Wednesday 25 February 2015

Return from Cuba!

Yesterday I returned from an awesome trip through Worldwide Quest Nature Tours where I co-guided (along with Glenn Barrett) a group of 15 people to beautiful Cuba. The trip was an absolute success with many great sightings of birds and other wildlife throughout the two weeks. Without a doubt I miss the place already, especially after stepping out into -15 weather to start my car this morning...ughh....(Hey, at least it is not -30 anymore! Right?).

At some point I will make more detailed posts complete with lots of photos, but for now I will list a few of the highlights. While the trip was not a dedicated birding trip, and our focus was on all sorts of wildlife and plants, my main personal goal was to see as many of Cuba's unique bird species as possible. We managed to see 18 country endemics (out of 28 total), including some difficult ones in Fernandina's Flicker, Gray-fronted Quail-Dove, Cuban Grassquit and of course the world's smallest bird - Bee Hummingbird.

I was happy to finally lay eyes on my first Cuban Tody - a new bird family for me. These tiny fellas are somewhat related to kingfishers, jacamars and motmots, yet come in at approximately 4.25 inches in size. Their cuteness and bold colours more than make up for their small stature!

No birding trip to Cuba is complete without a healthy dose of Tocororos, or Cuban Trogons, the national bird whose colours are the same as the flag. Their call of "toco-roro-roco-roro" is what inspires their local name in Cuba.

The Caribbean islands are a major wintering ground for a large number of North American songbirds, and Cuba is the stronghold for quite a few species. I was happy to have spectacular views of some tough to find species in Ontario - namely Louisiana Waterthrush, Prairie Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and best of all - Swainson's Warbler! I was happy to get this extremely poor photo of one, as it was quite possibly one of my most wanted North American birds. In one spot we had three individuals foraging at relatively close range in the dark understorey of deciduous woods in the Zapata Peninsula.

The rarest bird of the trip was no doubt the Townsend's Warbler that we found about two-thirds of the way through the trip in the Escambray Mountains. As far as I am aware this is a first record for Cuba and one of only a small handful for the Caribbean region. A spankin' adult male too!

The reptiles of Cuba are a huge attraction as well. Our visit was in the dry season, which, coupled with unseasonably cool temperatures at times, put a damper on reptile activity. That being said we observed about 10 species of lizards, Cuban Sliders, and a few Cuban Racers. This one here is a Curly-tailed Lizard (Leicocephalus carinatus).

Lots more to come - stay tuned!

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