Birding Cuba

Birding Cuba

Departure: February 16, 2019
Price: US$2,990

The Republic of Cuba is a nation composed of an archipelago of islands within the northern Carribbean Sea, seated only 150 kilometers (93 miles) southern and throughout the Straits of Florida towards the nearest tip of Key West, the most southern point of The united states.

Having a size of 1,250 km (780 mi), this tropical isle of Cuba is definitely the largest island in the Caribbean and the main one on this archipelago. Addressing an area of 104,556 km2 (40,369 sq. mi), it comprises the majority of the nation’s land area. Cuba’s major island is the 17th-largest island on earth. It consists mainly of flat to rolling flatlands aside from the Sierra Maestra Mountains within the south east. The Republic of Cuba posseses an recognized land area of 109,884 km2 (42,426 sq. mi), but together with coastline and territorial waters its complete area is 110,860 km2 (42,803 sq. mi).

With the whole archipelago southern of the Tropic of Cancer, the local weather conditions are tropical, moderated by northeasterly trade winds that blow year-round. The climate is also shaped by the Carribbean current, that brings in warm water from the equator. Generally (with local variants), there’s a drier time of year from November to April, and a rainier period from May to October. The average temperature is 21 °C (69.8 °F) in January and 27 °C (80.6 °F) in July.

Cuba is home to wonderful beaches, woodlands, mountains, mangroves, and wetlands, but it wasn’t until the nineties that the authorities established laws and regulations to protect the environment. Since that time, Cuba has established a very good system of nationwide protected natural areas in a range of habitats, thus covering some 12% of the entire terrain space, which falls inside approximately 200 conservation units. Amongst these, there are actually 6 RAMSAR sites, 6 Biosphere Reserves and 28 Important Bird Areas. Cuba is also an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) by itself. Despite an excellent percentage of Cuba’s native plant life been turned into farmland in the last Two centuries, 20% of land still remains in its natural condition, practically untouched, and for that reason setting up a safe place for rare and interesting native wildlife, as well as for numerous species of migratory birds and sea creatures.

Cuba’s natural habitats range between forests to coastline mangroves, and wildlife also advantages of man-made man-made environments which include rice fields as well as other farmland. Aside from the mountain ranges of Sierra Maestra and Sierra Cristal in the south-east, the Escambray Mountains at the center, and Sierra del Rosario in the northwest, the island is principally lowland, with dry scrub, savannah, and several types of woodland, which includes lowland and montane rainforest, cloud forest, and dry deciduous forest. Some extensive coastal wetlands are especially interesting for bird watchers, with Zapata Swamp standing out of all of the others.

Be a part of us on this amazing bird watching expedition to Cuba and delight in watching approximately 150 species of birds, including the vast majority of its 28 endemics, as well as some Caribbean specialties, as we thoroughly explore Cuba’s major natural environments.

Overview

  • Highlights: Camagüeyk – Cayo Coco – Zapata – Havana
  • Activities: Bird watching – Wildlife
  • Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
  • Holiday Type: Tailor-made
  • You will visit: Cuba
  • Trip Style: Independent birders – Couples – Small Groups
  • Comfort level: Standard
  • Transportation: Minibus – Boat – SUV
  • Length: 9 Days / 8 Nights
  • Physical demand: Trip may include activities like walks, hikes and boat rides
  • Group size: Minimum 1
  • Pick up / Drop off locations: Camagüey – Havana

Itinerary

Day 1 - Camagüey

Arrival in Camagüey and transfer to our selected hotel, where we’ll spend the first night of the tour. The balance of the day is to be spent in the area of Camagüey, visiting the city and birding in the surroundings, but our activities will be determined by your flight arrival time.

Day 2 - Camagüey to Cayo Coco

We’ll start early this morning, leaving our hotel right after breakfast to start our birding day exploring the area of Sierra de Najasa. This part of Cuba offers the right kind of habitat for some Cuban endemics and specialties, including Cuban Palm Crow and Giant Kingbird, which will be our main targets for the day, since they are unlikely to be found elsewhere in Cuba. Among the specialties and other endemics, we are likely to get our first sightings of Cuban Amazon and Cuban Parakeet.

Plain Pigeon is possible as well, especially in the early morning, as they perch on exposed branches before heading off for feeding. It is also here where we’ll have our first chance for Gundlach’s Hawk and other striking birds including Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, West Indian Woodpecker, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Gray Kingbird and Cuban Crow. There are also several species of North American migrant warblers including Worm-eating and Swainson’s to name but a couple. We will leave the area of Najasa after lunch and drive to Cayo Coco, on the northern shore of Cuba.

This rather long drive will give us the chance to look for new birds as we enjoy traveling through of Cuba’s countryside. The keys are connected to Cuba’s mainland by a scenic 17km causeway, and we expect to get there around sunset; a perfect time of the day to enjoy wonderful views of the Caribbean Sea, with flocks of seabirds including Caspian, Royal, Gull-billed and Cabot’s (Sandwich) Terns, Magnificent Frigatebird, Double-crested Cormorant and Laughing Gull among others. Driving through the first keys, after crossing the causeway, we will be treated to hundreds of egrets and herons, American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill and other aquatic birds.

We expect to arrive at our hotel in Cayo Coco with the late evening light, in time to check in for the following two nights and enjoy dinner at the hotel.

Day 3 - Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Paredón Grande

Today we will explore the keys, searching for specialties and endemics. The keys are coral islands and there are a wide variety of habitats, ranging from sandy beaches and coastal mangrove forests and swamps to thorny scrubland and dwarf semi-deciduous forest inland.

We will explore the area of old Cayo Coco airport, where chances are good for some target birds, like Key West Quail-Dove, Cuban Vireo, Cuban Bullfinch, and one of our target endemics for this area: Oriente Warbler. We will then set off for Cayo Paredón Grande, where we’ll look mainly for Cuban Gnatcatcher and Thick-billed Vireo.

After having lunch at the hotel and have some rest, we will go visiting Cayo Guillermo, where we expect to add another specialty to our list: Bahamas Mockingbird. Other birds likely to be seen here include Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Western Osprey, Western Spindalis and Palm Warbler. There are some wetlands in this area offering great chances for watching and photographing American Flamingo, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler and several species of waders.

Day 4 - Cayo Coco to Zapata Swamp

Today we’ll leave the area of the keys, and head down to the Zapata Peninsula, arguably the best birding location in Cuba. We will use the first morning hours to do some more birding around Cayo Coco and then hit the road for a 400 kilometers drive to Playa Larga, where we’ll spend the following three nights.

We’ll make a stop for lunch along the way near the Village of Santa Clara, in a restaurant with nice gardens offering good birding opportunities. We are likely to find several specialties and some migrants here as well, including Red-legged Thrush, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Cuban Pewee, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Red-legged Honeycreeper among others.

We plan to arrive in Playa Larga in the mid-afternoon, so after checking into our hotel for the following three nights, we’ll set off for some evening birding in the surroundings.

Days 5 & 6 - Zapata

The Zapata Peninsula is a fantastic birding location, and therefore we will explore it thoroughly, mainly searching for endemics and specialties that we might have missed in previous days, and others restricted to this area. There is no fixed itinerary for these two days, and we might change the order of the places visited, but on an average tour in Zapata we would start by visiting the area of La Turba, where to make our first try for Zapata Sparrow and Red-shouldered Blackbird and Zapata Wren, a quite elusive bird restricted to reed beds along watercourses, which is the predominant habitat in this part of Zapata. From La Turba, we will most likely move on to the area of Soplillar, and focus mainly on finding two endemic owls: Cuban Screech (also called Bare-legged) and Cuban Pygmy. It is also here where chances are good for Fernandina Flicker and also for several species of warblers, including Palm, Black-and-white, Cape May and American Redstart to name but a few. Northern Crested Caracara is also possible here.

An afternoon spent in the area of Salinas will give us the chance to enjoy watching several water birds, but also it is here where chances are best for another endemic: Cuban Black-Hawk. The road through Salinas is a dirt one, and we will make several stops for watching birds like American White Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Caspian Tern, American Flamingo, Reddish Egret, Tricolored Heron, Blue-winged Teal, and a great diversity of shorebirds.

In the morning of our second full day in Zapata, we will go visiting the area of Bermeja, to try for the two endemic species of quail-dove: Blue-headed and Grey-fronted. It is crucial to try and get there as early as possible to avoid other birders arriving first, since quail-doves are normally quite shy, so we might leave the hotel before sunrise and probably have a picnic breakfast at the birding spot. It is not uncommon to find mixed flocks of Blue-headed and Grey-fronted Quail-Doves feeding peacefully on the trails, normally mixed up with Zenaida Doves. We will then dedicate part of the morning to find an all-time favorite: Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird on Earth. There are some trails with flowering plants along the edges, which are favored by this minute bird, so we will focus on them to try and find not just this hummingbird, but also Cuban Emerald, which shares the same kind of habitat. We will return to the hotel for lunch and have some rest. Those who wish to enjoy the beach or try for an optional snorkeling excursion can do so this afternoon. Those who wish to continue birding will do so by returning with your local guide and tour leader to the area of Bermejas, where we’ll try for more views of Bee Hummingbird and other local birds.

Day 7 - Zapata to Pinar del Río

We will spend two full days exploring the Porto Jofre and the Southern Transpantaneira area, searching for mammals, birding and enjoying the local wildlife. Our main goal here is to look for Jaguars, and this is the main reason why we are spending quite a long time in this particular spot.

The Brazilian government has decided to protect the local Jaguar population, so sightings of this striking cat have suddenly become fairly regular in the last few years. From our comfortable lodge at Porto Jofre, we will have the chance to make at least four half day boat trips along the Cuiabá River, and get to some isolated areas where Jaguars are frequent.

Most sightings are made from the boat, and the animals normally offer good photo opportunities, like the one in the image on the front page of this tour itinerary. Boat excursions also offer excellent chances for other mammals and of course for watching a wide diversity of colorful birds. We will also have high chances for Giant Otter, and Capybara will be a constant sighting on the riverbanks.

Day 8 - Pinar del Río to Havana via Cueva de los Portales

This morning we’ll leave the hotel and go visiting La Güira and Cueva de Los Portales to look for more endemics and specialties. On our way there, we’ll try again for Cuban Grassquit, which is usually found along the way. Our prime target at Cueva de Los Portales is the endemic Cuban Solitaire, which can be easily detected by its unique call.

We will also explore the cave headquarters of Che Guevara’s Western Cuban Army during the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s. After leaving Cueva de Los Portales, we’ll head for our last birding spot of the morning: La Güira Park (also known as Hacienda Cortina). The list of birds likely to be found here includes the local race of Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Least Grebe, Kildeer, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Western Spindalis and Cuban Trogon among others.

On the way back from La Güira, we will try and make a stop at a small Pine forest to look for Olive-capped Warbler. From Pinar del Río, we will finally drive all the way to Havana, Cuba’s capital city, where we’ll spend the last night of the tour.

On our way to Havana, we will make a stop at the Seis Vías reservoir, a great location for birds like Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Brown Pelican, Western Osprey, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, Snail Kite, American Coot and many others. We plan to arrive at Havana in the afternoon, in time to check into our hotel, and then set off for a short city tour, concluding with a farewell dinner at the Old City.

Day 9 - Havana

After enjoying breakfast at the hotel, you will be transferred to José Martí International Airport where the tour ends.

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