Cuba – Day 3 – Bay of Pigs

Bahía de los Cochinos: Most Americans know it as Bay of Pigs, a place name that is usually followed by the word “invasion”, due to a failed 1961 landing operation that while manned by Cuban exiles, was organized and financed by the Central Intelligence Agency in an attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. It is both because of this history and the opportunity to bird at the adjacent Zapata Swamp that this was the part of the trip I most anticipated prior to even setting foot on Cuban soil.

Because I woke up on Day 3 in Cuba in the western mountains, the fact that we were heading to Bahía de los Cochinos meant that it would be a travel day. After an early morning breakfast, we boarded the bus and headed east toward Havana, looking for birds along the way.

Our first stop was at a series of farming ponds next to the highway near Pinar del Río. Here, we picked up a number of new species for the trip including Forster’s Tern, Spotted Sandpiper, and Snail Kite. A later stop at Embalse Nina Bonita was more productive with several species of waterfowl, Bonaparte’s Gull, Gull-billed Tern and other water-associated species. During a fuel stop in Havana I found a flyover Peregrine Falcon. We had a couple species – none new for the trip – at a wonderful lunch stop. While the species list grew during these quick stops, none of them were things we traveled to Cuba for (unless the “Cuban” American Kestrel gets split as a separate species).

As we got closer to Bahía de los Cochinos we stopped in a small village. A bar near the bus was signed “Bar Colibri”, and it was an indicator of the spectacle we would observe in the backyard of a residence across the street called Casa de Bernabe: our first looks at Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. None of us were sure how many there were. We agreed that there was a minimum of four, but they zipped around so quickly that they were difficult to follow. They would frequently land at eye level and below, often a few feet away, but only for a few seconds at a time. I was able to get a lot of decent photographs that I wouldn’t call excellent because Bee Hummingbirds apparently don’t like to perch in the sun.

It was while watching the Bee Hummingbirds that the sound of Cuban Crows calling was pointed out, and we walked through a back gate to find them. We saw several, and heard more. They were noisy, but no birder on a first trip to Cuba would guess the call to be a crow as they sound more like a parrot. We also picked up a lot of other species while following the crows around.

After about an hour, we loaded back into the bus and made our way to Playa Larga, arriving about an hour before sunset. I had just enough time for a short run along the coast before dinner and heading to bed excited about the prospect of birding Zapata Swamp the next day.

Bee Hummingbird, Matanzas Province, Cuba. You can purchase this image here.

The table below summarizes the 54 bird species observed on our second day in Cuba based on output from eBird. The 5 Cuban endemics observed that day are highlighted in green.

Common NameScientific NameCountLocation
Ring-necked DuckAythya collaris1Embalse Nina Bonita
Lesser ScaupAythya affinis10Embalse Nina Bonita
Pied-billed GrebePodilymbus podiceps1Embalse Nina Bonita
Rock PigeonColumba livia1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Mourning DoveZenaida macroura1Auto selected 22.76491, -82.99434
Smooth-billed AniCrotophaga ani4Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Antillean Palm SwiftTachornis phoenicobia2Carretera de la CUJAE, Havana CU-City of Havana 23.04766, -82.41825
Bee HummingbirdMellisuga helenae4Palpite Casa de Bernabe
American CootFulica americana1Embalse Nina Bonita
KilldeerCharadrius vociferus1Auto selected 22.76491, -82.99434
Spotted SandpiperActitis macularius2Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Bonaparte’s GullChroicocephalus philadelphia2Embalse Nina Bonita
Gull-billed TernGelochelidon nilotica1Embalse Nina Bonita
Forster’s TernSterna forsteri1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Wood StorkMycteria americana1Auto selected 22.33028, -81.18326
Magnificent FrigatebirdFregata magnificens1Embalse Nina Bonita
Double-crested CormorantNannopterum auritum1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Neotropic CormorantNannopterum brasilianum1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Brown PelicanPelecanus occidentalis2Embalse Nina Bonita
Great Blue HeronArdea herodias1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Great EgretArdea alba1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Snowy EgretEgretta thula1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Little Blue HeronEgretta caerulea2Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Green HeronButorides virescens1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
White IbisEudocimus albus3Hotel Playa Larga
Turkey VultureCathartes aura10Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
OspreyPandion haliaetus1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Snail KiteRostrhamus sociabilis2Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Red-tailed HawkButeo jamaicensis1Carretera de la CUJAE, Havana CU-City of Havana 23.04766, -82.41825
Barn OwlTyto alba1Auto selected 22.76491, -82.99434
Cuban TrogonPriotelus temnurus2Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Belted KingfisherMegaceryle alcyon2Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
West Indian WoodpeckerMelanerpes superciliaris1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
American KestrelFalco sparverius1Pinar del Rio–Farming Ponds
Peregrine FalconFalco peregrinus1Carretera de la CUJAE, Havana CU-City of Havana 23.04766, -82.41825
Loggerhead KingbirdTyrannus caudifasciatus1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Cuban CrowCorvus nasicus4Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Cave SwallowPetrochelidon fulva1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Gray CatbirdDumetella carolinensis1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos1Embalse Nina Bonita
Red-legged ThrushTurdus plumbeus1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Cedar WaxwingBombycilla cedrorum2Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Scaly-breasted MuniaLonchura punctulata4Embalse Nina Bonita
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna2Carretera de la CUJAE, Havana CU-City of Havana 23.04766, -82.41825
Tawny-shouldered BlackbirdAgelaius humeralis6Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Cuban BlackbirdPtiloxena atroviolacea1Carretera de la CUJAE, Havana CU-City of Havana 23.04766, -82.41825
American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Magnolia WarblerSetophaga magnolia1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Black-throated Blue WarblerSetophaga caerulescens1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Palm WarblerSetophaga palmarum1Embalse Nina Bonita
Black-throated Green WarblerSetophaga virens1Palpite Casa de Bernabe
Red-legged HoneycreeperCyanerpes cyaneus2Palpite Casa de Bernabe

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