Saturday, April 17, 2010

WINGS Tour to Jamaica: Day 7, Marshall's Pen and a Rain Day

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Our last day of birding, and save for the missing Mangrove Cuckoo from the list, everything we see this morning here at Marshall's Pen will be for getting better looks or just enjoying these wonderful birds one last time before we head home.

This Caribbean Dove looked a bit uncomfortable on the raised feeding platform – they are almost always on the ground.

We also finally got perched views of a Ruddy Quail-Dove, but only barely. They are quite shy and almost always leave their song perches, usually well concealed, the moment they can see you. This one was quite hard to see, and we had to sneak up carefully on the forest edge before it came into view.

Before breakfast at 8:00 we had tallied 17 endemic species, as well as another new bird for my island list, Gray Catbird.

Another outing after breakfast was cut short when the rain began. It didn't stop for another 3 hours at least, so we did some packing and hung out on the porch. This is the first time in a decade of birding in April that I've had to take off a morning due to rain. Yesterday's heavy rain and the afternoon showers of the previous three days makes this by far the wettest tour I've done here. But it's a good thing – bird activity has been amazingly high (we saw all endemics in record time), and the island has been in quite a drought in recent months. They really need the rain.

We ventured out when the rain let up a bit, but we didn't see much. I snapped this shot of a blooming allspice tree, locally known as pimento. The dried fruits are used widely in local cooking and are known in the USA as a spice added to spice cakes and holiday recipes.

This is Turnera ulmifolia, a common flower in the gardens of Marshall's Pen.

We were entertained for a bit by a visitor, Stuart, and the juvenile Jamaican Owl that he is fostering. He found it being tortured by kids, who grow up with the superstition that owls are evil.
To save its life, a veterinarian had to amputate a leg. Hopefully this owl will be used in environmental education to prevent this sort of thing from being a common occurrence.

We finished our final day with a scenic drive across the island to Montego Bay, stopping by the incomparable Rockland's Bird Sanctuary, where Streamertails and grassquits perch on you. As we departed, a Jamaican Crow flew over, our 20th endemic of the day.

Friday, April 16, 2010

WINGS Tour to Jamaica: Day 6,The Cockpit Country

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 This morning was reserved for a visit to the Cockpit Country about an hour's drive north of Marshall's Pen.

The limestone carst here has weathered into a shape that resembles an giant egg carton, named "cockpit" for the resemblance to the pits where cockfights were held.

This remote, one-lane road was once a major route to the north coast.

The Red-billed Streamertail is the national symbol, fortunately a common bird.

The Rufous-tailed Flycatcher is one of two endemic species of Myiarchus flycatcher on the island.

Jamaica is one of the hotspots for bromeliad diversity. Tillandsia and this one, Hohenbergia, are two genera that are particularly well represented. Notice the lizard on one leaf.


The lizard is Anolis lineatopus, the Jamaican Gray Anole.

Also known as poor man's orchid, Bauhinia provides nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds.

The only ture orchid we have seen in bloom on this trip is the ever reliable Bletia purpurea.

Our local guide, Brandon Hay, thought this was one of the endemic members of the family Malpighiaceae.

A plant in the family Piperaceae.

This endemic palm is Thrinax parviflora.

It's always especially gratifying to have great views of such an amazing bird without having to resort to playback. This Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo was sunning after early morning showers right next to the road.

It's hard to get good digiscoped images of Jamaican Tody – they sit in one good spot for precisely one second shorter than the time needed to set up the scope, turn on the camera, and click the shutter. Maybe tomorrow I'll be quicker than the bird. Still, here you can see the adorable red throat, yellow vent, and pink flank tufts. Pink!

I thought this damselfly must be Protoneura viridis, as Jamaica has only 13 damselflies, and I thought it didn't look like any of the typical pond damsels I'm more or less familiar with. Even Dennis Paulson didn't recognize it at first. Since this was in an area with no surface water, the tank bromeliads being the only possible breeding location, it is apparently the Jamaican endemic Diceratobasis macrogaster. Like the dragonfly we had the other day, this one appears to be never photographed in the wild before.

A true bug, order Hymenoptera, this red and black bug caught out attention.

On the way back to Marshall's Pen we passed the unassuming Pickapeppa Plant where the world-famous condiment is created.

WINGS Tour to Jamaica: Day 5, Marshall's Pen and Black River Upper Morass

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The first half of today we spent at Marshall's Pen, a working ranch and nature reserve that also has a guest house catering to birders.

We saw lots of Jamaican Spindalis, a bird we never tired of looking at.

The endemic White-chinned Thrush is also common but less likely to sit out in the open.

The Dirce Beauty, Colobura dirce, is in the minority in not being an endemic.

This green jumping spider is probably also not an endemic; spiders are very good at random, long-distance dispersal on their wind-carried gossamer threads.

In the afternoon we did some birding in wetlands areas where we saw a clot of 175 Common Moorhens, Yellow-breasted Crake, American Crocodile, and some nice shorebirds. We got rained on and drove through many pools in the roads. We ended up up at Elim Pools in the Black River Upper Morass with beautiful weather.

West Indian Whistling-Ducks were one of our targets here, a missable bird that we haven't missed yet. We also saw another Least Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Herons, and Purple Gallinule here. But the prize bird, and one of the best of the trip was a Northern Harrier, perhaps only the second record for the island.

WINGS Tour to Jamaica: Day 4, Port Royal Mountains to Marshall's Pen

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We spent one night at Starlight Chalet in the "town" called Silver Hill Gap. Most towns in Jamaica aren't really towns at all but rather the name of an area applied to the one spot in the road where the houses might be a little denser than the rest of the unrestricted sprawl that lines all roads in the county. Silver Hill Gap is where the north-south oriented Port Royal Mountains meets the east-west oriented Blue Mountains. A lot of coffee is grown in the region, but there is also some protected forest that is home to many fascinating birds.

It has been very humid with the sudden and well-pronounced onset of the rainy season, and the lights at the hotel attracted many moths. This butterfly-like moth is in Sematura aegisthus in the little-known family Sematuridae; I have seen a similar looking species in Amazonian Brazil.

This large moth is the widespread Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata.

This is another widespread moth in the sphynx family, Pink-spotted Hawkmoth, Agrius cingulata.

The way this red and black moth holds its antenna forward helps disguise it.

This moth's strategy to avoid detection is to mimic a bird dropping. I'm sure it works much better when it is on a branch or leaf, rather than a cement column.

This Sad Flycatcher probably makes the rounds each morning to glean the moths from the column and was completely unafraid of my presence. I was about 2 feet from the bird at times.

Before leaving our hotel we found a Lincoln's Sparrow on the grounds, one of very few records for the island. We spent most of the rest of the morning birding in the Port Royal Mountains.

We lucked into a Greater Antillean Elaenia, which I've seen on just a third of the trips.

The Jamaican Spindalis is quite common and a stunning bird as well.

The Loggerhead Kingbird in Jamaica is probably a different species from those found on other islands in the Caribbean.

A Red-billed Streamertail female posed for some time.

We then made our way to Mandeville in western Jamaica with a stop in Portland Cottage for the endemic subspecies of Bahama Mockingbird. Our route took us past a canal with some marsh vegetation where this Least Bittern stood out in the open sun. Click on the image (any image in the blog, actually), to see a larger size file.

After settling in our rooms at Marshall's Pen, we noticed some odd squeaking sounds echoing around the building. We traced it down to the endemic Jamaican Croaking Gecko, Aristelliger praesignis, one of which I found in the unused refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

WINGS Tour to Jamaica: Day 3, Northern Coast and Port Royal Mountains

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An early morning walk around our lodging near Port Antonio on the northeastern coast was a nice way to start what became a terrific day. We returned to the lovely panorama looking over San San Cove.

A Peregrine Falcon was perched in the highest tree of the islet just off shore.

This Spotted Eagle Ray was swimming just below the surface of the water. This may be the first ever digiscoped ray, which I did from the overlook above. Good spotting, Suann.

Walking up the road behind the lodge, we spotted this Cassius Blue.

We had our best views of Greater Antillean Bullfinch here.

We then made the hour-and-a-half drive westward along the scenic coastal highway (perhaps the best road in all of Jamaica) to the Green Castle Estate. Bob Lockett and Adrienne Wolf-Lockett, friends of friends, are Peace Corps Volunteers in the area and offered to show us some trails and arrange to have lunch made for us.

A stakeout Northern Potoo on its day roost was a highlight here. Find the potoo in this wide angle shot!

The wonders of digiscoping bring it forward.

They still harvest cacao – this is the plant that produces the seeds used to make chocolate.

It took some sleuthing to identify this as a Potrillo Skipper, Cabares potrillo potrillo. I had not seen one in Jamaica before.

This Ceranus Blue was in the grass near a reservoir that held one pair each of American Coot and Caribbean Coot.

There were quite a few damseflies and dragonflies here. This is the widespread Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile.

 This is a Three-striped Dasher, Micrathyria didyma.

This looks a lot like Roseate Skimmer, Orthemis ferruginea, but is still apparently an undescribed species.

Finally, this is a Slough Amberwing,  Perithemis domitia. Many thanks to Dennis Paulson for identifying the odonates for me.

We finished the day with a drive to Kingston and then up a very winding road up into the Port Royal Mountains. The lower slopes are mostly deforested with much invasive grass and bamboo preventing regeneration of many native plants. But this lovely golden-flowered agave is probably native to the island and has managed to hang on. It was full of Bananquits feeding on the nectar.

Just about 10 minutes from our hotel in the cool cloud forests at 3500 feet elevation, I stopped to look for Crested Quail-Dove for just a few minutes, and almost immediately one flew in and landed on an open perch. It was a very dark, overcast late afternoon, so photographing it wasn't possible. See my photos from last year's tour to see almost exactly the same view we had this year