South America Natural Adventures

Nature travel, wildlife and birding tours, with a side of culture, to Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador & Galapagos,
Costa Rica,
Honduras, Panama, Belize, Guatemela, Cuba and more

CUBA


Welcome to Cuba, the most fascinating island in the Americas



Our next tour to Cuba begins March 26 2019

 

Our second Nature Travel Specialists people-to-people birding tour of Cuba has a slightly revised itinerary compared to our first Cuba trip. We’ve added two locations, changed the order of where we go, and added extra days to journey at a more relaxed rate. Our cultural content has increased with no diminishing of our birding and nature time. We’re also using more particulares and paladares, small private accommodation places and restaurants operated by local Cubans (most hotels and restaurants used by international visitors and many Cubans are Government-run). These are always wonderful opportunities to directly interact with the Cubans, and also to reward them for their business acumen. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and supports an incredible variety of habitats from interior tropical forests, montane forests, to extensive wetlands and mangroves. Lying only 90 miles from Miami, Cuba boasts 372 species of birds, about 23 of them endemic, with several more that we’ll see likely future splits resulting in endemicity for the Cuban form. The date and locations Birds of Cuba bookvisited are designed to give us the maximum opportunities to see and learn about Cuba’s birds while sharing knowledge and skills with the Cuban people during our stay.

Guiding our exclusive tour is ornithologist, educator, and extraordinary birding guide Arturo Kirkconnell. Arturo is the bird curator at the National Museum of Natural History of Cuba. His curriculum vitae includes 77 scientific papers and he is the author of two books: A Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba (available in both English and Spanish with more information in the Spanish edition), and A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans. At present he is working on another project, The Birds of Cuba, that will be published by the British Ornithologists Union’s BOU Checklist Series. Arturo has been leading birding tours in his native Cuba since 1988 and is the most sought after guide in the country. Our cultural Guide will have a wealth of knowledge about Cuban history, politics and general life, much of it discussed from his own life’s experiences. And just to ice the cake, he’s also an accomplished birder. Once again our overall group leader is Andrew Haffenden, making his tenth trip to Cuba in a less than three and a half years.

As an OFAC authorized Humanitarian tour and we continuously engage participants with the warm, friendly people of Cuba in addition to our strong emphasis on birds, nature and culture. You will experience Cuba in a most personal way, through the eyes of the Cubans. We meet with local biologists and naturalists as we visit reserves and other nature areas where Cuban endemic species as well as specialty bird species are located. We also visit local farmers, art galleries and have other cultural opportunities to exchange our experiences and ideas of the US so as we learn about Cuba, the Cubans learn about us. Most restaurants feature musicians, as the arts are considered a real career in Cuba so are fostered and supported. We often get the chance to discuss the music with them, sharing our different experiences and perspectives. Our meetings and interactions with all the people we meet along the way, from Professors to farmers to everyday Cubans serve to promote two-way understanding and insight to Cubans from people who live outside the Cuban borders and to bring skills and knowledge to local Cubans to improve their life within Cuba.

Open a pdf of this tour that can be saved to your device here.

 

 

ITINERARY

 

Day 1 – Home City/Havana/Viñales Valley
Fly to Havana today, making sure you arrive no later than 1.35pm, as we leave for the Viñales region in Pinar del Rio province, a little under four hours away, about 2.30pm. The Viñales valley is an area rich in birdlife and with some of the best landscape in Cuba. The prime landscape of feature of the region are the mogotes, outcrops limestone karst forming hills ranging from about 50ft to 1000ft. They are usually steep sided and often domed, due to a hard, weathered limestone cap and softer limestone sides. Caves are found throughout the mogotes, including shallow open ones where one can see stalactites while driving the roads. We’ll spend two nights here to have time to enjoy the area, and get our bird list off to a good start with endemic Cuban Blackbird.

Day 2 – Viñales Valley
We’ll record many of the birds today that will become familiar to us over our Cuba Journey including Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Cuban Bullfinch, Cuban Green Woodpecker and the stunning Red-legged Thrush, which like the Western Spindalis is particularly colorful in Cuba. Cuban Grassquit and Cuban Solitaire are most likely to be found in the Viñales area, and we’ll make a special effort for these. The Solitaire, a rather drab bird, is usually not difficult to find by call, but much harder to see even when close. Its call sounds like what you might get if you crossed a Yellow-breasted Chat with a Wood Thrush, and is quite ventriloquial. As it prefers densely foliaged trees and stays still, it can be a frustrating beast indeed. But we have plenty of time, and should be successful. We’ll be going to a number of locations with opportunities, but especially Cueva de los Portales adjacent to Parque Nacional La Guira. This large cave in a mogote is both scenic and historic; Che Guevara used it as the headquarters of his army during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it is now Cueva de los Portales adjacent to Parque Nacional La Guira. This large cave in a mogote is both scenic and historic; Che Guevara used it as the headquarters of his army during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it is now national monument. Among the pine trees we’ll look for endemic Yellow-headed Warbler and regional endemic Olive-capped Warbler.

Day 3 – Viñales Valley/Playa Larga
We depart for Playa Larga this morning – our departure will depend on whether we need to find and record any birds we missed or need further time with. We’ll along the way make a stop at a lake that is good for ducks, Least Grebes, kingfishers and other waterbirds. We’ll also make other stops as needed for birding along the way, especially at some agricultural ponds for Snail Kite, herons and egrets and the likely to become endemic Eastern Meadowlark. We should arrive mid-afternoon in Playa Larga, located at the norther tip of Bahía de Cochinos, better known to most in the US as the famous or infamous, depending on your outlook, Bay of Pigs. Immediately adjacent is Zapata Swamp, the largest and best preserved and protected swamp in the entire Antilles, and is home to many endemic plants, birds and other animals, including the extremely endangered Cuban Crocodile. Tonight and another nights we’ll check a couple of spots for the nearly mythical Stygian Owl, and we’ll also look for other night birds such as the former Greater Antillean Nightjar, now split resulting in another endemic, Cuban Nightjar.

Day 4 – Playa Larga

The Zapata Swamp is rich in birds – it supports 20 of Cuba’s 23 or so endemics - so once again endemics will be high on our list. The southern race of Zapata Sparrow is usually reliable here, and though patience is required for this shy species, and Zapata Wren is also usually encountered here. While looking for these we also listen for the rare Cuban Sandhill Crane. Gundlach’s Hawk breeds here, and both endemic Red-shouldered and near endemic Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds (the island of Hispaniola is its other location) should be seen here. The large Great Lizard-cuckoo is common, and Cuban Oriole is often seen in flowering shrubs and trees, including in built-up areas. There’s an area nearby that’s usually good for Grey-fronted Quail-dove and White-crowned Pigeon. As we have a number of areas within easy reach, and birds can be harder to see in the thick swamp and forest we’ve devoted two full days to Zapata, giving us both better chances of finding everything, and time for both careful study and getting important photographs for the records. One day we’ll visit the home of a local couple, whose yard attracts both Bee Hummingbirds and Cuban Emeralds due to the planting of preferred food species. Those interested can learn more about the Bay of Pigs invasion at a small museum in Playa Giron.

Day 5 – Sunday, February 10: Playa Larga area
We continue to find and record the birds and natural world of Zapata, visiting a large saline area where we find hundreds of American Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbill, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Red Knot during migration, Gull-billed Terns, Cuban Yellow Warbler, and many more. We take river journey in a small boat to search for birds in a fresh to brackish water environment, and may see the endangered Cuban Crocodile. One morning a local guide takes us to a protected area with many endemics – Cuban Trogon, Tody, Oriole, Screech Owl, Pewee, Vireo, Parakeet and Parrot can all be found here, as can the endemics Bare-legged Owl, Blue-headed and Gray-fronted Quail-doves. By walking around the village we can interact and learn more about our Cuban neighbors, as they do of us.


 

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