Jamaican Golden Swallow Expedition Part Two: Into the Blue Mountains

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We’re back in Jamaica and now in the second portion of our trip, where we explore the Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountains National Park looking for any signs of the Jamaican Golden Swallow. We arrived at the main visitor center for the park in Holywell yesterday, where we met with park rangers as well as representatives of the Jamaican Conservation and Development Trust, the organization that runs the park. We introduced everyone to our project using an adaptation of the standard slideshow that Justin uses to explain his masters research in Hispaniola to people, and then opened the table for a discussion of the best possible areas to hike and survey.

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Map exploration with representatives of the Jamaican Conservation and Development Trust

The park rangers had many helpful suggestions for certain regions that they thought best matched the type of habitat and un-birded nature that we’re looking for, and thanks to their help while poring over our maps we have a much better idea of where to go from here. The national park is simply so massive that any head start we can get on the right places to survey is a great help.

Today, we enjoyed some beautiful weather – blue skies and quite refreshing temperatures comfortably between the wind-chilled -10°F of Ithaca and the muggy 90°F of Cockpit Country. From our short hikes around the park so far we all agree that it’s an amazing area with stunning views and lots of potential for the Golden Swallow.

In less than one full day, we saw all the aerial insectivores we’d seen in the first trip (Antillean Palm-Swifts, Cave Swallows, and White-collared Swifts), and we may have even seen some slightly less common Black Swifts, but we’re not positive.

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White-eyed Thrush

We also saw a new species for Jamaica: the White-eyed Thrush. These birds have a comically alarmed appearance given their unusual ocular coloration, and we look forward to seeing more of them. From our campground near the visitor center, we have an outstanding view of Kingston, St. Andrew (or New Kingston), and the open ocean – photos to come soon! The clouds do blow through fairly quickly so in the mornings and afternoons when we’re back at camp everything will be very shrouded in mist.

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Tomorrow we’ll head out to the southwest portion of the park and start working on our transects across the mountains.

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