Birding Without Borders

Day 109: Caribbean Tides

Noah leaves Jamaica with birds and memories.

April 19, 2015, San Jose, Costa Rica — In almost exactly 48 hours in Jamaica, I saw 121 species of birds—more than most visiting birders do on a week-long tour of the island! The quality was as good as the quantity: Half of those birds were new for this year, and most of the additions were birds I won’t find anywhere else. It was especially satisfying to see every single one of the country’s 28 endemics on such a short visit. In other words, Jamaica rocked.

I owe this success to Liz, Jay, Barbara, and Tom, who have spent the past three months studying Yellow Warblers and wintering American Redstarts on the island. Their research project involves mapping territories of these species in three dimensions, which means they’ve spent the past three months following individually marked birds around a mangrove forest and recording, every 30 seconds, the precise location and height of each bird, with virtually no days off (until I showed up!). It’s an interesting study; “our” North American warblers maintain territories on their wintering grounds, just as they do in the summer, and the interactions between species aren’t well known. Now, in April, birds are migrating north, and the field season is wrapping up for the year. Having done quite a lot of this type of biological field work myself, it was fun to see the setup.

Meanwhile, Jamaica is obviously a lot more than beaches, pirates, and reggae. Over the past two days, the five of us completely circumnavigated the island, finishing up this morning at the Montego Bay sewage ponds (a good spot for West Indian Whistling-Ducks). The country is one of the poorest in the region, partly because it doesn’t export much, and it has a harder edge than most other places I’ve visited so far this year. As a pack of “whiteys” (the local equivalent of “gringo”—not an insult, just a fact), we were hassled at a low but constant level. In Burger King, a security guard stopped a loiterer from talking to us (yeah, security at BK!); yesterday we crossed gritty Kingston after dark; and, this morning, we were stopped and searched on the highway twice within an hour by the police. At no point did Jamaica feel particularly unsafe, but we certainly saw more facets of the country than the cocktail-sippers at the nearby Sandals resort.

After a couple hours of birding this morning, the Warbler Crew dropped me at the Montego Bay airport in time for a noon flight, and I spent the afternoon hopping onward to San Jose via Panama City. A week in Costa Rica starts now!

New birds today: 7

Year list: 2107

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