Sunday, 1 January 2017

Trip to Cuba November / December 2016 Part 1

I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba on vacation with my lovely wife at the end of November 2016 and it proved to be a very interesting couple of weeks.  The first thing that happened was the death of Fidel Castro the day we arrived which impacted somewhat or ability to go anywhere for the 9 days of mourning which were immediately declared.  However I was able to get out and about in the Varadero area.  Almost all of the birds I encountered were new to me so I will add pictures below but in some instances the ID will follow later once I work out what they are.  The report will be in 2 or 3 parts as I have a lot of photos to share.
The first I was delighted to spot was my first wild Hummingbird, the Cuban Emerald.  I had a number of opportunities to get a photo but it was either too dark in the early morning or the little thing was moving way too quick.  Anyhow as I rummaged in the undergrowth one morning this guy perched on a tree beside me and allowed a few photos.
This shot was the best of the rest.  The Cuban Emerald is not exactly endemic to Cuba but almost, its only found there and on some of the islands of the Bahamas.  Its just under 4 inches long with a beautiful emerald green plumage, especially if seen in good light.  The only other hummingbird found in Cuba is the Bee Hummingbird, unfortunately not on this trip!!
Found in large numbers on the islands is our old friend the House Sparrow.  the species was introduced by man and has been rapidly expanding its range ever since.
Greater Antillean Grackle forms largish flocks and can be found pretty much all over the island.  They are noisy and tame birds about the size of a Blackbird with a deep blue plumage which has a fabulous sheen when seen in the right light. 
 This cute little thing is the Common Ground Dove, around the size of a large sparrow they forage endlessly in open areas all over the island.
 Unfortunately a pretty poor distant shot of an American Kestrel, the perch he was on was in an inaccessible place so I could not get any closer.
 A grey Catbird came out of the bushes briefly while I was sitting on the balcony in my room.  A scramble to get the camera ensued and I got a couple of nice photos.  You can only just make out the black skullcap from this photo, similar to a make Blackcap.  Their song is very endearing as they sound very like a cat meowing.
 One afternoon as I walked along the pathway behind the hotel after a fairly heavy rain shower I was joined by this Little Blue Heron which apparently thought the pool of rainwater just off shot might provide a meal.  This is in non breeding plumage, the breeding plumage is very pretty.
On a walk to a nearby headland with my wife we came across a small flock of Kildeer feeding.  Subsequently I was to find these on every walk I made in the area.
 On the same walk we were treated to a flypast by a small flock of a dozen or so Brown Pelican.  These are fairly common around the coast in Cuba.
 We were on a visit to a place south of where we were staying when something flushed from a bush close by.  I managed to get this photo of a West Indian Woodpecker (Cuban Race) just before it vanished into the foliage.
 A distant shot of an Anhinga, if you look closely you can just make out the characteristic yellow trim on the tail, plus of course the long snake like neck.
 These guys get everywhere, the Common Moorhen could be found on virtually all of the waterways around the area.
 Another distant photo but this time of the Magnificent Frigatebird,  I saw quite a few of these while I was in Cuba but could never get any closer than this.
 Ok not so much wild birds this time but a couple of peahen in a farm we visited!
 Another bird that appears to be everywhere I go is the Cattle Egret.  This one was in the fields of said farm but there were hundreds of them about.
 The Turkey Vulture was absolutely everywhere we went.  From mid morning it was possible to see dozens of them soaring around, especially alongside roads looking for road kill I expect.
 I have a few photos of this Red Legged Thrush, some better than this which I will share in due course. what a beautiful thrush though..
 This one I am still researching but I think its a Black Billed Cuckoo but I am not sure as there is no sign of the red eye ring.  I will keep you informed.
These are Cave Swallows I think.  They were spotted in a cave and the photos were taken with a pretty poor flash but the white throat and red patch on the head makes me reasonably sure.

As I mentioned I have rather a lot of photos from the trip and will share more when I sort them out.  I also have some nice pics from visits to my patch at Al Hayer last weekend to share, should you get bored of the Cuban ones :)

© Bernard Bracken

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