Total Pageviews

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cuba: Endemics and More

Michael De Rosa
Cuba: Endemics and More
Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean and has the largest number of bird species. It has a varied mix of Caribbean, Central and South American birds, and migrants. At present, 24-species are recognized as being endemic to the island. I was fortunate enough to see half of them. I spent two days at Playa Larga. From there I went birding at the Cienaga de Zapata, the largest wetlands in the Caribbean.  I also did a day trip to Las Terrazas, an eco-village about an hour from Havana. 

Cuban Trogon: This common endemic is the national bird of Cuba. Known locally as the tocororo, after its song.  Not shy and frequently seen in the open.

Cuban Tody: Likes shady spots and is often heard before being spotted. Endemic

Cuban Green Woodpecker: Endemic


Cuban Oriole: Endemic recently split from the black-cowled oriole. It is in
a bottle-brush tree originally endemic to Australia, but now found all over in the tropics.

Zapata Wren: A “soft” image of the most restricted of Cuban endemics. Found reliably only in a small area of Zapata. A couple, our guides, and I spent over an hour playing its call to attract one of the wrens. It played hide and seek with us. At one point I found myself running, tripping, re-gaining my balance as my water bottle went flying for what turned out to be a false alarm. Then, there it was at our feet, so close that I could not focus my telephoto lens. I could feel and hear it as it flew by my face.

Zapata Sparrow: Only a little bit less restricted range than the wren. Shortly after I took its photo, a catbird landed in the same bush.

Fernandina’s Flicker: My guide knew exactly where there was a nest of this endemic. He tapped on the trunk of a palm tree, and the male checked us out. Later we saw it, and the female as they went looking for food.

Yellow-headed Warbler: This is one of two warblers endemic to Cuba. All told 32-species of warblers have been seen in Cuba.
Cuban Grassquit: This endemic is common if you know where to find them. We were given very precise directions-make a right turn and check out the yard of the first wooden house on the right. When we described the bird to the owner he said the tomeguins are usually around here. And sure enough a small flock landed on a bush.

Blue-Headed Quail Dove: This endemic is relatively easy to see in Zapata, but rare to see three at
time. My guide would find the gourds used to make maracas, break them open and leave then 
for quail-doves.
Cuban Parrot: This  sub-species is considered rare and vulnerable.
Also saw the Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Vireo, and the wings of the Cuban Screech-Owl as it broke from its nest hole..
Heard the Cuban Pygmy Owl, but he was not able to bring it in with its call. 
The following are some non-endemic Cuban birds.

Great Lizard-Cuckoo 
 American Kestrel-white morph

 West Indian woodpecker

West Indian Woodpecker in the same tree as the oriole.

 Grey-headed Quail Doves are rare  except in Zapata

Common Moorhens

Common Gallinule

Loggerhead Kingbird

Stripe-headed Tanager (spindalis)
 Stygian Owl: My guide knew the general location of where this one roosted-took awhile before he located it.

 La Sagra's Flycatcher

Emerald. The closest we got to the Bee Hummingbird was my guide hearing its
characteristic wing beats as it flew by.

Palm Warbler

Cape May Warbler
Red-legged Thrush

Every expedition has to have an expedition vehicle. Ours was a 48' Willys Jeep. The chassis is original,
no doors, seat belts, or air bag. It had a Toyota engine and transmission and ran on diesel.
The fuel gauge did not work—no worries it had a dip stick.

This psychedelic 51' Chevy was in the process of being restored. Each of the colors was from a previous paint job.
Under the hood,  a Russian Volgas engine.

Cuba is famous for its American cars of the 1950s, and even earlier years.  There is no convenient field guide to the cars of Cuba,
but there are field marks.

To see them, stop on any street, or visit any of the tourist spots.

You can rent these vintage cars for about $33 an hour, or you can ride the pedicycle for a bit less.

 A 59' Caddy—my favorite

Michael De Rosa, Ph. D.
Professor of Chemistry
Penn State Brandywine
25 Yearsley Mill road
Media, PA 19063
610-892-1416 (office)
610-892-1405 (FAX)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Pileated nest watch

Last Sunday, April 12, I took a new birder, a Swarthmore College professor, birding in the Crum Woods. We were fortunate enough to happen upon a male Pileated Woodpecker excavating a nesting hole in a dead tree along Crum Creek. We watched in fascination as the bird dug deep into the nearly completed cavity and flung wood chips out over his shoulder. What a wonderful experience for a new birder! (and an old one). While we were watching we attracted a bit of a crowd of dog walkers & dogs which I had to break up because the bird was looking a little nervous.

I went back that same afternoon & was lucky enough to get some photos of the male at work.

The wood chips are flying

The red whiskers show it's a male

Sibley and another reference tell me pileated woodpeckers excavate round holes for nesting & oblong holes for feeding.  
I had seen a pair of pileateds at a different nesting cavity nearby last spring and a check of Birds of North America on line tells me that pileateds maintain pair bonds year round and rarely reuse the same cavity so  this very well may be the same pair at work. The same reference tells me that the male does the great majority of nest excavation so this guy was fitting the mold.

This morning, 4/19, I revisited the site and this time I found a female feeding atop the nest tree who then flew down and perched at the nesting hole obviously checking it out to see if the guy did it right. While I had her in a binocular field another pileated called from nearby. Presumably this was the mate but despite repeated calls from the bird & my best efforts I never saw him (it).  If my assumptions are correct the birds will be incubating soon (both, but mostly the female) & the chicks should hatch in about 2 - 3 weeks.  I'll check as often as I can & bring my camera, which I did not do today.

It's easy viewing & I recommend it but be careful not to attract a crowd. The nest is on the opposite side of the creek so that should help prevent disturbance.

If you want specific directions you can contact me

I'll try to keep you posted.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Travel Tip for Maine - Acadia National Park


          For those of you who are looking forward to summer vacation, I would recommend a stay at Acadia National Park located on the coast of Maine. Only about a twelve hour drive from the Philadelphia area, you could be devouring a delicious lobster dinner at one of Bar Harbor's many fine restaurants while watching an ebbing tide.

           The park is home to many plants and animals, and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast. Weekly, annual and senior passes are available to purchase at the visitors center and maps are available for driving and hiking the back country.
             Birding in the park can be spectacular especially if this is your first time visit to New England. Bass Harbor Head Light is the only lighthouse on Mount Desert Island. Currently a private residence for the commander of the local Coast Guard unit, the lighthouse has short trails on either side that provide spectacular views. The lighthouse overlooks the ocean and many seabirds can been seen from the lookouts. Common Eiders are regular as well as Black Guillemots. In the fall search for Jaegers and Red-necked Phalaropes resting on the water. Make sure to search the woods around the parking lot for both White-winged and Red Crossbills.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse
          The 27-mile Park Loop Road system offers outstanding views of the park's ocean shoreline, coastal forests, and mountain silhouettes. This historic road system is open from April 15 through November, 24 hours a day.
Park Loop Road

          The loop road starts at the visitor center and circles the whole island. There are many places to stop along the route, but my favorite spot is the Otter Cliffs area. Black Guillemots are almost a sure thing by scanning the surrounding ocean waters and be patient as the guillemots tend to spend a lot of time underwater.
Scanning for Guillemots

Black Guillemot
          At Schooner Point there is usually a flock of Common Eider floating among the large rock outcroppings from the shoreline.
Common Eider
            Black Scoters are usually present by scanning the ocean from just about any point along the park loop road. If you stop at a pull off that has a large wooded area try traipsing through looking for boreal birds. Gray-cheeked Thrush and Olive-sided Flycatcher could be found there along with nesting Broad-winged Hawks and Peregrine Falcon at Precipice Point. If you are lucky you might come across a Northern Goshawk swooping through the forest.
Olive-sided Flycatcher by Tom Munson
          Another excellent area to bird is called Seawall. Here the water area is protected in a cove and is a good spot for Red-throated and Common Loons, Common Eider, Double-crested Cormorants, Osprey, Yellow-bellied and Alder Flycatchers and many species of warblers, including Black-and-White, Magnolia and Wilson's Warbler.
American Redstart
           Of course after all this birding you'll have to stop for lunch in the park and the best place to do that is at Jordan Pond. The popovers are to die for and is the main reason that most people stop by. You will definitely need reservation for this stop.

Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond dining area
           Kids will enjoy the time in the park also with carriage rides on the old carriage trails throughout the park where they can also bicycle. Another great thing to do with kids is visit the tidal pools at low tide and examine the starfish and sea cucumbers and many other sea creatures that get caught in the pools. The park also has a Junior Ranger program. Mid-May through mid-October, kids of all ages can take part in the Junior Ranger Program to learn about Acadia. They will complete fun activities, participate in ranger-led programs, and take the junior ranger pledge to earn a signed certificate and an embroidered patch.

Carriage Path
              The Pretty Marsh area is a good spot to find passerine species like Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireo, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren Golden-crowned Kinglet, Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler and Purple Finch. As you can see Acadia has a lot to offer. And don't forget to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunrise and be the first person to see the sun rise in the United States that day. Also an evening ride will usually produce a captivating sunset. You can go stargazing on the mountaintop since the park stays open after sunset.
Sunset at Cadillac Mt

          Whale watching tours are also available out of the town of Bar Harbor. On these tours you can usually expect to see some pelagic birds like Great Shearwater or Wilson's Storm-Petrels and maybe Atlantic Puffins. If you don't see any whales you get a free pass to try again another day.
           In the past we have rented a little cabin outside of town which can save you quite a bit of money.

            When you are finished in Acadia, how about a little side trip to Quoddy Head Lighthouse. This town is in the far northeastern portion of Maine where it connects to Canada and Campobella Island, former home of Franklin D Roosevelt. But getting back to Quoddy Head, park at the lighthouse and take a walk through the boreal forest. You can find Boreal Chickadees, Gray Jays(rare), and Sprouse Grouse. The Spruce Grouse tend to be at the end of the boardwalk and everytime I have gone there I have seen the grouse.

          I hope you will be able to get to Maine some day. it would be well worth your time.