Cuba Mar 26—Apr 05, 2014

Posted by David Ascanio

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David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent 33 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the Amaz...

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Our Cuba tour was the most interesting, fascinating, and intriguing tour I have ever led in the Caribbean. A mix of unique history, endemic birds, and charming people made this tour memorable for years to come.

Cuban Green Woodpecker

Cuban Green Woodpecker— Photo: David Ascanio

As soon as we arrived at the Santa Clara airport, we drove to Cayo Coco, the fourth largest island in Cuba. There, a small flock of West Indian Whistling-Ducks welcomed us near the hotel entrance. This key, along with Cayo Guillermo and Paredón Grande, also gave us our first views of four endemics: Cuban Green Woodpecker, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald (this one was seen every day!), and Cuban Tody. Additionally, we enjoyed Caribbean specialties such as the White-crowned Pigeon and West Indian Woodpecker. In the mornings we added to our checklist various waterbirds and shorebirds foraging in shallow ponds at the sides of the roads.

After a day-and-a-half in these beautiful islands, we drove to Topes del Collante, a natural park located in the central part of the island. Here, we shared our time between birdwatching and cultural activities. The local guide at a trail named Sendero de los Gigantes provided excellent information about the vegetation of the island and showed us a pair of Cuban Trogons, the national bird of the country. We also visited the Colorados family where we learned about their day-to-day lives and discussed several aspects of the unique Cuban economy.

Viñales

Viñales— Photo: David Ascanio

The following couple of days found us at two of the best birding locations in Cuba: Soplillar and Bermejas in the Zapata Peninsula. In Bermejas, our local guide (Orlando Ramirez) directed us to the area where a juvenile, a female, and an adult male Bee Hummingbird were foraging. What a moment! Seeing the smallest bird in the world was a treat, but understanding how lucky we were to have seen a male in adult plumage was even more rewarding. Soplillar was another equally good birding spot and a perfect match for Bermejas. The landscape was beautiful and the sight of a nesting Fernandina´s Woodpecker was unforgettable. We also saw Cuban Parrot perched and Cuban Parakeet in flight. Other species seen in the Zapata Peninsula included White-crowned Quail-Dove, West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Vireo, and a roost of Cuban Parrots.

Continuing with our birding-adapted itinerary, we made a long drive to Soroa, in the west part of the island. In Viñales, the presence of mogotes (rounded hills) provided a different landscape and offered an opportunity to search for the last endemic bird of the tour: the Cuban Solitaire. It didn´t take too long before we were enjoying a male singing loud and clear from an exposed branch near the entrance of a cave. This area also provided what everyone agreed upon as the best lunch for the trip: the ecological lunch at the Finca Ecológica.

Old Havana

Old Havana— Photo: David Ascanio

To close, we spent a half-day in a community project of Las Terrazas and a full day in Old Havanna. In Las Terrazas we found two pairs of Cuban Green Woodpeckers nesting and saw the only Louisiana Waterthrush reported for the tour. During our last full day in Old Havana we admired the restored buildings and had the opportunity to meet the people and students at a school. A nice informative walk was complemented by a beautiful afternoon providing unique photo opportunities of buildings, people, old cars, and an unforgettable sunset.

I want to thank you for joining me on our inaugural Cuba tour. I am proud to say that we were able to see most of the Cuban bird endemics, as well as many of the Caribbean specialties. Also, we learned so much about Cuba and its people and had the opportunity to contrast our ideas with theirs. I have to express my gratitude to Libán (our local guide), Juan Carlos (our driver), and Jorge Salas-Guevara (the International Expeditions representative) for an excellent job. Without their support our tour would not have been possible.