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


Your Cuba tour continues...


mangrove cuckooDay 9 - Tuesday, April 25: Cayo Coco/Camaguey
After some early morning mop-up birding and photo opportunities around Cayo Coco we head back over thepony carts causeway then drive to Camaguey, about three hours away in east central Cuba. As on all our drives our guides will be on the alert for birds, and we’ll also stop to visit some villages along the way. Our cultural guide Gustavo takes the opportunity offered on these drives by telling us about Cuban life in his inimitable style. One of the fascinating aspects of Cuba is the ingenuity of the people in the face of shortages of nearly everything. The variety of transport seen throughout the island speaks testament to this. Camaguey, Cuba’s third largest city with 300,000 residents, has a nice town square, and a walk along the main street reveals many shops for locals, with everything from shoes to large appliances. This is a slice of non-tourist Cuba, as it is not on the usual international visitor’s route, and not polished up to attract them. English is heard little among the adult population, though children learn it in school. We’ll turn in early tonight as we want to make a very early start tomorrow to be ready shortly after dawn in the best area for the near-endemic Palm Crow and endemic Fernandina’s Flicker, two often difficult to find birds.

fernandina's flickerDay 5 – Wednesday, April 26: La Belen and Najasa areagiant kingbird
The area we will be exploring today is open country with many palm groves and a mixture of semi-deciduous woods on foothills at low elevations. We'll leave our hotel very early, as we want to be starting our birding at first light, when there is more activity and to avoid the heat of the middle part of the day in these open areas. We'll have a picnic breakfast in the field, in a birdy area to add to our field time. About 120 species of birds have been reported in the area, a number of which are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere in Cuba. Cuban Palm Crow, Giant Kingbird and Fernandina’s Flicker center in our radar, along with localized Plain Pigeon. Endemics Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Parrot, Bare-legged Owl, and Cuban Pygmy-owl, plus regional endemic Cuban Crow are also here. On our previous trip we had the opportunity to compare Loggerhead and Giant Kingbirds side by side. We overnight again in Camaguey, once again engaging with ordinary Cubans to share aspects of our lives in each of our countries.


Day 6 – Thursday, April 27: Camaguey/Trinidad/Cienfuegos

great lizard-cuckoo Today is our least birdy day, with a greater emphasis on culture and countryside, as we have a long drive to Trinidad, about five hours. However we will take all day to do this, allowing for plenty of stops for both birds – West Indian Woodpecker is widespread through here, as are Smooth-billed Ani, Great Lizard-church tower trinidadcuckoo and the white-fronted Cuban form of American Kestrel. Throughout the tour we’ll be checking the sky, posts and open trees for endemic Gundlach’s Hawk, similar enough to Cooper’s Hawk to make birders glad the latter does not occur in Cuba! As we head east we’ll pass through cities, towns and villages, in mostly rolling farmland. We’ll stop for birding using Arturo’s knowledge, and arrive in the small city of Trinidad for a possibly latish lunch, depending on the birding. Trinidad is a very attractive historical city, with many Spanish style, pastel-painted buildings. It has more the air of Antigua de Guatemala and Granada in Nicaragua, though not as grand, than other Cuban cities. We’ll take the opportunity to walk around, poking our heads into shops, including the ration stores, well-known but little understood outside Cuba. We’ll also visit a chapel of the smooth-billed anisfastest growing religion in Cuba, Santeria, which was developed under the guise of Catholicism, but is an African-derived religion that does not believe in an afterlife, rather doing things for others in this life is its goal. As an act of cleansing to purity new adherents spend the first year clothed exclusively in white. After our time on Trinidad we visit a coffee farm to meet with the owner and some of his family, learn about coffee growing and especially discuss the relationship of Cuban farmers with the Government, including land ownership, transfer, who they can sell their crop to and similar issues. This is always a fascinating time, and we can buy coffee direct from the farm, which is strongly suggested as this farm grows some of the best coffee in Cuba. We then drive to Cienfuegos, a larger and very different city to Trinidad, where we overnight.

Day 7 – Friday, April 28: Cienfuegos/Bermajas/Playa Larga
We make a relatively early start and drive to Bermejas, about an hour away, picking up Reserve Manager Orlando in his village along the way. cuban parakeetbee hummingbirdBermejas is a nationally significant fauna reserve of dry thick scrub, palm trees and wetter forest on ridges. We’ll take our first shot at the Bee Hummingbird on some favorite food shrubs in a very small village, then enter the reserve where a hide has been built on one of the tracks. The area is a stronghold for several Cuban endemics, and the hide is our best place to see a great one – Blue-headed Quail-dove - and we may also see the other endemic, Gray-fronted; in fact all four quail-doves are possible here as both Ruddy and Key West are here as well. Another endemic frequently seen here is Cuban Parakeet; Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Tody and Cuban Trogon are reliable as is Cuban Pewee, and Cuban Pygmy-owl and Cuban Parrot are often seen. Cuban Vireo, Zenaida Dove and Western Spindalis are other likely species. After our time in the reserve we continue southwest, reaching the coast and the Caribbean Sea at the town of Girón at the southeast corner of the Bahía de Cochinos, better known to most in the US as the infamous or famous, depending on your outloobare-legged owlk, Bay of Pigs. We’ll see, and stop for photographs of, signs extolling the Cuban success here in defeating the American, or rather Cuban-American, invasion. This was not only a success for Cuba, but is lauded as the first defeat of Yankee iblue-headed quail-dovemperialism in Latin America. From Girón we swing north along the eastern shore of the bay to its northernmost point, the village of Playa Larga, where we overnight in a particulare for three nights. Our lunch at a local paladare will be followed by a talk by Dr Frank Medina, the Director of the Zapata National Park, part of the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve. Zapata Swamp is 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. After the talk and question and answer period we’ll check into our accommodation, then start birding in this rich area. 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.

 

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