Cuba Birding - 2nd-9th March 2005

Jim Rose and Dave Ferguson

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Cuban Pygmy Owl

This trip report describes a one week birding trip to eastern Cuba by Jim Rose and Dave Ferguson.

Having seen many of the European birds and some of those of The Gambia and Goa, we decided on a change of faunal region. We were limited to one week which cut out many of the far-flung places. First Choice Holidays operate charter flights to Cuba which were reasonably priced, JR had not been to the Caribbean while DF had once been to Tobago in 1978. Both of us had been to North America many times but Cuba offered an opportunity to see many of the eastern North American warblers in their winter quarters. Given that Cuba also has some interesting endemics we decided that this was to be our destination. We decided to explore the eastern end of the island rather the western end where the bird tours go.

 

Information

The internet was, as usual, very helpful. There are a number of bird trip reports on Cuba though we found only one that went to the east - Blake Maybank’s at This report determined our first two stops.

 

Books

We used Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba by Garrido and Kirkconnell. This proved to be useful - though not entirely accurate - for distributions but has rather substandard illustrations. The bird names used in this report are those used in this book. We also used the National Geographic Guide to the Birds of North America. Butterfly ID was provided by The Butterflies of the West Indies by Riley. We also had the Footprint Guide to Cuba.

 

Other Internet Trip Reports

We managed to glean a lot of useful information from the large number of trip reports that are available on the internet.  However, almost all of these do not cover the eastern end of the island and the only point of overlap was at Najasa.

We did find the following of use :-

Contains useful maps   - http://www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=215

One of the few trip reports covering eastern Cuba http://maybank.tripod.com/Caribbean/Cuba-04-2000.htm

General information about Cuba :- www.cub-junky.com

 

Map

We used The Rough Guide 1:850,000 map of Cuba. This proved to be accurate as to distances but misleading in some details such as the relation of railway lines to roads, which can be a useful guide as to where you are. Maps are like gold dust in Cuba. An offer was made to buy our map by one of the few tourists we met. We declined.

To give some idea as to what can be expected in the way of road quality the following colours on the map represented:

Brown roads: surfaced, good

Yellow roads: surfaced with infrequent potholes

White roads: surfaced with many potholes

Grey lines: usually unsurfaced with quality varying between quite good to only just passable with 4-wheel drive

 

Travelling

Cuba is not geared to the independent traveller. The roads are badly maintained and road signs are often non-existent, even at major road junctions. Hotels, places to eat, and garages are scarce while shops are invisible. On the other hand, the people are friendly and courteous and were very helpful in pointing us in the right direction. A four-wheel drive vehicle is essential if you want to travel on the road from Cruce de los Banos to the south coast, but this road (or rather, track) is probably best avoided.

 

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This form of taxi was common in towns

Food

Cuba is not noted for its cuisine. We had two quite good meals during our stay - one of pork ( the pigs are free-range!) and one of fish (we were in a fishing town) but otherwise meals were rather mediocre. A pud consisting of cheese and marmalade featured on several menus but we didn’t try it.

Eating when we were travelling was problematic are we rarely saw anywhere to buy food. We took with us fruit cake and cereal bars which did an adequate job of keeping us going. We drank bottled water although we had no reason to suppose that the tap water wasn’t drinkable.

 

Money

The currency is the Peso which replaced the US Dollar as the tourist currency in late 2004. We changed our sterling traveller’s cheques either at the airport when we arrived or at hotels. However two of the hotels we stayed in were not able to change currency (see later).  We were advised that Euros are widely accepted now that the US Dollar is out of favour.

 

Safety

We were never hassled or threatened. The reputation Cuba has of being one of the safest countries in the world could be well-founded. We did however twice meet officialdom in the form of characters who told us not to point our scopes at (a) two decrepit fishing boats and (b) a possible military installation. It was done politely though. We were stopped at a police checkpoint once. Again this was polite and brief.

  All photographs by Jim Rose unless otherwise stated.  All photographs copyright 2005.

Please contact the relevant photographer, Jim Rose or Dave Ferguson, if you wish to use any of the photographs.

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