Bird and Memory of the Week – Red Billed Streamertail

I hope that there will be sufficient experiences and photos and memories and reflections to keep content flowing to this blog for a long while. I also hope that for the most part it will be a spontaneous expression and I definitely do not want it ever to feel like an obligation. Some discipline is probably a good thing, however, and it is to that end that I am going to try to start each week with some particular bird of memory that has special meaning to me – and hopefully interest to others. While the birds will be the focus of each post, it will be the associated stories that matter most to me.

My first Bird and Memory of the Week is the Red Billed Streamertail or “Doctor Bird”. It is the National Bird of Jamaica and is spectacular. I have chosen it not just for its beauty but also because it is probably the first international bird that I remember seeing and it has both wonderful associations and memories and I believe a good related story. The images are not mine – I first saw this bird in 1967 and cameras and film were way beyond my means at the time.

Red Billed Steamertail1

Back in another life when I was a young man (or at least becoming one), sports were a very important part of my life; and birds were not. Specifically I was a very serious competitor in track and field with my event being the Javelin. In 1967-69 (yes I am very old), I was a member of the Harvard Track team – a truly excellent squad that qualified many for the NCAA Championships, a story for another time.  I was a scholarship student at Harvard, definitely not someone of any financial means, and I had certainly never traveled internationally. BUT Harvard did have its resources and in 1967 a fairly large number of us traveled to Jamaica for Spring Training. We stayed at Independence Park in Kingston where the Commonwealth Games had been held the previous year. It was an amazing time and my eyes were popped wide open most of the time we were there.

Javelin Record

One of the best parts of the experience was training with some members of the Jamaica National team who had competed in those Games and who the next year would compete in the Olympics. These were great athletes, National Heroes and very cool folks. Somehow there was no racial tension – on the track or when in spare time we went into downtown Kingston with some of the athletes. Everyone knew these guys and we were like hangers on with rock stars. I remember one fellow in particular – Keswick Smalling who I believe was a decathlon guy. He was friendly, talented and gorgeous. It seemed that every woman in Jamaica knew him and he was constantly greeted with “Kezzie” as we walked the streets.

One of our non-training visits (we actually trained very hard and got much more out of the time than we would have in the still frozen fields of Cambridge) was to Dun’s River Falls – a world famous tourist mecca with the Dun’s River flowing over smoothed rocks into pools and then falling again into more pools and over more rocks. I remember distinctly the incredible hummingbirds with long streamer tails that seemed to be everywhere around the falls. I was not a birder yet but it was impossible not to be amazed by these awesome beautiful birds.

Dun's River Falls

It would be many years before I returned to Jamaica. Tracks and javelins were long ago history but I remembered that bird and now as a birder I wanted to see that bird more than anything else. It is endemic to Jamaica and is relatively common there. We went to Dun’s River Falls and sure enough there they were zipping around just as I remembered – but now even more spectacular to me.

As I began to write this I did a google search for Keswick Smalling. I found some references to track meets but mostly to a much younger man who is apparently a soccer star. It has to be the son – gorgeous just like his father was. Almost as gorgeous as the Red Billed Streamertail.

Red Billed Steamertail

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