Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Birding Cuba Part 2: Coco Cayo to Playa Larga

Fernandina's Flicker
Following our visit to La Belen (see following post) we headed north for a three-day stay on the tourist island of Cayo Coco where the tariff for our hotel, the Sol Cayo Coco - like all the upmarket accommodation here - includes as much food and alcohol as you care to consume. (Beware, the spirits are severely diluted.)

Cuban Gnatcatcher
Early in the morning we headed east to the lighthouse on Cayo Paredon Grande. The mosquitoes were horrific but failed to prevent us from connecting with the specialties at this site in arid coastal scrub and mangroves. We found Cuban Gnatcatcher and Oriente Warbler in quick succession on a road near the lighthouse.

Thick-billed Vireo
Soon after we had good views of a Thick-billed Vireo in the mangroves and we were to see a couple more as we strolled back along the main road in.

Cuban Green Woodpecker
Cuban Oriole and Cuban Green Woodpecker were among the birds that showed which we had seen earlier and we saw Cuban Emerald and La Sagra’s Flycatcher again.

Cuban Oriole
In the surrounding saline wetlands we found a flock of American Flamingoes.

American Flamingo
Some waders were about including Greater Yellowleg, Semipalmated Plover and Grey Plover.

Greater Yellowlegs
We saw several Cuban Black-Hawks close to the road.

Cuban Black-Hawk
The next morning we headed east to Cape Guillermo, following directions provided by Andy Mitchell (see following post for Andy’s address). We found Bahama Mockingbird fairly easily in low coastal scrub – one bird singing close to the road and a couple of others moving about; they were much more skulky than the more numerous Northern Mockingbirds. We also found a flock of 4 Cuban (Zapata) Sparrows of the race that is endemic to these cays.

We looked unsuccessfully for Cuban Nightjar in the early hours of our last morning on Cayo Coco before heading west again to the Zapata Reserve for a 5-night stay at Playa Larga on the Bay of Pigs.  Our delightful casa particular, Villo Rio Mar, overlooked this historic bay in an attractive setting.
We were off early in the morning with our guide, Angel Garcia (  to explore Cuba’s premiere birding site and endeavour to clean up the country’s endemics and regional endemics. 
Crescent-eyed Peewee
Success came early in coastal scrub near the town of Soplillar with a wonderful pair of Fernandina’s Flickers displaying atop a dead tree; the birds flew in close for excellent views.
Next was a pair of Grey-fronted Quail-Doves on the road as we drove slowly along, followed shortly afterwards by 3 Blue-headed Quail-Doves; both endemic quail-doves can be difficult to find.
We reconnected with other birds we had seen elsewhere including Crescent-eyed Peewee, Cuban Emerald, Cuban Tody and Rose-throated Parrot.

Rose-throated Parrot
Cuban Tody
We then saw one of Cuba’s star attractions: the world’s smallest bird. A Bee Hummingbird perched atop a dead snag and we had great views of at least 3 of these tiny hummers, both perched and feeding. In the afternoon we visited a site near Soplillar that commemorates the anniversary of the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Bee Hummingbird

Bee Hummingbird
We left early on our second morning at Playa Larga for La Turba in the heart of the huge Zapata swamp. Before sunrise we enjoyed close views of a Cuban Nightjar on the road.
As the sun rose over the vast expanse of reeds, we connected with the Zapata Wren, which is endemic to this marshland. The wren can be easily missed but we enjoyed fantastic views of a bird singing at close quarters.

Zapata Wren

We moved further into the swamp for equally close views of a pair of Cuban (Zapata) Sparrows – these birds of a different race to those we saw more distantly on Cayo Coco, and possibly a different species.

Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow
On the road back we saw a pair of another of the region’s specialties – Red-shouldered Blackbird, along with more Cuban Blackbirds.
Cuban Blackbird
 Near Palipite we had close up views of the Cuban race of Northern Flicker, likely a different species.
In marshland nearby we had several waterbirds including Tricoloured Heron. In the afternoon we visited Cueva de los Pecas – a 70-metre deep sinkhole south of Playa Larga that connects to the ocean through an underground cave.

Tricoloured Heron
The next morning we went with Angel early in the morning in search of owls around Playa Larga. We checked out 4 sites he had for Stygian Owl; we heard one quite close to our casa and finally had reasonable views of one in flight in a timber yard on the edge of town. Soon after we tracked down a family party of Bare-legged (Cuban Screech) Owls in roadside scrub; 2 adults and 1 or 2 juveniles were about and one of the birds showed nicely.

Bare-legged Owl
Later in the day we visited Playa Giron and visited the museum commemorating the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, when American-backed Cuban mercenaries were repelled by Fidel  Castro’s forces. The United States to this day continues to impose its vindictive, cruel and contemptible embargo on this impoverished island nation.

Blue-headed Quail-Dove
On the way back to Playa Larga we called in again on La Ceuva de los Pecas, where we saw 4 Blue-headed Quail-Doves close to the restaurant; the birds are fed by the staff and are very tame.
As we departed Playa Larga for a 3-day stay in Havana to complete our visit to Cuba, we called in at the village of Palpite where Bee Hummingbirds are known to congregate around a feeding tree. We saw several but the males were in eclipse plumage. Plenty of Cuban Emeralds were also about.

Cuban Emerald
I ended my photographic exploration of Cuba’s avifauna by snapping what was probably the most numerous bird that we saw – Palm Warbler. Our trip was hugely successful, with all 39 targets seen (although Bill missed his West Indian Whistling-Duck) including all 26 "gettable" Cuban endemics.

Palm Warbler

Grey-fronted Quail-Dove

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Birding Cuba Part 1 - La Guira to La Belen

Cuban Trogon
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.
Cuban Bullfinch
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 ( 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.

Cuban Solitaire
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.

Yellow-headed Warbler
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.

Articeous jamaisensis

Tadaorida brasiliensis
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.

Cuban Vireo
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.

Cuban Crow
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.

Giant 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.

Great Lizard-Cuckoo
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 Great Lizard-Cuckoo.

Cuban Parakeet
A flock of Cuban Parakeets were about the homestead when we returned. Western Spindalis and Yellow-throated Warbler were among other birds seen.

Cuban Pygmy-Owl
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.

Cuban Palm Crow
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.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Birding Jamaica

Following our visit to Puerto Rico (see following post) we flew to Kingston via Fort Lauderdale in the U.S. for a 7-day tour of Jamaica. At the airport we were met by Wayne Murdoch of Attractions Link, our guide and driver whose services we highly recommend (see here). We arrived after dark at our accommodation for the first 3 nights – the Starlight Chalet in the Blue Mountains, a nicely positioned spot with birdy gardens.

Red-billed Strreamertail
Early in the first morning the first of many specialties and endemics showed. A pair of Orangequits were feeding at one of the hummer feeders along with numerous  Red-billed Streamertails – a stunner of a hummer.

Birding with Wayne Murdoch - Blue Mountains
Also in the garden was a Sad Flycatcher and plenty of American warblers such as Black-throated Blue and Cape May. After breakfast we headed uphill through Hardwar Gap and Blue Mountains National Park, birding the road to 1500m to a few hundred metres beyond the Gap Cafe.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
We found a Jamaican Blackbird (one of the more difficult endemics to find) probing epiphytes about 500 metres beyond the Gap, behaving like no other blackbird. A Jamaican Oriole was similarly probing the moss-laden vegetation.

Sad Flycatcher 
We saw a Ring-tailed Pigeon perched and several others flying over. Jamaican Becard and Jamaican Peewee were seen along with the two endemic thrushes – White-eyed Thrush and White-chinned, the latter much more common.\

White-chinned Thrush
Jamaican Vireos were plentiful and we found a couple of Blue Mountain Vireos without much trouble.

Jamaican Vireo
 Arrowhead Warbler was seen a few times along with Jamaican Euphonia and Jamaican Spindalis. Yellow-shouldered Grassquits were seen in close proximity to Yellow-faced and Black-faced Grassquits.

Loggerhead Kingbird
Other birds seen during a busy morning session in delightful surroundings included plenty of Loggerhead Kingbirds, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Jamaican Woodpecker and Greater Antillean Elaenia.  

Jamaican Becard
In the afternoon, Jamaican Mango was a surprise find at one of the garden hummer feeders. Just 200m from the lodge we flushed a Crested Quail-Dove from the road; the bird was found perched close by for excellent if brief close-up views.

Ring-tailed Pigeon
Our next morning followed a similar plan, though this time we birded as far as Woodside Drive. We had much better views of the Peewee and scored Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Jamaican Tody and Jamaican Elaenia. Another Crested Quail-Dove was flushed.

Jamaican Peewee
We lunched at the café at the pass (where a flyby Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo was seen briefly) before visiting the Dennis Coffee Farm at Section. Organically grown coffee is processed here manually, bean by bean, by a team of energetic Rastafarian men enlivened by the odd puff of ganja.

Jamaican Oriole
We were up very early on our final morning for a fantastic encounter with the trickiest endemic - Jamaican Owl. A bird perched right over our heads in a tree in front of the lodge; it was attracted to the playback of a juvenile begging.

Jamaican Tody
We saw a Rufous-tailed Flycatcher in the garden before packing off and heading north to the coast to our destination for the nest 3 nights - the delightful Bay View Villas eco-resort a little east of Port Antonio.

Rufous-tailed Flycatcher
White-crowned Pigeon was common in trees about the lodge. We were up early for the 45-minute drive to John Crow Mountains National Parks along the Ecclesdown Road further east.

White-crowned Pigeon
We flushed our third Crested Quail-Dove for the trip early in the morning on the way in. We had heavy rain for the first couple of hours but when it cleared we quickly found both Yellow-billed Parrots and Black-billed Parrots in surprisingly good numbers - a total of about 60 Black-billeds and 110 Yellow-billeds.

Black-billed Parrot
We lured a Jamaican Crow into view with the playback of an Australian Raven call.

Jamaican Spindalis
We saw many birds seen earlier in the Blue Mountains including Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Jamaican Spindalis and Jamaican Elaenia.

Rufous-throated Solitaire
Others included Rufous-throated Solitaire and Black-billed Streamertail, regarded by some as a separate species from Red-billed.

Black-billed Streamertail
During an afternoon drive around Port Antonio we enjoyed close-up views of Jamaican Mango.

Jamaican Mango
Our second morning at Port Antonio was spent walking several well-vegetated roads in the San San area, seeing little of interest other than nice views of Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo. The Chesnut-bellied Cuckoo was inexplicably missed; 28 out of 29 possible targets were seen on what was an excellent trip.

Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo
After leaving Port Antonio our last night in Jamaica was spent in Kingston at the Port Royal Hotel. On the way to Kingston we called into the Castleton Botanic Gardens, where we saw a pair of Jamaican Crows.

Jamaican Crow