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Cuba 2010 (1 Viewer)

Arbu

Well-known member
I have a list of places in the World I would like to visit, and to be honest, Cuba was never on it (!), but a £100 flight on eBay with Virgin to Havana was enough to tempt me into making a trip. So here’s a quick trip report. I did not have time to buy a dedicated field guide before I left so my Ids below are just made with A Photographic Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by New Holland, Sibley’s Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America, and the Wikipedia page on the Birds of Cuba http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Cuba. If anything looks wrong, or you are able to help with any of my questions below, then I’d be pleased to hear from you.

13th May. A number of swifts flying around the Castillo de la Fuerza in Havana looked very much to be Chimney Swifts. The Wikipedia page says that these are only accidental but they seemed to fit this ID.

14th May. Driving to Playa Larga. Nothing remarkable except the only Osprey of the trip at La Boca and a Black Hawk on the beach near Playa Larga.

15th May. Out with the bird guide Angel near Soplillar. Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Pygmy Owl, Cuban Screech-Owl, a Northern Waterthrush, and, best of all, a Blue-headed Quail-Dove on the path.

16th May. Driving out past the abandoned rice fields north-east of Playa Larga in the early evening. Lots of Northern Jacana, a Black-crowned Night Heron, a Limpkin, and lots of blackbirds with red on their wings. Would these have been Red-Shouldered or Red-Winged? Wikipedia says that both occur and that the former is endangered, but I’m not sure what the difference is and to me they seemed to be quite common. Also about a dozen whistling ducks flying over. Again Wikipedia leaves me wondering if these were more likely to have been West Indian or Fulvous? The photographic guide only mentions West Indian so at the time I assumed that this is what they were.

Heard a Stygian Owl in the hotel grounds at 10pm, but couldn’t see it.

17th May. Out with Angel again north of La Boca, into the marshes. We failed to find the Zapata Wren, but saw two Zapata Sparrows and a Cuban Pewee. Then across to some disused fields east of the road to Playa Larga where we saw both Fernandina’s and Northern Flickers and Cuban Parrot. Then down to near Soplillar where Angel showed me a female Bee Hummingbird on its nest and a juvenile Gundlach’s Hawk.

Afternoon walk on my own, where I finally found some Western Stripe-headed Tanagers, and got two more sightings of Gundlach’s Hawks.

18th May. Drive to Trinidad, seeing Red-tailed Hawk and Bobwhite on the way.

19th May. Boat ride to Cayo Blanco south of Trinidad. Not many seabirds, but on the Cay were two female American Redstarts, a Bahamas Mockingbird, and a Wilson’s Plover.

20th May. What I think were Cave Swallows were flying around the Museo Historico in Trinidad. But one or two of them seemed to have very white backs. Is this correct for Cave Swallows? Or maybe they just had a bit of albinism.

An afternoon walk in the Topes de Collantes produced a Ruddy Ground-Dove and some swifts that I had trouble identifying. There’s a photo attached below. They seemed almost completely plain, with, at times, slightly forked tails. Could they have been Black Swifts? I certainly couldn’t make out any white collars, so the only other possibility from the Wikipedia page would be Black Swift.

21st May. Around Yaguanabo. Pairs of each of Cuban Parrot and Cuban Crow at Yaguanabo Arriba. In the evening, at the shrimp ponds, lots of Antillean Nighthawks, a Grey Plover, a Turnstone, a Semipalmated Plover and a very small wader which I think was a Least Sandpiper. I couldn’t see the colour of the legs as the light was poor, but the bill didn’t look right for Semipalmated or Western Sandpiper.

22nd May. A Crested Caracara by the road near Cienfuegos. An afternoon visit to the Rio Hatiguanico produced a number of Orioles which I assume must have been juvenile Black-cowled Orioles, although they looked pretty different from the adults I had seen previously (photo attached). Also another Fernandina’s Flicker.

23rd May. A number of Antillean Palm Swifts around the Castillo El Morro in Havana.


Here’s a provisional list:

Northern Bobwhite
West Indian Whistling-duck
Wood Stork
White Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Black-crowned Night-heron
Green Heron
Cattle Egret
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Magnificent Frigatebird
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Anhinga
Turkey Vulture
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Osprey
Gundlach's Hawk
Cuban Black Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Common Moorhen
Limpkin
Black-necked Stilt
Grey Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Wilson's Plover
Killdeer
Northern Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Least Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Sooty Tern
Rock Pigeon
White-crowned Pigeon
Scaly-naped Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-dove
Mourning Dove
Zenaida Dove
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-dove
Ruddy Quail-dove
Blue-headed Quail-dove
Cuban Amazon
Great Lizard-cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Bare-legged Owl
Stygian Owl
Antillean Nighthawk
American Black Swift
Chimney Swift
Antillean Palm-swift
Cuban Emerald
Bee Hummingbird
Cuban Trogon
Cuban Tody
West Indian Woodpecker
Cuban Green Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Fernandina's Flicker
Greater Antillean Pewee
Grey Kingbird
Loggerhead Kingbird
La Sagra's Flycatcher
Cuban Vireo
Black-whiskered Vireo
Cuban Crow
Cuban Martin
Cave Swallow
Northern Mockingbird
Bahama Mockingbird
Red-legged Thrush
House Sparrow
Yellow Warbler
American Redstart
Northern Waterthrush
Yellow-headed Warbler
Black-cowled Oriole
Shiny Cowbird
Cuban Blackbird
Red-shouldered Blackbird
Tawny-shouldered Blackbird
Greater Antillean Grackle
Eastern Meadowlark
Cuban Sparrow
Cuban Bullfinch
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Western Spindalis
 

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Gavia

Well-known member
Re: Cuba Trip Questions

Hello Arbu;

I don't often read of trip reports from Cuba in May, so I read yours with interest.

>>>13th May. A number of swifts flying around the Castillo de la Fuerza in Havana looked very much to be Chimney Swifts. The Wikipedia page says that these are only accidental but they seemed to fit this ID.

I'd suggest that these were Antillean Palm-Swifts. Chimney Swift is VERY rare in Cuba, and it is never easy observing all the salient details with swifts in flight.

>>>16th May. Driving out past the abandoned rice fields north-east of Playa Larga in the early evening. Lots of Northern Jacana, a Black-crowned Night Heron, a Limpkin, and lots of blackbirds with red on their wings. Would these have been Red-Shouldered or Red-Winged? Wikipedia says that both occur and that the former is endangered, but I’m not sure what the difference is and to me they seemed to be quite common.

Red-winged Blackbirds do not occur in Cuba, and Red-shouldered are very, very scarce, the antithesis of "quite common". Only a few hundred pairs in the entire country. These are much more likely to have been Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds, whose orange-tawny wing patches can appear reddish.

>>>Also about a dozen whistling ducks flying over. Again Wikipedia leaves me wondering if these were more likely to have been West Indian or Fulvous?

These would have been West Indian Whistling-Ducks.

>>>19th May. Boat ride to Cayo Blanco south of Trinidad. Not many seabirds, but on the Cay were two female American Redstarts, a Bahamas Mockingbird, and a Wilson’s Plover.


Bahamas Mockingbirds are nearly extirpated from Cuba, and hang on along a few Cayos far to the east of Cayo Blanco. I expect you saw a Northern Mockingbird, which have driven the Bahamas from most of their former (albeit still limited) range on Cuba.

>>>20th May. What I think were Cave Swallows were flying around the Museo Historico in Trinidad. But one or two of them seemed to have very white backs. Is this correct for Cave Swallows? Or maybe they just had a bit of albinism.

None of the swallows that occur in Cuba have white backs, so I suppose that these were pigmentally challenged swallows.

>>>An afternoon walk in the Topes de Collantes produced a Ruddy Ground-Dove and some swifts that I had trouble identifying. There’s a photo attached below. They seemed almost completely plain, with, at times, slightly forked tails. Could they have been Black Swifts? I certainly couldn’t make out any white collars, so the only other possibility from the Wikipedia page would be Black Swift.

The shape of the swift suggests Antillean Palm-Swift. Black Swift is unknown from western Cuba.

>>>21st May. Around Yaguanabo. . . .and a very small wader which I think was a Least Sandpiper. I couldn’t see the colour of the legs as the light was poor, but the bill didn’t look right for Semipalmated or Western Sandpiper.

Given poor lighting it is best to just say "peep" sp., though either Semipalmated or Least is a possibility.

>>>22nd May. A Crested Caracara by the road near Cienfuegos. An afternoon visit to the Rio Hatiguanico produced a number of Orioles which I assume must have been juvenile Black-cowled Orioles, although they looked pretty different from the adults I had seen previously (photo attached).

The name of the oriole is now Greater Antillean Oriole, and the juveniles do indeed look different from the adults.

On the trip list you indicated "Cuban Sparrow". There is no such species. I presume you mean Zapata Sparrow.

Anyone planning a trip to Cuba might find the following links to be useful. First, some local birding contacts:

http://maybank.tripod.com/cuba/cuba-birding.htm

And there are a large number of Cuban trip reports here:

www.birdingtheamericas.com

Hope this helps.

Blake Maybank
Nova Scotia, Canada
 

Arbu

Well-known member
Thanks very much for your help Blake.

To be honest I didn't look at the Swifts I identified as Chimney Swifts for very long, so I could be wrong. But it seems odd that they should be so rare in Cuba. Don't they migrate through the Caribbean?

I'm quite sure about the Mockingbird. I saw thousands of Northern Mockingbirds before I saw this one and it was clearly something different as soon as I saw it. Larger, showing less white on the wings, and spots on the tip of the tail when it flew. But I don't mind if you don't believe me ;).

Attached is another photo of one of the swifts in the Topes de Collante. Would an Antillean Palm Swift ever show such a fanned out tail? There really was no white visible on any of the swifts.

I may have been confusing some Tawny-Shouldered Blackbirds with Red-Shouldered. Neither was in either of my books after all. But the ones I saw at the rice fields had a very vivid red on the wings. It couldn't have been more red. They reminded me of African Bishops in breeding plumage. There was a flock of about a dozen of them, maybe three or four of them males. So I think that they at least were Red-Shouldered. Angel showed me one the next day and it looked just the same.

Re the "Cuban Sparrow", I use a list from BirdLife and that's how the name came through http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=9026&m=0
 

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Gavia

Well-known member
Hi Arbu;

Re: the Mockingbird. It isn't whether or not I believe you (I'm neutral) -- it is just that this would represent a significant range expansion for a locally endangered species, so, at least with respect to a "record" (as opposed to a person's life list), good documenation is required.

Re: the blackbirds. When, in your original post, you described the blackbirds as common, I thought in terms of "common" in relation to North American blackbirds (icterids), ie, hundreds or thousands. But seeing that you actually saw fewer than a dozen, then Red-shouldererd comes back into the frame, and is quite reasonable, especially with post-breeding birds eating in rice fields.

Re: the swift. Your latest photo of the swift shows a fanned-out tail, which actually doesn't help much, since none of the expected species typically show the tail this way. So I'd still go with Antillean Palm-Swift -- it is the default swift in Cuba, and the wings are right.

Re: Zapata Sparrow. Both the American Ornithologists' Union and Clement's Birds of the World go with Zapata Sparrow (Torreornis inexpectata), so I think that is the way to go. All other trip reports, and the existing field guides, also use this nomenclature.


Regardless of all the above I hope you agree that Cuba is a superb destination, and that you'd like to return.


Cheers,


Blake
 

GMK

Well-known member
Cuban birds

"Arbu",

Swifts in Havana would certainly have been Antillean Palm Swifts, especially in the place where you saw them, which is close to a large breeding site for the species. Blake is quite correct that Chimney Swift is a very rare migrant on the island: I've seen one in 16 visits, and I'm probably doing reasonably well to have seen that one.

However, Blake is quite incorrect about your other swift, which patently is Cypseloides niger (Black Swift): the head, body and tail shape are all quite wrong for the palm swift, never mind the plumage. Your photos may not be the greatest (no disrespect), but the bird obviously lacks any suggestion of pale underparts and throat, which any self-respecting palm swift would show. Antillean Palm Swift is like a stick insect with a stick-on head and long slim wings. Atop all of that, unbeknownst to Blake, Black Swift breeds in the Topes de Collantes, in caves alongside White-collared Swift. It's mapped for there in the Cuban field guide (quite correctly). Nonethless, it has obviously declined in this region of Cuba: at the end of the 19th century Frank Chapman found it abundant there. Not these days, but you were fortunate. Well done.

Blake is correct that the mockingbird would be a new site in Cuba, but your brief description sounds reasonable: did you see Northern on the same cay or not?

As for the merits of Cuban versus Zapata Sparrow, I "grew up" on Zapata but as the bird is represented by three very disparate populations, only one of which occurs in Zapata (which is by far the rarest) one can satisfactorily argue that the decidedly less emotive Cuban moniker is more correct.

Not sure how many people recognise it, but the resident oriole on Cuba is Cuban Oriole Icterus melanopsis, if you follow the split of Greater Antillean proposed a couple of years back.

If you see any more flights for £100 PM me. Sounds like the best value birding trip to Cuba in history.
 
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Arbu

Well-known member
Thanks Blake and Guy. Here's my final photo of a swift at Topes de Collantes. Again it's nothing special, but I've brightened it up and I think it's clear there's no white on the bird. There were about half a dozen of these swifts in the Topes, near a small cave with a river running through it called La Batata.

On Cayo Blanco I saw no other mockingbirds. Apart from the birds already mentioned I saw just Yellow Warblers, Grey Kingbirds and a Spotted Sandpiper there.

Guy I'll let you know if I see any more flights for a similar price although I think this was a bit of a one off. I did actually post on here http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=170217 to see if anyone else might have been interested, but it was very short notice.

On the whole I felt Cuba was interesting but not amazing. The birding around Playa Larga was great, and Havana was interesting. I also did a cave dive at Cueva de Peces which was brilliant. But at Trinidad it rained terribly, maybe because of the proximity of the mountains. Other problems were that the mosquitos at Playa Larga were horrific, and Cuban food has to be the worst I have come across anywhere - mostly plain boiled rice and dry meat. In retrospect I think I would have just stayed at Playa Larga and explored that area in more depth, and managed without a hire car - this cost almost £400 for nine days so I could have really got a bargain trip that way.
 

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njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
Dear all,
sorry to have not seen this thread before.

You have a couple of rarer photos here, which I would encourage you to upload to the gallery. For example, 0 photos of the screech owl there!

I have never been to Cuba, but the Mockingbird described would sound even better for Tropical than Bahamas M. I would have described the tail of BM differently, and there are another couple of features not included in your short description that I would have liked to see if it really was BM. And yes, Tropical M is probably even more rare in Cuba, so you would need a better description for it to be accepted by a rarities committee if you wanted to submit it.

Niels
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Also, the Cuban Oriole split is currently recognized by IOC, AOU and Clements, so it is about as accepted a split as you could hope for
 

Arbu

Well-known member
Dear all,
sorry to have not seen this thread before.

You have a couple of rarer photos here, which I would encourage you to upload to the gallery. For example, 0 photos of the screech owl there!

I have never been to Cuba, but the Mockingbird described would sound even better for Tropical than Bahamas M. I would have described the tail of BM differently, and there are another couple of features not included in your short description that I would have liked to see if it really was BM. And yes, Tropical M is probably even more rare in Cuba, so you would need a better description for it to be accepted by a rarities committee if you wanted to submit it.

Niels

OK, it was almost a year ago now. But I've had a look at photos of mockingbirds online and I still think it was Bahamas. It was streaky and clearly bigger than Tropical and Northern. I don't want to submit the sighting to a rarities committee.

I'm on a very old and slow computer at the moment, but will submit photos to the gallery once my new one is up and running.
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
Thanks Arbu, you did not mention the streakyness first time, and that was one thing I referred to when saying something was missing.

Good to hear that you will upload some photos!

Niels
 
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