Q & A with Ricardo Miller, Founder, Arrowhead Birding, Kingston, Jamaica
“Providing high quality birding tours in Jamaica since 2012.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT BIRDS THAT FASCINATES YOU?
The sheer diversity, peculiarities and prominence of birds make them very fascinating creatures. Their ability to fly makes them the envy of man - myself included. Plus they are beautiful - the beauty of our endemic birds is there for all to see. Indeed, there is not a bird more beautiful and graceful as our National Bird of Jamaica – the Streamertail Hummingbird (a.k.a. the Doctorbird).
IN YOUR OPINION, WHY IS BIRDING SUCH A POPULAR HOBBY?
Man is fascinated by beauty, and birds are visually quite stunning. It is also due to our native curiosity that we explore and travel - the fact that different groups of birds are found only in certain locations gives us the incentive visit these places. It becomes a personal challenge to see all the 10,000+ different birds of the world.
I majored in Zoology at the University of the West Indies. In my final year I took a course entitled “Caribbean Biodiversity” with the late Dr. Peter Vogel. That is when I learned more about bird watching and conservation. Later I completed a Masters degree in Marine and Terrestrial Ecology with a focus on bird conservation.
I had been thinking about this for a while when I joined BirdLife Jamaica, our local birding club. I also joined BirdsCaribbean At one point John Fletcher, the past President of BirdLife Jamaica, invited me on a private birding trip to the Blue Mountains with visitors, and he gave me a portion of his earnings. Soon enough I was leading regular trips for local hotels when they had guests who wanted to go bird watching. I soon came to realize that Jamaica was in need of a dedicated birding company where the guide would stay with the guests at their hotel, eat with them at meal time and travel with them to the various birding locations. This would provide a much better opportunity for ongoing dialogue and cultural exchange. I received much encouragement and support from bird club leaders and my family to start my company.
DO YOU PROVIDE TOURS FOR OTHER COMPANIES?
Yes, this remains an important part of my business model where I organize and do all the necessary logistics in Jamaica for other international companies; sometimes I co-lead or I am the only leader when their clients arrive.
DO YOU PARTICIPATE IN ANY BIRD COUNT PROJECTS?
Yes - I have participated in Christmas Bird Counts, population assessments of game bird species for the Jamaican Government as well as various water bird censuses.
Most are from the United States. Also quite a few are from England or Germany or Sweden.
WHY DO YOU CALL JAMAICA THE BIRDING GEM OF THE CARIBBEAN?
Jamaica is home to 29 species of birds. This is more than any other Caribbean Island. It is possible to see them all during a week-long trip.
Jamaica offers well-known locations with good roads for comfortable walking or hiking - the Hardwar Gap in the Blue Mountains and Ecclesdown Road in Port Antonio are two favorites.
Indeed, there are over 180 different winter migrants that have been recorded in Jamaica. Many of these, however, are one time records or only observed once in a few years. This still leaves a large portion that can be seen in the various habitats with some effort. The wetlands in particular are a good place to visit to maximize the number of migrant birds you see on a trip.
It is usually 6 max per guide. But occasionally we get requests for as much as 10 people in a group, and so in that case a second guide will be added.
We reserve rooms at local family-owned lodges and villas which have WiFi and other modern amenities; these have their own restaurants or are located very close to restaurants. For dinner, well, you can choose from many types of fresh seafood or perhaps try our famous jerk chicken with rice and peas. We do not include alcoholic beverages in our tour packages, but it is not uncommon for our guests to purchase a bottle of wine or several glasses of beer to share around the dinner table. We have plenty of tasty tropical fruits and vegetables to offer, so anyone following a vegetarian or even a vegan diet can be accommodated. You will also enjoy our wonderful Blue Mountain coffee!
SO GIVE US YOUR BEST PITCH FOR A BIRD WATCHING WINTER HOLIDAY IN JAMAICA.
Jamaica is like a jewel in the Caribbean Sea. It is a beautiful country with tropical beaches, mountains, waterfalls and plenty of sunshine and warm weather. We are world-famous for our music and culture which is amazing given the fact that we are a small island! You will enjoy meeting our friendly people and having the opportunity to take great photos of colorful birds in the wild including those species that come here for the winter and those which are here year-round.
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