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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)

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