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Day 1: Wed 29 January 2025 – Travel to Jamaica
We fly from Heathrow to Jamaica, and upon our arrival in Norman Manley International Airport near the capital city of Kingston, transfer to our hotel in Port Royal where we stay for our first night. There may be time for a little pre-dinner birding, or our first birds will come after dark as we search for nocturnal dwellers including Chuck-will’s Widow, Northern Potoo, Jamaican Owl and American Barn Owl (of the furcata subspecies).
Day 2: Thur 30 January – Blue Mountains, Jamaica
With 28 single island endemics, Jamaica is a great island to begin our tour as is the Blue and John Crow National Park, our first destination. Designated a World Heritage Site in 2015, we ascend into the Blue Mountains, a spectacular haven for birdlife with half of our target birds possible on our very first day! Exploring the famous bird highway of Hardwar Gap about halfway up towering Blue Mountain Peak, threatened Jamaican Blackbird (in its own genus Nesopsar) is a key target. We also search for Crested Quail-Dove, a difficult species often located by its haunting song earning it the local nickname ‘mountain witch’. Other likely species include Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Blue Mountain Vireo, Jamaican Mango, Jamaican Elaenia, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Tody and stunning Red-billed Streamertail - endemic to Jamaica and also the island’s national bird. A great first day in the field, and after dinner we may have another try for nocturnal species again if desired. Overnight in the Blue Mountains for a single night.
Day 3: Fri 31 January – Buff Bay River Valley, Jamaica
After a leisurely breakfast we spend a little more time in the local cloud forests with Jamaiaan endemics at the fore. Priority targets include Jamaican Spindalis, Arrowhead Warbler, White-chinned and White-eyed Thrush, and we hope to find shy Rufous-throated Solitaire (of the endemic subspecies solitarius). With our targets found. travelling northeast we enter the scenic Buff Bay River Valley to the north coast parish of Portland. New endemics are likely to include Orangequit, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Pewee, Jamaican Oriole, Sad Flycatcher and Ring-tailed Pigeon, along with near-endemic Greater Antillean Elaenia and Vervain Hummingbird. We stay at Portland for one night.
Day 4: Sat 1 February – Ecclesdown Road, Jamaica
White-tailed Tropicbird are one of the most beautiful and iconic of Caribbean seabirds, and we make an early morning visit to appreciate their aerial acrobatics. Always a good way to start to any day in Jamaica, we then move on to one of the most prolific sites for endemics – the much-famed Ecclesdown Road. Focused on finding new species, Black-billed Parrot, Jamaican Crow, Large Jamaican and Small Jamaican Elaenia and range restricted Black-billed Streamertail all being key endemics, with a number of other species likely in this bird-rich area. At another site we look for endemic Yellow-billed Parrot, with Olive-throated Parakeet also perhaps featuring before making our way to the airport for our evening flight to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. We stay close to Santo Domingo area for one night.
Day 5: Sun 2 February – West Dominican Republic endemics
The Dominican Republic offers some of the best birding in the Caribbean, boasting 32 single-island endemics, alongside a number of Caribbean specialities as well as passing migrants. At a quiet oasis close to our hotel, likely are Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, Broad-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Mango, Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo and Palmchat – an unusual communal nester. Also possible are Vervain Hummingbird, a near endemic thought to be the world’s second-smallest bird, plus American Kestrel (of the Hispaniolan form), Antillean Palm-Swift, Red-legged Thrush and West Indian Whistling-Duck.
Being larger than other islands, habitats are more varied in the Dominican Republic and today we have the opportunity to explore salt pans, dunes, mangroves and Lake Enriquillo – the largest internal waterbody in the Caribbean. Hispaniolan Palm Crow is a scarce endemic and key target, while also possible are endemic White-necked Crow and Hispaniolan Parrot, plus American Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbill, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Greater Antillean Grackle and globally scarce Plain Pigeon. The mixture of habitats often proves attractive for migrants and as well as key endemics we have chances of a host of passing waders, seabirds and over-wintering passerines including Northern Waterthrush, Blackpoll, Prairie and other attractive American Wood-Warblers.
Day 6: Mon 3 February – Birding in the low elevation forests, Dominican Republic
Entering the foothills of the mountains, it is the forests on the slopes where we aim to find a number of new endemics. Targets include Hispaniolan Trogon, White-fronted Quail-Dove, Hispaniolan Spindalis, Antillean Siskin, Hispaniolan Pewee, near-endemic Golden Swallow, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Rufous-throated Solitaire and Antillean (Hispaniolan) Euphonia. We visit a reliable site for Eastern Chat-Tanager which can be a tricky bird to find, and also a narrow strip of riparian habitat where targets include endemic Hispaniolan Oriole, Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Tody, as well as Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Antillean Piculet, Flat-billed Vireo and others. After a great day in the field, we transfer to a small, locally owned hotel near Duverge for the next two nights.
Days 7 & 8: Tue 4 & Wed 5 February – The Elfin (Mossy) Forests, Dominican Republic
To make the most of our visit and to see the greatest variety of birds in these unique habitats, we leave before dawn for a site deep in the heart of the forest. La Selle Thrush, White-winged Warbler and Western Chat-Tanager are difficult, key species and by making the effort we have a good chance to connect with all three. Also likely in the high elevation broadleaved forest are Hispaniolan Emerald, Green-tailed Warbler and Hispaniolan (Loggerhead) Kingbird, and heading further uphill and into the pines we look for endemic Hispaniolan Crossbill and Pine Warbler (of the Hispaniolan subspecies). After a hard-working morning in the hills, we enjoy a more relaxing afternoon birding in the surroundings of our eco-lodge. As dusk falls, we have the chance to add further special birds, perhaps including Hispaniolan Nightjar, Northern Potoo, Least Pauraque, Chuck-will’s-widow, Ashy-faced Owl and the Hispaniolan subspecies of Burrowing Owl.
With the benefit of a full day and a half at the eco lodge, we have the next morning to try for any unseen high-elevation specialists. Our second afternoon will be spent travelling east, with roadside birding stops on the way back to Santo Domingo, where we stay for our final two nights on the island.
Day 9: Thur 6 February – Ridgway’s Hawk, Dominican Republic
From our Santo Domingo base we head north to one of the last strongholds of one of the rarest raptors in the world – Ridgway’s Hawk! Critically endangered and confined to a relatively small protected area in the north-east, perhaps as few as 200 are thought to remain, its fragile population in freefall as a result of mass deforestation and hunting. With up-to-date information, and a little bit of luck we hope to see this special bird as we follow up on recent reports at known sites. The rest of the day will be spent trying to get better views of any endemics or desirable species in this part of the island. The Dominican Republic leg of our tour comes to its conclusion with a visit to an urban Hispaniolan Parakeet roost within the city.
Day 10: Fri 7 February – Exploring the Central and Eastern Puerto Rican forests
Leaving behind the large island of Hispaniola, we take a short hour-long flight to neighbouring Puerto Rico for our next adventure. The easternmost island in the Greater Antilles group, 18 species of bird are found nowhere else and within an hour or so of our arrival we find ourselves birding in the lush montane forests of the east, where Puerto Rican Tanager, Puerto Rican Woodpecker and rare Elfin Woods Warbler are a few of our primary targets, the latter a difficult, only recently described species requiring patience (and luck) for a good view. Other likely endemics include Puerto Rican Oriole, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Puerto Rican Vireo, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody, Green Mango. Another key target for the day is the critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. And we may get a sighting of Broad-winged Hawk (of the endangered Puerto Rican sub-species) soaring overhead. Before dinner at a local spot, we spend some time on the hunt for the Puerto Rican (Screech) Owl. We stay at Luquillo for one night.
Day 11: Sat 8 February – Western Puerto Rican specialities
With some key and difficult species to continue to search for, this morning we head back into the rainforest after a short stop at a reliable site for Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo. Together with our key targets, we are likely to catch sightings of a number of attractive North American Wood-warblers such Cape May, Black-throated Blue and Black and White Warbler, Northern Parula and American Redstart in this verdant habitat. We then make our way south, where upon arrival, we try to find Yellow-shouldered Blackbird - often found opportunistically foraging for scraps around town! Finally, having worked our way to the dry coastal forests by nightfall, we try for Puerto Rican Nightjar before dinner and a well-deserved rest. We stay at Lajas for the last night of our Antilles adventure!
Day 12: Sun 9 February – Final birding and return to the UK
This morning, we head out early, making our way north to one of the largest tracts of native woodland in the north of the island. These forests support a high proportion of islands endemics and we should be able to mop up any remaining endemics and desirable Caribbean species not yet seen. On good trails we look for Lesser Antillean Peewee (of the Puerto Rican subspecies), Adelaide’s Warbler and Puerto Rican Flycatcher. Also likely are near-endemic Puerto Rican Mango, Loggerhead Kingbird (of the Puerto Rican subspecies taylori) and Mangrove Cuckoo. Critically endangered Puerto Rican Sharp-shinned Hawk is another target which may be seen soaring above us - an endemic subspecies (venator) which may soon be recognised as a full species. We will also have another shot at the Puerto Rican Parrot before we make our way back to San Juan, for our flights home. We expect to arrive back in the UK on Mon 10 February (day 13), with a long list of difficult, mouth-watering endemics in our notebooks!