Cuba – Day 4 – Un Combate Decisivo Para la Victoria

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 NameScientific NameCountLocation
White-crowned PigeonPatagioenas leucocephala2Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Common Ground DoveColumbina passerina1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Blue-headed Quail-DoveStarnoenas cyanocephala5Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Gray-fronted Quail-DoveGeotrygon caniceps1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Zenaida DoveZenaida aurita1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Mourning DoveZenaida macroura1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Great Lizard-CuckooCoccyzus merlini1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban NightjarAntrostomus cubanensis1Soplillar
Antillean Palm SwiftTachornis phoenicobia4Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
SoraPorzana carolina3Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Purple GallinulePorphyrio martinica1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
LimpkinAramus guarauna1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
KilldeerCharadrius vociferus6Babiney Rice Fields
Greater YellowlegsTringa melanoleuca3Babiney Rice Fields
Laughing GullLeucophaeus atricilla1Auto selected 22.28230, -81.21033
Royal TernThalasseus maximus1Auto selected 22.28230, -81.21033
American White PelicanPelecanus erythrorhynchos20Babiney Rice Fields
Great Blue HeronArdea herodias1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Great EgretArdea alba1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Little Blue HeronEgretta caerulea1Babiney Rice Fields
Tricolored HeronEgretta tricolor1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Cattle EgretBubulcus ibis20Babiney Rice Fields
Green HeronButorides virescens3Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Glossy IbisPlegadis falcinellus60Babiney Rice Fields
Turkey VultureCathartes aura1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Bare-legged OwlMargarobyas lawrencii2Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban Pygmy-OwlGlaucidium siju1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Cuban TrogonPriotelus temnurus1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban TodyTodus multicolor2Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
West Indian WoodpeckerMelanerpes superciliaris1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Fernandina’s FlickerColaptes fernandinae2Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Crested CaracaraCaracara plancus1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban ParrotAmazona leucocephala4Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban ParakeetPsittacara euops20Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban PeweeContopus caribaeus1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
La Sagra’s FlycatcherMyiarchus sagrae1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Loggerhead KingbirdTyrannus caudifasciatus1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cuban VireoVireo gundlachii1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Tree SwallowTachycineta bicolor2Babiney Rice Fields
Cave SwallowPetrochelidon fulva8Babiney Rice Fields
Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Gray CatbirdDumetella carolinensis1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Yellow-headed WarblerTeretistris fernandinae2Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna4Babiney Rice Fields
Red-shouldered BlackbirdAgelaius assimilis2Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Cuban BlackbirdPtiloxena atroviolacea12Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
OvenbirdSeiurus aurocapilla1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Northern WaterthrushParkesia noveboracensis2Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Black-and-white WarblerMniotilta varia1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Cape May WarblerSetophaga tigrina1Auto selected 22.28230, -81.21033
Northern ParulaSetophaga americana1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571
Palm WarblerSetophaga palmarum1Refugio de Fauna Bermeja
Prairie WarblerSetophaga discolor1Auto selected 22.15320, -80.82571

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