Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
Return to the Main Index

Return to the North America Index
Return to the Caribbean Index
Return to the Cuba Index


21 February - 02 March 2002

by Julie Craves

I traveled to Cuba for ten days from 21 February to 2 March 2002.  This was a U.S. Treasury-licensed trip endorsed by the ABA for the purpose of surveying birds.  In order to stick mostly to birds here, I refer you to a couple web sites if you want to know more about licenses and travel restrictions to Cuba.  They are the U.S. Treasury’’s web site: or the Science and Human Rights Program web site at:

Cuba is home to at least 21 endemic bird species, and a bunch of other unique subspecies just waiting for someone with the funding and resources to tie up loose ends, publish results, or splits to be formalized.  Our itinerary allowed us to seek out 18 of the endemic species.  We found 14 of them (15 for some) and a total of about 145 species; my total was 131.

I met my partner Darrin O’’Brien in Fort Lauderdale, FL on 20 Feb.  As there are no direct flights to Cuba; we went through Jamaica.  Air Jamaica authorities were very thorough in their security checks.  Both our checked and carry-on luggage were hand-examined, we went through two x-ray exams, I was physically searched once, and had to remove my shoes twice.  Flying over Cuba (twice, due to our convoluted FL to Kingston to Montego Bay to Havana route) revealed a country dominated by agriculture.  There were plenty of roads, but startlingly few vehicles on them!

The Jose Marti International Airport was small and unassuming from the outside, but comfortably modern inside.  We passed quickly through Customs and Immigration, and met up with the rest of our group of 16, plus our guides.  They were John McNeely, an American who has done bird research in Cuba for 14 years, especially on Ivory-billed Woodpeckers; Gary Markowski, owner of Environmental Expeditions and the logistical manager; and Dani Lima, the obligatory Havanatur guide provided by the State.  Soon we were off on our roomy tour bus to the Hotel Nacional, probably the most famous hotel in Havana.  It had 1930s opulence and served the best mojitos (the national rum drink) of the trip, but this did not prevent a temporary loss of electricity in the evening.  These brief blackouts were experienced a few other times in Cuba while we were there.  The hotel grounds yielded our first Cuban endemic, CUBAN BLACKBIRD.  These were common throughout the island.  The Cuban race of RED-LEGGED THRUSH was also hanging around; they are the equivalent of our robins, but much racier- looking.  The hotel is located along the Malecon, the famous waterfront promenade.  A stroll there revealed typical water birds such as MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, BROWN PELICAN, LAUGHING GULL, etc.

Bright and early the next morning (22 Feb) we boarded the bus to go pick up Orlando Garrido, the ornithologist that co-authored the recently published ““Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba.””  The ride through Havana was an eye-opener.  No amount of reading or browsing of photographs could have prepared me for the advanced state of decay and dilapidation everywhere in Cuba.  Buildings simply looked as if they’’d been abandoned 40 years ago, yet were teeming with people.  Streets were neat and litter-free, people were clean and well-dressed, but the infrastructure was profoundly eroded. To realize the extent of responsibility U.S. policy has for these conditions really appalled me.

Orlando was a charming man, recently retired from the Museum of Natural History in Havana.  This has freed up time for him to pursue his work on subspecific splits, but made it difficult for him to travel outside of Cuba to examine bird specimens and do field work.  Despite his status as a former State employee, getting an exit visa is an ordeal.  En route to our first survey location at the National Botanical Gardens, we saw many little white-rumped ANTILLEAN PALM-SWIFTS, TAWNY-SHOULDERED BLACKBIRDS, and CUBAN MARTINS.  It was a bit early for Purple Martins to be migrating through Cuba, and while the males are identical, the female Cuban Martins, with their dusky breasts, were distinctive.

The Gardens are on the outskirts of Havana, so we witnessed the transportation system, such as it is.  Essentially the only new vehicles are State-owned tour buses.  Of course, we knew we’’d see old American cars from the 1950s.  They were in worse shape than I had been led to is incredible they can keep them running.  Aside from those, all other cars are foreign, with lots of dented and misshapen Russian Ladas.  In the city, Cubans ride on enormous buses called ““camels”” pulled by trucks.  Streets are filled with pedestrians, bicycles, pedicabs, horse-drawn taxis, and (the further into the countryside you venture), horses and ox carts.  Hitchhiking is a way of life.  Outside the cities, intersections are jammed with people trying to hitch a ride.  All State-owned vehicles are required by law to pick people up.  Even dump trucks are overflowing with human cargo, and sometimes their accompanying livestock.  There are billboards with revolutionary slogans everywhere.

A stop along the road got us EASTERN MEADOWLARK, singing a strange song.  This is a Cuban subspecies almost certain to be split.  We saw our first AMERICAN KESTRELS.  There are North American wintering migrants in Cuba, as well as two resident color morphs.  The most common is white, with clear white breasts; and the other is red, with dark rufous breasts, gray heads, and a generally overall dark gray and rufous coloration.

At the Botanical Gardens, we surveyed the area that represents Cuban native vegetation.  CUBAN EMERALDS, the common hummingbird, were ubiquitous here as they are all over the island.  We found a CUBAN PEWEE (formerly Crescent-eyed Pewee) as soon as we got off the bus, as well as LA SAGRA’’S FLYCATCHER and several RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPERS.  The honeycreepers (males are brilliant blue with black wings and shockingly red legs) were introduced to Cuba .  CUBAN VIREOS were also found.  As pictures suggest, they do appear to have bulging eyes, but it is the effect of the pale eye ring.  We saw our first GREAT LIZARD-CUCKOOS.  These enormous birds represent two different Cuban subspecies.  The other we saw later in the northern cays.  A pair of CUBAN GREEN WOODPECKERS was also found.  These endemic birds are a bit larger than our Hairy Woodpeckers, but are stockier and have large, rounded heads.

Other than the ever-present PALM WARBLERS, North American wintering migrants were a bit scarce.  Throughout the trip the most common species were NORTHERN PARULA, AMERICAN REDSTART, PRAIRIE WARBLER, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT.  We recorded two North American species which were considered uncommon: BLUE-WINGED WARBLER and YELLOW-THROATED VIREO.  Orlando was quite excited about the Blue-winged!  I had expected to see more Black-throated Blue Warblers, as it is supposed to be one of the most common wintering species in Cuba.  We saw four the whole trip.  At lunch, I asked Orlando about this, and he told me we should have been tripping over them!  It was the same story we hear from old-timers here in the states: the Neotropical migrants are disappearing.  I was very disturbed by the knowledge that U.S. conservation dollars are prevented from reaching Cuba, even though they are so sorely needed to help determine the status of our wintering birds, migrants, as well as resident species.

After lunch, we headed south to the Zapata peninsula, bordering the infamous Bay of Pigs.  Zapata is home to the largest wetlands complex (452,000 hectares) in the West Indies.  About half is forested, some is mangrove and tidal flats, and some is sawgrass marsh reminiscent of the Everglades.  We stopped at the little outpost of La Boca, the site of a farm where endangered Cuban crocodiles are raised.  At their ponds we found the endemic CUBAN CROW (they sound like deranged parrots!), WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS (similar to our Red-bellied Woodpeckers), and a personal favorite, NORTHERN JACANA.  Jacanas are far smaller than I had imagined.  A quick search also yielded several BLACK-COWLED/GREATER ANTILLEAN ORIOLES of the endemic Cuban race.  Black with bright yellow shoulders and thighs, they are quite stunning.

Further along the road, we ventured into Zapata National Park.  Although a protected area, the Cubans lack the funding and manpower to sufficiently patrol and enforce regulations.  Fortunately, most Cubans are very law-abiding and have a great respect for their natural surroundings.  But due to their economic woes they do exploit the resources when push comes to shove, mostly for firewood, grazing, or subsistence hunting.  Several serious hurricanes have caused severe damage to this area (Lilli in 1996, Irene in 1999, and Michelle in 2001).  Crops, forest, and housing have been repeatedly devastated.  John McNeely has had trouble locating the endemic BEE HUMMINGBIRD, the smallest bird in the world, in the last few years here in their Zapata stronghold.  We staked out an area where one had been recently seen and were finally rewarded with good looks at a tiny male.

Our lodging for the night was at Hotel Playa Larga, at the head of the Bay of Pigs.  Individual units located near the beach were nice on the outside, but rustic inside.  The showerheads produced only a sluggish drizzle, so taking a shower was a challenge!  We had our first introduction to ““towel art.””  Everywhere we went, the chambermaids created sculptures (swans were popular) with the bath towels (washcloths are non-existent in Cuba).  It was an example of the effort to woo tourists.  All over the country, doctors, engineers, and other professionals vie for jobs in the tourist industry for access to U.S. dollars, legalized by Castro in the mid-1990s.  Cuban wages are set by the State; the average monthly wage for most Cubans is about 225 Cuban pesos (about $14).  Doctors, lawyers and some others make somewhat more. State housing, utilities, health care, and education are heavily subsidized, and one or two weeks of basic food rations are free, but the rest of the people’’s needs must be purchased.  We saw some of the bodegas, they are pitifully stocked.  Then we had a chance to go into a dollar store, where folks can buy products with U.S. currency.  While offering more selection than peso markets, there still isn’’t much to buy!  So while workers in the tourist industry who receive tips are relatively wealthy by Cuban standards, having money doesn’’t mean much when there isn’’t much to buy, or a way to get to a dollar store.  The lack of goods is, once again, largely due to the U.S. embargo; this is more correctly a blockade, since the U.S. penalizes foreign entities that trade or do business with Cuba as well.

The evening meal was typical of the rest of our stay in Cuba.  All meals are accompanied by a three or four piece band (drums, guitar, maracas at the minimum) performing traditional Cuban music, followed by a passing of the hat.  If we appeared attentive, we also got some American music; there’’s nothing quite like hearing ““Hey Jude”” or ““Hotel California”” in Spanish with maracas and gourds!  Food is bland and overcooked across the board, and limited in variety.  All salads consisted of shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.  Main offerings were chicken (always legs and thighs, we never figured out where all the breasts went!), pork, and fish or very tough beef.  Cubans aren’’t big on green vegetables, and the same canned mix of gray peas, carrots, and potatoes appeared everywhere.  At some buffets, we got a larger variety of fruits, and starches such as yucca (completely tasteless) and sweet potatoes (not yams).  We drank bottled water, various fruit and mystery juices, cerveza (beer), wine, and strong caféé con leche.  Nobody ever got sick, as water and health standards are very high in Cuba.  Dessert was usually ice cream.  I think it’’s made from evaporated milk (despite the abundance of cows and goats).  Buffets also featured various pastries and flans, which were good.

On 23 Feb, we were awakened by roosters, as was often the case even in resort areas.  Despite the abundance of chickens, eggs were rarely served in the morning, and breakfast was invariably a ham sandwich, sometimes with mustard, mayo, cucumber, or tomato.  This was the only rainy morning of the trip, but our goal of surveying wading and water birds wasn’’t too hampered by the weather.  We were going down the west side of the Bay of Pigs through forest and then mangroves and tidal flats to La Salina (or las Salinas).  The road was too narrow for our tour bus, so we embarked in a smaller bus.
Accompanying us was Frank Medina, second in charge at Zapata National Park.  The mangroves harbored over half a dozen COMMON BLACK-HAWKS, known here as CUBAN CRAB HAWKS, a likely candidate for a split.  We observed them at close range.  As we emerged from the forested area, we found the flats peppered with bubble-gum pink GREATER FLAMINGOS.  These are supposedly some of the brightest flamingos anywhere, and they were really an amazing color, far from the insipid pink seen in zoos.  The guy in charge of counting on our side of the bus got up to 230, and surely there were many more beyond our sight.  Many other wading birds were seen, along with some shorebirds (mostly SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS and GREATER YELLOWLEGS).  The only ducks were BLUE-WINGED TEAL, which proved to be the only species we recorded on the trip.  In the vegetation at roadside were hundreds of small dragonflies, Seaside Dragonlets; I know this is the only truly saltwater dragonfly in North America, perhaps also in the West Indies.

We soon learned that the alternator on the bus was shot, and we didn’’t have a full tank of gas, so we could not stop periodically as we would have liked.  In order to conserve fuel, we did not go all the way to the end of the road, but headed back to the forested area, where Frank led us into the low scrub.  We heard a CUBAN PYGMY-OWL, but were unable to locate it.  Frank had us gather around some dead palm trees, and he softly scratched the trunk of one.  Out popped a BARE-LEGGED/CUBAN SCREECH-OWL, an endemic species.  We also encountered our first endemic warbler, the YELLOW-HEADED WARBLER.  Pictures don’’t do this little bird justice.  They act as the ecological equivalents of our chickadees, and so are very curious, respond noisly to pishing, and travel in mixed flocks.  We were to see them in a number of locations.  Frank stopped and played a tape of the endemic CUBAN TODY.  One quickly came into view –– an unexpected combination of emerald green, vivid red, and shocking pink, all on a tiny, pale-eyed, large-billed bird.  It looked like a Dr. Seuss cartoon.  On our way out we stopped to drop Frank off at park headquarters, and a CUBAN PYGMY-OWL (endemic) was sitting obligingly by the side of the road behind the building, completely non-plussed at our clicking camera shutters.

We had a break for lunch, at which time we located several YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUITS near our room at Playa Larga.  These are remarkably stunning birds!  Back on our regular bus, we headed to the small village of Soplillar a few miles away.  These people have suffered greatly from the hurricanes.  The government has provided building materials, and people were slowly rebuilding their small cinder block houses.  The nicest thing about the village was their ball field, although a hog was rooting around the dugout area.  Baseball is extremely popular in Cuba, and most villages have nicely groomed sand diamonds, albeit with goats or chickens in the outfields.

As private property is not an issue in a Communist nation, we could roam freely. We headed out to pasture, avoiding cattle and their by-products, in search of the extremely rare endemic FERNANDINA’’S FLICKER.  This species faces multiple problems.  They share nest trees in hollow palms with Cuban Parrots (a species we missed), and the trees are felled to obtain parrot chicks, destroying flicker broods and eliminating nest trees.  The habitat is not only overgrazed, but hurricanes have decimated the palms.  In 1995, only 200-300 pairs were censused. Hurricane Lilli blew down every dead palm in the area.  In 1997 and 1998, only one pair could be found in the Zapata census area.  Last year’’s Hurricane Michelle was worse, and the future is bleak for this species.  It could probably have been saved with a nest box and education program, but foreign conservation dollars are not flowing into Cuba, and the Cubans themselves do not have the funding or manpower to do much, even though the country has made great efforts to protect habitat and set aside reserves.  After almost two hours of extensive searching and listening, we finally located a single male –– large, long-tailed, and heavily barred, he was a beauty.  I felt a deep, profound sadness looking at one of the last of these lovely birds.

Frank Medina took us to a two-track road nearby leading into the forest.  A CUBAN TROGON (endemic, the national bird) responded to a tape. What a gorgeous creature!  They have a deep, almost metallic, green back, violet-blue head, white breast, and striking vermilion belly, with delicately patterned wings and a spectacular tail with unusually-shaped flared feathers.  Another joined the first, and they sat around tamely for as long as we cared to look.  We walked further down the road in hopes of seeing one of my most wanted birds, the endemic BLUE-HEADED QUAIL-DOVE.  Like other quail-doves, it prefers walking on the open forest floor.  The hurricane damage was so great here that the forest floor was completely covered with deadfall, sometimes to a depth of several feet.  Thus, no luck on this endangered species.  We did encounter our first CUBAN BULLFINCH.  Males are jet black with a white wing patch.  Along with grassquits, they are popular cage birds in Cuba, and therefore can be hard to find.  Once back in the bus and on the road, we encountered hundreds of land crabs crossing the asphalt.  Their main migration doesn’’t occur until later in March, when they move from their terrestrial homes to mate and lay eggs in the sea.  About as big as a man’’s hand and either red or orange, they moved aside after some honking by the bus driver, but we learned that many are killed later in the season.

We rose early on 24 Feb for the two-mile hike into the Zapata Swamp over a flooded path.  We passed through forest for a short distance before coming out into the sawgrass.  RED-SHOULDERED BLACKBIRDS (endemic, recently split from Red-winged Blackbird) were out in the swamp.  Frank again used his tapes (this being the only time on the trip where tapes were used) and an endemic ZAPATA WREN  finally appeared, singing long and lustily a few feet away.  They are large (Cactus Wren-sized) birds.  We had no luck with ZAPATA SPARROW or the very elusive ZAPATA RAIL, although we did hear a SPOTTED RAIL calling.  I was able to identify a few dragonflies: Spot-tailed and Three-striped Dashers, Metallic Pennant, and the common Antillean Saddlebags.  I got nice pictures of a new butterfly for me, the Hammock Skipper.  One can only take so much reference material on a trip like this, so I didn’’t get to explore the insect life as much as I would have liked!  On the hike out, we got to see two CUBAN PARAKEETS (endemic).  This is another species in trouble, as they are also cavity nesters and have suffered from hurricane damage.  We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant where chickens walked between our feet.  Then it was off to the east to the vicinity of Trinidad.  As we neared the city of Cienfuegos, we ran into a nice flock of WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS.

Our hotel was a new resort on the Peninsula de Ancon.  Cuba is one of the only nations that practices tourist apartheid; other than those that work there, Cubans are not allowed in tourist hotels even if they can afford it.  The hotel was on the beach, and guards were posted at either end of the property.  On the morning of 25 Feb, we walked from the hotel all the way out an undeveloped peninsula.  We surveyed good numbers of migrant birds, and there was a large concentration of YELLOW WARBLERS.  Some young birds were completely gray and molting patchily into their yellow breeding plumage; these were the resident Cuban race.  A couple people in the group had a fleeting look at the rare endemic GUNDLACH’’S HAWK, an accipiter that replaces the Cooper’’s Hawk in Cuba.  On the beach at the end of the peninsula, we were amazed at what washed up on shore: not only nice shells, but sponges, sea fans, and corals.  The reefs are not far offshore, and relatively unspoiled.

In the afternoon we went into the town of Trinidad, founded in 1514 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Streets are paved with cobblestones taken from ship ballast, and go off in weird angles designed to confuse pirates.  Old cannons are stuck head-first into the streets to block motor traffic.  Much of the city is being restored, but that’’s a relative word in Cuba.  We soaked up the history, expertly narrated by Dani, before returning to our hotel and mojitos.

Several of us started out well before dawn on 26 Feb to walk the Peninsula de Ancon once again, hoping for nightjars.  We heard several CLAPPER RAILS, but John told us an excellent wetland for rails had been destroyed within the last couple of years.  We did not see any nightjars, and recorded approximately the same species and numbers as the day before.

Our next destination was north across the island to the northernmost cays.  A 50+ mile causeway links the mainland to Cayo Santa Maria.  With the collapse of Soviet support, Cuba has turned to tourism for salvation.  Over 10,000 hotel rooms have been planned for this and neighboring cays, but for now there are only a couple places to stay.  Our lodgings were on Cayo Las Brujas, in a complex of 24 individual cabanas right on the beach.  They did a superb job of preserving the native vegetation which grew right up to the boardwalks between the cabanas.  Birds were very tame, including many WESTERN SPINDALIS.  The males are beautiful, and could be approached within a few feet.  There were large iguana tracks in the sand, but only a few in the group got to see one; these ““chickens of the trees”” are hunted and very wary.  We all got to watch a SWAINSON’’S WARBLER forage at close range from someone’’s porch. They are much better-looking than pictures indicate and the foraging behavior (including quivering) was really interesting.  Darrin got caught in full suds when the water shut off (too many people showering at once, I guess).  He had to rinse with bottled water and baby wet wipes.  One of our dinner choices was freshly caught red snapper, as opposed to dried-out mystery fish.  It was very good, so I ate it four meals in a row.  That evening we went out in search of nightjars.  It was too windy, and our consolation prize was a huge brown tarantula on the road.

The morning of 27 Feb we headed to Cayo Santa Maria.  A fairly short walk took us through several habitats: an arid, stunted scrubland; an evergreen forest; typical tropical forest; a mangrove fringe, and finally out to the beach.  We concentrated our survey efforts in the tropical forest, especially near a drying lake bed which was the only nearby source of fresh water.  It teemed with warblers –– mostly Palms, Common Yellowthroats, and American Redstarts.  Of the 30 or so redstarts counted each day, only a couple were adult males.  The segregation of the sexes on their wintering grounds was apparent here!  A couple migrants were more common in this part of Cuba than the south, especially CAPE MAY WARBLER, GRAY CATBIRD, and NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH.  We saw single WILSON’’S WARBLER, WORM-EATING WARBLER, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER.  Bushwhacking through the forest flushed up at least two dozen WHITE-CROWNED PIGEONS in groups of two or three.  This was perfect quail-dove habitat, with a fairly open forest floor and very dense vegetation.  Four of us followed a barely discernable trail.  We were teased by flushing large, ruddy-colored quail-doves.  Finally we located one that had perched quite close to us –– a magnificent KEY WEST QUAIL-DOVE.

We walked toward the beach, encountering a softball-sized hermit crab.  I had no idea they got this big.  We also saw many of the colorful conical tree snails, some of which are endemic.  The beach was spectacular, and had even more treasures washed ashore, in particular sponges in every possible (and improbable) color and shape.  I found a football-sized sponge that was bright pink!  A group of us set off for a half-mile walk to an old water tank, and it was really difficult not to stop and pick up stuff on the sand.  It was in a rocky portion that we found our only snake, which I promptly grabbed (knowing there are no venomous snakes in Cuba).  It was a foot-long, dull brown thing that our local guide Eduardo called a racer.  I think the Cubans call all snakes that are not boas ““racers””.  Cuba has 26 species of snakes, 18 of which are endemic.

The old water tank was a busted up, concrete structure about 15 feet high that housed a family of BARN OWLS.  Barn Owls are common in Cuba, and even nest in most water tanks in Havana.  Four of the guys hauled themselves up the tank to peer briefly in the hole, where one owlet remained, ready to fledge.  I was the only woman willing to be pulled, thrusted, and heaved up the tank to see the owl.  What a cutie! (The owl, not me.) The evening was once again windy, but we were successful in seeing one GREATER ANTILLEAN/CUBAN NIGHTJAR, another subspecies that is a likely candidate for a split.

Part of the survey’’s mission was to bring down a Birder’’s Exchange donation; B.E. is a program coordinated by the ABA that gathers donated optics, field guides, etc. for distribution in Latin America.  Since I am a bird bander, I also arranged for a significant donation of banding supplies from my personal gear, the Michigan Field Ornithologists and Bird Banders and its president Mike Bishop, Avinet, Inc., and my organization the Rouge River Bird Observatory.  The plan was for Darrin and I to help out one morning banding on Cayo Santa Maria. Politics intervened (too long a story to go into here), but late that night we were able to present our donations to a group of seven biologists from CITMA (the Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment).  They only have, for example, 15 mist nets.  Period.  They were very grateful, and the work they do is very valuable: already the field work they’’d done in the area had convinced the State that more land should be preserved in this area.  Cuba is very aware that ecotourism is important, and is taking measures to foster it.

On the 28th, we repeated the survey on Cayo Santa Maria.  A weak front had passed, and there were not as many warblers around.  John did spot a GUNDLACH’’S HAWK.  I saw only a fleeting glimpse.  After lunch we started back to the mainland, stopping at another 16th-century town, Remedios.  Our bus parked next to a ball diamond, where kids were playing baseball without even a bat (they were using their clenched fists). Usually, bats were branches and balls were wadded up paper.  We walked out through a weedy citrus grove to another pasture where we found the increasingly rare endemic CUBAN GRASSQUIT, also popular cage birds.  Then it was on to the central city of Santa Clara, home to the remains of revolutionary hero Che Guevera.  It is Che’’s face that is EVERYWHERE in Cuba; few images of Fidel are seen.  It rained that afternoon, and we stayed at a motel outside of town before departing the next morning for the trip back to Havana (the bird stuff is over except for a bird list at the end, read on for more cultural info!).

Our last day and a half was spent in Havana Vieja, or Old Havana.  As in Trinidad, there are old cobbled streets, structures being restored, and buildings in every soft pastel shade, sadly faded, flaking, and worn. It is hauntingly beautiful.  Old Havana is near the mouth of Havana harbor, so ancient cannons are preserved in parks or else cafes are built around them.  Motor traffic on some of the narrow streets is blocked by rows of cannonballs stuck in the cobbles.  We stayed in a restored home that was simply lovely.  It was located around the corner from Hemingway’’s favorite hangout, La Bodeguita del Medio, and down the street from a 17th-century cathedral that once housed the remains of Christopher Columbus. There was a square featuring a large statue of King Ferdinand VII.  Ordered to memorialize a king who was disliked in Cuba, the sculptors had the last laugh: he is depicted proudly brandishing his own severed penis.

We were free to wander to the large artisans market (a result of Castro relaxing the rules on free enterprise).  Items were mostly rustic musical instruments, wood carvings, jewelry made with black coral (which is illegal to bring into the U.S.), dolls, and a large selection of watercolors and oils.  A few blocks away was an entire square devoted to used booksellers.  The literacy rate in Cuba is as high as the U.S. (one of the successes of the revolution) and Cubans love the books they can get their hands on.  That evening, we went across the harbor to Morro Castle, a huge 400-year-old fortress, to witness the ceremony of the closing of the city gates.  Complete with cannon fire, this has been performed every night for hundreds of years.  On the morning of 2 Mar, we departed for our trip home.  At the airport, we stocked up on Havana Club rum and hand-rolled cigars.

I had 41 life birds on the trip, but more importantly had a remarkable life experience.  Our surveys will help fill the black hole of bird data in this country, and our donations will further bird research and conservation.

BIRD LIST: (e=endemic)
Pied-billed Grebe
Magnificent Frigatebird,
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Blue-winged Teal
Greater Flamingo
Reddish Egret
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-heron
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Wood Stork
Turkey Vulture
Northern Harrier
Common Black-Hawk (Cuban Crab Hawk, endemic subspecies)
Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
Northern Bobwhite
Clapper Rail
Spotted Rail
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Northern Jacana
Greater Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Short-billed Dowitcher
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Wilson's Plover
Ring-billed Gull
Laughing Gull
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Rock Dove
White-crowned Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Zenaida Dove
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Key West Quail-Dove
Cuban Parakeet (e)
Great Lizard-Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Barn Owl
Bare-legged/Cuban Screech-Owl (e)
Cuban Pygmy-Owl (e)
Greater Antillean/Cuban Nightjar (endemic subspecies)
White-collared Swift
Antillean Palm-Swift
Cuban Emerald
Bee Hummingbird (e)
Cuban Trogon (e)
Belted Kingfisher
Cuban Tody (e)
West Indian Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Cuban Green Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Fernandina’’s Flicker (e)
Cuban Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
La Sagra’’s Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
Loggerhead Kingbird
Cuban Crow
White-eyed Vireo
Cuban Vireo (e)
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-legged Thrush (endemic subspecies)
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Zapata Wren (e)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Tree Swallow
Cuban Martin
Barn Swallow
Cave Swallow
Northern Parula
Yellow Warbler (both migrant and Cuban race)
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Swainson's Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Yellow-headed Warbler (e)
Wilson's Warbler
Lincoln's Sparrow
Western Spindalis
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Cuban Bullfinch
Cuban Grassquit (e)
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Black-cowled/Greater Antillean Oriole
Red-shouldered Blackbird (e)
Tawny-shouldered Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Cuban Blackbird (e)
Greater Antillean Grackle
Shiny Cowbird
House Sparrow

Julie Craves

Birding Top 500 Counter