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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cuba

Saturday 17 March to Monday 26 March 2018
with Jon Dunn as leader
Wednesday 28 March to Friday 6 April 2018
with Jon Dunn as leader

Price Pending

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  • Bare-legged Owl, a Cuban endemic in its own genus, <em>Margarobyas</em>

    Bare-legged Owl, a Cuban endemic in its own genus, Margarobyas

  • Cuba's national bird, the Cuban Trogon.

    Cuba's national bird, the Cuban Trogon.

  • The stunning Blue-headed Quail-Dove, one of four quail-doves in Cuba

    The stunning Blue-headed Quail-Dove, one of four quail-doves in Cuba

  • Cuban Parakeet, a Cuban endemic sadly declining due to habitat loss.

    Cuban Parakeet, a Cuban endemic sadly declining due to habitat loss.

  • Cuban Tody, and endemic and one of only five todies worldwide.

    Cuban Tody, and endemic and one of only five todies worldwide.

Cuba, the largest of the Greater Antilles with over 42,000 square miles, lies only 93 miles south of Florida. For most Americans, this large island has been inaccessible since the Batista government fell at the end of 1958 and Fidel Castro assumed control, but over time, and especially over the last decade, rules have relaxed and Americans can once again visit, albeit with some restrictions, mostly from the American side. As in so many other parts of the world, the habitats of Cuba were severely impacted by logging and other activities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Cuba’s case, trees were felled to expand the sugarcane industry. Despite this, Cuba has an extensive series of national parks and preserves and the government takes conservation issues quite seriously. Of Cuba’s 29 endemic birds, only one is definitely extinct, the Cuban Macaw (since 1864), and we should see over 20 and possibly as many as 26. An almost equal number of species are unique or nearly unique to the West Indian region, most of them restricted to the Greater Antilles or the Bahamas, and the summer breeders will have arrived by late March. In addition many North American birds will still be here on their winter grounds.

Cuba has long been catering to European and Canadian tourists and has a good infrastructure of roads and hotels. Historic Camagüey, restored to the Spanish colonial period, is worth seeing by itself, and we’ll spend part of the final afternoon touring the city by bicycle taxi. Finally, Cuba has long cherished its distinctive and fine musical heritage. We will be serenaded at meals by some of the best musicians in the country. 

Day 1: Our tour will start mid-morning with a gathering at the Ft. Lauderdale airport followed by an early afternoon flight to Havana**. After immigration and clearing customs we will met by our Cuban leader and ground staff and will head toward the 18th century French town of Las Terrezas, just over an hour away. Located in the mountains, our accommodation is one of the best of the tour and birds are numerous on the grounds. Here we should see a number of endemic species, including Cuban Bullfinch and Cuban Blackbird along with a number of other West Indian species and wintering North American warblers. We will watch carefully amongst the White-crowned Pigeons for the striking Scaly-naped Pigeon, a West Indian endemic. After dinner we will do some evening birding, looking in particular for the endemic Bare-legged Owl. Night near Las Terrazas.

Day 2: This morning we will bird the grounds at Moka searching for what we may have missed the previous afternoon, notably Scaly-naped Pigeon. Nearby is a pig farm that has attracts many grassquits, mostly Yellow-faced (West Indian subspecies), but also a number of the striking and endemic Cuban Grassquit. Later we will depart for San Diego de los Baños to the west in Pinar del Río province. Gray Kingbirds and Black-whiskered Vireos, having recently arrived from South America to breed, should be present. Nearby is Hacienda Cortina, a large old estate and now a public park with excellent birding. We should see Smooth-billed Ani, Cuban Trogon (the national bird), Cuban Green and West Indian Woodpeckers, the distinctively polymorphic sparveroides subspecies of American Kestrel (that acts more like a Merlin then a kestrel), Cuban Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cuban Tody, Olive-capped Warbler (a species restricted to parts of Cuba and the northern Bahamas), and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird. We stand a decent chance of finding two other highly sought-after Cuban endemics: Fernandina’s Flicker and Giant Kingbird. Least Grebe and Purple Gallinule are possible, as are a number of North American wintering species, including late Louisiana Waterthrush. Night at San Diego de los Banos.

Day 3: This morning we’ll visit Cueva de las Portales in La Guira National Park, best known as Che Guevara’s hideout during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. Here in the trees among the limestone karst formations we’ll be looking carefully for the endemic Cuban Solitaire. A somewhat somberly colored bird, its dull appearance is more than made up for by its beautiful and complex song. We should see both White-winged and Zenaida Doves and will look again for  Scaly-naped Pigeon. Cuba has almost as many endemic Anolis lizards as it does birds. Some of them are large and colorful, and here we might see Western Giant, Water, and Cliff Anoles. Later we’ll retrace our steps past Havana and then head farther east and then turn south for the Zapata Peninsula. We’ll make a few stops at two inland reservoirs where we should see some lingering wintering ducks and perhaps a Snail Kite. Late in the afternoon we’ll arrive at Playa Larga near the Zapata Swamp and the site of the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. On our hotel grounds before sunset we might see Cuban Parrot and Cuban Crow, the latter possessed of a remarkable vocabulary that is almost comical. Night at Playa Larga.

Days 4-5: We’ll bird the vast Zapata Swamp for the next two days. On one morning we’ll visit Bermejas, where we have a chance of seeing three species of quail-dove, including two striking endemics, Gray-fronted and Blue-headed. Key West Quail-Dove is usually present, and there is at least a chance of seeing Ruddy Quail-Dove. Other endemic species here include Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Pygmy and Bare-legged Owls, Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban Oriole, and the diminutive Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. We often find Great Lizard Cuckoo, Western Spindalis (endemic Cuban pretrei subspecies), and Shiny Cowbird along with a fine variety of North American wintering wood warblers. On some occasions a roosting Stygian Owl (endemic siguapa subspecies) can be located, and elsewhere in the area we should find Limpkin and perhaps the endemic chrysocaulosus subspecies of Northern Flicker. The endemic Red-shouldered Blackbird will also be searched for this morning.

We’ll arise before dawn one morning to see if we can locate Cuban Nightjar near Playa Larga. Once it gets light, we’ll try to find what will probably be our most difficult endemic, the distinctive (especially on vocalizations) Zapata Wren. We have a good chance of seeing the endemic Zapata Sparrow (inexpectata subspecies) and with good fortune might see a Spotted Rail. The endemic Zapata Rail is or was found here too, but it has reached near mythical status with essentially no confirmed records for many years, if not decades. Later we’ll visit Salinas de Bides, noted for its many American Flamingoes along with numerous other waterbirds. Here “Golden” Yellow Warblers are resident, and we should also see Clapper Rail and the endemic and distinctive-sounding Cuban Black Hawk. If we missed Cuban Nightjar at dawn, we’ll try for it again at dusk. Nights in Playa Larga.

Day 6: If we’ve missed Zapata Wren, we’ll try for it again first thing in the morning, but today will be mostly devoted to our long drive to Cayo Coco. We’ll be staying at an all-inclusive lodge that caters to Europeans and Canadians. The birding is excellent adjacent to the grounds, and we have a good chance of seeing the endangered West Indian Whistling-Duck. We’ll do some late afternoon birding on nearby trails searching for Key West Quail-Dove, the endemic Oriente Warbler, Cuban Bullfinch, and various wintering North American wood warblers; Greater Antillean Grackles will be numerous. Night on Cayo Coco.

Day 7: This morning we’ll visit Cayo Perodon Grande, where we’ll search for the endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher, distinctive in its black outline to the auriculars, and the endangered (for Cuba) Thick-billed Vireo. While looking for these two species we’ll have a chance to see Bahama Mockingbird along with a scattering of La Sagra’s Flycatchers, Oriente Warblers, and a number of wintering North American warblers. In the flowering agaves Cuban Emeralds can be almost abundant.

Depending on recent reports, we may spend time at Cayo Guillermo to the west of Cayo Coco. It is particularly good for wintering shorebirds, and sometimes as a findable Bahama Mockingbird. In March of 2017, we found several Bahama Swallows, a rarity in Cuba.

The endemic Zapata Sparrow occurs locally on Cayo Coco but represents a different subspecies (varoni) than the Zapata Swamp birds, and the Ospreys here (ridgwayi subspecies) have nearly white heads and appear to have broader, less angular, wings.  We’ll spend some time in the afternoon looking for shorebirds and other water birds, including “Great White Heron.” Night on Cayo Coco.

Day 8: In some years a nest of the rare Gundlach’s Hawk, another endemic, has been located in the Cayo Coco area, and if one has been found we’ll look for it. This bird’s appearance and vocalizations are strongly suggestive of the North American Cooper’s Hawk, as is apparently its genetic composition. On Cayo Coco there is an evening night spot (Cueva de Javalí) but during the day it is an excellent birding spot, with food and water that attracts many species, including Cuban Bullfinches, a wide variety of North American wintering species, and literally dozens of Key West Quail-Doves!  After lunch we will head to Camagüey, stopping along the way to search for Mangrove Cuckoo. We’ll arrive late in the day at our destination, a lovely old colonial city with beautiful architecture. Near our hotel and around the old churches should be the nesting endemic Cuban Martin amongst the more numerous Cave Swallows. Night in Camagüey.

Day 9: This morning we’ll venture east to La Belen, stopping along the way in agricultural country to listen to the endemic hippocrepis Eastern Meadowlarks. Their song and even their appearance are more suggestive of Western Meadowlark, and they should probably be considered their own species. In the open country we might also see Crested Caracara and our only Palm Crows, and around the ponds we might find Northern Jacana. At La Belen we’ll walk the trails in the preserve. The threatened Giant Kingbird is found regularly here, and we should get good comparisons with the more numerous Loggerhead Kingbird. We have as well a good chance here or nearby of seeing Plain Pigeon, a scarce West Indian species. We’ll return in the late afternoon and have a bit of time to take a bicycle trip (not self-driven!) along the streets of the old colonial city. Night in Camagüey.

Day 10: After breakfast we’ll head to the airport for an early afternoon flight back to Ft. Lauderdale where our tour concludes.  

Updated: 09 May 2017

Prices

  • 2018 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2017 Tour Price $6,150) - 12 days
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Notes

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

** NOTE: As of mid-2017 it’s now possible to purchase your own flights directly from the USA to Cuba. As such, we aren’t including the price of the early afternoon Fort Lauderdale – Havana flight (and return from Camagüey) in the tour price since it’s possible (and likely cheaper) to include it in your ticket purchase from your home airport. To ease complications upon arrival in Havana we are starting our tour in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, where we’ll proceed as a group through the process of getting visas and through immigration. It may be necessary to overnight in Fort Lauderdale prior to the tour if the timing of your flights won’t allow you to arrive in time for the flight to Havana in the early afternoon (you’ll need to check-in for the Fort Lauderdale flight three hours prior, thus by mid-morning). Note that an additional $30 for Cuba’s departure tax will be applied to the flight purchase. At the airport you will also have to pay around $3/day for medical insurance (required by Cuban gov’t) and a $75 visa fee. An additional permit is required for Americans to enter into Cuba and will be provided through our partner organization, Caribbean Conservation Trust (details below).

*** This tour is organized by our partner, Caribbean Conservation Trust, Inc. (CCT), a U.S. based organization committed to the conservation of endemic and migratory birds and their habitats in the greater Caribbean region. The U.S. Department of Treasury has provided a license for conducting bird conservation work in Cuba to CCT and it is through this program our tour will be permitted. Your participation in this program will involve a bird and habitat survey each day. Data is compiled by the group and submitted by the trip leader to CCT staff.

Please note that some aspects of this tour are still in flux as on-the-ground developments continue in Cuba. Please refer back here occasionally for the latest.

Maximum group size 12 with one WINGS and multiple local leaders.