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Jamaica NEW! Tropical Treasure Island

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A 9-day, small group, single-centre birdwatching tour to Jamaica in search of the island's 28 endemic bird species

Fine accommodation and fabulous birding beneath the warm Caribbean sun await on this 'one-stop' tour to Jamaica - staying at the beautiful Green Castle Estate. Jamaica is a hotbed of avian endemism in the West Indies, with no fewer than 28 species unique to the island. Remarkably, as many as 20 of these are to be found within the grounds of the private estate where we stay. Add a wealth of more widespread Caribbean specialities - plus migrant North American warblers, too - and you have a week of hot and tropical birdwatching that's every bit as tasty as the island's delicious Caribbean cuisine! Our tour price includes flights to Montego Bay, a Limosa guide and all excursions - including two that are new for 2019.

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
4

Leaders
Mike Crewe
local guides

Max Group Size: 8
Duration: 9 Days

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Cost: £3595

inc return flights from London Gatwick to Montego Bay, nonstop with Virgin Atlantic

Deposit: £500

Single Supp: £325
Land Only: £2995

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Crested Quail-dove Jamaica MC website2IMG 1929

The furtive but wonderful Crested Quail-dove awaits us in Jamaica's lush, mountain forests © Mike Crewe, Limosa

Jamaica is a hotbed of avian endemism in the West Indies. Not only does the ‘Blue Mountain Isle’ offer a superb range of habitats, it is home to a remarkable 28 endemic birds - more than any other Caribbean island. Jamaica is also the only one of the Greater Antillean Islands where we have a realistic chance of seeing all of the island’s endemic birds within a week.

Our March tour is timed to give us the best chance of finding them, along with a host of regional Caribbean specialities and wintering North American birds, too. NEW for 2019, we've included two extra excursions on our itinerary, taking in the coast for White-tailed Tropicbirds and visiting the famous Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. Add a welcome dose of warm Caribbean sunshine, great food and a generous helping of legendary Jamaican hospitality at the excellent Green Castle Estate where we stay - and the allure of a winter break on this bird-rich 'Tropical Treasure Island' is surely irresistible!

Nestling 'twixt the foothills of the verdant Blue Mountains National Park and the azure waters of the Caribbean, the Green Castle Estate offers visiting birdwatchers comfortable lodgings, fine food and relaxed, easy birding in the safe and lush northeastern corner of this ornithological paradise. Twenty-one of the island's 28 endemic bird species have been found on the property - but our price also includes a comprehensive programme of trips in search of those occurring elsewhere on the island. From three stunningly iridescent hummingbirds - viridian-bodied Red-billed and Black-billed Streamertails and the purple-headed Jamaican Mango - to the smart Jamaican Spindalis and sweet Jamaican Tody, the latter looking good enough to lick!

After flying direct to Montego Bay, we travel along the island's picturesque north coast to the Green Castle Estate. Our historical lodgings here form part of a working mix of environmentally friendly tourism and land use that is sustainable and in harmony with the diverse ecosystems that make Green Castle such a special place – and with some excellent birding in the grounds.

A first gentle stroll might discover a Jamaican Mango zapping about outside the windows of your room or we may find ourselves being watched by a pale-eyed Jamaican Vireo or red-crowned Jamaican Woodpecker. Much can be seen in and around the lovely gardens of our guesthouse - and all while enjoying a cup of locally grown coffee, freshly squeezed organic fruit juice... or why not a rum punch or two!

Walking the hill trails on the estate will reveal more of the island's endemic birds, bringing chances of everything from the outrageous Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo and Jamaican Becard to the wonderfully-named Sad Flycatcher and White-chinned Thrush. As a warm Caribbean breeze brushes over you, there may be the temptation of relaxing around the swimming pool or strolling the grounds on your own. But that's the beauty of spending the whole week here: although we offer a full programme of daily birdwatching, you are free to pass on any of the organised walks or excursions and simply choose to do whatever you wish.

To round off our list of Jamaican endemics, we will take day trips from Green Castle into the nearby Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, as well as paying visits to Vinery and to the coast for White-tailed Tropicbird.

The sparsely populated Blue Mountains are of course world famous for their coffee, but they're also a terrific spot to go birding. Walking the road through marvellous cloudforest at Hardwar Gap, with its abundant mosses, bromeliads and tree ferns, we will watch for the tell-tale shaky gait of the furtive Crested Quail-dove - often the most challenging of the island's endemics to see. As Ring-tailed Pigeons sweep over the forest canopy we will also be keen to see the peculiar Jamaican Blackbird and to hear the ethereal song of the Rufous-throated Solitaire.

Named after the Turkey Vultures (known locally as “John Crows”) that teeter across the forested peaks, the John Crows are the easternmost mountains on the island. This limestone area receives quite a bit of rain blown in on the trade winds and is a verdant and very scenic place to spend time looking for birds. Specialities on our day in the mountains here include Black-billed Streamertail (a species found only here), both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Amazon, and Jamaican Crow. We'll also keep our eyes peeled for the monochromatic Arrowhead Warbler.

Returning to Montego Bay at the end of our tour, we'll drop by at the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary - a wonderful opportunity for photography and a great place to get up close and personal with a good proportion of the island’s endemic birds, especially its hummingbirds.

Orangequit, Bananaquit or Jamaican Mango... pick your own favourite and join Limosa guide Mike Crewe for a ‘juicy’ Caribbean tour where the very names of the island's birds sound just as delicious as they look!

Mike led our March 2018 tour to Green Castle, Jamaica and this year's tour will be his second visit there, and his 13th trip to Central America and the Caribbean.

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The Todies are a Caribbean speciality and Jamaica - of course - has its own, endemic, Jamaican Tody © Mike Crewe, Limosa.

DAY 1
FLY MONTEGO BAY, TRANSFER TO GREEN CASTLE ESTATE

Our March birdwatching tour to Jamaica begins this morning with a Virgin Atlantic flight from London Gatwick nonstop to Montego Bay, on the island’s picturesque north coast. From here we'll travel east by air-conditioned Coaster bus to the private Green Castle Estate, a journey of around two and a half to three hours.

We'll be welcomed on arrival at the Estate House with glasses of fresh local fruit juice and homemade rum punch, followed by our first delicious dinner. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 2
BIRDING GREEN CASTLE ESTATE

After our day of travel yesterday, we take it easy today and simply bird this 1600-acre estate on foot. We'll take our time getting to know some of the more common island endemics such as Jamaican Woodpecker, the tiny Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Oriole, Orangequit, Sad Flycatcher, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Euphonia and White-chinned Thrush. We'll also devote some time to tracking down a few of the scarcer endemics - like Yellow-shouldered Grassquit and the 'reptillian' Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo.

Jamaican endemic subspecies (there are a further 19 of these!) of Olive-throated Parakeet, Loggerhead Kingbird and Vervain Hummingbird might also be found - often right outside the guesthouse. But the star bird of the day could well be the Red-billed Streamertail, whose elaborate tail plumes make a fascinating hum as they fly.

Though we might perhaps walk for three or four miles over the course of the day (some of it on hilly terrain), as with life everywhere in the Caribbean, the pace is easy and relaxed with frequent stops for birding as we go. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 3
BLUE MOUNTAINS & HARDWAR GAP

After our orientation day around the estate yesterday, this morning we will make an early start up to Hardwar Gap and the famous Blue Mountains. As we depart in the half-light, we have a chance of spotting American Barn Owl perched in the open - the birds on Jamaica have very white wings. There are three key endemic birds to find in the Blue Mountains National Park, with two of them - Crested Quail-dove and Jamaican Blackbird - being rather secretive so we will spend a bit of time looking for these. The third speciality, the understated Blue Mountain Vireo, is generally more showy.

Rising to around 1300 metres (4200ft), the Blue Mountains will reveal more of Jamaica's avian treasures. Gems to watch for as we walk the road that passes through the moss, bromeliad and fern-laden cloudforest at Hardwar Gap include Ring-tailed Pigeon, Jamaican and Greater Antillean Elaenias, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Jamaican Pewee, Jamaican Vireo, the humbug-like Arrowhead Warbler, the stripe-headed Jamaican Spindalis and the impressive Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo. The haunting call of Rufous-throated Solitaire should be another of the morning's highlights as it resonates through the forests. And what better way to round off the day than with a cup of Blue Mountain coffee actually in the Blue Mountains during a quick visit to a coffee plantation – for a true taste of Jamaica. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 4
BIRDING GREEN CASTLE ESTATE

Spread over 1600 acres with more than 20 miles of trails and so much to see, there's plenty to keep us occupied as we explore more of the Green Castle Estate today.

In addition to the island's resident birds, in March we should also pick up wintering North American migrants such as Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler and the stunning Prairie Warbler. Our perambulations could well find us diminutive Yellow-faced Grassquits or Greater Antillean Grackles lurking by the hotel dining room; perhaps a Black-whiskered Vireo foraging; a Loggerhead Kingbird flycatching near the tennis courts; or the splendidly named Stolid Flycatcher and Jamaican Elaenia sitting unobtrusively... while the ceaseless activity of the Jamaican Mango will more than make up for that! The retiring Mangrove Cuckoo could also come our way today and sharp eyes might even pick out the sought-after Crested Quail-dove. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 5
FOOTHILLS OF THE JOHN CROW MOUNTAINS & ECCLESDOWN ROAD

We head out very early this morning to travel to Ecclesdown Road, which cuts through the lush John Crow Mountains at the far eastern end the island. Well-known in birding circles as the sole site in Jamaica where all of the island's endemic birds have been recorded, it's imperative to be there first thing. Black-billed Streamertail is the key endemic to find here - a bird whose tiny world range is restricted solely to these rugged limestone mountains.

Exposed to the Northeast Trade Winds, the John Crow forests are the wettest in Jamaica. Early mornings here offer the best chance to find key specialities including Yellow-billed and Black-billed Amazons, the unusual Jamaican Blackbird and the odd Jamaican Crow with its remarkable gurgling voice and jabbering outbursts.

Ecclesdown Road is also an excellent back-up location for some of the other endemics we may have missed previously. We will walk this quiet road on foot, hoping for eye-level views of many species before taking lunch at Boston Bay, the world famous home of Jamaican jerk.

If time allows, we'll make stops on our return drive back along the coast, watching for waders along the shore and Magnificent Frigatebirds and Royal Terns out over the sea. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 6
ROBIN’S BAY & NIGHT BIRDING ON THE GREEN CASTLE ESTATE

Taking a packed breakfast this morning, we set off early to visit the low, craggy coastline of volcanic cliffs at nearby Robin's Bay. In March, White-tailed Tropicbirds should be returning to their nesting sites and we have an opportunity to look for these superb birds here. Early in the morning at the start of the breeding season, these elegant birds perform their dancing courtship flights over the sea. We paid an impromptu visit to the site on our March 2018 tour - with great success. Having added this excursion to our March 2019 itinerary, we shall be keeping our fingers crossed that they put on another good show for us this year! As a bonus, Cave Swallows (here of the local Caribbean form) are often to be seen wheeling about the low cliffs.

After spending time with the tropicbirds we'll check out the nearby beaches for waders and terns. Brown Pelicans may be fishing offshore and Brown Noddy is occasionally present, too.

With both an early start and a late finish planned for today, after lunching at Green Castle, we’ll take time out in the afternoon to relax, enjoy the estate’s swimming pool or simply to unwind ... although there's always the gardens to enjoy!

After dinner this evening, there will be a chance to go spotlighting for night birds on the estate. The endemic Jamaican Owl, American Barn Owl and Northern Potoo - the latter yet another endemic Jamaican subspecies - are all on the cards. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 7
VINERY & GREEN CASTLE RESERVOIR

Vinery lies within a 30-minute drive of the Green Castle Estate and we will set off early there today so as to give ourselves the best possible chance to find the elusive Crested Quail-dove - a species known locally as the ‘Mountain Witch’ after its characteristic “woo-woo” call. The exquisite Jamaican Tody, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit and White-eyed Thrush can often be cooperative along this quiet road - and Ruddy Quail-dove is possible, too.

After lunch back at Green Castle, this afternoon we have an opportunity to bird areas of the estate we may have missed on other days. The estate reservoir is one such spot and regularly attracts waterbirds such as Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt and Northern Jacana - as well as the 'must see' Stolid Flycatcher.

Again, our itinerary affords those that wish the chance to do their own thing - relax after lunch, to stroll on their own about the grounds, to take photographs of the wildlife - or to bird with the group, if you prefer. Night Green Castle Estate

DAY 8
TO MONTEGO BAY, ROCKLANDS BIRD SANCTUARY & FLY LONDON

We bid a reluctant farewell to our friends at the Green Castle Estate today and travel back west to Montego Bay. However, our flight home doesn't depart Jamaica until early evening so we have plenty of time for birding along the way.

As we journey along the north coast, we may admire cruciform Magnificent Frigatebirds, plunging Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns feeding offshore. In March, the likes of Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpiper may also be present along the shore.

Our principal birding destination today is the famous Rocklands Bird Sanctuary. For many years, birds at this location have been attracted to feeders and a visit here presents unparalled opportunities for bird photography as well as to get up close and personal with a good proportion of Jamaica’s endemic birds – especially its hummingbirds. Species such as White-crowned Pigeon, Caribbean Dove, Jamaican Woodpecker, Orangequit and Jamaican Oriole can also be more confiding here than elsewhere on the island, making for a fitting finale to our stay on this 'tropical treasure island'.

If time pernits we'll stop for a short visit to the area around the Bogue Water Treatment Plant, which lies en route to Montego Bay Airport. In March, the mangroves and lagoons here can hold an array of herons, egrets, waders and ducks – the latter often including the scarce West Indian Whistling Duck. The indecisive Caribbean Coot (now once again 'lumped' with American Coot), Purple Gallinule and Northern Jacana are other possible treats waiting for us here.

Our birding over, we travel the short distance back to Montego Bay airport and check-in for our overnight flight home.

DAY 9
ARRIVE LONDON GATWICK

Morning arrival at London Gatwick, where our spring birdwatching tour to Jamaica concludes.

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Despite tanagers being widespread in the Neotropics, they are not so on Jamaica - but the spectacular Jamaican Spindalis does a great job representing the family there! © Mike Crewe, Limosa

What To Expect

Fine accommodation and fabulous birding beneath the warm Caribbean sun await on this 'one-stop' tour to Jamaica - staying at the beautiful Green Castle Estate.

Jamaica is a hotbed of avian endemism in the West Indies, with no fewer than 28 species unique to the island. Remarkably, as many as 20 of these are to be found within the grounds of the private estate where we stay. Add a wealth of other more widespread Caribbean specialities - plus migrant North American warblers, too - and you have a week of hot and tropical birdwatching that's every bit as tasty as the island's delicious Caribbean cuisine!

When comparing prices please note that our tour cost includes flights to Montego Bay, a Limosa guide and all excursions and transfers - including two that are new for 2019, and none at extra cost.

Please be aware that early starts are necessary on days when we travel out to the Blue Mountains and the John Crowes (Ecclesdown Road), and also to look for the White-tailed Tropicbirds.

Jamaica's climate is subtropical, pleasantly warm to hot, dry and sunny. In March, temperatures in the capital Kingston range from 22-29C (73-84F). Typically a little cooler in the hills, where it can feel chilly first thing with lows of around 13C (55F). It’s the dry season (but rain or the odd shower may still occur, particularly in the John Crow Mountains), and well outside the hurricane season (which runs June-November). It can be humid at times, especially at lower elevations.

There is no malaria risk on this tour. Although mosquitoes are present in a few locations, a little repellent should do the trick. Overall, the birding here is relatively nuisance-free and (unusually for the tropics) Jamaica has no poisonous snakes.

Good to excellent opportunities, especially at Rocklands. More difficult in the forest due to low light levels.

Birds

100-110 species

Accommodation

7 nights in comfortable guesthouse accommodation at Green Castle, set on a safe, private estate of 1650 acres in the northeast corner of Jamaica. All rooms are en suite and equipped with a ceiling fan.

The estate land is hilly, with the guesthouse enjoying beautiful views over land that slopes gently down to the Caribbean shore - and up into the verdant Blue Mountains. The house also has a swimming pool and tennis court, and free wifi is available in the Estate House living area.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at Green Castle on Day 1 and concluding with lunch in Jamaica prior to departure on Day 8. The estate house has a large, free freshwater dispenser for bottle filling and complimentary tea and coffee are available 24hrs a day.

Jamaican food is excellent, with delicious and tasty cuisine. Local dishes you might like to look out for and try include ackee (vegetable scrambled eggs), callaloo (vegetable cooked like spinach), green bananas, fried Johnnycakes (cornmeal flatbread) and the famous Jamaican jerked chicken. While if coffee is your thing, Jamaica has some of the very best!

Walking

There are over 20 miles of well maintained trails to explore on the Green Castle Estate that provide safe and easy access to a range of habitats: from extensive tracts of pristine forest to grasslands and agricultural fields, mangrove swamp, coastline and a good-sized freshwater reservoir.

To enjoy this tour to the full you should be reasonably fit and mobile as each day we are likely to cover between three and five miles on foot. Much of the island is hilly or mountainous, so expect walks to be up and down on mainly gentle slopes, with a few steeper sections at a couple of sites. Some participants might like to bring a walking pole or collapsible stool. However, this is not a strenuous or difficult tour - the pace is gentle with frequent stops to watch birds and all excursions and walks are optional.

As one would expect, rainforest trails can be loose or uneven underfoot in places, also muddy at times - sturdy waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with good grip recommended.

Travel

We fly from London Gatwick to Montego Bay, nonstop with Virgin Atlantic.

Ground Transport   Birdwatching excursions will be by minibus, with airport transfers by Toyota Coaster allowing ample room for our bags.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch Jamaica Tim Loseby LIMOSA~4

A Caribbean speciality, the chunky and localised Greater Antillean Bullfinch is found only on the islands of Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Bahamas © kind permission Tim Loseby

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