Cayo Guillermo - Cuba

Published by Mark Graham (helen.graham7 AT

Participants: Mark Graham


If you want a relaxing holiday with brilliant birdwatching at the hotel, or nearby, then the Sol Cayo Guillermo might fit the bill. If you haven't been to Cuba before then I can highly recommend it. Its hassle free. Nobody bothers you when you are out and about and the people are very laid back and friendly.

The main birds which are in vast numbers are the herons, egrets and waders. There are always some Turkey Vultures hovering around and Common Black Hawk were seen very regulary. The three main Warblers were Common Yellowthroat, Prairie Warbler and Palm Warbler. All are easy to see amongst the vegetation. Cuban Emerald are everywhere. The Grackles are never far away and seldom stop calling out. There were 42 species in the hotel alone and I managed 31 lifers. This wasn't bad considering I've been to the Carribean and North America before.

I used the Helm Bird Guide to the West Indies. It does a good job although there has been some change to the status of some birds. Stayed from 5/4/2013 to 12/4/2013

Cayo Guillermo

A small island only 18 square kilometres but around 85% is mangrove forest,lagoons and swamps. There are just 4 hotels on the island.

The Sol Cayo Guillermo Hotel

A typical Cuban AI hotel well landscaped with 1000's of plants and trees. It borders a huge mangrove lagoon and also the sea and beach. Great food and drinks package and a pleasant friendly atmosphere.

Getting around.

An open top bus plies it's trade between Cayo Coco across the causeway, past all the Cayo Guillermo hotels to the end of the island at Playa Pilar. Return costs are $5 return. Otherwise you can easily walk to any of the places I have mentioned apart from Playa Pilar.

Playa Pilar

A dream Carribean beach at the western end of the island. From the bus stop and car park head west to Zona La Punta an idyllic area far from the sunbeds. The star bird was a Black Skimmer sitting with the Laughing Gulls at Zona La Punta.. I didn't expect to see it as it was described as a rarity.

At Zona La Punta I saw 2 Frigatebirds, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, White Ibis,10 Royal Tern, Double Crested Cormorant, Spotted Sandpiper and several Pelican. A flowering cactus attracted 3 Cuban Emeralds, a Cape May Warbler, a Parula and a Prairie Warbler. If you see a flowering cactus its well worth having a good look.

Along the sandy track to Zona La Punta an Eastern Wood Pewee appeared along with a Crescent Eyed Pewee. The area around the car park and boardwalk was great for birds. They included 4 grounded Turkey Vulture, Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Cuban Emerald, Gray Kingbird, Greater Antillean Grackle, Crescent-eyed Pewee, Northern Mockingbird, Zenaida Dove and my first Cuban Bullfinch.

The Punta Playuela Track

Every time a took this walk something new turned up. From the northern path along the Sol Cayo Guillermo lagoon keep on going north west keeping the sea to your right.

Just before you reach the deserted beach there is a rough track to your left marked by a wind blown wooden parasol. This track soon comes to a dead end but it was a great little area for birds. After pishing about a little, a Gray Catbird appeared momentarily. This was my 650th lifer so another milestone passed. My first and only Cuban Gnatcatcher was here along with an Oriente Warbler which was my sole sighting. There was also an American Redstart among the coastal scrub as well as the common Prairie Warbler and Palm Warbler. Two White-winged Doves were always about along with some Mourning Doves. Two American Oystercatchers were on the rocks before the beach. The seaweed strewn beach was wonderful. The All Inclusive crowd seldom ventured this far and we usually had the beach to ourselves. The main attraction were two Piping Plovers which were not only supposed to be rare but also endangered. They were here every day with two Wilson's Plovers. Other birds seen here were several Turnstone, a Spotted Sandpiper and 3 Sanderling. A Red-breasted Merganser put in a cameo appearance one morning. There was a Semipalmated Plover present on one morning,Common Black Hawk was regular along with Turkey Vulture, Pelican, Royal Tern and Laughing Gull.

The Cayo Guillermo Lagoons

As you enter the Cayo there are lagoons on both sides of the road all the way to Playa Pliar about 8 kilometres away.
The big attraction was Flamingo Lagoon, the second lagoon on your right as you head west. There were at least 50 Flamingos most days. The rest of the lagoon and muddy edges was teeming with birds including Great Egret, White Ibis, Tri-coloured Heron, Green Heron, scores of Least Sandpiper, as well as Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, Willet, Stilt Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, two Semiplamated Sandpiper, Killdeer, Blue-winged Teal, Common Moorhen, Barn Swallow and Laughing Gull.

The usual Common Black Hawk was seen and a Crested Caracas was reported to be further down the road one day. A Palm Warbler and Yellow Warbler were seen in the bushes. I saw an American Crow one morning which surprised me since it wasn't even mentioned in the Helm Guide. All the lagoons were worth checking as the situation changed from day to day.

The Sol Cayo Guillermo Hotel Lagoon

This was the last productive lagoon as you travel west. It is the only one not viewable from the main road but the public can access the northern track. Just turn right past the power station and take the sandy track till you turn right to walk along the northern track. All the birds mentioned can be seen from this area or anywhere from the hotel grounds where they meet the lagoon. Sadly the hotel removed the resident crocodile in case it went all inclusive and ate a guest. Health and Safety gone mad if you ask me.

It was the only lagoon where I saw the Roseate Spoonbill.

I recorded: Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbill [6 maximum], Green Heron, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Reddish Egret, Stilt Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper [maximum6], Semipalmated Plover, Turnstone,S potted Sandpiper, Royal Tern [10 maximum] Frigatebird, Double-crested Cormorant, Laughing Gull, Turkey Vulture, Common Black Hawk,

The Sol Cayo Guillermo Hotel Grounds

The four hotels on the island a very similar. There were lots of plants, trees and lawned areas as well as the extensive beach area. Apart from the birds in the abovementioned Sol Cayo Guillermo Hotel lagoon I spotted the following from the rest of the hotel: Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Frigatebird, Pelican, Turkey Vulture, Common Black Hawk, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Crescent-eyed Pewee, Cuban Emerald, Prairie Warbler, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Mockingbird, American Redstart, White-winged Dove, Ground Dove, Mourning Dove, Eleinda Dove, Greater Antillean Grackle, American Kestrel, Collared Dove, Loggerhead Kingbird, Northern Waterthrush, House Sparrow.