Yes, it was quite a year. I am continuing with my overview of the year 2019, as experienced by the intrepid band of birdwatchers that make up BirdLife Jamaica (BLJ).
I missed a couple of events in the summer, but here goes…
On June 1, a group led by Ricardo Miller trekked to Schwallenburgh in the parish of St. Ann – near Faith’s Pen, on the “old” road to the north coast. Bauxite mines formerly owned by Reynolds are nearby, but the forest reserve there (secondary forest, that is younger growth) is flourishing. I hope we get the opportunity to go there again.
There was a special treat later that month. Every year BLJ hosts a lecture in honor of the late ornithologist Audrey Downer, who died in 2008. Ms. Downer wrote several books on the island’s birds, including Birds of Jamaica, which she co-authored with local conservationist Ann Sutton. On June 20, we welcomed Dr. Leo Douglas, past Director of BLJ and Past President of BirdsCaribbean. Leo is a Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University and a former Fulbright Scholar; he received a Bronze Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in 2018 for Distinguished Eminence in the Field of Science. It was a full house!
We didn’t do any birding in July and August – the two hottest months of the year, and also when one spots fewer birds. The migratory species would not have arrived yet. Of course, we fed and watered our resident species at home, to keep them going through heat and drought. Birds do get thirsty, too! At our Kingston yard, they visit our two bird baths to drink as well as to bathe and maintain their feathers. Doves always seem especially thirsty. If you want to attract birds in the tropics, put water out for them.
Above: A few photos I have taken of birds in our yard: The Baltimore Oriole, a gorgeous bird that we see all too infrequently as it passes through en route to South America, perhaps; a Cape May Warbler, a delightful migratory bird, hanging out at our bird bath last week; some Smooth-billed Anis, who bathe almost daily in our yard (up to seven or eight at a time – they don’t worry about personal space); and two endemic Jamaican Woodpeckers, having a conversation on the light post.
A group of us, headed by John Fletcher, paid a visit to the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) in downtown Kingston in August, on a special mission. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this account, we celebrated John’s 90th birthday in style in 2019. On this occasion, John personally handed over all the broadsheets that were in his care over the decades (from the days of the Gosse Bird Club, as BLJ was formerly known) to the NLJ. The Broadsheet was a bi-annual BLJ publication and database of observations & locations of bird species throughout Jamaica – invaluable records. Now they will be digitized and properly preserved by the NLJ, among its Special Collections. National Librarian Beverley Lashley gave us a warm welcome and took us on a fascinating tour of the Library afterwards – in particular, its restoration department.
We all reconvened in the most beautiful setting on September 7th. Ricardo and Damany were our leads, as we explored the exquisite garden at Silver Hill, tucked into a verdant valley in the Blue Mountains. There had been rain (and there was more rain that day, as we tucked into a late lunch) and the colors were vibrant – including a troupe of bright Jamaican Spindalis, very smart with their black-and-white striped heads and golden bodies. A Jamaican Tody played hide and seek among the coffee bushes.
On October 26, the birders were off to Green Castle Estate in St. Mary. Local bird guide Dwayne Swaby joined the group. The weather had been rather “iffy”…but birders are brave and saw a range of shorebirds as well as endemic birds (that is, birds that only live in Jamaica and nowhere else). Fantastic!
Talking about being brave, we had a real test of stamina and endurance on November 23 – perhaps more than we had bargained for! As I described here, our trip to Strawberry Hill became a strenuous hike! After all the drama, we retired to the lovely gardens with coffee and delicious banana bread – and exhaled. It was truly memorable. Thank you again, Ricky, Louise and my dear husband. And thank you, Strawberry Hill!
We tried to squeeze some more outings in before the Christmas holiday. And there was an unforgettable one, our overnight trip to the Portland Bight area of Clarendon. Ann Sutton and Damion Whyte were our guides. There were a few flamingoes, there were many Turkey Vultures, a glorious assortment of wetland birds…and butterflies. I think I gave a good account of it here.
And yes, just one more thing. I love this photo of the small group (led by Damion Whyte) that was not caught up in the Christmas rush and walked up Mountain Spring, on the outskirts of Kingston, on December 15. I wish I had joined them – they saw a lot of birds. At the time, I think things were getting on top of me. By the way, birding is a great stress reliever.
Here endeth the chronicle of BirdLife Jamaica for 2019! We are looking forward to more explorations and discoveries in 2020, binoculars and cameras at the ready! Meanwhile, I have started the eBird Checklist-a-Day Challenge, whereby I record and send in a list of the birds I have seen/heard each day (mostly in my own yard, at the moment).
Yes, I know. Birders really love lists of species they have observed; but there is a purpose, of course. This is “citizen science.” You can open a free account and find out more at eBird Caribbean here. There is also a great eBird phone app for birders on the go… eBird is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations. It is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world.
We’re obsessed. But it’s a good obsession to have. Birdwatching is about observation, companionship, appreciation, discovery…meditation. Give it a try, sometime!
Footnote: I am not sure how (and how much) climate change is affecting our birds, right here in Jamaica. How is our rapidly changing climate affecting our migratory birds, for example? I need to do some research and write more about this topic…