Jamaica Mar 06—13, 2013
Posted by Brian Gibbons
Jamaica, a green gem in the Caribbean, is home to the doctor bird, the rasta bird, and 26 other endemics. We saw them all during our week on this island of amazing sights and sounds, like patois and blaring car horns. Our first real birding was at the famous Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where we fed hummingbirds by hand. We glimpsed the mango and drooled over the abundant Red-billed Streamertails, shutters clicking away. Also on hand were dozens of Bananaquits and Orangequits; perhaps the latter should be known more widely by its local name, Bluequit, which is more descriptive. A jabbering crow came by to add to our growing list of Jamaican endemics seen on our first morning.
Next we were off to the equally famous Marshall’s Pen, home to more than 20 of Jamaica’s 28 species. The owls stole the show here, the youngster peering at us inquisitively from its lofty perch. The adults sleeping nearby were bored with the human show. Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo (my favorite), Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Spindalis, Jamaican Elaenia, and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit were among the long list of endemics we watched at the Pen. Our visit to Cockpit Country on Burnt Hill Road netted us both endemic parrots, the Black-billed and the Yellow-billed. A Merlin perched on Merlin Hill had us admiring it until we learned of its more sinister side—hummer killer. Below its lofty perch we found a mango tail feather and a streamer from a streamertail! An afternoon run to the Black River Morass produced the very special West Indian Whistling-Duck and another hard to find duck; Brandon’s pick of the male Masked Duck was amazing. We also saw a few ladies alongside that were much more obliging.
After a few great days around Marshall’s Pen, we were off again for the mountains on the east end of the island, but first we toured through the Portland Bight Protected Area of mangroves and dry forest; there we saw numerous North American warblers and heard the elusive Bahama Mockingbird, which never showed. We also had exceptional looks at the Stolid Flycatcher. Our first afternoon in the Blue Mountains National Park area revealed another great bird found by Brandon. “Everybody got good looks at the potoo?” he asked. We didn’t see it last night; he was there—what was he thinking? Then I looked up to see a spectacularly camouflaged Northern Potoo, presumably sitting on a nest. Exceptional scope views were had by all. In a more humid stretch of the forest a pair of Jamaican Blackbirds entertained us with their softly raucous calls. Only a few endemics were left to find at this point.
The next morning a calling Rufous-throated Solitaire didn’t reveal itself, but the Blue Mountain Vireo and the Ring-tailed Pigeon did. We were down to the last full species endemic, the quail-dove, hyper-skittish and much sought. After breakfast most of us got glimpses of the beast, and some enjoyed a prolonged view of the bird strutting in the road.
The curving mountain road dropped from the mountains and out to the coast again at Buff Bay. Goblin Hill was the place for excellent looks at the eastern subspecies Black-billed Streamertail, fighting vigorously with the dominant Jamaican Mangos. The next morning we enjoyed some relaxed birding in the John Crow Mountains. We studied Black-billed Parrots at our leisure, had great looks at the lizard-cuckoo, and saw flycatchers and another pair of blackbirds.
After a great morning of birding we returned to the hummer show at Goblin Hill. We enjoyed a spicy jerk chicken lunch at Boston Bay, the place where it started. In the afternoon we enjoyed views of the Caribbean Sea as we wound our way down the east coast of the island to Hector’s River. It took a while for the White-tailed Tropicbirds to get their cue, but when they did, they put on a show, repeatedly flying into the cliff below us, inspecting potential nest sites. A couple of hours later we were in bustling Kingston, after a near circumnavigation of this tiny Caribbean country.