Monday, May 4, 2009

Jamaica WINGS tour

From April 4-12 I led my 11th tour to Jamaica. (This was actually my 10th trip to Jamaica, but last year I led two tours back-to-back). With seven full birding days, we had enough time to see all 27 AOU-recognized endemic birds, plus several subspecies that should probably be considered full species. The Orangequit (above) is one of the more common species found only in Jamaica, and it is unique enough to be placed in its own genus, Euneornis. It is distantly related to sparrows and buntings. We actually saw all but two endemic subspecies (Plain Pigeon and Greater Antillean Elaenia were missed) by the morning of the 6th day, which gave us time to revisit species we had seen only briefly or not so well, such as Crested Quail-Dove performing its unusual bobbing gait and Jamaican Blackbird doing its display song. We also had ample time throughout the itinerary to look for non-endemics such as water birds like the White-tailed Tropicbird and other non-bird critters and plants. Below is a selection of photos from this year's tour to this delightful, fascinating, and friendly country. I'm already looking forward to next year's tour, as well as the Butterflies & Birds tour in October 2010 (here we come, Homerus Swallowtail).

Our first birding was near Montego Bay, where the tour started. At a stop at the sewage ponds, I spotted a distant cormorant. There are only a few records of Double-crested and none for Neotropic. I couldn't see enough detail (nor could my camera), but I did at least take some digiscoped images in case I could figure it out later. I have to admit, I can't tell much on this one.

We stopped at Rockland's Bird Sanctuary, where hummingbirds take sugarwater from hand-held bottles and Yellow-faced and Black-faced Grassquits land on you, hoping for bird seed. This is a Red-billed Streamertail on Doug's finger.

Jamaican Mango.

Yellow-faced Grassquit and Wanda.

Even the lizards have become accustomed to the handouts. A Jamaican Turquoise Anole (Anolis grahami) feeding on banana.

An Common Jamaican Galliwasp (Celestus crusculus) peeked out of a hole in the patio to lick up drops of sugar water.

Our next three nights were at Marshall's Pen just outside the town of Mandeville. Birding on the grounds is excellent.

This Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo (being watched by the group above) was particularly cooperative.

This female Vervain Hummingbird, by some measurements the second smallest bird in the world, was building a nest at eye-level in a bush.

Meanwhile, a male Vervain Hummingbird sang from the tips of branches in the nearby tall trees.

A moth in the grass at Marshall's Pen.

A colorful moth larva on May Plum.

Three-spotted Skipper, (Cymaenes tripunctus), common in the grassy areas at Marshall's Pen.

An arboreal, epiphytic cactus with huge flowers, Selenicereus grandiflorus. I took this picture through the spotting scope.

Another gigantic cactus, this one Hylocereus triangularis, clambering over an ancient limestone wall. This species is the source of dragonfruit, which though endemic to the Caribbean and Middle America, is grown commercially in China. You can find dried dragonfruit at Trader Joe's.

Doug provides a size comparison. It was slightly fragrant.

An orchid in the genus Brassavola. Species are very hard to tell apart, and three occur in Jamaica.

This Northern Potoo had chosen a day roost right next to one of the trails at eye level for three of our days. Even from a distance I couldn't get the whole bird in the scope.

This Mangrove Cuckoo was one of the first birds of our first morning at Marshall's Pen.

A Banded Yellow (Eurema elathea), common in grazed grassy areas.

Cuban Crescent (Anthanassa frisia).

Little Yellow (Pyrisitia euterpe).

Jamaican Mestra (Mestra dorcas), an endemic butterfly.

The underside of Jamaican Mestra.

Jamaican Calisto (Calisto zangis), a common endemic butterfly in forest understory.

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus), a very widespread species.

Opal-bellied Anole (Anolis opalinus).

We drove to the lowlands to the southwest of Mandeville, ending up at the Upper Black River Morass where there were 62 West Indian Whistling-Ducks.

One morning we go to the Cockpit Country to the north of Mandeville, an area of an unusual type of karst limestone characterized by extremely steep slopes, pits, and hills that resembles an egg carton. The habitat here is largely intact and endemic birds abound.

Rufous-tailed Flycatcher.

Ring-tailed Pigeon (not to be confused with the mainland Band-tailed Pigeon). This bird allowed us to get ridiculously close.

A Turkey Vulture that reminded me of the traditional Jamaican song "Mek me hol you han." One lyric begins, "Peel head john crow, sit dung pon tree top." John Crow is the Jamaican name for Turkey Vulture.

Jamaican Woodpecker.

Jamaican Flasher (Astraptes jaira).

Jamaican Turquoise Anole (Anolis grahami). We watched this lizard move around for a while. When it hopped up onto a branch, it turned almost completely brown with only a little turquoise spot on its tail remaining.

Jamaican Sicklewing (Eantis mithridates), a scarce endemic.

Gold-spotted Aguna (Aguna asander jasper).

On our way back to Marhshall's Pen from the Cockpit Country we stopped at a grassy field for the endemic (and nominate) subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow.

Leaving Marshall's Pen, we drove up into the mountains above Kingston, the Port Royal Mountains (adjacent to the Blue Mountains).

The forests here are gorgeous and ring with the ethereal whistled songs of Rufous-throated Solitaires (which we also saw).

Jamaican Blackbird, one of the rare endemic species.

Crested Quail-Dove, rarely sitting out in the open long enough to get a photo of it. Really weird crest, colors, and tail-bobbing behavior.

Antillean Mapwing (Hypanartia paullus).

A strange root parasite in the family Balanophoraceae, this is apparently Scybalium jamaicense.

A roadside orchid, probably in the genus Epidendrum.

The dark morph of American Kestrel, rare in Jamaica but the common one on Cuba. This one was just north of Lioneltown in the southernmost part of the island.

These last photos are from our two days at the eastern end of the island. We stayed at Frenchman's Cove a few miles east of Port Antonio, and then birded on the Ecclesdown Road, about a half hour farther east. This very cooperative Jamaican Oriole was feeding from Erythrina blooms.

Zebra Heliconian, (Heliconius charithonia simulator), an endemic subspecies.

Apricot Sulphur, (Phoebis argante comstocki), an endemic subspecies.

White Peacock, (Anartia jatrophae jamaicensis), not an endemic subspecies, despite the name.

Jamaican Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia vesuria).

Dina Yellow (Pyrisitia dina parvumbra), and endemic subspecies.

An unknown anole from the understory leaf litter.

An example of the snail diversity and a beetle. There are over 550 species of snails in Jamaica, nearly all of them endemic.

A close-up of the beetle.

A Dutchman's-pipe, Aristolochia grandiflora.


  1. Could you please contact me at regarding cacti imgaes.

    best wishes,


  2. My husband and I are heading back to Jamaica for our 3rd trip....
    The first was in Runaway Bay (where I was fascinated by the "Splenda" birds...blackbirds that picked packets of Splenda from Sugar packets off of the tables!)

    The 2nd and next trip are to Negril! I saw a Doctor Bird the last time and several other species. Of course, I didn't have my binoculars with me (it's a resort! But hell, I'm bringing them this time!)

    I'm wondering if you could suggest a good guide book to birds and/or birds and other wildlife.

    Nothing intense... just a good basic identification guide. I WILL be on a resort vacation, but I am always wondering about the birds I see while relaxing by the pool or beach.

    Thank you!

    Irie Mon,