In mid-February 2020 we spent two good weeks birding in Jamaica, seeing all 30 (taxonomy dependent) endemics, plus numerous other targets (inc. West Indian Whistling-duck, Spotted Rail, Yellow-breasted Crake, Northern Potoo, ‘Caribbean’ Black Swift, Vervain Hummingbird, Stolid Flycatcher, Rufous-throated Solitaire and Bahama Mockingbird).
We visited mostly well-known birding sites in the Kingston area and NE over the first 8 days, during which time we travelled by a combination of early morning lifts (to Hardware Gap and Hellshire Hills with the owner of the guesthouse above Kingston where based our first 4 nights), route taxis/buses and coaches, plus hitching one afternoon. We ventured westward and explored a little during the last week (including excellent birding in the Black River Upper Morass area), when we had a hire car.
We ate pretty well and stayed in fairly low-cost (US$44 to $70 = £34 to £55, for 2/night) but very pleasant accommodation. Proprietors of/staff at guesthouses were typically very friendly, likewise most people we met. We never experienced any hassle, some folks were rightly curious/suspicious as to what we were doing in more out-of-the-way areas, but when we explained and smiled (and sometimes flapped arms like a bird), all was ‘irie’ (good/fine); we made it clear we were birders and not hunters. Note, Jamaican patois (dialect), for us, was often difficult to understand; we had to listen carefully to grasp what some people were saying (they on the other hand, understood us without any difficulty!).
The total trip cost, including travel from north London to Gatwick Airport (train from Gordon Hill Station to Victoria, then Gatwick Express), insurance, flights, car hire, accommodation and food, came in at about £1,455 each.
The report includes travel, accommodation and birding details, followed by an annotated list of birds seen. Scientific names for species/subspecies are not generally included in the main text, exceptions being for clarity. GPS co-ordinates (lat-long) are given [in brackets] for some locations where specific birds were seen, to help navigate to sites etc.
The report does not include maps; we recommend viewing those on the excellent birdfinding.info website (The Avitourist’s Guide to Jamaica section).
In early January we booked British Airways direct flights from London Gatwick to Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA), Kingston (£621 rtn inc. baggage fee/taxes).
Outbound: 5 Feb 2020 - depart Gatwick 12:10 - arrive NMIA 17:15 (duration 10h 5 min; flight 30 min late departing but made up the time en route).
Return: 19 Feb 2015 - depart NMIA 19:30 – arrive Gatwick 09:25 (+1 day; duration 8h 55 min).
Note, travelling direct (rather than via the USA) avoids the often lengthy queues one encounters at US airports when in transit and rechecking-in baggage. One also needs an ESTA (travel authorisation permit; US$14) even if only in transit.
We booked a car on 7 Feb at the Island Car Rental (ICR) office/compound (N-end of Grenada Crescent Road). We selected ICR as near to Knutsford Express coach station (10 min walk). A Toyota Yaris was US$450/£352 (inc. insurance) for a week. On 13 Feb, at 11:00, we picked up the car (after arriving back at Knutsford Express station from Port Antonio earlier that morning). ICR staff were friendly (the guy checking over the car with us before we left, gave good directions as to the best route out of Kingston). We were also able to drop off the car at NMIA on our last afternoon (19 Feb), which was very handy.
We took a combination of: (1) Jamaican dollars (J$) (£250 equivalent) ordered via eurochange.co.uk (but check, e.g. moneysaving expert.com, for best current deals); (2) UK Sterling (£250) readily changeable in banks (exchange rate £1 = J$1.76 at time of visit); (3) US dollars (about US$500 each); plus visa debit cards for car hire payment (and emergencies).
Whilst US$ are readily accepted, for everyday items (e.g. provisions from shops, payment at restaurants, bus/taxi fares), best to use J$ (as exchange rate only about US$ 1 = J$120 ‘out on the streets’; whereas the official rate was about US$ 1 = J$135). A typical route taxi/minibus (shared with others) fare (for a distance of up to very approximately 10 km or so) was J$100 each (equivalent to about 60p).
In January we booked (via booking.com) our first 8 nights of accommodation at two guesthouses (Kingsworth B & B and Palm Yard), paid when we were there in US$ (a stipulation of the booking). But it was based on the official exchange rate at the time of payment, so we didn’t lose out. Subsequently we found accommodation in convenient locations as we went along; straightforward and all proved fine (see below). Check-in times were generally 12:30 - 13:00 onwards, and check-out up to 11:00 - 12:00.
It should be noted that we bumped into numerous additional accommodation options (guesthouses/small hotels) not indicated in Lonely Planet (2014) en route, and had noted down a few possible places to stay (prior to departing the UK) by Googling locations where we thought we might want to be based (e.g. Santa Cruz).
1) 5-8 Feb: Kingsworth Bed & Breakfast (KBB), Jack’s Hill Road, Kingston (SE Jamaica)
Tel: +1 876 3611692 www.kingsworthbedandbreakfast.com [lat-long 18.0456, -76.7541]
Located at the top of Jack’s Hill (above a not very busy, minor road) overlooking Kingston. We selected this hillside location as had heard that Kingston itself was rather hot, humid and often noisy, plus KBB is quite well situated to access two main birding sites, Hardware Gap (sometimes spelt ‘Hardwar’) and Hellshire Hills. Fortuitously, it was also good for birds with a well-vegetated garden and surroundings, and turned out to be the only place we saw Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo (see Birding Sites, below).
Price: 2 people, US$44/night for a small room with 2 beds, TV (not that we used it), and shower room/toilet (shared with 2 occupants of an adjacent room, only there for our last day, and of little inconvenience).
Getting there: There was free pick-up from NMIA if staying 4 nights or more (US$30 otherwise). We were met at the airport by Courtney Minors (proprietor of KBB) as arranged (via email) by NMIA Police Station. There is little fuss at the airport (a few people will ask if you want a taxi), in part due to its isolated out-of-town locality in Kingston Harbour. From Papine (E-end of Kingston) or bottom of Jack’s Hill (if jumping off here after coming down from Hardware Gap), a taxi for two was J$800-1,000 (after a bit of haggling). Be careful to explain that KBB is at the top of the hill as c.5 km (and well past Bob Marley’s old house).
Food: A little stall near KBB sells small fried fish (most evenings) and very basic provisions, there is a bar below the guesthouse where one can get a local meal (but we didn’t visit it). Courtney can cook if told in advance (also has chilled beer and soft drinks), but we ate wherever, en route back from birding.
Birding sites visited whilst based at KBB:
As well as birding a bit in the garden/grounds of KBB itself (late afternoon when we returned from other sites, and on our last morning), we visited Hardware Gap area (6 and 8 Feb), Hellshire Hills (morning of 7 Feb) and Hope Gardens (afternoon of 7 Feb).
Lifts to birding sites: KBB proved an excellent choice. Courtney is trustworthy, amiable, knowledgeable of the area, and interested in wildlife (and came out for a walk with us on our last evening around Jack’s Hill looking for owls (we failed, but he’s had Barn-owl in his garden and the vicinity). Early morning pre-dawn lifts were no problem (rates very reasonable) with a cup of sweet mint tea before departure each morning to get us going; we made or own way back each afternoon (see: Birding Sites, below).
2) 9-12 Feb: Palm Yard, Fair Prospect (NE Jamaica)
Tel: +1 876 399 8126 [lat-long 18.1159, -76.3206]
Located on the W-side of the main A4 coast road (mostly light traffic) in Fair Prospect village (a few houses, bars etc. along on the A4), about 1 km N of the N-end of Long Bay (that borders the sea). It might be a bit basic for some but fine for us and very conveniently located close (a little over 2.5 km) to the forested N-end (i.e. best birding end) of Ecclesdown Road (ER; one of the top birding sites in Jamaica). Bebos (aka Carla) the owner and her big, soppy (once he gets to know you) dog, Tyson, also live here.
Price: 2 people, US$45/night for a small room with 2 beds, an open-air screened shower area and separate toilet room (shared with occupants of other rooms; 2 other guests staying when we were there) in the garden.
Getting there & away: On 9 Feb, we arrived 08:30 (lift from KBB with Courtney) at the small Knutsford Express (KE) coach station (within a big fenced parking lot off Grenada Crescent, New Kingston; just SE of Half Way Tree where the main taxi/bus terminus is) for the 09:00 coach to Port Antonio via Ocho Rios. KE request one be at the station 30 min before departure; show your ticket at the counter (to ‘check-in’) and one can wait in the air-con waiting room (or have a coffee/snack next door); an attendant will let you know when the coach is ready to board. We bought tickets 7 Feb when in Kingston (returning from Hellshire and en route to Hope Gardens). Good value at J$2,400 (about £13 or $US17 each) 1-way, returning 13 Feb on the 06:00 coach. One can also book online (www.knutsfordconnect.com; tel. 876 940 0139). KE has a good reputation for reliability, is well organised and staff friendly.
Although rather a roundabout route (3.75 h journey time) with a change of coach in Ocho Rios (hassle-free and time for a coffee), it was relaxing and we saw a few birds (including Peregrine, Red-tailed Hawk, White-collared Swift and Jamaican Crow) and countryside en route. At Port Antonio, mini-bus taxi drivers offered rides to Long Bay for $US50 for the two of us (going rapidly down to $US40 but still very expensive). Best thing to do (as we did), walk out of the gated KE compound S along Harbour Street past the first (Rubis) petrol station to the Texaco station where the local taxi rank is (about 12 min walk). From here we got a route taxi straightaway ($J200 = £1.20, each), shared with two local ladies. It was a 25 min ride (down the A4 coast road), the young driver was very helpful in making sure we found our guesthouse (so we gave him a little tip). This was tricky as Palm Yard (although we knew it was on the W-side of the road), is not signposted and hidden behind a non-descript boarded double gate (with a short, 3-4m, concrete section of drive from the road to the gate). If you reach the Texaco garage to the S (as we did first of all, you have overshot by about 600 m).
On 13 Feb to get to Port Antonio at 05:30 for the 06:00 KE coach, we got a taxi (arranged by Bebos the day before) at 05:00 with a driver living across the road, US$25 for two (he tried to up price a bit but we stuck to what had been agreed and that was fine).
Food: Breakfast is available at Palm Yard (£5) if wanted. But we were never around for breakfast (up and out by 04:00-04:30) but Bebos kindly made a big jug of coffee the evening before, that we got from the fridge each morning, decanted into drinking bottles and took with us to consume whilst birding along ER. We also took basic food, mostly bought from the shop (W-side of A4) or Texaco garage (at junction with Fair Prospect Road along which one walks to get to ER), 10 to 15 min walk S of Palm Yard. For evening meals there are several restaurants/cafés down the A4 in Long Bay (most closed Sundays). More convenient (if on foot) and less expensive, along the A4 (E-side) about 100 m S of Palm Yard is a takeaway where one can get a tray of ‘rice and peas’ (peas = red kidney beans) with chicken, meat or ackee with fish flakes, and veg (J$400); open ‘til dusk (proprietor a nice chap), and opposite is a bar where we had a couple of Red Stripes (local lager) and listened to Ska and reggae...
Birding sites visited whilst based in Fair Prospect:
The mainly forested northern 7.5 km stretch of ER is best for endemics. We birded parts of it on the afternoon of 9 Feb, plus two full days and an early morning (also some interesting species – Barn-owl and Small Jamaican Elaenia – as we walked Fair Prospect Road en route). On the afternoon of 11 Feb we birded the S-end of ER, combined with a visit to Hector’s River for tropicbirds (see: Birding Sites, below).
3) 13-14 Feb: Chisholm’s Retreat, Santa Cruz (SW Jamaica)
Tel: +1 876 966 4609 www.chisholmsretreatja.com [lat-long 18.0471, -77.6798]
Located about 2.5 km E of the centre of Santa Cruz (a small town, bustling at dusk; the A2 main road runs through it), Chisholm’s Retreat is in a quiet semi-rural location, 160 m down, and at end of, an unpaved but drivable track leading S off the A2. Travelling from Santa Cruz (i.e. from the E), the track is just beyond (E of) the ‘Church of the living God’ (N-side of A2) and is sign posted (a small sign) ‘Chisholm’s Retreat’ at the start of the track (right-hand-side). It is a big 2-storey house with plenty parking space. The owners/staff were very friendly and fine with our early morning starts (we basically just let ourselves out). Santa Cruz is well placed to access (and the nearest location with accommodation to) the well-known Elim Pools (aka Elim Ponds) within the Black River Upper Morass wetlands. About 7.5 km W of Chisholm’s Retreat (5 km W of Santa Cruz centre) along the A2, an unpaved road leads NE, 3 km along which one reaches the Pools (see Birding Sites, below).
Price: 2 people, US$60/night for a large upstairs room with 2 doubles, TV and bathroom.
Getting there: At 11:00, 13 Feb, after arriving back in Kingston on the coach from Port Antonio, we picked up a Toyota Yaris from Island Car Rental (see Car hire, above). It was a straightforward 2.5 h drive to Santa Cruz, part (to May Pen town) along the quiet, smooth, duelled toll road (tolls J$480 + J$120) and A2. We stopped at Juici Patties (15 km W of May Pen, S-side of A2) en route for food and coffee.
Note: A Google search revealed six accommodation options in Santa Cruz (none indicated in Lonely Planet 2014). We initially tried Ultimate Freedom B & B but this was a bit expensive ($90/night for a 2-bed room), thus the lady there kindly suggested Chisholm’s Retreat. Even more convenient for Elim Pools (as W of the town centre) is Kool Rooms Guest House (just S of the A2) but this was advertised online at £88 or $US114/night, so we didn’t check it out. (Danbar Guest House appears of ‘colourful’ repute, we were informed of locally).
Food: There are many places to eat in Santa Cruz. We found Mother’s (N-side of A2 in town centre) convenient, parking outside, various patties, coffee etc., eat in or take away.
Birding sites visited whilst based in Santa Cruz:
We spent most time (afternoon/dusk 13 Feb; morning and late afternoon/dusk of 14; and dawn 15 Feb) birding the Elim Pools area (accessing via the short route off the A2), plus driving a circuit (14 Feb) W to Lacovia, N and E to Barton Fish Ponds, then back S to Elim Pools. (See: Birding Sites, below).
On 14 Feb at 02:40, from our window we heard a Jamaican Owl calling from a tree in the back garden of Chisholm’s Retreat. Playing a recording of calls from the front garden (couldn’t access the back at night), it flew over us, illuminated by a light in the garden (unfortunately we didn’t see it perched). The proprietors were aware of owls being about fairly regularly.
4) 15 Feb: Port of Call hotel, 136 Crane Road, Black River (SW Jamaica)
Tel: +1 876 363 5345 [lat-long 18.0050, -77.8317]
Located on the coast 1.5 km S of Black River town, Port of Call (not indicated in Lonely Planet 2014) was fine, if a little run-down. But with a nice open-fronted restaurant looking out onto and abutting the beach (worth a stroll for shorebirds/waders) - who cares. It is also close to several waterbodies worth a look at for waders, wildfowl etc.
Price: 2 people, US$46/night (J$5,500) for a small upstairs room with 2 small double beds, air-con, TV and shower/toilet.
Getting there: Black River town is 34 km from Santa Cruz via the A2. From Black River, head S over an old iron (Bailey-type) bridge over the river (where boats are docked for river ‘safaris’, should you wish to go on one) down Crane Road (along the coast) for about 1.5 km. Port of Call hotel (big sign, one just drives into parking area) is on the W-side of the road (the sea beyond). (Note: Spring Garden hotel, indicated in Lonely Planet, was closed down).
Food: We ate at the hotel restaurant (good food, reasonable price) plus got provisions in nearby Black River. There is also a bar just N up the road (but we didn’t visit).
Birding sites visited whilst based at Port of Call:
As well as looking at shorebirds on the beach, we visited the nearby Parottee Great Pond (a coastal brackish lake 2 km to the S) and Wally Wash Pond (a freshwater lake inland from Parottee), plus a pond/marsh at Hill Top village. We were primarily looking for Caribbean Coot and Masked Duck and although failing, saw some interesting species (see: Birding Sites, below).
5) 16-17 Feb: Waikiki, Calabash Bay, Treasure Beach (TB), SW Jamaica
Tel: +1 876-965-3577 [lat-long 17.8824, -77.7646]
Located on the beachfront (easy parking within the grounds) towards the NW end of TB, this is a peaceful, laid back area, quite picturesque with fishing boats on the beaches. (Note, swimming at TB is rather unsafe due to usually rough seas and undertow, although people regularly swum in a marked-off area away from rocky seabed). Seafrey (apologies undoubtedly misspelt his name), proprietor of Waikiki, was very friendly and although only had a room with a small double bed vacant (there are several, quaint ‘moomintroll’ buildings on site), provided an extra mattress which we put on the floor. (One can book online; we just turned up though).
Price: 2 people, US$50/night for a downstairs room with 1 bed plus a mattress, fridge and bathroom. (Note, there are numerous accommodation options in TB ranging from budget to expensive).
Getting there: From Port of Call (see: (4) above), it is only a 30 min drive (22 km) to TB. We drove via Pondside to have a look at the lake again; there are a couple of alternative routes one could take along minor roads.
Food: There are numerous bars/places to eat (some a bit pricey); Smurf’s (NW end of TB) is good for breakfast. There are also a couple of takeaway stalls (for patties, burgers etc.) and a supermarket (SE end of TB), plus a small (good) supermarket, at Great Bay village (SE of TB).
Birding sites visited whilst based at TB:
We visited several times, the pond/marsh in Treasure Beach itself, 10 min walk SE of Waikiki (N-side of road), Great Pedro Pond (a freshwater lake SE end of TB) and a small lake on the W-side of the road down to Great Bay, which held a variety of birds including a good selection of wildfowl (but no Masked Ducks). We also had a walk on nearby Great Pedro Bluff (see: Birding Sites, below).
6) 18 Feb: Hotel Versalles, 42 Longbridge Avenue, May Pen
Tel: +1 876 986-2775/986-2299 [lat-long 17.9559, -77.2375]
Located in southern May Pen town (just N of the main toll road), convenient for the Portland Cottage/Portland Ridge area (PR). There is a pleasant, large, part-open air, bar/restaurant at the rear of the hotel, also agreeable wooded grounds with a few birds and Anolis lizards.
Price: 2 people, $US70/night for a big room with 2 double beds, TV, shower, toilet. (Note: some electricity sockets loose, some falling out of walls, and no water during afternoon of our arrival but not a great inconvenience).
Getting there: Until you’ve done it once, tricky to find (directions in Lonely Planet 2014 poor) as hotel is not (strangely, given large-size) sign-posted (also Longbridge Ave sign at junction with main road, fell off during our stay!). Approaching from Hayes town (i.e. from the S) one passes under the main toll road and reaches the Mineral Heights roundabout after c. 1 km. Go straight on along Trenton Road, passing Hazard Primary School on right-hand-side (name painted in big letters on wall), then first left (N) down Longbridge Ave (a residential road, the turning c.250 m NE of the roundabout) for about 350 m past a rusty padlocked gate (right-hand-side, hotel visible behind this still not signed). Carry on just past this gate and turn first right, and right again where an attendant will lift the barrier for you to access the hotel and car park.
Food: We had a good evening meal (nice food, lots of it) and breakfast (both good value) at the hotel restaurant and bar, the staff were very pleasant.
Birding sites visited whilst based at May Pen:
We explored the PR area, including West Harbour (a large tidal bay). On our last morning we drove back to Kingston via a southern loop via Hayes to Dawkins Pen, E to Salt River then northwards back to the toll road (see: Birding Sites, below).
We had no health problems. Water was safe to drink from taps at guesthouses/hotels where we stayed but check when you visit, just in case. Mosquitos (mainly evident at dusk and during the night) were of minor annoyance at some sites (e.g. Ecclesdown Road and Black River area). Dengue is very low risk (malaria absent) but it is sensible to use repellent as required. Mosquito nets were provided at accommodation, as needed.
Bird books, travel guide, maps
We took for bird identification (1, 2); birding site information (3); general Jamaica information (4); and road map (5):
1) Raffaele H. et al. (2003) Birds of the West Indies. Helm Field Guides, Christopher Hem, London, UK.
A fairly good and inexpensive guide, although a few plates (i.e. non-breeding wader and warbler plumages) are poor and descriptions for identification of some inadequate; (also colours of several species rather dull, e.g. Orangequit and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit). Quite a few species described as ‘common’, to us didn’t appear to be (e.g. Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Vervain Hummingbird, and Sad and Stolid Flycatchers; but perhaps they become more evident in the breeding season). Also Golden Swallow Tachycineta euchrysea is indicated as extant but appears last record in 1982; the species is now confined to Hispaniola.
2) Kirwan G.M., Levesque A, Oberle A.W. & Sharpe C.J. (2019) Birds of the West Indies. Lynx Edicions, Spain.
Good but quite expensive; a few minor errors apparent (e.g. Mourning Dove occurs on Jamaica but not mapped as present). Illustrations are generally very good, especially the American Warblers.
3) Kirwan G.M., Kirkconnell A. & Flieg M. (2010) A Birdwatchers' Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans. Prion Birdwatchers' Guide Series, Prion Ltd., UK
The Jamaica pages are not that informative, the single map (Hardware Gap) poor, and one of the best sites, Ecclesdown Road, is just given a brief summing up at the end of the country section. Not worth taking, much better information is available online:
Additional site information: We gathered information from a number of online sources including the excellent birdfinding.info website (with extremely useful Birding Site maps), also caribbeanbirdingtrail.org/sites, and several trip reports (e.g. Rheindt F. (2010) Jamaica – 24th – 29th November 2010; Available at: www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=2019).
4) Clammer P. & Sainsbury B. (2014) Jamaica. Lonely Planet.
Got a good-as-new copy (£2.60 via eBay). It contains much, handy, general information, maps especially useful for orientating in towns/tourist spots, finding bus stations etc. But for less touristy areas (that independent birders may visit) less helpful (e.g. for Santa Cruz it indicates no guesthouses/hotels whilst a quick online search reveals several options).
5) Collins (2018) Collins Jamaica Road Map, 1st edition. Harper Collins Publishers.
A fairly good road and topographical map, with numerous ‘sites of interest’, accommodation options, car rental locations etc. indicated.
To have a good chance of seeing all 30 Jamaican endemics, we birded two main sites, i.e. Hardware Gap and Ecclesdown Road, also Hellshire Hills (primarily for Bahama Mockingbird and Stolid Flycatcher) and Elim Pools (targeting Spotted Rail, Yellow-breasted Crake and West Indian Whistling-duck), plus six other areas (in order visited):
(1) Hardware Gap area; (2) Kingsworth B & B (included as 10 endemics observed, one of which, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, not seen by us elsewhere); (3) Hellshire Hills; (4) Hope (Royal Botanical) Gardens; (5) Ecclesdown Road; (6) Hector’s River (for White-tailed Tropicbird); (7) Elim Pools/Black River Upper Morass; (8) Wetlands S of Black River; (9) Treasure Beach area; and (10) Portland Ridge area.
In the site accounts below, ‘Other birds’ includes some additional spp seen but does not represent all species we saw at a particular site. For additional information (e.g. dates, numbers, not always given in main text) see ‘Annotated Bird List’
Site maps: Maps of the main sites visited, i.e. Hardware Gap, Hellshire Hills, Ecclesdown Road and Black River Upper Morass/Elim Pools (also other areas not visited by us), can be viewed at birdfinding.info/jamaica-birds-of/].
(1) Hardware Gap (HW), Blue Mountains (NE of Kingston)
One of the best and most frequently birded areas in Jamaica as it is easily accessible and supports most of the endemics (absentees are Black-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Mango, Jamaican Crow and the 2 parrots; also unreliable for Sad Flycatcher).
Main targets: HW is now probably the best site to see Crested Quail-dove and Jamaican Blackbird given recent (2018) felling of some trees along the highest part of Ecclesdown Road (see: (5) below). HW is also one of the best areas for Small Jamaican Elaenia, Large Jamaican Elaenia Elaenia fallax (until recently conspecific with Hispaniola Elaenia E. cherriei; when lumped known as ‘Greater Antillean Elaenia’), Blue Mountain Vireo, Rufous-throated Solitaire (a candidate for splitting) and the area where wintering Swainson’s Warblers (rare) are perhaps observed most frequently (we failed to see any). One endemic, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo can be seen in the lower HW area, e.g. around Newcastle, but we only saw them at KBB (see: (2) below).
Getting there & back: From central Kingston, it is about 1 h drive to the ‘top’ (i.e. between Gap Café and Holywell Recreational Park entrance; c. 1,240 m asl). From Old Hope Road, one heads E, past Hope Gardens and the University of Technology (UTECH) to Papine Square. Here Old Hope Road bends left (northwards) and becomes Gordon Town Road (start of the B1). After 2.8 km, turn left onto Irish Town Road (staying on Gordon Town Road leads to Mavis Bank); 2.2 km further on, fork right to keep on Irish Town Road, ascending for another 16 km (fairly steep and winding) to the Jamaican Defence Force base at Newcastle. The B1 passes below the barracks through a car parking area, then winds uphill again to the top.
We visited 6 Feb (drop-off at Section Forest just before first light, birding the short distance back up to the entrance of Holywell [18.0849, -76.7251]/Gap Café [18.0827, -76.7253], then slowly down to almost Redlight village; and 8 Feb (drop-off at Woodside Drive [18.0776, -76.7209] birding here and to Section Forest, then doubling back and walking down to Newcastle. We got lifts (leaving 05:00) with Courtney from KBB (50-55 min drive; a very reasonable J$4,000 for both of us); first light was about 06:05.
Late afternoon after our first visit, from EITS Café we got a taxi (J$1,000 for 2) back to KBB, although the driver wasn’t entirely happy when he realised how far up Jack’s Hill Road KBB was. On our second, we ‘hitched’ from Newcastle (giving driver an agreed, before we got in, J$1,000) to Papine, then a taxi up Jack’s Hill to KBB (J$1,000 for 2).
Birding: Birders mostly concentrate on an 8 km stretch of the B1 from Newcastle (S-facing slope), including Woodside Drive (see below), to the top around the Gap Café/Holywell, and down the upper N-slope known as ‘Section Forest’ (i.e. E round the bend past Holywell, down to about 1 km before Section village). It has trees rich in epiphytes (bromeliads, ferns, mosses and orchids) that Jamaican Blackbirds forage amongst (one of the most reliable spots is the ravine towards the bottom at the hairpin turn). A generally pleasant area but the forest is a bit tricky to view from the roadside, and although most of time not busy, had light ‘commuter’ traffic including a few very noisy motorbikes. Best plan is to start at/near the top early morning, slowly walking down to Newcastle late morning onwards. A well-known birding spot is Woodside Drive, a single track road leading down off the S-side (left when going uphill) of the B1, 1.6 km above JDF/Newcastle. It ends at ‘Woodside’ villa (we only walked down to the first sharp left bend, where there is an area of coffee cultivation). Said to be reliable for Jamaican Owl (we saw/heard none but arrived only 15-20 min before first light), also good for Northern Potoo, Crested Quail-dove, Small Jamaican Elaenia and Jaimaican Becard.
We visited 6 and 8 Feb, seeing our main targets other than Jamaican Owl, Small Jamaican Elaenia (probably 1 seen poorly down Woodside) and Rufous-throated Solitaire (many heard at dawn but not seen), all subsequently observed elsewhere.
Best birds: Crested Quail-dove (6/2: 1, 07:30, on edge of B1 by Section Forest; 8/2: soon after sunrise, excellent views of 3 together and 2 singles, Woodside, strutting about with accentuated up-and-down tail wagging – some very close); Ring-tailed Pigeon (6/2: 1 Woodside, 4 just below Newcastle; 8/2: 1 Woodside, 3 near Gap Café, giving presence away by loud wing claps/flapping in trees); Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo (6/2: 4); Northern Potoo (1 distant heard below Woodside); Red-billed Streamertail (cn); Vervain Hummingbird (1); Large Jamaican Eleania (6/2: 1 at start of Greenwich Drive [18.0769, -76.7223], above Woodside) and 1 along Woodside; 8/2: 1 by roadside about 400 m down B1 from Woodside, 11:30); Jamaican Pewee (3-4 both days, often perched conspicuously in low to mid-canopy); Jamaican Becard (6/2: ad male Woodside, and an ad male and imm male lower down by the B1); Jamaican Vireo (4+ near top); Blue Mountain Vireo (2 at the top; we probably overlooked many calling vireos); White-chinned Thrush (15+); Arrowhead Warbler (15 or so, foraging in understorey to mid-canopy); Jamaican Euphonia (6/2: 3 fem with a male in roadside tree, just above Newcastle; 8/2: 2); Jamaican Spindalis (fcn); Orangequit (cn); Greater Antillean Bullfinch (6/2: male eating berries of a roadside shrub just above Newcastle; 8/2: 4 males); Jamaican Blackbird (8/2: 2 distant in trees in Section Forest ravine (10:30), then excellent views about an hour later of 1 manically pulling out dead leaves from a large bromeliad in a roadside tree 220 m E of the entrance to Holywell [18.0852, -76.7227]; and Jamaican Oriole (6/2: 5; 8/2: 3).
Other birds inc: Red-tailed Hawk (endemic nominate ssp; ad overflying), Loggerhead Kingbird (endemic ssp; 1, the first of many), Northern Parula (2); Hooded Warbler (1 male), Black-throated Blue Warbler (3); Prairie Warbler (a few); American Redstart (a few); Black-&-White Warbler (3); Common Yellowthroat (male); Bananaquit (endemic ssp; cn).
Weather: Fog and rain are frequent (we were lucky, both days clear apart from some mist blowing through), so take waterproofs/a brolly, and it’s a bit chilly first thing. HW is near the crest of the mountain range and the weather can change quickly. Conditions are often different on the two slopes, the S-facing aspect (Newcastle up to the Gap Café including Woodside) tends to be drier and usually best for clear weather; the N-Aspect (Holywell to Section) is wetter and more prone to fog.
Food: Take food/drink with you as there is nowhere to get food at the top (Gap Café defunct for about 5 years). We took snacks, but on 6 Feb (after a good birding session having seen 16 endemics; after our second visit (Day 3) we’d seen 22 – pretty good going) had an excellent 3pm late lunch (fish and veg coconut curry with coffee/pepsi; US$20 each) at EITS Café [18.0688, -76.7132] (left-hand-side of road below Newcastle), that we walked down to. There is a hummingbird feeder here, a male Red-billed Streamertail whirring around us as we ate and a few Antillean Palm-swifts overhead.
Nearby sites: Other areas to bird (not visited by us) include: (1) several trails accessible via Holywell Recreational Park ($US10 entrance fee); (2) Silver Hill Gap (4.8 km past Holywell, above Section); and (3) Portland Gap above Mavis Bank (see other reports).
Accommodation alternatives: Holywell Recreational Park if one wants to stay up high (obvious plus of being nest to prime habitat), has three self-catering cabins (with gas ring and fridge; no food available so need to bring with you): two with 2 beds (US$60/night); and one 2 bedroomed, sleeping 4 (US$80; www.blueandjohncrowmountains.org/stay/holywell-cabins). Other options include Starlight Chalet & Health Spa (a hotel at Silver Hill Gap used by some birders), and below Newcastle there are several options. But it depends on what you want, there are pros and cons. It is probably equally good based lower down as easier access to other birding sites, places to eat etc. We were very happy with our choice of KBB.
(2) Kingsworth Bed & Breakfast (KBB)
Included as a ‘site’ as KBB turned out to be the only place that we saw the endemic Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo (9/2: 1 in garden in small tree, plus 1 perched in big bamboo and another calling from the thickly vegetated ravine adjacent to W-side of KBB, c. 07:30). The cuckoo is widespread (inhabiting mid-elevation wet forest, second-growth and gardens), said to be ‘common’ (Raffaele et al. 2003) and regularly seen at numerous locations (e.g. Newcastle area, ER, San San). We also saw nine other endemics (and 27 spp in total) in/from the garden/grounds during our 4-night stay (5-8 Feb). It should be noted that we actually spent little time ‘birding’ at KBB (3 late afternoons/dusk, mostly sat on the veranda, plus an hour on the morning of 9 Feb) as birding other locations. The other endemics we saw were: Jamaican Parakeet (2 visiting fruiting palm in garden; 8 or so overflying each evening); Jamaican Tody (9/2: 4); Jamaican Woodpecker (up to 5/day); Red-billed Streamertail (1-3/day); Sad Flycatcher (9/2: 1); White-chinned Thrush (up to 10/day); Jamaican Euphonia (9/2: 2); Orangequit (9/2: 2); and Jamaican Oriole (up to 4/day).
Other birds inc: White-crowned Pigeon; Mangrove Cuckoo (6/2: 1 in garden viewed from veranda - a surprise); Antillean Palm-swift (flocks of c. 8-10 birds); and a few warblers (Northern Parula, American Redstart, Black-throated Blue, Prairie and Black-and-White).
Courtney (KBB proprietor, interested in wildlife and a good guy) came for a walk with us on our last evening around Jack’s Hill looking for owls (we failed – but he has had American Barn-owl (locally known as screech-owl or white owl - for obvious reasons) in his garden previously and also one a couple of weeks after we’d left. So any birders visiting KBB, please add to Courtney’s Garden Bird List if you can!
(3) Hellshire Hills (HH)
Main targets: Bahama Mockingbird (endemic ssp. hilli; small populations here and Portland Ridge area), also Stolid Flycatcher (widespread in lowlands but uncommon) and Jamaican Mango (one will bump into this large hummer elsewhere also). Plain Pigeon (rare in Jamaica) is said to ‘seasonally’ occur but we didn’t see any; there are few recent reports (e.g. on eBird) of sightings here or elsewhere.
Getting there: We visited 7 Feb, a lift ($J7,000) with Courtney (from KBB) leaving at 04:45 arriving 05:50. For directions see birdfinding.info. Note: there is a new housing development at the S-end of the built-up area known as Hellshire Park that lies at the N-end of where the rough track (Parochial Road) starts, leading S through the thorn and cactus scrub Mockingbird habitat. This caused a bit of confusion (additionally, as it was dark) but Courtney asked a couple of folks for directions and with the aid of the GPS on his phone, resolutely got us to where we wanted dropping-off, i.e. the N-end of Parochial Road [17.8809, -76.9081].
…and back: At 09:15, we sat at a bus stop for about 40 min in Hellshire Heights (about 1 km N of the N-end of HH track). As a bus didn’t show (on advice from a local) we got a route taxi with several other folks up to the main road at Portmore ($J120 each), then a minibus taxi (straight away) to Half Way Tree, the main bus terminus in Kingston ($J100 each). From here we walked to the Knutsford Express coach station (buying tickets for our journey to Port Antonio). On nearby Hope Road we took a route taxi to Hope Gardens (see below).
Birding: As we arrived the sun hadn’t quite risen. We walked 2 km S down the main track to a deserted single storey concrete building close to the sea (E-side of track) S of Hellshire Point, by which time it was light. Some trip reports indicate that playing of recording of song is useful/required to see the mockingbird; we tried at this point (we don’t use recordings much at all, as a rule) - no luck. Slowly we walked back and after a few false alarms with Northern Mockingbirds (common), played a song blast and 2 Bahama Mockingbirds (a presumed pair, 1 singing, 1 not) appeared on top of an Acacia (07:05) replacing a Northern moments before on the same perch. Subsequently we saw another singing, and 2 more pairs (easily, without use of recording). Stolid Flycatcher almost eluded us but we had 1 at the N-end of the track perched on top of a thorny Acacia; also Jamaican Mango (c.9), several nectar-feeding on small yellow Opuntia (prickly-pear) flowers.
Other birds inc: Jamaican Vireo (1); Northern Parula (3); Magnolia Warbler (1 fem/imm); Prairie Warbler (10+); Yellow Warbler (male with brick red crown and heavy flank streaks) plus 3 fem/imm (or migrant types, i.e. more or less lacking red markings); and Jamaican Oriole (1 singing).
Note: It gets very hot here most days not long after sunrise, so arrive as close to dawn as possible. As thorn scrub – cacti habitat on sharp limestone, long trousers and thick-soled shoes are advisable. We read that Fort Clarence/Hellshire Beach have had incidents of violent crime in recent years (sporadic, not targeted at foreigners); so be aware (as a precaution, advice is best avoid beach communities here after dark).
Nearby sites: Two sites we didn’t visit are: (1) Greater Portmore Sewage Ponds that may have West Indian Whistling-duck (at Hellshire main road about midway between Braeton Road and Great Salt Pond, take SE 4th Street W over the canal, then take either SE 44th Place or Lower West Henderson Boulevard southward; these roads access the E and W portions of the ponds, respectively); and (2) Great Salt Pond where Clapper Rail has been seen.
(4) Hope (Royal Botanical) Gardens (HG)
Main targets: Sought after birds (as indicated in some trip reports) include Yellow-billed Parrots (+1 Black-billed and hybrids also present, at least formerly, e.g. Rheindt 2010) but here they are of released descent, so better to look for elsewhere (see: Annotated Bird List, below), Jamaican Parakeet (but easily seen elsewhere), Northern Potoo (usually 1-2 located at roost each year; also proven breeding in the grounds), Vervain Hummingbird (we didn’t see here; uncommon but one should connect elsewhere) and Grey Kingbird (unsurprisingly not seen, most breeding birds migrate off-island November through March; Raffaele 2003), similar to Loggerhead Kingbird (common and present year-round).
Getting there: Situated on the N-side of Old Hope Road (E Kingston), easy to get to by route taxi etc. (and almost everyone knows where the Gardens are).
Birding: Early morning purportedly best (free entry, open 06:00 - 18:00). We visited 7 Feb (13:20-15:45), it was pleasant wandering about, quite birdy and not many people.
Best birds: A Northern Potoo (we found at roost on top of a swaying-in-the-wind snapped-off bough hanging in a tree along the E-side of HG entrance road, opposite the CARPHA medicine/security building) was the obvious highlight. We didn’t see any parrots but there were numerous noisy Jamaican Parakeets (15+). Other endemics were Red-billed Streamertail (1), Jamaican Woodpecker (3+) and White-chinned Thrush (10+).
Other birds inc: European Starling (8 overflying; a recent colonist, still of local occurrence in Jamaica)’; Northern Parula (3), Black-throated Blue (2), Cape May (1 male) and Prairie (3+) Warblers.
(5) Ecclesdown Road (ER)
ER has the wettest forest and is the most endemic-rich birding site in Jamaica. It also provides an excellent ‘back-up site’ for species missed in the HW area, and our favourite birding venue. However, two endemics are more-or-less absent, Red-billed Streamertail (common further W) and Large Jamaican Elaenia being very rare visitors. Also, HW area is best for Crested Quail-dove, Blue Mountain Vireo, (usually) both Elaenias and Jamaican Blackbird. Note, the road crest area at ER (KM7.5) used to be good for the Quail-dove and Blackbird, but here some large roadside trees were cut in 2018, the canopy thus opened-up and as a result both are now difficult to see. We spent little time around KM7.5 (only visiting on 10 Feb; saw neither) having observed both at HW, concentrating our efforts a little lower down. The northern 7.5 km of ER offers the best birding for the endemic specialties. From the S, ER (passing the turn-off to Reach Falls) for first 12 km passes mainly through agricultural land and the ‘village’ of Reach (dwellings scattered along the roadside) with forest beyond. It can be good for more open-country species, e.g. Red-tailed Hawk, ‘Caribbean’ Black Swift ssp. niger, White-collared Swift and Jamaican Parakeet.
Main targets: Most endemics are present (but see above the absentees and those easier at HW). After our first 3 days birding (at HW, KBB, HH and HG), we still needed several endemics all of which can be seen along ER: Jamaican Owl, Black-billed Streamertail, Yellow-billed and Black-billed Parrots, Small Jamaican Elaenia and Rufous-throated Solitaire. Also ER is a good locality for Sad Flycatcher (up to this point only 1 seen, by DS, at KBB) and Jamaican Crow (seen mostly in the central hills, e.g. Castleton Gardens by the A3 N of Kingston, not visited by us; we saw a total of 7 from the coach from the S-end of the A1 to W of Galina, as well as ER). Additionally, non-endemics regularly observed inc Ruddy Quail-dove, Caribbean Dove endemic ssp. jamaicensis, ‘American’ Barn-owl ssp. furcata and Vervain Hummingbird.
Getting there: To access the N-end of ER, from the Texaco garage (W-side of A4, N end of Long Bay) one can walk or drive up Fair Prospect Road to Fair Prospect High School (1.2 km), turning left at the junction, following the road for a further 0.5 km, then left again where sign-posted ‘Hartford’ [18.1157, -76.3324]. This is the N end of Hartford village and the start of ER. At the S-end of the village, the road rises slowly through the forest with a few open cultivated patches en route. (Note, if you are driving, there are few passing places). The S-end is again accessed from the A4, via the Manchioneal Reach Falls (sign-posted) junction [18.0276, -76.2839] situated between Manchioneal (<1 km to the N) and Hector’s River (5 km to the S). Birding: ER runs through excellent hill forest alongside the Priestman’s/Drivers River Valley. It is a lovely area to walk (and virtually no traffic – when we were there < 5 vehicles passed/day and few people). We birded late afternoon of 9 Feb (after arrival at Palm Yard, an exploratory walk to suss out the first part of the route to the start of the N-end, via Fair Prospect Road and through Hartford village, as we intended to walk it in the dark next morning), all day 10 (up to KM7.5), early morning 11 Feb, and 12 Feb (to KM4); also part of the S-end on the afternoon of 11 Feb.
Best Birds: Caribbean Dove (1 S-end); Ruddy Quail-dove (8, plus numerous calling); Yellow-billed and Black-billed Parrots (several noisy flocks, the 2 spp often in close proximity, KM2.5-KM5) [many viewed at 18.0933, -76.3448]; Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo (1, KM2.5); Barn-owl (10/2: 1 pre-dawn Fair Prospect Road perched on a telegraph pole); Jamaican Owl (heard distantly on three occasions: 1 at c. KM0.9; 1 at KM2 and 1 at KM3.5); Black-billed Streamertail (cn); Jamaican Mango (2); Vervain Hummingbird (10/2: male feeding on Lantana camara, c.KM5; 12/2: 1, KM2.5; also 12/2: 2 in scrubby area 1.5 km N of Palm Yard (Fair Prospect) by A4); Jamaican Tody (a few each day); Small Jamaican Elaenia (9/2: late afternoon 1 - a complete surprise - along Fair Prospect Rd in a strip of small roadside trees 400 m ESE of Fair Prospect High School [18.1153 - 76.3247; 29 m asl]); 10/2: 3 singles, >< c.KM2-6 [one of which at 18.0999, -76.3405; 109 masl]); Sad Flycatcher (2-3, KM2 area [2 around 18.1047, -76.3393]); Rufous-tailed Flycatcher (5); Jamaican Becard (10/: fem and 11/2: 2 fem, KM2-3); Jamaican Crow (at least 2, plus several others heard); Rufous-throated Solitaire (1-2 seen KM2.5, where 3 or so whistling each morning [18.1020, -76.3391]); White-eyed Thrush (several); Arrowhead Warbler (a few at higher elevation); and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit (male and fem, KM2.5).
Other birds inc: Red-tailed Hawk (4 ad, 2 imm); Ring-tailed Pigeon (fcn); Jamaican Parakeet (several around Fair Prospect); Green-rumped Parrotlet (although an introduction, an interesting little bird to see; 7 in total, inc a pair investigating a nest hole); Mangrove Cuckoo (1 S-end); Jamaican Pewee (a few); Jamaican Vireo (a few); Worm-eating Warbler (3); Ovenbird (1 S-end); Jamaican Euphonia (a few); Jamaican Spindalis (fcn); Greater Antillean Bullfinch (3 singles and a pair); and Indigo Bunting (1 fem, 1 imm male).
(6) Hector’s River
Main targets: A site for White-tailed tropicbird (Caribbean ssp. catesbyi) that nest here (mainly Jan-Mar) in coastal cliff caves. They can also sometimes be seen offshore from the A4 from about midway between Long Bay and Manchioneal village.
Getting there & away: On the morning of 11 Feb, from the Texaco garage, Long Bay (NE coast) we got a route taxi (J$150 each) down the A4 to Hector’s River (approx. 16 km). We overshot a bit, going to the village ‘centre’, so walked back up the not very busy road (about 800 m) to the playing field (N-end of the village, E-side of the road). A local lad who walked along with us, pointed out a sea cave just N of the field where he said tropicbirds flew out to sea from, at about 8 am each morning. After looking at the tropicbirds, we got a passing minibus taxi (J$100 each) 4 km back N to the Manchioneal Reach Falls junction (W-side of the A4) overlooking the attractive Drivers River (clear and shallow with rounded cobbles), and the start of the S-end of ER.
Birding: We saw 3 adult White-tailed Tropicbirds (2 orange-billed, 1 yellow-billed) viewed, flying offshore (10:30 – 11:30) from: (1) the N-end of the playing field overlooking a breeding cliff [18.0067, -76.2639]; and (2) a few hundred metres further N through a convenient gap in the roadside vegetation on the low cliff edge [18.0086, -76.2664] opposite a large Quaker church (on the adjacent hillside). Other birds inc: a dark phase American Kestrel; a few Magnificent Frigatebirds drifting over; and a Royal Tern.
(7) Elim Pools/Black River Upper Morass (BRU)
Black River Morass is the largest freshwater wetland (marshland, ponds, river and streams, fields and scrub) in Jamaica. It consists of a Lower (5,700 ha) and Upper Morass (1,762 ha), the latter approximately lying within the roads linking Lacovia, Santa Cruz, Braes River, Elim and Newton. Within BRU the two main birding spots are Elim Pools (aka Elim Ponds) and Bartons Fish Ponds (BFP; a cluster of about 60 fish farm ponds). One can drive/walk several tracks/roads in the BRU area and view various ponds, bits of wetlands, fields and scrub.
Main targets: A stronghold for West Indian Whistling-duck and Caribbean Coot (now lumped with American Coot) but we didn’t see any coots here (probably as water levels very low). A flock of Whistling-ducks sometimes appears in the marsh W of the Elim Pools junction in late afternoon, but most seem to be seen (but still irregularly) as they fly from day-time roosts at dusk, returning just before dawn. At Elim Pools, the much sought after Spotted Rail and Yellow-breasted Crake may be seen foraging in the open (most likely dawn and dusk), Barn-owl is possible likewise Masked Duck (mainly nocturnal). The area is also good for wintering Sora, Peregrine and Merlin, and large hirundine flocks may occur, and Least Bittern and Purple Gallinule are fairly common. At BFP there are usually many egrets, herons, glossy ibis, some ducks and waders.
Getting there: From Santa Cruz, the fastest way to Elim Pools is to drive W along the A2 (about 5 km from the town centre) and at the start of a long curve in the A2 and 30 m before the entrance gate to White Garage & Wrecking Service (La Brae Boutique & Sewing Centre next door; both on the left/S-side of the A2), turn right, i.e. N [at 18.0780, -77.7378] onto a dirt road (part-covered in stone chippings, easily drivable in a car, a few pot holes). This road (Dyke Road) is on a bund with scrub/trees either side (some marshy areas on the left). Follow it NE for 3.3 km, you will come to a large concrete bridge over Black River main channel. One can park on it or just after crossing. A track (drivable) goes right (E), passing by marshland and ponds to the N, i.e. Elim Pools; the river flows along the S-side of this track.
Rather than turning right, continuing straight on at the junction (NW at this point, negotiating a steep short dip immediately after the bridge), the track (Dyke Road) winds up after about 5 km at BFP. The S-most ponds are partly viewable to the N of the track [from around 18.1221, -77.7242] as one approaches the minor paved road that runs W-E (through Newton to Bartons to Elim villages). Note, the N-most ponds are located on the S-side of this road about 500 m E of Bartons [18.1340, -77.7209] but are fenced off with no public access. We asked at the entrance building if we could go in to have a look but were politely refused – they did ask if we’d like to buy some fish tho’ – we politely declined.
Birding: Water levels at BRU were very low during our visit. We concentrated efforts at Elim Pools (pm 13 Feb, am/pm 14 Feb, am 15 Feb), focussing on an area viewed from 100 m E of the bridge on the N-side of the river [at 18.0957, -77.7169], N-side of the track (a barbed wire fence runs along it, the marsh beyond). This patch still had some standing (shallow) water, with marginal exposed drying mud and grasses, and adjacent expansive areas of dense tall rushy vegetation. Other than a few folks fishing (weekends are apparently busier) and farmers, there were not many people about. We also looked at BFP (14 Feb) as we drove the alternative ‘long route’ (via Lacovia, Newton and Bartons) to Elim Pools.
Best birds: West Indian Whistling-duck (13/2: 3 overflying after sunset, 19:00, from the bridge); Spotted Rail (13/2: 1 as sun setting, foraging on drying mud amongst grass); Yellow-breasted Crake (14/2: 1, first seen 06:10, and intermittently for the next 20 min, same spot as Spotted Rail); Least Bittern (3 rapid close fly pasts, 1 briefly alighted); Caribbean Dove (1 nr BFP); Stolid Flycatcher (1 in scrub S-side of river); and Blue Grosbeak (fem just S of BFP; considered ‘very rare’ in Jamaica (Raffaele et al. 2003).
Other birds inc: Least Grebe (1 BFP); Peregrine (1); Merlin (1 fem/imm); Limpkin (our only 1 of the trip); Sora (1 each visit); Purple Gallinule (fcn); Northern Jacana (cn); Least Sandpiper (2); Belted Kingfisher (2); Jamaican Parakeet (4); Antillean Palm-swift (largest numbers at BRU, e.g. 120+ over Black River); Northern Rough-winged Swallow (150+ daily, mostly overflying Black River); and Magnolia Warbler (1).
(8) Wetlands S of Black River
Main targets: Having seen all the endemics and lots of other good birds, we were primarily looking for 'Caribbean’ Coot and Masked Duck (the latter eluding us throughout despite numerous attempts at likely looking areas at dawn and dusk).
Getting there: On 15 Feb (after a final early morning look at Elim Pools), we drove from Santa Cruz to Black River town (34 km) and checked in at Port of Call hotel down Crane Road (see: Accommodation, (4), above).
Birding: We mainly birded: (1) Parottee Great Pond (PGP; a large, shallow, coastal brackish lake with mangrove fringe, 3 km down Crane Road, S of Black River); (2) Wally Wash Pond (WWP), a freshwater lake inland from Parottee (mostly at first light/dusk); it is tricky to view as mostly surrounded by tall vegetation, one can see parts of it from Little Bridge Road approaching Hill Top village, or view from distance (scope needed) looking down from the hillside S of Pondside village [17.9762, -77.8040]; and (3) Hill Top Pond (HTP), a roadside pool/marsh [17.9623, -77.8324] 3 km W of the Hill Top junction and S of PGP. One can drive a circuit between these three locations. The beach opposite Port of Call is worth a look for waders/shorebirds (Piping Plover has been seen along the stretch of beach S of Black River).
Best birds: Reddish Egret (1 pale phase PGP); American Flamingo (1 ad, 1 imm, PGP); Stilt Sandpiper (65, PGP); Tree Swallow (1, Hill Top); Sad Flycatcher (2 Pondside); Palm Warbler (1, PGP); and Greater Antillean Bullfinch (1, scrub by Pondside).
Other birds inc: Pied-billed Grebe (21 WWP); White Ibis (1 PGP); Peregrine (WWP); American/Caribbean Coot (2 WWP, too distant to identify); Short-billed and/or Long-billed Dowitcher (4 PGP); Willet (1, beach by Port of Call); Sanderling (25 on beach); Least Sandpiper (55 PGP); Gull-billed Tern (2 PGP); Sandwich Tern (2 offshore); Chestnut-headed Munia and Tricoloured Munia (sometimes considered conspecific; 1 ad of each, HTP).
(9) Treasure Beach area (TB)
Main targets: Caribbean Coot and Masked Duck (having tried in the Black River area but failed). The latter has perhaps been seen in the pond with surrounding marsh in TB itself (located on the N-side of the road that runs through the village [17.8798, -77.7617]), however the gen we had was unclear on this.
Getting there: From Port of Call, we drove via Pondside (to have a last look at Wally Wash) then SE along minor roads to TB (c.30 min drive, 22 km). There are several routes one can take to get to TB, including if in Santa Cruz, cutting down S off the A2.
Birding: We looked mainly at: (1) TB Pond (TBP; 10 min walk down the road from our accommodation) numerous times (including spotlighting after dark); (2) Great Pedro Pond (GPP; a large lake viewed from the road overlooking it’s W-end, unfortunately rather distant) at the E-end of TB; and (3) Great Bay Pond (GBP; a small shallow lake by the W-side of the minor road leading down to Great Bay [17.8643, -77.7385]). We also made a brief visit to Great Pedro Buff (a rocky area with cactus and thorn scrub).
Best birds: Caribbean Coot (the only we could definitely be sure was of the white-shield morph was amongst 40 red-knob American Coots at GBP (c. 330 coot on GPP, were too far away to ascertain how many of each); American Wigeon (30 GBP); Lesser Scaup (1 male, 5 fem, GPP); Ring-necked Duck (4 fem, GBP; c. 30 GPP); Sora (3 TBP); Jamaican Mango (several TB village; 1 Gt Pedro Buff); Jamaican Vireo (1 Gt Pedro Buff); and Summer Tanager (17/2: fem in scrub by Smurf’s Café – a rare winter visitor to Jamaica).
Other birds inc: Ruddy Duck (2 fem, TBP); Northern Shoveler (10 TBP), Merlin (fem, GPP), Mourning Dove (1 TB) and Starling (1 TB).
(10) Portland Ridge area (PR)
Main targets: Our main targets were Masked Duck, Plain Pigeon (rare and irregular) and Grasshopper Sparrow (endemic nominate Ammodramus s. savannarum; an inconspicuous grassland bird difficult to detect unless singing) - we failed with all three. We also wanted to try and see more West Indian Whistling-ducks, plus Yellow-crowned Night-heron and Clapper Rail (spp. we’d seen elsewhere but keen to see again) in the mangroves. Again we failed (but in our defence, it was extremely windy!). It is also a locality for Bahama Mockingbird if not seen at/visiting HH (where we’d seen several).
Getting there: On the morning of 18 Feb, we drove to Portland Ridge (via Santa Cruz to May Pen along the A2, then S through Hayes town, Lionel Town, Portland Cottage village, E along the southern edge of West Harbour (a large brackish tidal bay with mangroves) to Portland Ridge (a large, steep, forested hill). At mid-day we checked into our hotel in May Pen (see Accommodation (6), above), returning in the late afternoon to West Harbour (WH).
Birding: On Feb 18, we explored the PR area, including WH in the morning (when very productive, especially for waders, as the tide was out) and late afternoon to dusk (tide in and contrastingly far fewer birds). In the afternoon and towards dusk it got very windy, so we gave up at sunset (we’d intended to wait until it got darker for hoped for Whistling-ducks). On our last morning (Feb 19), we drove to Kingston via a southern loop (Hayes to Dawkins Pen, E to Salt River and back N the toll road) with the intention of looking for Grasshopper Sparrows but it was windy still, so we just had occasional roadside stops and short walks. Despite missing our main targets here, we had a good time looking at the waders in WH.
Best birds: Reddish Egret (1 white, 1 rufous phase); American Flamingo (4 ad); Wilson’s Plover 1 fem/imm); Short-billed and/or Long-billed Dowitchers (c.10 ad, winter plumage); Least Sandpiper (c.1,200); Western Sandpiper (15); Stilt Sandpiper (50); Caribbean Dove (3); Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo (1); Jamaican Mango (1); Yellow Warbler (2, roadside mangroves, Salt River); Yellow-shouldered Grassquit (2, woodland at base of PR); and Greater Antillean Bullfinch (pair). Other birds inc: White Ibis (6); Semi-palmated Plover (15); and Willet (4).
Annotated Bird List
We saw 143 species (plus Short-billed and/or Long-billed Dowitchers) including all 30 endemics plus numerous other highlights. Three targets missed were Masked Duck, Plain Pigeon and the endemic nominate race of Grasshopper Sparrow (so not too critical). All in all, very successful.
Widely accepted vernacular and scientific names are used following those in recent publications (primarily HBW). For some species we apply, rather loosely, ‘cn’ (i.e. common; 6+ seen most days), or, ‘fcn’ (i.e. fairly common; 2-5 most days) when in suitable habitat.
Taxonomic notes [in brackets], including several proposed lumps and splits, are included (following HBW) but it is not an exhaustive synthesis of taxonomic updates.
Key:** = Jamaican endemic species; * = Jamaican endemic subspecies;
Sites: BFP = Barton Fish Ponds; BRU = Black River Upper Morass; ER = Ecclesdown Road; HH = Hellshire Hills; HG = Hope Gardens; HW = Hardware Gap; NMIA = Norman Manley International Airport; PR = Portland Ridge area; TB = Treasure Beach area
Other abbreviations: ad = adult; fem = female; juv = juvenile; imm = immature; inc =including; max = maximum; sp = species; ssp = subspecies
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus – 14/2: 1, BFP.
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps – 15/2: 10 and 16/2: 21, Wally Wash Pond (SE of Black River town).
Brown Pelican Pelicanus occidentalis – fcn around the coast, with concentrations in some areas, e.g. 25 off Gt Bay Beach (TB), 20 perched on fishing boats plus several offshore at Port Royal.
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens – small numbers drifting over coastal localities.
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus – 11/2: 3 adults (2 orange-billed, 1 yellow-billed). Caribbean ssp catesbyi has an orange or yellow bill (yellow in other ssp), reduced white tip to wing, vocal differences and juvs are less heavily marked, cf. other ssp.
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias – 2-5/daily, Parottee Gt Pond (SE of Black River town); about 10/day BRU.
Great Egret Egretta alba – widespread, small numbers at most wetlands inc 4 at fishponds by HG; 20+ Elim Pools area; 10+ BFP; 15 Parottee Gt Pond; a few Wally Wash Pond; 5 West Harbour (PR).
Reddish Egret E. rufescens – 15/2: 1 (white phase), Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: 2 (1 white, 1 rufous), West Harbour (PR).
Tricolored Heron E. tricolor – 2 Elim Pools; 6 Parottee Gt Pond; 15, West Harbour (PR).
Little Blue Heron E. caerula – fcn; widespread in wetlands, inc 6 (3 ad, 3 imm) at fishponds by HG (SE corner); c.10 Elim Pools area; 20 Parottee Gt Pond; 1 West Harbour (PR).
Snowy Egret E. thula – 6 Elim Pools area; 5+ BFP; 10 Parottee Gt Pond (probably more as overlooked).
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis – cn; widespread in lowlands. Many at roost (e.g. 17/2: 100+ Gt Pedro Pond), or flying to roost (e.g. 15/2: several flocks totalling 150+ flying N at dusk, 16/2: 200+ at dawn, Wally Wash Pond); cn BRU. 13/2: c. 8 in full breeding plumage at nests in trees at Ocho Rios.
Green Heron Butoroides virescens – widespread, a few seen at most wetlands (freshwater and brackish); max count of 8 at Elim Pools.
Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax – a few (ads and imms) BRU; 5 Gt Pedro Pond (TB).
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis – several brief flight views, 14/2: 2 singles soon after dawn, Elim Pools; 15/2: 1 at dawn, alighted for about 1 sec before climbing into tall Typha-type vegetation, Elim Pools; 15/2: 1, Parottee Gt Pond.
White Ibis Eudocimus albus – 16/2: 1 Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: 6 West Harbour (PR).
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus – fcn in SW around wetlands, max counts 40+ Elim Pools and flock of 120 in fields by BFP; also a few in fields Parottee Gt Pond area; and 3 TB pond.
American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber – 15/2: 2, ad (bright orange-pink; assumed fem) with imm (off-white; considerably larger thus assumed male - males average larger than fems), Parottee Gt Pond; 16/2: ad, Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: 4 ad, West Harbour (PR). [Previously considered conspecific with P. roseus, now generally accepted as 2 distinct spp].
West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna autumnalis – 13/2: 3 overflying (19:00) after sunset (close – we could hear thin ‘whistling’ of wing beats - but pretty much only silhouette views), Elim Pools.
American Wigeon Anas americana – 17/2: c. 30 (mix of males and females), Gt Bay Pond (TB).
Blue-winged Teal A. discors – commonest duck: 13/2: 8 Elim Pools; 14/2: 8 BFP; 15/2: 40+ Parottee Gt Pond, 16/2: 200+ Parottee Gt Pond; 2, Hill Top pond; 25, TB pond (and 17/2); c.40 Gt Bay Pond (TB); 18/2: c. 20 West Harbour (PR).
Northern Shoveler A. clypeata – 16-17/2: 10, TB pond.
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis – 17/2: 1 male, 5 fem, Gt Pedro Pond (TB).
Ring-necked Duck A. collaris – 16/2: 4 fem, Gt Bay Pool (TB); 17/2: c. 30, Gt Pedro Pond (TB).
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis – 16-17/2: 2 fem, TB pond.
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura – widespread, lowlands to mountains, abundant in some areas (e.g. 100+, the first aloft at dawn in the strong sea breeze, HH; 50+ daily over hills N-end ER).
American Kestrel Falco sparverius – fcn; widespread (e.g. BRU, HW, KBB, Kingston inc HG, Hector’s River, Portmore, PR, May Pen, 4 along A1), often perched conspicuously in open habitats with some trees (farmland, built-up areas, large gardens etc.). Pale and dark morphs occur; based on our observations, pale birds (c. 35 seen, inc 2 pairs copulating) much more numerous than dark (latter singles at BRU, Hector’s River and N-end ER). [Ssp spaverioides endemic to Bahamas, Cuba & Jamaica].
Merlin Falco columbarius – 15/2: fem/imm over Elim Pools; 17/2: fem/imm, Gt Pedro Pond (TB).
Peregrine F. peregrinus – 13/2: ad flying around buildings central Ocho Rios town; 15/2: 1 distant flying up Black River; 16/2: ad over Wally Wash Pond.
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus – 1s and 2s around the coast at Long Bay, Black River and TB areas (max count 15/2: 5 around Parottee Gt Pond). All appeared to be of the migrant race carolinensis (i.e. dark eye-stripe).
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis – 6/2: ad soaring above HW; 9/2: ad over A3 SE of Galina; 11/2: 3 adults (in air together) plus 1 imm, S-end ER; 12/2: ad KM2.5 + imm N-end, ER. [Nominate jamaicensis endemic to Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico & N Lesser Antilles].
Limpkin Aramus guarauna – 13/2: 1, Elim Pools. [Ssp pictus endemic to Florida, Bahamas, Cuba & Jamaica].
Sora Porzana carolina – 13-14/2: 1 Elim Pools; 16-17/2: 3, TB pond.
Yellow-breasted Crake P. flaviventer – 14/2: 1, first seen 06:10, observed intermittently over next 20 min, Elim Pools; good fairly close views, inc scoped (allocated best bird of the trip). [Ssp gossi endemic to Cuba & Jamaica].
Spotted Rail Pardirallus maculatus – 13/2: 1 as sun setting, Elim Pools (same spot as Yellow-breasted Crake). [Nominate maculatus ‘Southern Spotted Rail’ W Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Trinidad, plus large areas of S America].
Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinica– 13-15/2: up to 10, Elim Pools area (1 briefly chasing Yellow-breasted Crake) and a few elsewhere in BRU; 15/2: 1, Parottee Gt Pond; 16/2: 5 TB pond.
Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata – widespread, small numbers in freshwater wetlands inc larger well-vegetated water-filled ditches (e.g. BRU, Salt River (PR), TB pond). [Note: fairly recently split from Eurasian Moorhen G. chloropus. Ssp cerceris endemic to Greater & Lesser Antilles].
American Coot Fulica americana – most coots were too far away to ascertain if red-knob morph (i.e. with a red bill callus of typical americana) or white-shield morph. Those we could work out were red-knobs, bar one (on 16/2) with a large white frontal shield with 40 red-knobs, Gt Bay Pond (small lake W-side of minor road leading down to Gt Bay, SE of TB). Other observations were: 15-16/2: 2 (probably red-knobs), Wally Wash Pond; 16-17/2: c. 30 E-end and 350 W-end of Gt Pedro Pond (TB); 16-18/2: 2 (red-knobs), TB pond. [Note: ‘Caribbean Coot F. caribaea’, whilst given species status in HBW vol. 3, is now considered a southern morph of F. americana].
Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa – BRU and TB areas, quite numerous, e.g. 13-15/2: 20-30, Elim Pools and adjacent section of Black River; 16/2: 15 Gt Bay Pond (TB). [Ssp violacea endemic to Cuba, Hispaniola & Jamaica].
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus himantopus – 14/2: flock of 68 in drained fishpond, BFP; 15/2: 15 and 16/2: 10, Parottee Gt Pond; 16/2: 7, TB pond; 18/2: flock of 60, West Harbour (PR). [Ssp mexicanus of the Americas, sometimes afforded sp status, i.e. H. mexicanus].
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola – 15/2: 5 and 16/2: 8, beach opposite Port of Call hotel; 15/2: 3 (16/2: 2), Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: 5 West Harbour (PR).
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus – 16/2: 7, TB pond; 18/2: 2 flocks (5 and 10), West Harbour (PR).
Wilson’s Plover C. wilsonia – 18/2: 1 fem/imm on exposed mud close to roadside, West Harbour (PR).
Killdeer C. vociferous – 15/2: 6 and 16/2: 2, Parottee Gt Pond.
Wilson’s Snipe Gallinago delictata – 16-17/2: up to 3, probing and napping, TB pond.
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus and/or Long-billed Dowitcher L. scolopaceus – we saw 14 winter plumage adults (15/2: 4 with 65 Stilt Sandpipers, Parottee Gt Pond; and 18/2: 10, West Harbour) but could not assign to species (not heard calling, the most reliable distinguishing characteristic). Short-billed is a ‘fairly common, but local non-breeding resident’ [i.e. winter visitor], to the Gt Antilles, whilst Long-billed an ‘apparently a very rare migrant’ (Raffaele et al. 2003) or ‘vagrant’ (Kirwan et al. 2019), but status uncertain due to identification difficulty.
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius – 14/2: 1 along Black River by Elim Pools; 15/2: 1 Parottee Gt Pond; 16/2: 1 Gt Bay Pond (TB); 18/2: 1 West Harbour (PR).
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca – low numbers (<10) in several wetland areas inc Elim Pools/BRU and Parottee Gt Pond; plus 18/2: c.15 West Harbour (PR).
Lesser Yellowlegs T. flavipes – low numbers (<10, perhaps slightly less numerous than Greater) at several wetlands, e.g. Elim Pools, BFP, Parottee Gt Pond, TB pond, West Harbour (PR).
Willet T. semipalmata – 15/2: 1, 16/2: 5, on beach opposite Port of Call hotel; 16/2: 1 Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: 4, West Harbour (PR). [Genus Tringa, previously Catoptrophorus semipalmatus. The 2 ssp, ‘Eastern willet’ T. e. semipalmata and ‘Western willet’ inornata, may warrant species status. On Jamaica, semipalmata is both a migrant and breeds, whilst inornata is a passage migrant].
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres – 15-16/2: 2 on beach opposite Port of Call hotel; 19/2: 11, Port Royal.
Sanderling Calidris alba – 15/2: 25 and 16/2: 20 on beach opposite Port of Call hotel.
Western Sandpiper C. mauri– 18/2: 15 on mudflats at low tide (with Leasts), West Harbour (PR).
Least Sandpiper C. minutilla – 14/2: 2 nr. Elim Pools, S side of Black River; 16/2: 55, Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: estimated 1,200 on mudflats at low tide, West Harbour (PR).
Stilt Sandpiper C. himantopus – 15/2: 65, Parottee Gt Pond; 18/2: 50, West Harbour (PR).
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla – around coast, low to moderate numbers.
Gull-billed Tern Geochelidon nilotica – 15/2: 2 over brackish mud flats Parottee Gt Pond. [Ssp aranea a passage migrant and small numbers winter].
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis – 15/2: 2 offshore opposite Port of Call hotel. [Until recently genus Sterna. Ssp. acuflavidus ‘Cabot’s Tern’ is sometimes afforded species status; a genetic study (2009) suggests may be closer to T. elegans than to nominate sandvicensis].
Royal Tern Thalasseus maxima – widespread around coast; occasional groups (up to 25 or so) perched on mooring posts/jetties, fairly numerous Kingston Harbour. [Until recently genus Sterna].
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia – small numbers in towns and villages.
White-crowned Pigeon Patagioenas leucocephala – cn; widespread, lowlands to mid-elevation, often seen flying fast over wooded areas, including gardens (e.g. KBB, HG, ER).
**Ring-tailed Pigeon P. caribae – 6/2: 1 Woodside Drive, 4 just below Newcastle (HW); 8/2: 1 Woodside, 3 near Gap Café (giving presence away by loud wing claps/flapping in trees; when perched some quite confiding). Up to 20/day along ER, inc several in fruiting tree, S-end.
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto – 9/2: 1 Ocho Rios behind KE coach station (also 13/2, probably the same individual as same position on same rooftop); 17/2: 2, TB. (A recent colonist).
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura – 13/2: 2 N coast W of Port Antonio; 14/2: 1, N section of Elim Pools by track south of BFP (BRU); 17/2: 1, TB.
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita – cn; widespread (at all sites), often flushed from the ground, lowlands (e.g. 7/2: 20+ HG) to uplands (e.g. 8/2: 2 Woodside Drive, HW).
White-winged Dove Z. asiatica – fcn; widespread.
*Common Ground-dove Columbina passerina – fcn; lowlands to mid-elevation, open woodland/scrub etc., often in pairs foraging on tracks/roadsides. [Ssp jamaicensis endemic to Jamaica].
*Caribbean Dove Leptotila jamaicensis – 11/2: 1 flying up from road, S-end ER; 14/2: 1 along track near Bartons (BRU); 18/2: 1 in woodland at base of PR, 2 in scrubby gardens nearby. Surprisingly attractive when seen well. [Nominate jamaicensis endemic to Jamaica].
**Crested Quail-dove Geotrygon versicolor – 6/2: 1 (approx. 07:30) on edge of B1 by Section Forest (HW); 8/2: excellent views of 5 strutting about with accentuated up-down tail wags, soon after dawn (c. 06:30 onwards) along Woodside Drive (HW).
Ruddy Quail-dove G. montana – 10/2: 1 and a pair whizzing along road KM1.5 area (ER) almost flying into us (others calling); 11/2: 2, KM3 area (ER), and 2 (good views of one feeding on ground), S-end; 12/2: 1 on road, KM3 (ER).
**Jamaican Parakeet Eupsittula nana – widespread, lowlands to mid-elevation, often vocal (loud) in flight, thus easy to pick-up. Up to 8/day, KBB; 7/2: c.15, HG; 10-12/2: 3-5, N-end ER; 11/2: 2, S-end ER; Palm Yard/Fair Prospect 3/day; BRU < 10/day. [Note: vernacular ‘Olive-throated Parakeet’ when lumped with E. astec with which often considered conspecific].
Green-rumped Parrotlet Forpus passerinus – 10/2: 2 pairs (1 pair visiting nest hole in dead tree bough); and 3 together, N-end ER. Tiny with rapid ‘buzzing’ flight. (Introduced).
**Yellow-billed Parrot Amazona collaria – 10 and 12/2: c. 35 in small flocks (c.5-8 birds; often nosily calling) sometimes with Black-billeds, N-end ER. Numerous parrots seen along ER were too distant to identify. (Note: birds at HG are apparently descendants of released birds: Rheindt (2010) further indicates that the gene pool of the HG population is currently [i.e. back in 2010] infiltrated by a single interbreeding Black-billed Parrot (on a visit to HG they very possibly saw one of its hybrid descendants with Yellow-billeds). Thus probably best to see these 2 parrots elsewhere (e.g. ER).
**Black-billed Parrot A. agilis – 15-30 most days (often noisy, sometimes with Yellow-billed), N-end ER.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor – 6/2: 1 viewed from veranda, KBB garden; 11/2: 1 S-end ER. Note, in Jamaica not restricted to mangroves, also in mid- to low-elevation woodland/scrub. [Sometimes afforded endemic ssp nesiotes but considered monotypic HBW].
**Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo Saurothera vetula – 6/2: 4 in woodland, Section Forest to Woodside (HW); 12/2: 1 edge of cultivated plot (plus 1 calling/laughing nearby) KM2.5, ER; 18/2: 1 in woodland at base of PR.
**Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Hyetornis pluvialis – 9/2: 1 in KBB garden, plus another seen (perched in big bamboo) and 1 heard in adjacent, well-vegetated, ravine.
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani – widespread, small groups in cultivated areas/gardens, wetlands, scrub in lowlands (e.g. BRU, HG, HH, NE coast, ER, PR) to mid-elevation (KBB).
Common Barn-owl Tyto alba – 3 pre-dawn observations. 6/2: Courtney had brief flight view below Redlight by B1 on drive up to HW; 10/2: 1 (05:30) perched on wooden telegraph pole (prob. responding to broadcast of Jamaican Owl calls; looked much like an ‘average white’ barn-owl) just E of Fair Prospect High School, Fair Prospect Rd (ER); 15/2: very brief flight view at start of track to Elim Pools. Local names we heard used for Barn-owl were screech-owl and white owl. [Ssp furcata ‘American (White-winged) Barn-owl’ (Caymans, Cuba & Jamaica), sometimes given sp status, is treated as a ssp in HBW].
**Jamaican Owl Pseudoscops grammicus – 14/2: 1, calling 02:40 and overflying Chisholm’s Retreat garden (Santa Cruz). Also heard pre-dawn ER, 11/2: 4 distant gruff barks/hoots of one, KM3.5; 12/2: heard 2 (again distant), first at c. 0.9KM (typical bark plus a more nasal call, 1 or 2 birds), second (typical bark) about KM2.
*Northern Potoo Nyctibius jamaicensis – 7/2: 1 at daytime roost (top of snapped-off tree bough) along HG entrance road; 8/2: 1 distant heard below Woodside (HW) pre-dawn. [Sometimes considered conspecific with N. griseus, separation based on distinctly different calls. HBW indicates that revision of the 5 currently recognised ssp is needed; nominate jamaicensis endemic to Jamaica].
Black Swift Cypseloides niger – 11/2: 1 along Drivers Valley (probably more but too far away to separate from White-collared), S-end of ER. [Nominate ‘Caribbean’ Black Swift of West Indies is mostly resident (partial migrant in Lesser Antilles); proposed ssp jamaicensis of S West Indies is now considered synonymous with nominate].
White-collared Swift Streptoprocne zonaris – 11/2: 2 over S-end of ER (probably more but too far away to separate from Black Swift); 13/2: 3 over A1 road N of Linstead. [Ssp pallidifrons endemic to Greater Antilles and some islands of Lesser Antilles].
Antillean Palm-swift Tachornis phoenicobia – fcn; widespread lowlands to mid-altitude (inc built-up areas/gardens with palms), often in small flocks, max count 14/2: 120+ over Elim Pools/Black River. [Nominate phoenicobia endemic to Jamaica & Hispaniola].
**Jamaican Mango Anthracothorax mango – ucn; widespread, a scattering of observations. 7/2: 9 (several of which nectar feeding on small yellow flowers of Opuntia cacti), HH; 10/2: 2, KM1-2.5, ER; 2-3/day (1 perched on wires by Smurf’s Café), TB; 16/2: 1 Gt Pedro Buff (SE of TB); 18/2: 1, PR.
**Red-billed Streamertail Trochilus polytmus – fcn (except in far E where replaced by Black-billed); lowlands (but not arid areas), to more frequently, mid-higher elevation often along roads and tracksides in wooded areas, also gardens/cultivation. Fems/imms appeared to forage on flowers lower down (e.g. on roadside banks) whilst males were often a bit higher in the sub-canopy (where perhaps defending territories?). Note: modified primaries of male make a fairly deep, wavering whirring sound (likewise T. scitulus), thus one can often hear before seeing them.
**Black-billed Streamertail T. scitulus – confined to extreme E Jamaica (E of about Port Antonio on N coast and Bath on the S) where Red-billed is absent (or almost entirely so). About 15/day along N-end of ER, with, on 16/2, a max of c. 10 males (often ‘whirring’ above heads) and 20 fems/imms.
*Vervain Hummingbird Mellisuga minima – 2nd smallest bird in the world, mighty cute. Ucn; 6/2: 1 on roadside flowers above Newcastle, HW; 10/2: male feeding on Lantana camara, c.KM5, ER; 12/2: 1, KM2.5, ER; 12/2: 2 in open scrubby area 1.5 km N of Palm Yard (Fair Prospect) along A4, E-side of road. [Nominate minima endemic to Jamaica].
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon – 13: 1 along Black River (by Elim Pools); 14/2: 2 Black River (BRU).
**Jamaican Tody Todus todus – cn; several seen most days in more humid wooded areas (e.g. KBB, HW, ER), some observed very close, perched low down in roadside shrubbery; fairly obvious once familiar with ‘beep’ call.
**Jamaican Woodpecker Melanerpes radiolatus – cn; lowlands to mountains, open woodland, cultivation (inc. gardens); often calling loudly.
**Small Jamaican Elaenia Myiopagis cotta – humid montane to foothill forest/woodland. HW appears generally thought the most reliable site to see this, one of the trickiest endemics (esp. Woodside Drive and Silver Hill Gap), but also ER. 8/2: almost certainly 1 about 100 m down Woodside but it flew off before we got decent views; 9/2: late afternoon 1 (a complete surprise) along Fair Prospect Road (29 m asl) perched in fairly dense strip of small roadside trees 400 m ESE of Fair Prospect High School (near start of ER); 10/2: 3 singles, between about KM2-6, ER.
**Large Jamaican Elaenia Elaenia fallax – ucn; 6/2: 1 in roadside shrubs/trees at the top of Greenwich Drive (between Woodside Drive and Gap Café) alongside the B1 and another later in the morning along Woodside itself; 8/2: 1 in roadside trees by the B1 about 400 m (walking downhill) from the start of Woodside (HW). Note: Breeds in upper elevation forest of the Blue Mountains, allegedly dispersing to mid-elevation and lowland woodland throughout Jamaica in the non-breeding season (winter), when rarely seen. Most accessible sites where reliably found include HW, Silver Hill & Portland Gap (cn April-Sept). Rheindt (2010), comments that he got the impression (from a local ranger and other birders) that best seen higher up, no matter what the time of year. In November, he saw one at about 2,000 m (below Blue Mountain Main Peak) at Portland Gap. [E. fallax was recently split from Hispaniolan cherriei (vernacular ‘Greater Antillean Elaenia’ when lumped with it) therefore making it a Jamaican endemic].
**Jamaican Pewee Contopus pallidus – fairly conspicuous in mid to high elevation forest, often returning to a favoured perch along a track/roadside. 6/2 and 8/2: several, HW; 10/2: 8 >< KM2 to KM7.5, ER; 11/2: 1 KM2.5.
**Sad Flycatcher Myiarchus barbirostris – ucn; low to mid elevation woodland/scrub, quite confiding and usually perched quite low down (1.5 to 3m above ground), likewise the other 2 Myiarchus. 9/2: 1 KBB; 10/2: 2, c.KM2, ER; 11/2: 1, c.KM2, ER; 16/2: 2, scrub by Pondside village (SE of Black River town).
**Rufous-tailed Flycatcher M. validus – ucn; mid to higher elevation woodland, seen sat on roadside/trackside perches. 8/2: 1 in scrub by B1 below Woodside Drive, HW; 10/2: 3, N-end ER; 11/2: 2, S-end ER.
*Stolid Flycatcher M. stolidus – ucn; low to mid elevation scrub/woodland. 7/2: 1 perched on top of thorny Acacia bush, HH; 1 in scrub along S-side of Black River near Elim Pools (BRU). [Nominate stolidus endemic to Jamaica].
*Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus – cn; lowlands to uplands, in open woodland, farmland, gardens etc., often perched conspicuously on telegraph wires or high-up on dead branches. [Ssp jamaicensis endemic to Jamaica. Puerto Rican and Hispaniolan populations are sometimes referred to as T. taylori and gabbii (respectively) but considered ssp of T. caudifasciatus in HBW 2020].
**Jamaican Becard Pachyramphus niger – moderate to high elevation woodland/forest, observed perched low to mid-canopy. 6/2: ad male Woodside Drive, plus ad male and imm male lower down B1 (HW); 10/2: fem, ER; 11/2: 2 fems, KM2-3 ER.
**Jamaican Vireo Vireo modestus – low to high elevation scrub/woodland, small numbers seen (some singing) at Gt Pedro Buff (SE of TB), HE, HW and ER.
**Blue Mountain Vireo V. osburni – 6 and 8/2: a few (at least 1 singing; we probably overlooked quite a few as getting to grips with song/calls of many spp. that we were unfamiliar with) in higher elevation scrub/forest bordering the B1 from the Gap Café to Section Forest (HW).
**Jamaican Crow Corvus jamaicensis – 9/2: 2 (distinctive floppy/loose wing beats) over wooded gardens/cultivation along the N-side of A3 coast road a few km W of Galina (E of Ocho Rios); 10/2: 2 overflying and 2 subsequently perched in a large forest tree (likely same birds as overflying), quite distant but brownish cast, especially to head and neck, evident (plus at least 2 more calling nearby), c. KM5 ER; 13/2: 2 and 3 overflying the S-end of the A1 main road.
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor – 16/2: 1 flying and perched on telegraph wires, N-end of Hill Top village (SE of Black River town).
Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis – 13-15/2: 150+ along Black River (BRU).
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica – 13/2: 4 flying with Northern Rough-wings along Black River (BRU).
*Rufous-throated Solitaire Myadestes genibarbis – 6 & 8/2: 12+ heard (drawn out whistle) each dawn at HW but despite being close to some, failed to see any; 10/2: 1 perched by roadside (KM2.5) and 12/2: 1 (downslope from the road) in same area (2-3 heard singing each morning from KM2.5), ER. [Note: Confined to the W Indies, 6 ssp are currently recognised. Genetically, ‘Jamaican Solitaire’ M. g. solitarius (endemic to Jamaica) is the most distinctive and perhaps a candidate for splitting].
**White-eyed Thrush Turdus jamaicensis – fcn; moist mid to high elevation woodland/forest, much more skulking than White-chinned but numerous seen (HW and ER) on tracks/roadsides, especially at dawn. 6/2: 1, Section Forest, HW; 8/2: 2, Section Forest, 4 Woodside Drive (first light); 10/2: 5, KM2.5-7 ER; 11/2: 5, c.KM2-3.5, ER; 12/2: ‘several as usual’ N-end ER.
**White-chinned Thrush T. aurantius – cn; widespread and conspicuous in gardens, cultivation, woodland etc. primarily mid to high elevation but also lowlands (e.g. HG, but absent, arid, HH).
*Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii – 7/2: 7, HH. Some reports suggest that playing recording of song may be needed to see it. Our first (07:05) responded to broadcast of song, after which we saw 5 (without use of recording) as we walked the track (up to about 08:30). [Note: In Jamaica (endemic ssp hillii) it is confined to two populations restricted to dry cactus/thorn scrub in HH and PR areas).
Northern Mockingbird M. polyglottos – cn; sea-level (inc. HH with Bahama Mockingbird) to high elevation in open woodland, scrub, farmland, gardens etc. Often in pairs, one of pair frequently singing. [Ssp Orpheus endemic to Bahamas, Greater Antilles, Cayman Is & Virgin Is].
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris – 7/2: 8, HG; 17/2: 1, TB. (A recent colonist/introduction).
Northern Parula Setophaga americana – fcn; small numbers seen throughout in wooded/scrubby areas including gardens; usually singles but a flock of 9 in scrub woodland, PR. [Previously genus Parula].
Hooded Warbler Steophaga citrina – 8/2: 1 male, HW. [Previously genus Wilsonia].
American Yellow Warbler Setophaga (Dendroica) petechia – appears to be local in coastal scrub and mangroves. Resident race eoa, is presumably supplemented by Northern winter migrants. 7/2: male (rusty-rufous crown and flank streaks) plus 3 fem/imm types, HH; 19/2: 2 in roadside mangroves, Salt River. [Previously genus Dendroica. Ssp. eoa (Caymans & Jamaica), sometimes referred to as ‘Mangrove Warbler’, is noted by Rheindt (2010) as ‘seems to have an identical plumage to taxa in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean’].
Magnolia Warbler S. (D.) magnolia – 7/2: 1 fem/imm, HH; 14/2: fem, BRU.
Cape May Warbler S. (D.) tigerina – 7/2: male, HG; 8/2: imm, HW; (6/2: probably an imm, KBB).
Black-throated Blue Warbler S. (D.) caerulescens – cn; widespread, mostly lowlands to moderate elevation, often foraging near the ground, in scrub, woodland and gardens.
Prairie Warbler S. (D.) discolor – cn, widespread, mostly lowlands to moderate elevation, in scrub, woodland, gardens etc.
Palm Warbler S. (D.) palmarum – 15/2: 1 (more-or-less) breeding plumage male, Parottee Gt Pond; 16/2: 1, TB pond.
**Arrowhead Warbler S. (D.) pharetra – breeds in humid montane forest, some descending to lower elevations in the non-breeding season. Locally common, e.g. 6/2: c.15 seen, HW. Also (lower numbers), N-end (from about KM2.5 onwards) ER.
American Redstart S. ruticilla – cn, widespread.
Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorum – 10/2: 3, N-end ER.
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus – 8/2: 2 Woodside Drive (HW); 11/2: 1, S-end ER.
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia – fcn; widespread, lowland to mountains, in scrub/woodland, gardens with trees etc., creeping around trunks and branches.
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas – fcn; 6/2: male, HW; 7/2: fem, HH; 8/2: male, HW; 10/2: 2 males, ER; 13/2: 2 males, Elim Pools; 14/2: 15+ BRU; 15/2: 8+ Elim Pools. [Nominate trichas ‘Eastern Yellowthroat’ winters in the Caribbean and C/S America].
*Bananaquit Coereba flaveola – cn; lowlands to mountains, gardens, scrub, woodland etc. [Nominate flaveola ‘Greater Antillean Bananaquit’ endemic to Jamaica].
**Jamaican Euphonia Euphonia jamaica – lowlands to montane, scrub, woodland, gardens/cultivated areas. 6/2: 3 fem and male together by B1 road >< Woodside Drive and Newcastle (HW); 8/2: 2, HW; 9/2: 2 KBB; 10/2: 4, ER; 12/2: pair, Fair Prospect Road.
**Jamaican Spindalis Spindalis nigricephala – fcn; mostly mid to higher altitudes in wooded/shrubby areas including gardens, often in pairs in mid canopy.
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea – 9/2: imm male, grassland alongside Fair Prospect Road; 10/2: fem in grass at edge of cultivated plot, KM2, ER.
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivaceus – fcn; in roadside grass/scrub, gardens etc., sometimes with Black-faced Grassquit. [Nominate olivaceus endemic to Cuba, Caymans, Jamaica & Hispaniola].
Black-faced Grassquit T. bicolor – 1s and 2s in roadside grass/scrub, edges of cultivation etc.
**Yellow-shouldered Grassquit Loxipasser anoxanthus – open scrub/weedy areas, keeping low down in vegetation. 8/2: fem and 2 males on cultivated terraces (coffee with weedy patches) at first bend down Woodside Drive (HW); 11/2: male in roadside grass/weedy vegetation alongside a cleared woodland plot, KM2.5, ER and 12/2: fem at the same location; 18/2: 2 in woodland at base of PR.
**Orangequit Euneornis campestris – cn; widespread, lowlands to mountains in wooded areas, including gardens (sometimes coming to ground to feed on fallen fruit).
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra – 17/2: fem in shrubs behind Smurf’s Café, TB. Considered ‘rare’ in winter in Jamaica (Raffaele et al. 2003).
*Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea – widespread in scrub/forest, lowlands to mountains. Almost all observations were of mostly singles, low down in roadside scrub feeding unobtrusively on berries/seeds. 6/2: male in scrub by B1 just above Newcastle; 8/2: 4 single males, roadside scrub from the Gap Café down to Newcastle (HW); 10-11/2: 3+ singles, ER; 12/2: pair, ER; 16/2: 1 in scrub near Pondside village (SE of Black River town); 18/2: pair near Salt River (PR). [Ssp ruficollis endemic to Jamaica].
Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea – 14/2: fem SE of Bartons Fish Ponds, initially perched on a sugarcane Saccharum stem at field edge, flying into adjacent trees. Considered ‘very rare’ in Jamaica (Raffaele et al. 2003).
**Jamaican Blackbird Nesopsar nigerrimus – 8/2: 2 together, briefly, in tall trees in the ravine at hairpin turn at ‘the bottom’ of Section Forest; subsequently excellent views of a third scuffing around in a big bromeliad in a tree by the B1 road 220m E of the entrance to Holywell entrance (HW). A curious dagger-billed icterid that feeds amongst epiphytes in wet montane/submontane forest (uninspiring in ‘the book’, but rousing when seen in ‘the field’).
*Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger – fcn; 5/2: flock of c. 50 overflying at dusk E end of Windward Road, SE Kingston; subsequently small numbers through lowlands in areas with some tree/scrub cover, including farmland and gardens. [Ssp crassirostris endemic to Jamaica].
Great-tailed Grackle Q. mexicanus – 19/2: 1, NMIA (seen from the departure lounge) perched on telegraph wires. [A recent colonist; a few first observed NMIA 2005, bred Portmore Sewage Ponds 2007].
*Jamaican Oriole Icterus leucopteryx – fcn; widespread, lowlands to mountains in wooded areas, scrub, gardens etc. [Ssp. leucopteryx endemic to Jamaica].
House Sparrow Passer domesticus – 19/2: a ‘pair’ at NMIA. [A recent colonist].
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonicera punctulata – 9/2: pair in roadside scrub, Fair Prospect Road; 12/2: 5 in weedy field by A4 road c.1 km N of Palm Yard guesthouse, Fair Prospect village. [Introduced].
Chestnut Munia L. atricapilla – 1 ad (with Black-headed Munia) in tall Typha-type vegetation at pond c.3 km W Hill Top village [Introduced; sometimes considered a ssp of L. malacca, i.e. L. m. atricapilla].
Tricolored (Black-headed) Munia L. malacca – 1 ad (with Chestnut Munia) in tall Typha-type vegetation at pond c.3 km W of Hill Top village. [Introduced; sometimes considered conspecific with L. atricapilla].
Other vertebrate fauna: Observations of other vertebrate fauna was very limited other than numerous sightings of two introduced species: (1) Cane Toad Rhinella (Bufo) marinus, evident at dusk/after nightfall in some wetland areas (introduced 1844 in an attempt to reduce consumption of sugarcane crops by insects and non-native Black Rats R. rattus); and (2) Javan Mongoose Herpestes (auropunctatus) javanicus, 1-3 most days (imported 1872 from India and 9 released in further rat-control attempts; see: jamaicans.com/jamaica-mongoose/). Mongoose predation (as well as habitat loss) has been implicated as a factor leading to the probable extinction of Jamaican Poorwill Siphonorhis americanus (last collected 1859; very faint hopes that it may persist consequent to a few more recent observations of unidentified caprimulgids) and declines in some other ground-nesting species (e.g. Spotted Rail). Jamaican Petrel Pterodroma caribbaea (last collected 1879, no subsequent records?) underwent a purportedly drastic decline in the 19th century, presumed due to predation by mongooses and rats. It is not yet considered extinct as nocturnal petrels are notoriously difficult to detect and it may conceivably breed on other Caribbean islands (see: birdlife.org/species/factsheet/).
Other than this we saw: 3 American Crocodiles Crocodylus acutus in the Black River/Treasure Beach area (1 each in marsh W of Hill Top village, Wally Wash Pond and the lake near Great Bay); a few anoles Anolis lizards, mostly in gardens; 2 Tropical House Geckos Hemidactylus mabuia (at Versalles Hotel, May Pen; an introduced species); plus many unidentified bats (including one nectar-feeding on flowers at dawn along ER) and two mice.