02 April 2015

Welcome to the Family....JAMAICA (22nd March)

Having bagged the Jamaican Owl the evening before, a pressure valve had been released, but all the same I woke up with eager enthusiasm in anticipation of the floodgates being opened for Jamaican endemics.
I walked out of the cottage door and immediately ran into Jamaica's national bird, the so-called "Doctor Bird" or Red-billed Streamertail. This may sound spectacular, and indeed one look at an image of this stellar bird proves it is; it is daubed in glistening emerald greens, topped with a black cap and crest, and has a tail formed of two delicate streamers twice as long as the body; this is all capped off with a bright carrot orange beak. Hummingbirds are a spectacular family of over 300 species, and this is right up there with the best of them. However, in spite of my waxing lyrical about this species, my first sight of it was met with nothing but disappointment. It's not that I am hard to please, but my eyes met with a male missing its namesake streamers. It would have to better than that! Luckily by the end of the morning, my disappointment had already turned to exhilaration, as I clapped eyes on several fully-plumed males at some feeders.

However, I am moving ahead of myself; moving into the cottage garden I found a tree in bloom, which was literally thronging with birds of all shapes and sizes: warblers flitted among its branches, including Prairie and Black-throated Blue, and Northern ParulaThree species of grassquit were present too: Yellow-faced, Black-faced and the endemic Yellow-shouldered too. Larger birds shuffled within its yellow-flowered limbs, with both the common White-chinned Thrush, as well as its scarcer chocolate-headed relative, the White-eyed Thrush. Not long after I gaped at my first of many Jamaican Woodpeckers for the day. Moving out onto the road, we birded in and around an area called "Section", a simple name reflecting its location at an intersection! 

Not long after, another couple of endemics rolled into view: Jamaican Becard and Sad Flycatcher (which appeared anything but sad, as it playfully plucked insects out of the air!); however the moment the word "TODY" passed out of Ricardo's lips, I failed to hear anything. I had yearned to see a tody, ANY tody, for a number of years. Not only would it be a completely new bird family for me, but the Jamaican Tody is a tiny bird, charming, and nothing short of gorgeous, if that is considered the highest level of beauty. It is the size of a kinglet or Goldcrest, but is shaped like a kingfisher, with a long bill and short suat body lacking any substantial tail to it. However, the ornate colouring makes it particularly special. It is for the most part bright "parakeet" green, with a pinkish bill, gaudy vermilion throat patch, and washed with rose pink on its sides. It was every bit as stunning in real life as it was in books; while it had leapt off the pages of the book on first seeing it there, on first seeing it in life it burnt itself onto my retina. There were many interesting birds that morning, like the endemic Arrowhead Warbler, and even other ones that could be considered gorgeous, like the orange-breasted Jamaican Spindalis, but nothing could top the tody!

That was just the start of the day, more from this day, a headliner by Jamaican standards to come...

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