Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Birding along the Autopista
Cuba April 5-19, 2008 - Paul Jones, Ottawa, Canada - pauljodiATmagma.ca
My wife and I toured Cuba for two weeks on a trip organized by Di Labio Birding. Our total list was 175 and with the exception of Zapata Rail and Cuban Kite, we saw all available Cuban endemics, Cuban near-endemics and Caribbean endemics. Cuba is safe, friendly and beautiful and its birds are colourful and confiding. The country is a great travel destination.
Di Labio Birding is an Ottawa, Canada-based tour company run by Bruce Di Labio, a long-time friend with particular experience in leading trips to Cuba. Independent travel is possible on the island, but we turned to Bruce and his contacts at Cubatur to deliver an effortless vacation. Bruce has an easy-going style that makes for relaxed and enjoyable travel, but he also finds the birds. Everything worked out perfectly. Bruce’s website is http://www.dilabiobirding.ca.
Cuba lies 150 kilometres off the southeast coast of the United States, runs twelve hundred kilometres east to west and has a population of about eleven million people. The island´s spirit is hard to capture in words, but the place leaves a strong impression. There is almost no litter or commercial advertising, ox-drawn ploughs in the fields are a common sight and the towns and cities are postcard picturesque. The Cubans we met were open and friendly, taking great pride in their country and its history. The lack of material prosperity, the egalitarian distribution of available goods and the opaque political system gave us much to reflect upon.
Itinerary - We followed the standard birding trail, heading west from Habana to the Cordillera de Guaniguanico (hill country in western Cuba), south-east to the Zapata Peninsula (marsh, salt-water lagoons and dry forest), east to the Sierra de Najasa (rolling forested terrain) and finally north to Cayo Coco (a coastal island). The route is structured to ensure a chance at all the main endemics but it also provides a scenic tour of the island. We passed through a diverse mix of forest, wetland and rugged hills interspersed between small farms, large cattle ranches and vast fields of sugar cane.
Weather - Cuba’s dry season runs November through April. Our days were sunny and warm (never overly hot or humid) with only occasional cloud cover. Wind picked up mid-morning and temperatures cooled as the sun set; two evenings were almost chilly. It rained several times during the night but only once during the day, a spectacular downpour as we traveled west along the main highway.
Health and Safety - There is no Malaria in Cuba, but mosquito-borne Dengue is present (though rare). We wore long-sleeved shirts and long pants and always had DEET-based repellent on hand. Mosquitoes were thick in places, especially Zapata. Cuba has no poisonous snakes but we did encounter a few ticks and chiggers, mostly in ranch country. Spraying DEET on socks and shoes, tucking pant cuffs into socks and a tick inspection at the end of the day are good ideas. We drank only bottled water and suffered no food related illness. Cuba is very safe for travelers, although pick-pocketing and camera snatching is reported from Habana.
Flights and Customs - Air Canada took us Ottawa-Montreal-Cuba. Our trip was planned at the last minute and all flights to Habana were booked, so we flew to Varadero instead. At customs we were politely pulled out of line by a young officer concerned by our array of optical and electronic equipment. She called over a supervisor who looked at our bird books and waved us through with a smile and an apology for the delay (note - all luggage is searched upon arrival in Cuba, two-way radios and GPS units are not officially allowed in the country).
On the Ground - We traveled in a seven seat Hyundai “Trajet” mini-van, rented from Cubacars at the Varadero airport. Agustin Perez from Cubatur was our guide, driver and translator. Unhappy with our initial vehicle, he called ahead and a new one was waiting at our next stop. When we shredded a tire he arranged to have another spare ready to be picked up en route. His insights on Cuban history and contemporary society, and friendships with people in every village, town and city we traveled through, added greatly to our experience.
Driving conditions were fine. Cubans are careful behind the wheel and keep to moderate speeds. Primary and secondary highways were good to very good; maintaining 100kph was not a problem (although on the main east-west expressway - the autopista - lanes would sometimes end with no visible warning). Back-country routes had to be driven more slowly; horse-drawn carriage traffic was frequent and we also encountered the occasional pot hole as well as long swaths of rice laid down to dry in the sun. Road signs are rare, so independent travelers might want to have a good map, a compass and knowledge of a few Spanish phrases related to being lost.
Patience is an asset too. Things generally unfolded smoothly, but paperwork, whether associated with banking or car rental, was conducted at a measured pace. Two evenings we experienced short power outages and upon arrival at Varadero our booked beach resort switched us to a neighbouring (albeit better) establishment. Locals were very relaxed with our presence around their yards, farms and villages, far more so than in parts of rural Canada. In contrast, our sense was that if you entered a restricted military zone without permission you would end up having a very grim conversation with local authorities. The prevailing security consciousness is evident along straight sections of the autopista - large steel obstacles lie ready to be pulled on to the pavement to foil airborne invaders.
Money - Cuba has a dual currency system; convertible pesos (CUCs or “kooks”) and Cuban pesos. Tourists use CUCs and we picked up our initial supply at the Varadero airport. We obtained more as needed through VISA cash withdrawals at local banks and further conversion of Canadian currency at beach resort exchange desks. Euros and Canadian dollars are the easiest to change, but we also converted U.S. dollars at one of the hotels. Even though most of the trip’s costs were prepaid through Cubatur, we still needed a fair bit of currency on hand; many places, including some gas stations, are cash only.
Our out-of-pocket payments mostly went to fuel, souvenirs, bottled water and tips. We gave out one or two CUCs for bag carrying, three to five to wait staff, and twenty to thirty for a half-day of bird guiding. We left our spotlight, bird books, bird CDs and two pairs of binoculars with local guides. The revolution has not provided ready access to consumer goods, so if you have spare daypacks, book bags, bird books or binoculars they would make a welcome contribution to Cuban ornithology. More generally, anything with a name brand logo on it would be well-received.
Accommodations and Food ranged from perfectly adequate to exceptional. We stayed at a mix of places; all inclusive beach resorts, fincas (rural estates) and urban hotels. They were clean and service was always friendly and efficient. Casas particulares (rooms rented out privately) are an alternative to these state-run enterprises. Lonely Planet´s Cuba guide provides good information about this mode of accommodation. So does the website www.cubacasas.net.
Rice and beans with chicken, pork, lamb or fish is the foundation of Cuban cuisine. Sliced tomato and cucumber with oil and vinegar is the typical salad and the standard dessert is a small plate of thick mango or guava jam and thin slices of dry, sharp cheese. The Cuba forte coffee (espresso) was good and the rum cheap, plentiful and of the highest quality. Our best meals were at the fincas; big plates of roast lamb or pork with savory rice and beans, taro or potatoes, fresh-baked bread, cucumber and tomato salad and Bucanero beer or Chilean or Australian wine. We also had great grilled lobster at the Hotel Playa Giron and a startlingly good vegetarian lunch at the botanical gardens on the edge of Habana.
At the “all inclusive” beach resorts a coloured band is placed on your wrist upon arrival, entitling you to unlimited food and drink - a real test of impulse control at the huge buffets and open bars. In Habana we had a good lunch at the Restaurante Dominica and great Mojitos on the Hotel Ambos Mundos’s roof top patio. Near Varadero we stopped for Pina Coladas at a roadside cafe. Fresh coconuts and pineapples were blended with ice into four tall glasses and brought to our table along with a bottle of rum to add as needed - very refreshing.
Literature - A “Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba” by Cuban ornithologists Orlando Garrido and Arturo Kirkconnell is the standard reference. Raffaele’s “Birds of the West Indies” is a good secondary source. For people with a special interest in neo-tropical migrants a guide such as Sibley’s “Birds of Eastern North America” is helpful to have on hand.
The CD “Cantos de Aves de Cuba” (Bird Songs of Cuba) by George Reynard and Orlando Garrido (2005 Cornell University) provides most of the necessary tracks. Mangrove Cuckoo and Bahama Mockingbird are missing so we added them (respectively) from “Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern Region” and “Voices of All Mockingbirds, Thrashers and Their Allies: Family Mimidae” by Hardy, Barlow and Coffey. Our local map store in Ottawa had a number of choices for Cuba; we took the 1:775,000 Nelles, which was great to have as a reference.
There are a range of excellent trip reports on this site and others. The seminal document is by Dutch birder John van der Woude http://home.tiscali.nl/jvanderw/cuba01/overview.htm. For travelers with even a passing interest in politics or history the critical biography “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson is an essential read.
Target Birds - Cuba’s avifauna features a rich array of species endemic and near endemic to the island. It is also one of the better places to see a variety of birds confined to the larger Caribbean. In the region, as elsewhere, common names and species status are under constant revision. Currently, it appears that:
The twenty-eight Cuban Endemics are Cuban Kite, Gundlach´s Hawk, Cuban Crab-Hawk (AOU 2007), Zapata Rail, Gray-fronted Quail-Dove (Clements 6th), Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Cuban (Greater Antillean) Nightjar (Clements 6th), Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Screech Owl, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Fernandina´s Flicker, Giant Kingbird, Cuban Martin, Zapata Wren, Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Gnatcatcher, Cuban Palm Crow, Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler, Oriente Warbler, Cuban Grassquit, Zapata Sparrow, Red-shouldered Blackbird and Cuban Blackbird. The Cuban forms of Northern Flicker, West Indian Woodpecker and Eastern Meadowlark may someday attain full species status.
The eleven Cuban Near Endemics (birds confined to Cuba and one or more of the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands) are Cuban Parrot, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Pewee, La Sagra´s Flycatcher, Cuban Crow, Thick-billed Vireo, Olive-capped Warbler, Western Spindalis and Cuban Bullfinch.
The twelve Caribbean Endemics on Cuba are West Indian Whistling-Duck, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Plain Pigeon, Key West Quail-Dove, Antillean Nighthawk, Antillean Palm Swift, Loggerhead Kingbird, Bahama Mockingbird, Red-legged Thrush, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, Greater Antillean Grackle and Greater Antillean Oriole.
Visiting birders have a shot at almost all these species. The exceptions are Zapata Rail (which was not located on a major ornithological expedition into the Zapata Swamp in 2005) and Cuban Kite (found only in Humboldt National Park and the Cuchillas de Toa Biosphere Reserve on the northeast side of the island, well off the traditional birding path). Of the remaining endemics, the toughest are probably Gundlach’s Hawk, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Bee Hummingbird, Giant Kingbird and Zapata Wren. Most trips to the island depart with at least one or two misses.
Birding Time - The high season for visiting birders is January through April. In January all but one (Cuban Martin) of the core island endemics are present and wintering northern waterfowl, waders and wood warblers are at peak numbers. Southern migrants Antillean Nighthawk, Gray Kingbird, Cuban Martin, Cave Swallow and Black-whiskered Vireo begin to trickle back towards the end of February, but even in mid-March their status can still be uncertain. At the time of our April visit they were all present in good numbers. According to Bruce, resident birds are much more vocal and conspicuous in April than earlier in the year.
Of possible interest to European birders, Bruce estimates that by mid-April wintering North American waterfowl and waders are down to about 5% of their January/February numbers and wood warblers at 15% of their maximum. We saw fifteen species of migrant warblers but the southern ones, including Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, Hooded, Worm-eating and Louisiana Waterthrush, were noticeably absent. Presumably they had already headed north. There might be a “sweet spot” in the last week of March when there is maximum overlap between winterers, southern arrivals and local song.
Nine days in Cuba would be plenty of time to try for the endemics. Our fifteen-day stay made for an easy pace, with most afternoons off and lots of time for pools, beaches, museums and naps. Exploring the island did not require strenuous physical exertion; most of our birding was done beside the vehicle or on short hikes along level, well-maintained trails and country lanes. In mid-April dawn broke around 6:30 and it was light by 7:00. Dusk fell at 7:00, night by 7:30.
Birding Locations - We followed the standard route, visiting the Cordillera de Guaniguanico, the Zapata area, the Sierra de Najasa and Cayo Coco.
The CORDILLERA DE GUANIGUANICO (Pinar del Rio Province, western Cuba) is a low (600m) but impressive range of limestone hills running 150 kilometres from the eastern border of Pinar del Rio Province to near the western tip of the island. The target species here are Cuban Solitaire and Olive-capped Warbler. We stayed three nights, birding:
One - The Western Highway - About 30 minutes out from Habana the Cordillera comes into view, rising to the north. Before heading to the hills we stopped a few times along the autopista and scanned a number of aquaculture ponds, reservoirs and flooded rice fields. This gave us several wetland birds, including Least Grebe, Snail Kite and our only Fulvous Whistling Ducks of the trip. Cuban roads, big and small, typically have wide grassy verges so pulling over was safe and easy. Adding to the car birding experience, significant amounts of agricultural land are left fallow as crops are rotated through (a bird-friendly practice) and in many areas hedgerows, woodlots and brushy ponds line the roadside.
Two - La Guira Park at Hacienda Cortina - Somewhere past Los Palacios we left the expressway and cut north through rolling pastoral country. After stopping for lunch at the Mirador Hotel in San Diego de los Banos we continued on to La Guira National Park. Our access point was the imposing crenellated gate at Hacienda Cortina (see the map in John van der Woude’s report). Past the gate the road climbs through broad-leafed forest and scattered groves of pine. Eventually the route splits, we followed the right fork higher into thicker pine woods. At two in the afternoon we stopped and parked at the road’s end, an abandoned picnic/camping spot. Just metres from our vehicle in our first moments of real Cuban birding we picked up West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Green Woodpecker, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Warbler, Olive-capped Warbler, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Western Spindalis and Cuban Bullfinch. Following a path from the left of the parking area we descended to a picnic site beautifully placed under a large rock overhang. Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon and Cuban Vireo made immediate appearances. Two Cuban Solitaires sang in the distance. One was taped in for a brief canopy view.
45 minutes at La Guira gave us both Cordillera target species and a big chunk of additional Cuban endemics. If we had been on a tight schedule, we could have happily begun the drive to Zapata. As we were in no hurry we turned west instead, towards our lodging for the next two nights, Hotel Finca La Guabina.
Three - Hotel Finca La Guabina is on a ranch about 10 kilometres west of Pinar del Río City and has a mix of conventional hotel rooms and charming cottage-style accommodations. Set among pasture, woods and wetlands, it is a peaceful place with pleasant staff and excellent food. Good numbers of migrant warblers were present in the tree-lined lane leading to the hotel. The parking area by the front door offered close study of common Cuban garden birds - Cuban Pewee, Red-legged Thrush and Cuban Blackbird. The highlight was our first Gundlach’s Hawk of the trip, a bird circling above the rodeo grounds near the finca’s gates, gaining altitude to carry a prey item to a nest in the vicinity. Guabina’s only downside was its distance from the Cordillera’s main birding spots.
Four - Vinales - On April 7 we awoke early and drove from Guabina to the picturesque town of Vinales. Here we met local guide Julio Cesar Echevarrio Hernandez, a keen birder, great company and fluent english speaker. At all our main stops in Cuba we worked with guides such as Julio, booked beforehand by Bruce through Cubatur. Guides can also be arranged at hotels, local tourist offices and directly by email. From the town we proceeded to nearby Vinales National Park; more specifically the Maravillas de Vinales Trail. Immediately upon stepping through the trail’s roadside gate, Julio pointed out a beautiful male Cuban Grassquit and its mate. We continued on the gently rising path through attractive, dry forest. At a slightly lusher spot along the trail, a Cuban Solitaire rushed in to inspect us at eye-level in response to playback. Other sightings included Scaly-naped Pigeon, Ruddy Quail-Dove and Indigo Bunting. After exploring the area we departed for a great lunch of barbequed pork at nearby Palenque. On our return to Guabina we stopped beside the Hotel Los Jazmines to enjoy a spectacular view of the Vinales Valley - a mix of small farms set among abruptly rising “mogotes”, dome-shaped limestone outcrops.
Five - Las Terrazas, a park/community on the eastern border of Pinar del Rio Province and site of a major reforestation project, was our final stop in the Cordillera. On April 8 we hiked a few trails with Justo, the local guide, obtaining more great views of the common Cuban specialties. We also toured a restored coffee plantation and were surprised to see a Cuban Grassquit feeding on the grassy flat of a former coffee-drying stage - an apparently semi-reliable location for the bird.
Six - Mirador Hotel in San Diego de los Banos - We stayed one night (April 8) here, pulling in late afternoon in time for a hike to the neighbouring countryside. Crossing a rickety bridge on the edge of town, we walked several kilometres out a road through fields, forests, hedgerows and small farms. The best bird was our trip´s second Gundlach’s Hawk, seen well but briefly as it darted between two pockets of trees. At dusk, as we sat on the Mirador’s balcony enjoying the sunset and sipping rum, five Antillean Nighthawks flew about overhead, calling frequently. On the hotel grounds at dawn (on another trip) Bruce has seen Stygian Owl.
ZAPATA (Matanzas Province, south central Cuba) - This famous bird-watching area contains a mix of habitats; the vast marshland of Zapata Swamp, the tidal rock flats and mangrove islets of La Salina, and the forests near the towns of Palpita, Soplillar and Bermejas. If you have only a limited time to bird Cuba, this is the place to concentrate your efforts. In addition to all the common endemics and near-endemics, the key species here are Gray-fronted Quail-Dove, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Cuban Parrot, Cuban Nightjar, Cuban Screech Owl, Bee Hummingbird, Fernandina´s Flicker, Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow and Red-shouldered Blackbird. There does not appear to be any realistic prospect of seeing Zapata Rail. This is also the site of the failed U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion, a turning point in Latin American history. At Playa Giron there is an interesting museum commemorating the event and, though quiet now, all the roads and towns in the area (La Boco, Palpita, Soplillar, Bermejas, Giron, and Playa Larga) were the scenes of desperate fighting April 17-19, 1961.
Birding success in Zapata pretty much depends on hiring a local guide; access to many of the key locations is only possible if you have one with you. Guiding arrangements can be made at the Zapata National Park Office at the north side of Playa Larga (the community at the base of the road down from the autopista). For our trip Bruce pre-booked Mario Morejon. Soft-spoken with a basic knowledge of English, Mario was a great guide and excellent company. He works until the target is seen and also excels at lining up photo ops. Chino is perhaps the best known local birder, but we did wonderfully with Super Mario. The general park email address is pnacionalczATenet.cu. A mention of Mario´s name in the subject line might get a message through to him.
While in Zapata we stayed at the Hotel Playa Giron, a friendly and smallish “all inclusive” on the beach (Hotel Playa Larga, slightly to the west, is another place frequented by birders). Our actual accommodation was a spacious and well-furnished cabana a short distance from the main buildings. Birds on the hotel grounds included a pair of Wilson’s Plover on the rock flats behind the sea wall and, at dawn and dusk, Antillean Nighthawks swooping and calling above the cabanas and main hotel. In the pre-dawn darkness of April 13, Mario Morejon called in a Stygian Owl just past the water tower. On the afternoon of April 12 a strong wind blowing whitecaps from the south produced, in a half hour sea watch, good numbers of Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Tern on the usually empty Caribbean. Cuban Pygmy Owl, Great Lizard Cuckoo and Cuban Green Woodpecker were in the dry coastal scrub at the edge of the complex. We stayed five nights at Playa Giron and used it as the base for the following expeditions:
One - Zapata Wren at La Turba - We awoke early on the morning of April 10 and drove out the main road towards the autopista. North of La Boca just past the Zapata Swamp park boundary we turned left (west) on a narrow sandy track leading through forest and into the vast marsh. We followed the dyke-top road as far as it was drivable to an area called La Turba, parked, and walked a little further. A pair of Red-shouldered Blackbird called and displayed close by in the dawn light and two Zapata Sparrows hopped at our feet along the trail. A Zapata Wren began singing in the distance from the tall marsh grass on the far side of a deep and wide drainage ditch. Mario began playing a tape of the wren’s song but after ten minutes the bird would not budge. Twenty, thirty, forty minutes passed and Mario kept the tape going. The bird remained invisible somewhere past the wall of reeds at the water’s edge. After an hour I was ready to quit. Mario said “wait” and at the one hour, ten minutes mark he pointed at the bird, suddenly visible just across the water - scope views and hugs all around! Mario later explained that the wren could appear after two minutes or two hours, so it was important not to give up. Another location to look for this bird is near Buenavista on the north side of the swamp, reachable off the autopista back east towards Habana.
Two - La Salina - This is an extensive area of tidal rock flats and mangrove islets lying south of Zapata Swamp. Access to it, as with other sites in the area, requires an accompanying local guide. La Salina is rich in herons, egrets, ibises and (in season) wintering shorebirds. It provided us great looks at Reddish Egret (white and dark-morph birds) as well as Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis and Caribbean Flamingo. We had our first Cuban Crab-Hawks here and were also able to see a few lingering migrant shorebirds.
Birding tactics in La Salina consist simply of driving the long straight gravel access road, stopping frequently to scan representative areas of habitat. Two low roadside viewing towers facilitate this process.
Another wetland site in the Zapata area is the Estacion Ecologica Amarillas. Described in Tony Murray´s trip report (www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=670), exit right at Autopista Kilometre 164 (about 25 kilometres east of Jaguey Grande) and drive south towards San Francisco and a farming/wetlands area rich in freshwater marsh birds.
Three - Palpita and Soplillar - Palpita is a small settlement along the main road between Playa Larga and the autopista. At the intersection in town we turned west and drove to a gravel track through the forest. Turning left on the track, we parked and Mario lead us a short distance into the woods to see Bee Hummingbird. The air was thick with mosquitoes and the ground consisted of jagged coral outcrops and foot-sized sinkholes but in short order we saw two different males of the world’s smallest bird. They were perched 100m apart, each singing high atop a leafless tree. Retracing our route we turned east at the crossroads in Palpita and drove to a forested area near the village of Soplillar. Here we quickly saw a pair of Cuban Parrots and a Fernandina´s Flicker at an active nest. In response to Mario firmly pounding on a dead palm, a Cuban Screech Owl peered at us from an abandoned woodpecker hole. From Soplillar we returned to Playa Giron, dodging as best we could the thousands of land crabs migrating across the coastal highway to the sea.
Four - Quail-Dove Search at the Bermejas Reserve - On the morning of April 11 we departed Playa Giron at 6:45 and drove twelve kilometres east towards the nearby community of Bermejas. Just before the town the gate to the reserve is obvious on the north side of the road. The reserve protects an area of dry, low forest and is home to four Quail-Dove species, the rare and endemic Gray-fronted and Blue-headed, the Caribbean endemic Key-West and the more widespread Ruddy.
On our arrival at the gate at a little after seven o’clock we were met by park warden Orlando Ramirez. A maze of paths criss-cross the forest but we proceeded quickly and quietly down the main trail for about 400 metres. We stopped at a cross roads and directed the scope back along the straight path we had just walked; then we waited. Twenty minutes passed and a Gray-fronted Quail-Dove walked into view, joined shortly by its mate. As the light improved we were able to get stunning views of this elegant bird. We continued our vigil, watched by a Cuban Pygmy Owl perched low overhead. At the 45 minute mark a pair of beautiful Blue-headed Quail-Doves appeared from the forest onto the path. Scope views and quiet hugs all around.
Satisfied with our success at the stakeout, Mario and Orlando lead us on a walking tour through the reserve. Sightings included four additional Gray-fronted, one Ruddy and two Key-West Quail-Doves; as well as good numbers of migrant warblers. We also watched two families of Cuban Trogon quarrel over a nest hole, saw two more Cuban Screech Owls and another active Fernandina’s Flicker nest.
Five - Cuban Nightjar at Bermejas - Just west of the gate to the Bermejas Reserve (i.e. towards Playa Giron) a gravel lane from the south joins the main road at a T-junction. At dusk the grassy area where the roads meet is a good place to look for Cuban Nightjar. We arrived at the appropriate time and waited, but the bird did not show up. However, Orlando Ramirez from the reserve did and he led us back along the lane and through the area’s fields on a search for our target. The night air was cool and still and the sky was filled with stars. Cuban Screech Owls began softly calling from the woods, a Cuban Pygmy Owl joined the chorus and an Antillean Nighthawk sounded overhead. Continuing our trek, a Barn Owl hissed and flew through the spotlight, but still no nightjar. We back-tracked, crossed the road and plunged into the reserve itself. Pushing through brambles and thorns, Mario led us to an open patch in the forest and swept the clearing with his light. Glowing eyeshine indicated a Cuban Nightjar and we approached it closely for a studying view.
Six - Bee Hummingbird at Bermejas - At the same T-junction near the Bermejas Reserve discussed above, Bee Hummingbirds arrive in the late afternoon to feed in the flowering trees along the lane. We dropped by at 4:30pm and after a 15 minute wait we spotted a female high in the foliage. There were approximately 20 Cuban Emeralds feeding along the same 150 metre stretch of trees and they picked on the Bee fairly vigorously; it would often disappear for periods of time. As the afternoon progressed another female Bee Hummingbird showed up, then a shining male and another shining male. Harassed less frequently by the Emeralds as time passed, the Bees began to work their way lower down the trees until they floated around the flowers at eye level, close enough to touch. It was a magical moment with a tiny, tiny bird (only a little over half the size of Ruby-throated Hummingbird). Suddenly Mario called out “raptor” and pointed skyward. Our third Gundlach’s Hawk of the trip flew slowly overhead, carrying a chicken from someone’s farm. Viva Cuba!
SIERRA DE NAJASA (Camaguey Province, east central Cuba) - After heart-felt good-byes to Mario we left Zapata mid-morning and, cutting across country to the autopista, reached Najasa by mid-afternoon. We would have arrived sooner but we spent time checking a natural wetland by the roadside just east of Bermejas towards Babiney and a flooded rice field on the far side of Horquitas. We also detoured into Santa Clara to visit the Che Guevara monument and see the armored train his column fire-bombed into submission; a crucial victory in the revolutionary war.
Key birds in the Sierra de Najasa are Plain Pigeon, Cuban Parakeet, Giant Kingbird, Cuban Palm Crow and Cuban Grassquit. The area can be birded from the city of Camaguey, located about 70 kilometres north of the Sierra. To avoid the long dawn drive to the birding zone we stayed two nights in the Sierra itself at Rancho la Belen; very pleasant accommodations with excellent food, nice rooms and a swimming pool. The entrance to the finca is on the left hand side of the road south of El Pilar. The access road is gated and the finca itself is located within a protected area signed as the “Sierra del Chorrillo”. Perhaps this is Najasa National Park; the legal status and boundaries of Cuban parks are not as apparent as in Canada. In any event, inside the protected area Plain Pigeon were reasonably common and Cuban Crow and Cuban Parakeet were borderline abundant, noisily racing about the open forest and pasture land. Migrant warblers were still present in good numbers; we encountered two large mixed flocks containing numerous Cape Mays and Parulas. A Black-throated Blue hopped boldly around the semi-enclosed dining area, investigating the potted plants. Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, West Indian Woodpecker and Cuban Green Woodpecker were, as elsewhere, prominent.
The finca has two resident bird guides; Jose Pestana and the charming Arelis Diaz. Jose, who does not speak English, led us on a short expedition off the estate. Our first goal was Cuban Palm Crow. To find this bird we drove slowly on the road back to Najasa, stopping frequently to listen for its distinct nasal “cah!”, very different from the explosive, parrot-like babble of Cuban Crow. Fairly quickly we heard the distant call of our target and were able to approach closely for decent looks at this rare but uncharismatic bird. Next we headed to the Najasa Cemetery for Giant Kingbird. The cemetery is not very near Najasa, but can be reached by proceeding on the road past the gate to Rancho la Belen (see the map in John van der Woude’s report). After a brief blast from the tape the Kingbird angrily presented itself at the roadside. There is a stakeout for Cuban Grassquit nearby, but we decided to forgo it, having had excellent looks at this bird in the Cordillera de Guaniguanico. On the return drive we asked Jose about West Indian Whistling Duck and he directed us to a small pond on the left hand side of the finca´s access road, just before the accommodations. Five day-roosting individuals of this much sought-after species were in a large tree behind the back right-hand side of the pond.
Other sightings at Rancho la Belen included a Barn Owl family by the access road at night, an empty Gundlach’s Hawk nest and, on the morning of our departure, two Giant Kingbirds noisily bickering above the dining area. On our final drive out we stopped in at Escuela Rural “Evelio Rodriguez Curbelo” to drop off a package of school material (pens, pencils, paper, stickers) brought from Canada. Agustin went in first to ensure we weren’t interrupting an important lesson. When given the all clear, we entered to drop off our supplies and say hello to the children and teachers.
CAYO COCO (Ciego de Avila Province) is part of the Archipielago de Camaguey, a string of islands stretching along Cuba´s northeast coast. The caye is 45 kilometres long and home to emerald waters, white sand beaches and several large tourist resorts. The targets here are the endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher and Oriente Warbler, the near endemic Thick-billed Vireo and the Caribbean endemic Bahama Mockingbird. There are Zapata Sparrows as well and it is a good place for Caribbean Flamingo; hundreds are usually visible from the 26 kilometre causeway joining the island to the mainland. Habitat resembles the La Salina area in Zapata; vast expanses of tidal rock flats, saltwater lagoons, scattered mangrove islets, beach scrub and low secondary forest. Local guide Odey Martinez Hanes assisted our efforts on Cayo Coco. Another guide to ask after is Paulino Lopez Delgado. Hotel Playa Coco (an upscale all-inclusive) was our base on the island and from it we birded the following locations:
One - Parque Natural El Baga - On a quick visit here we saw Oriente Warbler, a Great Lizard Cuckoo on its nest, and a variety of migrant warblers including Prairie and our trip´s only Yellow-rumped. At the model Amerindian village we noted the wooden macaws, turtles, dogs, iguanas and flamingos. As we strode the boardwalk past the fake flamingos one of them honked and turned to look at us and we realized they were real, wild birds just metres away (unfortunately the Cuban Macaws were genuine wood). Near the Crocodile enclosure we called in a Key West Quail-Dove for a close look.
Two - Cayo Paredon Grande (Cuban Gnatcatcher and Thick-billed Vireo) is reached by driving east from Cayo Coco to Cayo Romano and then north across a very decrepit bridge. At the far side of the bridge the road is gated and we waited a minute or so for a military-looking man to come out, inspect our papers, and let us through. From the gate we headed north towards the lighthouse and as we neared it we pulled over to listen for the Gnatcatcher and Vireo. The former we quickly saw from the road, the latter required playback and some bush-whacking to see. Continuing north, we turned right at the lighthouse and proceeded a short distance along the coast. We parked, examined the beach for shorebirds (nothing) and then walked a little farther down the road. The extra effort paid off in the form of a Mangrove Cuckoo sitting low and calmly in open shrubbery about a metre off the gravel track.
Three - Cayo Guillermo (Bahama Mockingbird) lies to the west of Cayo Coco. From the modern bridge to the island we scoped a variety of shorebirds and a Ring-billed Gull. Good ponds lie either side of the road just over the crossing and they held more Flamingos as well as Short-billed Dowitcher and Stilt Sandpiper. Continuing past the hotel entrances we pulled over where a modest ridge begins to rise to the north and tall, spindly cacti become a prominent feature of the low, scrubby vegetation. Despite strong mid-afternoon winds, several minutes of taping pulled out one, then two, Bahama Mockingbird (as well as a curious Northern Mockingbird).
Four - Other locations - Odey directed us to a spot for Zapata Sparrow and after a bit of searching we found a pair of these birds. In the scrub at the edge of our hotel grounds we saw a beautiful male Painted Bunting and a variety of migrant warblers. A series of sewage lagoons just south of the main hotel area (visible on google maps) held numerous Northern Shoveler, three American Wigeon and one Wood Duck. On the mainland between the base of the causeway and the community of Moron a series of large aquaculture impoundments are visible from the road. Although viewing conditions are not ideal we were able to see three White-cheeked Pintail here by parking our vehicle and scanning the ponds from the roadside.
HABANA - Before catching our flight home we spent an evening and morning sightseeing in this famous city. The seawall and harbour entrance are beautiful and the architecture, much of it in various states of restoration, is stunning. A visit to Habana, even if for a morning, is definitely worthwhile. While not a prime birding location we did see American Kestrel and Antillean Palm Swift zipping around the Plaza of the Revolution and an American Herring Gull along the sea wall.
Closing Thoughts - Special thanks to Bruce Di Labio for planning and leading the trip, to Agustin for being a great driver, guide and friend, to the workers at Cubatur who made all the bookings, and to local guides Julio, Justo, Mario, Jose and Odey for sharing their love of birds and birding with us. Bruce wishes to thank Scott Connop for introducing the birds of Cuba to him. Viva Cuba! A better world is possible.
All photos above by Paul Jones. Bird photos taken with Canon 30-D and 300mm f4, image stabilized, L series lens. Birds in Cuba are generally quite tame, making them very photogenic.
Annotated Bird List - Cuba - April 5-19, 2008 (Common Name, Scientific Name, Status as per Birds of Cuba, Our Sightings)
Bird taxonomy in the Caribbean is in a state of flux, the following list is one I assembled from various sources. The abundance levels reflect Garrido and Kirkconnell’s assessment of actual population levels, not the ease with which visiting birders can encounter the species. Some of the birds they list as common (for example Masked Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, Fulvous and West Indian Whistling Duck and Northern Bobwhite) usually require diligent searching or good luck to see.
(!) - Impossible to miss in habitat (April 5-19)
(E) - Endemic to Cuba
(ne) - Near endemic to Cuba (Cuba, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Cayman Islands)
(ce) - Caribbean endemic
1. Least Grebe - Tachybaptus dominicus (common permanent resident) - Two sightings, a pair in an aquaculture pond off the autopista west of Habana, three birds in a pond at Rancho la Belen
2. Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps (common permanent resident) - Seven, all in reservoirs along the autopista west of Habana
3. (!) Brown Pelican - Pelecanus occidentalis (common permanent resident) - Common at the coast
4. Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster (uncommon permanent resident) - One, cruising near shore off the Varadero Peninsula, a good sighting
5. (!) Double-crested Cormorant - Phalacrocorax auritus (common permanent resident) - Many
6. (!) Neotropic Cormorant - Phalacrocorax brasilianus (common permanent resident) - Many
7. Anhinga - Anhinga anhinga (common permanent resident) - Several, usually associated with larger, inland water bodies
8. (!) Magnificent Frigatebird - Fregata magnificens (common permanent resident) - Many along the coast
9. (!) Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias (common permanent resident) - One to four each day, white morphs on Cayo Coco
10. (!) Great Egret - Ardea alba (common permanent resident) - Many
11. (!) Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens (common permanent resident) - Common at coastal rock flats, a mix of white and dark morph birds
12. (!) Tricolored Heron - Egretta tricolor (common permanent resident) - Many, primarily coastal
13. (!) Little Blue Heron - Egretta caerulea (common permanent resident) - Very many
14. (!) Snowy Egret - Egretta thula (common permanent resident) - Very many
15. (!) Cattle Egret - Bubulcus ibis (abundant permanent resident) - Abundant!
16. (!) Green Heron - Butorides virescens (common permanent resident) - One to four recorded most days
17. Black-crowned Night-Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax (common permanent resident) - Four
18. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Nyctanassa violacea (common permanent resident) - Four
19. Least Bittern - Ixobrychus exilis (common permanent resident) - One, roadside wetland past Bermejas
20. (!) White Ibis - Eudocimus albus (common permanent resident) - 60 at La Salina, 20 at Cayo Coco
21. Roseate Spoonbill - Ajaia ajaja (common permanent resident) - 100 at La Salina
22. Caribbean Flamingo - Phoenicopterus ruber (common permanent resident) - 60 at La Salina, 220 off the Cayo Coco causeway, studying views of six at El Baga Park on Cayo Coco
23. Fulvous Whistling-Duck - Dendrocygna bicolor (common permanent resident) - One sighting, 16 flying birds circling the back of a series of aquaculture ponds beside the autopista in Pinar del Rio Province
24. (ce) West Indian Whistling-Duck - Dendrocygna arborea (common permanent resident) - Five tree-roosting birds at the back of a small pond beside the Rancho la Belen access road, just a short walk from the main accommodations
25. Wood Duck - Aix sponsa (uncommon permanent resident) - One female, Cayo Coco sewage lagoons
26. American Wigeon - Anas americana (common winterer, transient) - Three, Cayo Coco sewage lagoons
27. White-cheeked Pintail - Anas bahamensis (common permanent resident) - Three birds observed from the road at the aquaculture ponds between Moron and the Cayo Coco causeway - Notwithstanding Garrido and Kirkconnell’s assessment of this species as common, it and the two Whistling-Ducks are good finds for birders visiting Cuba
28. Blue-winged Teal - Anas discors (common winterer, transient) - Small numbers still present in rice fields, aquaculture ponds, reservoirs, natural wetlands
29. Northern Shoveler - Anas clypeata (common winterer, transient) - 22, Cayo Coco sewage lagoons
30. Ring-necked Duck - Aythya collaris (common winterer, transient) - A raft of 20 on a reservoir along the autopista just west of Habana
31. Red-breasted Merganser - Mergus serrator (rare winterer) - Small numbers still present Varadero Peninsula, La Salina, Cayo Coco causeway
32. Ruddy Duck - Oxyura jamaicensis (rare permanent resident) - 22, wetlands in Pinar del Rio Province
33. (!) Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura (common permanent resident) - Abundant
34. (!) Osprey - Pandion haliaetus (common permanent resident) - Many, Zapata, Cayo Coco
35. (!) Snail Kite - Rostrhamus sociabilis (common permanent resident) - Good numbers at aquaculture ponds, reservoirs, natural wetlands in Pinar del Rio Province - High count of 37 on a pond along the western autopista
36. Sharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatus (rare permanent resident) - Two sightings, one near the Mirador Hotel in San Diego, also a pair at the sewage lagoons on Cayo Coco - Sharpies are small, compact, slightly fluttery birds - Gundlach’s are much more powerful, like a robust Cooper’s Hawk to North Americans or maybe even a male Goshawk to Europeans
37. (E) Gundlach´s Hawk - Accipiter gundlachi (rare permanent resident) - Three - First one at Rancho Guabina, a flapping/soaring bird gaining altitude to carry a kill to a presumed nest site - Second one near the Mirador Hotel in San Diego, a bird dashing between forest clearings in typically furtive accipter fashion - Third one flying above tree top level at the Bee Hummingbird spot at the Bermejas Reserve carrying a chicken to a hidden nest - None of our local guides knew of active nests, but perhaps April, with adults bringing food to growing young, still offers better sighting opportunities than earlier in the year
38. Northern Harrier - Circus cyaneus (common winterer, transient) - One, along the autopista east of Habana
39. (!)(E) Cuban Crab-Hawk - Buteogallus gundlachii (common permanent resident) - Two to four each day at La Salina and Cayo Coco, very approachable along roadsides
40. Broad-winged Hawk - Buteo platypterus (common permanent resident) - Two at La Guira, one each at Las Terrazas and the Bermejas Reserve
41. Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis (common permanent resident) - Three, La Guira, Las Terrazas, Bermejas Reserve
42. Crested Caracara - Caracara cheriway (rare permanent resident) - None in the west but we had one to three daily once we began the eastward trek from Zapata - Usually seen along the roadside, a rigid “flying cross”, very different from the tilting, dihedraling Turkey Vultures
43. (!) American Kestrel - Falco sparverius (common permanent resident) - Five to six daily of this attractive species, including light and dark morph individuals
44. Merlin - Falco columbarius (uncommon winterer, transient) - One, Cayo Coco, hunting along the beach
45. Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus (uncommon winterer, transient) - One, La Salina, hunting the flats
46. Northern Bobwhite - Colinus virginianus (common permanent resident) - Roadside pair, Rancho Guabina
47. Helmeted Guineafowl - Numida meleagris (common permanent resident) - Often seen near farms, the birds around Rancho la Belen seemed slightly more independent, listing purists might want to go to Africa before ticking this one off
48. Limpkin - Aramus guarauna (common permanent resident) - A few at most wetlands
49. Clapper Rail - Rallus longirostris (common permanent resident) - One, La Salina
50. King Rail - Rallus elegans (common permanent resident) - One, roadside wetland east of Bermejas
51. Purple Gallinule - Porphyrio martinica (common permanent resident) - Three, including one at the Zapata crocodile ponds
52. (!) Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus (common permanent resident) - At most freshwater wetlands
53. (!) American Coot - Fulica americana (common permanent resident) - At larger freshwater lakes, reservoirs
54. Northern Jacana - Jacana spinosa (common permanent resident) - Recorded on four days, high count eight at a wetland past Bermejas
55. (!) Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus (common permanent resident) - Borderline abundant
56. Black-bellied Plover - Pluvialis squatarola (common winterer, transient) - 20-30 daily, La Salina, Cayo Coco
57. Semipalmated Plover - Charadrius semipalmatus (common winterer, transient) - 22 at Cayo Guillermo
58. Wilson´s Plover - Charadrius wilsonia (common permanent resident) - Three at La Salina, two inside the sea wall on the rock flats at Hotel Playa Giron, two at Cayo Coco
59. (!) Killdeer - Charadrius vociferus (common, permanent resident) - Daily sightings
60. Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus (common winterer, transient) - 30, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo
61. Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca (common winterer, transient) - Fairly common, Zapata, Cayo Coco
62. Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes (common winterer, transient) - 14, Cayo Coco
63. Solitary Sandpiper - Tringa solitaria (common winterer, transient) - Fairly common in rice fields and field/forest ponds, Zapata, Cayo Coco
64. Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus (rare winterer, transient) - Two, La Salina
65. Spotted Sandpiper - Tringa macularia (common winterer, transient) - Scattered sightings at beaches, rice fields, aquaculture ponds, etc.
66. Willet - Catoptrophorus semipalmatus (common winterer, transient) - Four, La Salina, three, Cayo Coco
67. Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres (common winterer, transient) - Three at La Salina
68. Semipalmated Sandpiper - Calidris pusilla (common winterer, transient) - Four at La Salina
69. Least Sandpiper - Calidris minutilla (common winterer, transient) - Fairly common in grassy wet areas including rice fields and ponds around Zapata, Cayo Coco
70. Dunlin - Calidris alpina (rare winterer, transient) - One at La Salina
71. Stilt Sandpiper - Calidris himantopus (common transient) - 37, roadside pools, Cayo Guillermo
72. Ring-billed Gull - Larus delawarensis (uncommon winterer, transient) - One, at the bridge between Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo
73. Herring Gull - Larus argentatus (uncommon winterer, transient) - One, Habana seawall
74. (!) Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla (common, permanent resident) - Seen daily along the coast
75. Caspian Tern - Hydroprogne caspia (uncommon winterer) - Good numbers at La Salina and the wetlands along the western autopista, daily high count 20 at La Salina
76. Sandwich Tern - Sterna sandvicensis (common summerer, transient) - Six off Playa Giron
77. Gull-billed Tern - Gelochelidon nilotica (rare winterer, transient) - Six at an aquaculture pond along the western autopista, two at La Salina, seven at the aquaculture ponds between Moron and the Cayo Coco causeway
78. (!) Royal Tern - Sterna maxima (common permanent resident) - Seen daily along the coast, high count 40 on Cayo Coco
79. Least Tern - Sternula antillarum (common summerer, transient) - Two at La Salina
80. (!) Rock Dove - Columba livia (common permanent resident) - Urban areas and farmland
81. White-crowned Pigeon - Columba leucocephala (common permanent resident) - Just one sighting, at the wetlands east of Bermejas
82. (ce) Scaly-naped Pigeon - Columba squamosa (uncommon permanent resident) - Good views at the Maravillas de Vinales Trail (one) and Las Terrazas (three)
83. (ce) Plain Pigeon - Columba inornata (rare permanent resident) - Several sightings around Rancho la Belen
84. Eurasian Collared-Dove - Streptopelia decaocto (uncommon permanent resident) - Sightings in downtown Habana, the city of Matanzas and along the autopista in Pinar del Rio Province
85. (!) Mourning Dove - Zenaida macroura (common permanent resident) - Abundant
86. (!) Zenaida Dove - Zenaida aurita (common permanent resident) - Many sightings, a much chunkier bird than Mourning Dove
87. (!) White-winged Dove - Zenaida asiatica (common permanent resident) - Many sightings
88. (!) Common Ground Dove - Columbina passerina (common permanent resident) - Abundant
89. (E) Gray-fronted Quail-Dove - Geotrygon caniceps (rare permanent resident) - Two seen on the dawn stakeout in Bermejas, another four on the morning’s walkabout portion - a very beautiful bird
90. (ce) Key West Quail-Dove - Geotrygon chrysia (uncommon permanent resident) - Two at the Bermejas Reserve on the walkabout, two on Cayo Coco including excellent views of a bird taped in near the crocodile enclosures at Baga
91. Ruddy Quail-Dove - Geotrygon montana (common permanent resident) - One at the Maravillas de Vinales Trail, one at Bermejas
92. (E) Blue-headed Quail-Dove - Starnoenas cyanocephala (rare permanent resident) - A pair scoped along the forest trail in the Bermejas Reserve after a 45 minute stakeout, well worth the wait
93. (E) Cuban Parakeet - Aratinga euops (uncommon permanent resident) - Five birds at dawn at an intersection a little past the town of Bermejas, numerous sightings at Rancho la Belen
94. (ne) Cuban Parrot (uncommon permanent resident) - Amazona leucocephala - Pairs at Soplillar and the Bermejas reserve
95. Mangrove Cuckoo - Coccyzus minor (common but local permanent resident) - One, Cayo Paredon Grande, a cooperative bird in the coastal scrub along the road just past the lighthouse
96. (ne) Great Lizard-Cuckoo - Saurothera merlini (common permanent resident) - Seen and heard daily, this interesting bird would be hard to miss on a trip
97. (!) Smooth-billed Ani - Crotophaga ani (common permanent resident) - Lots
98. Barn Owl - Tyto alba (common permanent resident) - Two sightings, both spot-lighted at night, one at the Bermejas nightjar spot, a family of at least three on the access road to Rancho la Belen
99. (E) Cuban Screech Owl - Gymnoglaux lawrencii (common permanent resident) - We were shown three at their palm-cavity nest-sites at Soplillar and the Bermejas Reserve, we also heard them at night at the reserve - a beautiful, liquid, accelerating series of soft hoots
100. (E) Cuban Pygmy-Owl - Glaucidium siju (common permanent resident) - Seen and heard every day, this would be a hard bird to miss, it was not necessary to tape them in, they just kept appearing (but the sound file of its call is useful for attracting small birds)
101. Stygian Owl - Asio stygius (uncommon permanent resident) - One, taped in pre-dawn on the grounds of the Hotel Playa Giron just past the water tower (there does not appear to be a known day-roost for this bird at Playa Giron) - Cuba is one of the better places to meet up with this wide-ranging but seldom encountered species
102. Short-eared Owl - Asio flammeus (common permanent resident) - One, hunting at dusk among the cabanas at Hotel Playa Giron
103. (ce) Antillean Nighthawk - Chordeiles gundlachii (common summerer, transient) - Good numbers seen and heard, first sighting on April 7 at dusk at Rancho Guabina, it flew silently overhead but then finally let go with a burst of its explosive “ke-re-ke-te” call, confirming the identification - Other sightings include five in the evening from the balcony of the Mirador Hotel in San Diego, five to six each dusk and dawn above the Hotel Playa Giron, four above Rancho la Belen - Usually very vocal - Absent from Cuba earlier in the year
104. (E) Cuban Nightjar - Caprimulgus cubanensis (common permanent resident) - One, tracked down on a night walk through the Bermejas Reserve and spot-lighted in an open patch of forest, the bird had been a no-show earlier in the evening at the nightjar stake-out point, the T-junction shortly before the entrance to the Bermejas Reserve
105. (!)(ce) Antillean Palm Swift - Tachornis phoenicobia (common permanent resident) - Many sightings, include dozens of birds skimming at knee level over the lawn at the Jose Marti memorial in Habana
106. (!)(ne) Cuban Emerald - Chlorostilbon ricordii (common permanent resident) - Abundant
107. (E) Bee Hummingbird - Mellisuga helenae (rare permanent resident) - Two singing males at Palpita, two males and two females feeding late afternoon in the flowery lane shortly before the entrance to the Bermejas Reserve (the nightjar spot)
108. (!)(E) Cuban Trogon - Priotelus temnurus (common permanent resident) - Common and confiding, the Tocororo is adapted to a range of forest habitat, high pines to lowland scrub - This is the national bird of Cuba, so-named because its colours match the country´s flag and, more romantically, because its love of liberty is so great that if caged it will fly against the bars of its enclosure until the bars break or it dies
109. Belted Kingfisher - Ceryle alcyon (common winterer, transient) - Twelve, conspicuous at fresh and saltwater wetlands
110. (!)(E) Cuban Tody - Todus multicolor (common permanent resident) - Many sightings, a great bird and as with Cuban Trogon, adapted to a wide range of forest types, the rapid “tot tot tot” call part of the Cuban birding soundtrack
111. (!)(ne) West Indian Woodpecker - Melanerpes superciliaris (common permanent resident) - Lots
112. (!)(E) Cuban Green Woodpecker - Xiphidiopicus percussus (common permanent resident) - Lots, at least three nests found - Again, a highly adaptable bird, ranging from roadside hedgerows, to beach scrub, lowland forest and montane pines
113. Northern Flicker - Colaptes auratus (common permanent resident) - Two, both on Cayo Coco, one in coastal scrub, the other nesting in a palm in the central median on the caye’s main road - The rump patch is very subdued compared with Canadian birds, another candidate for species status
114. (E) Fernandina´s Flicker - Colaptes fernandinae (rare permanent resident) - Mario lead us to two nest sites in the Bermejas Reserve, we also picked up a number of random sightings in the same area, including four in one day (one was feeding on the grassy shoulder of the road) - This species seems to be doing okay
115. (!)(ne) Cuban Pewee - Contopus caribaeus (common permanent resident) - Many
116. (!)(ne) La Sagra´s Flycatcher - Myiarchus sagrae (common permanent resident) - Many
117. (!) Gray Kingbird - Tyrannus dominicensis (common summerer, transient) - Many, but not present earlier in the year, an open country bird with a beautiful slaty-blue caste
118. (!)(ce) Loggerhead Kingbird - Tyrannus caudifasciatus (common permanent resident) - Many, often in woodlands, a dark charcoal-gray bird with a white breast/belly
119. (E) Giant Kingbird - Tyrannus cubensis (rare permanent resident) - Two sightings, one bird called in at the Najasa cemetery, at least two birds calling above the dining area at Rancho la Belen
120. (!)(E) Cuban Martin - Progne cryptoleuca (common summerer) - Back in good numbers by April, easy to see at Varedaro, Matanzas City, Zapata, etc.
121. Tree Swallow - Tachycineta bicolor (common winterer, transient) - 22 on April 8 in a large swallow flock over an aquaculture pond beside the autopista west of Habana
122. Northern Rough-winged Swallow - Stelgidopteryx serripennis (common transient) - Two with the Trees
123. Bank Swallow - Riparia riparia (rare transient) - Eight following the river beside the Mirador Hotel in San Diego on April 7, one in the autopista flock
124. (!) Cave Swallow - Petrochelidon fulva (common summerer) - Many around bridges, buildings, etc.
125. Barn Swallow - Hirundo rustica (common transient) - Several sightings
126. (E) Zapata Wren - Ferminia cerverai (rare permanent resident) - Two heard, one taped in, La Turba in the Zapata Swamp
127. Gray Catbird - Dumetella carolinensis (common winterer, transient) - Several sightings
128. (ce) Bahama Mockingbird - Mimus gundlachii (rare permanent resident) - Two called in from the cactus/scrub habitat on Cayo Guillermo - Unlike Northern Mockingbirds which prominently perch in the open, Bahamas are skulkers; a tape is very helpful to see them
129. (!) Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos (common permanent resident) - Abundant
130. (E) Cuban Solitaire - Myadestes elisabeth (common but local permanent resident) - Taped in at La Guira (Hacienda Cortina) and the Maravilas de Vinales Trail, heard near Palenque in the Vinales Valley
131. (!)(ce) Red-legged Thrush - Turdus plumbeus (common permanent resident) - Seen daily, acts very much like an American Robin, occupying a variety of habitats from forests to gardens
132. (E) Cuban Gnatcatcher - Polioptila lembeyei (common but local permanent resident) - Pretty easy to find in the coastal scrub on Cayo Coco and Cayo Paredon Grande
133. (E) Cuban Palm Crow - Corvus minutus (rare permanent resident) - We used the “drive-stop-drive-stop” search technique for this bird along the road between Najasa and Belen, listening for their nasal “cah” call, a total of six birds were seen without too much effort
134. (ne) Cuban Crow - Corvus nasicus (common permanent resident) - Two at Palpita, one near Playa Giron, more numerous at Belen/Najasa
135. White-eyed Vireo - Vireo griseus (common winterer, transient) - One, Bermejas
136. (ne) Thick-billed Vireo - Vireo crassirostris (common but local permanent resident) - Taped in on Cayo Paredon Grande, an impressive vireo
137. (E) Cuban Vireo - Vireo gundlachii (common permanent resident) - Fairly numerous, but small and skulky, resembles Hutton’s Vireo
138. Red-eyed Vireo - Vireo olivaceus (common winterer, transient) - One, Bermejas
139. (!) Black-whiskered Vireo - Vireo altiloquus - (common summerer) - Abundant and singing in all manner of wooded habitat, a stark contrast to its absence in the winter - The ever-present two to three note song is louder and more abrupt than the languid notes of Red-eyed Vireo
140. Tennessee Warbler - Vermivora peregrina (uncommon transient) - Two, Rancho Guabina, la Belen - With migratory wood warblers generally we saw five to six species a day, any kind of forested habitat was worth checking - Even scrubby areas and wooded gardens often held small mixed species flocks - The best numbers and variety were in the Sierra de Najasa and on Cayo Coco
141. Northern Parula - Parula americana (common winterer, transient) - Eight on April 15 at Rancho la Belen, six on Cayo Coco, April 16
142. (!) Yellow Warbler - Dendroica petechia (common permanent resident) - Lots, La Salina, Cayo Coco, singing from the mangroves/scrub, daily high count eight
143. Chestnut-sided Warbler - Dendroica pensylvanica (uncommon transient) - One, in the dyke-side vegetation at La Turba, Zapata
144. Magnolia Warbler - Dendroica magnolia (common winterer, transient) - Three
145. Cape May Warbler - Dendroica tigrina (common winterer, transient) - Flocks of eight, four, Rancho la Belen
146. Black-throated Blue Warbler - Dendroica caerulescens (common winterer, transient) - Still good numbers present in the Cordillera de Guaniguanico and the Belen area - Thirteen in total, daily high count three
147. Yellow-rumped Warbler - Dendroica coronata (uncommon winterer, transient) - One, Cayo Coco
148. (ne) Olive-capped Warbler - Dendroica pityophila (common but local permanent resident) - One sighting only, three birds in the pines at Hacienda Cortina
149. Prairie Warbler - Dendroica discolor (common winterer, transient) - Two, Cayo Coco
150. Black-throated Green Warbler - Dendroica virens (uncommon winterer, transient) - Four, males were beginning to sing a weak version of their zoo-zee, zoo-zoo-zee song
151. (!) Palm Warbler - Dendroica palmarum (common winterer, transient) - Seen daily, often along roadsides, high count eight
152. Black-and-white Warbler - Mniotilta varia (common winterer, transient) - Seen daily, high count four
153. American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla (common winterer, transient) - Seen daily, high count five
154. Ovenbird - Seiurus aurocapilla (common winterer, transient) - One Las Terrazas, seven Bermejas Reserve, one Cayo Coco
155. Northern Waterthrush - Seiurus noveboracensis (common winterer, transient) - One or two a day in wet areas at Bermejas, Cayo Coco
156. Common Yellowthroat - Geothlypis trichas (common winterer, transient) - Many sightings, especially in marshy areas but also in roadside scrub - dry “chak” call note very distinctive, high count six
157. (E) Yellow-headed Warbler - Teretistris fernandinae (common but local permanent resident) - Easy to see in the Cordillera de Guaniguanico at Hacienda Cortina, Vinales and Las Terrazas, good numbers also in the Bermejas Reserve
158. (E) Oriente Warbler - Teretistris fornsi (common permanent resident) - Easy to see in the taller secondary forest on Cayo Coco
159. Summer Tanager (rare winterer, transient) - One at Las Terrazas, one at Rancho la Belen
160. (!)(ne) Western Spindalis - Spindalis zena (common permanent resident) - Fairly common, sixteen in total
161. Red-legged Honeycreeper - Cyanerpes cyaneus (locally common permanent resident) - Four to six daily in the Cordillera de Guaniguanico at Hacienda Cortina, Vinales and Las Terrazas
162. (!)(ne) Cuban Bullfinch - Melopyrrha nigra (common permanent resident) - Seen in all manner of wooded habitats, also in cages
163. (E) Cuban Grassquit - Tiaris canora (common but local and declining permanent resident) - Three surprise sightings of this beautiful bird, a pair at the roadside entrance to the Maravillas de Vinales trail, a pair farther up the same path and a single on the lawn at the restored coffee plantation at Las Terrazas - With these in hand we did not visit the traditional site for this species along the road between Najasa and Belen
164. (!) Yellow-faced Grassquit - Tiaris olivacea (common permanent resident) - Abundant, the default small passerine
165. (E) Zapata Sparrow - Torreornis inexpectata (rare permanent resident) - A very cooperative pair along the dyke at La Turba, Zapata Swamp, another pair of the northern subspecies on Cayo Coco
166. Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea (common winterer, transient) - One dingy male at Maravillas de Vinales Trail
167. Painted Bunting - Passerina ciris (common winterer, transient) - One, a beautiful male in the scrub at the edge of the Hotel Playa Coco grounds
168. (!) Tawny-shouldered Blackbird - Agelaius humeralis (common permanent resident) - Daily sightings
169. (E) Red-shouldered Blackbird - Agelaius assimilis (rare permanent resident) - At least six birds, including singing and displaying pairs, at La Turba in Zapata
170. Eastern Meadowlark - Sturnella magna (common permanent resident) - Four to six daily in roadside pasture in Pinar Del Rio and Cameguay provinces, often on fence posts or telephone wires - Apparently the Cuban form is a candidate for full species status
171. (!)(E) Cuban Blackbird - Dives atroviolacea (common permanent resident) - Many sightings
172. (!)(ce) Greater Antillean Grackle - Quiscalus niger (common permanent resident) - Abundant
173. Shiny Cowbird - Molothrus bonariensis (common permanent resident) - Two or three a day
174. (ce) Greater Antillean Oriole - Icterus dominicensis (common permanent resident) - Three brief sightings, one at Palpita, one in the Bermejas Reserve, one along the Bee Hummingbird lane - we could have missed this bird
175. (!) House Sparrow - Passer domesticus (common permanent resident) - Common in urban areas and around agricultural settlements