This was, I think, my 10th trip to Santa Lucia, Cuba. I keep telling myself that next time I’m going to try another Cuban spot but….I keep ending up here. Two reasons: I really like the people here and the birding is great. Besides, I enjoy finding the subtle differences that each visit brings as opposed to going from place to place and seeing it only once. Sort of like Ruthven – each day is a new one with its own uniqueness. Trying to figure out why each day unfolds (birdwise….usually) the way it does is an interesting challenge.
There’s a variety of habitats around the resort (“Brisas”) that can be easily and safely accessed – the people are friendly and helpful (and often interested in what birds I’m seeing – and surprised that there are so many different ones around). The resort itself (which consists of a number of small units) has a great beach with a reef about a kilometer offshore; there are many flowering/fruiting trees on the grounds; right across the road from the front gate is a 50 meter wide strip of forest, dotted with ponds; beyond that are extensive salt “lagoons” – large bodies of water with a controlled flow in and out of them in order to concentrate the salt content for eventual extraction; the lagoons are bordered by levees that give easy access; and beyond the lagoons (heading inland) is forest, again, dotted with ponds when there’s been lots of rain. When you go out the front entrance and head west, it’s about 10-12 km to a fabulous beach (“Coco Beach”); if you go east, you get to the (small) town of Santa Lucia. I’ve worked out “loops” that I do by bicycle (available for free at the resort) – each one is about 20 km and takes 3 hours to do at a leisurely “birding pace”. When I’m not cycling, I walk a loop that takes me through the forest strip on the other side of the road and through a series of levees. So it’s easy to spend half the day birding and the other half snorkeling, reading, and, on occasion, imbibing.
At this point, rather than go day by day or loop by loop, I’ve included (or should I say Jeff MacLeod has included – it was way beyond my level of technical expertise…) a spreadsheet outlining the birds seen each day. Most were seen in the direct vicinity of the resort. But on one day, we took a trip to the town of Minas and then to the crocodile farm just outside it. Now, to be frank, I don’t give a cat’s meow about crocodile farms but….this is a great place to bird: Cuban Trogons and Cuban Todys amidst the shade-growing coffee, for starters.
We arrived not too long after hurricane season, which was not a big factor for the people this year. Although they hadn’t sustained any damage, they had received a fair amount of rain. So all the ponds were full. This meant that birds which rely on them, especially herons and egrets, were well spread out – when the ponds dry up, they are much more concentrated and easier to see. Another result is that the vegetation was lush. This was a good thing in terms of flowering shrubs/trees, which attract lots of birds but kind of a pain in that they’re more hidden and, thus, harder to see. Also, for birds that breed on the island, this was their down time so they were quieter and, again, harder to find. However, pishing, the universal ploy of birders, was very successful and useful especially for Oriente Warblers, Prairie Warblers, Cuban Gnatcatchers and Cuban Emeralds. The water levels in the salt lagoons was also very high compared to most other years. These lagoons are a big draw for migrant and overwintering shorebirds. The shoreline is alive with a myriad of tiny flies. An interesting phenomenon is that the wind, passing over the lagoons, raises small waves and these waves generate a white “froth” which gets pushed up along the shore (looking very much like snow). The shorebirds have discovered that this froth entraps the insects and many feed in the midst of it, especially Least Sandpipers and Sanderlings.
[My thanks to Rita Bauer who made the suggestion that I get the camera I did. And my apologies to her for my misuse of it – despite her best efforts to teach me.]
Some Bird Photos:
Unknown Flowering Plants:
[I’m a bit of a one-trick pony: birds I know…..everything else…not so much. So if you know what some of these are, please feel free to jump in.]