Jamaica - January 2018

From 17 – 26 January I went on a solo birding trip to Jamaica. As usual, I made thorough inquiries on the internet on the places where to go and where to stay. These inquiries are a huge part of the fun of preparing a trip and I always enjoy reading available online trip reports and all kind of other information about the places that I am about to visit.

Most of the birders going abroad hire a guide to show them around, but I usually prefer to explore new places alone because finding the birds all by yourself is much more gratifying than someone showing them to you.

I had never been to Jamaica and I must say that I really enjoyed it, not only because of the 23 endemics that I was able to find but also because of the very friendly people that I was so privileged to meet everywhere I came.

Jamaica is one of the richest and most accessible places to explore the rich diversity of Caribbean birds. Visit for a week and you will have a very good chance of seeing all the 28 endemic species. This is done by focusing on the two main birding areas on the island, which are both located in eastern Jamaica; the Blue Mountains, and the infamous Ecclesdown Road in the parish of Portland.
Jamaican is particularly rich in endemic plants (925 species), reptiles (21 species), frogs (21 species), land snails (505 species), butterflies (21 species) and other invertebrates.

Vervain Hummingbird which is said to be the second smallest bird in the world is a must-see during the winter months. They're happy to live in most kinds of habitat, and are commonly found in gardens. I took some great close-up photos of this tiny bird!

Trip Details
Flight Amsterdam to Kingston, birding the Blue Mountains, the Oracabessa area, Ocho Rios area, San San area and Ecclesdown Road. After 9 days back from Kingston to Amsterdam.

Wed 17 Jan: Late arrival Kingston; overnight at Tranquility Estate, Jacks Hill, Kingston.
Thu 18 Jan: Morning: birding Hope Gardens in Kingston. Afternoon: birding Hellshire Hills; overnight at Tranquility Estate.
Fri 19 Jan: Morning: birding Hardwar Gap, Blue Mountains (raining). Afternoon: Birding Hope Gardens, Kingston. Overnight at Tranquility Estate.
Sat 20 Jan: Drive via A3 to Oracabessa (80 km). Afternoon: Arrival at Tamarind Great House, Saint Mary, Oracabessa. Birding in the gardens of Tamarind. Overnight at Tamarind Great House.
Sun 21 Jan: Morning: birding Tamarind area. Afternoon: drive to (30 km) and birding at Green Castle Estate, Robins Bay, Ocho Rios. Overnight at Tamarind Great House.
Mon 22 Jan: Morning: drive to Green Castle Estate. Morning & afternoon: birding at Green Castle Estate. Overnight at Green Castle Estate.
Tue 23 Jan: Morning: birding at Green Castle Estate. Afternoon: drive to and birding at San San, Portland. 15:45 arrival at Boston Beach Guest House, Boston Beach. Late afternoon: drive to (6 km) and birding Ecclesdown Road. Overnight at Boston Beach Guest House.
Wed 24 Jan: Morning: birding at Ecclesdown Road. Afternoon: Birding Long Bay and visit to Goblin Villas and Mockingbird Hotel (rather disappointing). Late afternoon: birding at Ecclesdown Road. Overnight at Boston Beach Guest House.
Thu 25 Jan: Morning: birding at Ecclesdown Road. 11 am: drive to Kingston via the Blue Mountains. Lunch at Gap Café. Overnight at Tranquility Estate.
Fri 26 Jan: Morning: drive to Kingston Airport. 09 am: Flight to Atlanta.

Birding Hotspots
Hardwar Gap – Blue Mountains
The mountains at Hardwar Gap and Silver Hill Gap are great places to see Ring-tailed Pigeon, Jamaican Blackbird and Blue Mountain Vireo as well as other endemic species.

Hellshire Hills
17°52'52.18"N, 76°54'28.93"W Best place to see Bahama Mockingbird, which has just two small populations on the island. Another target on site will be the Stolid Flycatcher (east side of the Hills) that is locally common and the endemic Jamaican Mango.
Go to the South-east side of Hellshire Hills, near Two Sisters cave. Follow the road from the sea. Go as far where the pavement ends. Park there and follow the sand/gravel track through the arid, inhospitable scrubland. Getting there through the bad traffic of Kingston takes time. During my visit, I saw a lot of Northern Mockingbirds but no Bahama Mockingbirds or Stolid Flucatchers.

Hope Gardens, Kingston
18°00'59.9"N 76°44'50.8"W Old Hope Road. 10 minutes south of Tranquility Estate. Located right next to the University of Technology. This site provides the best chance to see the endemic Yellow-billed Parrot. Hope Gardens is also a reliable place to see American Kestrel, White-crowned Pigeon, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Oriole, Red-billed Streamertail, Prairie Warbler and Indian Grey Mongoose. You may also find the newly named Jamaican Parakeet (an endemic species just recently split off from the widespread Olive-throated Parakeet).

Hotel Green Castle Estate
18°17'44.7"N 76°47'41.8"W In the small village of Robins Bay, St. Mary. Very nice lodge, off-the beaten path, on a large tract of land, great bird-watching in a casual setting. The estate itself is extensive with numerous walking trails to explore and find your own birds. This is a very reliable place to see Jamaican Mango, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Elaenea, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Northern Potoo. Jamaican Owl is there too but hard to find. There is a water reservoir (lake) where I found Carribean Coot, Common Moorhen, Ruddy Duck, Blue-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebe. There should also be West Indian Whistling Duck, but I didn’t see it.

Ecclesdown Road 
Ecclesdown Road loops off the coastal highway just before Long Bay and runs through the eastern edge of the John Crow Mountains, re-emerging by the sea near Manchioneal. It seems that only the first 3-4 km of Ecclesdown Road is good for birding.
The turnoff for the road is a few km north of Long Bay at N 18 07' 18' W 076 19' 38' (near a bus stop) and then turn left at N 18 06' 56' W 076 19' 56' when you reach the little village. After this left it’s only a few km more until you start to hit good forest The first bit is quite disturbed with plantations, but soon there are patches of forest between the plantations and here you begin to see down into the valley to your right (first overlook starts at N 18 06' 05' W 076 20' 19'). When I arrived I was a little surprised to see that on both sides of the road extensive tree cutting had taken place. Apparently to make way for the trucks carrying workers for the nearby banana plantations.
The steamy wet limestone forests of eastern Jamaica can be a good place to see all the endemics, but the special bird is the Black-billed Streamertail, which is only found in the east of Jamaica.