Ecotourism — Jamaica, W.I.

Path through the misty Blue Mountains, where you hear mostly wind, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Myadestes genibarbis, an occasional Orangequit (Euneornis campestris) or Jamaican Euphonia (Euphonia jamaica), or if you are lucky, the rare endemic Jamaican Blackbird.
Trail in windy, misty Holywell Park; from which you can hear the dawn chorus (click picture) at this high altitude in the Blue Mountains, especially featuring the Rufous-throated Solitaire, Myadestes genibarbis.

We at MIST have made three trips to Jamaica, and plan more.  Nowhere else than Jamaica do we know of where there are more endemics to be commonly seen and heard per square mile, and most are not endangered or beleaguered. 

We also know of nowhere where such a high percentage of the human population knows about their birds.  The pride most Jamaicans show for their own species is wonderful to see, and makes a birder feel that you have somehow “arrived”.  We have received excellent information on habits and identification, not only from the experts and biologists at the University of the West Indies, but also from gardeners, wood-cutters, charcoal makers, guards, housekeepers, maids — countless professions at all economic levels seem glad to share their bird observations with you, a total stranger.

There is a catch:  Jamaicans have their own names for each of their bird species. And don't laugh.  For example, the Jamaican Crow is called the jabbering crow, and when you hear one, you’ll know why.  The Jamaican Oriole is called “Auntie Katie” for its call, as well.  There are not one but TWO endemic Amazona parrots, a species of Tody, and you'll have to see the cuckoos to believe it! The list of endemics is too long for this web page...

The picture to the right shows one of the cabins for daily rent near the highest pass on the island.  The porch overlooks the city of Kingston.  At night it is amazing.  It is moist and cool with a completely different suite of tropical birds.

Our cabin for three nights overlooking the capitol of Kingston where more than 95% of the island population lives.
Holywell Park Cabin

View from our balcony near Port Antonio, Jamaica, on the lush north-east coast.
Monkey Island, fabulous scuba and snorkeling.

Port Antonio (left ) has wonderful scuba and snorkeling resources, and off-the-tourist-beat facilities that we are pleased to have discovered.  Actually, the island of Jamaica has so many habitats and topographies it would take several weeks to briefly visit most of them. 

The karst "cockpit country" lies in the parishes of Trelawny, St. Elizabeth and St. James.  The half-egg hills are so steep as to be virtually unclimbable.  The walls are frequently so rough with silicaceous fossils they even cut up thick leather gloves.  They are frequently so close together that the way is impassible.  The owner of the Windsor Great House put it this way: Imagine, he said, one of those cardboard egg cartons upside-down.  In places, it is all hills and no paths.  No problem for the birds.  No problem for the local folks who know which hills "go" and which are a way barrier.  Maybe big problem for unguided tourist who comes on a large ganja patch . . .   Largely unexplored by birders.

Jamaica owes much of its birding fame to the steady efforts of Ann Haynes Sutton and her late husband Robert Sutton. They have conducted field research and promoted ecotourism from their cattle ranch/ birding stop at Marshall’s Pen, Mandeville. Ann now carries forward this combination of professional research with birding tours and conservation.  She can be contacted if you have a group that seriously wants a guided tour - there are few equal to her knowledge anywhere in the Caribbean.   Many species can be seen and heard right on her home grounds of Marshall's Pen.

Great House at Marshall's Pen

Next page - St. Lucia