BirdsCaribbean Field Trips in Jamaica: The Greatest Way to Learn

What’s so great about field trips? I have vivid memories of a field trip staggering up a particular, very steep hill just outside London, during a school field trip, with our Geography teacher urging us on. Field trips were hard work, but we often ended up learning more than we would in the classroom.

And Caribbean field trips? One of the great things about getting out of the air-conditioned city (pre-armed, of course, with sunblock and mosquito repellent) is a real burst of energy, such as I encountered as a teenager scrambling up Box Hill. Yes, you will get sweaty. Yes, one or two bugs might bite you, although you will undoubtedly survive. There is no doubt though, that a Caribbean field trip is an exciting adventure, with something surprising just around the corner.

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BirdsCaribbean is offering a range of field trips before and after its 20th International Meeting, which will take place at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica from July 25 – 29. The theme of the meeting is “Birds: Connecting Communities and Conservation,” and these trips will bring that theme home to you. Jamaican experts will provide what you might call a smorgasbord of fascinating places on this extraordinary island, with its diversity of landscapes – and of course, its dazzling variety of bird life. And before I go any further, please note: the pre- and post-conference trips are open to non-delegates (that is, members of the public) as well as delegates. You don’t have to be registered at the conference. You can find full details and where to register on the meeting website via http://www.birdscaribbean.org.

Feeding a Red-Billed Streamertail hummingbird at Rocklands Sanctuary in St. James. It's Jamaica's national bird (locally known as the "Doctor Bird.")

Feeding a Red-Billed Streamertail hummingbird at Rocklands Sanctuary in St. James. It’s Jamaica’s national bird (locally known as the “Doctor Bird.”)

So, where shall we go first? One of the options before the meeting is the Jamaica Endemics Express – starting in Montego Bay on July 21 and ending in Kingston on July 24. The first leg, from MoBay to Mandeville will include a visit to the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary, where you can feed hummingbirds perched on your finger. A tour of a private nature reserve at Marshall’s Pen and a visit to the Portland Bight Protected Area (home to the rare Bahama Mockingbird), followed by an overnight stay in the Blue Mountains, then on to the lush green parish of Portland in eastern Jamaica and the dark, mysterious John Crow Mountains…This is truly a rich and intense tour, filled with birds of course, and magical insights into the intriguing landscapes of Jamaica. One of Jamaica’s most experienced bird guides, D. Brandon Hay, will take you there, and you will learn so much from him.

A farmer coming from his fields (or "ground" as they often call it) in Stewart Town. (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)

A farmer coming from his fields (or “ground” as they often call it) in Stewart Town. This area is currently threatened by bauxite mining.  (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)

The two-day Northern Jamaica Birding Tour will also start in Montego Bay on July 22 and end in Kingston on July 24. The expert guide Wendy Lee (who by the way runs a wildlife rescue center in St. Ann and is a fantastic wildlife photographer) will take you to Stewart Town, Trelawny on the edge of the endangered and very precious Cockpit Country. A deep, green and rutted road beckons. You may meet a farmer returning from his field on a donkey along the way; you will certainly meet plenty of birds. The next day, in the beautiful hills of St. Ann, you will explore the large estate of Sussex Great House in Lime Hall.

The spectacular Blue Mountains, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, have their own "natural mystic." (My photo)

The spectacular Blue Mountains, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, have their own “natural mystic.” (My photo)

Have I whetted your appetite yet? I hope so. But wait – there is more…

After the conference, there are other possibilities to explore Jamaica. A day trip to the Blue Mountains from Kingston on July 30 will include a visit to the remarkable landscape of Hardwar Gap (close to the border between the parishes of Portland and St. Andrew) – where the air literally rings with birdsong. In this area, it’s possible to find 25 of Jamaica’s endemic species. The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a couple of days ago, and it is not surprising. This place is unique in a thousand different ways.

The Northern Potoo roosts during the day, often looking like a piece of dead wood. (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)

The Northern Potoo roosts during the day, often looking like a piece of dead wood.  Sometimes if alarmed he will point his head straight up in the air. (Photo: Caribbean Birding Trail)

Alternatively, there is a two-day tour (July 30-31) from Kingston, ending in Montego Bay and stopping off along the north coast, taking in more of the Cockpit Country along the way. You will also meet a certain Northern Potoo; he is very attached to Wendy Lee, who hand-raised him at her rescue center near Runaway Bay.

The brilliant and beautiful Jamaican Spindalis, another endemic bird, peeping through thick foliage in the Blue Mountains. You often have to look closely to find the bird you are looking for. (Photo: John Hopkins)

The brilliant and beautiful Jamaican Spindalis, another endemic bird, peeping through thick foliage in the Blue Mountains. You often have to look closely to find the bird you are looking for. (Photo: John Hopkins)

And finally, there is a week-long tour (July 30 – August 5) with guides D. Brandon Hay and Ricardo Miller of Arrowhead Birding that will allow you to enjoy Jamaica and its birds to the fullest! This will be the best way to slow down, relax and just take in the mysterious beauty of the island of Jamaica, and the birds that make their home here. You can read full details on all these tours by clicking on birdscaribbean.org/2015/05/20th-international-meeting-of-birdscaribbean/ which will take you to the meeting website.

So, what are you waiting for? If you are not an experienced birder, no worries. Grab your camera, a pair of binoculars if you have them, pack your bag and go!

You won’t regret it. Yes, field trips are sometimes hard work, but exhilarating. They are for learning. And there’s nothing like learning with the experts.

By the way, the birds are waiting for you. Don’t disappoint them – or yourself. Sign up today!

Who are you looking at? The Jamaican OwlJamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus) or Patoo (not to be confused with Potoo) is an endemic genus and species to Jamaica. (Photo: Stewart Lacy)

Who are you looking at? The Jamaican OwlJamaican Owl (Pseudoscops grammicus) or Patoo (not to be confused with Potoo) is an endemic genus and species to Jamaica. (Photo: Stewart Lacy)

 

 

New Choreographer Needed, A Bad Habit, and Artificial Recharge is In: Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Fourth of July to all my readers in the United States!  I hope you are enjoying the holiday and that the results of the barbecue have been good, so far. For us in Jamaica, the rain dancing is on in earnest, although I think we need to find a new choreographer; it’s not working. The heat is on, the rain stays away.

On Twitter lockdown: Before going any further I must tell  you that my Twitter account has been locked (by Twitter of course) and I have been so far unable to unlock it. So if you follow me (@petchary) then you will not be hearing from me before next week, I fear. I am trying to sort it out – but please respond to my complaint, Twitter people!! Oh, you’re on holiday, right? I am frustrated and so dependent on Twitter. Ugh.

So it’s been an up-and-down week, I would say. First, let me start with the good news.

A hiking trail at Holywell in the Blue Mountains. We were there just two weeks ago. (My photo)

A hiking trail at Holywell in the Blue Mountains. We were there just two weeks ago. (My photo)

The biggest and best news for me was the announcement yesterday that the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park has been inscribed on the list of just over 1,000 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This is a first for Jamaica and interestingly, Singapore had its Botanical Gardens listed as its own first Heritage Site, too. I must congratulate Culture Minister Lisa Hanna, Dr. Susan Otuokon and her team at the Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust – JCDT (careful custodians), Mr. Ainsley Henriques and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and the National Environment and Planning Agency for this terrific achievement.  Let’s be careful, though:Guardian newspaper article this week suggests UNESCO is powerless to prevent the degrading (or even destruction) of its World Heritage Sites, warning: “Where UNESCO treads, the tourist bulldozer is sure to follow.”  Let us keep our precious Blue Mountains just the way they are – an incredible biodiversity hot spot, with strong cultural ties.

I was happy to see in a follow-up report on TV that residents in the mega-housing development of Longville Park are now to get a police post – and also stronger window frames. Homeowners have suffered a series of robberies and other crimes and were at their wits’ end. Kudos to the National Housing Trust and the police for taking speedy action.

Some troubling things:

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. (Photo: Gleaner)

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott. (Photo: Gleaner)

Local Government Minister Noel Arscott (a most unprepossessing Minister, who never really inspires confidence in me) announced this week that local government elections would be postponed, again. They will be held some time before December, 2016.  No surprise, really, but not an encouraging development. This has become a bad habit of successive governments. On the one hand we are told how important local government is, and that reform is ongoing (could we have a detailed update on this from someone, please?) – and then the idea of elections is dismissed when/if inconvenient (or, one suspects, politically expedient). This is really not good enough. How can any of us be expected to take local government seriously? Is it, in fact, worth taking seriously at all?

The current raft of excuses from this administration includes that pending legislation is not ready and must be passed before elections; and that the issue of the expansion of the municipality of Portmore’s boundaries has still not been settled. When will boundaries be settled? Wasn’t this supposed to happen by April/May this year? It is clear that this latest postponement is for political reasons. The People’s National Party (PNP), which swept the board in the 2012 local elections shortly after winning back power, has no such expectations now; and is in no mood to seek a referendum on its very patchy performance to date. So, Portmore continues to have an Acting (PNP) Mayor and the people of Jamaica have been disenfranchised on a somewhat flimsy context. Meanwhile, Director of Elections Orrette Fisher believes local elections can (and should) be held at the same time as general elections and that this would save around J$1 billion. I agree, and think we should consider a fixed election date too.

After considerable, inexplicable delays, the PNP has allowed its former Mayor Shernett Haughton to remain as councilor in Hanover, despite the Office of the Contractor General’s (OCG) revelations back in March that she had awarded 22 contracts to 11 relatives and friends. Ms. Haughton will also remain as a member of the PNP, but will not be allowed to run in the next elections on a PNP ticket. On April 23, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided not to press charges against Ms. Haughton. Is nepotism really not a criminal offense, Ms. Llewellyn? But I am no lawyer. We shall see.

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn. (Photo: Gleaner)

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn seems to be rather prickly at the moment. (Photo: Gleaner)

The Untouchable: The OCG is now challenging this decision in court, and (as so often is the case) DPP has taken a defensive, even slightly arrogant stance. Ms. Llewellyn, do you see your position as somehow competing with the likes of the OCG and the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM)? Yes, we know (and you have told us many times) that your office is independent and cannot be touched, unlike the others. But can’t you just work with these agencies? They are only doing their job and they know their mandate, as you do yours. Come on, now. Let’s be friends! Lord knows our crumbling justice system needs everyone working together.

Here's a diagram of an artificial recharge project in Kansas, USA. Watch out! Desilting is out, artificial recharge is in - the new buzzword! (Graphic: U.S. Geological Survey)

Here’s a diagram of an artificial recharge project in Kansas, USA. Heads up, everyone! Desilting is out, artificial recharge is in – the new buzzword! (Graphic: U.S. Geological Survey)

The dreary drought story: Radio reporter Kalilah Enriquez followed up on plans to desilt Kingston’s two reservoirs, which were discussed last year. These plans have been pushed back twice now, and now “won’t commence this year” according to officials. In fact, at a press briefing that I found confusing, the head of the Water Resources Authority Basil Fernandez insisted that even if the desilting took place, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference – only a million gallons a day in additional water. But wouldn’t a million gallons daily help one or two hospitals or a community? He and Minister Pickersgill are now talking about “artificial recharge” of underground water supplies; a pilot project is under way. I never heard of this before. Mr. Fernandez was also quite negative about desalination – which many of our neighbors are using, by the way, not just Middle Eastern countries. The Guardian reports that 68 new desalination plants have been built across the Caribbean since 2007.

INDECOM obtained its first conviction for a gun crime last week. It investigated and charged Constable Sherwood Simpson, and the DPP prosecuted the case (you see, they can work together!)  Constable Simpson was sentenced to 15 years as part of a group of policemen who took a man into bushes, shot him and left him for dead.

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Terrence Williams, head of the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), speaks with members of the media while Kahmile Reid, senior communications officer of INDECOM, looks on. (Photo: Rudolph Brown/Gleaner)

Will INDECOM chief Terrence Williams’ contract be renewed? I understand it will expire soon, but I hope he will be given a new contract.

Security worries, again: A student leader was attacked, stabbed and robbed on the University of the West Indies (UWI) campus at around 9:30 p.m. one evening this week. I was puzzled by UWI’s explanation that he and his companion were in a quiet (?) spot and that since term has ended, students should be careful where they hang out. Is this victim-blaming? Where were the fifty-odd security guards on campus at the time? And how is UWI’s campaign to tackle gender-based violence on campus going, since the incident in the spring of 2014? What actions have been taken?

Rocky Point, Clarendon, flooded by sea waters. (Photo: Shanique Samuels/Gleaner)

Rocky Point, Clarendon, flooded by sea waters. There is concern also that sea water is entering the underground  (Photo: Shanique Samuels/Gleaner)

A touching story: Kudos to Hyacinth Bennett, founder of the Hydel Group of Schools and an excellent educator, who for years now has been quietly awarding full scholarships to needy children to attend her schools. CVM Television recently reported that one of two children whom she assisted in this way has done tremendously well in GSAT examinations and is on his way to Jamaica College. His mother, who has been struggling financially for years, is so proud.

Climate change warning: Every week there are signs. This week, the fishing village of Rocky Point has been flooded by sea water during high tides for weeks now. Would a sea wall make any difference?

German-Jamaican Dustin Brown in action. (Photo: Fox Sports)

German-Jamaican Dustin Brown in action. (Photo: Fox Sports)

With crazy flashes of his dreadlocks, German-Jamaican tennis player Dustin Brown put on a fiery display at Wimbledon this week, beating Rafael Nadal (for the second time, actually). Jamaicans got very excited, with one newspaper erroneously calling Brown “Jamaican-born” (he was born in Germany and plays for Germany). In his early days, Brown was much neglected by Jamaican sports officials, who either did not see his potential or were financially unable to support him. I am not sure if Brown feels bitter about this any more – but he has certainly made his mark, although today he lost to Serbian Viktor Troiki in the third round.

Nationwideradiojm.com is a very good media website:  Nationwide News Network’s website, is well laid out and groups clusters of reports on the key topics they are monitoring together, which is helpful. Their reports are interspersed with short audio clips and SoundCloud podcasts are posted. Unlike some other radio stations I could mention, they are tech-savvy! I like that they also credit their reporters with the stories. And they stream live of course; you don’t have to register.

Everybody is “tiefing”: The theft of large quantities of fuel by a subsidiary of the state-owned Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (Petrojam) – the Jamaica Aircraft Refueling Services – is still under investigation. The probe appears to be widening. Meanwhile, almost every evening teachers and church members agonize over thefts from their institutions, and telecoms firm LIME continues to suffer staggering losses from theft.

A firefighter working at the Wortley Home for Girls, operated by the Anglican Church and founded in 1918. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

A firefighter working at the Wortley Home for Girls, operated by the Anglican Church and founded in 1918. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Multos kudos (I just made that up) to the Digicel Foundation, JN Foundation, and other volunteers who immediately rallied round to help clean up after the devastating fire at the Wortley Girls’ Home. The Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which owns and runs the home, has opened a Rebuilding Fund. Donors are invited to contribute to Account number 48459 at the Scotiabank Group Financial Centre, 132-132a Constant Spring Road, Kingston.

I know it’s been less than a week since I last wrote, but I have decided I would like to recognize two people in each of my blog updates. Why not? There are so many who would warrant it…

Susan Otuokon, Executive Director of the JCDT, explains the management of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park to a participant at a conference of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). (Photo: JCDT)

Susan Otuokon, Executive Director of the JCDT, explains the management of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park to a participant at a conference of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). (Photo: JCDT)

OK, here goes with my Woman of the Week: It has got to be the dedicated and brilliant Dr. Susan Otuokon, former Executive Director of the JCDT, for her hard work over more than a decade; it has finally paid off with the inscription of the Blue and John Crow Mountains as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dr. Otuokon is now a freelance environmental consultant specializing in the fields of conservation and protected areas. Often the race is not always for the swift. You have to keep going!

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Robin Moore for National Geographic)

“Booms” (Kenroy Williams) cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in the Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Robin Moore for National Geographic)

My Man of the Week also works in the environmental field, and he is a very special young man. His name is Kenroy Williams (“Booms”), born in Rae Town and now living in Hellshire, where he has devoted the last seven years of his life to helping protect the extremely rare Jamaican Iguana. This week he posted a photograph of a magnificently pregnant female on Facebook. We are all now looking forward to seeing the baby pics! So, I would like to “big up” Kenroy. Keep up the good work – it is incredibly valuable and important!

The police had a pretty great exchange going recently with a group of Turkish policemen. The Turkish police gave donations to the West Kingston community, now overseen by Senior Superintendent Cornwall ‘Bigga’ Forde, who is making efforts to follow in the footsteps of Steve McGregor with a good community policing program.  Meanwhile, the level of murders in western Jamaica is disturbingly high; there have been over 100 murders in St. James, which has the highest murder rate for the year. I thought the police had “got a handle” on the lotto scam – but it still seems to be fueling the murders of mostly very young men in the area. 21 people were arrested in Hanover on Friday during a police operation against the scammers; let’s hope they can get more strong cases to take to court. Commissioner Carl Williams will hold a media briefing on Monday re: the 572 murders committed up to June 30 this year. Meanwhile, my deepest sympathies to all those who are mourning…

Unidentified man, Orange Street, Kingston

Unidentified man, Sligoville, St. Catherine

Miguel Roberts, 23, Banana Walk/Retreat, St. Mary

Leslie Clarke, 53, Green Island, Hanover

Shamoy Thorpe, 20, Paradise, St. James

Dainton Samuels, 20, Barrett Town, St. James

Fabian Whyte, 32, Retirement District, St. James

Vandriss Gayle, 57, Retirement District, St. James

Orlando Smith, 33, Irwin, St. James

Jeboukie Wynter, 19, Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Trevor Wynter, 62 [Jeboukie’s father], Savannah-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Shamoy Thorpe

Shamoy Thorpe was gunned down on the street in Paradise, St. James. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

Yellow Haze

petchary:

My fellow blogger Kate flew into Kingston the other day and took these photos. What is in the air we are breathing right now? Who is monitoring it? We had a huge panic over the Riverton dump fire earlier this year. Is NEPA still concerned about the quality of the air that at least half of our population is breathing every day?

Originally posted on Jamaican Journal:

The other day, we flew back into Kingston from the U.S. There was a distinct haze over the city, and at first, I thought Riverton was burning again. But then I thought back to about a month ago, when I was thinking the same thing. And there are currently no major fires burning. However, there is a yellowish haze over the city and it must be pollution. It is similar to what happens in big cities when there is a “smog warning,” when the summer heat exacerbates the pollution. I don’t remember it being like this last year, or perhaps I am more aware since the dump was burning.

In any case, the air does not look too healthy. It gets better out in the country, except then you must contend with the fires the farmers burn to clear the grounds so that the green shoots can spring up again…

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Cuba, USA Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations: Text of Letters Exchanged on a Historic Day for the Americas

We are the Americas. Cuba is Jamaica’s closest neighbor, and the United States’ closest neighbor too. The U.S.A. is, I dare say, Jamaica’s most influential neighbor. Today is another historic day for our hemisphere, although there are some tricky obstacles on the horizon (Guantánamo Bay, for example, and the lifting of the trade embargo).

Today the U.S. Department of State released the text of letters between President Raúl Castro and President Barack Obama, re-establishing diplomatic relations after decades of separation. Diplomatic ties were severed in the year of President Obama’s birth – 1961. But the right time has finally arrived. And for those sour Florida Republicans whose noses are now out of joint, I would like to say: There is nothing wrong with creating a legacy. Or would you rather be remembered for doing nothing?

You can read more on the White House blog, but I like President Obama’s comments: “We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can and will change.” Perhaps our own politicians in Jamaica could reflect on this remark.

Here’s the text of the formal letters dated June 30, 2015:

The White House, Washington

His Excellency Raúl Castro Ruz

President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers

Havana, Cuba

Dear Mr. President:

I am pleased to confirm, following high-level discussions between our two governments, and in accordance with international law and practice, that the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba have decided to re-establish diplomatic relations and permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries on July 20, 2015. This is an important step forward in the process of normalizing relations between our two countries and peoples that we initiated last December.

In making this decision, the United States is encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments consistent with the Purposes and Principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, including those related to sovereign equality of states, settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of States, respect for equal rights and self-determination of peoples, non-interference in the internal affairs of States, and promotion and encouragement of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

The United States and Cuba are each parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, signed at Vienna on April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed at Vienna on April 24, 1963. I am pleased to confirm the understanding of the United States that these agreements will apply to diplomatic and consular relations between our two countries.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama

Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana Jeffrey DeLaurentis (L) talks to Cuba's interim Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina in Havana July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana Jeffrey DeLaurentis (L) talks to Cuba’s interim Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina after the exchange of letters in Havana on July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

[English translation]

Mr. President,

Consistent with the announcements made on December 17, 2014, and the high-level discussions between our two governments, I am pleased to address this letter to you in order to confirm that the Republic of Cuba has agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States of America and open permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries on July 20, 2015.

In making this decision, Cuba is encouraged by the reciprocal intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments.

Cuba is likewise inspired by the principles and purposes enshrined in the United Nations Charter and International Law, namely, sovereign equality, the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, to refrain from any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or the political independence of any State, non-interference in matters which are within the domestic jurisdiction of States, the development of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and cooperation in solving international problems and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all.

All of this is consistent with the spirit and the norms established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963, which both the Republic of Cuba and the United States of America are Parties to, and will govern diplomatic and consular relations between the Republic of Cuba and the United States.

I avail myself of this opportunity to express to you, Mr. President, the assurances of my consideration.

Raúl Castro Ruz

President of the Council of State and of Ministers, Republic of Cuba

Do you remember this moment, not so long ago?President Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela in December, 2013. (Photo: Getty Images)

Do you remember this moment, not so long ago?President Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela in December, 2013. (Photo: Getty Images)

Summer is Here and Jamaica’s Inaugural BMX National Championship is On!

I have always had a soft spot for bikes (as distinct from motorbikes). In my younger (and much fitter) days I had a beautiful green and silver ten-speed racing bike that was my pride and joy. I rode fifteen miles a day, to work and back, in all weathers (even in the snow).So it’s great to see competitive cycling in Jamaica. BMX is, of course, a different animal (and I did not know it is now an Olympic sport).

Kudos to the Digicel Foundation for supporting Jamaica’s development in this area. I hope that it does not become yet another “elite” sport here though – like motor racing has become – and that young people from across the social spectrum will have the opportunity to participate.

Here is the Foundation’s release, with photos. If you are in the Oracabessa area this weekend, why don’t you come out and support the young BMXers? This Saturday, July 4 from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Eden Park BMX track. Good luck, Maliek!

BMX cycling in Jamaica. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

BMX cycling in Jamaica. (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

Oracabessa, St. Mary – Wednesday, July 1, 2015: Competitive cycling in Jamaica will be wheeling its way into the spotlight at the inaugural Jamaica Bicycle Motocross (BMX) National Championship.

The Eden Park BMX track in Jack’s River, Oracabessa St. Mary will be coming alive on Saturday, July 4th as riders from across the island are set to compete. Eden Park is the only BMX track in the English speaking Caribbean which received a boost from the Digicel Foundation last year when it was resurfaced to meet International standards.

The Jamaica BMX National Championship is the first high profile event to be held on the newly resurfaced track and is being staged by BMX Jamaica, an affiliate of the Jamaica Cycling Federation in collaboration with the Oracabessa Foundation and Singletrack Jamaica.

The championship will see young riders aged 9 – 18, competing in ‘Challenge Categories’, winners of which will be crowned ‘national champions’. There is also an ‘Elite Category’ for riders who are licensed with the Jamaica Cycling Federation and are the fastest in the sport.

“I am expecting between 30 and 50 riders in the challenge categories for the championship,” said Jonathan Gosse, Executive Director of the Oracabessa Foundation. “We should have around 8 – 10 elite riders.”

BMX champion Maliek Byndloss will be among the elite riders as he seeks to earn qualifying points on his road to representing Jamaica at the 2016 Olympics. The 19-year-old is a two time World Champion, seven times USA Cycling Champ and seven times National Champion. He finished the 2013 season as the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) No. 6 ranked junior rider in the world, and switched his riding allegiance from the United States to Jamaica.

“Depending on the level of the race, riders earn points towards their attempt to qualify for the Olympics. All National Championships earn riders UCI points,” said Gosse. “The great thing is the Jamaican National Championship earns the exact same amount of points as the United States National Championship or any other country for that matter.”

Byndloss will have to earn UCI racing points to qualify for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August, 2016.

This competition is a significant step for BMX, a fledging sport in Jamaica. “To date the BMX Track has really been a local Jacks River affair. The track now needs to become a legitimate parish, national and regional resource,” said Gosse.

At the starting line… (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

At the starting line… (Photo: Digicel Foundation)

 

 

 

 

BirdsCaribbean Meeting in Kingston to Include NGO Fundraising Workshops, Jamaica Day, Much More

Here is some more information on the BirdsCaribbean International Meeting, which is coming up fast. Two years ago I attended the 19th International Meeting in St. George’s, Grenada, and it was a fascinating and many-faceted experience with many brilliant scientists, conservationists, students, academics and dedicated conservationists from right across the Caribbean and beyond.

Jamaicans! Please note the information on two days open to the Jamaican public: Jamaica Day (July 25) and Fundraising Workshops for NGOs with Wild Woman Fundraising (July 28). 

It’s not too late to register! But hurry! More details to follow on the beautiful BirdsCaribbean website (and I will post more later).

Birdwatching is a favorite occupation in Hope Gardens, St. Andrew, and delegates will be able to enjoy this experience with some early morning sessions, too.

Birdwatching is a favorite occupation in Hope Gardens, St. Andrew, and delegates will be able to enjoy this experience with some early morning sessions, too.

June 29, 2015

Kingston, Jamaica. June 29, 2015. – An enthusiastic group of some 200 scientists, ornithologists, conservationists, students and educators from across the Caribbean and beyond will flock to the vibrant city of Kingston, Jamaica next month. They will attend the 20th International Meeting of BirdsCaribbean at the Knutsford Court Hotel from July 25 – 29, 2015. The theme of the meeting is “Birds—Connecting Communities and Conservation.” Members of the Local Organizing Committee include the Forestry Department, Hope Gardens, Jamaica Conservation Development Trust, Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, BirdLife Jamaica, Windsor Research Centre and others. For registration and other details, go to 2015Meeting.BirdsCaribbean.org

The conference has plenty to offer in an unusually urban setting. By contrast, participants will also venture out on exciting field trips to the Blue Mountains and Cockpit Country among other locations, and bird-watching sessions around Kingston – an opportunity to see some of Jamaica’s 29 remarkable endemic birds, or perhaps all of them!

The colorful and often noisy Jamaican Woodpecker is a common and widespread endemic species.

The colorful and often noisy Jamaican Woodpecker is a common and widespread endemic species.

BirdsCaribbean invites interested members of the public to a special “Jamaica Day” at the Knutsford Court Hotel on Saturday, July 25; and to a fund-raising workshop conducted by Mazarine Treyz (Wild Woman Fundraising) on Tuesday, July 28. Seminars, training workshops and roundtable discussions will enable conference delegates to network and share their research and latest conservation efforts in Jamaica and across the region. Activities will include a pre-conference taxidermy workshop with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; a symposium on Invasive Alien Species and sessions on Event Photography, Seabird Conservation, Forest Endemics, the Ecological Value of Migrants in the Caribbean, and much more. There is a brilliant lineup of keynote speakers and experts from the Caribbean, the U.S., Canada and Europe. A summer camp at Hope Zoo for children from selected schools is also on the calendar.

Do you love taking photographs? A highlight of the meeting will be a Photography Competition, open to all participants eighteen years and over, reflecting the theme of the conference. Full details can be found on the meeting website.

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BirdsCaribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) is a non-profit organization committed to the conservation of wild birds and their habitats in the insular Caribbean. More than 80,000 local people participate in its programs each year, making it the most broad-based conservation organization in the region. Find “Birds Caribbean” on Facebook and on Twitter @BirdsCaribbean.

Media Contact: Call us at (876) 894-3772; email: birdscaribbeanmeeting@gmail.com

BirdsCaribbean conducted a Caribbean Birding Trail guide training in the Cockpit Country, Jamaica in June. Here the group of trainees pauses on a road where many endemic species could be seen. (Photo: BirdsCaribbean/Facebook)

BirdsCaribbean conducted a Caribbean Birding Trail guide training in the Cockpit Country, Jamaica in June. Here the group of trainees pauses on a road where many endemic species could be seen. (Photo: BirdsCaribbean/Facebook)

Stepping Backward Into Coal, A Home of Their Own and Deja Vu on Drought: Monday, June 29, 2015

We have had an amazing two weeks with family, exploring various corners of the island, eating too much jerk chicken and drinking too many sodas, while dandling our small grandson on our knees. It has been quite a long break, and I won’t attempt to go back over the past two weeks or more; I will just bring you (and myself) up to date with current stories. Here goes:

Disheartening news on the environment (when do we ever get good news in this area?): Firstly, we learned from the Finance Minister’s latest Letter of Intent (posted on the International Monetary Fund’s website) the following, and I quote: “Regarding the development of a transhipment port and industrial and commercial zones in the Portland Bight area by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), technical feasibility studies have commenced. This is a prerequisite for determining the construction methodology and for obtaining the terms of reference from NEPA for the Environmental Impact Assessment. The project will be executed in phases with the first phase projected to be completed in the last quarter of 2016, pending the necessary approvals in each stage.” I don’t think our Government communicated this to any of the stakeholders directly, let alone to the Jamaican public. Thank you for letting the Jamaican people know, IMF – it’s transparency, something our Government lacks.

G7 leaders, including Angela Merkel (in pink jacket), and invitees line up for the traditional group photo at the end of the summit earlier this month. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/dpa/Corbis

G7 leaders, including Angela Merkel (in pink jacket), and invitees line up for the traditional group photo at the end of the summit earlier this month. The G7’s pledge to move away from fossil fuels sparked praise. Photograph: Sven Hoppe/dpa/Corbis

Secondly…Embracing the past: This is essentially what bauxite firm Jamalco is doing by commissioning a US$500 million coal-fired plant for its refinery, to reduce costs. It has been ten years since the firm toyed with the idea of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and the Government dithered over the cost, etc. So now Jamalco (55% owned by the Hong Kong-based Noble Group and 45% by the state-owned Clarendon Alumina Partners) is going to use  the energy source that countries across the world are turning away from – even the G7. Even China. And where is the coal going to come from, I wonder? Also (in this time of drought) remember that coal plants consume huge amounts of water.

Here's a lovely coal plant in Juliette, Georgia. (Photo: Robb Kendrick/National Geographic)

Here’s a lovely coal plant in Juliette, Georgia. Coal is responsible for 39% of the world’s CO2 emissions and power plants also create water and solid waste pollution on a grand scale. (Photo: Robb Kendrick/National Geographic)

Is our Environment and Climate Change Minister happy with the two developments above? Is this what they call “mainstreaming” climate change considerations into each sector, a task his tiny Climate Change Division is working assiduously on? A typical coal plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 (the primary cause of global warming) per year. How will this help Jamaica reduce emissions? And don’t – please don’t – talk about “clean coal.” It is a myth.

Speaking of Minister Pickersgill, this week he intoned in a gloomy voice that Jamaica is approaching yet another drought. Well, I never! A wave of “déjà vu all over again” swept over us, as we recalled the raging bush fires, children told to bring water to school, etc. That was 2014, when the Minister spoke of “recharging aquifers.” Now he tells us that hey – the aquifers in the Kingston/St. Andrew area are almost all polluted and unusable. There was also talk of fixing our clogged and leaking reservoirs. The Opposition even spoke of desalination. Throughout last summer, our leaders said to each other, “What about…? Could it work?” Nothing was done. Now a few weeks ago, the Drought Management Committee has decided to hand out money to Members of Parliament (J$500,000 each) in drought-stricken areas, for them to purchase water truck deliveries in their constituencies. The best they can come up with. For 2015, that is.

Gladys Brown Campbell was an effective head of CISOCA, open and communicative. She is now working at a low-key desk job, I understand. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Gladys Brown Campbell was an effective head of CISOCA, open and communicative. She is now working at a low-key desk job, I understand. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

It was an amazing week for LGBT rights in the United States (see below). The fundamentalists girded up their loins once more, with Dr. Wayne “Sexual Anarchy” West expostulating in a radio interview in his usual way. Can these people please readjust their blinkers? The issue of same-sex marriage has never been seriously debated or considered by anyone in Jamaica, so far as I know; it’s a non-issue, but WW and Co. are bursting a blood vessel over it.

Perhaps the religious zealots could turn their attention to a very disturbing report that came out this week from the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) – which has been very low-key since the departure of the impressive and outspoken Superintendent Gladys Brown Campbell. Eve for Life and UNICEF Jamaica have, for at least the past two years, stepped up their “Nuh Guh Deh” campaign, seeking to raise awareness of the extent to which young girls are having sex with older men, often with family members involved and/or facilitating the trafficking of the girls. Now, if I was to use such a phrase, that would be a great deal closer to “sexual anarchy.” And yet our Moral Police don’t bat an eyelid at 278 reports of people having sex with underage girls – in the Kingston area alone. ‎Forty-six of these young girls were found to be pregnant. We know this is the tip of the iceberg. Reminder: To report a case of child abuse, call 1-888-PROTECT (1-888-776-8328). Under the Child Care and Protection Act (2004), it is the DUTY of every adult to report all cases of known or suspected child abuse.

A house in Longville Park, Clarendon. (Photo: propertyadsja.com)

A house in Longville Park, Clarendon. (Photo: propertyadsja.com)

Housing and crime: On television this week, residents of Phase Three of a huge National Housing Trust (NHT) development called Longville Park in Clarendon protested against a plague of crime, mostly in daylight hours. Houses are frequently broken into and last Friday a woman was allegedly raped by an intruder. The residents want the NHT to replace all the windows; the frames appear to be made of flimsy plastic. There is no perimeter fence of any kind. The houses are just set down in the middle of the dry, thorny bush that is the typical landscape in the area. The residents are paying J$4-5 million for a one-bedroom house. A few weeks ago they complained of the poor workmanship – large cracks in the walls, leaking roofs and a smell of sewage. What a terrible, raw deal for Jamaicans who just want a nice house of their own.

And yet, the NHT had lots of money to spend on the Outameni attraction (while traveling through Trelawny earlier this week, I pointed out the bent and toppling roadside sign to the failed attraction; I think a car had crashed into it). Now the new NHT Chair, Carlton Davies – a solid and sensible civil servant, in my view – indicated this week that he will be putting the property up for sale or lease, but he is not optimistic he can find a buyer. He wants to “move on.”

Minister Anthony Hylton at the Jamaica Investment Forum 2015 recently. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

Minister Anthony Hylton at the Jamaica Investment Forum 2015 recently. (Photo: Philip Lemonte/Jamaica Observer)

The “Crown and Anchor”(Krauck Systems and Anchor Finance) débacle: Minister Anthony Hylton’s situation has gone from bad to worse. Initially, the Industry Minister looked uncomfortable and unwilling to make eye contact, and we all wondered what the hell was going on. On Thursday the Office of the Prime Minister announced that the Cabinet had decided not to go ahead with the venture (announced with such confidence by the Minister) on the recommendation of the National Logistics Initiative Council – but that the Minister could continue to pursue negotiations on his own if he so wished. I beg your pardon! We are all puzzled. Let us hope the Minister, his fingers having been quite painfully burned, puts lots of salve on them, brushes himself off and pursues a deal elsewhere, while properly observing due process and putting the logistics hub deal up for competitive tender (why was this not done in the first place?) His credibility has taken a knocking. He has a lot of repair work to do.

Is there now an “official boundary” for Cockpit Country? We should know soon… I understand decisions have been made.

I regret to say that, as the Commission of Enquiry into the Tivoli Gardens incursion continues, I have not been able to keep track at all. I am very grateful to human rights activist Susan Goffe (who posts blow by blow live tweets on the proceedings) and to blogger Dennis Jones, who regularly comments on the interactions of lawyers and witnesses in his blog, jamaicapoliticaleconomy.wordpress.com. I need to do some homework on this one.

Now comes the hard part. Murder figures continue to move upwards. 572 is an increase of eighteen per cent compared to the first half of last year. National Security Minister Peter Bunting attributes the scarily high numbers in St. James to ongoing issues with the never-ending lotto scam (which I had thought we were making some progress on – I would love to get an idea of how widespread and how deeply rooted this organized criminal scheme is). Clarendon, Westmoreland and northern St. Catherine are the other problem areas. Minister Bunting says there is no direct relation between crime and poverty, and I believe he is correct; but this does not take us any further, except to say that there are dozens of contributing factors in different parts of the island. Meanwhile, I continue to wish Senior Superintendent Steve McGregor all the best in St. James. It is tough. Please look at all these names and please keep the families of all these Jamaicans in mind. They are people, not statistics. 

Clarendon: Keline McKenzie, 21, May Pen; Rohan Bent, 49, Glenmore Housing Scheme; Fitzroy Peart, 18, May Pen.

Hanover: Marlon Chisholm, 23, Hopewell; Richard Hamilton, 23, and his brother Oraine Pringle, 20, Logwood; Ramone Scott, 23, Ramble; Mark Jones, 23, Lucea. 

Kingston: Marshall Small, 26, Waterloo Road, Kingston 10; Tamar Davis, Lincoln Avenue, Kingston 13; Oneil Carnegie, downtown; Dean Airy, 29, Love Lane; Mark Champagnie, 51, Padmore Drive.

Portland: Christopher Anderson, 38, St. Margaret’s Bay; Samuel Lindsay, 63, Long Road. 

St. Ann: Karel Stennett, 33, Content District; Malika Smith, 27, Claremont. 

St. Catherine: Cedric Maxwell, 27, Spanish Town; Gerald Serage, 22, Old Harbour Villa; Damion Ellis, 35, Old Harbour Villa; Alpha McQueen, 44, New Harbour Village.

St. James: Usain Grey, 26, Tower Hill; Tevin Grey, 20, Norwood;  Greg Campbell , 33, Norwood; Theo Brissett, 29, Mt. Salem; Jervis Ricardo Lawrence, 31, Providence Heights; Jermaine Jackson, 22, Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay; Sheldon Dennis, St. Mary’s Preparatory School, Montpelier; Rohan Reid, 44, River Bay.

St. Mary: Headley Thomas, 54, Islington; Kemar Clunis, 38, Port Maria.

This young man, Tamar Davis, was shot and killed along Lincoln Avenue in Kingston last Tuesday night. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

This young man, Tamar Davis, was shot and killed along Lincoln Avenue in Kingston last Tuesday night. (Photo: On The Ground News Reports)

NOW, on a positive note. I’ve decided to “hail up” a Man and Woman of the Week in my blog. My first two are African Americans, and it was easy to choose them, too. A “no-brainer”!

My Woman of the Week: Thirty-year-old youth activist Bree Newsome scaled the thirty-foot high flagpole in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina in the early morning of June 27, and removed the Confederate flag. She must have thought, “There’s been enough talk – let’s just do it.” She and her assistant were immediately arrested. Her action inspired the #KeepItDown hashtag and a fund has been set up to ensure her release on bail. I loved the way she recited some beautiful lines from the Psalms, while the police handcuffed her. She is “badass” – a word I have decided I like a lot.

Bree Newsome takes down the flag. (Reuters Media Express/Adam Anderson Photos)

Wearing a hard hat, activist Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate flag. (Reuters Media Express/Adam Anderson Photos)

My Man of the Week: President Barack Obama has had an extraordinary week. He is an extraordinary man, and will in my view be remembered in history as one of the most effective presidents of the United States. On June 25, the President declared, “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” after mighty battles with right-wing Republicans seeking to topple “Obamacare” (and in the process, Obama himself) failed. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states was celebrated across the country on Friday, and was especially momentous for the 12 states that had hitherto banned it. What a week, indeed. Three cheers!

#LoveWins The White House lit up with rainbow colors. (Photo: Pete Souza)

#LoveWins The White House lit up with rainbow colors. (Photo: Pete Souza)

Hugs in the Oval Office after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act on Thursday. (Photo: Pete Souza)

Hugs in the Oval Office after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act on Thursday. (Photo: Pete Souza)