DEPARTURES

After breakfast we will depart for Kingston airport, some three hours south of San-San, in order to connect with afternoon flights out of Jamaica for the end of the tour.

 

Trip Considerations

PACE: Relaxed. Breakfasts will typically be around 7am, with departure 30 minutes or so after that. There are no field meals, all of the meals are cooked, sit-down affairs. There will be downtime during the middle of the day too on most days except Day 2, which will be the longest day of the tour but by no means difficult. Sunset is around 5:30pm at this time of year, so there will not be any late finishes, although there will be some optional searches dfor Jamaican Owl on some nights, (it is often found with 1 or 2 nights effort).

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. The walking on this trip is generally easy, with no particularly steep or difficult hikes. Most of the walks will be on roads or on flat paths in the Hope Gardens. There are no high elevations on this tour, even in the Blue Mountains, where the highest point likely to be reached will be on a paved road, at around 4000ft elevation/1225m.

 

The drives are not especially long on this tour, with the longest being between The Blue Mountains and San-San (around 3 hours on Day 4), and between San-San and Kingston airport (3 hours on Day 6).

 

ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout. All places have en-suite bathrooms, full time electricity, hot water, and Internet. The villas and hotels in the lowlands (i.e. San-San and Kingston) both have air-con too. This is not needed in the cooler Blue Mountains.

 

CLIMATE: The climate in the lowlands of Jamaica (i.e. Kingston and the San-San/Ecclesdown Road area) is hot and humid, with average temperatures of around 74F – 89F (23C – 32C). On the days that are spent in the Blue Mountains it is pleasantly cooler, with temperatures around 81F/27C at this of year. This tour is timed for the coolest and driest time of year (i.e. December to March). However, odd showers are still possible in the Blue Mountains, which has its own weather, so rain gear should be taken with you on outings from there. This is outside of the Hurricane season that affects the Caribbean region, even though Jamaica is rarely affected like many other Caribbean islands.

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.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For citizens of most countries a visa is not required for entry for stays of under 90 days. This includes citizens of the USA, UK, and Canada. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay and must have at least one blank page. 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?: Accommodation from night of day 1 through to the 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?All TIPS (people who may be tipped on this tour include your Tropical Birding guide and Jamaican local guide, a local driver, and hotel porters and staff); international flight; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; 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.

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