Cuba, Day 10, 13 March 2017 - transit day Playa Larga to Cayo Guillermo

Today was a long driving day from Playa Larga to Cayo Guillermo for the last phase of the trip.
Thanks to the sat nav sending us down an extremely dodgy road (which we eventually aborted and turned round!) the drive took far longer than it should have.
Consequently there wasn't much to report birdwise - en route I clocked up Laughing Gulls, 3 American Herring Gulls, Cabot's Tern, Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans from the causeway over from the mainland to Cayo Coco plus Osprey, Cuban Black Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and plenty of Northern Rough-winged Swallows on the journey. As we approached Cayo Guillermo plenty of American Pelicans shimmered pink in the distance.
I was looking forward to the availability of food/drink and birding tomorrow...   

Cuba, Day 9, 12 March 2017 - Bermejas & Playa Larga

Our last day in the Zapata/Bay of Pigs area and I had a just a couple of target species left to go for. I needed to complete the set of Quail-doves so set off on my own in the early morning to Bermejas just inland of Playa Giron. On the 35 km drive there were plenty of American Kestrels on roadside wires and Zenaida Doves on the verges. 2 Cuban Parrots flew over the road and then, just as I was nearing the woodland reserve at Bermejas a Cuban Black Hawk flew low over the road - I'd been scouring the skies for one for days and my target list was now down to just one! Walking the easternmost track through the woods at Bermejas (avoiding a big tour group who went the other way) and I found my wanted bird within about 20 minutes as a Key West Quail-dove walked slowly along the track in front of me. I also saw it or another on the walk back. In the woods I also had 15 Cuban Parakeets (by far my biggest group), several White-crowned Pigeons, 3 Cuban Todys, Loggerhead Kingbird, La Sagra's Flycatcher, c15 Red-legged Thrushes, Magnolia Warbler, 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, 3 American Redstarts, Yellow-headed Warbler and Cuban Green Woodpecker before I got back to my car. Job done!

Key West Quail-dove

Magnolia Warbler 

Yellow-headed Warbler

Northern Mockingbird

American Kestrel

Back in Playa Larga I'd exhausted pretty much all the posibilities so in the late afternoon I went for a walk along tracks through woodland on the north side of the village. Dodging all the rubbish I eventually got into some scubby woodland and in the next hour found Northern Parula, Cuban Vireo, Great Lizard Cuckoo, a Green Heron, Common Gallinule, Cuban Tody, La Sagra's Flycatcher, American Redstart and Palm Warblers. Back at our digs a Royal Tern flew around the bay that also held 3 Little Blue Herons with a Cuban Crow calling in the trees. 

La Sagra's Flycatcher

Cuban Tody

Northern Parula

Cuba, Day 8, 11 March 2017 - La Turba, Cueva de los Peces & Soplillar

This was a day I'd really been looking forward to - getting onto the fabled La Turba Marshes for its restricted range endemics.
I picked Angel up from his house at 06.30 and proceeded to drive the 20 minute or so to the entrance track to the marshes. Then along the narrow and bumpy track (poor old hire car!) for what seemed like ages until we reached a spot to park where we could drive no further.
Setting out on foot along the path we encountered a pair Zapata Sparrows within just a few minutes. Then, a blast of song from the opposite side of a wide water-filled ditch announced the presence of my other main target. With some MP3 encouragement from Angel within seconds we were watching Zapata Wren singing loudly and leaping around in the bush right in front of us! We went on to see another a few hundred yards along the track and a total of c5 Zapata Sparrows including some great views of one on the track. Into the bargain we also had 3 American Purple Gallinules, 3 Black-crowned Night Herons, Green Heron, 4 Neotropic Cormorants, Cuban Green Woodpecker, West Indian Woodpecker and 2 Cuban Bullfinches. On the drive back along the entrance track the final target fell as a Red-shouldered Blackbird flew across the track right in front of the car.        

Zapata Wrens

Zapata Sparrow

Cuban Green Woodpecker

Cuban Bullfinch

With our mission complete we had a bit of time to spare for one of my remaining targets so Angel and I headed off to the dry savannah woodland at Soplillar once again via a showy Northern Flicker and 2 Cuban Parrots by the road. Parking up 2 nice White-winged Doves posed in a tree and 2 Great Lizard Cuckoos and American Kestrels were seen on the walk across the woodland. Angel  was clearly a man on a mission and sure enough we soon reached a dead palm stump. Here he tapped on the trunk and out popped a mega male Fernandina's Flicker! This man clearly does a lot of field work to find nest sites! We finished up with 2 Cuban Parakeets, a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher then a 'Ridgways' Osprey just as I was dropping Angel off back at his house.

Northern Flicker

White-winged Doves

Fernandina's Flicker

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Cuban Parakeet

With the afternoon to spare the girls and I ventured south along the coast from Playa Larga to the Cueva de los Peces. This popular tourist spot for snorkelling has the added attraction (for me!) of really easy Blue-headed Quail-doves that feed around the restaurant/bbq area a few yards away from the carpark. Considering how secretive and elusive the species is at any other site this is amazing and within seconds I'd seen 6 and nearly stood one one as it crossed the path! Also here was Black-and-white Warbler, Cuban Pewee, confiding Red-legged Thrushes, La Sagra's Flycatcher, White-crowned Pigeon and Greater Antillean Grackles.

Blue-headed Quail-doves

Red-legged Thrush

Greater Antillean Grackle

Black-and-white Warbler

After an very enjoyable snorkel we headed back and decided on a quick return visit to the Bee Hummingbirds at Palpite so Belinda could see them. We were welcomed with open arms by the owners who even brought us coffee out this time. Needless to say the birds performed well again!

Cuban Oriole

 Cuban Emerald


Cuba, Day 7, 10 March 2017 - Soplillar & Playa Larga

I did actually get to meet Angel this morning - at 06.30 together with British birder Chris Goodie. The aim was to give the dry woodland at Spolillar and beyond a thorough going over. We spent some time parking up and walking tracks and after several false alarms with Zenaida Doves eventually found a Grey-headed Quail-dove which gave some nice views before skulking away into the trees. While driving the main track a Limpkin was a very welcome surprise and we also scored with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 3 Cuban Todys, West Indian Woodpecker, 2 La Sagra's Flycatchers, Grey Catbird, several Red-legged Thrushes, Magnolia Warbler, a tick in the form of a superb male Cape May Warbler, 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers, c10 Ovenbirds, c8 Black-and-white Warblers, 5 American Redstarts, 2 Northern Waterthrushes a splendid male Black-throated Green Warbler and a Merlin perched with prey above the track (a good candidate for a split). I then got onto another Quail-dove but despite it being positively id'd as a Blue-headed I managed to piss over and not get tickable views! Luckily it didn't prove crucial! Moving out the edge of the more open woodland a Cuban Pygmy Owl, 2 Cuban Parakeets and a Cuban Trogon were perched in the same trees and then out in the open a Crested Caracara was quickly followed by White-crowned Pigeon and then the one we were all hoping for - Plain Pigeon. A Peregrine flew over and while we were moving in to get photos of the pigeon a Prairie Warbler popped up in the sun. Back in the edge main woodland Angel found 2 roosting Cuban Nightjars which were simply superb (and really difficult to connect with). To round things off he then took us to a dead tree stump in the wood, knocked on the trunk and a gorgeous Bare-legged Owl popped out of the top to eyeball us - wow! 3 White Ibis were beside the road as we got back to Playa Larga to drop off Angel.     

Cuban Pygmy Owl

Cuban Trogon

Crested Caracara

Plain Pigeon

Prairie Warbler


Cuban Nightjar

Bare-legged Owl

Back at our digs in Playa Larga the girls had gone out for the day in the car so I wasn't able to venture very far. After a little chilling I decided to wander out towards the west end of the village along the beach. On a tiny pool by the beach was a nice confiding Reddish Egret and in scrub along a creek on the inland side of the road were a female Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, male American Redstart and Cuban Green Woodpecker. Walking back along the beach was very productive with my main target for the walk Cuban Parrot represented by 8 noisy individuals ina beachside tree, a lovely Yellow-throated Warbler in a palm plus Spotted Sandpiper and Cuban Crow also showing well.   

Reddish Egret

American Redstart

Great Lizard Cuckoo

Northern Waterthrush

Spotted Sandpiper

Yellow-throated Warbler

Cuban Parrots

   Cuban Crow

Cuba, Day 6, 9 March 2017 - Soplillar, La Boca & Playa Larga

A 07.30 rendezvous with my guide for the morning Angel was on the cards today but there was just one snag - he failed to turn up! I sat outside our digs for ages waiting for him but by 08.15 it was pretty clear he wasn't coming.
So, plan B had me driving the short distance to the dry woodland at Soplillar to try my own luck. As I arrived I spotted a couple of birders and a guide in the woods so sauntering up to them we got chatting and the French couple and their guide invited me along! I thought this was a stroke of luck but as the morning progressed it became clear the guide wasn't very good (his id skills left a little to be desired!) and the couple were a bit dudey and believed everything he told them - until I kept correcting him! At one point he called me an 'expert' which was a little rich coming from a local guide!

Anyway, despite that we saw some half decent birds the best of which were some mega close views of a Cuban Pygmy Owl and 5 Cuban Parakeets.  Also seen in the couple of hours I was there were 2 Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Grey Catbird, Red-legged Thrush, 6 Great Lizard Cuckoo, Killdeer, 2 American Kestrels, c10 West Indian Woodpeckers, Cuban Vireo, Prairie Warbler and Ovenbird. 

American Kestrel

Great Lizard Cuckoo

Cuban Trogon

Cuban Emerald

Great Lizard Cuckoo

Cuban Parakeet

West Indian Woodpecker

Cuban Pygmy Owl


Smooth-billed Ani

After taking my leave from them I headed back towards Playa Larga and then north back to the ponds and woods at La Boca. Being in the middle of the day things were quiet but I did get Prairie Warbler, Cuban Oriole and 2 Belted Kingfishers whilst over the road at the pool behind the bus shelter were an Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant and Louisiana Waterthrush.

Later that day I went in search of Angel and he pulled up on his moped in the village to ask if I was Chris! We hastily made plans to meet at the crack of dawn the following day. An evening walk along a track east of the village was pretty uneventful and through a rubbish dump! Nevertheless I did see Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Cuban Pewee, Ovenbird, Yellow-headed warbler, Cuban Crow, Grey Catbird and Cuban Trogon.    

Prairie Warbler


Louisiana Waterthrush

Neotropic Cormorant


Northern Parula