Cuba – March 2017 (Part 1)

After a very short but wonderful few days in Panama, we flew out on Thursday the 2nd of March 2017 to cross the Caribbean on a daytime flight, Cuba bound!

Hover over the thumbnail for the caption and click for a larger image…..






We were due to join the “Rockjumper Caribbean Endemic Birding VIII Tour, due to kick-off on Saturday from the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Havana, which was where we checked in on Thursday afternoon, after our arrival at Havana Airport and the usual mission of getting through the formalities. That, fortunately, would give us a full day on Friday to look around the old City. After having to change some Euros into Cuban CUCs at the hotel next door (because ours had ran out), we managed a quick late afternoon walk around the area close to our hotel to explore and find some local beers (cheap),  wine (not so much)  and snacks for our evening meal in our room.






Friday was arrival day for the Birding Tour group so we had the whole day to explore the Old City part of Havana – we were only due to meet up with the group and RJ guide at dinner that evening at the hotel. So we took a taxi to the river/bay area and then spent several hours walking the streets (see map) and seeing the sights. I’ll post a few photos here but see Cassia’s extensive “Havana, Cuba” album on her Facebook page.





















We then took a long walk along the Malecon all the way to the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba.






The Hotel Nacional de Cuba – favorite hotel of the Mafia and film stars in the 1930s, 40s and early 50s.

















Back at the Hotel that evening we had the tour group meeting dinner and then after breakfast on Saturday morning we mounted the bus and started the bird tour (see map) – 1st stop Las Tarracas, a small Community Nature Reserve in the Sierra del Rosario, Artemisa Province.


























From there it was on to a small farm for some birds, particularly the Cuban and Yellow-faced Grassquits, a pine forest where we had wonderful views of the Olive-capped Warbler and then lunch at a small private restaurant, the Casa del Campesino.





















After lunch, we headed for the little town of San Diego del los Banos, known for it’s hot springs, stopping for some waterbirds along the way. After checking into the Hotel Mirador de San Diego, we spent a couple of hours birding at the old Hacienda Cortina, now a public park called “La Guira”.  


























The next morning (Sunday), after a brief stop at the Hacienda Cortina again to pick up Fernandina’s Flicker (above), we travelled to the Cueva de los Portalis, a karst cave in the Sierra de los Organos, Pinar del Rio Province. This cave was famously used by Ernesto “Che” Guevara as his command post in October 1962.





















Another exciting find was Cuba’s Western Cliff Anole, Anolis bartschi, the “magote lizard” which is endemic to Pinar del Rio Province. We also found some ?Brazilian Free-tailed Bats in the roof of the cave.






After lunch back at the hotel, we travelled to the infamous Bay of Pigs and the Zapata Peninsula with an interesting stop at a fish farm where the famous and ancient Cuban Gar Atractosteus tristoechus is being bred and re-introduced to the swamps on the Zapata Peninsula.






Our accommodation for the next 3 nights while we explored the swamps of the Zapata Peninsula and the Bay of Pigs coastline was the Hotel Playa Larga.






The following two full days were spent at the famous Zapata Peninsula, so named for its geographical
shape, which is that of a very large shoe. It consists of swamps, marshes, mangroves,estuaries, and semi-deciduous and humid woodlands. The extensive Cienaga de Zapata National Park contains nearly all the bird species of Cuba. The first morning, we headed out early for an area called La Turba in search of the endangered Zapata Wren amongst others.
















Later in the morning we walked some of the more humid forest trails in the area, the highlight being a very brief view of a Ruddy Quail-dove before it disappeared into the undergrowth.






Lunch was at the Punta Perdiz restaurant, then we headed over to the Cueva de Peces to see Blue-headed Quail-Doves that the chefs at the restaurant there have been feeding with rice for a couple of years.











Later that afternoon we moved to the Soplillar area to see what we could pick up in the well developed secondary growth there.





















The next morning we ventured out in search of any endemics that we had missed so far and in particular, the mega-prize Bee Humingbird – the smallest bird in the world!




























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