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Birdquest's Hispaniola & Puerto Rico with Jamaica & The Bahamas birding tour is an extraordinary combination of some of the richest islands for endemic birds in the Caribbean region. As we explore some of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean we will enjoy some excellent birdwatching, including many endemics and Caribbean specialities as well as migrant species from North America. This tour is also a magnet for family collectors as it features Palmchat, the sole member of its family, and three of the four todies, the second Caribbean endemic bird family.
Sunday 2nd April —
Saturday 15th April 2017
Jamaica Extension: Sunday 26th March — Saturday 1st April (7 days)
Bahamas Extension: Sunday 16th April — Thursday 20th April (5 days)
Leader: Mark Van Beirs
Group Size Limit: 9
Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations almost throughout
There is something magical about the Caribbean Sea and its scattering of beautiful islands. These tropical wonderlands with their palm-fringed, pearly beaches and ultramarine waters, their wealth of tropical fruits, their swinging reggae and calypso music, their famously relaxed way of life and their attractive mixture of races and cultures conjure up an idea of paradise. Of course this happy vision is only part of what the islands are about, and an aspect of the Caribbean more available to wealthy locals and visitors from more developed lands: life is far from idyllic for many inhabitants of the Caribbean.
Columbus discovered these islands soon after his famous transatlantic crossing and in the early 1500s the Spanish, eager for slaves to work in the goldmines of Hispaniola, conquered the native Indians and colonized the whole region. Santo Domingo, the present-day capital of the Dominican Republic (which occupies roughly two-thirds of Hispaniola), became the centre of Spanish influence and was sacked by Francis Drake in 1586. Buccaneers and pirates used the islands as bases for their pillaging forays. Later millions of slaves were imported from Africa and the resulting blend of different cultures has profoundly influenced the whole history of the West Indies.
Most of the Caribbean islands are rugged and mountainous, but encompass a breathtaking variety of terrain, fringed by white sandy beaches meeting the turquoise ocean. Eons ago, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and Jamaica were mountain peaks, connected to what is present-day central America, but nowadays their very special fauna and flora reflect their longstanding isolation.
Ornithologically, the Caribbean islands are perhaps most notable for the occurrence of two endemic families, the gem-like Todies, comprising five very similar species (one of which is restricted to Cuba, while the other four are distributed between Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico) and the enigmatic Palmchat, which is restricted to Hispaniola. With the richest concentration of endemic bird species in the Caribbean, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico are highly appealing to anyone with an interest in the avifauna of this beautiful part of the world. Hispaniola boasts no fewer than 32 endemics (although one, Gray-crowned Palm-Tanager, is virtually confined to Haiti and not possible on bird tours to the Dominican Republic part of the island), Puerto Rico a further 18 (if one includes one species shared with the Virgin Islands), and Jamaica 30 (if one includes Jamaican Oriole, which is only shared with the remote island of San Andres), and there are also a host of more widespread endemic Caribbean specialities. Families that are especially well represented amongst the endemics include pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, nightjars, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, tyrant flycatchers, vireos and wood warblers. With persistence we should see the great majority of the specialities. Apart from the endemic birds, the pleasant tropical climate encourages many North American passerines to winter on these islands and even more to rest while on spring migration.
We start our journey in the Dominican Republic, which comprises the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. Here we will spend most of our time in the forested valleys of the Sierra de Bahoruco and on the shores of Lago Enriquillo, the largest lake in the Caribbean. At lower altitudes we will be looking for the famous Palmchat as well as many other endemics including Ashy-faced Owl, Hispaniolan Nightjar, Least Poorwill, the splendid Broad-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Parrot, the strange Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo, the rare Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Antillean Piculet, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Hispaniolan Pewee, White-necked Crow, Flat-billed Vireo, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, Hispaniolan Stripe-headed Tanager (or Hispaniolan Spindalis), and Hispaniolan Oriole.
At higher altitudes we will be looking for Hispaniolan (or White-fronted) Quail-Dove, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Hispaniolan Emerald, Narrow-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Trogon, Golden Swallow, Hispaniolan Palm Crow, the rare La Selle Thrush, the attractive Hispaniolan Highland-Tanager and the skulking Green-tailed Ground-Tanager (the latter two species were previously thought to be parulid warblers!), the skulking Western and Eastern Chat-Tanagers, Antillean Siskin and Hispaniolan Crossbill.
We will also explore the remote wilderness that is Los Haitises National Park, an area that is the last stronghold of the increasingly rare endemic Ridgway’s Hawk.
From Hispaniola we will fly eastwards to the much smaller island of Puerto Rico, where we will visit the tropical rainforest of the Luquillo Mountains. Later we will work the trails of the humid reserve of Maricao, before travelling to the dry forests of Guanica. Here we will seeking out such endemics as the critically-endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (now much easier to see than in the past), the weird Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Screech-Owl (which also occurs on the Virgin Islands), the rare Puerto Rican Nightjar, Puerto Rican Emerald, Green Mango, the lovely Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Pewee, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, the rare Elfin Woods Warbler, the lovely Adelaide’s Warbler, Puerto Rican Tanager, Puerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager (or Puerto Rican Spindalis), Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Puerto Rican Oriole and the declining Yellow-shouldered Blackbird.
By the end of our journey through these two fascinating islands we should have seen the vast majority of their endemic birds, as well as many other Caribbean specialities, while enjoying some beautiful scenery and the special atmosphere of the Caribbean.
The name Jamaica derives from the word Xaymaca, meaning ‘Land of Wood and Water’ or perhaps ‘Land of Springs’, used by its Arawakan-speaking original Taíno inhabitants. Columbus ‘discovered’ Jamaica in 1494 on his second voyage of exploration to the New World, and in the early 1500s the Spanish conquered the Taíno indians and colonized the island, which they called Santiago. At times, buccaneers and pirates used the island as a base for their pillaging forays, and eventually the island passed under British control and became known as Jamaica. Huge numbers of slaves were imported from Africa during its colonial past and the resulting blend of different cultures has profoundly influenced the subsequent history of the island, which has been an independent state since 1962. Ian Fleming, who lived on the island, repeatedly used Jamaica as a setting for his James Bond novels, but Jamaica’s most famous son is surely Bob Marley, who is still regarded with reverence by the locals.
We start the Jamaica extension at Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, and from here we travel westwards to the climatically-perfect hill town of Mandeville. Here we shall explore the open gardens, pastures and woodland of a working cattle ranch where well over half of Jamaica’s endemics can be found, including the splendid Red-billed Streamertail (a supremely elegant hummingbird that is surely the island’s signature bird), Jamaican Parakeet , Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Mango, the lovely Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Elaenia, Jamaican Pewee, Sad and Rufous-tailed Flycatchers, Jamaican Becard, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanager (or Jamaican Spindalis), Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, the attractive Orangequit and Jamaican Oriole. We will also visit the Black River Morass, Jamaica’s largest wetland, where we should see Antillean Nighthawk and have a good chance of encountering the uncommon West Indian Whistling-Duck.
We will also spend some time exploring the wild, hilly Cockpit Country in search of four more endemics: Ring-tailed Pigeon, Black-billed and Yellow-billed Parrots, and Jamaican Crow.
During the second part of our stay on the island, we concentrate on the dark evergreen forests of the Blue Mountains and the John Crow Mountains, which dominate the eastern part of this tropical paradise. These ranges are home to the rest of Jamaica’s endemics, including Black-billed Streamertail, the very shy Crested Quail-Dove, White-eyed Thrush, Blue-Mountain Vireo, Arrow-headed Warbler and Jamaican Blackbird. By the end of our journey there is a good chance we will have seen all of the Jamaican endemics. We will also have enjoyed some lovely Caribbean scenery and soaked up the relaxed way of life of this unique island.
A far-flung scattering of low-lying islands in the tropical Atlantic make up the Bahamas, which we will visit during a second optional extension. If ever a group of islands typified the popular view of the ‘desert island’ then the Bahamas fit the bill – endless miles of white sand beaches, swaying palms, turquoise blue waters, coral reefs and the sun shining down from a blue, blue sky almost every day of the year!
We only need to visit the attractive island of Abaco and the island of North Andros, in the northern Bahamas, in order to see the islands’ five endemics: Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Swallow, the recently-split Bahama Warbler, Bahama Yellowthroat and the recently-recognized Bahama Oriole.
Whilst searching for these five major specialities we will also be able to enjoy a series of predominantly Caribbean birds, including the Bahamas form of the Cuban Parrot (which may in future be treated as a Bahamian endemic), West Indian Whistling-Duck, the rare and threatened Caribbean Osprey, Zenaida Dove, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Antillean Nighthawk, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Red-legged Thrush, Bahama Mockingbird, Olive-capped Warbler, Western Stripe-headed Tanager, Greater Antillean Bullfinch and perhaps the beautiful Key West Quail-Dove. Interesting seabirds include White-tailed Tropicbird, Bridled and Sooty Terns, Brown Noddy and perhaps Audubon’s Shearwater.
The Bahamas are a very attractive destination for anyone with an interest in the avifauna of this beautiful part of the world. Good standards of accommodation and food, and mostly easy travelling and birding conditions, make for a relaxing but highly rewarding journey. After exploring these idyllic islands, and after so much sun and sea, never mind such relaxing and enjoyable birding, it is going to be hard to drag ourselves away!
Birdquest has operated tours to Jamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico since 1998, and to the Bahamas since 2004.
Jamaica-only and Bahamas-only Options: Subject to space being available, you can opt to take the Jamaica section only or the Bahamas section only. Please contact us for further information.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good standard almost throughout. Barancoli Camp in the Sierra de Bahoruco, where we spend two nights, is pleasantly situated but fairly basic and bathroom facilities are shared. Transport is by small coach and minibus/passenger van, and roads are mostly good or reasonable, except in the sierras in the Dominican Republic.
Walking etc: The walking effort is easy throughout. There are some very long days in the field in the Dominican Republic, where some of the nightbird specialities are hard to find.
Climate: Mostly warm or hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes cool and overcast (especially at higher altitudes). It may rain at times.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are quite good.
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.
Tour Price: £4090, €4830, $5360 Santo Domingo/San Juan. Jamaica Extension: £2150, €2540, $2820 Kingston/Kingston. Bahamas Extension: £1530, €1800, $2000 Marsh Harbour/Nassau.
Price includes all transportation (including the Santo Domingo-San Juan flight and, for those taking the Bahamas extension, all flights within the Bahamas), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £484, €571, $634. Jamaica Extension: £240, €283, $314. Bahamas Extension: £256, €302, $335.
There are only a limited number of rooms at the lodge in the Sierra de Bahoruco where we spend 2 nights. There is no single supplement at this location, but singles are provided free of additional charge if available at the time (they often are, but not always for everyone who wants one).
Deposit: £450, €600, $700. Jamaica Extension: £250, €350, $400. Bahamas Extension: £150, €200, $250.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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