Jamaica Feb 18—25, 2007
Posted by Brennan Mulrooney
Imagine six days of birding in a dramatic mountainous island setting surrounded by lush Caribbean forest, while experiencing splendidly balmy temperatures and dining on scrumptious Jamaican cuisine; then throw in 28 endemic species of birds?what’s not to like? Jamaica offers more to the visiting birder than perhaps any of the other islands of the West Indies. No other island boasts more endemic birds, and few can match its natural beauty and the ease with which it can all be experienced. Our tour this year (as in most) saw all 28 of the known extant endemic birds in the country. In addition to those single island endemics, we saw 11 species of birds endemic to the Caribbean, and 5 additional Caribbean near-endemics. That’s not to mention all of the endemic and near-endemic subspecies! In short, we had a truly awesome trip.
All tours have target birds, and some of these are going to be more difficult than others. In Jamaica, we know going in that the endemic Crested Quail-Dove is going to take some work. It’s not especially responsive to tape, it doesn’t like to forage in the open, and when vocal, it’s rarely easy to see… in other words, it’s a real pain! But as with most quail-doves, its beauty makes all the trouble well worth the work. Finding ourselves five days in to this year’s tour and still not having any luck with this one, we were starting to feel the pressure. Luckily our best shot was still ahead of us, but you just never know. We had left for the field early that morning with the expressed intent of searching for this bird right at dawn when we hoped it would be out for a walk on its favorite side road. This situation would allow us to sneak up relatively quietly with hopes of seeing it before it might see or hear us. Well, after about 10 minutes of patient sneaking, my hopes were starting to falter. I didn’t want to consider the possibility of leaving this spot without our bird. And then, just as we were about to turn back, there it was?all alone on the side of the road, teetering along awkwardly like a child’s pull-toy?the Crested Quail-Dove! Everybody quickly got on the bird, and despite the involuntary “oohs,” “aahs,” and various other whispered exclamations, it didn’t seem to be spooked by our presence. Instead, it just slowly continued down the road with its comically unsteady gait allowing for uncommonly good views of a very difficult, not to mention truly gorgeous, endemic bird.
While not all of our encounters with Jamaica’s unique species were this much of a struggle, they all generated their own little thrills. There is really something special about seeing a single island endemic, and knowing that nowhere else in the world does such a creature exist. And it only adds to the excitement that so many of Jamaica’s endemics are such handsome birds. The list includes the aforementioned Crested Quail-Dove, two truly outlandish cuckoos, three mind-boggling hummingbirds, two charismatic parrots, the multi-hued Jamaican Spindalis, and the incomparable Tody, a perennial trip favorite. Or what about the Jamaican Crow? Known locally as Jabbering Crow, their outlandish vocalizations were the perfect soundtrack to our birding in the Cockpit Country and John Crow Mountains. The subtly distinctive Blue Mountain Vireo (formerly placed in its own genus) gave us astounding point blank views in Cockpit Country before making several repeat showings, appropriately enough, in the Blue Mountains. The often difficult and uncooperative Arrowhead Warbler was unusually accommodating, giving us several lengthy good looks. And, though not endemics, such marvelous and sought after species as West Indian Whistling-Duck, Masked Duck, Caribbean Coot, Northern Jacana, White-crowned Pigeon, Caribbean Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Vervain Hummingbird (the second smallest bird in the world), Rufous-throated Solitaire, and Bahama Mockingbird all put in showings for us.
Yes, Jamaica was good to us this year. But on this magical Caribbean island, that is the rule far more than the exception.