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

Photography Biathlon

“What’s a Photography Biathlon?”, you might ask. That is a very good question, and if you had asked me that yesterday I wouldn’t have a clue.

However, during this morning’s run it came to me. For some time I’ve been wanting to post a blog entry about my morning runs in the hills above Kingston, which are the gateway to the Blue & John Crow Mountains National Park. Of course, any blog post that I do requires photos, but I don’t like to mix my running with my photography – I feel that one distracts from the other. Since today was my long run and I had my Samsung J5 with me anyway (using my Runtastic app), I decided to – as the company from Beaverton says – Just Do It.

Mountain view during the first kilometre

My run this morning was a 10K run – 5K uphill and 5K down.  The steepest stretch is the 1st kilometre, and this tends to be my slowest pace and so this is when I started shooting. Now, I tend to muse while I run so later on in the run I thought to myself “here I am, running and shooting, like I’m doing some kind of photography biathlon”. Eureka!! Then the next thought was, “another challenge for my photography students”. (I’m not sure how they’d take to the idea).

Roadside flora

Sunrise through the trees

As I ran (and shot), I began to formulate the criteria. Firstly, it won’t work for distances less than 10K, because the runner needs to have put in the distance and/or the pace at the end of the day. Secondly, you are to average 1 photo per kilometre, and finally, the runner decides when during the run they shoot. Today I shot during the uphill 5K, so that my downhill run would be uninterrupted (although I was distracted by the goats in the final kilometre). The winner would be the person with a combination of the best photos (taken during the shoot – no editing) and the best time.

So, any takers for a Photography Biathlon?   

Another mountain view.

Barbados Morn

Last month I was fortunate to find myself in the neighbouring Caribbean island of Barbados, somewhere that I have always wanted to visit. Although I was there for only two days of non-photographic work, I had to take a few hours to explore the environs around my hotel. Fortunately, these environs encompassed the UNESCO World Heritage site known as The Garrison. Needless to say, those two hours reminded me of the simple pleasures that can be had with a Nikon in hand.

The Main Guard of the Barbados Garrison, built in 1804

The Main Guard of the Barbados Garrison, built in 1804

The Garrison was designated a World Heritage Site (WHS) in 2011 by UNESCO. According to the UNESCO WHS website, this is due to the “outstanding example of British colonial architecture consisting of a well-preserved old town built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.”


A private building located in the Garrison World Heritage Site.

A private building located in the Garrison World Heritage Site.

From what I was able to see – which was centred around the Garrison Savannah race course – I was quite impressed with the preservation and usage of the buildings. Some were still used by the Barbados Defence Force, while others were private homes, some were museums and others were used by various government agencies.

Although I was impressed by the pride that our Barbadian neighbours have in their historical structures, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of “what if?” What if Jamaica invested in their built heritage sites in the same way that Barbados has invested in The Garrison? In historical Spanish Town there are numerous structures which date to the 16th century when it was known as Villa de la Vega and was Jamaica’s capital under the Spanish occupancy. A similar historical zone centred on Emancipation Square and the Cathedral could have been created. My uncle who was raised in Spanish Town, says that when he was growing up there was a large Brick Barracks that was used as a school – until it fell into disrepair. Such is Jamaica’s story…..

The Soldiers Brick Barracks, built in 1808

The Soldiers Brick Barracks, built in 1808

However, my task that day was not to mourn the deficiencies of my own country, but to celebrate and document how Barbados has been able to harmoniously make the past a part of their present and future.

The Barbados Light & Power building, formerly the Commissariat Provision Store and then the Garrison Theatre.

The Barbados Light & Power building, formerly the Commissariat Provision Store and then the Garrison Theatre.