An escape to warm, sunny Cuba with ASNV from December 6-15, 2017 was just the thing for eight intrepid birders. Led by Cuban ornithologist Alejandro Llanes Sosa and a Cuban government guide, we covered 1,315 miles in a comfortable Chinese Yutong bus, thanks to careful driver Joel. We observed 136 species, including 21 Cuban endemics and 15 regional endemics.
Highlights of our Cuban endemic sightings included the Zapata Wren and Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow, the ever-charming Bee Hummingbird, Blue-headed and Gray-fronted Quail Doves, the Cuban Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Solitaire, Oriente Warbler, Cuban Grassquit, Cuban Trogon, Fernandina's Flicker, Cuban Green Woodpecker, and the entertaining, pugnacious, and beloved Cuban Tody. Regional endemics included the Cuban Emerald, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, and Western Spindalis.
As we traveled from Havana and environs west to San Diego de los Banos, south to the Zapata Peninsula, and to Cayo Coco on the northeast coast, we birded in quite diverse terrain: Villages, a deserted airport, ponds, meadows, forests, swamps, mountains, the cave where Che Guevara hid out during the Cuban Missile Crisis, mangroves, bays, and pristine beaches, including around the Bay of Pigs.
Of course, there were special moments:
- Meeting with Cuban ornithologist Nils Navarro in his home and learning about how he wrote and illustrated the excellent Endemic Birds of Cuba—A Comprehensive Field Guide.
- Observing from only a foot away the world's smallest bird -- the two-inch Bee Hummingbird, as it fed and then meticulously groomed itself outside a private home whose owner had shepherded the birds inside into a netted area during the autumn 2017 hurricanes, likely ensuring their survival.
- Shivering while searching for Cuban nightjars and owls under a sky dark enough to feel one could almost touch the Pleiades.
- Finalizing reconciling ourselves, over glasses of Bucanero or Pinita, to the fact that no one on the trip was going to see the likely-extinct Zapata Rail.
- Learning to mimic the calls of the Zapata Wren and American Flamingos.
- Photographing impressively maintained classic cars
- [Car photo]
Our people-to-people educational exchange included visits to sites where Ernest Hemingway lived, the model eco-village of Las Terrazas, and Old Havana. The trip was expertly arranged by Holbrook Travel.