BirdsCaribbean Field Trips in Jamaica: The Greatest Way to Learn


What’s so great about field trips? I have vivid memories of a field trip staggering up a particular, very steep hill just outside London, during a school field trip, with our Geography teacher urging us on. Field trips were hard work, but we often ended up learning more than we would in the classroom.

And Caribbean field trips? One of the great things about getting out of the air-conditioned city (pre-armed, of course, with sunblock and mosquito repellent) is a real burst of energy, such as I encountered as a teenager scrambling up Box Hill. Yes, you will get sweaty. Yes, one or two bugs might bite you, although you will undoubtedly survive. There is no doubt though, that a Caribbean field trip is an exciting adventure, with something surprising just around the corner.

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BirdsCaribbean is offering a range of field trips before and after its 20th International Meeting, which will take place at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica from July 25 – 29. The theme of the meeting is “Birds: Connecting Communities and Conservation,” and these trips will bring that theme home to you. Jamaican experts will provide what you might call a smorgasbord of fascinating places on this extraordinary island, with its diversity of landscapes – and of course, its dazzling variety of bird life. And before I go any further, please note: the pre- and post-conference trips are open to non-delegates (that is, members of the public) as well as delegates. You don’t have to be registered at the conference. You can find full details and where to register on the meeting website via http://www.birdscaribbean.org.

Feeding a Red-Billed Streamertail hummingbird at Rocklands Sanctuary in St. James. It's Jamaica's national bird (locally known as the "Doctor Bird.")
Feeding a Red-Billed Streamertail hummingbird at Rocklands Sanctuary in St. James. It’s Jamaica’s national bird (locally known as the “Doctor Bird.”)

So, where shall we go first? One of the options before the meeting is the Jamaica Endemics Express – starting in Montego Bay on July 21 and ending in Kingston on July 24. The first leg, from MoBay to Mandeville will include a visit to the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, where you can feed hummingbirds perched on your finger. A tour of a private nature reserve at Marshall’s Pen and a visit to the Portland Bight Protected Area (home to the rare Bahama Mockingbird), followed by an overnight stay in the Blue Mountains, then on to the lush green parish of Portland in eastern Jamaica and the dark, mysterious John Crow Mountains…This is truly a rich and intense tour, filled with birds of course, and magical insights into the intriguing landscapes of Jamaica. One of Jamaica’s most experienced bird guides, D. Brandon Hay, will take you there, and you will learn so much from him.

A farmer coming from his fields (or "ground" as they often call it) in Stewart Town. (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)
A farmer coming from his fields (or “ground” as they often call it) in Stewart Town. This area is currently threatened by bauxite mining.  (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)

The two-day Northern Jamaica Birding Tour will also start in Montego Bay on July 22 and end in Kingston on July 24. The expert guide Wendy Lee (who by the way runs a wildlife rescue center in St. Ann and is a fantastic wildlife photographer) will take you to Stewart Town, Trelawny on the edge of the endangered and very precious Cockpit Country. A deep, green and rutted road beckons. You may meet a farmer returning from his field on a donkey along the way; you will certainly meet plenty of birds. The next day, in the beautiful hills of St. Ann, you will explore the large estate of Sussex Great House in Lime Hall.

The spectacular Blue Mountains, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, have their own "natural mystic." (My photo)
The spectacular Blue Mountains, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, have their own “natural mystic.” (My photo)

Have I whetted your appetite yet? I hope so. But wait – there is more…

After the conference, there are other possibilities to explore Jamaica. A day trip to the Blue Mountains from Kingston on July 30 will include a visit to the remarkable landscape of Hardwar Gap (close to the border between the parishes of Portland and St. Andrew) – where the air literally rings with birdsong. In this area, it’s possible to find 25 of Jamaica’s endemic species. The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a couple of days ago, and it is not surprising. This place is unique in a thousand different ways.

The Northern Potoo roosts during the day, often looking like a piece of dead wood. (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)
The Northern Potoo roosts during the day, often looking like a piece of dead wood.  Sometimes if alarmed he will point his head straight up in the air. (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)

Alternatively, there is a two-day tour (July 30-31) from Kingston, ending in Montego Bay and stopping off along the north coast, taking in more of the Cockpit Country along the way. You will also meet a certain Northern Potoo; he is very attached to Wendy Lee, who hand-raised him at her rescue center near Runaway Bay.

The brilliant and beautiful Jamaican Spindalis, another endemic bird, peeping through thick foliage in the Blue Mountains. You often have to look closely to find the bird you are looking for. (Photo: John Hopkins)
The brilliant and beautiful Jamaican Spindalis, another endemic bird, peeping through thick foliage in the Blue Mountains. You often have to look closely to find the bird you are looking for. (Photo: John Hopkins)

And finally, there is a week-long tour (July 30 – August 5) with guides D. Brandon Hay and Ricardo Miller of Arrowhead Birding that will allow you to enjoy Jamaica and its birds to the fullest! This will be the best way to slow down, relax and just take in the mysterious beauty of the island of Jamaica, and the birds that make their home here. You can read full details on all these tours by clicking on birdscaribbean.org/2015/05/20th-international-meeting-of-birdscaribbean/ which will take you to the meeting website.

So, what are you waiting for? If you are not an experienced birder, no worries. Grab your camera, a pair of binoculars if you have them, pack your bag and go!

You won’t regret it. Yes, field trips are sometimes hard work, but exhilarating. They are for learning. And there’s nothing like learning with the experts.

By the way, the birds are waiting for you. Don’t disappoint them – or yourself. Sign up today!

Who are you looking at? The Jamaican OwlJamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus) or Patoo (not to be confused with Potoo) is an endemic genus and species to Jamaica. (Photo: Stewart Lacy)
Who are you looking at? The Jamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus) or Patoo (not to be confused with Potoo) is an endemic genus and species to Jamaica. (Photo: Stewart Lacy)

 

 


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