Cuba Feb 28—Mar 11, 2017
Our second-of the-year tour to the largest of the Greater Antilles welcomed us with a mix of endemic and restricted distribution birds, unique Caribbean culture, and interesting architecture. And that’s because Cuba is an island packed with superlatives! On our first day we were already seeing unique birds, starting with views of Giant Kingbird, a bird with a huge bill, inviting discussion about its diet. But there wasn’t time to philosophize about the natural history of each bird because a Cuban Pygmy-Owl was found singing from a low branch, and the unique Cuban Tody flew to a limb in front of us. To round out an unforgettable morning, several Cuban Crows kept flying over our heads, and the threatened Plain Pigeon was observed through the scope. Was that all? Of course not! We also nailed two endemic Psittacidae, the Cuban Parrot and the Cuban Parakeet perched on a fruiting tree. Wow! Is there a better way to start a tour?
Back to Camaguey, we enjoyed a typical Cuban lunch and headed north, to the Jardines del Rey archipelago. Here we met Odey Martinez, a local ornithologist who has been protecting birds and their habitats for decades. From Odey we learned about projects to preserve bird habitats as we searched for the unique Cuban Gnatcatcher, the Zapata Sparrow, Cuban Bullfinch, and Cuban Pewee. There were also a few Cuban Black Hawks and several Greater Antillean Grackles. The cocktail of birds became even richer when we visited a small wetland and enjoyed views of boreal migrants including the locally uncommon Long-billed Curlew and the threatened Piping Plover. There were other shorebirds including Short-billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Willets. But the secretive Bahama Mockingbird eluded us. Fortunately we had another morning, so at the crack of dawn the following day we drove again to Cayo Paredón Grande and, after a bit of searching, there it was, perched quietly on a fairly open branch, the one we were missing: the Bahama Mockingbird.
Our next location was on the opposite side of the island, in the Caribbean Sea at the Ancón peninsula. On the following day we paid a visit to the Parque El Cubano where Cuban Nightjar eluded us (despite that it was singing continuously). How frustrating it is to have a bird very close and still not see it! But this park provided great views of the Cuban Trogon (Cuba’s national bird), Cuban Vireo, White-crowned Pigeon, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, and the Cuban Emerald. In the mangrove wetlands contiguous to the hotel we saw more sandpipers, egrets, and herons.