Birding from a cruise ship - Jan/Feb 2004
Friday, 23rd January 2004
Port of call - Montego Bay on the north coast
Time ashore approximately 10:30 am - 5:30 pm.
We did not book a cruise excursion for the day in Jamaica
Jamaican endemic (E)
Jamaica is located in the Caribbean, 90 miles south of Cuba. It has a species count of 289, with 28 endemics and 6 introduced species. There are 10 globally threatened species such as the Black-billed and Yellow-billed Parrots which have suffered due to habitat loss and illegal trapping for the pet trade.
As the ship docked we spotted Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans, plus a Belted Kingfisher which was fishing in the sea from a small spit of land.
We had read that there was a bird sanctuary quite near to Montego Bay, and at the tourist information desk in the cruise ship terminal, we were told that we could hire a taxi to take us and that it was about a half hour's drive. The Rockland's Bird Sanctuary actually is only about 5 miles away and took less than 30 minutes to get there. It is located in the little town of Anchovy - after driving up Long Hill Gorge on the A1, look for a sign to the Sanctuary, pointing left. This rough, narrow road takes you up a hill and as our taxi appeared to be overheating and smoking, we had the driver drop us a little way from the sanctuary. He promised to get his car fixed and to be back at 3:30pm to pick us up (we had agreed on a price for the fare, and would only pay him when he got us back to the ship!). He kept his word and was there at the appointed time!
On our drive to the sanctuary, we spotted a Northern Mockingbird on some telephone lines - our driver used the colloquial name of "nightingale"! Also seen en route were Cattle Egret and a Black Vulture.
The Rockland's Bird Sanctuary was originally owned and run by "the bird lady" Lisa Salmon, who sadly, had passed away in 2000, in her 90's. Fortunately the property is still being run as a sanctuary, by Ms Salmon's nephew, and it is managed by Fritz, who told us that he'd been there for 15 years, staying on after Ms. Salmon died. There was an US$8 entrance fee and a separate fee for a guided tour which appeared to be "negotiable" - discuss this with the guide before you start the tour! Hours of operation had been posted in the tourist office, as 2-5 pm, when the birds would be fed, but we arrived at 11.30 am, and were invited straight on to a covered patio which was buzzing with hummingbirds. The Red-billed Streamertail*(E) and Jamaican Mango*(E) were so tame that they would come straight to a handheld bottle of sugar water and some of them would even sit on your finger to feed, if you were lucky! There are 4 species of hummingbird resident in Jamaica - 3 of them can be found at Rocklands, but the 4th, the Black-billed Streamertail, is only found in the very eastern part of Jamaica (it is sometimes treated as a sub-species of the Streamertail). The next treat was to hand feed the Black-faced Grassquits*, Yellow-faced Grassquits* and Orangequits*(E) by holding out a hand full of millet seed. I was in seventh heaven ....! Also hopping around the feeders on the patio, were Banaquits*, a Greater Antillean Bullfinch* and a Black-throated Blue Warbler* male.
Fritz then led us out into the wooded area beyond the covered patio and we soon saw a Jamaican Woodpecker*(E) and White-chinned Thrush*(E). Further along the trail we actually found a couple of familiar species - a Northern Parula and a colourful male American Redstart, and later we also saw a female redstart. Fritz proved to be an excellent guide and spotted many birds we would never have seen without his help. Our next 4 species were all endemic to Jamaica, as well: the Rufous-tailed Flycatcher*(E), looking very similar to our North American Great-crested Flycatcher and we were lucky to watch it catch a large cricket; the Jamaican Tody*(E) which looks like a hummingbird on steroids; the Jamaican Euphonia*(E) and the Jamaican Vireo*(E). We also spotted the tiny (2.5 in) Vervain Hummingbird*, found only in Jamaica and Hispaniola. Finally, Fritz pointed out a Loggerhead Kingbird*, very similar to our Eastern Kingbird, and then it was time to go back as we didn't want to be late for our taxi rendez-vous.
On our way back, Fritz led us off the trail a short way to see if he could locate a Potoo which he had found roosting on a certain tree stump several days before, but unfortunately it was not there for us. However we did find a Common Ground-dove and 3 Caribbean Doves*. Back at the sanctuary gardens we watched the feeders for a while and got another lifer when a couple of Jamaican Orioles* visited the nectar feeders. This oriole is a common resident found only in Jamaica and San Andres. In the trees beyond there were some black birds which we finally identified as Shiny Cowbirds*. The other possibility had been the endemic and endangered Jamaican Blackbird, which is now uncommon and usually only found at higher elevations.
We left Rocklands to walk the short way along the road to the appointed rendez-vous with our taxi and en route saw a Turkey Vulture soaring above and then were fortunate enough to have an American Kestrel land on some power lines quite close to us. This female kestrel seemed to be quite curious and let us get a couple of photos. In the same area we also saw a couple of parrots, one of which was too far away to see well, but we identified the second one as the threatened Black-billed Parrot*(E). We felt very lucky to have found one on our really short visit to Jamaica!
Back on the ship in the late afternoon, we watched a kettle of Magnificent Frigatebirds as they came in to roost on some islands in the bay to the south of the cruise ship pier. There were several juveniles with white heads, having a difficult time landing on the roost trees! Cattle Egrets, Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Egret, were also using the same roost.
34 species, 20 lifers*
(11 of them endemics ~ E)
Black-throated Blue Warbler*
Greater Antillean Bullfinch*
This page was last updated on: March 25, 2013
Text ~ Helen Baines
Photos ~ John & Helen Baines
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The Rockland's Bird Sanctuary is near the village of Anchovy, in the hills above Montego Bay.
View of the patio where the bird feeding station is located
The entrance to the covered patio at the sanctuary
Feeding a Red-billed Streamertail
Beautiful colors of the Jamaican Mango
The Streamertail is known locally as the Doctorbird
A Yellow-faced Grassquit feeding on my husband's hand
The outdoor patio area is surrounded by bird feeders
Fritz and my husband on the trail through the wooded area of the sanctuary. We got 20 lifers in about 2 hours!
Two views of a Jamaican Oriole stealing the sugar water nectar from the hummingbird feeders
Bananaquit at a sugar feeder
Hand feeding a Black-faced Grassquit
A Black-throated Blue Warbler, wintering at Rocklands
The view of the hills above Montego Bay from the cruise ship. Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is located beyond the plume of smoke