28 February–8 March 2016
This beautiful island has large areas of relatively undisturbed rain and cloud forest in the mountains that rise to nearly 7500 feet. Jamaica is home to 28 endemics, most of which are very easy to see. Although it would be possible to see most of the endemics in just a few days, by allowing a week, the island can be covered in a more relaxed manner with virtually all of the endemics guaranteed.
Day 1 Midday Air Jamaica flight from London to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, arriving in the early evening. We will transfer to the small but comfortable Forres Park Hotel, an hour's drive away, for a two-night stay.
Day 2 Today before breakfast we should see the endemic Red-billed Streamertail and Vervain Hummingbird on the hotel's feeders! Several other common endemics can also usually be found here, including Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Tody, White-chinned Thrush and Orangequit, as well as the widespread Bananaquit. After breakfast we ascend into the Blue Mountains (famed for their coffee growing) by four-wheel drive vehicle to Abbey Green. The rest of the day will be spent in the mountains looking for a number of other endemics including Ring-tailed Pigeon, the superb but elusive Crested Quail-dove, White-eyed Thrush, Jamaican Spindalis and the always difficult Jamaican Blackbird. We will take packed lunches with us. Other Caribbean virtual endemics also be found in this area, include White-crowned Pigeon, Caribbean and Zenaida Doves, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Jamaican Oriole and Black-faced Grassquit. Wintering and migrant North American warblers can include Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Cape May, Prairie and Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Parula and American Redstart, whilst White-collared Swifts swirl high overhead.
Day 3 This morning we will depart early for Hardware Gap. At Hollywell Park, the watershed between the northern and southern parts of the island, we will search for several more endemics, including Jamaican and Blue Mountain Vireos and Arrowhead Warbler; we will also have more opportunities to look for Jamaican Blackbird. We will eat our packed lunches in the picnic area here before continuing down the northern slope on a very winding road. We may make several more stops en route to look for the endemic flycatchers, Jamaican Pewee, Jamaican Elaenia and Rufous-tailed and Sad Flycatchers, before reaching Port Antonio on the north coast where we will stay for two nights. With some daylight still left we will bird the area where the endemic Black-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Mango and Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo can all be found, as can Gray and Loggerhead Kingbirds, Black-whiskered Vireo and Greater Antillean Grackle. After dinner we will try for the endemic Jamaican Owl, a strange species that is placed in its own genus. In 2004 one was watched by torchlight for 15 minutes in the open from five metres!
Day 4 We will take a packed breakfast with us on the short drive to Ecclestown, on a quiet (but good!) road that winds its way through an excellent area of forest. Most of the island endemics can be found in this forest but we will concentrate on those that we still need, including Black-billed and Yellow-billed Parrots, Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo, Jamaican Crow, Jamaican Euphonia and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit. On previous visits we have also seen both Crested Quail-dove and Jamaican Blackbird relatively easily here. In the late morning we will visit an extremely scenic waterfall, where Louisiana Waterthrushes winter, before stopping for lunch in Boston Bay, where we will have the opportunity to swim. In the afternoon, we will drive east to Hectors River where we will look for the beautiful White-tailed Tropicbird and the piratic Magnificent Frigatebird before returning to our hotel for the night.
Day 5 We will enjoy a more leisurely breakfast this morning before returning south over the Blue Mountains and then heading towards Mandeville. We will make one diversion en route, however, to look for Bahama Mockingbird, Stolid Flycatcher and the rusty-capped race of Yellow Warbler known as Golden Warbler. In the late afternoon, we will arrive at the famous Marshall's Pen, our comfortable base for the next three nights. We should arrive in plenty of time to search for Northern Potoo at its daytime roost and have another opportunity to look for Jamaican Owl after dinner.
Day 6 We will start in the Marshall's Pen area. This is the home of Ann Sutton, an English ecologist, who has been studying Jamaican birds for many years. It is a superb site for the endemic hunter. In addition to searching for anything we may have missed previously, we will keep a lookout for Least Grebe (breeding on the tiny reservoir), Olive-throated Parakeet, Cave Swallow, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Euphonia, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Yellow-shouldered and Black-faced Grassquits and Saffron Finch. Marshall's Pen also holds the rather ignominious distinction of being perhaps the easiest place in the Caribbean to see Common Starling! Mid-morning we will drive west to the Royal Palm Reserve near Negril. Although only a small reserve it is famous for the rare West Indian Whistling-duck, which can be found in good numbers and is easy to see. Wintering species here can include Palm Warbler, and the Caribbean endemic Antillean Palm-swift breeds in the palm trees. We may spend some time at the Black River Morass near Newton in the late afternoon. An abundance of waterbirds, especially herons, can usually be found here, and West Indian Whistling-duck, Masked Duck, Caribbean Coot and Northern Jacana are regular.
Day 7 Following some early-morning birding at Marshall's Pen, we will drive north into Cockpit Country with packed lunches. We will spend some time here searching for any remaining endemics we may still need, with Black-billed and Yellow-billed Parrots and Jamaican Crow being specialities of the area. We will return for some late-afternoon birding around Marshall's Pen.
Day 8 Early this morning we will drive to Montego Bay to visit the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. Although none of the birds will be new here, we will have the opportunity to watch many species at extremely close range and take some photographs. In the afternoon, we will transfer to the airport to board the return flight back to the UK via Kingston.
Day 9 Arrival in London mid morning at the end of the tour.
General Information The climate can vary from hot, but rarely humid, in most areas to cool in the morning at the higher elevations of Jamaica. Rain is probable at some time. The tour pace is relaxed but with early starts. Walking is generally easy, mostly on level ground. There are no significant health requirements. Insects can be a minor problem in places and repellents are recommended. Visas are not required for EU citizens. Expect around 120 species.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 8; maximum group size: 16 with 2 leaders.