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Jamaica trip report

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One of my good birding friends had recently moved out of the area.  He finally had a week off from work, and after throwing around a bunch of different ideas, we finally settled on Jamaica.

None of us had ever done much in the Caribbean before, so even though the absolute number of lifers possible isn't the same as we could get in a week in a new area within Central or South America, it still provided ample opportunity for new birds.  Since my friend is still on a tight budget, the ability to do a self planned trip rather than paying for a guide also was a big factor.  The number of new birds to look for in the Caribbean is manageable, whereas going someplace new like Colombia is almost too daunting, and you really should be using a guide for all those really secretive species you'll never find on your own.  With that said, most anyone you ask would still say that you really should hire a guide if you are going to Jamaica.

In total there are about 150 species endemic to the Caribbean.  Some of these are fairly widespread throughout the Caribbean, but there are also a lot that are endemic to only one island.  Jamaica has 27 endemics, which really is very impressive considering it is a small island.  Both Hispaniola and Cuba have about the same number of endemics.  Those are both larger islands, and some of those species are very difficult to get.  Fortunately, with planning and luck, many diligent birders to Jamaica are able to see all 27 endemic species.

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We planned to leave early to get to the airport, unfortunately, we soon found out that our first flight was delayed by at least 4 hours for mechanical issues.  This meant there was absolutely no way to get to Jamaica that evening.  Instead the airlines got us part way, and we spent the night in Charlotte, NC.  The next morning our flight was also delayed, this time because they put too much fuel on the airplane.  Serious, too much fuel...  We had to wait for a truck to come back and take fuel off of the plane, and then we had to wait for them to deice the plane.  I swear there couldn't have been a single trace of ice on the plane by the time we got to the deicers.  I clearly didn't have any patience left, knowing that we were now gonna be another 1.5 hours late, and my friend was already there in Jamaica waiting for us.

We had the first day carefully planned, but that all was erased since we were now finally in Jamaica at noon.  My prediction came true, and the first two lifers of the trip occurred while we were still packing up the rental car.  Lifer #1 was Greater Antillean Grackle, and #2 was Antillean Palm-Swift.

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Antillean Palm-Swift by mattgrube, on Flickr

As Jamaica had prior British influence, cars drive on the left.  Fortunately my friends had some experience, and we were quickly and relatively safely on our way out of the airport at Montego Bay.  We decided we'd head straight towards our first major birding spot at Stewart Town.  En route we did make a quick stop just to do a bit of reconnaissance.  The original plan was to stop at a spot near Falmouth to look for the morning flight of pigeons, but we were now 6 hours too late for that.  But since it was on the way, we would survey the area in anticipation to hopefully be there later in the trip.  Here we ran across some of the more typical birds that we'd see during the rest of the trip like Smooth-billed Ani, Prairie Warbler, Bananaquit, and Northern Parula.  A few White-collared Swifts flew over, too.

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White-collared Swift by mattgrube, on Flickr

From here we left the nice roads and got our first taste of what much of the driving would be like for the rest of the trip.  Basically lots of potholes, narrow streets, and tight squeezes to get around cars and trucks all over the roads.  It is a miracle we never blew a tire on a pothole or got in a fender bender.

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Arriving at Stewart Town at 2 pm clearly isn't ideal, but we'd make the best of it.  Early there wasn't a lot of activity as we walked along the old road that heads into the forest.  One of the first birds we stumbled upon was a quality bird, though, a Yellow-shouldered Grassquit.  This species is more arboreal than many other Grassquits, which was true of this female.  We had to double-check our field guide to make sure we got the ID right since the female is not nearly as dramatic as the male, but the rusty undertail coverts confirmed the ID.

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Yellow-shouldered Grassquit by mattgrube, on Flickr

He heard plenty of noisy parrots and parakeets.  In Jamaica there are two endemic parrots, the Yellow-billed Parrot and Black-billed Parrot.  There is also the Jamaican race of Olive-throated Parakeet, as well as introduced Green-rumped Parrotlets.  Some of the first that we saw perched in a tree were the Parakeets, which I'd seen before in Mexico.

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Olive-throated Parakeet (Jamaican) by mattgrube, on Flickr

In this area we started picking up some more quality birds.  We saw our only Greater Antillean Elaenia of the entire trip, and got our first looks at Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Spindalis, and Streamertail.  The lifers were really racking up!

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Greater Antillean Elaenia by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Oriole by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Streamertail (Red-billed) by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Streamertail (Red-billed) by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Woodpecker by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

Further down the trail we didn't connect with too much, so we turned around, knowing we still had a long way to travel for the rest of the day.  There were still a few nice surprises, though.  First we heard, and then finally got some views of Jamaican Crows.  Next, some obscured looks at the skulky Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo.  I only ever saw one more during the trip, and that one was only in flight.

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Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo by mattgrube, on Flickr

Next, my friend scored big when he heard some leaves rustling in the forest and was able to spot the highly desired Crested Quail-Dove.

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Crested Quail-Dove by mattgrube, on Flickr

Last, we finally saw some parrots perched, and got some decent looks at Black-billed Parrot.

46982202951_39eb9b2b64_c.jpgBlack-billed Parrot by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

In all, we picked up about 17 lifers at Stewart Town, so it was a pretty good way to salvage the day.  https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52123308

 

We had about 3 more hours of driving to finally reach our lodge in the mountains north of Kingston.  Unbeknownst to us ahead of time, our final surprise was discovering that our lodge was a kilometer off the main road along a muddy dirt road with large rocks and ruts to navigate.  We were seriously concerned whether our little rental car was even going to make it.  After a few dicey moments and surely many scratches to the undercarriage we were relieved to have survived and thrived during our first day in Jamaica.

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Early the next morning we were off to start our first full day in Jamaica.  We successfully navigated our terrible dirt road in the dark, and headed further up the mountain, arriving a bit after sun up in the Blue Mountains.  We stopped at the Holywell Park area, and would explore here for a bit.  There was a nice combination of forest, as well as some clearings.  We found the clearings to be the most productive, especially in the areas near the cabins (you can stay in the cabins, but we hadn't been able to arrange it before we left).

One of the first birds was a poor look at a female Arrowhead Warbler.  By the time I figured out what it was it was too late to get a photo.  Fortunately we'd see several more of these.  Not too much further down the trail a friend laid eyes on a female Jamaican Becard, another high quality endemic bird.  A friend who had visited Jamaica before had missed the Becard, so we were happy to get it on the scoreboard so quickly.

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Jamaican Becard by mattgrube, on Flickr

In this area and just further down the trail towards some cabins we had some really excellent birds.  More Arrowhead Warblers, Jamaican Vireos, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Ring-tailed Pigeon, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Spindalis, and Blue Mountain Vireo.

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Rufous-throated Solitaire by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Vireo by mattgrube, on Flickr

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White-chinned Thrush by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Ring-tailed Pigeon by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Blue Mountain Vireo by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Blue Mountain Vireo by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Blue Mountain Vireo by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

Unfortunately, one of the others slipped on the muddy hillside and took a gnarly sprain to his finger.  Amazingly it didn't seem to be broken, but it was nasty, bruised and swollen for the rest of the trip.

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Still in the same Holywell Park area the species list kept accumulating.  Orangequits are pretty common throughout the island, but they can be tough to get a really good look at.  Fortunately, one cooperated here, and gave me my best looks of the trip.

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Orangequit by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Orangequit by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

Loggerhead Kingbird in Jamaica seemed to be the equivalent to Tropical Kingbird in other places in Central and South America.  They were everywhere.

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Loggerhead Kingbird by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

It's always nice to have an easily identifiable Myiarchus.  There are 3 Myiarchus on the island, and two are endemic, the Rufous-tailed Flycatcher and Sad Flycatcher.

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Rufous-tailed Flycatcher by mattgrube, on Flickr

Sad Flycatcher looks a lot like a Dusky-capped.  There are no Dusky-cappeds on the island, but there are Stolid Flycatchers which look quite similar, and sound superficially similar.

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Sad Flycatcher by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

A relatively well-marked Elaenia is a nice change compared to many Elaenias that are nearly impossible to identify.

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Jamaican Elaenia by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

With that success, we were ready to start moving on as the activity was slowing down a bit.  We drove just a bit down the road, and birded near The Gap Cafe.  We got our first looks at one of my major targets.  Some would describe the Jamaican Tody as impossibly cute, and it is hard to argue with that.

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Jamaican Tody by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

At a relatively random stop along the road we connected with a few more birds, including stunning looks at another Crested Quail-Dove, and excellent views of a male Jamaican Becard.

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Crested Quail-Dove by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Becard by mattgrube, on Flickr

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After having lunch on the way down the mountain, we braved our way through the Kingston traffic, and headed south of town.  There were a couple water treatment plants we wanted to check out, as well as get towards the Hellshire Hills area.

Unfortunately, road access was disturbingly confusing, and we completely missed our opportunity at one water treatment plant.  We eventually found our way to the other in the Greater Portmore area.  Lots of birds here, but many are familiar to ABA birders.  Egrets and Herons of all sorts, a few shorebirds, but basically no ducks.  A flock of Bank Swallows was an eBird flag.  We also came across a lot of introduced birds.  Tricolored Munia, Chestnut Munia, Yellow-crowned Bishop, and Great-tailed Grackle.

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Chestnut Munia by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Tricolored Munia by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Great-tailed Grackle by mattgrube, on Flickr

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52153871

 

Late in the afternoon we headed towards the Hellshire Hills area with two targets in mind.  The first came really easily, and we found a few Stolid Flycatchers.  You'll see they look quite similar to the Sad Flycatcher, but they are a little larger, and look closely and the wing pattern.

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Stolid Flycatcher by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Stolid Flycatcher by mattgrube, on Flickr

We also saw a few Jamaican Mango (hummingbirds) here, but they weren't conducive to nice photos.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52154549

 

Try as we might, we couldn't find a Bahama Mockingbird.  We found far too many Northern Mockingbirds.  Bahama Mockingbird is only in this south end of Jamaica.  It is also a different subspecies from the other Bahama Mockingbirds found elsewhere in the Caribbean.  Unfortunately this was our one and only change at it. 

We needed to head back through Kingston and back along that terrible dirt road to our lodge again, so it was another long day by the time we finally got back.  At this point, after about a day and a half, we had picked up 22 of the 27 endemics.  We were feeling cautiously optimistic, but there were still a few tough ones left.

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We took a slightly casual start to the day, eating breakfast at the lodge, and getting distracted by a few birds just after sunrise.  We had fairly nice looks at a Louisiana Waterthrush, White-collared Swifts sped by overhead, a few Ring-tailed Pigeons fly high in the canopy over the hills, we saw our first Cape May Warblers of the trip, and two of us finally saw our first Jamaican Pewee (the other saw it the day before).

After pulling ourselves away from the birds around the lodge and once again navigating the dirt road from the lodge (at one point one of the wheels was fully off the ground by a solid 12 inches), we worked our way back up into the Blue Mountains.  A quick stop along the road in the same stretch as the day before pulled in a handful of nice birds like another Crested Quail-Dove, Jamaican Euphonia, Tody, Oriole, Orangequits, and Ring-tailed Dove.

Much of our birding would be along the road at and just below the Gap Cafe.  Here we were able to pull in nearly all our own remaining target endemics and Caribbean endemic targets.  One of the tougher Jamaican endemics to find is the Jamaican Blackbird.  It is a rather unique blackbird that acts a bit more like a woodpecker or a woodcreeper, as it is know to be found in humid forest often probing at bromeliads and epiphytes.  We had a few other glimpses or heard only suspects during the trip, but this was our only well seen bird.  We were also very happy to connect with Greater Antillean Bullfinch, and get some very nice looks at the always enjoyable Jamaican Spindalis.

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Jamaican Euphonia by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Blackbird by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Spindalis by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Greater Antillean Bullfinch by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Greater Antillean Bullfinch by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Spindalis by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Bananaquit by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Arrowhead Warbler by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Rufous-throated Solitaire by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Working back to the Gap Cafe I spent awhile waiting for this female Black-faced Grassquit to unbury its head and finally give a decent pose.

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Black-faced Grassquit by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

Back at the Cafe we had a female Yellow-faced Grassquit.  More importantly, I heard a Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo call in the distance.  It sounded like it was quite a ways down the mountain slope, so chasing it would be impossible.  Much to my surprise, after a bit of playback, it and another Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo came in.  They like to stay hidden, but over time we were able to get several excellent looks at this Jamaican endemic.

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Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Yellow-faced Grassquit by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52191604

 

We next continued further north along the road through the mountains taking a few random stops here and there.  One of the more productive random stops resulted in our only White-eyed Thrush of the trip.  These guys were supposed to be common, but we struggled to find them, whereas as had no problem finding many White-chinned Thrushes.  A Vervain Hummingbird sang from the top of the tree, but our views of this diminutive hummingbird left us wanting more.

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White-eyed Thrush by mattgrube, on Flickr

Walking further down the road we got some great looks at a cooperative Jamaican Pewee.

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Jamaican Pewee by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Pewee by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Pewee by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

A bit further down the road another Jamaican Today consumed large quantities of storage space on our cameras.

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Jamaican Tody by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Tody by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Tody by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

Still with road to travel, we mostly kept moving as we headed north and eventually hit the north end of the island, and turning eastward to head towards the Port Antonio area.  We checked a few rivers that emptied into the ocean and picked up a few new trip birds, but nothing too exciting.  I had what I swore looked like a White-tailed Tropicbird, but we were unable to locate it once we could fully stop to look for it.  Later in the afternoon we made a quick stop along the road to the San San police station.  It was fairly dead, but we got our best looks at a male Yellow-shouldered Grassquit.

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Yellow-shouldered Grassquit by mattgrube, on Flickr

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After finding a last minute B&B and checking in, we headed back out around dusk.  We only had one Jamaican endemic left to look for.  That road to the San San police station had looked good, so we went there first.  It only took a couple minutes to hear Jamaican Owl at our very first stop.  However, it showed absolutely no interest in coming close to us, and it was deep in forest that didn't seem wise to venture into at night.  A few more stops along this road were duds, and a return at the first spot was still unsuccessful.

From there we randomly drove into the less developed areas.  We probably heard another 3 Jamaican Owls, some even sounded very close.  Still, we had absolutely no luck finding one in the spotlight, and none seemed to have moved an inch in response to our playback.  I don't know if it was just that night, or if this species just doesn't come in to playback?

After about 3 hours of heard only owls it was getting late, and we needed to leave to try and find any place still serving food.  We were pretty dejected, but at least we still had a few more nights ahead of us.

However, only a few minutes after getting back on the main road I spotted an owl fly across the road through the headlights.  We immediately pulled over (perhaps only half blocking traffic) and quickly found it buried in a small tree.

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Jamaican Owl by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Owl by mattgrube, on Flickr

Check out the eyelids, it looks like the owl is wearing makeup!

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Jamaican Owl by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

After a few minutes of enjoying the owl and causing some slight traffic, our spirits had taken a quick U-turn, and we moved on to find a late dinner, celebrating the fact that in just 2.5 days in Jamaica we had managed to find and photograph all 27 endemics!

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The next morning we headed straight for Ecclesdown Rd on the far east end of the island.  It is said that all 27 Jamaican endemics are possible along this road.  We did record a fair number of species, but overall we didn't really have that great of luck in seeing many species very well.  Perhaps it was just the day.  In total we had about 40 species, including about 17 of the endemics.  A few may have gotten away, too.  Pretty sure we had very brief views of a Jamaican Blackbird, but not seen well enough to confirm (this is one of the best places on the island to find them).  A Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo was heard and then briefly seen in flight.  We also heard a vireo that sounded dead on for a Black-whiskered Vireo, but they aren't supposed to be around yet.

 

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Ring-tailed Pigeon by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

On the far east end of Jamaica the Black-billed form of Streamertail is present.  Some taxonomies treat them as different species, but eBird/Clement's treats both as subspecies of the parent species called Streamertail.  I was a bit bummed to never get any worthwhile photos of an adult male, but one female did cooperate.

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Streamertail (Black-billed) by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Smooth-billed Ani by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Smooth-billed Ani by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52225084

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Later we continued down to the Hector's River area and checked out the cliffs.  This is a popular spot to look for White-tailed Tropicbird.  We had no luck, but I'm sure looking early or late in the day would be far more productive.  Only plus was getting really nice looks at a pair of American Kestrels.  You'll notice this subspecies looks a bit different than we are used to seeing in the US.

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American Kestrel by mattgrube, on Flickr

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American Kestrel by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

We had quite a bit of driving to do the rest of the day as we headed back north and west along the coast.  Much of the time it was raining, too.  We decided to take a quick stop by Green Castle Estate as we had seen lots of eBird reports out of there.  However, there was a very obvious sign that said you needed prior permission to enter the grounds.  We ultimately somewhat haphazardly ended up in Falmouth and decided on a hotel called Glistening Waters.  As we were checking in they asked if we wanted to do the boat trip that night.  Why would we want to do a boat trip at night?  Well, because that bay has bioluminescence!  It turned out to be the non-birding highlight of the trip.  Swimming in the warm water at night with the ocean water glowing as you move through it was far more entertainment than I was expecting that night.  Did was still raining hard, otherwise I would have attempted to take some pictures.

Here's a photo from the hotel's website

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Edited by guy_incognito

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The next morning we went to a spot just south of Falmouth.  The original plan was to go here the very first morning, but the flight fiasco nullified that plan.  There was one main reason to go here.  Plain Pigeon is a tough bird on Jamaica, but some birders have noticed that there seems to be a roost in the area, and they can be spotted in the morning as they fly out of the roost.  So sure enough, not too long after sunrise we got the first few fly over.  Over the course of the next half an hour or so they kept on coming.  We counted at least 141 Plain Pigeons!

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Plain Pigeon by mattgrube, on Flickr

Right next to where we parked the car we had a Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo out in the open for a few seconds!

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Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

In uncharacteristic fashion, we went back to the hotel to actually eat a real breakfast.  There were a few birds in the area such as Common Ground-Dove, Greater Antillean Grackle, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Magnificent Frigatebird, etc.  However, while we sitting down and eating breakfast one of the others looked out into the bay and spotted an American Flamingo!  There are few Flamingo records in eBird for Jamaica, but I'm sure there are way more seen than get reported to eBird.  We asked the boat drivers at the dock, and they said they might see them one or twice a year.  Unfortunately, the boat drivers couldn't take us closer to get better photos.

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Common Ground-Dove by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Greater Antillean Grackle by mattgrube, on Flickr

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American Flamingo by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52226319

 

We then hit the road heading west back to Montego Bay.  A stop at the water treatment plant turned up a lot of waterfowl and shorebirds.  There were lots of Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal, with smaller numbers of Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, and Least Grebe.  Previously the Coots had been split into Caribbean Coot and American Coot, but they were recently lumped back to just American Coot.  We saw a few of the type that were previously Caribbean Coot, which have a white shield extending further up the forehead.  A few land birds were also around, including some Scaly-breasted Munia, completing our introduced Munia trifecta for Jamaica (how exciting).

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Prairie Warbler by mattgrube, on Flickr

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American Coot (White-shielded/Caribbean) by mattgrube, on Flickr

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52252479

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At this point we were starting to run low on targets.  There had been a recent report of a few West Indian Whistling-Ducks from a golf course a bit west of Montego Bay.  We gave it a try but couldn't find them.  The golf course is closed to the public.  We could see pretty much all the ponds from the road.  Perhaps we missed them if they were tucked away.

We then traveled south and ended up along the Black River at a place called Elim Ponds.  Lots of waterfowl were again here.  In the past the Whistling-Ducks have been reported in the general area, but nothing recently.  Again, we didn't find any.  We did have another target.  Although not a lifer, we were happy to see a Spotted Rail.

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Spotted Rail by mattgrube, on Flickr

After trying a few different spots, my friend finally noticed some grass move in response to playback.  After playing cat and mouse for a while, we finally got exceptional views of a Yellow-breasted Crake, our main target for the location!

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Yellow-breasted Crake by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Yellow-breasted Crake by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Yellow-breasted Crake by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Yellow-breasted Crake by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Yellow-breasted Crake by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

We also had our only Limpkins of the trip, only Magnolia Warbler, and a calling flyover of the only Solitary Sandpiper. 

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52252373

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After finding the Crake, we really only had one major, semi-realistic target left.  We spent a bunch of time checking around the southwest side of the island hoping to stumble across a West Indian Whistling-Duck, and ultimately we had no luck whatsoever.  We had thought about checking out the Fonthill Nature Reserve, but we got a bit short on time.  About a week after we got back, some reports of Ducks came in from that area.  Too bad we didn't give it a try (or that the reports hadn't come in sooner)!  Oh well, they are supposed to be easier to find on other islands, so maybe some time in the future.

The other interesting news that recently came from Fonthill is that a Kirtland's Warbler was just found.  It is the first record for Jamaica!  This is a highly surveyed area, so it is unlikely that there is an unknown wintering population.  More likely it is an out of range wintering bird, but in any case, it is probably a good sign for this species that has shown a great comeback.

A female Yellow-faced Grassquit outside our B&B in the morning.  I also saw a Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo fly by.

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Yellow-faced Grassquit by mattgrube, on Flickr

We searched around the Parottee Pond area as it looked good for the Ducks.  A local told us that a lot of birds come in during the morning and evening, and that he has ducks there.  It was sounding promising, but then he described having like 200 Whistling-Ducks.  At that point the story started sounding a bit fishy, and we decided it wasn't worth staying there until late afternoon.

Finally our best looks at Vervain Hummingbird.  It is said to be the second smallest bird in the world, only slightly larger than the Bee Hummingbird in Cuba.  Although, it might take the record for the smallest eggs.

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Vervain Hummingbird by mattgrube, on Flickr

A boat trip along the Black River was pretty slow.  They told us they knew of 1-2 locations where the Whistling-Ducks have nested.  No luck, but we may have had better luck if we had been there early in the morning.  Main highlight was spotting a Least Bittern hidden away.

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Cattle Egret by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Least Bittern by mattgrube, on Flickr

With not much better to do, we decided to look for a few species that would be new species for our Jamaica lists, so we headed to the beach to find birds like Sanderling, Willet, Semipalmated Plover, Wilson's Plover, etc.

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Wilson's Plover by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Magnificent Frigatebird by mattgrube, on Flickr

Outside our lunch stop run by a Rastafarian (really good vegetarian food), we finally got a few decent looks at a Jamaican Mango.

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Jamaican Mango by mattgrube, on Flickr

Finally, on our way back to the Montego Bay area, we gave another try for the Whistling-Ducks that had been reported at a golf course, and again came up empty.

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White-crowned Pigeon by mattgrube, on Flickr

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For our final half day in Jamaica we decided to get back to "better" Jamaican birding, looking for the endemics, rather than fruitlessly trying to find that duck.  On our first day we went to Stewart Town in the afternoon and enjoyed it, so we thought it might be worth going back there and see what it is like.  We would also have more time to explore into new areas.  There was also one target to look for.

In all, we did rather well and saw 21 of the 27 endemics (plus the near-endemic Jamaican Oriole).  We did end up seeing distant Green-rumped Parrotlets, which are introduced to Jamaica.  Some of the highlights were great looks at a male Jamaican Becard, a ridiculously cooperative Rufous-tailed Flycatcher (earning its local name of Big Tom Fool), and a very close Jamaica Elaenia.  A Ruddy Quail-Dove flushed from right in front of us and was never seen again, which is unfortunately how we saw all of them during the trip.

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Yellow-billed Parrot by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Rufous-tailed Flycatcher by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Rufous-tailed Flycatcher by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Becard by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Becard by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Arrowhead Warbler by mattgrube, on Flickr

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Jamaican Elaenia by mattgrube, on Flickr

 

Many additional photos are in the eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S52301278

 

On the drive back to Montego Bay to catch our flight we made a quick roadside stop at the beach and connected with some Ruddy Turnstones which we had somehow managed to miss up to that point.

 

Of course the airlines weren't gonna let us get home without any delays.  Flying into Jamaica we were delayed because they put in too much fuel, well, this time we were delayed because they had not put enough in.  Luckily we had a long enough connect in Miami that we were there in time.  No matter, though, because that flight ended up getting delayed by about two hours since they needed to change a tire.  What luck, all 4 of our flight segments were delayed by mechanical issues or human error.

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TRIP SUMMARY:

In all, we really enjoyed the trip.  I had some concerns going in, mainly due to safety issues that non-birding friends had warned me about in Jamaica, and on the birding front about whether we could do it without a guide.  I never felt unsafe while in Jamaica.  The people were very friendly.  Sure, in the towns people are often trying to sell you goods, but we never had any that were overly pushy.  Many of the locals out in the rural areas were very friendly. 

On the birding front we did quite well.  In reality we really didn't even need to stay so long.  We got all 27 endemics in just 2.5 days!  A guide certainly might have helped for some of those endemics, and surely we would have seen a few more non-endemics birds.  We never saw a Northern Potoo (wouldn't be a lifer), but I'm sure a local guide would know exactly where a reliable day roost is.  Perhaps we might have had better luck with Bahama Mockingbird and West Indian Whistling-Duck?  Overall, no regrets.  It often is a lot of fun to just be out birding with your friends!

If you are out for pure numbers of birds, smaller islands will never be your best bang for the buck.  However, they offer up birds that are just not present anywhere else, and sometimes in a relatively high concentration.  Anyone who plans on doing even a moderate amount of traveling to see birds will want to hit up the Caribbean.

Species total - 132

Endemic species - 27 of 27

Caribbean/Bahamas endemics - 39

Native lifers - 40

Introduced lifers (presumably countable) - 3

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