Cuba – Day 5 – Ciénaga de Zapata y Paella

I awoke on day 5 in Cuba expecting that day would be the highlight of the trip and I was not disappointed. Once again we departed under the cover of darkness, our bus weaving its way through difficult turns in narrow one-lane city streets. We eventually got out of town and realized as the sun rose that we were driving through a vast Everglades-like marshland. We finally arrived at our first location: an obscure dirt path into the swamp, but we sat on the bus wondering what was going on. We were eventually told the driver of our “swamp vehicle” was pulled over by police and would be there shortly. Eventually, he appeared.

Río Hatiguanico

We boarded the 1940s-era truck at a location called La Turba. It was a tight squeeze on hard wooden benches. We drove for what seemed like an hour, finally arriving at a location near Río Hatiguanico, relieved both to bird and rescue our back-ends from the ride. From there, we walked, the road surrounded on both sides by a vast marshland. At an opening, one of our guides played the call of Zapata Wren. And played it some more. And more. No response, except from a Cuban Pygmy-Owl who flew in and perched nearby. We walked farther, tried again, and again no response. The other guide continued down the road, with some of the group following him. I elected to stay, waiting out what seemed like pointless call-playing to a phantom species that might remain but a dream.

Suddenly, I saw our trip leader running toward us. “Zapata Sparrows!” he said. Those of us on the wren search fast-walked up the road, eventually finding the rest of the group and looking for a tell-tale sign as we approached that they still had the birds in their sights. Fingers pointing to the trees indicated they did, and I eventually got close to enough to observe a show being put on two apparently-mated green, yellow, gray, and brown sparrows as they danced from tree to tree, ground to tree, and across the ground frequently displaying and calling. The photo opportunities were remarkable. Alas…

“Zapata Wren!”

The guide I was with was gesturing wildly for us to join him, and we hurriedly made our way back to where we started. It took awhile to find them, as – apparently – Zapata Wrens don’t like to come into the open. I saw two, first using my binoculars instead of my camera. One was open enough for me to try to take photos. After a lot of missed shots because of my camera wanting to focus on everything but the bird, I eventually got several shots of Zapata Wren. I felt victorious.

Bahía de Cochinos and Casa Ana Birding

After another glute-punishing ride out of the swamp we headed back to Playa Larga for lunch at a restaurant overlooking Bahía de Cochinos. There we gorged on seafood and looked for waterbirds. From there, staying in town, we stopped at Casa Ana Birding which is just a house like any other except it has a “Casa Ana Birding” sign in front. Intrigued, we followed the walkway back to a spectacular garden with benches, water features, and a feeding station. Birds flitted everywhere. Most of them were wintering warblers, and all of us agreed they were the most amazing views of any of these species we had ever had, even with all of us having birded migration “fall-out” locations. The ruckus did not go unnoticed by a Cuban Racer, which lay in wait for a non-observant warbler to fly close enough to become lunch.

Salinas de Brito and Paella

Most of us took the late afternoon trip to Salinas de Brito, an area of vast but shallow saltwater lagoons and extensive mudflats. For me, the highlight was hundreds of American Flamingos as this was the first time I had seen a flamingo outside of a zoo. Watching them fly was a spectacle (oh, to have gotten flights shots!) as they seemed so cartoonishly Seussian. A secondary highlight was a fairly cooperative Cuban Black Hawk.

It was near dark when we returned to the hotel, feasting on seafood paella that had been cooking all day and learning Cuban salsa from our guides. It was a nice way to end our stay in Playa Larga, as we were to be traveling across the country to Cayo Pardon Grande the next morning.

Most of the bird photos in the slide shows above (the better ones, at least) are available on my photography site at

The table below summarizes the 58 bird species observed on our fifth day in Cuba based on output from eBird. The 11 Cuban endemics observed that day are highlighted in green.

Common NameScientific NameCountLocation
American FlamingoPhoenicopterus ruber100Las Salinas de Brito
Common Ground DoveColumbina passerina1Zapata–La Turba
Bee HummingbirdMellisuga helenae2Casa Ana Birding
Cuban EmeraldRiccordia ricordii3Casa Ana Birding
Clapper RailRallus crepitans1PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
Common GallinuleGallinula galeata2Casa Ana Birding
Black-necked StiltHimantopus mexicanus20Las Salinas de Brito
Black-bellied PloverPluvialis squatarola1PN Cienaga de Zapata – Las Salinas – 1st platform
DunlinCalidris alpina3PN Cienaga de Zapata – Las Salinas – 1st platform
Greater YellowlegsTringa melanoleuca1Zapata–La Turba
WilletTringa semipalmata4Las Salinas de Brito
Lesser YellowlegsTringa flavipes8Las Salinas de Brito
Caspian TernHydroprogne caspia4Las Salinas de Brito
Royal TernThalasseus maximus10Las Salinas de Brito
Wood StorkMycteria americana1PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
AnhingaAnhinga anhinga1Auto selected 22.28374, -81.20983
Neotropic CormorantNannopterum brasilianum1Zapata–La Turba
American White PelicanPelecanus erythrorhynchos30Las Salinas de Brito
Least BitternIxobrychus exilis1Zapata–La Turba
Great Blue HeronArdea herodias1Zapata–La Turba
Great EgretArdea alba10Las Salinas de Brito
Snowy EgretEgretta thula1PN Cienaga de Zapata – Las Salinas – 1st platform
Little Blue HeronEgretta caerulea1PN Cienaga de Zapata – Las Salinas – 1st platform
Tricolored HeronEgretta tricolor1Las Salinas de Brito
Reddish EgretEgretta rufescens2PN Cienaga de Zapata – Las Salinas – 1st platform
Green HeronButorides virescens2Zapata–La Turba
Black-crowned Night-HeronNycticorax nycticorax1Zapata–La Turba
White IbisEudocimus albus10PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
Roseate SpoonbillPlatalea ajaja15PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
Turkey VultureCathartes aura6Zapata–La Turba
OspreyPandion haliaetus1PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
Northern HarrierCircus hudsonius1PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
Cuban Black HawkButeogallus gundlachii1PN Cienaga de Zapata–Las Salinas
Cuban Pygmy-OwlGlaucidium siju1Zapata–La Turba
Belted KingfisherMegaceryle alcyon1Zapata–La Turba
Cuban Green WoodpeckerXiphidiopicus percussus2Zapata–La Turba
Cuban PeweeContopus caribaeus1Zapata–La Turba
Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea1Zapata–La Turba
Zapata WrenFerminia cerverai2Zapata–La Turba
Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos1Casa Ana Birding
Red-legged ThrushTurdus plumbeus3Zapata–La Turba
Zapata SparrowTorreornis inexpectata2Zapata–La Turba
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna1Zapata–La Turba
Cuban OrioleIcterus melanopsis2Zapata–La Turba
Tawny-shouldered BlackbirdAgelaius humeralis4Casa Ana Birding
Cuban BlackbirdPtiloxena atroviolacea8Casa Ana Birding
OvenbirdSeiurus aurocapilla1Casa Ana Birding
Louisiana WaterthrushParkesia motacilla1Zapata–La Turba
Louisiana/Northern WaterthrushParkesia motacilla/noveboracensis1Zapata–La Turba
Common YellowthroatGeothlypis trichas1Zapata–La Turba
American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla1Zapata–La Turba
Cape May WarblerSetophaga tigrina3Casa Ana Birding
Northern ParulaSetophaga americana12Casa Ana Birding
Yellow WarblerSetophaga petechia1PN Cienaga de Zapata – Las Salinas – 1st platform
Black-throated Blue WarblerSetophaga caerulescens6Casa Ana Birding
Palm WarblerSetophaga palmarum1Zapata–La Turba
Yellow-throated WarblerSetophaga dominica1Casa Ana Birding
Prairie WarblerSetophaga discolor1Zapata–La Turba
Yellow-faced GrassquitTiaris olivaceus2Casa Ana Birding

To get automatic updates when new content is posted please enter your email address and click the Subscribe button below.

Join 2,348 other subscribers

Leave a Reply

Create a website or blog at