I've just returned from leading a very succesful Sunbird tour of Cuba and with so many highlights it is difficult to know where to start!
Our tour started off in the Pinar del Rio region, about 3 hours west of Havana, we visited Cuevas de Los Portales (Che Guevara's caves). Here we enjoyed superb views of Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Trogon (below), Scaly-naped Pigeon and the first of many La Sagra's Flycatchers. Moving on to Hacienda Cortina we were treated to great views of Giant Kingbird, West Indian and Cuban Green Woodpeckers and the ultra rare Fernadina's Flicker amongst the Royal Palm Trees (Cuba's national tree). We also enjoyed prolonged views of Antillean Palm Swift, Western Spindalis, both Yellow-headed and Olive-capped Warblers and the ultra-cute Cuban Tody.
The next few days saw us travel over 700km to Camaguey, for more special birds which included a number of Cuban endemics. We spent a whole day here to see the Cuban endemics found at La Belen woodland reserve which produced a fantastic array of species including Great Lizard Cuckoo, 9 species of wood-warbler including Prairie, Black-throated Blue and Northern Parula, both Cuban and Palm Crows, the Cuban subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark (highly likely to be split) Plain Pigeon, 2 Giant Kingbirds and the superbly confiding Cuban Pygmy Owl!
Cuban Pygmy Owl
After La Belen it was time to head up to Cayo Coco on the northern cays. The incredibly bright sun reflecting off the white sand and crystal clear blue Caribbean made the ole sunglasses a must - good job they are permanently welded to the top of my head!
Fighting our way through the glare we saw some superb species including dozens of luminescent American Flamingos, Key West Quail-dove, West Indian Whistling Duck, Cuban Sparrow, Thick-billed Vireo, Oriente Warbler, a flock of 20 Cedar Waxwings, Piping Plover, 'ridgwayi' Osprey and a multitude of other great stuff including Cuban 'Northern' Flicker.
Cuban 'Northern' Flicker
Other great birds included the Cuban Black Hawk, Bahama Mockingbird, Bahama Swallow and an ultra confiding Yellow-throated Warbler of the south-eastern form, showing the yellow (not wholly white) in the fore-supercilium.
From a birding tour perspective, Cuba is best divided into four sections. The first being San Diego Los Banos and the area west of Havana, the second being Camaguey/La Belen, the third Cayo Coco and the northern cays and the fourth, well it has to be the famous Zapata Swamp where we spent 4 excellent days. We arrived at Zapata full of anticipation at the endemics awaiting us, and we did rather well! Our first morning saw us scoring Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow within an hour of each other in torrential rain. After that, the weather cleared up and left us with a nice sunny morning. West Indian Woodpecker showed well as did Bare-legged Owl, Zenaida Dove, and Grey-headed Quail-dove.
Soon it was time for THE bird of Cuba to put on a show for us - the smallest bird in the world: BEE HUMMINGBIRD! Watching a pair buzz back and forth like large moths along a 50m long hedgerow was simply brilliant; both the male and female landing at times as close as 6 feet - you probably can't gauge the size here in the images as there's nothing to compare it, with but think of a body size like the top half of your thumb and you're not far off.
Male Bee Hummingbird - the world's smallest bird!
After 3 days searching we eventually caught up with arguably the best bird and certainly one of the scarcest endemics of the trip, a stunning male Blue-headed Quail-dove (below), foraging around in the leaf litter of a roadside forested area near Playa Giron. Our final endemic came on our drive back to Havana with 4 Red-shouldered Blackbirds showing well early morning.
Blue-headed Quail Dove
Tour total: 176, with all realistically possible Cuban and West Indian endemics seen.