Birding at River Breeze

I’ve always enjoyed photographing birds, although I don’t consider myself a “bird photographer”. This is because I lack both the patience and specialized equipment required to excel in this type of photography. However, for over 10 years I have owned a small cottage in the community buffer zone of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The BJCMNP was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a mixed property in 2015 for its natural and cultural heritage. One of the reasons for this is the large variety of birds that can be found in these mountains.

A Red-Billed Streamer-tail Hummingbird, nestled in a Blue Mahoe Flower. February 2019.

River Breeze Cottage is located in the community of Cascade at an altitude of 700 metres above sea level and is located in the vicinity of Hardwar Gap which is a popular bird-watching site. This results in a large variety of both endemic species and migrant species on the property, which is less than an acre in size. On a wet and rainy Monday, Dr. Suzanne Davis of the Institute of Jamaica was able to identify over 24 species in less than three hours.

Jamaican Woodpecker. February 2019.
Vervain Hummingbird. August 2019. 

These included the ubiquitious Red-Billed Streamer-tailed hummingbird, an endemic species that is the national bird of Jamaica. Also present is Jamaica’s smallest hummingbird, the Vervain Hummingbird. Other endemics include the Jamaican Tody, the Jamaican Woodpecker, the Jamaican Euphoria, the Jamaican Spindalis and the White-Chinned Thrush. In the distance I saw a Chestnut-Bellied Cuckoo, and Suzanne was able to identify  the Yellow-Shouldered Grassquit  by its birdsong. These birds are found only in Jamaica, and I am blessed to be able to view them in my small patch of paradise. 

Black-Throated Blue Warbler. December 2009

Smooth-Billed Ani. December 2016

Apart from the endemics, Jamaica receives migrant species during both the winter and summer months.  Among the former is the Black-Throated Blue Warbler, while the Black-Whiskered Vireo is a summer visitor. Suzanne was able to identify the latter from its characteristic bird-call, which sounds like “John-Chew-It” (hence its local name). Of course, I was totally unable to distinguish such sounds. Other birds that can be found in the garden include the Smooth-Billed Ani, the Loggerhead Kingbird, Bananaquits, the Black-Faced Grassquit, the White-Crowned Pigeon and the Rufous-Throated Solitaire. 

So, these are just a few of the birds that can be found at River Breeze Cottage. Needless to say, I believe that I will be doing more bird watching and bird photography. I’ve already bought a pair of binoculars and I might even invest in some new camera lenses. I’m not sure about acquiring the patience though…

Bananaquit. February 2019.

Sad Flycatcher. December  2009

 

 

River Breeze Cottage

Sargassum & Solids

Last week I witnessed firsthand what is considered by many as the current bane of Caribbean beaches – sargassum seaweed fighting for space with copious quantities of plastic. We were on our way to Morant Point lighthouse, Jamaica’s easternmost point, when we stopped at Holland Bay Beach. The state of it stopped us in our tracks.

Plastics litter Holland Bay Beach near Morant Point, Jamaica’s easternmost point. May 22, 2019. Sargassum seaweed is visible at the water’s edge and Morant Point Lighthouse is visible in the distance.

The most obvious and disturbing element was the expanse of plastic waste that blanketed the beach from the road to the sea. The only thing that prevented the plastic from entering the water was the barrier of brown algae, known as Sargassum. Although both are an assault on the senses, the fact that one is natural and the other is man-made reflects the different potential solutions to these issues.

Plastic Pollution

Plastic from a foreign land, at Holland Bay Beach.
Plastic among the beach flora at Holland Bay, Jamaica


According to the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) “pollution from solid waste, and in particular from plastics, has emerged as one of the greatest global challenges”. The CEP adds that “everyday 8,000,000 new solid waste items that become marine litter in our oceans and seas everyday”.

This was evident at Holland Bay, where – at this easternmost point of Jamaica – it was clear that not all of the plastic on the beach originated in Jamaica. This is line with the CEP, who state that in major Caribbean cities “the amount of solid waste collected can be as low as 50% of the total amount generated”. The remainder ends up not just staying in the territory of origin, but it is also carried by the sea to other countries, such as Holland Bay swimming beach in eastern Jamaica.

So what can we do about it? The fact is, we know what to do. Just to remind readers, according to the Caribbean Environment Programme, actions include, ” improve the collection, transport and disposal of solid waste; restrict the importation and use of single-use plastics; promote recycling and re-use; identify more environmentally friendly alternatives to packaging material such as styrofoam, and develop new job opportunities relating to solid waste and plastics management”. However, even if all of actions immediately occurred, the fact is that plastic has a lifespan of 400 years. Yes, life is a beach – especially for plastic.

Big Brown Bucks

Over the past few years, Sargassum has been viewed as an unsightly nuisance, especially if you were looking forward to a pleasurable swim in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean sea. According to Daphne Ewing-Chow, “since 2011, a sargassum seaweed crisis has devastated the Caribbean: tainting beaches, killing marine life and limiting the livelihoods of fisher folk due to an increase in fuel and maintenance costs, impeded efficiency and reduced catch”.

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Back to Basics in St. Bess

I spent the past weekend re-discovering the parish of St. Elizabeth on Jamaica’s south-west coast. It has been nearly ten years since I have explored this very scenic and laid-back part of Jamaica and that weekend we took a much-needed family vacation. Our base was Jake’s Hotel and I was able to introduce the family to Y.S. Falls, Black River, Great Bay and Lover’s Leap. However, for me the most important time spent photographically was sunrise at Calabash Bay on the Sunday morning. It was important because it helped me to re-focus my photography and recapture my passion.

Sunrise over the raised coral reefs at Calabash Bay, St. Elizabeth

Over the past few years, I have not been doing much personal photography. This was due to not having enough time to dedicate on myself and my original passion – outdoor photography. This has had a negative affect on me, so much so that earlier this year my nutritionist told me that I must shoot at least once a week to reduce my stress levels!

Sunrise at Treasure Beach, en route to Calabash Bay.

Decades ago, I used to combine my photography with my love for geography and the conservation of Jamaica’s unique natural heritage. Hiking and exploration was the norm, but due to the demands of teaching and researching, I haven’t done much recently.

Chilling on a sand dune

However, while staring out at the Caribbean Sea (I’ve always loved the sea) as I was warmed by the morning sun, I received a revelation. For the past year I’ve been trying to figure out how to use my research to educate Jamaicans of our natural and cultural heritage. That Sunday morning, it hit me. For my research, I’ll focus on educating Jamaicans about our cultural heritage while for my personal shooting I’ll get back out and explore and hike in Jamaica’s wild places. This will re-ignite my photography, reduce my stress and help to restore my balance. I’ll be sharing the stories on my blog, so watch this space….

Beach house on Calabash Bay, St. Elizabeth.