Birding Without Borders

Day 108: The Jamaica Slam

Can Noah find all 28 endemic birds in 24 hours?

April 18, 2015, White House, Jamaica — I came to Jamaica with one purpose: To see as many of its endemics as possible in a quick visit (today was my only full day in this country). Jamaica holds 28 birds that are found nowhere else! A few of them can be difficult to find, so it would take some luck to make a clean sweep. Liz, Barbara, Jay, Tom and I set out today on a quest to track down those 28 birds.

We started the day at a place called Ecclesdown Road, in the John Crow mountains, and ended at Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountains. Many of Jamaica’s specialty birds are found only in these areas, where significant patches of intact forest remain in the island’s interior hills. The birding was fun: Practically everything was new! The unique species could be named a bit more creatively, though; the list of endemics includes Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Spindalis, Jamaican Mango, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Elaenia, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Crow, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Blackbird, and Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo.

The blackbird and the lizard-cuckoo are perhaps the two hardest-to-find endemics, and, about an hour before dusk, we still hadn’t seen either one, despite lots of searching. The five of us were literally wandering aimlessly in a fog at Hardwar Gap this evening when, out of nowhere, two Jamaican Blackbirds swooped into a tree right in front of us. Whoa! That left just the lizard-cuckoo, a sneaky character, and we were walking back toward the car when Jay decided to try broadcasting one last lizard-cuckoo call. On cue, the bird popped out of a bush, looked at us, and darted across the road. Double whoa! It takes a pretty good bird these days to give me an adrenaline high, but those back-to-back sightings sure did it. Counting from yesterday evening, we saw all of Jamaica’s endemic birds in just under 24 hours—a real “Jamaica Slam!”

I also picked up a couple dozen Caribbean island species here that I won’t see anywhere else this year (from Antillean Nighthawk to White-tailed Tropicbird) and stumbled on a couple of surprises (a rare Chestnut-sided Warbler and a striking, mostly-albino Turkey Vulture). This Jamaican birding binge has been quite a boost. And I enjoyed spending today with a crew of birders my own age; it was a vacation of sorts for all of us, as Liz, Barbara, Jay, and Tom took a break from their field studies and I took a mini-break from the rain forests of Central America.

New birds today: 32

Year list: 2100

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