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CUBA: Cayo Coco & La Belen
27 March to 3 April 2010
by Mark Dennis
Cuba is an inspiring Caribbean destination for birders but one that requires a certain amount of single-mindedness to see all of its available endemics and near-endemics in a one week trip. Our approach for our first trip was to be based at one of the hotels in Cayo Coco, making one significant trip to the mainland. Cuba is cheap enough from Canada to visit more than once so, in theory at least, a second trip will allow us to see the birds found from the Zapata Peninsula and east and let us sample again the relaxed Cuban way and friendly people.
Cayo Coco is normally the last port of call on the anti-clockwise route around Cuba taken by most birders. The species on offer there might all be seen inside a couple of days although some can be frustrating to find. Cayo Coco and adjacent cays lie off Cuba’s northern shore and are reached via a long causeway north of the town of Moron (pron: Moor-ron). From Cayo Coco there is access to Cayo Paredon Grande and Cayo Guillermo; both must visit places if you’d like to see their specialities. After browsing many Cuba trip reports I still felt that more information on the area would be useful, therefore this report will deal primarily with birding in the Cayo Coco area.
We used Selloffvacations.com as they had been ok previously and for their prices it is hard to be too disappointed. Our carrier/vacation provider was Air Canada who were fine, our departure point was Montreal. The flights both ways were comfortable, about 3h 40m long and at reasonable times. We chose the Krystal Laguna (all inclusive) because it looked OK in the photos, it was well placed for moving around the cays and to the mainland and the travel advisor web site comments were about 70% good. To be honest the food was not great and the all day disco around the pool a pain but we did see some good birds in and around the extensive grounds and we could/should have upgraded to a chalet on the lagoon for a little more peace. The room was OK but the cold water appeared to be turned off at night and the aircon worked but made interesting noises after being turned off, on the upside we did get a bottle of water every day and they have safes in each room.
Breakfast was from 07:30 and contained items that would do for lunch, there are few other opportunities to eat and drink on the cays away from the hotels so a bag full of cake was welcome, if you wanted fruit you needed to take it at dinner time. The room had a view over a small plantation, no balcony but double windows which slid apart, see the trip list for the birds seen in the hotel grounds and vicinity. At night noise was a bit of a problem, not so much from the shows, which stopped before 23:00, more from the bottom feeders who clanked around slamming doors and screaming after the La Tourmentos (sic) disco shut at 02:00, death’s too good for them.
As we were travelling on UK passports, but are permanent residents of Canada (not sang the song yet though), we found it difficult to get good advice on tourist visas. The very helpful SelloffVacations rep assured us that we could just fill out a form on the plane and this was so. At the airport we got asked a lot of questions and the birding gear was examined at the customs checkpoint, we were then stopped and asked further questions about any visits to the USA we had made etc. As we had recently twitched an Ivory Gull in nearby New York State this complicated things for the guy asking the questions, you could say our explanation cut no ice, if you really wanted to. Coming back was informal and the Airport at Cayo Coco is neat, tidy and clean and the opportunities to buy souvenirs with some beardie guy on overwhelming.
We looked into booking a car in advance on the web but the pick-up location was a hotel 10km away and unless a taxi is handy it’s a good walk! Our hotel reception called their car guys and someone picked us up inside five minutes, we were impressed until we realised his office was just 500m away from the complex. For 72 CuC (see money) per day we got a Hyundai Lumbago (or Atoz) which was very good on gas, c1200km for about 66 CuC total. If you hire one of these the onsite hotel pharmacy will sell diclofenac, a marvellous drug that will give you relief from the back pain you and your passenger will endure after driving a relatively short distance (passenger singular, don’t even think about picking up one of the many hitch hikers unless they have no legs) also, if you are taller than five foot six, expect the need to re-think your normal driving posture, think wishbone. We had one minor mishap, a puncture which happened overnight. We had to take the car to the local Government depot five minutes away where they fixed the puncture (for 5.0 CuC). Gas stations are reasonable frequent, modern and sell a limited range of refreshments and supplies.
Cuban drivers are very responsible and very few and far between off the beaten track but then most traffic is horse or pedal driven. The roads we used were reasonably good and mostly tarmac, some areas had potholes so look out for them. There is a toll to get on and off the cays, 2 CuC each way. The cheeky young guy at the locked barrier to Cayo Paredon Grande kept saying toll to us in Spanish, there is no toll there but the old fella who locked and unlocked the gate did get the price of a couple of beers on exit. Expect to meet some roadside security checks, drive up to them slowly if they do not have a stop (pare) sign, if they want to check you they will wave you in. Expect to see a ton of hitchhikers. If your car is big enough then pick them up but as a tourist you are not obliged to, they know that but still try to flag you down, your choice.
Cuba uses a dual currency system with a tourist currency called the convertible peso (CuC). Your hotel or a bank will supply you with as many as you need. Gas stations etc. are not credit card orientated and if your card is issued in the USA forget it anywhere anyway. The rate in March 2010 was 80 CuC to $100CAN. We tipped where appropriate, two or three CuCs at a time, nobody ever forced a tip. At the airport on exit you can change your CuCs back to your currency, bills only 5 CuCs upwards can be changed, there are usually a few people around wanting to convert tips in non Cuban currency to CuCs so help them out if you can. One thing to remember is the departure tax, paid after check-in, 25 CuC per person at the time of writing.
Because Cuba have been rude to the USA in the past they are still under strict trade sanctions which means that goods you take for granted at home are luxury items there. If you stay at a resort, don’t give the resort staff all of your gifts, they are the rich ones, they sell them to the other Cubans who do not have access to a steady flow of supplies because most of the all-inclusive tourists just lie like slugs on the beach (thankfully!) and so they give their stuff to the same people every the time. We took a few things with us that a birder would appreciate and gave them to Pedro Regalado, not for services, just as a gift. We also tipped him for helping us with a bit of birding.
security & weather
There is no malaria in Cuba, check with your country’s travel advisory for the latest situation on other exciting possibilities though. Take Mosquito repellent (and sun-block!) and expect to use it. Trails on cays will have some mossies, more will find you if you stray off the paths. And now a word of warning. We visited the Camaguay area and I think it is there that we picked up some ticks. My wife Sandra got a pair of beauties but they only took a couple of pints, I also had a couple. Research leads us to think that they were probably from Amblyomma cajennenses.
I also managed about 400 bites from another unexpected source. Most were on my feet, ankles and legs, some were in more delicate areas and were still being removed when we got home. I kicked a patch of seaweed n Cayo Guillermo and lots of hoppers hopped, presumably straight up my trouser leg. Needless to say nothing has fallen off yet so hopefully the damage is only temporary. Tuck your long trousers into your shorts, spray with Deet.
Every Cuban we met was friendly or ambivalent to us and we had no problems at all. Folk in rural areas are curious of birdwatchers, perhaps because they don’t really see the point. As you will be aware Cubans speak Spanish so expect to have to struggle a bit if you don’t, a phrase book or prepared sentences are useful. If you are any good at charades you’ll be fine.
The weather was hot throughout our stay, no rain, some cloud on a couple of mornings, mostly breezy, temperatures between 26°C-32°C
On Cayo Coco we self guided, at Najasa & El Pilar south of Camaguay we dropped in unannounced on Pedro Regalado, the eminent Cuban Ornithologist and all round good guy. Even at short notice he was willing to take us out to look for Fernandina’s Flicker and Cuban Grassquit. The fact that we saw neither was down to us getting there too late and being out in the heat of the day and not a lack of skill on his part, he did get us the two small owls though and was happy to try again for the flicker and grassquit later in the day when the heat had dropped and the chances improved but, unfortunately, we had to return to Cayo Coco and so could only bird with him for a few hours. He is highly recommended, is passionate about birds, birding and conservation and can be contacted via his daughter’s email address at email@example.com he can show you all of the specialities of the Najasa area and is willing to guide in other areas of Cuba too. You can also just knock on his door, currently the first two storey house in El Pillar, pending the completion of his new (own) place, I promise you, if you are a dyed in the wool birder you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.
We had also intended to contact Odey Martinez who Pedro recommended. He guides in the Cayo Coco area from Moron and we’d planned to try to contact him for our last full day but as it transpired circumstances prevented this however, he can be contacted on Moron 0133 301064 or, if calling from Cayo Coco, 301063.
Trip reports were downloaded, butchered and bound to make a working ‘where to watch’ guide for the areas we were visiting, especially those with maps. We also bought the map of Cuba (International Travel Maps) from their web site. How we got to where we went is covered under sites visited. We took the standard, but dated ‘Birds of Cuba’ by Garrido & Kirkconnel as a reference and used ‘Birds of the West Indies’ by Rafael in the field which sufficed. We put ‘Cantos de Aves de Cuba’ on the ipod, supplemented by crucial absentees from Xeno Canto. Unfortunately the speakers that were perfect on departure from Montreal had died after landing in Cuba so we used the car CD MP3 player plugged into the ipod but it was hardly portable!
27-March – Left Montreal at 06:35, birding by 11:41 in grounds of hotel Krystal Laguna - 35 species, 11 lifers.
28-March – am: Krystal Laguna, pm: Cayo Guillermo – 58 species, 7 lifers.
29-March – Flamingo Track, Park el Baga, Cayo Paredon Grande, Cuevas del Jabali (Wild Boar Cave), Blau Colonial Sewage Pools, 56 species, 3 lifers.
30-March – am: Flamingo Track, Cuevas del Jabali. Pm: Cayo Coco causeway, road to Bolivia and area, night drive along Flamingo Track and area, 73 species, 6 lifers.
31-March – early am: Krystal Laguna grounds, drove to Najasa overnight and birding access road at Park La Belen, 77 species, 10 lifers.
01-April – early am: Access track and grounds at Park la Belen, late am: El Pilar area with Pedro Regalado, late pm: Flamingo Track, Cuevas del Jabali & Blau Colonial Sewage Pools, 78 species, 3 lifers.
02-April – early am: Cuevas del Jabali, Flamingo Track, pm: Cayo Guillermo, Krystal Laguna, 72 species, 2 lifers.
03-April – early am: Krystal Laguna, fly home, 15 species.
Total 126 species, 42 lifers.
Dawn was around 06:40, dusk 19:50.
This vast hotel is actually two rolled into one. The grounds are a patchwork of small plantations or lavatories, as people seem to think they are. There is a large lagoon (laguna) on which chalets have been built and into which they also flush so perhaps not so ‘krystal’ nowadays judging by the coughing Jellyfish. We did see several species here that we found nowhere else, notably West Indian Whistling Duck. Outside the perimeter fence is more typical scrub habitat, small pools and cleared areas. The hotel has a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves by the second (west) entrance. The hotel is located by driving to the hotel zone from the Airport and then right at the traffic island. To the east side of the hotel a track goes to the beach, there are some pools on the left which had shorebirds, the scrub around there had Cuban Gnatcatchers.
Follow the only road across Cayo Coco until you pass the Airport turn off, at the roundabout go left, there is a gas station there which sells drinks and ice cream and possibly snacks, there is also a bank, the Police seem to like to hang out there so watch your speed. After about 10km on from the gas station look for a large terracotta Pig’s head on the left, take the track to the right. Lots of Oriente Warblers, Cuban Vireos and Cuban Gnatcatchers here and formerly Zapata Sparrow but they are either building a new runway for the Airport or a motorway as they have tripled the track’s width recently and the margins attractive to the sparrows have gone, we went looking a few times without luck but saw other stuff. If you follow this track to a large cleared circle you can go straight on to the Flamingo beach bar (narrow track) or go left to a lagoon and shorebird habitat. We visited the Flamingo Track at night and saw at least ten Cuban Nightjars well in the headlamps hawking and perching on roadside lumps.
Opposite the entrance to the Blau Colonial Hotel in the hotel zone is a track, go along the track until you come to a right turn and some obvious embankments, take the right and drive to the corner of the fence where broken down, walk up the bank to view the tanks for shorebirds and ducks.
This is a
very odd place. Drive across Cayo Coco east until Palm Trees appear in
the middle of the road,
the park is on the right, you should not have trouble parking! This
site is referenced in most trip reports
but without details, so.. It was obviously planned to be better judging
by the general structure,
abandoned buildings and overall aged grandeur. For our visit we arrived
at 08:00 to be told that the park
did not open until 09:00 when the park worked arrived. We were also
told we had to have a guide and
that it would cost 25 CuC each!!! As we would visit only once and had
read of the wonders of the
birding here we returned at 09:30 hoping to find the park workers
essential to make our visit safe but no,
they had been involved in a terrible accident but were all miraculously
all right but would be further
delayed. We were graciously allowed access alone and a ‘fee’ could be
paid on exit.
We then walked an old road east until we came to a right turn where we were told we would see “many animals”, we did, in unsuitable little cages and ponds with barely any water in. There was an upside though, in the shape of a tame Key-West Quail-Dove around the pens with the wild (or at least annoyed) pigs and depressed Jutias in. We also took the trail marked Flamingo which involved going through a village mock-up to a boardwalk where there were actually some Flamingos. We did see quite a few birds here but not anything we did not see elsewhere later. I think the site would be good with a local guide but the price seems a bit unrealistic. As we left the same guy who let us in appeared and we discussed the cost and wanted to buy drinks. This was not possible as the workers responsible for opening the drinks cooler door had not made it in after the accident trauma, the guy wanted us to pay 20 CuC each for our visit at which point we communicated in Anglo-Saxon, I ended up giving him 10 CuC each but suspect it went into his pocket and not into providing a bit more water for the poorly kept turtles.
Drive east along the trans Cayo Coco road until you come to a bridge, if the tide is right birds are all over the inland side. Go a little further and there are some pools on the right (seaward) side of the road which were hopping with shorebirds, ducks and more Flamingos. In this area some Quebec Birders recently saw Gundlach`s Hawk regularly, in the general area of Villas Cojimar. To find easy and close Bahama Mockingbird we drove right to the end of Cayo Guillermo to Punta el Morro and the small parking area, there were two or three singers here and the poles out in the bay have terns and gulls, worth checking as we saw our only Sandwich Tern here. There is also a nice roadside plantation which might be worth a better look than we gave it, especially early in the day.
Starting back at the gas station on Cay Coco, mentioned earlier, follow the sign to Cayo Paredon Grande through a small village. There are roadside pools and then the road swings right to cross the channel over an unlikely looking bridge, yes you do actually drive over it! On the other side is a wire across the track and someone from the nearby buildings will trudge over to let you in, no formal fee is required as far as we could tell. The road to the Thick-billed Vireos has a good selection of potholes and since there are birds to see either side of the road perhaps the driver should wear blinkers, any part that appears to have plants growing in the road means they are in a hole to avoid. About 450m from the Lighthouse the roadside bushes are tallest and the vireos are here along with migrant warblers, Cuban Gnatcatchers etc. We didn’t go to the end and try any tracks, it was quite warm. On the way back you can take a more direct route to the causeway to the mainland by taking the obvious left fork.
Depending on the tides the causeway will have little islands with birds on. For each of our crossings Flamingos were present but distant while flocks of Red-breasted Mergansers were also present. Halfway down there is a roadside café/bar where the Police hang out. Oncoming drivers will flash and wave frantically if they are there. When you eventually reach the mainland there is the toll booth where you pay your 2 CuC then there is the Police checkpoint where they will scrutinise your passport and tourist visa, they will ask you where you are from and what hotel you are in. Driving on, keep left. After a long straight road it opens out to a junction, Eastern (or should we really say Cuban) Meadowlarks are here on the right side of the road; also there is what appears to be a fish farm with birds but difficult to view. If you go right a short way you can see part of it, others have seen White-cheeked Pintail here. Going left at the original junction it is signed for Bolivia, take this and bird from the road. After about 15km a well-wooded area appears on the left, if you cross the bridge and can see the lagoon to the right you have gone too far. We stopped and birded here for a while, it was easy to call in Great Lizard Cuckoo (three) here and we had Gundlach’s Hawk (twice) and Cuban Martin (it was a martin in Cuba!) over this road. Going on, a large hill appears on the left, this looked interesting but we did not explore it. To the right is a large lagoon used as part of the irrigation system. We did drive the short track to it but saw nothing of note.
Cross the causeway from Cayo Coco and follow the route to Bolivia, after the Bolivia turn off, the road continues to Esmeralda and en-route are bridges with (Cuban) Cave Swallows, there are also open field areas with some roadside birding opportunities. At Esmeralda drive through the town until the sign for Florida appears, a right, which crosses the railway tracks. Once you are outside Esmeralda there are some roadside pools on the right, scope needed. Eventually you will come to a fork in the road, take the right hand fork, keep going to the T-Junction, this is a Trans-Cuba highway, go left to Florida. Between Bolivia and Florida are two police checkpoints, we were stopped just once the whole trip and then saluted at the end of the formalities. In the middle of Florida are some tall palms, we had Antillean Palm Swift here. Continue steadily on until the next T-junction, this is the road around Camaguay and it goes on a bit. Eventually the left turn to Najasa appears, follow this being careful not to run over one of the many hitch hikers at this junction. Just after the 24h gas station on the hill (ice creams, drinks, snacks) go right, the road gets a bit pot-holey after a while, also the birding gets good here, we had Cuban Palm Crows after c10km. After crossing a high bridge over stream (worth a look) you head down into Najasa. Once in Najasa keep straight on, El Pilar then appears after a while, the rough track to the right is to the famous Cemetery where relatives now pay to have the grass cleared from the graves, thus preventing the Cuban Grassquits that once lived their from despoiling their memory! To the left is the village and Pedro Regalado’s current residence is on the left with his name helpfully over the gate, a little bit further on is the entrance to Park La Belen on the left, the gate is attended.
We had no reservation but just showed up on spec and were able to obtain a comfortable room with en-suite, dinner and breakfast for two. We also paid 7 CuC each for access to the trails but didn’t use them in the end. The access road is very birdy, when you first enter you keep going past the administration offices on the left, past the corral at the top of the hill on the right and on to the lodge. In the dip before the lodge is a small pool to the left and a larger one to the right and set back, you will want to look at these. Continuing up the hill the lodge appears and the entrance seems to be in front of you, ignore this entrance and follow the track left to the double gate on the right, this is the way in. If you speak virtually no Spanish (like us) I would suggest writing down in advance (and in Spanish!) that you want a room, you want dinner at x and breakfast at y and whether you want a guide or access to the trails. Once settled just dump your stuff on the bed and go bird the access road. We paid a total of 60 CuC all in, they also have a nice swimming pool. Details of what we saw are in the systematic list.
It took about 3 hours to get to the Camaguay turn off from Cayo Coco, another hour, with stops to El Pilar. At this site and if you go out with Pedro Regalado, tuck your trousers into your socks and spray with Deet if you walk in the rough paddocks. On our next trip to the tropics I am taking my leech socks, last used in Thailand, they will be well sprayed with Permethrin!
Not sure what the fuss about the cave is but there is a deserted car parking area in the early morning and the access road has Zapata Sparrow. To find it, take the last right turn off the cross cay (Cayo Coco) road going east, it is signed as going to the hotel zone. At the end the road forks and bends right to the hotels and some spa or other, go left. Just follow the road around and, after the turn to the beach bar keep bearing right on the tarmac road. The sparrows feed by the roadside when its quiet. There are also several tracks and pools in this area so just explore although beware, the hotels on the cays seem to dump their trash just about anywhere.
If you were planning to bird the cays for a week, using a package as we did, it is hard to find out exactly where the hotels are and which would best suit a birder. The Krystal Laguna has good birding in the grounds but is big, busy and noisy and the adjacent walk-to areas of limited interest. The Tryp is further along the hotel zone going east, looked OK but not near anything. The Blau Colonial looked a reasonable place, in the middle of the hotel zone on Cayo Coco, extensive birding in the scrub opposite and handy for the sewage ponds a short walk away. There are a few others but they were at either end of the hotel strip, hard to comment. Probably the best birding on Cayo Guillermo is from the Villa Cojimar, handy for the bridge and the shorebird filled pools but always a bit of a drive back to places like the Flamingo Track and obviously further from the mainland.
Taxonomy and sequence used is mostly as adopted by the IOC although personally I feel non-migratory island ‘races’ should be given full species status, if only to promote and secure their uniqueness. Abundance comments reflect how many we saw, not how common species may or may not be throughout Cuba. ** means we saw it at the Krystal Laguna or adjacent scrub.
Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleangris
Present in the grounds of La Belen, presumably as self-supporting as any imported Mute Swan population!
West Indian Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arborea **Five at close range in the grounds of the Krystal Laguna, 27-March. Regional endemic.
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Common east of the Cayo Guillermo causeway on various pools, also common on the Sewage Lagoons opposite the Blau Colonial.
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Common east of the Cayo Guillermo causeway on various pools, also common on the Sewage Lagoons opposite the Blau Colonial.
Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris
One on the Blau Colonial Sewage Ponds, 02-April.
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
Good numbers off the causeway each time we crossed.
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
One on the larger pool at La Belen, 1-Apr.
Caribbean Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
Fairly numerous off the causeway to the mainland looking like distant pink slicks. A few were always on the pools east of the Cayo Guillermo causeway and some nice views of birds from the Flamingo Trail at Park El Baga.
White Ibis Eudocimus albus **
Seen regularly around the cayes but in small numbers.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Only seen in the Najasa area.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Nyctanassa violacea **
One around the grounds of the Krystal Laguna.
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Only one seen on Cayo Coco but common around La Belen and other little pools in the area.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Common around livestock on the cays, abundant on the mainland.
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias **
One or two usually dotted around the shallows with other heron species.
Great Egret Ardea alba **
Reddish Egret Egretta rufescens
Reasonably common around the cays.
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor **
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerula **
Snowy Egret Egretta thula **
Probably the least common of the herons but seen daily.
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens **
Common, most numerous from the bridge to Cayo Paredon Grande.
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis **
Common enough but not especially numerous.
Neotropical Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus **
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Odd ones seen daily around the cays, on both morning trips across the causeway a sizeable group gathered in roughly the same place, I’ve seen this sort of behaviour before, the birds make a physical shelter to attract fish in much the same way boats do, then give then a hard time!
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura **
Northern Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
Seen most days, just one or two per day.
American Kestrel Falco sparverius sparveroides **
Merlin Falco columbarius **
Several seen around Cayo Coco, one or two active birds or true passage?
Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Not very common, five seen in total.
Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis
One near La Belen, 01-April.
Northern Harrier Circus hudsonicus
A male between Bolivia and Esmeralda, 31-March.
Gundlach’s Hawk Accipiter gundlachi
One seen twice between Moron and Bolivia, could be a site, see the sites visited section for details. Endemic.
Cuban Black-Hawk Buteogallus gundlachi **
Common and a devil for the crabs. I realise that treating this as a species is out of step with current thinking but no doubt it will re-align at some point, most things do.
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo Jamaicensis
Two seen, one Cayo Coco, one Moron.
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Seen on small pools in the Najasa area.
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
Numerous on pools on Cayo Guillermo, also seen at several other sites, fairly common.
Black-bellied Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Seen only on pools from the track on Cayo Coco that runs east from the Flamingo track.
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
A flock of 20 or so from the bridge to Cayo Guillermo when the tide was out, odd singles elsewhere around the cays.
Killdeer Charadrius vociferous **
Present in ones and twos at most sites with shorebirds.
Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa
Seen only on small pools around Najasa/La Belen.
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus **
Numerous on several pools on Cayo Coco and Guillermo.
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca **
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes **
Slightly commoner than greaters.
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Seen only around the Najasa area on typical muddy hollows.
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius
Fairly common on and off the cays.
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres **
Always on the beach at the Krystal Laguna.
Sanderling Calidris alba
Seen along the causeway to the mainland on 30-March.
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla **
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
Dunlin Calidris alpina
One from the bridge to Cayo Guillermo, 28-March.
Stilt Sandpiper Calidris himantopus
Numerous on the pools just east of the bridge to Cayo Guillermo but not seen anywhere else.
Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Singles on roadside pools, Cayo Coco.
Herring Gull Larus smithsonii **
Three singles seen around Cayo Coco.
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla **
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
One on posts from the parking area at the east end of Cayo Guillermo
Royal Tern Sterna maxima **
Rock Dove Columba livia
Only noted from the mainland.
White-crowned Pigeon Patagioenas leucocephala **
This beautiful pigeon is common around the cays.
Plain Pigeon Patagioenas inornata
The must see at Najasa and you do. Regional endemic.
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto **
Territorial around the west entrance to the Krystal Laguna.
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura **
Is the Cuban race unique? common enough.
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita **
Fairly common on the cays. Regional endemic.
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica **
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina **
Key West Quail-Dove Geotrygon chrysia
Our first Quail-Dove species, this after having seen many back ends disappear in a whirl of wings at various places around the tropics. While looking into the sad little place that houses the Jutea at El Baga, Sandra suddenly said ‘there’s a Quail-Dove walking around in there’ and there was. The bird was completely indifferent to us, later it wandered around outside at close range, even flying into an open pen, picking its way around the rocks and sticks, superb. On another occasion we were returning from a search for Zapata Sparrows near Cueva del Jabali when we had good views of one by the roadside. Regional endemic.
Cuban Parakeet Aratinga euops
Pretty common around Najasa/La Belen, noisy and obvious but not always that easy to pin down in the tree tops. Endemic.
Cuban Parrot Amazona leucocephala
Present around La Belen and showed very nicely just off the track to the lodge, 1-April. Near endemic.
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani **
Common in open country, more local on the cays.
Great Lizard-Cuckoo Coccyzus merlini
When we drove off-cay to explore west of Moron we could hear birds calling by the roadside in a wooded cut. Despite searching we just couldn’t see them and they shut up. When we came that way back we stopped again and put the ipod on in the car. Fairly quickly birds started calling, then a couple flew over the road and one suddenly appeared near the car, taking time to have a good look at us, a brilliant looking bird. Near endemic.
Bare-legged Owl Gymnoglaux lawrenci
Near El Pilar Pedro stopped by one of many palms with holes in and tapped, almost immediately the head of a Cuban Screech-owl appeared, looked at us in disgust for a short while, then ducked back down. We crept away quietly and didn’t disturb it again. Endemic.
Cuban Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium siju
walking ground near El Pilar looking for Fernandina’s Flicker, Pedro
asked us whether we had
managed to see the smaller owls which we hadn’t. We went back to a tree
we had passed earlier and he
gently scratched a tree, out popped the bird’s head for a look, then it
flew into a nearby tree for five
minutes before returning to its hole. Endemic.
After a couple of tries for nocturnal birds in seemingly suitable areas, we decided to drive the side tracks around the Flamingo track area after dusk on 30-March. In the space of a couple of kilometres we saw around ten Cuban Nightjars, some sitting on roadside mounds made from the recent widening of the Flamingo Track. Flushed with success we did a steady drive back to the hotel, along similarly quiet tracks and saw nothing else at all. Near endemic.
Antillean Palm-Swift Tachornis phoenicobia
One was flying around the center of Florida as we passed through, 31-March. Regional endemic.
Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii **
Very common, reminiscent of Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. Near endemic.
Cuban Trogon Priotelus temnurus
Only seen away from the cays in the La Belen and El Pilar area. Endemic.
Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon
A couple were seen regularly around Cayo Coco.
Cuban Tody Todus multicolor
Of all of the Cuban endemics this was the "want to see" bird but until we got to La Belen we hadn’t had a sniff of one. On 31-March we saw probably four birds and a couple the next morning along the access track to La Belen. The only other encounter was with a calling bird at Cuevas del Jabali on 02-April. Endemic.
West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris **
A fairly common bird, more so off the cays, abundant at La Belen and El Pilar. Near endemic.
Cuban Green Woodpecker Xiphidiopicus percussus
We saw this striking woodpecker at once Cuevas del Jabali and again La Belen but neither bird settled long enough to photograph and it was not as common as we had anticipated it being, perhaps we were just unlucky. Endemic.
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus chrysocaulosus **
Seen regularly around the Krystal Laguna and a pair were sunning themselves at the entrance to El Baga, 28-March.
Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus **
Common throughout. Regional endemic.
Gray Kingbird Tyrannus dominicensis *
The first birds were four in the scrub just outside the Krystal Laguna. Fairly common as a roadside bird on the trips to and from Najasa, several seen around Cayo Coco.
Giant Kingbird Tyrannus cubensis
Easy to locate at La Belen on 31-March & 1-April, sitting in the tree tops calling and noisily arguing with each other. Another pair were seen brawling just past the famous Cemetery site at El Pilar, 1-April. Endemic.
Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus **
Common throughout. Regional endemic.
La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae **
Common throughout. Near endemic.
Thick-billed Vireo Vireo crassirostris
We visited the Cayo Paredon Grande site in the early afternoon of 28-March and located a single calling bird after about ten minutes, roughly 450m from the lighthouse. Near or perhaps genuinely endemic.
Cuban Vireo Vireo gundlachi **
Common and easy top find. Endemic.
Red-eyed Vireo Vireo Olivaceous **
One was around the Krystal Laguna on a couple of dates, we were surprised by how scarce they were.
Black-whiskered Vireo Vireo altiloquus **
Common on Cayo Coco, odd ones elsewhere when we looked.
Cuban Palm Crow Corvus minutes
We first saw these on the Najasa road about 8km before the village on 31-March. The next day a few were seen during our time with Pedro. Endemic.
Cuban Crow Corvus nasicus
A bird that makes a sound like you would get if you drowned a piglet in a bucket. Common around Najasa. Near endemic.
Tree Swallow Tachycinea bicolor
One from the causeway, 28-March
Cuban Martin Progne cryptoleuca
Two reasonably well seen martins that were in Cuba at the productive roadside stop near Bolivia on 30-March. Endemic.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica **
After no hirundines at all we suddenly started to see birds everywhere from 30-March onwards. Small groups were feeding by the causeway to Moron each time we passed.
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva caviola
Present and presumably nesting, around the bridges between Moron and Esmeralda, 31-March, 1April.
Cuban Gnatcatcher Polioptila lembeyei **
Common on the cays and easy to find, seen each time we birded there. Endemic.
Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensis **
A few mewers were around the Krystal Laguna and other sites.
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos **
Very common around the cays.
Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii
We searched all of the sites noted in the various trip reports for Cayo Guillermo but finally scored right at the end of the track where they were easy to see and hear. Near endemic
Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus **
Really common, makes interesting noise and a real beauty of a thrush. Regional endemic.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus **
Common around urban areas.
Northern Parula Parula Americana *
Common and seen in many places.
"Mangrove" Yellow Warbler Dendroica petchia erithachoroides **
Present around the mangroves of the Krystal Laguna, a very distinctive species.
Cape May Warbler Dendroica tigrina **
Two seen around the plantations of the Krystal Laguna, not seen anywhere else though.
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens **
Common, more so around La Belen.
Black-throated Green Warbler Dendroica virens
Seen only at La Belen, 1-April.
Yellow-throated Warbler Dendroica dominica **
Four seen well at various sites.
Prairie Warbler Dendroica doscolor **
A common migrant warbler around the cays
Palm Warbler Dendroica palmarum **
Common, if it’s on the floor pumping its tail it’s a Palm Warbler.
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia **
Several seen, quite an unobtrusive species.
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla **
Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla
Not uncommon. One at Cuevas del Jabali had not read the script and was hopping around the parking lot.
Northern Waterthrush Seiurus novaboracensis **
Common in the right habitat.
Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus motacilla
A couple identified around Cayo Coco.
Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Only seen at La Belen, 31-March & 1-April.
Oriente Warbler Teretistris fornsi
Common on Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Paredon Grande, a neat bird. Endemic.
Hooded Warbler Wilsonia citrina **
One in a plantation at the Krystal Laguna never came close enough for a great photo.
Greater Antillean Oriole Icterus dominicensis **
Common on the cays. Near endemic.
Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis
One in the pig pen at La Baga, 29-March.
Cuban Blackbird Dives atroviolaceous
Common off the cays. Four seen flying along the causeway to Cayo Coco on 1-April. Endemic.
Tawny-shouldered Blackbird Agelaius humeralis
Common around Najasa and area. Near endemic.
Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger **
Common. Regional endemic.
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna hippocrepis
Seen at a couple of sites, they don’t sound like our Eastern Meadowlarks though.
Zapata Sparrow Torreornis inexpectata
On our last full day we got to the car to find a puncture. When we finally got underway we went to the car park of Cuevas del Jabali and walked the access road slowly. We rewarded with great views of two birds picking their way along the margin of the road. Endemic.
Cuban Bullfinch Melopyrrha nigra **
Common. Near endemic.
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivaceus **
Western Spindalis Spindalis zena **
Common and very striking in the male, less so in the female. Regional endemic.
the odd lizard, a few fish and a handful of butterflies and dragonflies
we saw nothing else.