Jamaica's Bird-Watching Spots

Abbey Green Black River Morasses Ecclesdown Road Hardwar Gap Hope Gardens Hotel Mocking Bird Hill Marshall's Pen Mystic Mountain Rocklands Bird Sanctuary Windsor Great House

Abbey Green

Abbey Green Estate, at 1,524 meters (5,000ft) altitude, is located in the Blue Mountains, St. Thomas Parish, in eastern Jamaica. The estate is an operating coffee plantation situated in a broad-leaf forest and offers a variety of habitats: open spaces, forests, woodlands, forest edges, and the trees of the plantation. A trail to the 2,256 meters (7,400ft) Blue Mountain Peak begins above Abbey Green.

At 5,000ft the temperature is much cooler than at coastal locations, and the mountain environment can make for the unexpected rain spells or thick fog. The best visiting months are prior to harvesting, March to June, when the coffee beans are ripening, otherwise, harvesting activities can interrupt birding. A variety of bird species including the vervain hummingbird can be found at this location.

Black River Morasses

The Black River Morasses, in the parish of Saint Elizabeth, are coastal and inland wetlands on the flood plain of the Black River—about 53.4 km (33.2 mi) in length and one of Jamaica's longest that originates in the Cockpit Country. The morasses are situated in St. Elizabeth in southwestern Jamaica.

Shallow estuaries, marshland and mangrove swamps and sandstone islands are the dominant features of the 5,700 hectare Lower Morass—designated a Ramsar site in 1997[1]. Swamp palms and thatch palms are also present. In the Upper Morass, to the south of Maggotty, the Black Rivers merges with the Smith River and some other smaller tributaries. At this stage thick rushes are prevalent.

The main bird species of theses wetlands, besides other species, are water birds (waders) and raptors: egrets, herons, ducks, jacanas, ospreys, and perhaps flamingos.

The Black river is located west of Mandeville and is accessible off the A2 Highway.

Ecclesdown Road

Ecclesdown Road is in the Drivers River Valley, in Portland Parish, northeast Jamaica. The road twist through the foothills of John Crow Mountains—a 1,00m (3281ft) tall limestone outcropping. The environment is wet—sudden showers should be expected—and the vegetation lush marked by a tropical, broadleaf, wet forest bejeweled with heliconias, ferns, bamboo stands, &c.

A variety of bird species is found here including hummingbirds (black-billed streamertail, Jamaican mango, and vervain hummingbird) and passerine species, e.g., bananaquit, orangequit, and white-eyed thrust.

Hardwar Gap

Hardwar Gap, a pass—a five-mile stretch—from the south to the north of the island, is situated in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, St. Andrew Parish, in eastern Jamaica. Actually, the gap straddles the St. Andrew and Portland parishes. The gap is situated in a rugged terrain enshrouded by montane forest, at 1,524 meters (5,000ft) above sea level.

Red-billed streamertail and vervain hummingbirds, as well as, crested quail-dove, American kestrel, arrow-headed warbler, black-whiskered vireo, Blue Mountain vireo, chestnut-bellied cuckoo, greater Antillean bullfinch, Jamaican elaenia, Jamaican lizard cuckoo, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican pewee, Jamaican tody, Jamaican woodpecker, rufous-tailed flycatcher, rufous-throated solitaire, and white-chinned thrush, are amongst the species that are habitants.

Hope Gardens (a.k.a. Hope Botanic Gardens)

Hope Gardens is a 60 acres green zone, consisting of flower gardens, meadows, and a natural pond, on a gentle slope at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Situated in northeastern Kingston, its sixty acres is part of the larger 200 acres purchased by the Government from the Hope Estate, in 1881, to found an experimental garden.

The gardens draw a number of bird species amongst them hummingbirds, such as the Jamaican mango, vervain hummingbird, and the red-billed streamertail, and other species, such as, doves, tricolored herons, cattle egrets, yellow-billed parrots, olive-throated parakeets, black-billed parrots, bananaquits, doves, white-crowned pigeons, smooth-billed anis, and american kestrels.

Hotel Mocking Bird Hill

Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is located at Port Antonio, Portland Parish, Jamaica. The hotel is distinguished by its 6.5-acre property atop a foothill of the John Crow Mountains and by the opportunity it offers for birding on site. The hotel is adorned with gardens and tropical forests, with sharply inclined trails through them. The Blue Mountains are visible to the west and the John Crow Mountains to the south and southeast both influencing the local weather. The Rio Grande River that flows from the John Crow Mountain also has an impact on the region.

Some birds that claim the area their home, including endemic species, are the vervain hummingbird, black-billed streamertail, Jamaican mango, sad flycatcher, Jamaican woodpecker, bananaquit, black-billed parrot, chestnut-bellied cuckoo, common ground-dove, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican lizard-cuckoo, Jamaican oriole, Jamaican tody, orangequits, ring-tailed pigeon, rufous-tailed flycatcher, various warbler species, and white-chinned thrush.

Marshall's Pen

Marshall's Pen is a combined cattle ranch and private nature reserve on 310 acres. A complex of trails links its rolling pastures and forest. Traditional stone walls segment the pastures, which are intermingled with woodlands. The property is situated on highland, about 650 metres above sea level.

Initially, more than two hundred years ago, cattle was first reared on the property but it had a stint in coffee that ended in the mid-19th century. Now, it has emerged as a prime birding spot in Jamaica.

It is reported that, including 23 of Jamaica's endemics, over 100 species of birds are to be found on the property: red-billed streamertail, vervain hummingbird, jamaican mango, American kestrel, arrow-headed, bananaquit, black-throated blue, greater Antillean bullfinch, Caribbean dove, cave swallow, crested quail-dove, green heron, Jamaican Crow, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican lizard-cuckoo, Jamaican oriole, Jamaican parakeet, Jamaican spindalis, Jamaican tody, Jamaican woodpecker, loggerhead kingbird, mangrove cuckoo, northern mockingbird, northern parula, northern potoo, orangequit, ovenbird, red-tailed hawk, ruddy quail-dove, sad flycatcher, white-chinned thrush, white-crowned pigeon, white-eyed thrush, white-winged dove, worm-eating warbler, yellow-bellied, chestnut-bellied cuckoo, olive-throated parakeet, Jamaican elaenia, Jamaican pewee, rufous-tailed flycatcher, Jamaican becard, Jamaican Vireo, arrowhead warbler, and yellow-shouldered grassquit amongst others.

Situated in the parish of Manchester, it is almost in the middle of the island and just three miles from the town centre of Mandeville. Thus, it is recommended as a staging point for exploring the Black River Morass and the Cockpit Country amongst other central sites.

Mystic Mountain Mystic Mountain

Mystic Mountain, situated 700 feet above sea level on 100 acres, is a tropical forest attraction. A semi-evergreen forest with a thick canopy enshrouds the site. There are walking trails, and a small stream meanders through. A hummingbird garden with the pepper hibiscus, passion-flower vine, cigar plant, red tassel tree, fire spike, China hat, and shrimp plant attract and feed hummingbirds. The coastline, St. Mary's eastern shore, St. Ann's Bay in the west and the Murphy Hill mountain ridge are visible from its top.

The Jamaican mango, the red-billed streamertail, and the vervain, one of the smallest bird in the world, contribute to the 33 species of birds present at the site.

Mystic Mountain is located at Ocho Rios in the parish of Saint Ann.

Rocklands Bird Sanctuary (a.k.a. Rockland's Feeding Station)

The town of Anchovy in the parish of St. James is the locale for the Rockland's Bird Sanctuary. It is snuggled in the hills on the outskirts of Montego Bay. A woodland, trail, garden, and outdoor patio are the backdrop for a medley of Jamaican bird species. A little old-fashioned house is the visitor's focal point and basis of orientation.

Vervain hummingbirds, as well as, the red-billed streamertail and Jamaican mango, which are so tame that they would approach visitors to be fed, are an attraction. Some other bird species are bananaquit, Greater Antillean bullfinch, Jamaican oriole, common ground-dove, Caribbean dove, potoo, Jamaican woodpecker, black-faced grassquit, yellow-faced grassquit, orangequit, and white-chinned thrush are present at the sanctuary. During winter months there are some migratory species (warblers).

The sanctuary is the project of the deceased Lisa Solomon who purchased the site in 1954 and devoted a lot of her time to feeding the birds. Soon a wide variety of species ventured onto the property. In 1962 the site was opened to the public. The sanctuary's operations are carried on by her surviving family.

Windsor Great House and Windsor Research Centre

The Windsor Great House houses the Windsor Research Centre (WRC) and provides a couple of rooms for guest accommodations. The Windsor Research Centre's (WRC) promotes research in Natural Science with relevance to the Cockpit Country; acts as a research repository; and publishes information with the aim to protect and supervise the Cockpit Country.

The Windsor Great House is located on the former Windsor Estate in Trelawny—a 5,500-acre tract. The property became a cattle estate in the 17th century after it was acquired by John Tharp. The Great House was constructed in 1795. Miriam Rothschild and her husband, Colonel Lane, bought the property around 1947–1948. It was then sold to Kaiser Bauxite around 1959. Kaiser subdivided the estate for the relocation of farmers displaced by mining activities in the parish of St. Ann. Also, Kaiser gifted the Great House to The Boy Scouts Association of Jamaica. Then in 1986 Michael Schwartz purchased it from The Boy Scouts of Jamaica. Michael Schwartz and Susan Koenig began operating Windsor Great House as a home and as a Research Centre for visiting scientists interested in the Cockpit Country.

The Windsor Great House location, in the Cockpit Country and three miles inside the "ring road", enables easier access to the various birding sites within the Cockpit Country zone. The Cockpit Country is a karst landscape—mainly, with Jamaica's largest, contiguous primary forest but with significant areas of secondary forest. Many forested hills and hollows are tightly packed, resembling bubble wrap. Dwarf, undernourished, gnarly trees are found on the hilltops with taller trees in the hollows. The Cockpit County's more liberal demarcation includes the parishes of St James, Trelawny, St Ann, St Elizabeth, Manchester, and the northern tip of Clarendon. More conservative descriptions exclude the parish or St. Ann or limit its extent to the parish of Trelawny.

A variety of birds are found in the Cockpit Country including hummingbirds—jamaican mango, red-billed streamertail, and vervain hummingbird—and many of Jamaica's endemic bird species, e.g., chestnut-bellied cuckoo, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican crow, Jamaican owl, Jamaican vireo, Jamaican woodpecker, orangequit, rufous-tailed flycatcher, sad flycatcher, white-eyed thrush, and yellow-billed parrot.

Cockpit Country Beauty

Works Cited

1Ramsar. Black River Lower Morass | Ramsar Sites Information Service. Ramsar Sites Information Service. [Online] 1997. [Cited: December 14, 2016.] https://rsis.ramsar.org/RISapp/files/RISrep/JM919RIS.pdf.

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