Cuba Day 4 #822-#829 in Parque Nacional Cienaga de Zapata including the World’s Smallest Bird

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

We started Saturday morning with breakfast and then headed out at first light. On the bus ride to the first site, we encountered a mass of thousands of land crabs scuttling across the road. These were likely Gecarcinus ruricola. I would have liked to stop to look at them; but birds were the goal, not crustaceans, so we drove on past (and over) the crabs.

First stop was a bird blind where several dove species were feeding. I added #822 Blue-headed Quail Dove and #823 Key West Quail Dove, but missed Gray-headed Quail Dove because there were simply too many people in the group for everyone to see at once. The trip was overly large at 17 people including guides; it should have been half the size it was. :-(

Blue-headed Quail-Dove

Cuba Day 3: #819 to #821 at Cueva de los Portales

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Day 3, Friday, we grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and then drove to Cueva de los Portales, a holiday camp and park featuring caves where Che Guevara hid during the Missile Crisis.

Cueva de los Portales, the cave where Che Guevara stayed during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Also many Cave Swallows:


Cuba Day 2: #806 in Old Havana; #807-#818 in Pinar del Rio

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Day 2 was all birding. We got up early and had a quick continental breakfast at the hotel. Then we walked the three blocks to where we could meet our bus, and added #806 Cuban Martin (aka Cuban Swallow) while waiting to load our baggage. (Lucky too. These were the only ones we ended up seeing the whole trip, and it’s an endemic species.)

We drove about an hour and a half west out of the city into the Pinar del Rio province where our first stop was the Ecological Station of Canada del Infierno, (aka Sierra del Rosario–we moved around a lot and not speaking Spanish I’m a little hazy on the exact names of some of the places we visited). Here we met our local ornithologist guide Hiram Gonzalez for the first time, and chatted with him and Fidel Hernandez Figueroa about local birds and conservation projects. Then it was out into the field for some birds! It was a very pleasant walk, through some gorgeous Caribbean scenery with lots of good birds including #807, Cuban Bullfinch, #808 La Sagra’s Flycatcher, and #809, Cuban Emerald. There was also a possible Cuban Vireo that I missed, and a possible Cuban Grassquit seen by some of the group.

La Sagra's Flycatcher (Myiarchus sagrae)

#803-#805 in Old Havana

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

We arrived in Cuba today almost before we left Miami due to the difference in Daylight Savings Time (though this won’t be posted until some time later due to the lack of Wifi access in Cuba). Of course I got held up by the second most annoying customs inspection I’ve ever had to go through. The inspector looked at almost every piece of optics I had, most of which I had to explain to him. I had to put the spotting scope together and show him how it worked. He took photos of most of it. I’m not sure why. He was very impressed with my 17″ MacBook Pro. Apparently even in Cuba, Apple products are considered cool. Although I was the first one in our group through the metal detector (not sure why, but in Cuba they X-Ray you coming off the plane; looking for contraband I guess) I was the last one to exit customs. Still not as bad as flying back into Miami though.

But we finally got to the hotel around 11:30. The drive from the airport was interesting: Cuba certainly isn’t a rich country but somehow it doesn’t look like a poor one either. In many ways, it looks in better shape than parts of the United States. Poor but not rundown or abandoned. Many, perhaps most, buildings look a little shabby, but that’s common in any tropical country where you need to paint and repair annually or the jungle takes over. It took me a while to put my finger on the real difference I saw between Cuba and other places I’ve visited in the developing world: everyone’s in the same boat. In Panama or Puerto Rico, and to a lesser extent Beijing, there’s an obvious contrast between quite wealthy people and extremely poor people. I don’t see that here because I don’t see wealthy people, or big houses, or apartments, or mansions, pretty much anywhere we’ve been so far. We’ll see if this holds up as more of the country is explored. It’s often in rural areas where most tourists don’t go (but birders do) where you find the deepest poverty.

We grabbed a carb-heavy lunch at a local restaurant, and afterwards explored old Havana. Even before lunch I caught a glimpse of my first lifer, #803, Cuban Blackbird. on top of a building. However I didn’t get a good luck, and couldn’t swear it wasn’t a Greater Antillean Grackle. But we found several again after lunch with much better looks.

Cuban Blackbird