Cuba Bird Survey Fall 2015

© Rusty Briggs
© Rusty Briggs
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November 2015

Mass Audubon’s South Shore Sanctuaries Director, Sue MacCallum, led 15 members on our annual Cuba Bird Survey. All agreed it was a wonderful program, although Cuba itself was found to be a country of contradictions and beauty: from the modern city of Havana to the oxen working the fields; comfortable air-conditioned bus to people travelling by horseback along the highways; from tiny Bee Hummingbirds to giant anoles.

The time in Cuba covered a wide variety of habitats and the group was very fortunate to have informative and enthusiastic local guides share their knowledge and love of Cuba. They saw many bird species, but also learned about Cuba’s history, culture, flora and fauna, as well as its challenges. The list for favorite birds was long and varied, with a total of 22 species receiving at least one vote. But, the top 5 are:

  1. Cuban Tody
  2. Cuban Trogon
  3. Blue-headed Quail-Dove
  4. Fernandina’s Flicker
  5. Cuban Pygmy Owl

The trip was full of great sights, a few of the group’s favorite moments include:

  • Watching the Mississippi Kites swooping after the Urania moths at Maria la Gorda in Guanahacabibes
  • Snorkeling and floating in the warm waters – what a change from our Massachusetts ocean
  • All the neighbors helping us find the Stygian Owl at Playa Larga
  • Our great Cuban guides - Luis, Yuri & Hector all working so hard and with such good humor to ensure that we had a good experience.
  • Seeing hundreds of pink Greater Flamingos in the wild
  • Sitting quietly at Bermejas Reserve and being rewarded with wonderful looks at Blue-headed Quail-Doves
  • Exploring the Che Guevara cave (Cueva Portales) with Osmany. Hearing the song of the Cuban Solitaire bouncing off the cave walls.
  • Having the Bare-legged Owl pop out of the palm trunk – not just 1, but 2!
  • Learning about the geckos, butterflies, lizards, and other fauna of Cuba
  • Luis’ perseverance in pursuit of the Cuban Grassquit and Fernandina’s Flicker. Seeing the joy on Luis’ face when we found target birds.
  • Having the opportunity to ride in a vintage car in Havana
  • Getting great views of both the Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow, then enjoying a cold cola – maybe the best ever!
  • Seeing the sun glinting off the turquoise back of the Bee Hummingbird.
  • Lunch at the Tiki restaurant – good food, great setting with Cave Swallows and sailing boats on the sea.

To quote one of the travelers:

“ The Cuba trip was exceptional. Great birds, great scenery, great people, and a fascinating country. Our support personnel were especially great. Yuri, our local guide, was well-organized and provided a lot of useful information as well as being a lot of fun. Luis Diaz, our naturalist, was marvelous. His knowledge of birds, plants, and reptiles was amazing. His ability and perseverance in tracking down hard-to-find birds (especially the Fernandina Flicker) was beyond compare. And, of course, Sue MacCallum was her usual helpful self. She was always checking to make sure everyone saw the birds….this was a really great trip!”