Jamaican Birding Adventures (January 16 - 23, 2019)

Jamaican Tody

To escape the wintery Pittsburgh weather we visited Jamaica from January 16th to 23rd. Aside from its warmth (the 60's to the 80's) during the winter, it offers 29 Jamaican endemics as well as Caribbean endemics. Instead of trying our hand at exploring and driving on the left, we used the excellent guiding services of Ricardo Miller, owner of the local Arrowhead Birding (named for Jamaica's endemic warbler). Ricardo is an accomplished birder, a biologist, works as an ecologist for the Jamaican government, and has attended international conferences. Arrowhead Birding specializes in tours for 2-4 persons, but also will lead larger birding groups, such as tours for the Portland Audubon Society of Oregon. Having our personal guide allowed us to go at a more relaxed pace, although Ricardo certainly kept us busy. He has an engaging personality and impressed us with his broad knowledge concerning Jamaican history, nature, and culture, as well as world affairs. Thanks to Ricardo's expertise, we saw 111 species including all of the 29 Jamaican endemics and 10 other life birds.

We left Wexford during an early morning icy rain and arrived during a warm evening in Kingston. Customs were very efficient. Ricardo met us at the airport entrance and drove us to the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston. Because Ricardo resides in Kingston, his tours usually cover the eastern section of the island including the picturesque Blue Mountains. On the hotel's property we found a variety of birds, including two hummingbirds — the incredible Red-billed Streamertail and the Vervain Hummingbird, the world's second smallest bird.

Ricardo took us to the usually very hot Hellshire Hills which provided us with several endemics including the stunning Jamaican Mango (another hummingbird), Jamaican Vireo, Stolid Flycatcher, and Jamaican Oriole (a Caribbean endemic). We also had our first of several glimpses of mongooses. Greater Portmore provided ducks and waders, including the Northern Jacana. After an afternoon rest, we birded beautiful Hope Gardens. Among the many birds were the endemic Black-billed and Yellow-billed Parrots, Jamaican Woodpecker, and Jamaican Euphonia. Loggerhead Kingbirds seemed to be everywhere. We saw 16 warbler species during the tour, with the Prairie Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and American Redstart appearing frequently.

We arose early the next day and saw the Jamaican Owl and the Great Potoo, a strange-looking, large bird that blends in well as it perches in a tree. We then birded in the Blue Mountains for two days. The famous Blue Mountain Coffee is grown here. The mountain roads are narrow with many hairpin curves. The Jamaicans are accustomed to driving these narrow roads and beep their horns before entering a particularly bad curve. Pat was very glad that he wasn't driving. Sherron was even more glad that Ricardo was driving.

During our two days in the Blue Mountains, we were thrilled to see Jamaican Spindalis, Crested Quail-Dove, Arrowhead Warbler, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Becard, White-eyed Thrush, the ubiquitous White-chinned Thrush, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, among others. Watching a beautifully feathered Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo scale a tree was definitely special since we had missed seeing a lizard cuckoo in the Bahamas despite searching intensely for it. Lyndon Johnson, who resides in the Blue Mountains and often guides for Arrowhead Birding, was excellent at finding our first cuckoos and the grassquit.

When the adorable Jamaican Tody began to show up in small numbers, Pat coined the expression "treasure of todies" for the collective noun. Ricardo liked it so well that he plans to campaign to have it used just like a "murder of crows." We hope it catches on!

During our stay at the Starlight Chalet which is under renovations, we enjoyed watching the alpha Red-billed Streamertail attempting to drive away other streamertails from HIS feeders and their maneuvering to drink. We often were within a few feet of these beautiful birds. The owners of the chalet are attempting to make it the most birder-friendly hotel in Jamaica.

After leaving the mountains, we birded along the way to Port Antonio and stayed at Bay View Eco Lodge for two nights. We added Magnificent Frigatebird, Green-rumped Parrotlet, Jamaican Parakeet (formerly Olive-sided Parakeet), White-tailed Tropicbird, Black-billed Streamertail, the rare Jamaican Crow, and the Cuban race of American Kestrel. The area has beautiful scenery including the famous Blue Lagoon. To maintain one of Sherron's vacation traditions, the three of us walked along the sand and got our feet wet at Winnifred Beach.

The day before our departure, we returned to Kingston. Ricardo picked up his pretty five-year old daughter from school, and we all enjoyed ice cream cones for lunch at her favorite eatery. Since we had a late morning flight on the 23rd, Ricardo took us birding and also sightseeing at Port Royal. Once the home of infamous pirates, it had the reputation of being the richest and most notorious city in the world before Henry Morgan took control. About two-thirds of it slipped into the bay during the earthquake and resulting tsunami of 1692.

The airport in Kingston wasn't crowded and we were waved through customs in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the US government shutdown probably affected our scheduled flight leaving Atlanta because the assigned flight crew did not arrive on a previous flight. Instead of reaching Pittsburgh around 10 PM, we arrived around 12:30 AM. Of course, there was snow on the ground to greet us when we awoke in the morning.

Jamaican Birds seen January 16-23, 2019

Endemics in bold (29)

Life birds with asterisk * (39)

Total birds (111)

Least GrebeRed-billed Streamertail *
Pied-billed GrebeBlack-billed Streamertail *
Brown PelicanVervain Hummingbird *
Magnificent FrigatebirdBelted Kingfisher
White-tailed TropicbirdJamaican Tody *
Great Blue HeronJamaican Woodpecker*
Great EgretYellow-bellied Sapsucker
Tricolored HeronJamaican Elaenia*
Little Blue HeronGreater Antillean Elaenia *
Snowy EgretJamaican Pewee *
Cattle EgretSad Flycatcher *
Green HeronRufous-tailed Flycatcher *
Yellow-crowned Night-HeronStolid Flycatcher *
Glossy IbisGray Kingbird
Blue-winged TealLoggerhead Kingbird
Northern ShovelerJamaican Becard *
Turkey VultureJamaican Vireo *
American KestrelBlue Mountain Vireo *
Peregrine FalconJamaican Crow *
OspreyCave Swallow
Red-tailed HawkRufous-throated Solitaire *
Purple GallinuleWhite-eyed Thrush *
Common GallinuleWhite-chinned Thrush *
Northern JacanaBahama Mockingbird
Black-necked StiltNorthern Mockingbird
KilldeerEuropean Starling
Greater YellowlegsBlue-winged Warbler
Lesser YellowlegsNorthern Parula
Spotted SandpiperYellow Warbler
Ruddy TurnstoneCape May Warbler
SanderlingBlack-throated Blue Warbler
Least SandpiperBlack-throated Green Warbler
Laughing GullYellow-throated Warbler
Royal TernPrairie Warbler
Rock PigeonPalm Warbler
White-crowned PigeonArrowhead Warbler *
Ring-tailed Pigeon *American Redstart
Mourning DoveWorm-eating Warbler
Zenaida DoveOvenbird
White-winged DoveBlack-and-white Warbler
Common Ground-DoveCommon Yellowthroat
Caribbean Dove *Bananaquit
Crested Quail-Dove *Jamaican Euphonia *
Ruddy Quail-Dove *Jamaican Spindalis *
Jamaican (Olive-throated) Parakeet *Yellow-faced Grassquit
Green-rumped Parrotlet *Black-faced Grassquit
Yellow-billed Parrot *Yellow-shouldered Grassquit *
Black-billed Parrot *Orangequit *
Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo *Greater Antillean Bullfinch
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo *Jamaican Blackbird *
Smooth-billed AniGreater Antillean Grackle *
Jamaican Owl *Great-tailed Grackle
Northern PotooJamaican Oriole *
White-collared SwiftYellow-crowned Bishop
Antillean Palm Swift *Scaly-breasted Munia
Jamaican Mango * 

Happy Birding!

— by Pat & Sherron Lynch

(Photo by Ricardo Miller of Arrowhead Birding)

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Mission of 3RBC

To gather in friendship, to enjoy the wonders of nature and to share our passion for birds!

© Photo Credits:
Sherron Lynch, Brian Shema, Chuck Tague