Jamaica - searching for the endemics - 23rd - 30th November 2018

Published by Stephen Blaber (sblaber AT hotmail.com)

Participants: Steve Blaber, Tessa Blaber

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Introduction

Continuing our birding in the Caribbean, we left Cuba on Cayman Airways for Jamaica. The two hour stop-over on Grand Cayman allowed us to see Vitelline Warbler (a Cayman endemic) in the bushes around the airport carpark. We had arranged our Jamaica trip with “Attractions Link” (attractionslink@cwjamaica.com) following the advice of Greg Roberts in his 2015 trip report. Janette Murdock organised the accommodation, and we were ably driven and guided by Wayne Murdock for the whole trip. We thoroughly recommend their services, Wayne was as determined as we were to see all our target species! We saw all the endemics – and all 34 target species! Unfortunately the Jamaican subspecies of Golden Swallow has recently been declared extinct (https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/golswa1). We used the field guide “birds of the West Indies” by Raffaele et al.

We were very happy with our accommodation, both the Starlight Chalets and Bayview Ecovillas suited us very well. The staff were very friendly and attentive, and the food good.

Itinerary

23 Nov Arrive Kingston, Jamaica on Cayman Airways flight at 7.30 pm. We were met by Wayne and set off for the Blue Mountains. Overnight at Starlight Chalets at Silver Hill Gap in the Blue Mountains.

24 Nov Starlight Chalets.

25 Nov Starlight Chalets.

26 Nov Left and drove to Port Antonio, Bayview Ecovillas Hotel.

27 Nov Bayview Ecovillas Hotel.

28 Nov Bayview Ecovillas Hotel.

29 Nov Left and drove to back to Kingston, Port Royal Hotel near the airport.

30 Nov Departed Kingston on American Airlines for Miami.

Narrative

(Only new species mentioned here, full list at the end)

23 November

After arriving at Kingston we had a three hour night drive to Silver Hill Gap. The roads were not good, hence the length of time taken to reach Starlight Chalets. Despite the late arrival (10.30 pm) however, the staff were happy to provide us with a delicious hot meal. We cannot emphasize too much, how good the staff were at this hotel.

24 November

After an early breakfast we were on the road by 6 pm. It was a perfect morning after overnight rain. Wayne knew our best chance for Crested Quail Dove was at this time, driving not walking, and he was right. We had excellent views of several individuals of this sought after endemic on the road at first light, less than a km from Starlight. Continuing to the T junction we turned left and stopped to walk the road through the forest at upper Hardwar. The clear day after a rainy night seemed to invigorate the birds and we had a phenomenal morning. The endemics came one after another: Jamaican Pewee, Jamaican Euphonia, White-chinned Thrush, White-eyed Thrush, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Arrowhead Warbler, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Ring-tailed Pigeon, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, Jamaican Oriole, Blue Mountain Vireo, Jamaican Vireo, Red-billed Streamertail and Jamaican Becard. By 10 am things quietened down and we returned to the Starlight for a much needed pot of tea! Wayne had to return to Port Antonio overnight so left us, organising to return tomorrow lunch time. He arranged for another guide, Colin, to take us out next morning by vehicle. Before lunch we spent time watching the Red-billed Streamertails around the feeders on the verandah. The extensive garden gave us our next endemic, the relatively common Sad Flycatcher – actually quite a perky bird! During the late afternoon we birded the gardens and the road around Silver Hill Gap, adding yet more endemics to our first day: Jamaican Elaenia, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Jamaican Tody, Orangequit and Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo. An extraordinary first days birding – 21 endemics/lifers!

25 November

The guide Colin arrived at 6.15 am and we returned to the Hardwar gap area, seeking species we did not see yesterday. The main target, and a difficult bird to see, was Jamaican Blackbird. After an hour or so Colin heard one and eventually it appeared among the bromeliads, giving us good views. Another common endemic, Jamaican Woodpecker, was found quite easily and proved to be common in most habitats. Continuing on the Hardwar road we descended to the Woodside area. The walk down this private road produced lots of the species we had already seen, but nothing new. Hardly surprising as we had done so well on the first day. We returned to Starlight for lunch. During the afternoon a thick mountain mist descended, which although atmospheric in feel, made birding difficult. A night search for Jamaican Owl was unsuccessful with nothing seen or heard.

26 November

We departed Starlight Chalets with Wayne at about 7.30 am, heading for our next base at Port Antonio on the north coast. Time was spent on the way birding at Lower Hardwar Gap. Here we had good views of Greater Antillean Elaenia and finally of Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo. The latter is a surprisingly difficult bird to see as it is relatively shy. Once we reached the good coastal road we stopped at Spanish River and increased the trip list with about a dozen water birds. On arrival in Port Antonio we went straight to the park opposite the Errol Flynn Marina. Here the flowering Bauhinia trees produced the next endemic – Jamaican Mango. After a lunch of tasty meat pattys at Juicy Pattys we drove to Bayview Ecovillas, a few km east of Port Antonio, and checked in to our comfortable lodge. Like Starlight Chalets, this hotel has extensive grounds and is good for birding. An afternoon walk produced Black-billed Streamertail as well as many of the species we had recorded in the mountains. Following Wayne’s advice we tried for Jamaican Owl at dusk from our balcony, which overlooked a forested area. The owl soon responded to the tape and flew to within a couple of metres – fantastic views.

27 November

Today was devoted to the lower John Crow Mountains and Ecclesdown Road. It was not long until we had seen both Black-billed Parrot and Yellow-billed Parrot, both in good numbers. This forest also produced many of the endemics we had seen previously, including Jamaican Blackbird. Two species were however, eluding us – Vervain Hummingbird and Jamaican Crow. Stopping near Fair Prospect School a short walk down a side road gave us a poor view of Vervain Hummingbird. On the way back to Port Antonio we stopped at Goblin Hill Hotel to check the feeders in their gardens – alas only Jamaican Mangos!

28 November

The upper John Crow Mountains were visited today. A long walk through the forest gave us excellent views of Vervain Hummingbird, but the Jamaican Crow was proving elusive. Finally the characteristic call of this crow was heard at the edge of Sherwood Forest and we got a brief view of it disappearing into the forest.

29 November

Today we departed Port Antonio heading for Kingston. We stopped in the mountains at Castleton Botanical Gardens seeking better views of the Jamaican Crow. Eventually we were successful, with at least three birds giving us good views. On arrival in Kingston we drove west to the Hellshire Hills. This is a dry area, with a distinctive vegetation of acacias and cacti. Much of the habitat is being destroyed by housing developments. However, it was not long before we found a pair of Stolid Flycatchers – our last endemic! The icing on the cake was good views of the Bahama Mockingbird – another inhabitant of this dry area. We returned to a nearby modern shopping centre for lunch where Tessa fitted in buying some Christmas presents before heading for our hotel at Port Royal near the international airport.

30 November

Left Jamaica on American Airlines flight to Miami with a number of bags of Jamaican blue mountain coffee in our suitcases. We’d bought it at a supermarket which was cheaper than prices at the airport but still pricey.

Species Lists

Blue-winged Teal – Spanish River
Pied-billed Grebe – Spanish River
Rock Pigeon – widespread feral
White-crowned Pigeon - widespread
Ring-tailed Pigeon – Hardwar Gap, Woodside
Common Ground-Dove - widespread
Crested Quail-Dove – Hardwar Gap
White-winged Dove - widespread
Zenaida Dove - widespread
Mourning Dove - widespread
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo – Hardwar Gap, Silver Hill Gap
Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo – Lower Hardwar Gap
Smooth-billed Ani - widespread
Antillean Palm-Swift - widespread
Jamaican Mango - - widespread lowlands
Vervain Hummingbird – Lower John Crow Mtns
Black-billed Streamertail - widespread east of Rio Grande River
Red-billed Streamertail - - widespread west of Rio Grande River
Common moorhen – Spanish River
Black-necked Stilt - Spanish River
Ruddy Turnstone - Spanish River, Port Royal
Spotted Sandpiper - Spanish River
Laughing Gull – widespread coastal
Caspian Tern – Spanish River
Royal Tern – widespread coastal
Sandwich Tern – Port Royal
Magnificent Frigatebird - widespread coastal
Brown Pelican - widespread coastal
Great Blue Heron - widespread
Snowy Egret - widespread
Little Blue Heron – Spanish River
Cattle Egret - widespread
Green Heron – Spanish River
Glossy Ibis – Spanish River
Turkey Vulture - widespread
Red-tailed Hawk – Lower Hardwar Gap
Jamaican Owl – Bayview Ecovillas, Port Antonio
Jamaican Tody – Silver Hill Gap
Jamaican Woodpecker - widespread
American Kestrel - widespread
Yellow-billed Parrot – Ecclesdown Road
Black-billed Parrot – Ecclesdown Road
Jamaican Elaenia – Silver Hill Gap
Greater Antillean Elaenia – Lower Hardwar Gap
Jamaican Pewee - widespread
Sad Flycatcher - widespread
Rufous-tailed Flycatcher – Hardwar Gap
Stolid Flycatcher – Hellfire Hills
Loggerhead Kingbird - widespread
Jamaican Becard – Hardwar Gap
Blue Mountain Vireo - Hardwar Gap
Jamaican Vireo - Hardwar Gap
Jamaican Crow – Sherwood Forest, Castleton Gardens
Rufous-throated Solitaire – Hardwar Gap
White-eyed Thrush - Hardwar Gap, Lower John Crow Mtns
White-chinned Thrush - widespread
Bahama Mockingbird – Hellfire Hills
Northern Mockingbird - widespread
House Sparrow - widespread
Jamaican Euphonia – Hardwar Gap, John Crow Mtns
Jamaican Spindalis - widespread
Jamaican Oriole - widespread
Jamaican Blackbird – Hardwar Gap, Lower John Crow Mtns
Greater Antillean Grackle - widespread
Worm-eating Warbler – Hardwar Gap
Louisiana Waterthrush – Hardwar Gap
Black-and-white Warbler - widespread
Common Yellowthroat - widespread
Arrowhead Warbler – Hardwar Gap
American Redstart - widespread
Northern Parula - widespread
Black-throated Blue Warbler - widespread
Palm Warbler - widespread
Yellow-throated Warbler – Hardwar Gap
Prairie Warbler – Silver Hill Gap
Bananaquit - widespread
Yellow-faced Grassquit - widespread
Black-faced Grassquit - widespread
Orangequit - widespread
Greater Antillean Bullfinch – Silver Hill Gap, Hardwar, Ecclesdown
Yellow-shouldered Grassquit – Hardwar Gap