Status of the Critically Endangered Jamaican Golden Swallow (summary)

Justin Proctor, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Seth E. Inman, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY

John M. Zeiger, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY

Gary R. Graves, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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Hispaniolan Golden Swallows in Parque Valle Nuevo, Dominican Republic. (From left to right) Adult in flight; adult perched overtop of artificial nest-box; 25-day-old chicks in nest-box, one day prior to fledging.

The Golden Swallow (Tachycineta euchrysea) is an aerial insectivore and obligate secondary cavity-nester known exclusively to the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and Hispaniola. The Hispaniolan subspecies (T. e. sclateri) was first described in 1866 by the American ornithologist, Charles Barney Cory, and though considered common in the early 1900s, it has become an increasingly rare resident of the highlands of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The subspecies is currently categorized as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Researchers have been studying the life history and breeding biology of the Hispaniolan subspecies since 2012, and initial conservation efforts are currently underway. The nominate Jamaican Golden Swallow race (T. e. euchrysea) was first described in 1847 by the English naturalist, Philip Henry Gosse, and was always considered uncommon, locally distributed, and endemic to Jamaica. Sadly, the Jamaican Golden Swallow subspecies has not been unequivocally observed since the late 1980s. Continue reading

The Simple Things

When we find ourselves absolutely overwhelmed by the complexities, demands, and irrational expectations surrounding field work, it’s really nice to remember the simple things – and within them, find peace of mind, stability, and renewed strength.

Waking up early enough so as not to have to rush through a French-press filled with Blue Mountain coffee is a must.  It’s 10 minutes of tranquility, when one can sit with friends, contemplate the day’s tasks, and appreciate the scenery you’ve missed while rushing from one place to the next.

And what about those incredibly infrequent times that the birds come to you?   Continue reading

Ambassabeth

Photo credit: Seth Inman

The Ambassabeth Ecolodge can be found tucked into the southeast corner of the Rio Grande Valley, at the meeting place of the southern end of the John Crow Mountains and southeastern end of the Blue Mountains. It’s a beautiful, lush nook filled with towering Tree Ferns (Order Cyatheales), fast-flowing tributaries thundering off the valley sides down into the Rio Grande River, elusive Giant Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio homerus), and a healthy mix of Jamaican avifauna.

A recent bridge collapse about a mile and half from the ecolodge, inhibiting the arrival of guests by vehicle, has further amplified the serenity, isolation, and rustic ambiance surrounding this naturalist’s paradise. For us, Ambassabeth provided a base location from which to hike and survey two distinct foot-trails that meander up out of the valley and continue down the other side towards the southeastern coastline of the island. Continue reading

You No Sen, We Still Come

– A succinct (yet unabridged and uncensored) commentary on the Cockpit Expedition for Golden Swallows, by Justin Proctor

Why the hell didn’t I bring a change of pants on this trip?!”  That was a reoccurring thought I had almost six or seven times each day while hiking through or around Jamaica’s Cockpit Country.  After 6 months of off-and-on planning, I managed to dream up most of the Plan A, B, C, and D scenarios that would befall us and what gear we would need to combat/survive each of those adventures – yet, that second pair of pants just didn’t seem to hit my radar or the inside of my suitcase back in Ithaca.  [We leave for the second expedition tomorrow and you can bet that I’m currently wearing TWO pairs of pants just to make sure an oversight like that doesn’t repeat itself]

So it turns out that Gary Graves was right when he said it gets hot in those limestone hills.  It also turns out that Susan Koenig was just as right when she told me that you can’t just draw lines over satellite imagery of the Cockpit in a fun loop-de-loop pattern that would be ideal for hiking.  And well, the rest of the people who told us to bring gloves to counteract stinging plants and razor-sharp karst; that even though it rained all the time that there was no potable water to be easily found; and that you won’t understand a damn word that anybody is saying to you – yep, they were all right too.

But life finds a way, and I think that looking back on what I see as a fairly quick, jam-packed assault on the Cockpit, we made some damn good orange juice out of the lemons we were given.  Or maybe that was yam juice with a hint of rusty Nutella flaking off from the inner joints of my pocket knife.  Either way, we gave it our best and left with a good taste in our mouths.

What an absolutely amazing opportunity this has been to connect my graduate thesis work on Hispaniolan Golden Swallows with the Jamaican subspecies that once pocketed the hills and glades of Cockpit Country.  What a twist of good fortune that Gary Graves from the Smithsonian and I would share a common interest and be able to find a way to continue unraveling the mystery that surrounds this bird.  And what total luck that I have had such great friends to accompany me in a search for something that may not even be out there.

Seth and JZ

THE TROOPS:  (Left)  Seth Inman.  Historian, philosopher, rememberer of all things.  Some say he’s a God amongst men.  Others say he’s just a damn good guy. (Right)  John Zeiger.  Philanthropist, nurturer, rememberer of all things that somehow form a solid counter-argument to facts invented by Justin.  Some say his socks could make Gods weep.  Others say that he just has dirty feet.

Continue reading