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April Sun in Cuba: Playa Pesquero, Holguin April 2017

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Old Tuesday 9th May 2017, 19:41   #1
gwatola
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April Sun in Cuba: Playa Pesquero, Holguin April 2017

Introduction

Cuban bird reports are like buses. You wait ages, and then two come along (see Adare’s “Cuba with a few birds” posted 5th May 2017). This gives a useful insight into birds likely to be found at the western end of Cuba, and can be compared with this report from the eastern end. His is also like mine a “non-birding” holiday (that’s what I tell my family too).
This is a report on an all-inclusive holiday at Playa Pesquero Hotel, organized by Thomas Cook. We flew from Manchester to Holguin airport, and then an hour by bus to the resort. After booking the holiday I came across a trip report by John Yates (JY), who stayed here in August 2006 (http://www.birdtours.co.uk/triprepor...-august-06.htm). This was very helpful in finding our way around. Blake Maybank’s trip reports also had a lot of information. We also went on two sight-seeing day trips and had a morning’s birding with Carlos, a local bird guide ([email protected]). We were there in the last two weeks of April.

Basics

Cubans are poor. So some tipping is to be expected when receiving a service. The 50c coin is very useful, rather than a peso (which is still only 78p or so), and both parties will be happy. Tipping appropriately is a bit of an art – the Canadians tip lavishly, but everyone makes their own choices. There is not a lot to buy in Cuba either. The people are very friendly and it seems very safe. The weather while we were there was cloudy and slightly windy, but still warm, for the first week, and then sunny for the rest. We had occasional tropical downpours, which dropped migrants in. Our hotel was very good value; we could choose several restaurants to eat at instead of the buffet (which still had a good choice) on half the nights we were there. The Seafood, Caribbean and Romantica Restaurants were great (lobster – yum), but sadly the Cuban Restaurant on our night was terrible.

Localities
The thumbnail shows some of the localities mentioned around PP

Hotel Playa Pesquero

Lots of birds to be seen, and the occasional surprise like a West Indian Whistling Duck flying past our porch after a tropical downpour. Red-legged Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Cuban and Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds, Kingbirds, common doves, Western Spindalis, Greater Antillean Grackles and Cuban Oriole were easily seen. Cuban Emerald wasn’t, possibly because it had moved to its breeding sites. Antillean Nighthawks turned up in numbers on the 22nd, and were then easily seen in the early morning and late afternoon hawking overhead. One even swooped in one afternoon to perch in a small tree near our room. Sitting in the porch chairs birding was always interesting.

Blue Bridge Mangroves (Ecological Preserve)

This is JYs “Ecological Preserve”, which is between the beach and the Hotel Blau Costa Verde next door to the east. It is a largish area of mangroves with a large brackish smelly lagoon in the middle, crossed by the Blue Bridge. This was a nice circular walk in the early morning or evening, with always something to be seen or dropping in. Birds usually present included Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Snowy, Cattle and Great Egrets, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Clapper Rail, Black -necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Tricoloured Heron, Killdeer, Solitary and Stilt Sandpipers, Least Sandpiper, Mangrove Warbler and Northern Waterthrush. Blue-winged Teal, Osprey and Cuban Green Woodpeckers were also occasionally seen, and I flushed a Least Bittern one morning.

Butterfly Track

This cut-through from outside the hotel east to the main road had some good birds, notably Cuban Green Woodpecker feeding young and a pair of Cuban Vireos. The small trees before the entrance at the western end always had some warblers in them. There were only a few butterflies, probably not the right season.

Sewage Works (The Pools)

At the eastern end of the Butterfly Track keep walking down the main road until you get to a little hut on the right and stone semi-walls on both sides of the road, forming a kind of village entrance (about 20 minutes walk). On the left (east side of the road) there is a wire fence across a track. You can unlatch this and walk down to the Sewage Works. A caretaker maintains the grounds, and we tipped him a peso to go in, for goodwill. There were a lot of hirundines, the only place we really saw any, and various waders. A pair of White-cheeked Pintail were a good find.

Market Track

This track is found just past the local market, where the horse and carriage drivers park up in the shade. Unlatch the wire fence again. An insalubrious fly-tipping area, with loads of land crabs. The trees were full of warblers, especially the first 200m, and going down a side track further along I came across a Key West Quail-Dove. Our bird guide Carlos said this was a good place for Painted Bunting, but I think we were a few weeks late in the season (March).

Salto del Guayabo

We went to the waterfalls here (the highest in Cuba) on a sight-seeing taxi tour with Yuri ([email protected]). The private taxi tours work out cheaper than the arranged bus excursions and are more flexible and interesting. The road between Antilla and Mayeri is very bumpy. At Mayeri we were transferred into a jeep, and the road up the mountain is also rubbish. The waterfall is pretty cool though, and we had a Cuban Trogon on the wires outside the rustic restaurant, and Cuban Bullfinch and Scaly-naped Pigeon also. Maybank says that Gray-headed and Blue-headed Quail-Doves, and Cuban Solitaires are to be found here, and Oriente Warblers and Olive-capped Warblers were seen. Bee Hummingbird is also reputed to be present. We only had a couple of hours here, so it may be worth arranging a longer time beforehand with your guide to have a good look around. On the way back to PP the heavens opened and it poured. I was lucky enough to see a Limpkin sheltering under a tree near Antilla, which I had been keeping my eyes open for. Perseverance pays off!

Holguin & Gibara

We went with Julio ([email protected]) on this taxi tour to two local towns. Antillean Palm-Swifts were seen in the central square at Holguin. At Gibara Cave Swallows were around the bridge on the way in. The tide was in so no birds were seen on the mudflats. The road between Gibara and Holguin and the back road between Gibara and Rafael Freyre are very bumpy. The back road is supposed to be good for birding.

Carlos’ Sites

Carlos took us out one morning to two local sites (possibly on the Gibara back road – I didn’t take much notice). At the first site we had Meadowlark (probable split) in some fields, and then on a wooded hillside Cuban Tody, Trogon, Grassquit, Pygmy-Owl, and La Sagra’s Flycatcher. There is also a faint chance of Bee Hummingbird. At the second arid scrubby site we saw Cuban Gnatcatcher and Pewee, and Oriente Warbler, and Pygmy-Owl again. A good trip and Carlos is very enthusiastic.

The trip list:

90 species, 41 of those “lifers”, a good return from a nice country and a very relaxed holiday.

West Indian Whistling Duck: one flew past our room (Block 14) after a tropical downpour.
Blue-winged Teal: a pair at the Blue Bridge
White-cheeked Pintail: a pair at the Sewage Works
Least Bittern: one flushed at the Blue Bridge
Great Egret: Blue Bridge
Tricolored Heron: Blue Bridge
Little Blue Heron: Blue Bridge.
Snowy Egret: Blue Bridge
Western Cattle Egret: common in the countryside
Green Heron: Blue Bridge
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron: Blue Bridge
Magnificent Frigatebird: odd ones over Playa Pesquero (PP)
Anhinga: one over PP
Turkey Vulture: Ubiquitous.
Osprey: Blue Bridge
Red-tailed Hawk: one w Vultures at Carlos’s site 1
Clapper Rail: Blue Bridge
Common Gallinule: Blue Bridge
Limpkin: one near Antilla
Black-necked Stilt: Blue Bridge; Sewage Works
Killdeer: PP; Sewage Works
Solitary Sandpiper: Blue Bridge
Spotted Sandpiper: Blue Bridge; Sewage Works
Greater Yellowlegs: Blue Bridge
Lesser Yellowlegs: Blue Bridge
Least Sandpiper: Blue Bridge; Sewage Works
Stilt Sandpiper: Blue Bridge; Sewage Works
Turnstone: PP; Blue Bridge; Sewage Works
Royal Tern: odd ones over PP
Laughing Gull: several offshore PP
Rock Pigeon: PP, countryside
Scaly-naped Pigeon: Salto del Guayabo
Collared Dove: Holguin; PP; Mayeri
White-winged Dove: common
Common Ground-Dove: tiny and common
Key West Quail-Dove: Market Track
Mourning Dove: common
Zenaida Dove: the least common of the “common” doves
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: Fairly common around PP
Great Lizard Cuckoo: Fairly common around PP
Smooth-billed Ani: Fairly common around PP
Cuban Pygmy Owl: Carlos’ sites
Antillean Nighthawk: PP
Antillean Palm Swift: Holguin
Cuban Emerald: Carlos site1; PP; Blue Bridge; Salto del Guayabo
Cuban Trogon: Carlos site 1; Salto del Guayabo
Cuban Tody: Carlos site 1
Cuban Green Woodpecker: Butterfly Track; Blue Bridge
Northern Crested Caracara: infrequently seen
American Kestrel: Salto del Guayabo; occasionally seen elsewhere
Merlin: PP beach
Peregrine Falcon: PP soaring with Vultures
Cuban Pewee: Carlos site 2
La Sagra’s Flycatcher: Carlos site 1
Grey Kingbird: Ubiquitous
Loggerhead Kingbird: slightly less common than Grey Kingbird
Cuban Vireo: Carlos site 2; Butterfly Track
Black-whiskered Vireo: common and vocal
Sand Martin: Sewage Works
Cuban Martin: PP occasionally
Barn Swallow: Sewage Works
Cave Swallow: Sewage Works; Gibara
Cuban Gnatcatcher: Carlos site 2
Northern Mockingbird: common
Red-legged Thrush: common
House Sparrow: common
Northern Waterthrush: Blue Bridge
Common Yellowthroat: common
American Redstart: common
Cape May Warbler: common
Northern Parula: common
Blackpoll Warbler: Market Track
Mangrove Warbler: Blue Bridge
Black-throated Blue Warbler: Salto del Guayabo; Market Track
Palm Warbler: common
Yellow-throated Warbler: Market Track
Prairie Warbler: Market Track
Oriente Warbler: Carlos site 1
Eastern Meadowlark: Carlos site 1
Cuban Oriole: PP; Carlos site 1
Tawny-shouldered Blackbird: PP
Cuban Blackbird: PP
Greater Antillean Grackle: Ubiquitous.
Shiny Cowbird: PP
Cuban Bullfinch: Salto del Guayabo
Cuban Grassquit: Carlos site 1
Yellow-faced Grassquit: PP; Salto del Guayabo
Western Spindalis: PP; Salto del Guayabo
Indigo Bunting: Butterfly Track

Attachments:
1: Playa Pesquero localities
2: Cuban Tody
3:La Sagra's Flycatcher
4: Cuban Trogon
5:Western Spindalis
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Old Thursday 11th May 2017, 14:56   #2
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Nice report.Hope you enjoyed your holiday.
You were there just at the right time with the migrants dropping in.
Its a great location for a relaxing holiday and easy going birdwatching on the doorstep.
We were just north west of you at the Sol Luna Y Mares which is next to a huge lagoon,sewage works,a sheltered bay and dense woodland.Lots of different habitats for a great variety and number of birds.
That part of Cuba is lovely.Unspoilt and so peaceful.
We'd go back at the drop of a hat.
If anyone is staying in your area they can get an open topped bus to the Luna Y Mares area for a change of scene.

Last edited by pratincol : Thursday 11th May 2017 at 15:49.
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Old Thursday 11th May 2017, 16:21   #3
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Thanks for posting this! Off to playa Costa verde next month so good to see what is around!
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Old Thursday 11th May 2017, 16:32   #4
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A tropical paradise. Best all inclusive we've ever stayed at. We had a brief look at Luna Y Mares, just ran out of time basically!
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Old Thursday 11th May 2017, 16:34   #5
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Happy to help! I'll be interested to see how the birds change in June. No migrants maybe?
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Old Thursday 11th May 2017, 17:02   #6
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How long did it take to get to salto del guayabo and how much did this excursion cost? I'm only visiting for a week for a wedding so may have to stay local but this looks interesting!
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Old Thursday 11th May 2017, 17:03   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gwatola View Post
Happy to help! I'll be interested to see how the birds change in June. No migrants maybe?
The Luna Y Mares is a bit rough and ready although the Luna side is very peaceful.The hotel on the other side of the lagoon is in another league- very posh.
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Old Friday 12th May 2017, 19:31   #8
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Hi

Yuri charged us 120 CUC for the 4 of us, which was a good deal. Lunch at the restaurant was extra. Carlos our birdguide might also be able to arrange something similar.
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Old Friday 12th May 2017, 20:47   #9
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Thankyou gwatola!
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Old Friday 26th May 2017, 12:00   #10
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Sounds like you have a great time there. I was in Cuba at February, but I didn't go that far in East. Maybe next time. Cuba is wonderful place. I'm really jelouse of yours White-cheeked Pintail and West Indian Whistling Duck (and couple of more that you see, and I don't...)
Maybe in some point I have a time to do short trip report also...
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Old Friday 2nd June 2017, 09:49   #11
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Sounds like you have a great time there. I was in Cuba at February, but I didn't go that far in East. Maybe next time. Cuba is wonderful place. I'm really jelouse of yours White-cheeked Pintail and West Indian Whistling Duck (and couple of more that you see, and I don't...)
Maybe in some point I have a time to do short trip report also...
Hi That would be great - always interesting to see other trip reports. If you think Cuba is good wait until you get to Panama - best birding ever.
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Old Saturday 24th June 2017, 16:35   #12
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Playa Pesquero, June 15-22 2017

Hope no one minds me adding my trip list to this thread! It was essentially a non-birding trip and don't feel its worthy of its own thread!

I stayed in the Playa Costa Verde hotel, opposite the blue bridge mangroves. A very nice hotel, and for only £800 package with Thomas Cook from Manchester. The only bad thing I could say about the hotel was the locals coming in at the weekend, making service slower, and we saw 1 pretty messy fight between some of them and hotel security one evening. The only good things I would say about the Thomas Cooks flights is they got us there(eventually) and back! Terrible service and uncomfortable planes! Holguin airport is basic so I would recommend eating before you get there on departure.

The weather was mostly good but this was in the rainy season and we had some big thunderstorms, and the local mosquitos got a good feed off us

I never had time to go on an excursion further afield so did all my birding within walking distance of the hotel. I visited the blue bridge mangroves, sewage works, butterfly track, and market track as mentioned above. At the end of the market track is a T-junction, going right here takes you towards the sewage works, and at the south end of the small community on this track, there is an obvious track to the east that takes you to the wooded hillside. The morning was getting on when I tried here and didn't get the chance to explore much or return, but I felt this was the one area I should have spent most time. On another morning I walked to wooded hill about 3.5km away by heading south east on main road away from Playa Pesquero, then south west along an wide unpaved road, but I couldn't find an obvious access point, and the previous nights alcohol and heat were getting to me so returned seeing very little. There is another sewage works to the south of this unpaved road, but again I could not find access into it.

I saw only 45 species, 24 of which were lifers, plus 1 additional heard only

Laughing Gull - max 3 seen over hotel/beach
Tricolored Heron - a few blue bridge most days
Snowy Egret - blue bridge
Great Egret - blue bridge
Yellow-crowned Night Heron - fairly common in area
Black-crowned Night Heron - 2 seen blue bridge one morning
Green Heron - blue bridge
Cattle Egret - several seen between airport and hotel, 1 at hotel
Killdeer - common
Black-necked Stilt - common
Clapper Rail - 3+ seen one morning only blue bridge
Common Gallinule - blue bridge
West Indian Whistling-duck - 1 blue bridge, 5/6 sewage works
White-cheeked Pintail - 1 ad with 3 young sewage works
American Kestrel - seen twice Playa Pesquero and 1 near airport
Turkey Vulture - common
White-winged Dove - seen most days
Common Ground-dove - common
Zenaida Dove - seen twice, max 3 birds
Mourning Dove - common
Smooth-billed Ani - common
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - 3 seen between Playa Pesquero and the hill 3.3km away
Great Lizard Cuckoo - seen a few times in area
(Cuban Pygmy-owl - 1 heard only market track)
Antillean Nighthawk - common
Cuban Emerald - common
Cuban Tody - 1 butterfly track, common market track/wooded hillside
Cuban Green Woodpecker - seen butterfly tack, market track and wooded hillside
Grey Kingbird - Common
Loggerhead Kingbird - common away from hotel
Cuban Martin - a pair seen 3 mornings, seemed to prefer the Blau Costa Verde hotel area
Cave Swallow - small numbers seen most days
Northern Mockingbird - common
Red-legged Thrush - common
Cuban Vireo - fairly common
Black-whiskered Vireo - common
Oriente Warbler - fairly common
Mangrove Warbler - common blue bridge
Western Spindalis - fairly common
Cuban Oriole - seen on a few occasions around hotel
Cuban Blackbird - seen each day in small numbers
Greater Antillean Grackle - common
Shiny Cowbird - seen most days, including young being fed by both vireo species
Tawny-shouldered Blackbird - common
Yellow-faced Grassquit - common
House Sparrow - common

The hotel and especially the market track/wooded hillside area were infested with smart black,red and yellow land crabs, some of which were an impressive size

A good place to go for a relaxing sun holiday with a bit of casual birding on the side I guess. Despite the small amount of species seen, the number of individual birds was decent, especially before 8am. My main reason for visiting was to see friends get married, but if I had a choice on when to visit it would certainly be when northern migrants are around!

Cheers,
John
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Old Monday 3rd July 2017, 07:55   #13
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Nice report JW. Amazing how all the migrants disappeared. Spring and Autumn definitely best then :-)
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