Saturday, January 14, 2017

CUBA Days 1-2 (29-30Dec2016)

Viva la Revolucion!  What a trip!  Cuba for 10 days straddling the New Year.  Twelve brave members of the Carolina Bird Club decided to risk it all to try and bag all the reasonably expected Cuban endemics minus the pesky Cuban Martin that goes somewhere in the winter (no one knows where).  We flew direct from CLT (Thanks Keith for letting me crash at your house) and landed around noon at Havana (Habana?) airport with plenty of time to make a half day of birding.  The first bird of Cuba?  Shiny Cowbird in the airport!  Derb told us "don't worry we will see many of those".  We did not see another one until the last day, see if you can guess where?  The airport terminal.  Birding is hard. Maybe we dismissed other blackbirds on the trip as there are a few species that are small and all black and easy to botch ID.

Our first stop was the Reserva de la Biosfera Siera del Rosario at Las Terrazas about an hour west of Habana.   Much of this national park was the private land of a famous lawyer that was exiled during the Cuban revolution in 1959.  When Fidel took over he gave the lawyer the chance to work in the new government or get out.  The lawyer took what he could and got out of dodge while the getting was good.

Greater Antillean Grackle - easy ID as the other black birds on Cuba have dark eyes.  The grackle also has a long tail easy to ID in flight.

Cuban Blackbird - my first Cuban endemic!

They were quite common.

While munching on our first Cuban Sandwich (it was good but the ones in Miami are way better - its weird but most of the places we went used only ham not pork and the pickles were missing), we found a ton of birds in the trees around the lunch spot.

Cuban Pewee - I have actually seen these in Eleuthera.

Cuban Trogon - its so easy to ID Cuban birds, simply identify what type of bird it is and add Cuban to the front.

La Sagra's Flycatcher - also found in the Bahamas.  Ok so this bird refutes my theory.  I am going to write a letter to the AOU to have them change the name to Cuban Flycatcher.

Loggerhead Kingbird - the delineation between cap and throat is very stark.  Plus Gray Kingbirds are not around in the winter.

They almost look like Eastern Kingbirds.

West Indian Woodpecker

Olive-capped Warbler - these bad boys can be found on Andros in the Bahamas but not Eleuthera so I was happy to get them in Cuba.

Can you believe the colors on this Cuban Tody?

We looked hard for Cuban Grassquit but could only find Yellow-faced.

Next morning first thing we headed to Cuevas de las Portales near our hotel in San Diego de los Banos.  Our guide Cesar was super nice and was a wealth of knowledge of flora and fauna.  I believe his main vocation is to work as some sort of conservation officer for the Cuban Government.

The Cuevas (Cave) is where Ernesto Che Guevara was based during a part of the revolution.

Keith standing next to a plaque dedicated to Che.

The Cave.

Che's bed - although I highly doubt the mattress is the original.

The bench Che liked to play chess at.

This is the side of the cave where we searched for our main target - the Cuban Solitaire.

Great Lizard Cuckoo - hopefully they split the Cuban subspecies from the Bahamas one and I will get an armchair tick.

Mexican Free-tailed Bats

Cuban Fruit-eating Bats

Hmmmm, I think they were trying to spell something - IP?  Not sure.

We could hear the Solitaire singing away but it took Cesar some time before he found one.

Cuban Solitaire - never really came in crushing distance.

On the way out we managed to scope this Scaly-naped Pigeon.  I had one of these in Puerto Rico but was not able to improve on the crappy photo.

I regret not trying harder to get decent photos of these Antillean Palm Swifts as we ended up not seeing many and all were backlit.

Cuba has two "races" or morphs of American Kestrel, neither of which looks like ours.  This was the dark morph.

While Cesar tried to find us a Giant Kingbird, Derb called in this Olive-capped Warbler for better photo ops.

I never did do it justice.  Oh well, I will have to go to Abaco some day.

Cuban Oriole - these pink flowered trees were all over Cuba and birds loved them.  Many farmers used the wood of these trees for fences and then over time they would root and sprout and so there would be huge rows of these beautiful pink flowered fence rows.

Smooth-billed Ani

Next stop was the Hacienda Cortina where the afore-mentioned lawyer had his home.  It is now a garden for the Cuban people.  Communism isn't all bad.

This road sign was appropriate.  In Cuba there is a healthy mix of horse buggies, 40's-50's American cars from before the revolution, Russian Ladas from after the revolution and more recently asian cars as China has been heavily investing in Cuba.  Most tourists like the American cars but I really enjoyed seeing all the horse buggies.  Of course I forgot to take pictures.

Cuban Trogon

Smooth-billed Anis

A rare Two-headed Ani.

We also had plenty of North American wintering birds.  This was a Louisiana Waterthrush.

Cesar had one more stop to try for Cuban Grassquit which was good because James was all puckered at this point.  Apparently James had some gastro problems related to bird watching and anytime we came close to missing an endemic he would "pucker".  With 28 endemic species in Cuba, that's a lot of puckering.  In all seriousness though, I don't think anyone had any problems with digesting the Cuban food so that was a huge plus.  The worst thing about being in a little tour bus all day looking for birds is that there are not many bathroom options.

After bushwhacking a bit through some tall grass which was full of sticker burrs and apparently Chiggers (which I think only John contracted) we ran into a mega flock of grassquits and it was only a matter of time before we found some of the Cuban endemics.

A female or immature Cuban Grassquit.  These poor birds are on the decline because of a booming caged bird business in Cuba.  Little boys use bait to lure the birds and then lasso them with little sticks that have glue or something sticky on the business end.

A nice male.

Yes that is poop.  Many birds like to hang out around poop for the insects. Don't worry this was cow poop.

A bunch of folks on the trip had Cuban Vireo from the vagrant that showed up in Key West last year but I did not so I was happy to lay eyes on this crooner.

Reminiscent of the Thick-billed Vireos of Eleuthera but a much less raspy voice and not nearly as inquisitive.

Apparently the Eastern Meadowlark down in Cuba could be a future split.  They sing differently and maybe there is some structural differences but I didn't notice.

Another Cuban Oriole.

A final stop for the tour were some distant fish ponds (tilapia) where we found plenty of Snail Kites.

Snail Kite adult with an Apple Snail in his beak.

Juvie Snail Kite

The cows in Cuba are not quite as cute as the floppy eared Brahman Cows of Costa Rica but they were still pretty darn cute.

Another juvie Snail Kite.

In the evening Derb tried hard to call us in a Barn Owl at the hotel in San Diego de los Banos and we thought we had a fly-by Barn Owl but after 30 minutes I suggested we tried Stygian Owl.  We began to hear a similar call in the hotel courtyard right next to the restaurant.  Finally after another 20 minutes a big ole Stygian Owl flew in perfect view at the top of a palm.  The palm was super high so my flash was not lighting it up well enough but I managed a few decent shots.

Stygian Owl looking up at the bats that he/she probably feeds on.

Similar in size to a Great Horned and also has ear tufts although this ones were mostly not visible.

Looking straight up.

This is not a bird that is regularly seen and we counted ourselves lucky.  You can just make out the ear tufts here.

Altogether a very eventful first two days and James unpuckered just a little.

Stay-tuned for the next installment - Days 3-4.

1 comment:

  1. Jamie on Che's bench, and just as handsome. But the tody is even prettier.