Monday, February 4, 2019

Operation: Jamaica

A GOOD Majority of people who visit Jamaica arrive, get transferred to hotels like Sandals, Beaches, or even Hedonism, and never leave the property.  They have locals cater to their every whim, all the time surrounded by armed guards, never to leave the gates of their all-inclusive hotels and learn what really is going on or even eat any local food.  That is not for me.  I go to the road less traveled, or at least a road only traveled by donkeys hauling out the corn while slash and burned areas are still smoldering, a new half acre of destroyed habitat formed for, in some cases, no real reason, or to grow what looks like really sad looking corn.  The corn sold for 300 Jamaican dollars per large bag OR $2.25.  The cost of a Red-stripe, that donkey will carry two bags back to the village when loaded.

 IT HAS BEEN very hard for me to know what to say and exactly how to handle this blog post.  One of the reasons was clearly the lack of bandwidth I had last week after I spent the day on Jamaica.  The other is the best way to highlight the plight of a woman I met on Jamaica.  Her name is Wendy Lee.  As I will discuss, she is forced to live a low-key existence, both by the very nature of what she is doing, and also due to where she lives.  It is clear that making the average person mad at you in Jamaica could be dangerous.  Part of me thinks I should be quiet but part of me says I should shed a little light on the important role she is doing so that maybe, just maybe, a few of us could throw her a bone.

I Know I'm one for hyperbole.  I'm one to accentuate the obvious, but in all honesty, if works on Earth can get you a better lot in either the afterlife or in the next life, Wendy Lee would be a couple steps ahead of many of us.  In Swedish and Midwestern culture, calling attention to oneself is frowned upon.  I've decided to not put her picture in here.  She is taking the one above with my two friends and a passing local farmer.  Vivian from Ohio, and Stuart from Florida.  They are both non-birders but decided to explore for the day.

I landed in Jamaica for a single day last week, having never been, the list of nearly 30 endemic birds on the island plus some from the larger islands I've also never been to meant that I needed some help birding and had much to find.  Time was short, though and also due to the dangers of an island such as this, I felt it best to hire a guide.  I picked Wendy Lee from west of Ocho Rios by dumb luck.  We met up in the morning at her place, and then took off birding.

Beforehand, we were taken around her property which has become a rehab center for illegal, unwanted, and injured birds.  I didn't count all the parrots she had, some endemic black-bills, and other exotic species.  The local authorities contact her about a mistreated or illegal bird and she picks them up.  The only problem is once she has them, the government makes it illegal for her to release them or even farm them out to other caring individuals.  As such, her flock grows weekly, parrots live for ever, or so it seems, some of her birds are almost as old as me, and well, there is no end.  There is no break in sight for her and what is the end game?  She can't carry on this forever.  

This is a labor of love, as she is currently without help, a local woman who has helped her wants to retire (or has).  There is Little money to pay anyone or even buy food for her birds.  The birds and her really need your help, but I'm not sure of the best way...

Wendy can be best described as a bit of a burned out environmentalist, a person who practices what she teaches, and I don't say that disparagingly.  I'd have gone postal long ago if I'd been her.  She has spent much of her life trying to teach the local population that there is a better way than just throwing their garbage everywhere, she also tried to point out to the government that slash and burn was a bad plan, but all she has seen in the last twenty years is a growing problem, made worse every year by human and government indifference.

Don't let me get started on Cozumel, they have an even bigger garbage problem.  Here is a soup of garbage just a few hundred feet from the busy tourist port, yet ignored by millions of tourists

There is the old argument of trying to teach poor people environmentalism when they are just trying to  feed themselves, but that is a "cop-out."

This brings me to the Dutch kid, Boyan Slat.  The kid who has people give him hundreds of millions to build some new age plastic collector that will magically strain the ocean of plastics.  All well and good, except it hasn't worked yet.  This is like a huge super -super computer to improve the education of our kids.  The problem is local.  We need to forbid the manufacturing of plastic bottles.  Place a huge deposit on them, and find something to do with the plastic.  We all recycle, seems good, and honorable, but most of that plastic has ended up in China and I've read, has ended up in the sea anyhow.  

Plastic is a local problem.  Instead, take twenty million, go to the poorest areas of Jamaica, pay them say, $100 per pickup load of garbage, burn it in an incinerator until its all gone.  You've  motivated the poor, you clean up the crap, take another 40 million and do the same thing in Mexico, Bangladesh, and some other countries...all the while banning the stuff.  we got plastic because of environmental concerns over cutting trees for paper and paper containers, laziness over cleaning returnable bottles, and because it is cheap and easy.  We are all to blame.  My water bottle is aluminum, I drink my cola from aluminum cans, what do you use?

Anyhow, my plan will (which is not really my plan, others say the same thing) will rid the world of plastic better than Boyan's great contraption, but helping out a young guy is so cool...

enough rant....

Wendy took us birding, me, and two non-birder, Stuart and Vivian, up into the mountains and we saw some cool things.  I saw 18 lifer birds, photographed a northern potoo, and I even got to hear the cool call of the Blue Mountain vireo

not the best photo of a black billed parrot

 for and aft views of Blue mountain vireo, 2nd rarest bird on island, 

 for and aft views of Blue mountain vireo, 2nd rarest bird on island, 

Jamaican woodpecker

Jamaican elaenia

Jamaican crow, one of the coolest sounding corvids

Jamaican vireo

Jamaican tody wrapped up in a spider web

Loggerhead kingbird, present on most of the larger lslands

Northern potoo

bad picture of a female orangequit

rufous tailed flycatcher

sad flycatcher, it might be sad due to all the garbage, otherwise I'm not sure on origin of the name

Streamertail (red-billed) the national bird and not easy to always see

yellow billed parrot

Invasive Lime swallowtail, pretty but working its way to Florida to harm the citrus industry

A butterfly I had not identified  at writing this but was told by a reader it was a Jamaican flasher, a butterfly apparently named after me

Great birds, couple bugs, some red stripe but I'm still unsettled

So do we start a Go Fund Me page for Wendy and her rehab center?  Call it Operation Jamaica.  The place needs surgical help, time to operate.  

Do you want her Paypal email account to send her money?

Contact me



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The skippers name might suit you. The Jamaican flasher - Astraptes jaira

    1. cool, for some reason I was stuck on green skipper and wasn't looking correct, so great, got a name to go with it

  3. Wendy Lee certainly deserves to be helped... I can't think of any way better than Go Fund Me, though there are so many of those these days (e.g. people picking a cause for their birthday and promoting it on Facebook). Please do send me her email address for PayPal, if you don't want to post it here.

  4. I did a short birding trip myself to Jamaica in '97, between jobs. Time spent in the towns was generally unpleasant - people always trying to sell you things, mostly illicit - but once in the country, people were delightful.

    Bird-wise, that was before eBird and the flood of information, but I did fairly well, got almost all the endemic species. I felt lucky to stumble across a few of the beautiful Crested Quail-Doves, and also happy to find the not-so-beautiful Jamaican Blackbirds by the sound of their distinctive feeding habit, exactly like our Black-backed Woodpeckers.

  5. Would you do private guiding day trips for others? If so, I'd like her info. Also, her email for Paypal.

  6. Just to add insult to injury...thinking of all the acres of pine forest in North America and yet I go to Menards to buy door trim and it is labelled "Product of New Zealand" WTF??!!


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