Jamaica Mar 05—12, 2014

Posted by Brian Gibbons

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Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in local creeks and parks. Chasing butterflies and any animal that was unfortunate enough t...

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From the coast at Montego Bay we headed inland to the famed Rocklands Bird Sanctuary where hummingbirds have been hand-tamed for decades. From there we proceeded to the lovely Marshall’s Pen and the amazing array of birds that call the garden home. As we made our way to the south coast, an arid zone with acacias and cactus, we found a couple of special birds before passing through Kingston for a swing through the Blue and John Crow Mountains before winding up in Kingston at the lovely Spanish Court Hotel.

What birding trip can be complete without a visit to a sewage lagoon? We got it out of the way early with a visit to the Montego Bay wastewater ponds, and found our only Caribbean Coot of the trip! From there we wound our way into the hills on those famous Jamaican roads to find our way to Rocklands, a famous bird sanctuary that for decades has hosted hand-tamed Red-billed Streamertails and Mangos! These were just a couple of the Jamaican endemics we found on our first woodland stop. Jamaican Woodpecker, White-chinned Thrush, Orangequit, Jamaican Crow, and Rufous-tailed Flycatcher were other endemics that we noted. After enjoying those birds for awhile, we made our way to the historic Great House at Marshall’s Pen, our base for the next three nights.

The gardens of Marshall’s Pen host many of Jamaica’s endemics and some of the best birding on the island. Here we enjoyed Ann Sutton’s home and amazing local food provided by the staff. Around the garden we had daily sightings of the Jamaican Owl and one of its fuzzy-headed youngsters, todies, potoos, Cave Swallows, Least Grebes, Orangequits, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, endemic flycatchers, vireos, hummingbirds, and spindalis too. One morning we headed out early to the karst landscape of Cockpit Country. Our first sightings were of screeching flocks that landed on the ridgetops, as usual, but the parrots were rather obliging this year, sitting for extended scope views at close range. The Yellow-billed Parrots stole the show as they devoured legume seed pods right next to the road. Cindy got her 3,000th world bird with this beauty. Down the Burnt Hill Road we saw many more Jamaican endemics and North American birds that were down for the winter. The warblers were busy fattening up for their imminent journey north, while they tried to avoid the eye of the hungry Merlin. The spectacular Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo made an appearance along the road, and was one of our favorite sightings for the morning. We also made a trip out to the Morass of the Black River; arriving late evening we had trouble tracking down the West Indian Whistling-Ducks, but eventually caught up with a small flock poking their heads out of some deep marsh grasses. We also found the secretive Masked Duck, a male molting into his summer finery. Numerous other marshbirds and herons entertained us as we searched for the ducks. One of my favorite Jamaican endemics is the massive Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo. Its groaning calls could be heard during our time wandering the grounds at Marshall’s Pen. Arrowhead Warbler, a unique Jamaican bird, was encountered several times at the Pen as well.

Portland Ridge is home to a very different arid acacia landscape. Here we found the Stolid Flycatcher and the Bahama Mockingbird among many warblers that were evading the midday sun. Onward we pushed to another habitat, the higher montane forest of the Port Royal Range of the Blue Mountains above Kingston. The Tillandsia-draped trees waved in the breeze as we searched for some of the tougher endemics: Crested Quail-Dove, which we heard, and Jamaican Blackbird, which we had great looks at on a couple of occasions as they foraged in the national tree of Jamaica, the Mahoe. Amazingly, the blackbird was Sue’s 3,000th world bird! A wonderfully still Northern Potoo swayed in a roadside tree, barely cracking an eye to watch us watch it! We wound our way down yet another mountain road to find ourselves along the northeast coast for a wonderful evening at Goblin Hill. The Black-billed Streamertails barely allowed us to exit the bus before their warring chases brought them to us. We enjoyed some of the best Red Stripes of the tour on the hill overlooking a serene Caribbean Sea below us at sunset.

Our final morning found us in the John Crow Mountains, home to nearly every endemic Jamaican bird. While we got close to our target, the Crested Quail-Dove, it decided to remain hidden, calling in the forest. Blackbirds, todies, orioles, grassquits, and others all made our final morning in the Jamaican forest a great finale to a wonderful trip. Near Hector’s River we watched the sea in vain for a tropicbird to swoop in to the nesting cliffs; a Hermit Crab and some baby kestrels in a nearby cavity entertained us instead. Finally we made it back to Kingston after a wonderful spicy jerk chicken lunch in Boston, home of Jamaican jerk! The Spanish Court Hotel was a wonderful refuge after a day on Jamaican roads.

Thanks for making this a great journey. We look forward to hosting you on your next birding adventure.