Saturday, 10 July 2010


This was the only full day of birding I had on this holiday, with a proper birding organisation, and I was ridiculously excited when I got picked up at 6.30am by Wolde, my guide for the day. I have to say, Wolde was fantastic. Extremely knowledgable, a great communicater, very patient, but most important, bloody good company. We had a really good time together all day. And the birds we saw were superb. A lot I had seen already, so in this post I'll focus on the new ones and the old ones that stood out. Our destination was the Bluefield mountains in the south west of the island, about 90 minutes from Montego Bay. And so we arrived around 8.00am and started out along the mountain trail. It was immediately obvious that this place was alive with birdlife. The common species were abundant, in particular the BLACK WHISKERED VIREOS. It seemed every single tree had one! The gorgeous JAMAICAN TODY was also abundant, and I didnt mind one bit. It didnt take long to get my first lifer of the day, a female JAMAICAN BECARD. The male quickly joined her. Wolde was pleased that I got it early cos they can be tricky birds to get. He need'nt have worried, we saw loads over the coarse of the day. After about 20 minutes we stopped at a clearing in the forest, which was extremely productive. First up was another pair of Becards. Then a SAD FLYCATCHER, shortly followed by its larger cousin, the RUFOUS TAILED FLYCATCHER. All the time we were accompanied by the sounds of OLIVE THROATED PARAKEETS. A flock of SMOOTH BILLED ANI'S flew over, shortly followed by some JAMAICAN CROWS. There were of course a lot of the common species too. Wolde then said we were taking a little walk up a side track, to try to get one of his target birds. Apparently this track was the best chance of seeing a WHITE EYED THRUSH, one of the hardest birds to see. He told me to get comfortable cos we could be in for a long wait! While waiting we enjoyed excellent views of the lovely ARROW HEADED WARBLER. This is a beautiful little bird, a cute black and white ball of fluff. Suddenly Wolde got excited. A Thrush-like bird flew past and landed in a large bush. We waited patiently until it came out revealing it as a WHITE CHINNED THRUSH. Nearly! After a further wait another Thrush turned up. Another White Chinned! Then a third!!! This was frustrating. He then tried calling one out. At first there was no response, but after 10 minutes he got a reply. It was further up the track so we quickly relocated to where we thought it was. He called it again. It replied. It was up the hill in front of us, but it had extremely dense foliage. He tried again, and again it replied. But it wouldnt come out. At all!!! We played the game for half an hour, without getting a single glimpse. And then, without warning, a flash shot out of the foliage and flew further up the hill. The Thrush was gone. We were so dejected. Wolde apologised (which was silly, it wasnt his fault!) and we begrudgingly headed back to the main track. When we got back to the clearing, we were met with an amazing sight. Quite ridiculously, an adult male WHITE EYED THRUSH was in the tree right in front of us, bold as brass and making a total mockery of its 'difficult to see' reputation. We both looked at each other and burst out laughing. We moved on cos apparently he had an even more special bird to show me. When we got to the spot, he told me to put my binoculars down and look at a large dead tree just a couple of yards away from the path. 'What do you see?' he asked. 'Erm, a dead tree!' was my confused reply. He smiled. He pointed at a particular branch, and said 'Look at that branch'. I did, but still didnt see anything. 'Ok, now look at it in your binoculars'. I frowned, but did as he said. I looked, then looked again. Wait a minute, I thought to myself, thats not a branch! My jaw dropped, and I let out a ridiculous little yelp. 'Oh my god, its a Potoo!!!!!' I said in astonishment. And it certainly was. A sensational NORTHERN POTOO. I was absolutely ecstatic. I had hoped I would see one but I truly didnt think I would. I hugged Wolde, who laughed at my idiocy. We then headed back to the car, to go and get some lunch. BUT! That wasnt the end of the morning. As we were walking back something big shot out in front of us and gave us the shock of our lives. We quickly ran to where we thought it had landed and searched. Before long we saw it moving in the background. It was a CHESTNUT BELLIED CUCKOO. An amazing bird, it was huge and loud and colourful, and after a few minutes came out and showed beautifully. Then another 2 joined it. This was an amazing end to an amazing morning.
We had our lunch at a local shack on the beach, enjoying the Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns offshore. We then walked to a small rock coming out of the sea, and watched CAVE SWALLOWS coming and going from the rock. Wolde told me the Swallows had been coming to the same rock for hundreds of years!
The birding after lunch was a great deal quieter, as is usually the case in very hot countries. However there were still quite a few highlights. We hiked up an extremely steep hill, in the hope of seeing a roosting Jamaican Owl. Alas it wasnt to be found, but we did see a small flock of a gorgeous little parrot, the GREEN RUMPED PARROTLET. They are so cute! At the same site we had 7 RED TAILED HAWKS circling above us which was a very impressive sight. We then went to another mountain trail, albeit a smaller one than the morning. Here I got a look at another RUDDY QUAIL DOVE, not on a nest this time but walking on the path just ahead of us. I also got a lifer here that I was surprised I hadnt gotten before now. I had read before I came to the country that the JAMAICAN VIREO was quite abundant, but this wasnt the case for me. In fact the 2 that I saw on this trail were the only ones of my trip! Bonny little things though! But I did get one more treat that WAS supposed to be hard to get. A bird that I was desperately unlucky to miss when at Rocklands a few days before. To end the day we were treated to terrific views of a pair of MANGROVE CUCKOOS. Well worth the wait!
This pretty much was the end of my birding for the fortnight. I ended the trip with a very modest 76 species, 42 of which were lifers.

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