20 December 1998 - 2 January 1999
by Blake Maybank
All photos © Blake Maybank, 1999
I organised a family vacation to Cuba for Christmas and New Year's, 1998/99, a group of six people. Of the group, only three were interested in natural history. We were not interested, therefore, in a commercial organised birding trip to Cuba (several Canadian and British companies offer such tours). Instead, I had to find an affordable all-inclusive modern beach-side resort, but one that allowed easy access into the Cuban countryside.
The popular tourist peninsula of Veradero in western Cuba was thereby excluded from my search, as there is little local natural habitat, and journeys to the mainland of Cuba are lengthy, although the Zapata Swamp might be accessible in a long day-trip. Outside of Veradero, Western Cuba, in particular the Havana area, does not offer the seaside attractions that my family members desired.
I also looked at Cayo Coco, off the north coast of Central Cuba, an increasingly popular island resort destination, linked by a road to the main island. Cayo Coco remains quite natural, and so offers good "hotel birding", but trips to the rest of mainland would be long, and perhaps unproductive.
That left eastern Cuba, and here the resorts are concentrated around two areas:
1) Guardalavaca, on the NE coast, an hour to the NE of
2) Santiago de Cuba, on the SE coast.
My first preference was for two resorts near Santiago de Cuba, as the mountains of the Sierra Maestra are close by, and I imagined there would be reasonable accessible birding opportunities. However, Cuba is very popular with Canadians in winter, and my first two choices were already fully booked. We then tried for the Hotel Las Brisas (formerly a Delta hotel), at Playa Guardalavaca.
As stated, the trip was all-inclusive, with a direct non-stop flight
Halifax to Holguin. Our Air Transat charter flight was late, but
arrived reasonably intact, and were in our comfortable hotel rooms by
Our Las Brisas Hotel was clean, comfortable, professionally run, and emotionally and physically therapeutic. It was a Four-Star hotel by Cuban standards, but is not the equal of Four-Star hotels in the Bahamas, or Barbados, or Bermuda. However, the prices are much more reasonable. It is excellent value for the money, and with a 60% return rate among their clientele, and a year-round occupancy rate of 85+%, they are doing something right. The staff are attentive, the food is well-prepared, the music divine, the snorkelling is brilliant, and the rum is superb. It is the most expensive hotel along the beach in Playa Guardalavaca, and the other, more modestly priced hotels and self-catering apartments were also clean and comfortable. A few kilometres to the west were two hotels in the Dutch del Rio chain, and I didn't examine them, but I heard good reports.
As is common with all-inclusive vacations, trips away from the resort to explore the countryside are an additional expense. We took several (see further on).
[Note to U.S. readers: there are numerous Inclusive-Vacation Charter Companies operating regular flights from Canada, the U.K., Netherlands, Spain, and Germany. Canadians dominate the winter vacation scene, although there are many European visitors as well. The Canadian tourists tend to be much less interested in explorations of any sort, being more content to linger close to the beach and the free rum. Given the quality of a typical Canadian winter, this should perhaps not come as a great surprise. Many Europeans go to Cuba in the summer, to escape the European heat, and Europeans are more likely to explore the countryside at any season.]
You can also go to Cuba on your own, without the benefit of a package holiday or organised tour. If this is your desire, I recommend you read the Cuba Guide book recommended in the referencessection of this report.
Representatives from the various charter companies are frequently present at the hotels to offer in-country tours. All in-country tours are organised by one of two Cuban government organisations, either Cubanacan, or Gaviota. Gaviota tends to offer more tours with a natural history or cultural history focus than does Cubanacan, which, as its name suggests, has a strong Canadian connection.
It was possible to rent cars (standard transmission only) and mopeds from the hotel. We did neither, so I can't tell you the rates. However, I did drive one of the jeeps for our outing to Pinares, and the roads, while frequently in poor shape, were never frightening. Motorised traffic is relatively light, as there continues to be a shortage of vehicles. There are lots of pedestrians, bicycles, and horse-drawn wagons to be on the watch for. Take special care when driving after dark. The average driving speed was 40 kph, so time trips accordingly.
Solid one-speed bicycles were available for free to hotel guests, and were quite useful in the flat coastal areas near Guardalavaca.
1) -- "Cuba Handbook" by Christopher P. Baker. Published by Moon Travel Handbooks. We purchased it on-line through Amazon.com. We looked at many, and this is the BEST. Go to: http://www.travelguidebooks.com
2) -- "A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies",
by Herbert Raffaele, et al., published by Princeton University
Press. Excellent resource, although not a pocket guide. It
fit in my backpack, though, and accompanied us on our outings.
Available through American Birding Association Sales, 1-800-634-7736,
This book now supercedes the following old standby...
3) -- "Birds of the West Indies", by Bond, (James Bond), published by Houghton Mifflin. A useful, but not essential, back-up reference. I lent it to a local artist in Guardalavaca who hand-painted two wonderful T-shirts using the plates for inspiration.
We had no problems with food or water, and at all our hotels could drink safely from the taps. No particular vaccinations or inoculations were required.
We encountered few mosquitoes, and no chiggers. One member of the group found a tick, but it hadn't burrowed in.
The temperature was in the high 20's to low 30's every day, and cooler in the evening. It went down to 15 degrees towards dawn at El Saltón. Although it was supposed to be the dry season, we experienced heavy showers on about half the days, and it was unusually windy, sufficient some days to cause cancellation of snorkelling and Scuba diving due to high water turbidity. Unusual weather seems the norm these days. But it wasn't a Canadian winter, and for that we were all thankful.
We had no experience with big-city Cuban life, but in the countryside, and around the resorts in which we stayed, we experienced no problems at all. There was essentially no begging, although in the Guardalavaca area there were some people willing to sell you cigars or sea-shells, but they weren't pushy or obnoxious. By contrast, most people were friendly and curious. I never felt at risk, and neither did any of the five female members of our group. We kept our valuables locked in our hotel-room safe, and had no troubles. I have read trip reports from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic which describe a much more tense atmosphere away from the hotels, but Cuba does not follow this pattern. Of course, Cuba is unique in many ways.
Most of the in-country tours can be paid for with credit cards, as can expenses incurred through hotels. However, we had to pay cash using the "Special Traffic" tour company, for reasons which weren't ever quite clear. But the trip was great, regardless. Getting more money from the local bank presented no difficulty. U.S. dollars are the currency of necessity within the country, an irony which should escape no-one. You cannot use any credit cards linked with U.S. banks, nor anything connected to American Express, including their travellers cheques.
Outside hotels it's generally cash only. For example, we ate one night in a local Cuban restaurant, not from the hotel. In fact, the hotel encourages it by giving each person a $5 coupon to be redeemed at the restaurant. The meal was excellent, but our bill was about twice our coupon value, and we had to use cash for the rest.
Other Attractions and Recommendations:
The coffee is superb, and all shade-grown (hence "bird friendly"), since the country cannot afford any pesticides or herbicides, one of the few good things to come out of the embargo. The cocoa is equally fine. The rum is as smooth as the breast of a Cuban Tody. Artwork is skilfully and imaginatively executed, and ludicrously under-priced. I don't smoke, so can't comment on the cigars, except to state that most black market cigars are said to be inferior copies, and not the "real thing".
Canadians are very much in the habit of bringing items into Cuba which are in short supply locally, and distributing them as tips to staff, or simply giving them to families or people one encounters as one roams the countryside. T-shirts and baseball caps are frequently left behind, but children's clothing is much desired, as are school supplies (pencils, crayons, pens, paper), soap and toiletries, tampons, etc. Even our empty plastic water bottles were welcome. From within the hotels the extent of the shortages in the countryside isn't especially obvious, but it is real. Take into the country as much as will fit in your suitcases, and replace it for the homeward trip with coffee, artwork, cigars, and rum. And wonderful memories. It seems a fair trade.
Go. I'd return in a heart-beat. It's a wonderful
country. And don't believe anything you are told by any U.S.
media source. Go
and see the country for yourself, and make up your own mind.
As you read this account, keep two things in mind.
First, this wasn't planned primarily as a birding trip, and only four days of the trip involved excursions away from the Guardalavaca area. And while in Playa Guardalavaca there were some days in which there was very little birding.
Second, Cuba is a big country, by far the largest in the Caribbean. I know of no-one, nor any tour, that has managed to see all 25 endemic species in one trip, or even multiple trips. We saw 11 of them, less than half, but at best we were birding about 10% of the time, quite unlike any tour. And our final trip list was 91 species, which reflects well on the quality of the birding experience in this country, even for a relaxed investigation.
(In addition to the birding, there was a remarkable array of butterflies, and many interesting tropical plants. And the coral reefs were magnificent.)
BIRDING LOCALES, AND SPECIES' LISTS
A) - Playa Guardalavaca -- 20 December 1997 - 2 January 1998
The first endemic was easy, as the Cuban Blackbirds patrolled the grass in the hotel grounds. And, in the hotel Palm Trees, there were frequently Palm warblers, most apropos. Other ornithological delights were not far away. The following are the areas in and near Playa Guardalavaca that I found productive.
1 - The Mangrove.
Immediately to the east of the Las Brisas Hotel (itself the easternmost facility in Playa Guardalavaca), was a small mangrove, bisected by a rough wide rocky track. It was a favourite heron roost at night, and we could watch from our hotel room balcony, rum drinks in hand, as the birds came in at dusk. Most were Cattle Egrets, but other species were mixed in. Yellow-faced Grassquits were easily seen along the edges of the mangrove, and there were many migrant warblers in the foliage.
2 - The Coastal Trail.
Three hundred metres east of the Las Brisas Hotel was the local
restaurant, El Cayuelo. To the east of the restaurant there is a
line of houses parallelling the beach for another few hundred
metres. At low tide you
can walk along the beach to the end of the houses, or at high tide take
dirt road on the land side of the houses. Either way, past the
house, there is a trail at the edge of the water which quickly
The left fork follows the coastline, first along a tiny beach, then
some second growth scrub. Just past the tiny beach, there is a
on the landward side of the trail, and here there was a singing
Thrush, and among a large warbler feeding flock we had our only Oriente
of the trip. The left-hand trail then continues, and I never
its end. The right fork also roughly follows the coastline, but inland
distance, and more accurately follows an ancient up-lifted coral
(raised by tectonic activity perhaps?). There is thick, second
scrub, and this trail was usually very birdy, although it was sometimes
to see into the vegetation. I hiked this trail for several
and never found its end either. But I did have many Cuban Vireos,
Lizard-Cuckoo, Plain Pigeon, Loggerhead Kingbirds, and a Cuban
among many other birds.
3 - The Reservoir.
The water supply reservoir for Playa Guardalavaca is just south of the main highway going to Banes. Simply get on your bicycle from the hotel, go east on the paved road, and follow it for a kilometre. It first follows the coast, and then goes inland. Just past the first junction with the road that bypasses Playa Guardalavaca, watch on your right for the raised dykes of the reservoir. I only checked it once with a scope, but I'm sure more frequent visits would be rewarded.
4 - The Anchor Restaurant access road.
At the western end of Playa Guardalavaca is another local restaurant, "The Anchor", although this is an English translation of its Spanish name, which I neglected to write down. The restaurant is accessible by foot from the western end of the beach. However, it does have road access, and this road offered good birding. You can do it on foot, of course, walking from Playa Guardalavaca, but we did it by bicycle. You take the main highway from Playa Guardalavaca in the direction of Holguin. First, just past the overpass, look on the south side of the highway at a small reed-bed cum wetland. It held two Least Bitterns on one occasion. Further west, watch for the sign indicating the restaurant, and take the dirt road going north towards the ocean. The road first passes through sugar cane, but then climbs a small hill, and bisects several hundred metres of forest before reaching the coast, and the restaurant. There were numerous migrants, and a number of resident birds, including Cuban Emeralds, Ruddy Quail-Dove, and others.
Species seen - GUARDALAVACA -- 20 December 1997 - 2 January 1998
Note: for species seen daily the highest count is
|SPECIES||SCIENTIFIC NAME||NUMBERS AND DATES|
|Least Grebe||(Tachybaptus dominicus)||14, Dec 25th|
|Pied-billed Grebe||(Podilymbus podiceps)||1, Dec 25th|
|Brown Pelican||(Pelecanus occidentalis)||5, Dec 21st|
|Reddish Egret||(Egretta rufescens)||1, Dec 27th|
|Snowy Egret||(Egretta thula)||daily: high count of 3, Dec 22nd|
|Great Blue Heron||(Ardea herodias)||1, Jan 1st|
|Great Egret||(Ardea alba)||1, Dec 22nd|
|Cattle Egret||(Bubulcus ibis)||daily: high count of 500, Dec 25th|
|Green Heron||(Butorides virescens)||1, Dec 21st|
|Yellow-crowned Night-Heron||(Nyctanassa violacea)||2, Dec 27th; 1, Jan 2nd|
|Least Bittern||(Ixobrychus exilis)||2, Dec 22nd|
|Turkey Vulture||(Cathartes aura)||50, Dec 22nd|
|Common Moorhen||(Gallinula chloropus)||2, Dec 22nd|
|American Coot||(Fulica americana)||8, Dec 25th|
|Greater Yellowlegs||(Tringa melanoleuca)||3, Dec 25th|
|Spotted Sandpiper||(Tringa macularia)||2, Dec 22nd|
|Least Sandpiper||(Calidris minutilla)||2, Dec 21st; 2, Jan 1st|
|Laughing Gull||(Larus atricilla)||1, Dec 20th|
|Royal Tern||(Sterna maxima)||daily: high count of 5, Dec 20th|
|Rock Dove||(Columba livia)||2, Dec 22nd|
|Plain Pigeon||(Columba inornata)||1, Dec 28th; 1, Jan 2nd|
|Mourning Dove||(Zenaida macroura)||daily: high count of 3, Dec 22nd|
|Zenaida Dove||(Zenaida aurita)||1, Dec 22nd|
|White-winged Dove||(Zenaida asiatica)||4, Jan 2nd|
|Ruddy Quail-Dove||(Geotrygon montana)||1, Dec 22nd|
|Ruddy Quail-Dove||(Geotrygon montana)||1, Dec 26th|
|Great Lizard-Cuckoo||(Saurothera merlini)||2, Dec 26th; 1, Dec 28th|
|Smooth-billed Ani||(Crotophaga ani)||daily: high count of 14, Dec 28th|
|Cuban Pygmy-Owl||(Glaucidium siju)||1, Dec 28th|
|Cuban Emerald||(Chlorostilbon ricordii)||2, Dec 26th; 1, Dec 28th|
|Belted Kingfisher||(Ceryle alcyon)||1, Dec 21st; 1, Jan 1st|
|Eastern Kingbird||(Tyrannus tyrannus)||1, Dec 22nd|
|Loggerhead Kingbird||(Tyrannus caudifasciatus)||1, Dec 28th|
|White-eyed Vireo||(Vireo griseus)||1, Dec 28th|
|Cuban Vireo||(Vireo gundlachii)||6, Dec 26th; 3, Dec 28th|
|Red-legged Thrush||(Turdus plumbeus)||1, Dec 22nd; 2, Dec 26th; 1, Dec 28th; 1, Jan 2nd|
|Northern Mockingbird||(Mimus polyglottos)||daily: high count of 20, Dec 22nd|
|House Sparrow||(Passer domesticus)||daily: high count of 20, Dec 20th|
|Northern Parula||(Parula americana)||daily: high count of 4, Dec 28th|
|Yellow Warbler||(Dendroica petechia)||4, Dec 21st; 2, Dec 22nd|
|Magnolia Warbler||(Dendroica magnolia)||daily: high count of 4, Dec 22nd|
|Cape May Warbler||(Dendroica tigrina)||daily: high count of 2, Dec 26th|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||(Dendroica caerulescens)||daily: high count of 8, Dec 26th|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler||(Dendroica coronata)||1, Dec 26th|
|Prairie Warbler||(Dendroica discolor)||daily: high count of 10, Dec 26th|
|Palm Warbler||(Dendroica palmarum)||daily: high count of 7, Dec 22nd|
|Blackpoll Warbler||(Dendroica striata)||1, Dec 20th|
|Black-and-white Warbler||(Mniotilta varia)||daily: high count of 2, Dec 26th|
|American Redstart||(Setophaga ruticilla)||daily: high count of 6, Dec 22nd|
|Worm-eating Warbler||(Helmitheros vermivorus)||1, Dec 26th|
|Swainson's Warbler||(Limnothlypis swainsonii)||1, Dec 22nd|
|Ovenbird||(Seiurus aurocapillus)||1, Dec 26th; 1, Jan 2nd|
|Northern Waterthrush||(Seiurus noveboracensis)||daily: high count of 2, Dec 22nd|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||(Seiurus motacilla)||daily: high count of 2, Dec 21st|
|Common Yellowthroat||(Geothlypis trichas)||1, Dec 21st|
|Oriente Warbler||(Teretistris fornsi)||1, Dec 28th|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||(Tiaris olivacea)||daily: high count of 15, Dec 22nd|
|Baltimore Oriole||(Icterus galbula)||1, Dec 27th|
|Cuban Blackbird||(Dives atroviolacea)||daily: high count of 12, Dec 22nd|
|Greater Antillean Grackle||(Quiscalus niger)||daily: high count of 15, Dec 28th|
We did this as a long day-trip from our hotel. Pinares de
Mayarí is on an isolated mesa in the Sierra de Nipe, one of the
mountain ranges in
SE Cuba. There is a lodge there, now fully Cuban owned and
operated, and not, therefore, linked to any of the package
holidays. It's not on the beach, after all. But it has a
wonderful natural setting in the
forested mountains, and served us a very fine lunch. We went on
organised trip through one of the package tour representatives at the
On the advice of a Dutch couple we met, we used Special Traffic, who
to the Dutch and Germans, who generally want a more natural trip, with
hiking and natural history. Other companies go to this location,
concentrate on farm visits, etc. Instead, we visited waterfalls,
in the pine forests, explored the Integral Mountain Research Station
in growing herbal medicines (another embargo initiative)), and a
garden. All the sites were very good for birds, especially the
through a pine forest to an overlook at a spectacular waterfall.
best birds were two Giant Kingbirds, although we also enjoyed numerous
Todys, a Cuban Trogon, and many pair of Olive-capped Warblers.
I'd love to be able to spend a night or two at the lodge, and enjoy the birding in the morning or the evening. Instead, it was a long day-trip for us, leaving at 0730, and requiring 3.5 hours to reach our destination. There was little compelling bird habitat en route, although we could have stopped wherever we wished to . I did all the driving for our jeep, as licensed drivers are in short supply in the country. We returned well after dark, around 1930, and during the drive I had the pleasure of driving in the dark, in an open jeep, during several heavy downpours (it was odd weather, as I said, and unexpected -- the company had taken the covers off the jeeps for the "dry" season). I needed wipers for the inside of the windshield, but I enjoyed it. A memorable day.
Species seen -
PINARES DE MAYARI -- 23 December 1998
|Little Blue Heron||(Egretta caerulea)||1|
|Snowy Egret||(Egretta thula)||4|
|Great Blue Heron||(Ardea herodias)||1|
|Cattle Egret||(Bubulcus ibis)||200|
|Green Heron||(Butorides virescens)||1|
|Red-tailed Hawk||(Buteo jamaicensis)||1|
|American Kestrel||(Falco sparverius)||1|
|Rock Dove||(Columba livia)||3|
|Mourning Dove||(Zenaida macroura)||3|
|Smooth-billed Ani||(Crotophaga ani)||3|
|Cuban Emerald||(Chlorostilbon ricordii)||5|
|Cuban Trogon||(Priotelus temnurus)||1|
|Belted Kingfisher||(Ceryle alcyon)||1|
|Cuban Tody||(Todus multicolor)||6|
|Cuban Pewee||(Contopus caribaeus)||3|
|Loggerhead Kingbird||(Tyrannus caudifasciatus)||1|
|Giant Kingbird||(Tyrannus cubensis)||2|
|Cuban Crow||(Corvus nasicus)||2|
|Cuban Vireo||(Vireo gundlachii)||1|
|Red-legged Thrush||(Turdus plumbeus)||1|
|Gray Catbird||(Dumetella carolinensis)||1|
|Northern Mockingbird||(Mimus polyglottos)||15|
|Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||(Polioptila caerulea)||1|
|House Sparrow||(Passer domesticus)||10|
|Northern Parula||(Parula americana)||2|
|Cape May Warbler||(Dendroica tigrina)||2|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||(Dendroica caerulescens)||7|
|Olive-capped Warbler||(Dendroica pityophila)||10|
|Prairie Warbler||(Dendroica discolor)||8|
|Palm Warbler||(Dendroica palmarum)||15|
|Black-and-white Warbler||(Mniotilta varia)||3|
|American Redstart||(Setophaga ruticilla)||5|
|Northern Waterthrush||(Seiurus noveboracensis)||2|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||(Seiurus motacilla)||1|
|Stripe-headed Tanager||(Spindalis zena)||2|
|Cuban Bullfinch||(Melopyrrha nigra)||10|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||(Tiaris olivacea)||30|
|Eastern Meadowlark||(Sturnella magna)||2|
|Cuban Blackbird||(Dives atroviolacea)||5|
|Greater Antillean Grackle||(Quiscalus niger)||10|
This site was my personal highlight for the trip. El Saltón is in a wonderful valley of the Sierra Maestra mountains, 75 km to the west of Santiago de Cuba. It was built as an anti-stress centre in the 1970's, and still maintains massage, sauna, whirlpool, hikes, bicycles, and horseback riding. It is quite feasible as a day-trip from Santiago de Cuba (1½ to 2 hours each way), but you'd miss the dawn chorus or the evening search for owls and nightjars. Day trips from the north coast are not feasible by car, but there are periodic helicopter flights as an expensive day-trip. We chose to drive as part of an over-night trip.
Hills Above El Saltón
photo © Blake Maybank, 1999
As with most recent resorts in Cuba, it was originally half-owned by Canadians (Cuba sensibly always owns at least one-half of each tourism development). This particular resort is now entirely Cuban-owned (Delta hotels is now controlled by an American company, and so had to divest itself of all its Cuban holdings, as per U.S. law).
Without the strong marketing expertise of an off-island partner, El Saltón has not been filling up, although the facilities are in good shape. The rooms (and their washrooms) are clean and comfortable, but the rooms do have that musty smell you get when air-conditioning is competing with a hot, humid climate. English is spoken. I only went hiking, as my interest was birds, butterflies, and photography, but my mother enjoyed a massage, my mother and mother-in-law had a great horseback ride, and my wife rode a bicycle to the nearby town of Crus de los Baños. The food was superb, with the best fresh orange juice I have ever had, and the coffee and cocoa was great as well. But the best feature, for us, was the presence of a Lodge employee, Ricardo Sierra Sosa, and self-taught naturalist, who does the daily nature hike. Ricardo knows his nature. He certainly speaks English quite well, and is also reasonably fluent in French and Dutch. When you go to El Saltón as part of a package trip, you receive a free one hour guided nature hike, but Ricardo is available after that for hire, for the absurd fee of one dollar an hour. We contracted his services for a full afternoon, evening, and the following morning, and gave him a significant tip. He is quiet, gentle, and knowledgeable. I was quite impressed with his knowledge of Cuban resident species, but was embarrassed when he proved to know the call notes of neotropical migrant warblers better than did I. Apparently I am too reliant on knowing their territorial songs, which they rarely sing on their wintering grounds.
In the evening, around sunset, he had us follow him to his home, which is about a 20 minute walk from the hotel in El Saltón. There, we were given wonderful coffee by his wife, and we waited for the nightly arrival of Bare-legged Owls, of which we heard 4, and briefly saw one. We also had a Greater Antillean Nightjar. The following morning was also very productive. And, if one needs a break from the birding, there is the wonderful deep pool at the base of the waterfall for swimming, or one can simply eat or drink beside the spectacle.
You can book El Saltón in a number of ways, besides simply showing up unannounced. Bookings can be made by Cubanacan, one of the two major Cuban operated in-country tour organisers. They usually have representatives in all the major hotels. El Saltón is owned by Club Vida, which also owns a hotel in Santiago de Cuba, called the Santiago Hotel. The phone number of the Santiago Hotel is (53 226) 4-6212. The phone number for El Saltón is (53 225) 6326.
As an overnight trip from Guardalavaca one needs four hours to drive each way. We were driven in a van with windows that were far too heavily tinted. The birding enroute was not noteworthy, save for the only flock of swallows we saw during the entire trip. However one chooses to go, El Saltón is worth the trouble of getting there.
Cuban Grassquit (Tiaris canora) -- male
Endemic Cuban species.
photo © Blake Maybank, 1999
Species seen - EL
SALTÓN -- 29-30 December 1998
|Green Heron||Butorides virescens||1|
|Red-tailed Hawk||Buteo jamaicensis||1|
|American Kestrel||Falco sparverius||2|
|Common Moorhen||Gallinula chloropus||2|
|Scaly-naped Pigeon||Columba squamosa||3|
|Mourning Dove||Zenaida macroura||3|
|White-winged Dove||Zenaida asiatica||3|
|Great Lizard-Cuckoo||Saurothera merlini||2|
|Smooth-billed Ani||Crotophaga ani||10|
|Barn Owl||Tyto alba||1|
|Bare-legged Owl||Otus lawrencii||4|
|Cuban Pygmy-Owl||Glaucidium siju||6|
|Greater Antillean Nightjar||Caprimulgus nensis||1|
|Cuban Emerald||Chlorostilbon ricordii||6|
|Cuban Tody||Todus multicolor||1|
|West Indian Woodpecker||Melanerpes superciliaris||2|
|Cuban Woodpecker||Xiphidiopicus percussus||1|
|Northern Flicker||Colaptes auratus||1|
|Cuban Pewee||Contopus caribaeus||3|
|Eastern Kingbird||Tyrannus tyrannus||2|
|Red-legged Thrush||Turdus plumbeus||10|
|Northern Mockingbird||Mimus polyglottos||6|
|Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||Polioptila caerulea||1|
|Northern Parula||Parula americana||5|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens||3|
|American Redstart||Setophaga ruticilla||2|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||6|
|Red-legged Honeycreeper||Cyanerpes cyaneus||5|
|Cuban Grassquit||Tiaris canora||30|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||Tiaris olivacea||10|
|Black-cowled Oriole||Icterus dominicensis||3|
|Tawny-shouldered Blackbird||Agelaius humeralis||10|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||2|
|Cuban Blackbird||Dives atroviolacea||20|
|Greater Antillean Grackle||Quiscalus niger||15|
This exquisite beach is 20 kilometres west from Playa Guardalavaca. There was a weekly excursion to the beach for a beach party, which we avoided. Instead we chose New Year's Day to go there, when we expected few crowds. We elected to go by bicycle. There were five hills en route, which would not have been a problem save for the strong winds blowing into our faces on the return trip. The bicycles are only one-speed, of course. Mind you, we were humbled by the appearance of a 45 year-old man, with his ten-year old son behind him, who had the day before biked the 60 kilometres from Playa Guardalavaca to Holguin to celebrate New Year's Eve with his family, and was in the process of returning to Playa Guardalavaca and his job when we met him. It was 1100, he had 15 Km remaining, and he had been pedalling since 0600. He was fit. I was not.
Northern Parula (Parula americana)
photo © Blake Maybank, 1999
En route there was some good birding, especially where a couple of steep wooded hillsides intersected the road. But the best birding was the final one kilometre before the beach, where the road (gravel at this point), passed through second-growth forest. It was very birdy, and I had my only La Sagra's Flycatcher of the trip. The beach itself was deserted, but is unlikely to remain that way, as two hotels are under construction, with three more planned. But the forest was apparently not being touched, so the birding should remain worthwhile.
Species seen -
PLAYA PESQUERO -- 1 January 1999
|Snowy Egret||(Egretta thula)||1|
|Great Egret||(Ardea alba)||1|
|Cattle Egret||(Bubulcus ibis)||50|
|Turkey Vulture||(Cathartes aura)||40|
|American Kestrel||(Falco sparverius)||1|
|Greater Yellowlegs||(Tringa melanoleuca)||2|
|Rock Dove||(Columba livia)||3|
|Mourning Dove||(Zenaida macroura)||4|
|Common Ground-Dove||(Columbina passerina)||3|
|Ruddy Quail-Dove||(Geotrygon montana)||1|
|Smooth-billed Ani||(Crotophaga ani)||10|
|La Sagra's Flycatcher||(Myiarchus sagrae)||1|
|Loggerhead Kingbird||(Tyrannus caudifasciatus)||2|
|Cuban Vireo||(Vireo gundlachii)||5|
|Northern Mockingbird||(Mimus polyglottos)||25|
|Northern Parula||(Parula americana)||5|
|Cape May Warbler||(Dendroica tigrina)||5|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||(Dendroica caerulescens)||4|
|Prairie Warbler||(Dendroica discolor)||10|
|Palm Warbler||(Dendroica palmarum)||15|
|Northern Waterthrush||(Seiurus noveboracensis)||3|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||(Seiurus motacilla)||2|
|Common Yellowthroat||(Geothlypis trichas)||1|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||(Tiaris olivacea)||10|
|Cuban Blackbird||(Dives atroviolacea)||2|
|Greater Antillean Grackle||(Quiscalus niger)||10|
ANNOTATED CUBAN TRIP LIST
1) A species in bold type indicates a species endemic to the
|Cuban Emerald||Chlorostilbon ricordii||Zunzún / Pica Flor|
2) A species in CAPITALS in bold type indicates a
species endemic to Cuba. Eg:
|CUBAN TODY||Todus multicolor||Pedorrera / Cartacuba|
Note: Annotations follow this list.
|SPECIES||SCIENTIFIC NAME||LOCAL CUBAN NAME|
|Least Grebe||Tachybaptus dominicus||Zaramagullón Chico|
|Pied-billed Grebe||Podilymbus podiceps||Zaramagullón Grande|
|Brown Pelican||Pelecanus occidentalis||Alcatraz|
|Reddish Egret||Egretta rufescens||Garza Roja|
|Little Blue Heron||Egretta caerulea||Garza Azul|
|Snowy Egret||Egretta thula||Garza Real|
|Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias||Garcilote|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba||Garzón|
|Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis||Garcita Bueyera|
|Green Heron||Butorides virescens||Caga Leche|
|Yellow-crowned Night-Heron||Nyctanassa violacea||Guanabá Real|
|Least Bittern||Ixobrychus exilis||Garcita|
|Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura||Aura Tiñosa|
|Red-tailed Hawk 1||Buteo jamaicensis||Gavilán de Monte|
|American Kestrel 2||Falco sparverius||Cernícalo|
|Common Moorhen||Gallinula chloropus||Gallareta Pico Rojo|
|American Coot||Fulica americana||Gallareta Pico Blanco|
|Greater Yellowlegs||Tringa melanoleuca||Zarapico Patiamarillo Grande|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Tringa macularia||Zarapico Manchado|
|Least Sandpiper||Calidris minutilla||Zarapiquito|
|Killdeer||Charadrius vociferus||Titere Sabanero|
|Herring Gull||Larus argentatus||Gallego|
|Laughing Gull||Larus atricilla||Galleguito|
|Royal Tern||Sterna maxima||Gaviota Real|
|Rock Dove||Columba livia||Torcaza|
|Scaly-naped Pigeon||Columba squamosa||Torcaza Morada|
|Plain Pigeon||Columba inornata||Torcaza Boba|
|Mourning Dove||Zenaida macroura||Paloma Rabiche|
|Zenaida Dove||Zenaida aurita||Guanaro|
|White-winged Dove||Zenaida asiatica||Paloma Aliblanca|
|Common Ground-Dove||Columbina passerina||Tojosa|
|Ruddy Quail-Dove||Geotrygon montana||Boyero|
|Great Lizard-Cuckoo||Saurothera merlini||Guacaica|
|Smooth-billed Ani||Crotophaga ani||Judío|
|Barn Owl||Tyto alba||Lechuza|
|BARE-LEGGED OWL||Otus lawrencii||Sijú Cotunto / Cuco|
|CUBAN PYGMY-OWL||Glaucidium siju||Sijú Plantaner / Sijúcito|
|Greater Antillean Nightjar||Caprimulgus cubanensis||Guabairo|
|Cuban Emerald||Chlorostilbon ricordii||Zunzún / Pica Flor|
|CUBAN TROGON 3||Priotelus temnurus||Tocoloro / Guatiní|
|Belted Kingfisher||Ceryle alcyon||Martín Pescador|
|CUBAN TODY||Todus multicolor||Pedorrera / Cartacuba|
|West Indian Woodpecker||Melanerpes superciliaris||Carpintero Jabado|
|CUBAN WOODPECKER 4||Xiphidiopicus percussus||Carpintero Verde / Ruán|
|Northern Flicker 5||Colaptes auratus||Carpintero Escapulario|
|Cuban Pewee 6||Contopus caribaeus||Bobito Chico / Pitibobo|
|La Sagra's Flycatcher||Myiarchus sagrae||Bobito Grande|
|Eastern Kingbird||Tyrannus tyrannus||Pitirre Americano|
|Loggerhead Kingbird||Tyrannus caudifasciatus||Pitirre Guatíbere|
|GIANT KINGBIRD||Tyrannus cubensis||Pitirre Real|
|CUBAN CROW||Corvus nasicus||Cao Montero / Cao|
|White-eyed Vireo||Vireo griseus||Vireo de Ojo Blanco|
|CUBAN VIREO 7||Vireo gundlachii||Juan Chivi / Chichinguao|
|Red-legged Thrush 8||Turdus plumbeus||Zorzal Real|
|Gray Catbird||Dumetella carolinensis||Zorzal Gato|
|Northern Mockingbird||Mimus polyglottos||Sinsonte|
|Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||Polioptila caerulea||Rabuita|
|Tree Swallow||Tachycineta bicolor||Golondrina de Arboles|
|Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica||Golondrina Cola de Tijera|
|Cave Swallow||Hirundo fulva||Golondrina de Cuevas|
|House Sparrow||Passer domesticus||Gorrión|
|Northern Parula||Parula americana||Bijirita Chica|
|Yellow Warbler 9||Dendroica petechia||Canario de Mangle|
|Magnolia Warbler||Dendroica magnolia||Bijirita Magnolia|
|Cape May Warbler||Dendroica tigrina||Bijirita Atigrada|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler 10||Dendroica caerulescens||Bijirita Azul de Garganta Negra|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler||Dendroica coronata||Bijirita Coronada|
|Olive-capped Warbler 11||Dendroica pityophila||Bijirita del Pinar|
|Prairie Warbler||Dendroica discolor||Mariposa Galana|
|Palm Warbler 12||Dendroica palmarum||Bijirita Común|
|Blackpoll Warbler||Dendroica striata||Bijirita de Cabeza Negra|
|Black-and-white Warbler||Mniotilta varia||Bijirita Trepadora|
|American Redstart||Setophaga ruticilla||Candelita|
|Worm-eating Warbler||Helmitheros vermivorus||Bijirita Gusanera|
|Swainson's Warbler||Limnothlypis swainsonii||Bijirita de Swainson|
|Ovenbird||Seiurus aurocapillus||Señorita del Monte|
|Northern Waterthrush||Seiurus noveboracensis||Señorita de Manglar|
|Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla||Señorita de Rio|
|Common Yellowthroat||Geothlypis trichas||Caretica|
|ORIENTE WARBLER||Teretistris fornsi||Pechero / Chinchillita|
|Stripe-headed Tanager 13||Spindalis zena||Cabrero|
|Red-legged Honeycreeper||Cyanerpes cyaneus||Aparecido de San Diego|
|Cuban Bullfinch||Melopyrrha nigra||Negrito|
|CUBAN GRASSQUIT 14||Tiaris canora||Tomeguín del Pinar|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||Tiaris olivacea||Tomeguín de la Tierra|
|Baltimore Oriole||Icterus galbula||Turpial|
|Black-cowled Oriole||Icterus dominicensis||Solibio|
|Tawny-shouldered Blackbird||Agelaius humeralis||Mayito / Totí Mayito|
|Eastern Meadowlark 15||Sturnella magna||Sabanero|
|CUBAN BLACKBIRD||Dives atroviolacea||Totí / Choncholí|
|Greater Antillean Grackle||Quiscalus niger||Chichinguaco|
Species seen = 91
|1||Non-migratory West Indian race|
|2||Resident race Falco sparverius sparveroides; also occurs on the Bahamas & Jamaica, and is the only race with dark and light colour phases. Potential future split.|
|3||The national bird of Cuba.|
|4||Called "Cuban Green Woodpecker" in Raffaele, et al.|
|5||Resident endemic subspecies Colaptes auratus chrysocaulosus, local and declining. Potential future split.|
|6||Called "Crescent-eyed Pewee" in Raffaele, et al.|
|7||The species is said to breed from April to June, but near Guardalavaca they were singing every morning, and pairs appeared to be territorial, as I found them in the same place on several successive days. They showed no evidence of flocking with warblers.|
|8||A species that deserves study. There are visually different races on different islands, and two races occur in Cuba, but don't overlap. We saw the eastern race, which also occurs on the Bahamas, with black throat, white chin, and gray underparts.|
|9||The few we saw (around Playa Guardalavaca) appeared to be North American migrants, and not the non-migratory local race.|
|10||The Black-throated Blue Warblers did not display any of the secretive or aloof behaviour they typically exhibit on their northern breeding grounds. They foraged in plain view within thatched open-air restaurants, they responded enthusiastically to pishing, and were readily picked out among feeding warbler flocks. A wonderful show.|
|11||According to Raffaele, et al., the Olive-capped Warbler is usually in pine tree-tops except during the breeding season of March - August. By contrast, we encountered five pairs in our hike in Pinares de Mayarí, and all were close to the ground. They readily came in to pishing, and were usually in the company of wintering migrant warblers.|
|12||I was surprised to see that all the Palm Warblers were of the western race, Dendroica palmarum palmarum. Does Dendroica palmarum hypochrysea winter further to the NW?|
|13||Called "Western Stripe-headed Tanager" in Raffaele, et al., in recognition of the imminent split of Stripe-headed Tanager into three species; this subspecies/species also occurs in the Bahamas. The races of Stripe-headed Tanager in Jamaica and Hisponiola are also considered separate species.|
|14||The Cuban Grassquit was formerly widespread, but, due to illegal capture for the Cagebird trade, is now hard to find. They were refreshingly common at El Saltón, however.|
|15||This is another bird that requires closer study, especially in light of the imminent splits among the Eastern Meadowlark in North America. Cuba has the only population of Eastern Meadowlark in the Caribbean, and it is a resident, non-migratory subspecies, Sturnella magna hippocrepis. We heard it singing, and its song was unlike any Eastern Meadowlark I've heard. A strong candidate for splitting.|