Jamaica’s Ecclesdown Road

Ah, Ecclesdown Road. This is one of the harder to reach birding locations. However, it is one of the best locations to go in Jamaica for the highest number of endemics. It is basically a road through part of the more mountainous regions of Jamaica. There are a couple of caveats to this place. First, if you do plan on going here, make sure you allot enough time to visit two or three times. One time may just not be enough to find what you’re looking for. Second, make sure you actually stay close enough so that you can drive there in a reasonable amount of time. We stayed at Great Huts resort, which was a bit of a loud place at times. The Hotel Mockingbird is actually another place that is probably a little more suited to quiet birdwatchers, but a little farther from Ecclesdown Road as well.

Our blue rental car tucked in a nice “parking spot”

The next thing to talk about is how to find this place. It is not totally obvious. It is not easy to find on Google maps. Neither the town of Ecclesdown nor the road is on Google maps. Of course, I would never rely just on Google maps. There are actually two pretty decent paper maps: the first is “Jamaica and Cayman Islands” by International Travel Maps. This is a pretty decent road map. The second is “Jamaica” by National Geographic. While less detailed, the National Geographic Map actually is a little easier to use. I recommend buying both.

Vervain Hummingbird (Mellisuga minima) that we saw on Ecclesdown Road

To actually get here, get yourself to Boston Bay. Go through that town on the A4 and head to Fair Prospect. Around Fair Prospect, there should be a road to Fair Prospect High School. If it’s a weekday probably you will see children walking to school. Head down that road for about 1.1km and turn left at the junction (there is also an option to go straight–don’t do that). Now you’re on Ecclesdown Road. Then just keep driving up that road and you should head into the mountains. The road is very narrow and if a car comes in the opposite direction you might have to back up (or they might have to) to get around them. However, in our experience, there was pretty much no traffic on the road except for a motorcycle or two. We also ran into a guy on a bicycle who was very friendly and knew the names of local birds. He was going to pick some yams up the road. Everyone we encountered was very friendly.

Black-billed Parrot (Amazona agilis)

At this point you might have some trepidation and think you’d be better off in a tour up here. I say that if you don’t mind a little adventure, just rent a car and do it yourself. The bonus is you can bird in your own time. I would recommend listening to bird calls on Xeno Canto of some harder to see species.

Jamaican Spindalis (Spindalis nigricephala) as seen on Ecclesdown Road

Now, what about the species you can find? There are definitely places in Jamaica that are easier to bird and get more ticks. However, there are certain species that are pretty hard to see elsewhere, like the Jamaican Crow and the Black-billed Parrot. There is also the Black-billed Streamertail. Most people and eBird consider this just to be a subspecies of Streamertail, but I think the case could be argued for it to be the same species. Anyway, if you don’t go into the mountains and just bird at a place like Green Castle, you might just get the Red-billed Streamertail. This was also the only place we saw the Vervain Hummingbird.

Jamaican Crow (Corvus jamaicensis) high up in the canopy. Not an easy species to see

The forest scenery is also beautiful and you can see nice vistas of valleys and thus you’ll have a chance at a wide variety of birds.

Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus), a hummingbird and this is the Black-billed subspecies that is only found at higher elevations

Interested readers may also want to read the Jamaica overview page, which is in some ways more detailed.

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