Following our tour of Jamaica (see following post) we flew to Cuba for a two-week visit. We stopped in transit at George Town on Grand Cayman Island, where a Vitelline Warbler was located in roadside scrub near the airport.
Clearing Customs and border control in Havana was not as bad as we feared. Although we were self-driving, we had arranged with Andy Mitchell in London (firstname.lastname@example.org) to organise car hire and other details with Havanatur. After a few hiccups with the company at the airport with travel vouchers, we were on our way, arriving in the western town ofo San Diego de los Banos without too much trouble after dark. One of the advantages of booking Andy is that the deal includes detailed directions to various destinations.
We had two nights in a delightful homestay – JuilioyCary. Our first morning saw us in an area of pine trees in La Guira National Park, not far from the town. Here we quickly connected with a local specialty, Olive-capped Warbler. Then another star attraction of the area , Cuban Solitaire, showed nicely.
|West Indian Woodpecker|
Cuban endemics and regional endemics emerged in quick succession. Best of all was a superb subadult Gundlach’s Hawk that perched close by; this is possibly the most difficult of the Cuban specialties to see. We saw Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker and Crescent-eyed Peewee as we walked the rough road in the limestone-studded dry scrub.
Also about were Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler and Cuban Bullfinch.
In the afternoon we hooked up with the local bird guide, Caesar, who was supposed to have guided us that morning but instead was booked to lead a large group of American birders; this presumably was a more attractive option financially for him.
We visited Cueva del los Portales, a large cave that was Che Guevara’s bolthole during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and were pleased to be shown large numbers of two neat bat species – the fruit-eating Articeous jamaisensis and the tiny Tadoarida brasiliensis.
We were serenaded by another Cuban Solitaire during the visit and saw La Sagra’s Flycatcher. In the afternoon we visited an area of scrubby grassland near the town with Caesar and saw a pair of Cuban Grassquits; this species is increasingly difficult to find because of the caged bird trade.
|Tawny-shouldered Blackb ird|
We also saw Tawny-shouldered Blackbird and Cuban Blackbird in the fields.
The next day was a full day of travel – a 10-hour drive to La Belan, a rustic but birdy livestock ranch in Cuba’s central-eastern Sierra de Najasa.
The only bird of note seen en route was a Western (Cuban) Meadowlark. The next morning we woke to the strange calls of Cuban Crows, which were numerous about the lodge and homestead.
We then found one of the attractions of this site – a Giant Kingbird perched in the same tree as a Loggerhead Kingbird.
Soon after we saw a small flock Cuban Palm Crows, which call and behave differently to the much more common Cuban Crows. We saw Plain Pigeon and our first Cuban Tody and Cuban Trogons of the trip.
Cuban Green Woodpeckers appeared to be quite common. Later
in the morning we teamed up with a local birding guide, Camillo, and visited
another section of the ranch , seeing little more but scoring nice views of
A flock of Cuban Parakeets were about the homestead when we returned.
Western Spindalis and Yellow-throated Warbler were among other birds seen.
In the afternoon,
with Camillo we found a Cuban Pygmy-Owl being mobbed by various warblers
including Yellow-throated, Prairie, Palm and Black-throated Blue.
The next morning, another stroll along the shady road near
the homestead turned up another 3 Giant Kingbirds and good numbers of Cuban
Palm Crows, as well as the first Rose-throated Parrot of the trip.
|Cuban Palm Crow|