The partridges in Fern Gully
It was not only the flora of Fern Gully that came under attack but the fauna also. One particular example was the bird known familiarly in Jamaica as the partridge; this bird is not the game bird of the temperate regions but a member of the pigeon and dove family. It is more scientifically named Geotrygon montana, or the Ruddy Quail Dove.
 An 18th century authority stated that the Quail was introduced into the island from North America; since, however, the Ruddy Quail Dove is endemic across the Caribbean islands and Central America that seems an unlikely supposition.

 Patrick Browne, The Civil and Natural History of Jamaica, 1756
'The Quail, commonly called a Partridge in Jamaica. These
birds were introduced there from North America, and set
loose in many parts of the island.'

 p 321 This bird, the female of which is the least beautiful of all our Doves, is generally scattered. It affects a well wooded country
and is found in such woods as are more choked with bushes than such as the Whitebelly prefers, though they often dwell together.
It is essentially a ground pigeon walking in couples or singly seeking for seeds or gravel on the earth. It is often seen beneath a
pimento picking up the fallen berries, the physic nut also and other oily seeds afford it sustenance, Sam once observed a pair of
these Doves eating the large seed of a mango that had been crushed. With seeds I have occasionally found small slugs a species of
Vaginulus common in damp places in its gizzard.
 References to the birds of Fern Gully are few, and far between, quite literally! A writer in the 1880s mentioned hearing the Solitaire on the 'Gully Road', but after that the first reference I have seen came nearly six decades later when a letter appeared in the Gleaner drawing attention to the fate of the birds that Jamaicans called Partridges who had all but disappeared from the Gully.
Daily Gleaner,  August 8, 1941
 By 1956 May Jeffrey-Smith was writing in her book Bird-Watching in Jamaica, that:
 'Partridge Doves, once common, are rarely seen but have been recently encountered at Westwood as well as in the Fern Gully and at Goshen, St Ann. They are still found in the Blue Mountains. . . . Known as "Red Partridge" they are still fairly common in the Cockpit Country.'
 An article in the early 1960s goes some way towards explaining the fascination to some people  in Jamaica of the bird-shooting tradition, which was by then having a dire impact on the bird population. The author of the article, 'Billy' Moss, was a fascinating man, who came to Jamaica around 1960 and lived here until his death in 1965, at the early age of 44. He is best known for his novel Ill Met by Midnight which is based on his participation in the capture of a German general in Crete during the Second World War. His whole career reads like an Ian Fleming novel!

Daily Gleaner, September 2, 1962

W. Stanley Moss

On Saturday last, guns were popping all over Jamaica. The shooting season, foreshortened now to two months span and restricting its participants to a 15-bird bag, had started.

We only collected a brace of Baldpate: but that didn't matter. It was the atmosphere which counted - the thrill of watching, stalking, and waiting, the smell of gunsmoke, the feel of a game-bag on your hip, the silent attention of a gun-dog at heel, the taste of fresh sandwiches and a swig of rum from the flask and good companions.

The variety of game-birds in Jamaica is rich and rare - Wild Duck, Mountain Witch, Whitewing, Baldpate, Ring-tai1, Lapwing, Pea Dove, White Belly, Blue Dove, Partridge and Paloma Pea Dove. There's romance and mystery in the names alone, not to mention the quality of taste in the eating.

In colder climates, of course, game-hlrds are left to get 'high' before making their appearance on the dinner table. (A pheasant is customarily hung by the tail until body and feathers part company.) In Jamaica this gastronomic exercise in patience and predilection is unnecessary. The bird is ready for

consumption within minutes of hitting the deck; but, as one old-stager told me, there are several ways of ensuring that your dinner will be just a little bit more exciting to the palate.

"The best eating," he said, “are birds which have been feeding off pimento. They've got built-in spicing."

Within recent memory, there was no restriction on shooting in Jamaica, and the season was much longer. During the past few years, however, the bag limit has been progressively reduced until now, with a maximum of 15 birds, there has come an effective stoppage to indiscriminate slaughter.

You have to pick your birds nowadays,” continued my wise friend. “There's no point in simply blasting off in every direction. But I must confess that there are times, especially if a flight of duck comes overhead when the temptation to go over the limit is almost irresistible.”

. . . .

Then, too, there is the question of cost. Our neighbouring party, having pooled their resources for the week-end, worked out that each bird in their bag had cost them L14 (taking into consideration the several magnums of champagne and pots of caviare which they had consumed on the wayside.)

 But at the same period Lisa Salmon maintained an on-going struggle to end the destruction of the birds of the island:
 Daily Gleaner,  June 26, 1960
 . . . and a quarter century later there was a letter which was a reminder of the birds that had been lost because the laws of the island were not protecting them adequately:
Daily Gleaner,  March 9, 1984

In A Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies,

by Roger Tory Peterson et al, 1999, p48,

the cry of the Ruddy Quail Dove is described as -

“A prolonged, booming note, reminiscent of the doleful sound of a fog-buoy.'

When was that cry last heard in Fern Gully?


Daily Gleaner, March 15, 1993

A. B. Anderson, of Tanglewood, St. Ann's Bay, St. Ann, on:

Natural beauty

Fern Gully is returning to its natural beauty. The trees have again been providing the amount of canopy which the

ferns need. The reasons given for the decline in the population and

quality of the ferns, including that about exhaust fumes, can no longer

be advanced.                                                                                             

Partridges which were once plentiful in Fern Gully might begin to re-appear.