This is a continuation of my recent tour to Jamaica in early April. There are more than just endemic birds in Jamaica, and after we’ve seen all 27 AOU-accepted endemics, we have a long ways to go to flesh out the entire bird list, which usually numbers around 130, give or take a few.
There are the water birds for one, most of which are quite widespread. On one day we usually try to fit in a stop at the Parottee mudflats which can be teeming with shorebirds, gulls, terns, and herons. These Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls were accompanied by single Forster’s and Common Terns, both rare birds on the island and new for me in Jamaica.
This Royal Tern was near our Port Royal hotel, where a large number of them winter. A surprisingly large proportion, including this individual, have leg bands, almost certainly from a breeding colony in North Carolina where they have banded thousands. We’ve never been able to get close enough to read the numbers.
Wilson's Plover is a scarce resident, but always nice to see. This is the same subspecies as in the US.
A lot more widespread than any of the above but still a rather local, tropical specialty is the White-tailed Tropicbird. We had a great show this year, with four birds flying back and forth and calling. They were often close enough for us to see that the long tail streamers are actually buffy pink, not white.
Black-crowned Night-Heron might be one of the most ubiquitous species that we saw (it doesn’t occur in Australia), but how often do you get this close to actually see what species of fish it catches? This was taken from our breakfast table at Port Royal, and with help from my friend Gavin Bieber and the FishBase website, I was able to identify it as Chloroscombrus chrysurus, the Atlantic Bumper.
The West Indian Whistling-Duck is a missable species, though I’ve only come close to missing it on a tour. This time they were in a pond next the main road in the southwestern lowlands, a pond that has been depressingly dry the past two years.
This Caribbean Coot was at the lovely Green Castle Estate and was our only one. It was the only one on this little reservoir and is probably breeding with the more common American Coots. That they will interbreed and are quite close genetically has been an argument for lumping them (and I wonder if the yellow near the top of this bird’s shield might indicate some American Coot in its ancestry). But that’s the argument that would have us lump American and Eurasian Wigeon, Herring Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull, etc.
The Caribbean Dove is principally a Yucatan species, with Jamaica being the only Greater Antillean island where it is found; it’s also found on Grand Cayman, San Andrés, and other cays off the mainland coast, but this most colorful of Leptotilas is an endemic subspecies. In the foreground is the endemic subspecies of Yellow-faced Grassquit.
The endemic subspecies of Vervain Hummingbird is one of the first birds we see at our first night’s hotel in Port Royal, though I photographed this one at Marshall's Pen. This male is as colorful as they get and is tiny but loud. If an American Robin’s voice were as loud in direct proportion to its size, you would probably be able to hear it 10 miles away.
American Kestrels are found throughout the island, and this juvenile male was one of three young ones being fed near their tree cavity at the White-tailed Tropicbird spot. Notice how pale the Caribbean birds are.
The non-migratory Loggerhead Kingbird is found on several islands, but they look subtly different and sound very different from island to island; all are candidates for single species status.
At our Goblin Hill lodge, I saw a bird darting in and out of the lampshade to the left of the doorway.
I looked up into it and found a Bananaquit nest that had just been started.
The Jamaican Bananaquit is an endemic subspecies, being rather big, dark throated, and with only a medium-sized wattle at the gape.
The Greater Antillean Bullfinch is misnamed on two accounts – it doesn’t occur on Cuba or Puerto Rico (half of the Greater Antilles) but is found in the Bahamas; and it’s not a bullfinch but a tanager, belonging to the subgroup of “dome nest builders” that includes some grassquits, Galapagos finches, and Slaty Finch, among others.
Smooth-billed Ani is still common on Jamaica, even though the Florida population has all but disappeared.
It’s surprising that the short-winged, short-distance migrant Common Ground-Dove managed to colonize Jamaica and other islands, but its distinctive plumage here suggest that it must have been from a freak vagrancy event a long time ago.
We were surprised to see this Barn Owl roosting in an open coconut plantation near Green Castle Estate. It wasn’t there when we drove by after lunch, so maybe it was just still hungry; my friend Nick Acheson told me that Barn Owls in his area of England very frequently hunt during the day.
We had this Northern Potoo in the same tree last year near Hardwar Gap in the Port Royal Mountains, but on a different branch. I think it’s on a nest.
This Rufous-throated Solitaire was also in the mountains. The recordings I have heard of birds from other islands (Hispaniola and St. Lucia) sound very different from the Jamaican birds (it also occurs on St. Vincent, Dominica, and Martinique). They also look a little different an almost surely should be considered at least three species. Jean Roché includes this species in his album Les Plus Beaux Chants D'Oiseaux, and it’s clearly not the one from Jamaica. (Considering that he is French, I would guess that the recording is from Martinique.)
On the other hand, the Jamaican Stolid Flycatcher, while considered an endemic subspecies (the other occurring on Hispaniola and satellite islets), is probably not only not an endemic species, but a recent paper on the genetics showed that it’s even more closely related to La Sagra’s Flycatcher. That means these two species might be lumped in the future, but I think more genetic samples and more voice recordings need to be analyzed.
The Bahama Mockingbird is very range-restricted in just a few sites in south-central Jamaica, and its rather distant geographic separation from the other subspecies in Cuba and the Bahamas, along with plumage differences, suggest that it might be a separate species. As an interesting side, this species is most closely related to the Galapagos Mockingbird, which shouldn’t be a surprise if you believe in plate tectonics and remember that the Panama land bridge closed only a few million years ago, when the Galapagos and Jamaica were much closer together.
Not even remotely a Jamaican species, these Blue Grosbeaks were in a group of four birds feeding in roadside grasses near the Upper Black River Morass. I spotted a fully blue male while I was driving past and slammed on the brakes – these were the first for both Ann Sutton and me in Jamaica. There are only a handful of records, and interestingly, an eBird search shows that Ricardo Miller had two at this same spot two years earlier.