Look for all of Jamaica's 27 endemic species on this 10 day Jamaica birding holiday
In this suggested 10 day itinerary, we hope to show you all 28 bird species that are endemic to Jamaica. This is more than on any other Caribbean island or most other oceanic islands around the world and it is very possible to spot them all in a week. This itinerary offers a superb range of habitats, giving you the best chance of finding them, along with a host of regional Caribbean specialities and depending on the time of year, many wintering American migrants as well. It is a birding holiday but is run at a relaxed Jamaican pace, staying in excellent, environmentally responsible hotels with great food and legendary Jamaican hospitality.
If you would like to extend your holiday at any of the featured hotels or at an alternative location on the island, we would be happy to arrange this for you.
DAY 1: Arrival and transfer to Green Castle Estate
You will be met at the airport, by a driver with an air-conditioned vehicle with plenty of space for you and your baggage and transferred to your first location. Situated between the foothills of the verdant Blue Mountains and the Caribbean Sea, the Green Castle Estate is a historic and remarkably beautiful 1600 acre property that offers visiting birdwatchers comfortable lodgings, fine food and relaxed, easy birding in the safe and lush north eastern coast of Jamaica. The drive from Kingston is a scenic one and takes about an hour and a half, so you should reach Greencastle in time to settle in and relax before dinner. Dinner and overnight at Green Castle Estate House.
DAY 2: Green Castle Estate
Your first day at Green Castle Estate will be taken at a gentle pace, giving you time to acclimatise, to explore the surroundings and to enjoy the views and amenities, such as the wonderful swimming pool. There will also be plenty of opportunity for some easy introductory birding in the excellent estate grounds.
The large size of the estate means a diversity of ecosystems, including freshwater ponds, a mangrove swamp, streams, forests, pastures and coastline. Iconic species like Red-billed Streamertail, Vervain Hummingbird and Jamaican Mango are hard to miss, even in the garden! Many other endemics are regularly encountered on a short walk, including colourful species like Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Parakeet and Yellow-shouldered Grassquit. During autumn and winter, a range of colourful North American wood warblers add to the birding spectacle. Whilst most species are to be found in the extensive forest, the reservoir also attracts an interesting diversity of birds including the local race of Northern Jacana and the elusive West Indian Whistling-duck. Open areas attract Barn Owl and Antillean Night-hawk. The coast has breeding White-tailed Tropicbirds and at dusk hundreds of egrets and herons arrive to roost in the mangroves. After dark, Jamaican Owl and Northern Potoo can be found close to the main house. You will be surrounded by birds from dawn to dusk! Dinner and overnight at Green Castle Estate House.
DAY 3: Guided Birding Day
A full day with your excellent local birding guide to explore the trails and key areas of this 1600-acre site. The day might find you at the ponds, Davey Hill, the Tower areas or the coast. You may follow trails to the Orchid Ginger Farm, or the Reservoir/Dam, birding as you go. Birds may include Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Vireo, White-Chinned Thrush and Rufous-tailed Flycatcher to name but a few. You may take a picnic lunch, or return to the Estate House for lunch. In the afternoon you might head to the coast, stopping at various points to walk and look for shorebirds such as White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Least Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover and Spotted Sandpiper. After dinner you may have an opportunity to do some night birding to look for Jamaican Owl and Northern Potoo, an endemic Jamaican sub-species and a potential ‘split’ in the future.
DAY 4: Hardwar Gap
Today there will be a very early start with a packed breakfast and lunch, for the approximately one and half hour drive to the village where you will meet your guide at one of Jamaica’s best birding sites, Hardwar Gap. At 5,000 feet above sea level, this is an area of larger trees and higher rainfall. In the lush forest, listen to the beautiful dawn chorus, especially the flute-like call of the often elusive Rufous-throated Solitaire. This is the scenic realm of the endangered Jamaican Blackbird, which feeds on the bromeliads. There will be birding stops en route where you might see Rufous-tailed and Sad Flycatchers, Blue Mountain Vireo and possibly the Jamaican Becard. At times, Osprey soar overhead, while Loggerhead Kingbird, American Redstart, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker and Arrow-headed Warbler can all be seen, as well as perhaps a stunning Yellow-shouldered Grassquit and a Greater Antillean Elaenia.
DAY 5: Green Castle Estate
Today you can spend another day birding independently around the estate or you can book a bird guide to accompany you.
You may wish to do the Greencastle Estate Tour. This is a two hour guided tour taking in the history from the days of the Spanish occupation in the 15th and 16th century, the British occupation in the 17th century until Independence in 1962, the old Spanish sugar mill, the British barracks from the 1800’s,the Orchid house visit, Coconut Oil production, waterfalls, walking and trails deep in the rainforest. Green Castle’s Estate Tour is an excellent way to learn about and appreciate the Jamaican countryside, farm life and Jamaican history.
Or you may like to return to the coast to look for Antillean Nighthawk, Antillean Palm-swift and breeding Yellow Warbler (a Caribbean endemic subspecies). You could order a light picnic lunch, which can be eaten at the reservoir or at the house. In the afternoon you might like to relax around the pool or do more leisurely birding around the grounds. This would be a good opportunity to photograph some of the more obliging species.
DAY 6: Transfer to Mockingbird Hill
Today you will make the transfer to Port Antonio and the lovely boutique hotel, Mockingbird Hill. This intimate hotel is situated 15 minutes from Port Antonio and has stunning views of the town and the Sea in the distance, from its tranquil hill-top setting. The traditional Caribbean style villa is set on 7 acres of natural park, where you can follow several interesting paths through the trees and tropical flowers. On the journey here, it is possible to make stops for birding at locations such as Swift River to see what birds you can find along the river estuary.
Dinner and overnight at Mockingbird Hill.
DAY 7: Day at leisure in Port Antonio area
You may wish to visit Frenchman’s Cove which is the closest beach to Hotel Mockingbird Hill, just a 5-minute drive away. A small cove surrounded by lush vegetation, it is also excellent for birding. There is also a mineral spring fed stream, which winds lazily down into the sea. You can take a dip in the sea, then in the refreshing stream and then take a stroll through the lovely, tropical gardens. There is a snack bar, serving excellent meals, restrooms and a secure parking lot. The fee to use this beach is included in your room rate at Mockingbird Hill, as well as a complimentary shuttle to the beach. If you prefer you can bird independently in the beautiful gardens or on various roads around the hotel and the attentive owners will give you directions on the best routes to take.
DAY 8: Ecclesdown
An early start, with a packed breakfast, for guided birding along the Ecclesdown Road, which is about 45 minutes to an hour from the hotel. Here you will spot Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Ring-tailed Pigeon, Black-billed Streamertail and even Crested Quail-Dove, whilst Jamaican Crows make their absurd gurgling sounds all around. Afterwards you can continue on for a leisurely visit to scenic Reach Falls, where Louisiana Water thrush’s winter, but there is an entrance fee of $10.00 to do this. Then drive back on the coast road past beautiful white-sand beaches, empty other than for a few Royal Terns or Magnificent Frigatebirds patrolling them. Lunch will be taken at the beachside at Long Bay. Back at your hotel in the afternoon, your guide will lead you around the lushly vegetated grounds where as many as 40 species can be found. Dinner and overnight at Mocking Bird Hill.
DAY 9: Rafting on the Rio Grande
Enjoy a change of pace today as you take off for a scenic rafting adventure on the Rio Grande, just a 45 minute drive away. Lazily floating down the river you get close to Tricoloured and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, both Green and Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Belted Kingfishers and Greater Yellowlegs all at close range and possibly even a rare Caribbean Coot. After disembarking and an authentic Jamaican lunch at a small restaurant run by a local fisherman, you can spend the afternoon walking around Port Antonio or on nearby Frenchman’s Cove, which must be Jamaica’s prettiest white sand beach and is also excellent for birding. Dinner and overnight at Mocking Bird Hill.
DAY 10: Final Day at Mockingbird Hill
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before doing some independent birding in the lovely gardens. in the after-noon you will be transferred to the airport in time for your evening flight home.
DAY 11: Arrive back to the UK