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December bird survey locates 21 Cuban endemic species

Endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher, December 2016.
Endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher, December 2016. Photo by Floyd Downs.

The spectacular birds above and below were photographed by birders who traveled to Cuba with BirdWatching magazine in early December 2016.

Guided by biologist Luis Diaz, curator of the National Museum of Natural History in Havana, and BirdWatching editor Chuck Hagner, the group recorded 150 species in all, including 21 of the island’s endemic species and 19 species that are endemic to the West Indies.

Cuban endemic species recorded (21)

1. Cuban Black Hawk
2. Blue-headed Quail-Dove
3. Gray-fronted Quail-Dove
4. Cuban Pygmy-Owl
5. Bee Hummingbird
6. Cuban Trogon
7. Cuban Tody
8. Cuban Green Woodpecker
9. Fernandina’s Flicker
10. Cuban Parakeet
11. Cuban Vireo
12. Zapata Wren
13. Cuban Gnatcatcher
14. Cuban Solitaire
15. Yellow-headed Warbler
16. Oriente Warbler
17. Cuban Grassquit
18. Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow
19. Red-shouldered Blackbird
20. Cuban Blackbird
21. Cuban Oriole

Participants heard the songs of Cuban Solitaires and spotted Cuban Grassquits in western Pinar del Río province, recorded Zapata Wren and both Blue-headed and Gray-fronted Quail-Doves on the Zapata Peninsula, in Matanzas, and found Zapata Sparrow and Cuban Gnatcatchers near the Faro Paredon, the 160-year-old lighthouse on Cuba’s north coast.

It was Bee Hummingbird, however, that provided the most memorable moments. Team members counted at least eight of the tiny birds in and around an 11-year-old firebush (Hamelia patens) in the narrow backyard of a house in Palpite, north of Playa Larga. More than one birder had to duck as hummingbirds zipped to and from the bright red blossoms.

In addition to surveying birds, the group visited with Orlando Garrido, senior author of Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba, took a walking tour of Old Havana, and presented local birders with educational coloring books featuring the island’s birds, binoculars donated by Point Blue Conservation Science, and other items.

The survey was organized by the Caribbean Conservation Trust. Here’s an overview:

Where we went

Day 1 – Saturday, December 10, 2016
We arrived at José Martí International Airport, outside Havana, and drove west to the town of San Diego de los Baños, in Pinar del Rio. Overnight at Hotel Mirador.

Day 2 – Sunday, December 11, 2016
We birded the Cueva de los Portales, Che Guevara’s headquarters during the 1962 Missile Crisis, and the former colonial estate known as Hacienda Cortina. Then we drove to Las Terrazas and checked into Hotel Moka.

Day 3 – Monday, December 12, 2016
We birded the Hotel Moka grounds, the community’s dairy farm, and Cafetal Buenavista, a hilltop former coffee plantation. Then we drove east and south to the town of Playa Larga, on the Zapata Peninsula.

Day 4 – Tuesday, December 13, 2016
We birded in the Refugio de Fauna Bermeja and at Soplillar.

Day 5 – Wednesday, December 14, 2016
We found Zapata Wren at La Turba, stopped at the Guamá Crocodile Farm (Criadero de Cocodrilos), and visited a home in Palpite, where Bee Hummingbirds were zipping in and out of a blooming 11-year-old firebush (Hamelia patens) in the backyard. After lunch, we drove to Salinas de Brito, south-southwest of Playa Larga, where we saw hundreds of American (Greater) Flamingos.

Day 6 – Thursday, December 15, 2016
We drove east and north, across the island, to Cayo Coco and checked in at the beachfront Hotel Sol Cayo Coco.

Day 7 – Friday, December 16, 2016
We birded Cayo Romano and Cayo Paredon Grande, where we found five Cuban Gnatcatchers in the shadow of the 160-year-old lighthouse known as Faro Paredon. We also birded the Cayo Coco beach, pond, and sewage-treatment facility. After dark, we saw Yellow-crowned Night-herons.

Day 8 – Saturday, December 17, 2016
We found Mangrove Cuckoo and watched Key West Quail-Doves outside the Cueva del Jabalí (Wild Boars Cave). Then we set off for Sancti Spiritus. En route, at a fish farm near the town of Moron, we watched Snail Kites as well as Eastern Meadowlarks. Overnight at Rancho Hatuey, just north of Sancti Spiritus.

Day 9 – Sunday, December 18, 2016
We drove west to Havana, checked in at the Park View Hotel, and explored the city.

Day 10 – Monday, December 19, 2016
We took a ride in vintage cars, went on a walking tour of Old Havana, visited with famed ornithologist Orlando Garrido.

Day 11 – Tuesday, December 20, 2016
We flew back to Miami.

Before your jump to the list of bird species recorded during the bird survey (below), you should know that we’re planning another bird survey. It will take place in December 2017. Subscribe to our free biweekly e-newsletter and watch your email inbox for details.

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Zapata Sparrow, a Cuban endemic species, December 2016.
Zapata Sparrow, a Cuban endemic species, December 2016. Photo by Doug Chang

All bird species recorded (150)

1. West Indian Whistling-Duck
2. Gadwall
3. American Wigeon
4. Blue-winged Teal
5. Northern Shoveler
6. Northern Pintail
7. Ring-necked Duck
8. Lesser Scaup
9. Red-breasted Merganser
10. Ruddy Duck
11. Helmeted Guineafowl (I)
12. Least Grebe
13. Pied-billed Grebe
14. American Flamingo
15. Wood Stork
16. Magnificent Frigatebird
17. Double-crested Cormorant
18. Neotropic Cormorant
19. Anhinga
20. American White Pelican
21. Brown Pelican
22. Great Blue Heron
23. Great Egret
24. Little Blue Heron
25. Tricolored Heron
26. Reddish Egret
27. Cattle Egret
28. Green Heron
29. Black-crowned Night-Heron
30. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
31. White Ibis
32. Roseate Spoonbill
33. Turkey Vulture
34. Osprey
35. Snail Kite
36. Northern Harrier
37. Cuban Black-Hawk
38. Broad-winged Hawk
39. Red-tailed Hawk
40. Clapper Rail
41. Sora
42. Spotted Rail
43. Common Gallinule
44. American Coot
45. Limpkin
46. Black-necked Stilt
47. Black-bellied Plover
48. Selmipalmated Plover
49. Piping Plover
50. Killdeer
51. Northern Jacana
52. Solitary Sandpiper
53. Greater Yellowlegs
54. Willet
55. Lesser Yellowlegs
56. Ruddy Turnstone
57. Sanderling
58. Short-billed Dowitcher
59. Laughing Gull
60. Herring Gull
61. Lesser Black-backed Gull
62. Gull-billed Tern
63. Caspian Tern
64. Royal Tern
65. Rock Pigeon (I)
66. Scaly-naped Pigeon
67. White-crowned Pigeon
68. Eurasian Collared-Dove
69. Common Ground-Dove
70. Blue-headed Quail-Dove
71. Ruddy Quail-Dove
72. Gray-fronted Quail-Dove
73. Key West Quail-Dove
74. White-winged Dove
75. Zenaida Dove
76. Mourning Dove
77. Mangrove Cuckoo
78. Great Lizard-Cuckoo
79. Smooth-billed Ani
80. Cuban Pygmy-Owl
81. Antillean Palm-Swift
82. Bee Hummingbird
83. Cuban Emerald
84. Cuban Trogon
85. Cuban Tody
86. Belted Kingfisher
87. West Indian Woodpecker
88. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
89. Cuban Green Woodpecker
90. Northern Flicker
91. Fernandina’s Flicker
92. Crested Caracara
93. American Kestrel
94. Merlin
95. Peregrine Falcon
96. Cuban Parakeet
97. Cuban (Rose-throated) Parrot
98. Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee
99. La Sagra’s Flycatcher
100. Loggerhead Kingbird
101. Giant Kingbird
102. Thick-billed Vireo
103. Cuban Vireo
104. Yellow-thoated Vireo
105. Cuban Crow
106. Cave Swallow
107. Zapata Wren
108. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
109. Cuban Gnatcatcher
110. Cuban Solitaire
111. Red-Legged Thrush
112. Gray Catbird
113. Northern Mockingbird
114. Bahama Mockingbird
115. Ovenbird
116. Worm-eating Warbler
117. Louisiana Waterthrush
118. Northern Waterthrush
119. Black-and-white Warbler
120. Tennessee Warbler
121. Common Yellowthroat
122. American Redstart
123. Cape May Warbler
124. Northern Parula
125. Magnolia Warbler
126. Yellow Warbler
127. Black-throated Blue Warbler
128. Palm Warbler
129. Olive-capped Warbler
130. Yellow-throated Warbler
131. Prairie Warbler
132. Black-throated Green Warbler
133. Yellow-headed Warbler
134. Oriente Warbler
135. Red-legged Honeycreeper (I)
136. Cuban Grassquit
137. Yellow-faced Grassquit
138. Cuban Bullfinch
139. Western Spindalis
140. Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow
141. Summer Tanager
142. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
143. Red-shouldered Blackbird
144. Tawny-shouldered Blackbird
145. Eastern Meadowlark
146. Cuban Blackbird
147. Greater Antillean Grackle
148. Shiny Cowbird
149. Cuban Oriole
150. House Sparrow (I)

Bee Hummingbird, an endemic Cuban species, December 2016.
Bee Hummingbird, an endemic Cuban species, December 2016. Photo by CJ Johnson.

In “Birding Briefs” in our March-April 2017 issue, on sale at Barnes & Noble and other newsstands February 28, we published photographs of 10 of the 21 endemic species recorded during the December 2016 bird survey.

Read Carrol Henderson’s 2015 cover story about birding in Cuba.

Read a summary about our first Cuba Bird Survey, in February 2016. Originally Published

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