TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
26th February 8th March 2005
Saturday 26th February Arrival
Typical warm Caribbean night!
A two and a half hour delay at check-in increased to fours hours at take-off, meaning we didn't actually get to Montego Bay until 9pm. The hotel at Negril kindly left a light dinner for us in our rooms, and for those who wished, there were microwaves in the rooms and plenty of cold drinks available. We had just a few hours sleep before being awoken by two cockerels crowing and duetting against each other at 3.30am!
Sunday 27th February Negril, Royal Palm Reserve & Treasure Beach
Sunny and warm.
Most gathered before breakfast for a walk round the immediate environs. Our account opened with various species of herons, Royal Terns in the bay and a Peregrine overhead. A Belted Kingfisher perched nicely, as did an American Kestrel. American warblers included Black-throated Blue, Prairie and Yellow-throated Warblers, American Redstarts and a Northern Parula. A pair of Northern Mockingbirds were nest-building and we watched the male with mouthfuls of material posing just near the restaurant area. Ever-present BQ's.
After breakfast, we packed up, said farewell and headed first for the Royal Palm Reserve. As we approached the reserve buildings, Little Blue, Tricoloured and Great Blue Herons were seen, often really very close. The lake was overlooked by an excellent decked area, and from here we found good numbers of West Indian Whistling-ducks, Limpkins, and Black-crowned Night-herons, together with Purple Gallinules and Northern Jacanas and a single Green Heron. Several White-crowned Pigeons perched in the tree tops, and an American Kestrel seemed to be inspecting a possible nest site at the top of a broken palm tree. We explored the boardwalk as far as the observation tower. Several Jamaican Woodpeckers were heard, often very close, but we failed to see them. Various other warblers were seen, and a Red-tailed Hawk was mobbed and escorted from the area by the American Kestrel.
Quite a long drive then to Black River for lunch, where we all caught up with Antillean Palm-swift, and after which we went the short distance to Treasure Beach to check-in and have a siesta for an hour. Several further warblers were seen from the car park, then, just up the road, we explored an ephemeral flooded area containing hundreds of Blue-winged Teal. Amongst these were Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeers, Black-necked Stilts, Purple Gallinules, both Caribbean & American Coots and Glossy Ibises. Great Pedro Pond was quite full of water, and contained several hundred more Blue-winged Teals and a small group of Northern Shoveler. A lone Osprey was found standing in the shallows on the far side of the pond. As the afternoon drew on, a sizeable roost of herons & egrets gathered, and these included our first Snowy Egrets. Back to the hotel for dinner.
Monday 28 February Treasure Beach
Weather 2/8 Cumulus, sunny, light breeze
Keith, who was unwell, visited the doctor, and Neil took over as the Travelling Naturalist leader.
By 07.30 we were at the Black River Port boarding The Duchess, a flat bottomed tourist boat. Everil was our boatman. We were to spend the morning making our way upstream towards the Black River Lower Morass.
Almost immediately we encountered a Black-crowned Night-heron, Green Herons and a number of egrets. Then an Osprey came into view. Perhaps the most photogenic bird of the lower river, though, was a Clapper Rail that stood out in the open on a log. Then much to our surprise another one did the same thing a little further up stream. We then spent a few moments looking at three Yellow-crowned Night-herons. They, in contrast, were well hidden in dense foliage.
The bird species that thrilled us most was undoubtedly the Least Bittern. The first one we saw was a female that had just caught a huge Black Tilapia. As a consequence of this it was unwilling to fly away. It just stood on a rush stem holding tightly to the fish. This was another great photographic opportunity. We were to see three more Least Bittern.
Adult American Purple Gallinules were also seen well. We then spent some time trying to establish the identity of a diving duck that repeatedly flew around a bend in the river as we approached. Eventually we identified it as a male Lesser Scaup.
The finale of our boat trip was the sighting of a number of American Crocodiles.
Lunch was taken at Treasure Beach. The garden there yielded Red-billed Streamertail and Jamaican Mango.
In the afternoon we drove to the Black River Upper Morass, an area that was originally a marsh but was now a drained farming area given over to sugar production.
We drove and walked the road on top of the dyke. From here we could scan the fields and the woodland which lined the road. Migrant American warblers were abundant. This was also a good site for Sad Flycatcher and Jamaican Woodpecker. The cane fields were being burnt prior to cutting. At the fire edge were dozens of Cattle Egret picking off the displaced wildlife.
By late afternoon we were at the coastal lagoon at Parottee where we were surprised to find a lone Caribbean Flamingo. In a nearby pond we also found the elusive Masked Duck.
Tuesday 1 March Treasure Beach
Weather 4-6/8 Cu, Sunny But Humid, A Light Breeze
Before breakfast we walked to the nearby ephemeral wetland where we reacquainted ourselves with a number of wetland bird species. The stars of the morning, though, were two perching birds: a White-eyed Vireo and a fine Cape May Warbler, both migrants from the north.
The morning was spent driving to Kingston, from where Keith returned to England to sort out his health problem.
Lunch was taken at Devon House, a rather fine period piece in the middle of the city.
Our journey to the Blue Mountains was punctuated by a stop at the Hope Botanical Gardens on the edge of the city. Here the key sightings were a Black-throated Green Warbler, Olive-throated (Jamaican) Parakeets and the only Mallard of the trip!
We then took the winding road to Forres Park, Mavis Bank. Almost as soon as we arrived we noted Orangequit and Vervain Hummingbird.
Wednesday 2 March Forres Park
Weather 4-8/8 Cu, Rain In The Afternoon, A Breeze
Before breakfast we walked the hill behind the guest house. Ovenbirds, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Pewee, Jamaican Woodpeckers and the splendid Jamaican Tody were the key features of the walk.
At 10.00 we boarded two 4WD vehicles driven by Daryl and Omar. The rest of the day was spent negotiating the rough road to the Abbey Green
Coffee Estate at 4,250 ft a.s.l. En route we had fine views of Jamaican Oriole. It was at 3400 ft.a.s.l. though that we discovered a wooded area which was awash with fruiting cheese berry. Here we found Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Ring-tailed Pigeons, White-eyed Thrushes and the stunning Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanager.
Once at the lodge in the estate we walked the rough tracks but this coincided with the rain and few birds were seen.
We then drove on up the mountain to 4,435 ft a.s.l. Here we came across a spectacular Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo. Rufous-throated Solitaires were singing from deep cover but we failed to lay eyes on this enchanting bird.
The effects of the hurricane were very obvious on this trip. Huge trees had been ripped to shreds and a bridge over one of the rivers we crossed had been smashed to pieces.
Thursday 3 March Forres Park
Weather Clear, sunny, still early. Overcast in the afternoon
Once again we explored the grounds of Forres Park before breakfast.
A Jamaican Owl was heard in the early morning but we failed to locate the roost. The most surprising bird of the walk was a Worm-eating Warbler, a scarce visitor from North America.
By 09.00 we were on the road again. Neville was to be our driver for two days. We stopped briefly at Hope Botanical Gardens where we saw Olive-throated (Jamaican) Parakeets again.
We then continued along the coast until we were at the Yallahs Salt Pond, a shallow coastal lagoon. Brown Pelicans, herons, gulls, terns and waders abounded. Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Sanderling were noted as well as the commoner Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer. A Small Indian Mongoose was also in evidence.
Lunch was taken at the Long Bay Chill-out Café, and chill out we did.
By 15.30 we had reach our destination, Mockingbird Hill, Port Antonio.
The grounds of the hotel were full of wildlife. They revealed Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, Chestnut-bellied and Jamaican Lizard Cuckoos, Jamaican Becard and a glimpse of an Arrowhead Warbler.
The days birdwatching closed when two White-collared Swifts flew past the bar!
Friday 4 March Mockingbird Hill
Weather Variable. 3-8/8 cu, sunny spells , a breeze
At dawn Black-billed Streamertails were to be seen feeding on a flowering tree near the hotel.
By 06.30 we were in the vehicle on our way to Ecclesdown, a quiet road that took us along a hillside through prime forest.
We were soon watching the noisy Jamaican Crow and then the much more elusive Jamaican Vireo. We then found a group of Greater Antillean Bullfinch. This was soon followed by a sighting of Greater Antillean Elaenia. The highlight of the day, though, was the diminutive Arrowhead Warbler. We were lucky enough to see two birds feeding in the open on hanging vines.
At 09.00 we ate our packed breakfast. Soon after we saw the first parrots of the day. Four Yellow-billed Parrots flew over us.
At 12.00 we made a brief stop at Reach Falls, a series of waterfalls interspersed with clear river pools. By 13.00 we were chilling out again at the Chill Out Café.
In the afternoon we returned to the nearby Ecclesdown. Unfortunately we only glimpsed a Caribbean Dove. Then Ruddy Quail-dove was seen from the vehicle. The climax of the day came when we stopped at a point where we hoped to be able to photograph Rufous-tailed Flycatcher. We had come across it there earlier but this time it was nowhere to be seen; but as it happened we had found a parrot roost. Soon parrots were flying in from every direction, perching and then disappearing into the dense foliage of a stand of huge trees. Of the fifty parrots that flew in twenty three were Black-billed, fifteen were Yellow-billed and twelve defied identification.
The evening bar count of swifts was fifty.
Saturday 5 March Mockingbird Hill
Weather 3-7/8 Cu, sunny spells, a breeze
The early morning walk was entertaining, the star being a vociferous, but skulking, Black-whiskered Vireo.
The main event of the day was another boat trip. By 11.15 we were at Berrydale on the Rio Grande. This was to be our tourist event of the holiday. We were assigned a boat per pair. Perhaps boat is not a fair description; it was a raft constructed of bamboo, the bow of the platform being dominated by the boatman who punted the boat down river whilst the passengers occupied a seat at the stern. [This was undoubtedly one of the most relaxing episodes I can recall in over thirty five years of leading groups.]
We were soon drifting downstream. Herons, waders and even doves feeding on the gravel banks completely ignored us. We were able to enjoy wonderful close views of a wide variety of wildlife. We also gained an insight into the importance of the river to the local population, and watched family groups doing their washing, fishing or collecting water. Undoubtedly the most endearing sight was the zest with which the local children enjoyed swimming and playing in the shallows. At lunchtime we landed on a gravel bank where a delicious local meal was awaiting us. The meal was cooked on a wood fire, the pots being supported by groups of large stones from the river. In the upper reaches of the river Belted Kingfishers sped by, whilst a gravel bank near the mouth held Turnstone, Semi-palmated Plover, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer.
A late afternoon walk at the hotel revealed Ruddy Quail-dove, Sad Flycatchers and a host of swifts. A front appeared during the afternoon. In the midst of the upwelling air was a flock of White-collared Swifts which we estimated to be two thousand strong. It was a fine sight.
Sunday 6 March Mockingbird Hill
Weather 6/8 Cu, dull, still. Showers in the afternoon.
After an early breakfast we made our way along the coast, Wayne having rejoined us. At Happy Grove, a promontory dominated by high cliffs, we scanned for the very local White-tailed Tropicbird. Soon we were watching a group of six birds in their aerobatic flight.
We then returned to Ecclesdown. Almost as soon as we arrived we found a Jamaican Blackbird one of the most elusive endemic species. A wide variety of forest birds came to light during the morning, including Blue Mountain Vireo, a rather drab woodland species.
Lunch was taken at Mockingbird Hill.
Later in the afternoon we walked the hotel grounds again, gaining good views of Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Greater Antillean Bullfinch and White-collared Swifts.
Monday 7 March Mockingbird Hill
Weather A dull start, sunny later, still
We had a long day ahead of us.
In the middle of the morning we set off for Kingston. By 12.30 we had reached the Castleton Botanical Gardens where we ate our packed lunch. By 13.30 we were watching wetland bird species near the Mandeville Highway.
At 14.00 we arrived at the Portmore Water Treatment Plant. (aka sewage works!). We were immediately impressed by the variety of herons, waders and swallows. Barn, Tree and the more local Cave Swallows were feeding over the pools. We then found a flock of Yellow-crowned Bishops, a small seed eating bird introduced from Africa. The most exciting find of the day, though, was an adult Yellow-breasted Crake. At first it was skulking at the base of a stand of rushes but eventually it emerged onto a clod of mud. It was viewed through the telescopes.
We then moved on to an arid area of coastal scrubland at Hellshire. Here we found the very local Bahama Mockingbird.
The early evening was spend freshening up at a group of rooms set aside for us at an apartment house in Kingston.
After a fine meal at Devon House we made for the airport for the overnight flight home.
This is the first time that I have started a trip as a client and finished it as a leader! I am grateful to you all for making the transition seamless. I hope you enjoyed the trip as much as I did. The landscape, the sun, the people, the food and the wildlife all combined to make Jamaica an ideal place for a wildlife holiday. Thank you all for your good cheer. I am especially thankful to John for his able leadership and companionship and to all the drivers for their skills and good company.
Im sure you will be delighted to hear that Keith is now fully recovered and already leading his next trip.
I hope our paths will cross in the near future.
In general, the various species lists below use the following references, with commonly-used alternates being separated by / or enclosed in [..]:
Birds: We use the suggested world-wide English names and systematic order as found in World Bird Species Checklist: with alternate English & scientific names (Wells, M.G., 1998).
Mammals: Mammals of the World, A Checklist (Duff, A. & Lawson, A., 2004).
Specifically for this trip, we also use:
Birds of the West Indies (Raffaele, H. et al, 2003).
The North American Bird Guide (Sibley, D., 2000).
Butterflies of the Caribbean & Florida (Stiling, P., 1999).
SPECIES ACCOUNT KEY
Abbey Green ABB
Black River Area BLA
Forres Park FOR
Great Pedro Pond GRE
Happy Grove HAP
Hope Royal Botanical Gardens HOP
Mockingbird Hill MOC
Parotlee Area PAR
Portmore Water Treatment Centre POR
Rio Grande RIO G
Royal Palm Reserve ROY
Rhodes Plantation RHO
Treasure Beach and pools TRE
Yallahs Salt Pan YAL
Peak Count ( )
Total Count [ ]
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps At least one hundred GRE.
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus Twenty-five TRE and three POR.
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus Six HAP.
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis Common on the coast (7)
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens Widespread. More common on the west coast.
HERONS & BITTERNS Ardeidae
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis Common, noted daily.
Great Egret Ardea alba Common (35)
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor Widespread in wetlands (20)
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea Widespread (36)
Snowy Egret Egretta thula Widespread (l6)
Green Heron Butorides virescens Mainly on rivers (17)
Yellow-crowned Night-heron Nyctanassa violacea Three BLA.
Black-crowned Night-heron Nycticorax nycticorax Local. Seventeen ROY and one BLA and one POR.
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis Excellent views of four BLA.
Caribbean Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber One PAR
IBISES & SPOONBILLS Threskiornithidae
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus In vegetated wetlands. (26) ROY and (14) POR.
West Indian Whistling-duck Dendrocygna arborea One hundred and seventy five ROY.
Masked Duck Nomonyx dominicus A duck BLA.
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis A pair TRE
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Three HOP
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors Widespread. Very common TRE (500)
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata TRE (18) and POR (4)
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis A duck BLA.
AMERICAN VULTURES Catharidae
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura Common.
Osprey Pandion haliaetus Six coastal records.
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis Widespread. Noted on seven days 
American Kestrel Falco sparverius Common. Noted daily. 
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus One RHO
Limpkin Aramus guarauna Seventeen ROY.
RAILS & COOTS Rallidae
Clapper Rail Rallus longirostris Close views of two BLA.
Yellow-breasted Crake Porzana flaviventer A telescope view of a single bird POR.
Sora Rail Porzana carolina
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus Common, (100) GRE.
American Purple Gallinule Porphyrula martinicus In vegetated wetlands, (25) ROY.
Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea Scarce and local TRE.
American Coot Fulica americana Common in mature wetlands.
Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa Common in vegetated wetlands.
AVOCETS AND STILTS Recurvirostridae
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus Common (44) (55) 
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus Five RIO G.
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus Widespread 
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca Widespread 
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes Common 
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Widespread. (13) RIO G 
(Ruddy) Turnstone Arenaria interpres One RIO G.
Sanderling Calidris alba Twelve YAL.
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla Two RIO G.
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri One YAL.
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla Three YAL and ten POR.
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla Coastal (70)
Royal Tern Sterna maxima Common on the coast (40).
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis Six PAR.
PIGEONS & DOVES Columbidae
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Columba livia Common in inhabited areas.
White-crowned Pigeon Columba leucocephala Widespread.
Ring-tailed (Jamaican Band-tailed) Pigeon Columba caribaea Small numbers FOR and MOC.
American Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura One TRE.
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita Common.
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica Widespread.
Common Ground-dove Columbina passerina Common and widespread.
Caribbean (White-bellied) Dove Leptotila jamaicensis One ECC and heard MOC.
Ruddy Quail-dove Geotrygon montana Five records ECC and MOC.
Jamaican Parakeet Aratinga nana Scattered records. Seen well HOP.
Green-rumped Parrotlet Forpus passerinus Heard ECC.
Yellow-billed Parrot Amazona collaria Common ECC, five MOC 
Black-billed Parrot Amazona agilis Common ECC, two RIO G . Thirty four birds were not specifically identified.
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani Common.
NEW WORLD CUCKOOS Coccyzidae
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor One ROY.
Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo Hyetornis pluvialis Two ABB and five ECC and MOC.
Jamaican Lizard-cuckoo Saurothera vetula One MOC.
TYPICAL OWLS Strigidae
Jamaican Owl Pseudoscops grammicus Heard FOR and MOC.
Black Swift Cypseloides niger
White-collared Swift Streptoprocne zonaris Noted MOC and RIO G. At least a thousand were seen on the evening of 5th over MOC.
Antillean Palm-swift Tachornis phoenicobia Widespread, especially near palms.
Jamaican Mango Anthracothorax mango Four records TRE and MOC.
Red-billed Streamertail Trochilus polytmus Common in the west. 
Black-billed Streamertail Trochilus scitulus Only MOC and ECC 
Vervain Hummingbird Mellisuga minima Widespread.
GIANT KINGFISHERS Cerylidae
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon Noted RHO, TRE and RIO G (4)
Jamaican Tody Todus todus Common from FOR onward 
Jamaican Woodpecker Melanerpes radiolatus Widespread 
TYRANT FLYCATCHERS Tyrannidae
Greater Antillean Elaenia Elaenia fallax One ECC.
Jamaican Pewee Contopus pallidus Scattered records.
Sad Flycatcher Myiarchus barbirostris Widespread.
Rufous-tailed Flycatcher Myiarchus validus One FOR and common ECC (6)
Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus Very common.
Jamaican Becard Pachyramphus niger Females noted FOR, ECC and MOC 
SWALLOWS & MARTINS Hirundinidae
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor A handful of records over rivers and at POR.
Northern Rough Winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis Noted BLA.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Scattered records over water.
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva At least twenty POR.
MOCKINGBIRDS & THRASHERS Mimidae
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos Very common.
Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii One HEL.
Rufous-throated Solitaire Myadestes genibarbis Heard ABB.
White-eyed Thrush Turdus jamaicensis Local in forests. Two ABB and five ECC and MOC.
White-chinned Thrush Turdus aurantius Common in woodlands.
JAYS & CROWS Corvidae
Jamaican Crow Corvus jamaicensis Flocks ECC.
Common (European) Starling Sturnus vulgaris Only noted in the west.
NEW WORLD SPARROWS and BUNTINGS Emberizidae - Emberizinae
Grasshopper Sparrow Ammodramus savannarum
Saffron Finch Sicalis flaveola Several TRE.
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivacea Common TRE. Also noted MOC.
Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolor Common FOR.
Yellow-shouldered Grassquit Loxipasser anoxanthus Four records ECC and MOC.
Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea Eight records ECC and MOC.
TANAGERS Emberizidae - Thraupinae
Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanager (Spindalis) Spindalis nigricephalus Common from FOIR onward 
Jamaican Euphonia Euphonia jamaica Widespread 
Orangequit Euneornis campestris Common from FOR onward.
Bananaquit Coereba flaveola Noted daily.
NEW WORLD WARBLERS Parulidae
Northern Parula Parula americana Common 
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia Common in wooded areas 
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia Three BLA.
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens Common 
Arrow-headed Warbler Dendroica pharetra Four sightings ECC and MOC.
Yellow-throated Warbler Dendroica dominica Five scattered records.
Black-throated Green Warbler Dendroica virens One HOP.
Prairie Warbler Dendroica discolor Widespread 
Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum Three scattered records.
Cape May Warbler Dendroica tigrina Widespread 
Magnolia Warbler Dendroica magnolia Two TRE.
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata Several records in the west.
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla The commonest North American migrant warbler. Noted daily 
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapillus Three FOR
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas Eleven records in damp places.
White-eyed Viveo Vireo griseus One TRE. An uncommon migrant.
Jamaican Vireo Vireo modestus One ECC.
Blue Mountain Vireo Vireo osburni Two ECC.
Black-whiskered Vireo Vireo altiloquus One seen MOC. Heard ECC.
WEAVERS AND ALLIES Ploceidae
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer Twenty feral birds were seen at POR.
NEW WORLD ORIOLES Icteridae
Jamaican Oriole Icterus leucopteryx Common in forest areas 
Jamaican Blackbird Nesopsar nigerrimus One ECC
Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger Very common.
Indian Grey Mongoose Herpestes edwardsii Widespread 
American Crocodile Crocodylus acutus Three BLA.