Jamaica Mar 04—11, 2015
Posted by Brian Gibbons
Within this tiny island of Jamaica we found varied habitats and more than a hundred species of birds, including all the Jamaican endemics. The biggest prize was surely the Crested Quail-Dove that Brandon extracted from the haystack of jumbled, vine-tangled forest that is John Crow Mountains National Park. We visited the dry Acacia-covered limestone hills of Portland Ridge, the green forest of Cockpit Country, the pastures and forests of Marshall’s Pen, the Morass at Black River, the famed Blue Mountains, and lots of bumpy roads in between.
On our first morning we departed a waking Kingston and headed to Portland Ridge and its dry rain shadow forest on the south central side of the island to seek a few special birds. Here, in the Acacias, the Bahama Mockingbird was exceptionally easy to see; one even interrupted our Mangrove Cuckoo viewing by hopping in front of the cuckoo! Our other key target here was the Stolid Flycatcher, and it too was obliging on our first morning. As the morning warmed up, the wind became stronger, and we had trouble finding many of the other small birds that live in the woodland there. We headed to the endemic-rich Marshall’s Pen.
Duringr our few days at Marshall’s Pen, a 200-year-old great house, we enjoyed more than 20 Jamaican endemics, the beautiful gardens and delicious Jamaican food, many Red-billed Streamertails, and a few Red Stripes. Our first morning would prove the most productive. We found Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo (my favorite Jamaican endemic), Jamaican Elaenia, Sad Flycatcher, and many other Jamaican endemics and Caribbean birds. While waiting in vain at the Black River Morass for the West Indian Whistling-Ducks to come out of hiding, Brandon espied a Spotted Rail as it was getting dark. We all caught up with this great bird as the light waned. Limpkins, Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, and Soras livened up the marsh as well.
On an early morning in the rugged karst Cockpit Country we caught up with Jamaican Crows and our primary targets there—parrots. Yellow-billed and Black-billed parrots, both of these endemics, sat cooperatively as we stood around letting the birds come to us. Marshall’s Pen gave us excellent looks at a Northern Potoo that hunted from a snag just outside our rooms on most nights, its calls waking us occasionally. Also at the Pen, a Jamaican Owl sat for scope views one evening before it was even completely dark. Ann Sutton, our wonderful host at Marshall’s Pen, gave us a history tour of her family and Marshall’s Pen, elaborating on the coffee estate of a century ago.
Then we were off to the Port Royal Range of the Blue Mountains in search of the last of the Jamaican endemics we were still hunting: Crested Quail-Dove and Jamaican Blackbird. We got great looks at Arrowhead Warbler, Blue Mountain Vireo, Jamaican Blackbird, and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, but the targets were not to be seen. We wound our way down the mountain to the north coast to see the Caribbean enraged by an east wind. Rolling waves crashed on the beaches and smashed into the limestone headlands. We made our way to Goblin Hill, which hosts Black-billed Streamertails and many other birds right on the grounds.
Our next morning’s plan was an assault on John Crow Mountains National Park. Here we were overrun with pigeons and doves of all sorts; of particular interest were the many endemic Ring-tailed Pigeons. The Crested Quail-Dove called and called, but stayed hidden in the forest despite our best efforts. Eventually we scored with good scope views of the sleek Jamaican Blackbird. Crows jabbered and both parrots were seen again, but we were still lacking the Quail-Dove, always the toughest endemic. Finally, Brandon spotted a pair of Crested Quail-Doves just off the road; most folks got good but brief looks, and our endemic sweep was complete. We enjoyed the rest of the morning birding and seeing many endemics for the final time.
Our next mission was to experience Jamaican Jerk at a Jerk Center. Boston was the place for that on the Northeast coast, home of jerk. Heavily spiced with Scotch Bonnet peppers and spices and cooked over allspice wood made for a savory delight. As we headed around the east end of the island, the surf was still strong, and we enjoyed many excellent vistas with the blue Caribbean as the backdrop. We stopped at Hector’s River and found some very distant White-tailed Tropicbirds out over the water. This concluded our birding for the trip, and we made our way back to bustling Kingston and its traffic. Soon enough we were enjoying the quiet inside the Spanish Court hotel and an excellent dinner.
Thank you for traveling with VENT. I look forward to our next birding adventure.