Did you know that connecting with nature is actually good for your mental health? When did you last go out and simply enjoy being surrounded by nature, absorbing and sharing its energy? Perhaps, it has been too long.
Birding is a part of that. In fact, just today I came across a blog on Twitter that says birdwatching, in particular, is therapeutic. Our growing BirdLife Jamaica “fambily” feels the same way, too. We are diverse, we are from all walks of life, we warmly welcome new members and we all share one thing – our love of birds. As a consequence, we also share a love of exploring different corners of Jamaica. We get up at what are (to me) unearthly hours of the morning to find these places and the birds that frequent them.
This morning, we enjoyed the early morning sun streaming across the shiny, polished surface of Kingston Harbour. I noted (in the negative box) the pollution pouring from the power plant chimney, and a haze of yellowish pollution lying right across and just above the city, as we drove along the main road to the airport.
The Palisadoes is a strip of land, sixteen kilometres long, that divides the harbour from the open sea. The road along this narrow strip was built in 1936. At its tip is the small, historic town of Port Royal – once a bustling trading post (and the “wicked city” in buccaneer stories) at the entrance to the harbour, and now what you might euphemistically call a “sleepy” settlement. Prior to the road, one could only reach Port Royal by boat from Kingston. I still do wish we could bring back the ferry.
Why did our group venture down the Port Royal road, fringed with mangroves on the harbourside, and cacti on the seaside, on this bright Saturday morning? Well, BirdLife Jamaica was recognizing two important dates in our calendar: World Wetlands Day (February 2) and the penultimate day of the Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC), an annual event for “bird nerds” supported by BirdsCaribbean and others.
The Palisadoes – Port Royal area was named as Jamaica’s second Wetland of International Importance in 2005, under the Ramsar Convention of 1971. The Convention’s entire focus is wetlands, and the preservation thereof, around the planet. Jamaica has four Ramsar sites (I am planning to visit another one next week) and I believe it’s fair to say that they are all under some kind of pressure in 2019. Wetlands, in general, are stressed – by development, deforestation, pollution, and climate change.
Since our wetlands are under severe pressure, so too are our waterbirds. Hence the CWC, which is in its tenth year.
The Palisadoes mangroves have been clogged with enormous quantities of solid waste (mostly plastic) for years, despite recent valiant efforts to clean them. Moreover, I did notice patches of mangrove along the Port Royal road that appear to be dying. The roadside was also strewn with plastic bottles, thrown one presumes from buses and cars, and other piles of solid waste dumped perhaps by builders or other small businesses too lazy to dispose of them otherwise. Shame on them all.
Arriving near the Jamaica Coast Guard station (Port Royal has a long naval tradition) we dismounted from our chariots (some carpooling involved, but the Fambily generally loves to travel in convoy). Our President Damany Calder gave us a quick overview of World Wetlands Day, and the rules for the CWC, which we adhered to diligently. We had just ten minutes at each site (we visited four) to see as many waterbirds as we could. All those seen during that time would be recorded on the eBird Caribbean website. Yes, numbers are important, and all the species and their numbers inform scientific papers and research. It’s direct citizen science, recorded by us citizens, wielding our binoculars on the shoreside. Take a look at the website, and start recording your sightings today!
“Can you count all those Laughing Gulls? How many do you get?” members said to each other with urgency.
“Quick, what is that little bird over there?”
“What was that? Oh, a pigeon…” (We realized that Port Royal has plenty of domesticated birds, too. We met many roosters and their hens).
We started off with a bang, with not one but two Belted Kingfishers (yes, go look them up. They are pretty cool birds). At the Old Coal Wharf, a little further up the road, dozens of terns posed on the rotting stumps of iron. The rather decorous Royal Terns and Sandwich Terns did not mix with the Laughing Gulls, who were crowded onto the deck of one small yacht. It looked like one of those “party boats” at tourist resorts, minus the rum punches and reggae music of course. As a fishing boat pottered by, most of them disembarked the party boat rather suddenly and followed it, in the hopes of some fishy crumbs from its table later on.
Below you will find a photo gallery with some of the highlights of our morning. My husband and I skipped the very last stop, at Gunboat Beach on the Palisadoes strip – the harbour side – as we were suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness and a yearning for coffee.
However, our faces glowed and our limbs relaxed. Even just a couple of miles out of town, the experience of birding was a tonic.
Nature (and birding) is good for you.
Please follow @Birdlifejamaica on Twitter! We tweet!