Monday, 25 March 2013

Cuba 1: endemic birds

Cuban Trogon: the national bird, purportedly reflecting the red, blue and white colours of the country's flag.
It was a long time in the planning, but the preparation paid off and this month’s trip to Cuba proved to be a resounding success. Eight of us went with the primary aim of seeing the country’s endemic birds, and we were not disappointed: of 25 endemic species (according to Clements taxonomy), our 11-day jaunt netted good views of 23 and logged another as heard only. The only complete absentee, as with virtually every tour to Cuba, was the mythical and apparently nocturnal, swamp-dwelling Zapata Rail – almost unknown to locals, never mind visitors. Of course, there was much more to the tour than endemics, and the provisional group list is 174 species, including many regional specialities and numerous migrants. 

There are two subspecies of Cuban Green Woodpecker in the country: this is the widespread nominate percussus.
Rather more elusive was Fernandina's Flicker, a beautifully marked endemic which we rarely saw well.
I organised the tour through the excellent services of Andy Mitchell (no relation) and Havantour. Logistics in the country were faultless from start to finish, with the excellent Erik Garcia as our Cuban escort and assorted local bird guides at several sites. The only hitch was for two of our crew who flew via Amsterdam and missed their connection because of snow when leaving the UK; after an unexpected detour via Panama they arrived a day and a half late. The crew in full: myself, Dr Leo Batten, Neil Bowman, Trevor Ford, Gerard Gorman, Pete Lowman, Andrew Self and Dave Watson. Commiserations to Roy Beddard, who for unavoidable reasons had to pull out on this occasion – hopefully next time.

Zapata Sparrows of the subspecies varonai on Cayo Coco, off Cuba's north coast.
Some of the country's unique species, like Cuban Gnatcatcher, more closely resemble widespread counterparts elsewhere in the region. The crescent behind the eye distinguishes this species from Blue-grey Gnatcatcher.
For now, here are a few of Cuba’s endemic birds – the real specialities that every visiting birder wants to seek out. Some are tougher to find than others, but 11 days proved sufficient time to get virtually all of them on this occasion.

Male Bee Hummingbird - the smallest bird species in the world, but the biggest target for many visiting birders.

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