Cuba, Day 11, 14 March 2017 - Cayo Paredon Grande, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo

I'd arranged to meet my guide Odey at the Villa Azul on Cayo Coco this morning. Despite it still being dark when I arrived to pick him up he was ready and waiting by the carpark. He broke the news that he was unable to guide me on the other morning I'd booked with him but that we'd spend today trying to get me all my target species.
We proceeded to drive a further 30 minute to the northernmost tip of Cayo Paredon Grande around the area of the lighthouse. En-route we had Grey Plover, 4 Great Blue Herons (including a white morph) and 2 American Flamingoes. Immediately after getting out of the car a Cuban Gnatcatcher showed briefly before we walked further down a track in search of Bahama Mockingbird. We managed to get some decent bins views of this elusive bird but despite Odey's continued use of a tape (and little too much in my opinion) it wouldn't come closer and eventually disappeared completely. After joining forces with Dutch birder Ruben Vlot and his wife we ventured along the main track and very quickly got onto another target - the rare and range-restricted Thick-billed Vireo. It was interesting to note it had 2 blue rings on its left leg from an ongoing monitoring scheme. Further down the track we had 2 other unringed individuals. What quickly followed was some amazing views of the 4th and final target of the area - Oriente Warbler, another endemic. In the immediate area we also had Prairie Warbler, 2 Western Spindalis, a total of 3 Cuban Gnatcatchers, Palm Warbler, a male Common Yellowthroat, 2 Cuban Bullfinches, Magnificent Frigatebirds, 2 Northern Pintails  over and 2 Cuban Orioles. Next we explored another track that led SE from the lighthouse and quickly flushed a nightjar sp from the path. Having no white in the wings or tail and being pretty rufous got us (and Odey!) very interested. Luckily I managed to re-find it perched on a log and it was nailed as a Chuck-will's-widow. According to Odey this was a first record for Cayo Paredon Grande but reading literature I'm not sure it can be. A nice perched and close Cuban Black Hawk finally put that species to well and truly to bed and 2 Cuban Green Woodpeckers finished things off.

Leaving CPG we stopped very briefly on Cayo Romano where to our amazement Odey taped out a Zapata Sparrow which Ruben had somehow managed to miss at Zapata!        

Thick-billed Vireo

Oriente Warbler


Cuban Black Hawk

Cuban Gnatcatcher

Western Spindalis

Magnificent Frigatebird

 Zapata Sparrow

Parting company with our Dutch friends Odey and I headed for Cayo Coco next. Viewing from a bridge looking over a large lagoon we soon spotted a loafing group of 14 West Indian Whistling Ducks which we were able to get closer to by asking the security guards at the adjacent resort. A couple of Northern Flickers were knocking about the hotel area before we walked some scubby tracks beside the lagoon in search of Mangrove Cuckoo. It wasn't to be as we only saw Cuban Vireo and Cuban Pewee and quickly moved onto the beach at nearby Playa Colorada. This undeveloped stretch of beach can be good for waders but it was high tide when we arrived and we could only find c50 Turnstones, 1 Willet, 1 Semi-palmated Plover and c30 Sanderling plus a fly-over Crested Caracara and Brown Pelican.    

Northern Flicker

West Indian Whistling Ducks

Cuban Vireo

Brown Pelican

Crested Caracara

I dropped Odey off at his digs and drove back to Cayo Guillermo with a feeling that the trip was now about to fizzle out a bit as I'd seen all my main targets with 2 full days to spare! The afternoon was to have been the day I drove to Camaguey and then onto Najasa but I was feeling crap with a touch too much sun and really coudn't have made the long drive. It would have got me 3 new birds, none of which had huge appeal so I decided against it.

Later in the afternoon feeling a little more chipper I went for a short wander along the road just outside of resort entrance - there were plenty of Short-billed Dowitchers and Stilt Sandpipers on the scrape plus Black-necked Stilts flying in and a pair of American Flamingoes.  

A little Wensum Valley birding, 30 March 2017

The Great Grey Shrike near Sparham seemed to have been regularly seen over the past few days so I popped along this morning. It literally showed within seconds of me getting out of my van in its favoured hedge by the road and then on telegraph wires by the road. By the time I'd got my scope out it had gone further along the hedge hence the hasty phone-scoped photo! Also there were a Common Buzzard and a couple of singing Yellowhammers. 

While in the area it would have been a shame not to have a wander so I settled on Sparham Pools, an old haunt of mine from years back. A couple of Blackcaps were singing by the carpark signalling an arrival over the last 2 days. Chiffchaffs were everywhere, the water was quiet with just 3 Gadwall and Great Crested Grebe but it was nice to see common birds paired up including a pair of Goldcrests, Stock Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a single female Reed Bunting. 3 more Common Buzzards circled over and then down at Lyng bridge a male Grey Wagtail was in full song and a Sparrowhawk displaying over the woods.

Great Grey Shrike, Sparham   

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 - Scaly-naped 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

Scaly-naped 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