Winding through the forested hills of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country near Stewart Town is a road traveled only by farmers on foot, bicycle or donkey…and birdwatchers. If you are visiting Jamaica for the first time, an early-morning walk here will add up to 25 Jamaican endemics to your life list, including our spectacular parrots, Red-billed Streamertail, the rare Crested Quail-dove, the enchanting Jamaican Tody and the raucous Jamaican Crow.
While the valleys in this region have been cultivated and used for pasture, the forested hills have been left largely untouched and they support an amazing variety of endemic birds, lizards, butterflies and other species. The old road, little more than a track, is traveled only by locals.
Tiny Jamaican todies make their burrows in the road banks, which are overgrown with native plants – orchids, vines, ferns, wildflowers – while flocks of parrots fly noisily overhead. On a typical morning walk you will see some 25 endemic birds, and if you know where to look, a Northern Potoo roosting quietly in a forest giant beside the trail. In the winter you will invariably see a wide variety of migrants in addition to the year-round resident birds.
In addition to birds, the banks of the road are covered with wild plants, including endemic orchids (Broughtonia, Bletia), ferns, flowering plants (Pilea, Gesneria and other endemics), vines and epiphytes. The forest has species typical of the Cockpit Country (e.g. Clusia). A variety of endemic Jamaican lizards, butterflies, land snails and giant millipedes are seen along the trail.
In the nearby village of Stewart Town, founded in 1815, birders can meet the hospitable local shopkeepers, buy drinks and snacks, and use a bathroom. Many of the buildings in Stewart Town date from the post-Emancipation settlement of the 1840s, including three beautiful old churches. It is not just the spectacular birding that makes this area so special: the unspoiled scenery, the peaceful and unhurried rural setting, the cool breeze along the trail, and encounters with the always-friendly local people make birding here a unique and memorable experience.
Most of the island’s endemics can be found here: Ring-tailed Pigeon, Crested Quail Dove, Yellow-Billed Parrot, Black-billed Parrot, Lizard Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Jamaican Owl, Mango Hummingbird, Red-billed Streamertail, Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Elaenia, Jamaican Pewee, Sad Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Jamaican Becard, Jamaican Crow, White-eyed Thrush, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Vireo, Blue Mountain Vireo, Arrowhead Warbler, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Spindalis, Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, Orange Quit, Common Ground-Dove, Caribbean Dove, Olive-throated Parakeet, Northern Potoo, Vervain Hummingbird, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Stolid Flycatcher, Greater Antillean Banana Quit, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Jamaican Oriole.Female Streamertail Hummingbird
The village of Stewart Town is located on the border of Trelawny and St. Ann parishes in Jamaica, about 10 km south of Discovery Bay. It can be reached from the west, turning inland at Duncans and going via Clark’s Town and Jackson Town; from the south along a narrow, bumpy road from Discovery Bay; and from the east, turning south at Runaway Bay and then west at Brown’s Town. Park either along the main street in Stewart Town or a short distance (50 m) along the road that heads south, past the Police Station. This is a public road accessible to anyone, and you are free to walk along it, turning back at your estimate halfway point (timewise).
For a guided birding / natural history tour and introduction to the community of Stewart Town, contact Wendy Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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