Jamaica Bird Life 1st Trip!

Bird watching in Jamaica is special. You usually get at least a two for one deal because we are small and everything of interest is piled neatly and accessibly together and the variety is mind boggling. This was my first jaunt with the Jamaica Bird Life Club, with the President and his entourage, no less – very comfy driver to boot. But back to the ‘two for one concept’. For example, you can easily get a shore bird tour as well as a forest bird tour in one day. In our case, we got the Jamaican ‘brawta’ (perks and extras) we Jamaicans have come to expect but is marvelous to visitors. In the space of 24 hours we did shore birds on a salt marsh strip in the Black River area – the funny stilt bird was new to me and a favourite and then forest birds the next morning because we Jamaicans don’t make a big thing of serious early rising unless there is a real target occasion or animal. The stilt apparently makes its nest directly in the sand and if you’re not careful you could walk on the marsh sand and crush the eggs as I was warned not to. The bird’s gait on its twig-thin, bright orange legs is remarkably reminiscent of a human stilt walker. I have a real liking for ‘things outside the box’ so the forest trip to Dean’s Valley, Bluefields, Westmoreland, Jamaica was also amusing to me because along the road to the forest site; in an overhanging tree which must droop but inches over the monstrously piled sugarcane trucks that careen through the area; there hung a fuzzy clump of straw, a becard nest, the work of a truly Jamaican bird…we often live somewhat dangerously in Jamaica, ignoring common sense practices on the road and elsewhere…birds no different apparently. I wondered how the driver who had spotted the nest had managed to be driving AND spot it…if you get my drift… (Smile)
On this trip we had the above mentioned site variety, a lesson in Jamaican history and ethno-musicology AND the local crab fest to mark crab season – all serendipity in 24 hours… On the morning dedicated to the forest watch, we stood in a clearing and I noted the forest-hermit-looking shacks around the clearing and grumbled about the everlasting smoke and burning in Jamaica but apparently, the forest dweller was making breakfast so at least the fire seemed tended.
Cicadas screeched – very often the sound of summer in Jamaica. I’ve often thought of the sound as torturous, say… if I were in a prison cell, but because it’s associated with nature, I don’t mind it…amazing how the mind works. To this theme song and another ‘out of place’ but familiar rhythm, we stood looking up into the canopy on a gorgeous golden morning in deep shade. No surprise with the unexpected background rhythm, I discovered it had once been an indentured village but was now secondary forest burying an interesting past. More fascinating yet, one of our party was directly connected to this past. His grandmother had grown up in the now overgrown village, one of two founded in Jamaica by indentured African labour, i.e., they had come to Jamaica as free workers, and the specific area within Dean’s Valley (or perhaps alternately named – sometimes hard to say in Jamaica) was named after its mother zone in Nigeria, Abeokuta. The little Abeokuta River runs through it. The familiar but ‘out of place’ sound, sank in – the African drum. While breakfast was on the coal fire, the forest dweller was apparently drumming his morning worship… the heritage runs way deeper here than I had realised – the sound was very much ‘in place’. We learned the area had been designated a reserve so it is off limits in the August bird shooting season when our doves and pigeons are relentlessly hunted, though much better policed now because some of the hunters themselves have got into to the act. They will blow whistles on real profligacy and law breaking.
As the drum song faded, I just caught the flight of a mostly secretive ruddy-tailed quail dove, a close relative of the Mountain Witch, now protected but driven to endangerment, which I’ve never seen and always wanted to since childhood because the name caught my fancy. The only reason I knew what the cousin bird was was on account of the raptor eyes of one of our top Jamaican guides, who happened to be way farther back than me, nonchalantly walking his 14-month old baby – Jamaica no problem, man.
Well, our tour with Mr. Wolde Kristos and his RAJ Tours team came to an end and it was breakfast time. This gent in his early 30’s is a local and until he was 18 could not read or write even a letter. His RAJ Tours have now been featured in National Geographic Travel and is an outgrowth of the Bluefields People’s Community Association initiative to which he proudly owes his education. He is a vociferous follower and voracious reader and disseminator of Jamaican environmental education and Jamaica’s African heritage and a good drummer. A phone call from Kristos got us to the seat of Jamaica’s Crab Fest (crowds drive in from all over) for our food. The original seaside shack eatery so caught the eye of a smitten visitor turned local that she went into partnership with Miss Dor, the original proprietress, to create Miss Dor’s Crab Shack.
We chowed down on land crab back, Ackee and Salt Fish – the national dish, as well as steamed fish…delicious all…(10 of us US$50) in the middle of preparations for the afternoon’s gastronomic fete. A good time had by all…we got way more than a ‘2 for 1’ experience…quite normal in Jamaica… thank you Bird Life Jamaica…and when you come, stay at Natania’s or Elaine’s guest houses.

Category : General Posted on June 12, 2015

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