Cuba, March 4-14, 2015 Mar 04—14, 2015

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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Cuba continues to offer a unique mix of birds, culture, and architecture hardly matched anywhere in the Caribbean. Our first approach to the Cuban birdlife allowed us views of the widespread Cuban Blackbird and the territorial Cuban Emerald. We also saw our first Red-legged Thrush, a distant Cuban Pewee, and several Antillean Palm Swifts nesting in the restaurant’s entrance roof.

Cuban Tody

Cuban Tody— Photo: David Ascanio

 

From Santa Clara we drove north and across the causeway to reach Cayo Coco, one of the most important birding locations in Cuba. We started the second day with superb views of Key West Quail-Dove followed by shocking views of the endemics Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, and Cuban Blackbird. Later, a family of the colorful Western Spindalis reached a low branch of a tree packed with small berries. As the day warmed up we added more endemics including Cuban Gnatcatcher, Cuban Emerald, Black-cowled (Cuban) Oriole, Cuban Vireo, Cuban Martin, and Cuban Pewee. Some of the relevant Caribbean specialties were Bahama Mockingbird and West Indies Whistling-Duck. The afternoon was slower in birdlife, but still provided views of a couple of Great Lizard-Cuckoos, active Oriente Warblers, and several Neotropical migrants. As the afternoon cooled off, many waders and American Flamingos rounded up an unforgettable day.

Cuban Trogon

Cuban Trogon— Photo: David Ascanio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We continued the tour with a drive to the town of Trinidad and later to Topes del Collante. In Trinidad we learned much of Cuba’s history at the time of the sugar mills and its importance in the Caribbean economy. A wait-time in Topes del Collante for checking-in allowed views of three new endemic birds: Cuban Trogon (national bird of the country), Black-cowled (Cuban) Oriole (now seen by everyone on the tour), and Cuban Parrot. In Topes del Collante we enjoyed a mix of nature and culture along with close views of Cuba’s national bird, the Cuban Trogon. A visit to the Colorado’s family gave us insight into the Cuban culture and its unique social system.

The Peninsula de Zapata had both a historical and ornithological connotation. From an ornithological point of view, this is probably the most important endemic bird area of Cuba. We enjoyed superb views of the astonishingly beautiful Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Bee Hummingbird, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, and Bare-legged Owl, all of which are restricted to Cuba. On one afternoon we hired three old Chevrolet taxis and drove to La Turba, a location known for the unique Zapata Wren. We came across the territory of two pairs and eventually got everyone to see this intriguing species. By watching this interesting Cuban endemic, I realized that we have set a milestone in our company’s history: we are the first VENT tour ever to see this amazing wren! To end our visit to the Zapata Swamp, we enjoyed Son Cubano music in the old Chevrolet vehicles.

Blue-headed Quail-Dove

Blue-headed Quail-Dove— Photo: David Ascanio

 

The third location offered beautiful scenery, more endemic birds, and more culture: the valley of Viñales with its unique Mogotes and the community of Las Terrazas. In Viñales we nailed a Cuban Solitaire. It was projecting its sweet and penetrating voice against the limestone of Cueva de los Indios. Additionally, the community of Las Terrazas offered the opportunity to learn about this Biosphere Reserve and allowed us to appreciate the beauty of the Cuban Grassquit, along with interesting art and unique coffee.

Once in the capital city we were astonished with the beauty of Old Havana. A full day was reserved to learn about Cuba’s colonial time and the importance of this island in the days when the Spanish ruled much of the Caribbean and South America. A visit to Hemingway’s house rounded up an unforgettable tour filled with unique birds, kid’s smiles, incredible and charming people, amazing history, and a people-to-people contact that will remain in our memories for years to come.