Birds Sing Sweetly for Paddy Cunningham Birding Adventurers

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DAY 1

This tour was a wild card and I was looking forward to playing it. The Birding Tour Operator I worked with did not know me and I did not know her. We met by me making a cold call to Paddy Cunningham Birding Adventures, based in Miami – asking Paddy if she might be interested in following on the heels of a terrific New York City Audubon trip I’d just produced. Paddy, bless her, took a leap and successfully gathered 7 wonderful birdwatchers, from random places in the United States, many of whom had traveled with her before. They landed in Kingston on Friday the 13th, 2014 at 7 AM and they hit the ground birding… Landing in Kingston harbour and driving along the coastline was a thrill because you can look for shore birds. The Birders start talking about birds they see, while introducing ourselves to each other.   It was wonderful listening, because they know everything about the birds… their names, their colors and calls, how they behave and where they are from…

We had to cross Kingston to get to Papine and up to our destination in the Blue Mountains. The Birders enjoyed seeing the hussle, bustle, pop and sparkle of Jamaica’s capital.   Flag vendors, peddling the most popular countries flags, seemed to be on every corner this morning, preparing the population for 2014 World Cup.

Our first stop was Strawberry Hill. A few of our Birders were concerned they might not get even one view of the ubiquitous Red-billed Streamertail Hummingbird; at Strawberry Hill their fears were quickly squelched. They could hardly stay seated for breakfast; the bird sightings were so abundant.

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Strawberry Hill’s beloved Franklyn, showing Linda Sullivan, photographer, a seed from the amazing African Sausage Tree.

Later that Afternoon we took cake and made a call on David Twyman at the Old Tavern Blue Mountain Coffee Estate, David Twymanwhere we learned among many things, how to make the best possible cup of coffee. Here is a testament from Jody Levin …

 

 

 

 

Hey Big Kids,

Travel broadens the mind.  This morning I made my coffee as David suggested, by letting the water “breathe” and allowing the additives to evaporate and WOW what a difference!  I aways like learning something new.  I now have a dedicated filtered water pitcher on the counter for coffee and tea.  Yeah…. another thing on the counter….  I’m not a big traveler, as it can be difficult for me to leave my home, its beauty and comfort but when I do get out there, I usually have a blast.  This premise held true for this trip.  My world was expanded.  I enjoyed all that I saw, the people I met, and the new foods with a zest for life.  

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Lyndon Johnson, who is a gifted professional bird guide, met us at Old Tavern and stayed with us for the next 4 days. There was an instant bond – these are his people.

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And the moon is full . . .

 

 

 

 

DAY 2BD

A routine and rhythm are quickly established. Birding begins at 5:30AM. Breakfast about 7:30, back out birding till Lunch, a couple hours rest while the birds are quiet and then out again till dusk… a cup of tea, a glass of wine, the bird list, Dinner, bed.

 

BLToday we are birding Hardwar Gap and environs… a little rain just kept things cool.

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Nice memories around good cooking and communal meals.

 

 

DAY 3

5:30 AM birding.  After breakfast we pack up and head to Port Antonio. Over the mountain to the north coast, at Buff Bay by lunch time. At Blueberry Hill, the Birders devour their first Jerk chicken and pork, Tings and Red Stripe.

B12As we drive east towards Port Antionio we encounter different habitats and different birds than we found in the mountains. We stop at almost every bay as we round the coast: Orange Bay, Hope Bay, St. Margaret’s Bay, where there are rivers that fall into the sea. The landscape is poetry.

 

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By the time we reach Goblin Hill, where we will sleep, everyone is ready to drop their bags and swim. Fresh snapper for Dinner, and well prepared by a gaggle of Goblin Hill housekeepers enjoying the communal cook-up. Post dinner, we pack a picnic breakfast and after a brief walk in the garden in search of the Jamaican owl, head to sleep.

DAY 4

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Eccelsdown, in Portland, Jamaica is a road known in birding circles, not to be missed. A dream road for birders – you are in intense vegetation,  looking down into a valley for long stretches, putting you at almost eye level to the canopy. No neck strain for these dedicated birders. The botonist on our trip showed me a fern that predates dinosaurs, there were wild flowers I had never seen before.

By now the group has seen almost all of Jamaica’s endemic birds…but one bird, the coy Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, or Old Man Bird, it’s common Jamaica name, kept eluding the group… this was the bird they still hoped they might ‘get’, before their departure, which was now, tomorrow! The pressure is on. Lyndon is feeling it, all our fingers are crossed. Bird-watching is most definitely a sport, and skill is developed with patience and practice.

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And the Jamaican Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo is seen! Everyone gets brilliant views of the stunning bird, everyone thrilled and delighted, to be adding another bird to their life list.

If you follow the Ecclelsdown Road all the way round you drop back down to the coast at the entrance to Reach Falls – brilliant!

Reach FallsReachFallsIt was Monday and the Falls were officially closed, but the kind family who keep the gate, could not have been more helpful.  Even Mary, who was this trip’s mentor, in her 80’s, strong and vibrant – sat on a rock under a piece of blue tarpolion, put on her bathing suit and trusted a strong young man to lead her to the water.

B1 And it’s lunch time and Miss Syd Massop of Rebecca’s Town House Café in Port Antonio meets us at the Falls, with a scrumptious picnic.

 

 

DAY 5

Following the pre-dawn birding, and breakfast, the bus is packed, I say good-bye and send the Birders with Cool Cat to Raft the Rio Grande on their way to the Kingston airport.

DSC02226Their flight is not till 5 so there is time to Raft, and Picnic, stop at a grocery store and be at the Airport for easy check in… and there is not a doubt, they picked up a few more birds along the way…

What I felt most about Jamaica was the non-physical vibration that was all around me.  Maybe because I was looking for it.  Whether it was God, Jesus, Spirit, Nelson Mandela or Bob Marley, Energy existed and was everywhere.  There was reverence in how people dressed for their church, in their varied forms of churches, on the murals on walls with images of their Beloveds, to how one greets a Rastafarian, and in the faces of our local guides with their fervor for the Island.  Their love for Jamaica and its bounty touched me.  Whether it was for the birds, the coffee, the food, or the land, Love and Energy were palpable. I was moved with the birds, the land, and the people.  

I am fond of saying that travels broadens the mind.  This time I could say that it broadens the Soul as well.  Its been quite some time since my Soul was so moved.

Thank you Jody Levin, and Paddy Cunningham Pascatore, Elaine Vokoun, Linda Sullivan (for many wonderful photos), Mary Butterfield, Janis Cadwalladwe, Karen Stiles and Mike Schaffer, Lyndon Johnson, Syd Massop and many many more friends …what a pleasure!                                                  xo, LL

Final Bird List, courtesy of Paddy Cunningham:  bird checklist final

About the author

Lynda Lee Burks has lived in Jamaica most of her adult life. She supports her passion for living by the sea, by organizing tours of Jamaica, producing events – dub poets to destination weddings, and as artist and teacher.  

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