Monday, 28 June 2010


The Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is nowhere near as flash as it sounds! Basically its a patio on the side of someones house in the mountains about 20 minutes away from Montego Bay. But it is a very famous place for visiting birders (and non-birders), as it allows exceptionally close views of some of the local birds in relative comfort, and also gives people the chance to feed the Hummingbirds from the hand. Trust me, this is a mesmerizing experience.
We arrived at 2.45pm, just in time for the 3.00pm feeding. Immediately the place was buzzing with birdlife. LOGGERHEAD and GREY KINGBIRDS were everywhere. WHITE WINGED DOVES and COMMON GROUND DOVES were numerous, and very loud. A JAMAICAN ORIOLE was singing in a tree to our left. A JAMAICAN WOODPECKER was hammering away in a tree to our right. BANANAQUITS and GRASSQUITS were whizzing past our heads in all directions. We had only just gotten out of the taxi! We were met by the caretaker Fritz. He'd been in charge of the sanctuary since the 90's when the owner, an old english lady whose name I should really know, passed away and left the premises in his protection. He led us to the feeder station/patio and sat us down. He sprinkled a handful of seed on our laps and told us to relax. Within seconds we were surrounded by tiny little birds. First to arrive were BLACK FACED GRASSQUITS. At first they were feeding at our feet but it didnt take them long to jump on our laps. They were soon joined by YELLOW FACED GRASSQUITS. Then the BANANAQUITS arrived. It was amazing. We enjoyed the dazzling display for around 20 minutes then Fritz handed us both a little bottle of sugared water which he told us to hold in front of us. Again it didnt take long for the birds to arrive. A pair of stunning RED BILLED STREAMERTAILS buzzed around us, tentatively at first. They kept coming to investigate the bottles then whizzing away just when they seemed to be ready to feed. Frustrating but exhilerating at the same time. Then from out of nowhere a glorious male JAMAICAN MANGO muscled past the timid STREAMERS and made a beeline for my bottle. It had absolutely no fear, and happily drank away without a care in the world. It was fascinating to see its tiny little tongue lapping away at the sweet liquid literally inches from my face. It was an experience I'll never ever forget. Then the STREAMERS finally let down their guard and started feeding from Maria's bottle. For what seemed like an eternity we both sat there awestruck as the Hummingbirds took turns to feed from our bottles. I was only snapped out of my little trance when something flew past and landed on the balcony to our right. It was a female ORANGEQUIT, and it was feeding on some fruit that had been put out while we were enjoying the bottle feeding. It was then joined by a JAMAICAN ORIOLE. Then in a tree behind the fence a gorgeous ZENAIDA DOVE landed and started singing. At this point Fritz asked if I wanted a little walk around the grounds and of course I jumped at the offer, while Maria stayed behind and enjoyed a cool drink. Almost immediately Fritz pointed out a small songbird perched in a small tree. I got my bins on it and identified it as a SAD FLYCATCHER. It gets the name from its call, and it did indeed sound very mournfull. A little further along the track and another flycatcher was seen, this time a RUFOUS TAILED FLYCATCHER. Bigger and browner than its sad cousin, it was also a lot more showy. Then something flashed past us and landed in a tree behind us. It took us quite a while to locate it but Fritz eventually spotted it and put me on it. It was a WHITE CHINNED THRUSH, quite similar to our own Blackbird but with a few pale areas. Then on the way back to the balcony Fritz pointed out a stunning bird in the undergrowth, a CARBBEAN DOVE. As Doves go this ones a belter. So in a brief 30 minute walk around the gardens he managed to get me 4 lifers! He then told me he done a longer 3 hour walk around a Nature Trail just behind the premises. And of course I arranged to go back the next day............














Sunday, 20 June 2010


Well, after two previous failed attempts, we finally made it to the beautiful caribbean island of Jamaica. We were both desperate for some rest and relaxation and thats exactly what we got. The caribbean has a reputation for being laid back and stress free, and this is definately so in Jamaica! Everything is done in 'Jamaican Time' which roughly translated means 'whenever we get round to it!'. This may sound frustrating to some people but if you go into things with a relaxed attitude its really not a problem at all. You just have to go with the flow. The Jamaican people are fabulous. The staff of the hotel are understandably nice and friendly (it is their job after all!), but even when you get out into the real Jamaica away from the complex and meet the locals they are all warm, open and extremely friendly. Before going we had all those horror stories of Jamaica being one of the most dangerous countries in the world rammed down our throats, but lets be honest, every country in the world has places you wouldnt want to wander round unaccompanied and Jamaica is no exception, but if you use your common sense and take necessary precautions you shouldnt encounter any problems. We didnt!
The beginning of the flight was - interesting! I'm not sure what the problem was, but the first fifteen minutes was like being on the worst rollercoaster at Disneyland, but nowhere near as much fun. It was horrendous. It did eventually settle down and from then on the rest of the 9.5hr flight (yes, 9.5hrs!!!) was fairly uneventful. As was getting through customs, unlike Tobago when I was stopped for being a wanted criminal! The journey to the hotel only took 10mins, so before we knew it we were there and settled in. We stayed at the Hotel Riu Montego Bay. It was in a complex with 2 other hotels, situated on the beach, and despite being quite a large hotel it didnt feel crowded and was relatively peaceful. I say relatively peaceful, cos as usual the hotel had its fair share of loud brash americans. Its unavoidable in the caribbean unfortunately. The hotel itself was extremely clean and tidy - very important things to Maria. She gave it her seal of approval. The only slight niggle was that the complex was quite a distance from the main area of Montego Bay, and there was absolutely nothing else around, so we couldnt go for any walks anywhere. Its not that we were confined to the complex, far from it, its just we had to hire a taxi to go anywhere. And the taxi's (like everything else for that matter) were ridiculously expensive.
But like I say, this was just a minor niggle. I had promised Maria that this holiday was going to be all about the two of us actually spending time together (and not about me sneaking off to explore for hours on end like usual!) and I'm proud to say I kept my promise! I'm not saying it came easily, I've never ever been one to just sit on the beach lazing around with a drink in the hand etc, but I promised to do it for Maria. (Wow, maybe I love her or something!). And so, except for three days that I went birding away from the complex, we enjoyed a lovely, relaxing, romantic two weeks together and lived to tell the tale.


I have to say the wildlife around the hotel area was extremely disappointing. Because the whole area was man-made (including the beach) there were no natural areas to hold wildlife. The only resident birds were WHITE WINGED DOVES, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRDS, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRDS and GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLES. These were all very common and seen many times every day. We also had daily flyovers of TURKEY VULTURES, AMERICAN KESTREL and a YELLOW CROWNED NIGHT HERON. Despite being on the beach seabirds were very poor. MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS were a daily sight, but only in small numbers - no more than 3 or 4 a day. ROYAL TERNS were almost daily, but in even smaller numbers than the Frigatebirds. A single BROWN PELICAN flew past on one occasion but that was it for seabirds. The only other birds seen from the hotel were single sightings of a RED TAILED HAWK, a BLACK NECKED STILT, a pair of ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS, and on three days a nice mixed flock of ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFTS and WHITE COLLARED SWIFTS.
Butterflies were much more abundant. I managed to identify 11 different species, including CASSIUS BLUE, JAMAICAN ALBATROSS, JULIA, WHITE PEACOCK, ZEBRA and DIRCE, and I'm sure many more escaped me. There were also a few moths, including the BLACK WITCH MOTH, by far the biggest moth I've ever seen.
And that was it for wildlife. For the really good stuff I had to tavel further afield. More of that to come!