The Joys of Birding: Celebrating BirdLife Jamaica

December 16th, 2018

This evening we are going for a little gentle Christmas bird-watching session (or “birding” as it is often called these days) accompanied by sorrel and cake, perhaps. Our binoculars are primed and ready, and our bird books are in the bag.

This will be the last get-together for the year with our colleagues at BirdLife Jamaica. This is a little-known group (except, of course, to bird people like us) that meets regularly in obscure parts of the island to look for (and at) Jamaica’s amazing birds. We actually have 29 endemic species (which means 29 types of birds that live only in Jamaica and nowhere else on the planet) – including our National Bird, the Doctor Bird, or Red-billed Streamertail to give it the correct name. The total number in the Caribbean is 146 – it’s a “hot spot.”

Founded in 1963 as the Gosse Bird Club, BirdLife Jamaica has gone through various phases but has kept going. Our numbers are now definitely increasing. We are a happy bunch, and we are very sociable. We are not always very good at keeping quiet while birding, but we try.

Ricardo Miller of Arrowhead Birding Tours explains a few things to an eager group of birders in Newcastle. (My photo)

Ricardo Miller of Arrowhead Birding Tours explains a few things to an eager group of birders in Newcastle. (My photo)

One very enjoyable thing about BirdLife Jamaica is that it’s very diverse, but we all get on well together. In fact, as much as the birds, it’s the people – united by the love of birds. Some of us (me not included) are real experts. We amateurs really look up to and learn from them. I usually stand close to Damany Calder, our President, who is incredibly knowledgeable, so that I can learn more. But no one is ever condescending. We have regular members from teenagers to…well, quite a bit older. Group photos are pretty much obligatory, by the way.

The English have a name for birdwatchers: “Twitchers.” This is because there is a kind of natural reflex. If you see or hear a bird, your arm goes up – raising binoculars to your face. Or your head turns. You are alert. Birdwatching triggers a twitching response.

What are the positive aspects of birdwatching? Well, it is certainly a flexible hobby. If you have a green garden, you can sit on your verandah with a cup of tea and watch birds. Or if you feel so inclined, you can scale the Blue Mountains for that purpose. With binoculars in hand, anything is possible. I got my husband hooked on birding late in life – but it’s never too late. Now he has his own pair of binoculars.

You can meditate on a Ring-tailed Pigeon. My photo, and not brilliant but it is satisfying.

You can meditate on a Ring-tailed Pigeon. My photo, and not brilliant but it is satisfying.

Birding is a kind of meditation. You can’t be pulling out your phone and checking your Facebook page while birding. In fact, I guarantee that the smartphone will soon be forgotten (turn it off) unless you want to try and take some phone pictures. Which I do, occasionally. Many birders love big cameras, with even bigger lenses, but you don’t have to do all that. The main thing is that birding concentrates the mind. Instead of scrolling through your Twitter timeline, you find yourself staring for five minutes (or longer) at a branch several yards away. You are drawn into a parallel universe, where birds flutter – and they don’t give a damn about President Trump, or climate change, or the States of Emergency, or all the other things we humans worry about.

I mentioned that we love group pics. Here we are at Hope Gardens in February, having just done a dedication ceremony of a bench in memory of  Stuart Lacey, a wonderful ornithologist and photographer. (My photo)

I mentioned that we love group pics. Here we are at Hope Gardens in February, having just done a dedication ceremony of a bench in memory of Stuart Lacey, a wonderful ornithologist and photographer. (My photo)

I wouldn’t say it is a particularly healthy occupation because one doesn’t walk briskly on birding expeditions. One stops and starts, of course. Long pauses. One might even cry out, “Oh! My knee!” or sit down by the side of the road. No matter. If one is in the hills, there may be a little climbing perhaps. Oh, and plenty of fresh air, unless one is near the Riverton City Dump. But then, garbage dumps are good places to find birds, interestingly. So are some sewage ponds (crocodiles notwithstanding).

You may ask about the correct wear for birding.  Well, none of us at BirdLife spend much time assessing each other’s attire. In fact, we hardly notice or look at each other. We are looking at a bush. So, no complications there whatsoever. If one of us went birding in a bikini, or dressed as Captain Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, at least some of us would never notice.

So, we’re not fussy. Just take a peek into Bird World. It’s entrancing. Join us one day, and you’ll see.

 

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3 Responses to “The Joys of Birding: Celebrating BirdLife Jamaica”

  1. Anton says:

    So nice to read about this birders group. Our nature is so precious and glad to see more and more people interested in this nice hobby. Hope they will help preserve the habitat and be more careful with waste and pollution.

  2. EmmaLewis says:

    Preserving habitat and combating pollution is something dear to the birders’ hearts! All of us. We need to focus more and more on this.

  3. […] today I came across a blog on Twitter that says birdwatching, in particular, is therapeutic. Our growing BirdLife Jamaica “fambily” feels the same way, too. We are diverse, we are from all walks of life, we warmly […]