06 April 2015

Welcome to Hell!...JAMAICA (24th March)

The first, full, day of the Jamaica tour started in the dry scrubby coastal hills of Hellshire Hills, just west of Kingston. It's not often people take mockingbirds seriously, but here is one place that they are taken in that manner; as there is a rare endemic race of Bahama Mockingbird, an endemic Caribbean species shared with only the Bahamas and Cuba. It turns out though, go with the right people, to the right place, and even this Jamaican "rarity" is not so hard to find. Before we had even reached the main area for them, we had a singing bird in the bag. The local name for Northern Mockingbird on Jamaica is simply "Nightingale", and so for the Bahama they labelled it "Spanish Mockingbird", although I am not sure why; it's song is no more Spanish sounding than the song of the Northern!
Also of avian importance to us at Hellshire, was another endemic, a coppery hummingbird known as Jamaican Mango, several of which gave themselves up easily; and also a flycatcher, which in spite of the name seemed spritely, animated and full of emotion as it zipped about picking white butterflies out of the air; Stolid Flycatcher, another Caribbean specialty.
As "Hell" began to heat up, we retreated into the city of Kingston, visiting the tranquil surrounds of Hope Gardens, passing the rainbow-coloured Bob Marley Museum en-route. The calm settings of the gardens are in stark contrast to the usual hubbub of city life going on right outside the gates. Numerous flowering shrubs hosted numerous Red-billed Streamertails, Jamaica's proud national bird, and the tiny Vervain Hummingbird also got a look in too. Vervain Hummingbird would be a lot more famous were it not for a certain Bee Hummingbird from Cuba; were it not for that species it could clai the title of world's smallest bird, measuring an astonishing 5cm. Put another way, a standard pencil is TEN times longer than this miniscule bird! But, no one ever remembers who came in second, and so while the Bee Hummingbird gets all the plaudits (in spite of most of them, except the very smallest males, measuring the exact same amount as the Vervain), the Vervain is resigned to always being the "bridesmaid"! Aside from that the well-kept park gave us two endemic parrots; Yellow-billed Parrot and the newly "minted" Jamaican Parakeet (only recently split from Olive-throated in a 2014 paper).
In the afternoon, after a lunch with a female Cape May Warbler and a Black-faced Grassquit as tableside companions, we move on up into the Blue Mountains, where we were greeted with heavy rain. Once the rain had moved in though, a flurry of endemics and specialties followed: Rufous-throated Solitaire, Blue Mountain Vireo, another Crested Quail-Dove, and a superb, confiding Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo, the latter being my standout moment of the afternoon. The reason for this? A lizard-cuckoo clasping a newly caught lizard in its bill was Top Trumps for me!

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