We boarded the bus in the dark on day 4 excited about the list of target birds for the day. From Playa Larga we headed south along the coast of Bahía de los Cochinos to Playa Girón, then east to Refugio de Fauna de Bermeja. There we picked up two additional guides and headed into the forest as it was barely getting light. We didn’t have to hike far to reach a viewing blind made of palm thatch. It was there that we waited, those of us with cameras tinkering with settings lest we miss shots of something good in the dark.
It was the Blue-headed Quail-Doves that were the first to make an appearance: Like an army of rotund electric blue-shielded elves they marched out of the forest in what seemed like an attack formation. They were attracted to seeds placed in front of the blind by the guides. For this species, however, the blind seemed to serve little purpose as the fearless quail-doves waddled too close for photos, then around the back side of the blind to where we were standing. Birders being birders, while enthralled with the show we anxiously looked for the next thing.
That next thing was Gray-fronted Quail-Dove. Far more reclusive, apparently, than the Blue-headed variety, the Gray-fronteds waited to make an appearance. When they did decide to appear, it was far away from the blind where they were barely visible in the dim light. One at a time they’d make a run for it to grab seed in the opening, then retreat back into the forest. The hesitation by Gray-fronteds to be seen well was exacerbated by a combative and much smaller Zenaida Dove that went on the attack and drove off any Gray-fronted Quail-Dove that came near its patch of seeds. Eventually, the Zenaida Dove departed and one Gray-fronted Quail-Dove mustered up sufficient bravery to get close enough for a few photos.
Once we had had enough of quail-doves we hiked back out of the forest where we immediately found more new birds, simultaneously observing our first Cuban Parrots and Cuban Parakeets, both only a few trees apart. Because four life birds that are Cuban endemics within an hour of sunrise apparently isn’t enough, a pair of Cuban-endemic Fernandina’s Flickers flew across the road and landed in the same dead tree as the Cuban Parakeets, shortly after the parakeets departed.
From there we headed to the Babiney Rice Fields and nearby natural wetlands. The birdlife here was rich, with many Nearctic/Neotropical migrants and waterbirds. Later, we returned to the woodlands of Bermeja to look for the Cuban-endemic Bare-legged Owl. One of the local guides knew all of their potential roosting locations in dead palms. What was supposed to be a short walk turned into a long one, however, as the owls were not where they were supposed to be: One tree after another we came up empty-handed. At one point, our local guide tripped on a fallen tree, fell, and broke his nose. He was bleeding profusely. Fortunately, we had a doctor in the house and after some treatment the guide insisted we go on. Eventually, a long long distance into the forest, the guide scraped a dead palm with his hand and a Bare-legged Owl popped out and flew away. Initially upset that I got one blurry flight shot, I was relieved when a second owl popped its head up, seeming completely unamused by the binoculars and cameras aimed its way. After watching us watch it for a few minutes, it retreated slowly back into its roost.
Much of the remaining afternoon was more casual, with a stop for lunch at a nice open-air restaurant at a beach resort and an opportunity for snorkeling. I laid in the shade and watched others snorkel, hoping to find something interesting over the water. Alas, I think the only bird present was Palm Warbler, which became a running joke as there was almost certainly one and and only one Palm Warbler at every single stop on the trip, no matter the habitat, and even in urban areas. We sometimes wondered if it was following us and we looked for it when we arrived somewhere.
After some relaxation time at our hotel – much of which was spent by me running around town – a smaller group of us headed to the village of Soplillar at sunset for Cuban Nightjar. In what was perhaps my biggest photography mistake of the trip, I was prepared to take photos with my Nikon as the guide’s light should’ve been strong enough. What I did not anticipate was that the nightjar would respond to a nightjar recording in attack mode, swooping down on us and hovering back and forth low overhead, screeching loudly and showing off the white patches on its wings and tail. I ended up with no photos, but it immediately occurred to me that the whole scene would’ve been impressive if shot in slow motion on my iPhone, as I’ve done previously for bats.
After the nightjar scene, we drove back to our where I slept fitfully, excited both about the nightjar outing and the next morning’s foray into Zapata Swamp for Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow.
The table below summarizes the 57 bird species observed on our fourth day in Cuba based on output from eBird. The 15 Cuban endemics observed that day are highlighted in green.
|Common Name||Scientific Name||Count||Location|
|White-crowned Pigeon||Patagioenas leucocephala||2||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Common Ground Dove||Columbina passerina||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Blue-headed Quail-Dove||Starnoenas cyanocephala||5||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Gray-fronted Quail-Dove||Geotrygon caniceps||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Zenaida Dove||Zenaida aurita||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Mourning Dove||Zenaida macroura||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Great Lizard-Cuckoo||Coccyzus merlini||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Nightjar||Antrostomus cubanensis||1||Soplillar|
|Antillean Palm Swift||Tachornis phoenicobia||4||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Sora||Porzana carolina||3||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Purple Gallinule||Porphyrio martinica||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Limpkin||Aramus guarauna||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Killdeer||Charadrius vociferus||6||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Greater Yellowlegs||Tringa melanoleuca||3||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Laughing Gull||Leucophaeus atricilla||1||Auto selected 22.28230, -81.21033|
|Royal Tern||Thalasseus maximus||1||Auto selected 22.28230, -81.21033|
|American White Pelican||Pelecanus erythrorhynchos||20||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Little Blue Heron||Egretta caerulea||1||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Tricolored Heron||Egretta tricolor||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis||20||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Green Heron||Butorides virescens||3||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Black-crowned Night-Heron||Nycticorax nycticorax||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Glossy Ibis||Plegadis falcinellus||60||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Bare-legged Owl||Margarobyas lawrencii||2||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Pygmy-Owl||Glaucidium siju||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Cuban Trogon||Priotelus temnurus||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Tody||Todus multicolor||2||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|West Indian Woodpecker||Melanerpes superciliaris||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Fernandina’s Flicker||Colaptes fernandinae||2||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Crested Caracara||Caracara plancus||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Parrot||Amazona leucocephala||4||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Parakeet||Psittacara euops||20||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Pewee||Contopus caribaeus||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|La Sagra’s Flycatcher||Myiarchus sagrae||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Loggerhead Kingbird||Tyrannus caudifasciatus||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cuban Vireo||Vireo gundlachii||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Tree Swallow||Tachycineta bicolor||2||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Cave Swallow||Petrochelidon fulva||8||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||Polioptila caerulea||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Gray Catbird||Dumetella carolinensis||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Northern Mockingbird||Mimus polyglottos||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Yellow-headed Warbler||Teretistris fernandinae||2||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||4||Babiney Rice Fields|
|Red-shouldered Blackbird||Agelaius assimilis||2||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Cuban Blackbird||Ptiloxena atroviolacea||12||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Ovenbird||Seiurus aurocapilla||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Northern Waterthrush||Parkesia noveboracensis||2||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Black-and-white Warbler||Mniotilta varia||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Common Yellowthroat||Geothlypis trichas||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|American Redstart||Setophaga ruticilla||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Cape May Warbler||Setophaga tigrina||1||Auto selected 22.28230, -81.21033|
|Northern Parula||Setophaga americana||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|
|Palm Warbler||Setophaga palmarum||1||Refugio de Fauna Bermeja|
|Prairie Warbler||Setophaga discolor||1||Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571|