CUBA PART TWO

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ITINERARY & DAILY ACCOUNTS

PART THREE

 

 

ITINERARY

 

Sunday 28 Februari:                Flight Amsterdam-Havana. Transfer to Hotel Telegrafo

Monday 1 March:                    Transfer to Vinales. PM birding Vinales. Overnight at Hotel Rancho San Vicente

Tuesday 2 March:                    Birding La Guira NP. Overnight at Hotel Rancho San Vicente

Wednesday 3 March:               Birding Soroa and Las Terrazas. Overnight at Rancho Charco Azul

Thursday 4 March:                   Pre-breakfast birding. Transfer to Zapata. Overnight at Hotel Playa Larga.

Friday 5 March:                       Birding Zapata: La Turba, Soplillar and Las Salinas. Overnight Playa Larga.

Saturday 6 March:                   Birding Zapata: AM Bermejas. PM Palpite. Overnight Hotel Playa Larga.

Sunday 7 March:                     Birding Zapata: AM Bermejas. PM relax at Caleta Buena. Overnight Playa Larga.

Monday 8 March:                    Transfer to Najasa visiting Santa Clara en route. Overnight at Rancho La Belen.

Tuesday 9 March:                    Birding around Rancho La Belen. Overnight at La Belen.

Wednesday 10 March:             Transfer to Cayo Coco. PM birding Cayo Paredon. Overnight at Hotel Playa Coco.

Thursday 11 March:                 Birding Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Coco. PM relaxing. Overnight Hotel Playa Coco.

Friday 12 March:                     Birding Cayo Coco. PM relaxing. Overnight Hotel Playa Coco.

Saturday 13 March:                 Domestic flight to Havana. Evening to canon shooting. Overnight at Hotel Sevilla.

Sunday 14 March:                   Havana walking tour. PM transfer to Hotel Occidental Miramar.

Monday 15 March:                   Visit Havana. Evening flight home arriving next morning.

 

 

DAILY ACCOUNTS

 

Sunday 28 February

In the morning we left home by train and arrived around 11:00 at Schiphol airport. After picking up our visas at the Martinair desk we checked in and went through customs. We did some shopping and had lunch before boarding the plane at 13:30. The plane left one schedule and after a 10 hours uneventful flight we arrived at Havana airport at 18:15 local time. Going through customs went relatively quick. When we walked into the arrivals hall there was nobody around from Cuba Welcome. We first decided to change some Euros into Cuban convertible Pesos. After asking around an employee of CubaTur told us that we had a taxi transfer to Hotel Telegrafo. I told them we were supposed to stay at the Ambos Mundos according to our itinerary but they said it was changed. I double checked by asking if they were sure that it concerned a booking from Cuba Welcome which they confirmed. So we jumped into the taxi and after a 30 minutes drive we arrived at the hotel in the old city centre of Havana at 19:45. We checked in at the hotel’s desk and were told to be ready to leave at 8:00 the next morning. The receptionist however did not know anything about an arranged dinner which was also supposed to be in the itinerary. Well our holiday did not start spotless but we were happy to be in Cuba and the hotel looked very nice. We dropped our luggage at the room and went for a beer and some food at the bar. Here we met our group members from the UK namely Maurice & Rita and Jack & Carol. Later while having a beer together we also met Robert and David from Texas US. We went to bed at 22:30.

 

Monday 1 March

Up at 7:15 for an excellent breakfast where we also met the rest of the group: Margaret from Canada and Margaret, John & Julie, Matthew and Geoff, an Australian family from Sydney. An onwards stroll out on the street produced my first birds of the trip: House Sparrows, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Northern Mockingbird and several Barn Swallows who were nesting under a building’s roof. After breakfast we packed our stuff and were all waiting in the lobby ready to leave at 8:00. However our bus and tour guide Nurys only showed up at 8:45. She also told us that we did not have a permanent bird guide because there were none available at the time. Oops, that was another disappointment! Until now not one thing worked out as expected except that the hotel and breakfast was okay. So we had to do it with local bird guides only which meant we had to bird on our own while en route. We were introduced to our driver Felipe. He was a friendly, helpful and always smiling Cuban who appeared to be an excellent driver during the trip. At 9:00 we were off towards Vinales in the western part of Cuba following the wide and nearly empty motorway to Pinar del Rio. Turkey Vultures (the most common bird in Cuba) were all over the place. After about an hour’s drive we made a stop at a wetland area along the motorway. We watched the wetlands for about half an hour which produced an excellent set of birds like Brown Pelican, Little Blue Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Neotropic Cormorant, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck and at least 250 Lesser Scaup. The grassy area with scattered trees and a small creek on the other side of the road produced Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Kingbird and a Belted Kingfisher.  Later we saw Crested Caracara and Osprey from the bus. A second stop at another wetland produced new birds like Caspian Tern, American Coot, Snail Kite and Purple Gallinule. Around 11:30 we had a short coffee break at a roadside restaurant with a small pond in the back. Here we saw our first of many Cuban Blackbirds, our first endemic of the trip. Nearing Pinar del Rio we left the motorway and followed a winding road towards a viewpoint over the wonderful Vinales valley with it’s mogotes, strange looking limestone mountains with almost vertical walls.  

From the viewpoint we added four new birds: Palm Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-cowled Oriole and the beautiful Western Stripe-headed Tanager. We then proceeded to the historical Rock Mural were we had our lunch stop. The trees in the back of the restaurant produced several Yellow-faced Grassquits. After lunch we slowly walked back to the bus along the rock face which produced an excellent set of new warblers like American Redstart, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue and the endemic Yellow-headed Warbler. Also a beautiful Red-legged Thrush showed up pretty close which gave me a good photo opportunity. Back in the bus we stopped in Vinales town to pick up our local guide called Froilin and headed to the start of the Maravillas de Vinales trail, a rocky trail up into the forest. Our guide appeared to be not much into birds and apparently was more interested in plants and trees. At an open spot at the beginning of the trail some of the group saw Cuban Grassquits, another Cuban endemic. We walked the rocky trail up and down for about 2 hours which produced a couple of new birds like Cuban Emerald, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Cuban Bullfinch, Magnolia Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler and the stunning Cuban Tody. Further away in the forest we heard Cuban Trogon and Cuban Solitaire but we failed to find them. We were back at the bus at about 17:30 and headed back to Vinales town where we stopped to drop our guide and to buy some water and rum in a local shop. We then went to our Hotel Rancho San Vicente which was located about 10 km out of town. We arrived at the hotel at about 18:15 and while waiting for the room keys we had a drink at the pool. Several West-Indian Woodpeckers were flying around the lodge grounds. After we received the room key we had a shower and later pre-dinner beer at the pool. It was quite chilly however in the evenings during the first week of the trip and we soon went in for dinner. The food was not very impressive and we had the most strangest desert ever: a slice of cheese floating in some sort of marmalade sauce. After a nice Havana Club rum we went to our room where I made my daily checklist. Our first day produced 59 species of which a mere 29 were new to my life list. Today also produced my 3000th lifer: Yellow-headed Warbler. The bird of the day was undoubtedly Cuban Tody.

 

Tuesday 2 March

During the night Wilma became seriously ill having stomach problems and diarrhoea. I got up at 6:30 and wasn’t feeling too well either. Wilma decided to stay in bed because she was still feeling ill and weak. When we later heard that more people in the group got ill it was obvious that the problems must have been caused by food poisoning. I arranged some boiled water and tea for her and left our guide’s mobile phone number behind so that she could call us in case of an emergency. We were supposed to leave at 7:30 but we only left at 8:15 because some of our group weren’t ready yet for some reason. Today the area of La Guira is on the menu. I was surprised about the fairly long drive of about one and an half hours to get to the area. Studying the map the next day revealled that it would have been better to visit La Guira on the first day and do Vinales on the second. Anyway after an hours drive we arrived in the village of San Diego de los Banos where we picked up Julio Cesar, our local bird guide in La Guira. Another half an hours drive into the mountains brought us to the Cueva de los Portales. The cave is a popular local tourist attraction as it was used by Che Guevara as a hideout. But more important the place is an excellent spot to find the endemic Cuban Solitaire which we immediately heard after leaving the bus. From the bus we walked along the rock cliff towards the cave producing a few Cave Swallows flying overhead. At the cave Julio Cesar tried to call in the Cuban Solitaire but without success. However we had two new birds for the trip here: White-winged Dove and Scaly-naped Pigeon. Our guide however was very persistent and finally after two hours we had excellent views of the Cuban Solitaire. We were back in the bus around noon and while driving back we stopped at a track leading towards a pine forest. Here we tried for another endemic: Olive-capped Warbler. This time we were successful within ten minutes having excellent views of the bird. We then went for lunch at an hotel near San Diego de los Banos but I was not very much into food because I was still feeling nauseous. After lunch we birded at Hacienda Cortina which is actually La Guira NP. The hacienda comprises an area of 22.000 hectares and the old buildings are surrounded by nice gardens, woodlands and a pond. It was mid afternoon however and since it was fairly warm the birding was very slow. The only new bird during the one and an half hours walk was a Cuban Pewee. At the pond we had amongst Green Heron, Belted Kingfisher and Least Grebe whilst the woodlands produced Cuban Emerald, Loggerhead Kingbird and a cracking male Western Stripe-headed Tanager. After dropping Julio Cesar in the village we made our way back to Vinales. Meanwhile Carol had become ill also and we had to make a few obliged stops for her. In Vinales we again bought some supplies before heading to the hotel where we arrived around 17:30. I immediately went to the room to check out Wilma’s condition. She was a bit better but still very weak. I decided to stay at the room too and skipped dinner. Today’s birding produced 28 birds resulting in only 8 trip ticks of which 7 were lifers. Bird of the day was the Cuban Solitaire. We both slept all evening and night.

 

Wednesday 3 March

After a very long sleep we both got up at 6:30. We were feeling much better then yesterday although Wilma was still very weak. After breakfast we packed our luggage and were ready to leave at 7:30. We left the hotel late again at 8:00 and headed back eastwards in the direction of Havana. We made a short stop at another wetland along the motorway which produced new birds like Gull-billed Tern, Forster’s Tern and some other wetland species that we had seen before. Before driving to Soroa for today’s birding session we decided to visit a cigar factory in a small village close to the motorway. We arrived in Soroa at around 10:30 and after a welcome drink accompanied by live salsa music at the lake we were met by our bird guide Justo. We first birded a forest trail which produced two excellent new birds: Cuban Pygmy-Owl and our first Cuban Trogon, Cuba’s national bird. We then birded at an old coffee plantation where we had Cuban Green Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker new for the list. After lunch we drove up a mountain visiting Buena Vista, a former coffee milling and storage site. However the site did not produce any new birds. Back down the road we birded an unpaved road through some forest which produced Northern Parula, Cuban Grassquit and a female Summer Tanager. Around 16:00 we headed further to the lake at Las Terrazas village. Here we had our first Double-crested Cormorant, whilst the grassy edge along the lake had Common Yellowthroat. At 17:00 we said goodbye to Justo who had proved to be a good bird guide. We were supposed to stay at Hotel La Soroa but again we were informed that the hotel had been changed. I guess we were meanwhile getting used to all the changes and didn’t bother too much about it. The place we were going to stay instead was called Hacienda Charco Azul, a recently opened hotel located about 10km further down the motorway. The place appeared to be a very nice lodge in a nice natural setting on a hill. After a shower I made my daily bird list in the restaurant. Today’s birding produced 45 species of which 10 were new on the trip. Our total trip list was now at 77 species of which 44 were new on my life list. Choosing the bird of the day was easy today: Cuban Trogon. After dinner Maurice, Jack and myself went out for Owls. We heard Cuban Pygmy and Stygian Owl but failed to see any of them.

 

Thursday 4 March

At 6:30 we went out for a pre-breakfast bird walk around the lodge accompanied by Dennis, the local birder of the lodge. Dennis was relatively new into birding and still had to learn a lot. He also did not have binoculars and field guide which made it even more difficult for him. His English however was excellent. We first birded around an orchard close to the lodge which did not produce any new birds. Further down the road we had Common Ground-Dove and Blue-grey Gnatcatcher new for the list. We heard a raptor call which was very similar to the endemic Gundlach’s Hawk. Some of the group had a short glimpse of the bird but it was not tickable. While walking back to the lodge we had an excellent Great Lizard Cuckoo in the orchard we birded before and Cuban Grassquits near the lodge. Back at the lodge we had breakfast before packing our stuff at the room. Outside at the bus we said goodbye to Dennis. Maurice gave him the Cuba bird book which made him very happy. At 10:00 we were all in the bus and headed to Zapata via the outskirts of Havana. During the drive we saw several birds from the bus of which Black-necked Stilt and Northern Jacana were new on the list. After a short coffee break along the motorway we arrived at the Jaguey Grande turnoff towards Zapata where we had lunch at a fairly touristy place. A tree next to the open restaurant held a very obliging male American Redstart. After lunch we checked out a big tree in the back of the restaurant which held several warbler species of which Prairie Warbler was new for the list. At the bus we met Mario Morejon, our bird guide for the coming days. Mario appeared to be a well equipped and excellent bird guide during these days. We onwards birded around a pond at the La Boca area in Zapata for 2 hours or so. We saw a nice set of birds of which Northern Flicker, Cuban Crow, Cape May Warbler and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird were new. We also found a Spotted Rail at the edge of the pond but unfortunately this one wasn’t tickable since it was a dead specimen. Further towards Playa Larga we stopped at a wetland along the main road which held some good birds but nothing new. From here Mario took the bus back to the village while we headed for our next hotel called Playa Larga. We were told that the trees on the left of the entrance road to the lodge often hold roosting Cuban Parrots in the late afternoon. So after a quick shower we checked out the trees and immediately  saw several of these endemic parrots. Later Robert invited us for a whiskey on their porch. Since we don’t like whiskey we quickly picked up our bottle of rum at the room and joined Robert and David for a drink. Soon other members of our group joined also and we had a pleasant chat together until dinner time. After dinner we had one drink at the bar before heading back to the room to make my daily list. Today we had 51 species of which 14 were new for the trip. Bird of the day was Great Lizard Cuckoo.

 

Friday 5 March

At 6:15 we were up for a coffee and to pick up our packed lunch in the restaurant. At the bus Mario joined us and we were off to the swampy area of La Turba located in the north towards the park’s exit. North of La Boca we turned left onto a sandy dike-top road into the swamp. Our first target here was the endemic Zapata Wren. Mario tried to call in the bird for a while but it did not respond. Just as we wanted to set off to try at a different spot the bird suddenly showed up in the tall grass right next to the road. It stayed there and started singing for quite a while. We then headed further into the swamp and walked up and down a track leading in between two marshes while Mario played the song of Zapata Sparrow. After about 30 minutes we were lucky and found a couple next to the track. Another new bird here was a roosting Black-crowned Night-Heron. We then went back to the main road driving back in the direction of La Boca. At an open marshy area along the road we tried for Red-shouldered Blackbird but we failed to find them probably because of today’s strong wind. From here we headed back to Soplillar near Playa Larga. Soplillar is a forested area near a small village with the same name. While walking the trails we had some excellent new birds here like Grey Catbird, White-eyed Vireo, Cuban Vireo and Ovenbird. Mario also heard Scarlet Tanager but we unfortunately missed it. Mario told us he knew a spot with a nesting Bee Hummingbird so we followed him further into the forest. When we reached a big tree Mario pointed out a female sitting on it’s nest. When the bird flew off we waited for a while because not everybody of our group saw it. After about 15 minutes the bird returned to the nest and everyone could have a good look at it. Satisfied we walked back to the bus. It was already nearly 13:00 when we dropped off a part of the group at our hotel. We onwards went for lunch at a nice open restaurant surrounded by forest and a crystal clear cenote, a deep sinkhole in the limestone that connects to the sea. The food looked very nice but unfortunately the restaurant was full. We headed a bit further down the road towards Playa Giron and had lunch at a restaurant at the beach. After a late lunch we headed back towards Playa Larga and visited La Salinas. The area consists of extensive tidal flats surrounded by mangrove islets. We followed a long gravel road into the area and stopped at several spots to scan for birds. There were also two viewing towers along the road which gave excellent views over the area. However we did not find the expected number of waders probably as a result of the high water level. Mosquito’s were a real nuisance especially if you were not standing in the wind. The viewing towers however were mostly mosquito free. New birds recorded at La Salinas included amongst Black Skimmers, Reddish Egret (both white and dark morph), Stilt Sandpiper, Willet, Greater Yellowlegs, Red-breasted Merganser and Cuban Black Hawk. We arrived back at the hotel at 18:30 and after a quick shower I had a beer and a nice Cuban cigar at the bar. After dinner I made today’s list at the porch of our room while enjoying a nice rum. Today we had an excellent day of birding with 61 species, 18 trip ticks and 9 lifers. Bird of the day for me was the world’s smallest bird: Bee Hummingbird.

 

Saturday 6 March

Again up at 6:15 to explore the Bermejas reserve. After a 25 minutes drive we reached the first trail to the left of the road leading into the forest. On arrival Mario introduced us to Orlando who was the park warden and local bird expert at Bermejas. We slowly walked into the forest and stopped after about 400 metres at a trail crossing. Here we stayed for a couple of hours to scan the trails for Quail-Doves. After about 30 minutes a Ruddy Quail-Dove and a Grey-headed Quail-Dove showed up. We also had a brief glimpse of several Cuban Parakeets flying overhead. The Blue-headed however did not show up at all. Wilma got bored after a while of all that waiting and walked back to the bus. We stayed and stood there waiting for about two and an half hours. Afterwards I must say that Wilma was justly right about the birding tactics. This is not the kind of birding that we are used to. Fortunately a very obliging Cuban Tody kept me busy for a while. At 9:30 we headed further to walk the forest trails and I quickly ran back to the bus to get Wilma for some proper birding. About 200 metres before the trailhead I stopped when I saw a White-tailed Deer on the trail ahead of me. I was totally surprised when a Blue-headed Quail-Dove crossed the trail in front of me while I was watching the deer. Back at the bus Wilma told me that she had seen the same bird when she walked back to the bus. We quickly walked back into the forest to join the rest of our group. We followed a trail that after a while ended up at the main road but did not see any new stuff. The open area opposite the road produced new birds like Broad-winged Hawk and the endemic Fernandina’s Flicker. We onwards walked back into the forest on a different trail. Just as we entered the trail we had a Indigo Bunting in a tree to the left of the trail. Orlando knew a dead palm with nesting Cuban Screech-Owls. When we arrived Orlando knocked the palm’s trunk and two Cuban Screech Owls popped up out of the hole. Next target was a roosting spot of Greater Antillean Nightjar and again we were successful. We then walked back to the bus which was still waiting at the first (most northerly trail). On the opposite side of this trail there was a track with flowering trees that sometimes attracts Bee Hummingbird. After waiting for a short while we had nice views of a cracking male. Around 12:30 we hopped into the bus and drove back into the direction of Playa Larga. We again tried to get lunch at the cenote restaurant but this time it was closed because they had no running water. We decided to have lunch at our hotel instead. After lunch we relaxed a bit at the beach before heading out for birds again at 15:30. We birded a forest trail in the back of a small village called Palpite. During the two hours walk we did not see any new birds. Mario heard Worm-eating Warbler but we failed to see it. Other good birds recorded included Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler and at least six Black-cowled Orioles. We decided to have an early dinner because we wanted to go out in the evening for the Stygian Owl which often roosts near the hotel. We finally found the owl in a large tree between some houses in Playa Larga village. We went back to the hotel where we said farewell to Mario who had to guide another group tomorrow. Back at the room I made my daily checklist. Today’s score was 54 species with 11 trip ticks resulting in a trip total of 120 species. Bird of the day for me was the Greater Antillean Nightjar.

 

Sunday 7 March

Today’s plan was another visit to Bermejas because most of our group had missed the Blue-headed Quail-Dove yesterday. Wilma stayed at the hotel today. We arrived at Bermejas around 7:00 where we were again joined by Orlando, the local bird guide. This time we tried for the Quail-Dove at the beginning of the trail where I saw it yesterday. Orlando was apparently only concentrated on the Quail-Dove and totally forgot about other birds. While waiting for the Quail-Dove I saw a White-crowned Pigeon in top of a tree which is actually a new bird for the trip and a Caribbean specialty. Another new bird here was a Shiny Cowbird. Around 9:00 I had enough of all the waiting and walked back to the bus. A part of the group stayed in the forest until noon but the Quail-Dove did not show up. Meanwhile we stayed around the bus where we saw another Bee Hummingbird and a couple of Killdeer on the fields in the back. Together with Jack and Robert we tried the forest trail opposite the Bermejas area but it was very quiet and nothing new showed up. I experienced this morning a bit as lost time and would have preferred to bird in a different area and maybe try for some rails and ducks. Around noon we drove to Playa Giron to visit the museum which commemorates the bay of pigs invasion in 1962. From there we went for lunch at a place called Caleta Buena. It is a kind of all-inclusive place at the coast consisting of small inlets and crystal clear natural pools. We had a buffet style lunch and afterwards relaxed a bit while a part of the group went for a swim. Here we had a Magnificent Frigatebird and the swallows flying above the pools were identified as Sand Martins and Cliff Swallows. At 3:30 we hopped back in the bus and headed back to our hotel. After having a beer at the hotel’s beach together with Wilma I joined Jack and Carol who were going to do some birding a bit further up along the beach at a small wet area. Here we saw several Killdeer, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs and a female Blue-winged Teal. While walking back to the hotel we had a Spotted Sandpiper at the beach. In the evening we all enjoyed a nice lobster dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Back at the room I made up today’s list. Bird wise it wasn’t a very exciting day but nevertheless we saw 52 species of which 7 were new for the trip. Bird of the day for me was the White-crowned Pigeon.

 

Monday 8 March

Not much birding on the menu for today. We had to cover a fair distance of about 450km eastwards to Najasa. After a quick breakfast we left the hotel at 7:30. Just before La Boca we stopped again at the swampy grassland along the road to have another try for Red-shouldered Blackbird. After a while we finally managed to have distant views of this endemic bird. We then headed on and soon hit the motorway eastwards. After a 150km drive we visited the Che Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara and later went into the city centre to visit the central plaza. Around 11:30 we were back on the road again eastwards. Halfway between Santa Clara and Camaguey we stopped again. After a refreshing Pina Colada we had lunch at the open restaurant near a small creek. Around 16:30 we reached the city of Camaguey where Felipe had to refuel the bus. The last section of about 65km to Najasa took nearly two hours because of the bad road condition. Just before we reached the gate towards Rancho La Belen we saw another Red-shouldered Blackbird from the bus. As we entered the ranch property we had a group of Helmeted Guineafowl running across the road in front of the bus. We finally reached the lodge at around 18:00. After a shower we met at the bar having a few beers before dinner in the open restaurant. The food was cold and of low quality. It was chilly in the drafty open restaurant and we soon decided to go to the bar for a nightcap. Doing the checklist on the room was not much work. We only did see 12 bird of which two were new for the trip list of now 129 species. Bird of the day was the Red-shouldered Blackbird.

 

Tuesday 9 March

At 7:00 we went out for some pre-breakfast birding around the ranch. We were accompanied by Camelio the local bird guide. It was soon obvious that Camelio was not much of a help in finding birds. He carried binoculars but he never used them and looked very disinterested. At the gate of the lodge we immediately found one of our first targets: Giant Kingbird. We walked further down the road where we had Limpkin and a flock of Cuban Parakeets who landed on a big tree in a field. We tried to get a closer look of them but Camelio walked to close and flushed the birds. Just before we got back at the lodge Camelio proved to be of use as he pointed out a bird in a far tree. It appeared to be a Plain Pigeon, another specialty bird of the region. At 9:00 we had breakfast and headed out again for birds at 10:00. We first drove down the road by bus and stopped at some horse stables. The trees around the stables held hundreds of Cuban Blackbirds. We walked the track along the stables that ended up at some palm trees. Here we tried for Palm Crow but without success. However we had nice views of Cuban Parakeets feeding on the palm fruits and also a Baltimore Oriole and a Brown-headed Cowbird. At a second stop we finally found several Palm Crows. We then walked up a side track leading to a circular trail through open woodlands. We walked a part of the trail which besides Eastern Wood-Pewee did not produce any new birds. We were back at the lodge for lunch at 12:30. After lunch we relaxed for a while at the pool before getting out again at around 15:30. This time we tried a small lake close to the lodge which often holds West Indian Whistling-Duck. Unfortunately we did not see any during our visit. However we saw some new birds for the trip here like Anhinga and Northern Waterthrush. Back at the lodge we had a beer by the pool before having a hot shower. After dinner we had a very enjoyable evening at the bar until we went to the room at 23:00. Our day list held 48 species with 9 new for the trip resulting in a total list of 138 species. Bird of the day: Giant Kingbird.

 

Wednesday 10 March

Today we were heading for our next destination. We packed our luggage and after breakfast we left around 8:00. We had to cover a distance of about 250km to Cayo Coco. After the first bumpy part of the road towards Camaguey we took the circular road around the city going northwards and later took a left turn following the road towards Moron. A short toilet stop gave me a nice opportunity to make a nice photo of a Green Heron sitting on a fence post along the road. In the town of Esmeralda we had a short coffee break before heading on. Just before the turnoff to the causeway to Cayo Coco Maurice and Jack had a Northern Harrier flying above the agricultural fields along the road. While passing the causeway we saw amongst Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, several Tern species and hundreds of Greater Flamingos. Around 13:00 we arrived at our resort for the next days: Hotel Oasis Playa Coco. After waiting for a while for our room keys at the lobby we walked to our room while a bellboy brought our luggage. After lunch we relaxed a bit and later a part of the group gathered again in the lobby for an afternoon birding session. Here we met our bird guide Odey Martinez and left around 15:30 by jeep to Cayo Paredon. A short stop produced a Cuban Black Hawk along the road. After a 35 minutes drive we reached the island of Cayo Paredon. We got out of the car just before the lighthouse. Within 10 minutes Odey called in both our targets: Cuban Gnatcatcher and Thick-billed Vireo. We then headed on to the beach past the lighthouse to check out the area for some waders but there were no new birds around. However we saw several Magnificent Frigatebirds along the beach. On our way back we stopped at the causeway connecting Cayo Romano and Cayo Coco where we had a white morph Great Blue Heron and several Double-crested Cormorants. On the way back to the hotel I noted an Osprey carrying a fish in it’s claws. We arrived back at the hotel at 17:45. Wilma had arranged a dinner reservation so after a quick shower we met with a part of the group at the seafood restaurant of the hotel. The food was mediocre and after a nightcap at the bar we went to bed at around 22:00. Today’s list produced 34 species of which 5 were new for the trip. Bird of the day was the Cuban Gnatcatcher.

 

Thursday 11 March

After a good breakfast we met at the lobby again at 7:30 for another birding session. Wilma stayed at the hotel to relax and enjoy the beautiful beach and turquoise sea. We went out by jeep again accompanied by our guide Odey. This time we headed west to the island of Cayo Guillermo. After reaching the island we got out of the car and Odey tried to call in our next target: Bahama Mockingbird. After about 15 minutes we had good views of the bird sitting on top of the roadside scrubs. We also saw Crested Caracara walking on the middle of the main road. Mosquito’s were abundant and a real nuisance despite the plentifully used repellent. They even stung through our clothes. On our way back we stopped for a while at a roadside pool that produced amongst Little and Tricolored Heron, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Blue-winged Teal and 50 plus Northern Shovelers. Unfortunately no new birds were around. While driving back to Cayo Coco we had several Roseate Spoonbills flying overhead. Odey knew a good spot for Key-west Quail-Dove at the El Baga Natural Park near the old airport. Unfortunately the bird did not show up but we also did not try for long because of the mosquito’s which were terribly irritating. We then headed further into El Baga towards the beach. Here we had Black-bellied Plover and Royal Tern, but we failed to find one of our targets here being Piping Plover. On our way back we birded the area around the old visitor centre of El Baga. Here we had Cape May Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and another Cuban endemic: Oriente Warbler.     

After that we drove back to the hotel were we arrived around 12:30. The rest of the day was filled in by relaxing at the hotel and at the beach. A dead palm tree right next to the path leading towards our room held a pair of nesting Northern Flickers, which gave me a perfect opportunity to take some nice pictures of this beautiful Woodpecker. In the evening our whole group had a nice meal at the Italian restaurant. Today’s list produced 37 birds of which 4 were new for the trip. Bird of the day was the endemic Oriente Warbler.

 

Friday 12 March

In the morning we gathered again at the hotel lobby at 7:30 for our last birding session of the trip. We went out by jeep accompanied by Odey and first tried the El Baga park again in the northwest corner of Cayo Coco for the Key-west Quail-Dove. Again we failed to find the bird and onwards tried at the beach again which produced a Caspian Tern and a couple of Royal Terns. We then tried at some sewage ponds in the eastern part of the island for the West-Indian Whistling-Duck which was still missing on our trip list. Unfortunately our target was not around but we saw Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs and Northern Shoveler instead. En route we had a short stop for a Merlin sitting on top of a tree alongside the road. We drove back to some high dunes at the coast called Dunes Lomas del Puerto. The view on the turquoise sea and surrounding inland pools was great, but no new birds showed up. We onwards went to Flamingo beach having up close views of about five Flamingos. It was already nearly noon when we had our last effort for the Key-west Quail-Dove at the El Baga site. Surprisingly we finally managed to find the bird. Odey was finally rewarded for his persistence to find this specialty bird. We arrived back at the hotel around 12:30. The rest of the day we relaxed at the resort and enjoyed a spectacular catamaran trip. At the resort I again enjoyed close up views of the Northern Flicker and several Palm Warblers. After enjoying an excellent Monte Cristo cigar in the bar together with David we had dinner followed by a last rum at the bar. At the room I made up my last checklist of the trip resulting in 39 species of which two were new for the trip. Our total bird list ended up at 149 species with a very satisfactory 82 lifers. Bird of the day was the Key-west Quail-Dove.

 

Saturday 13 March

Today supposed to be an easy going day with a short domestic flight back to Havana and a relaxing afternoon in the city centre. However things did not work out as expected. Despite a heavy rain shower we had an excellent breakfast and relaxing morning at the resort. Afterwards we packed our luggage to catch the plane at the Cayo Coco airport. We arrived at the airport at 11:30 and said goodbye to Felipe who was driving back to Havana. After checking in we waited at the gate for our 13:30 flight to Havana. Around 14:00 however we heard that our flight had a serious delay because of problems with the landing gear. We finally left at 17:45 with a 4 hour delay, arriving at Havana airport at 19:00. As a result of the delay we had to go to the El Morro canon shooting ceremony straight from the airport. After the ceremony we had a very enjoyable farewell dinner at the La Divina Pastora restaurant overlooking Havana bay. We arrived late at the marvellous Hotel Sevilla and had a beer at the patio bar before going to bed at around 23:30.

 

Sunday 14 March

We were up late because we were not informed about the fact that the clocks had been turned one hour forward because of daylight saving time. After a quick breakfast we said goodbye to Canadian Margaret who was going to fly home this morning. We onwards had a very enjoyable walking tour in the old city centre accompanied by our guide Nurys. We arrived back at the hotel at 12:30 and packed our luggage before having lunch together with the rest of our group at the swimming pool. At 14:00 we were back at the lobby waiting for our taxi transfer to our next hotel  At 14:15 Robert’s and David’s taxi to the airport showed up and we waved our Texan friends goodbye. Our taxi did not show up until 15:30. Together with our Australian friends we were transferred to the excellent Occidental Miramar hotel in the outskirts of Havana. At the hotel desk we booked a dinner reservation at the recommended La Fontana restaurant which was within walking distance from the hotel. During the afternoon we relaxed at the pool bar. At 19:00 we walked to La Fontana together with our Australian family. Only Margaret decided to stay at the hotel. At La Fontana we had a most enjoyable evening. The place had a lot of ambiance and the food was excellent. The beer and wine flowed plentiful and after a nice Cuban cigar we walked back to the hotel at 23:30 where we had a last drink at the hotel’s bar. We went to bed late at 1:00

 

Monday 15 March

After a good night’s sleep we had a relaxing breakfast. Because we were flying home in the evening we booked our room until 18:00 which cost us an extra 30 CUC’s. At 11:30 we took the hotel shuttle bus to the city centre where we enjoyed another city walk and a couple of beers in the famous Café Paris. At 16:00 we took a taxi back to the hotel were we had a late lunch at the pool bar. We onwards took a shower and packed our luggage. At 17:30 we were joined by our Australian friends at the bar having a last drink together. Our taxi showed up on time at 18:00, we said goodbye to our fellow travellers and were off to the airport which took only 20 minutes. Checking in went smoothly and we took off home on time at 21:00.

 

Tuesday 16 March

We arrived at Schiphol airport at 11:00 the next morning and took the train home were we arrived at around 14:15. Another excellent holiday had come to an end.


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