Saturday, 10 July 2010


About an hours drive west of Montego Bay is the coastal town of Negril. Here you will find the only protected area of mangroves on the island of Jamaica, the Royal Palms Nature Reserve. Its a big area, but only a small fraction is open to the public. But what is available is absolutely stunning. The Reserve basically consists of a reasonable sized lake at the visitor centre, and a boardwalk nature trail that takes you on a circular route amongst the mangroves. Without birding, you could probably do the walk in 30 minutes, but obviously when you're birding it takes a fair bit longer. I was probably there for 2 hours. I arrived at 9.00am (opening time), and was warmly greeted by the warden, Colin. He led me to the veranda overlooking the lake, which was one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen. Crystal clear water, gorgeous lush greenery, the bright sun beating down, it was a little piece of heaven. I was immediately in love with the place! We then started to note the birdlife that was around. ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFTS were fluttering and hawking and chattering conspicuously. A pair of GREAT EGRETS were in with a small party of CATTLE EGRETS. A total of 9 YELLOW CROWNED NIGHT HERONS were scattered around the lake, with a single BLACK CROWNED NIGHT HERON thrown in for good measure. On the far shore, a flock of 6 BLACK NECKED STILTS, and while watching them a GREEN HERON flew into the trees just behind them. Then right in front of us a small yellow flash darted away to a tree to our right. I looked at Colin, who was smiling, and he said 'its a YELLOW WARBLER, they're nesting in there'. Sure enough I checked through my bins and there was the bird sitting on the nest. Lovely! I was then distracted by a noise coming from the left, behind the visitor centre. Again Colin was smiling (Caribbeans do that a LOT!), and gestured for me to go have a look. It turned out to be the main reason most birders go to the Reserve, and my main target, WEST INDIAN WHISTLING DUCK. There were actually 5 of these endangered birds, lazing on the bank of the lake without a care in the world. They're not a particularly attractive bird, but are much sort after and I was delighted to get one of my biggest target species. On saying that, they were so easy to see it was a bit of anti-climax! But I wasnt grumbling. I then left the veranda and walked towards the boardwalk. As I did a stunning AMERICAN KESTREL flew past me and landed in a tree just above my head. The Jamaican subspecies of this bird is absolutely glorious. Its much whiter than its American equivalent and thus looks much prettier. At the start of the boardwalk, on the left hand side is a smaller pond with lots of reeds and lilies. Here there were tonnes of dragonflies in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately I dont have a book on these creatures, so didnt have a clue what I was looking at bar 2 species - ROSEATE SKIMMER and BAND-WINGED DRAGONLET. The Skimmer is a superb dragonfly, one of the prettiest I've ever seen. I scanned the rest of the pond and saw 2 NORTHERN JACANA'S and a COMMON MOORHEN. Is it just me, or do these common as muck birds look much more colourful when you're abroad? Maybe it is just me! Anyway, just as I was about to leave I noticed a movement in the reeds at the back of the pond. I put my bins on it and was absolutely delighted to see one of my other target birds, LEAST BITTERN. Even better, after just a few minutes it came out of the reeds and started feeding in the lilies, completely in the open and completely unfazed. This I didnt expect! After a good 15 minutes, it eventually flew off into the reeds behind and I left with a warm feeling in my heart. In contrast, the nature trail was a slight letdown. Birds were few and far between, and whats more they were very difficult to see. The ones I managed to get were all the usual common stuff, KINGBIRDS, WOODPECKER, ORIOLE, BANANAQUIT, MANGO etc. In fact I only got 1 new bird for the trip (though not a lifer), SMOOTH BILLED ANI. And even these were extremely common. Mind you, the mozzies probably didnt help. They were a nightmare. Its just so difficult to enjoy yourself when you are constantly being bombarded by these annoying little sods. But overall, it was a fantastic morning, and one of the highlights of my trip. I would recommend it to anyone.

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