Rick’s trip to Santa Lucia, Cuba – Feb 2nd-15th, 2008

The hotel (Oasis Brisas in Santa Lucia) is really a complex of many little 2-storey buildings. The grounds contain many flowering trees and shrubs as well as several varieties of palms. There is a long and beautiful beach running for miles, protected by a coral reef about 1 km offshore.

Santa Lucia is a small town on the north-central coast of the country – north of the large city of Camaguey. Habitat includes: ocean, beach, a narrow (20 – 100 m.) strip of scrub separating the hotel areas from an extensive network of saltwater lagoons that run for about 15 km east to west. These lagoons are about half a kilometer wide and contain islands, mud flats and clumps of mangroves. There are a series of dykes in the vicinity of the hotel that control water levels for the production of salt in the nearby town of Teraracos. These dykes can be hiked. At least every other day I would hike through this strip of scrub (which also contained small brackish ponds which were excellent for stilts and dowitchers) and out onto the dykes.

Several times I rode a bike (obtained for free at the hotel) along a coastal road from the hotel west to the village of La Boca, at the entrance of the channel into Nuevista Bay. [La Boca has one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba.] This road for the most part runs along the ocean – sometimes within 400 m and sometimes within 10 m. On either side of the road there are occasional smaller roads/tracks that lead off – either to the ocean or to a large brackish lagoon. These side trails are well worth taking, especially those that lead to the lagoon. This lagoon is particularly rich. There is a small outlet for the salt lagoons at Lo Boca and I found this area to be one of the most interesting for birds. From La Boca, I would proceed south until reaching a road that curved back toward the hotels but on the opposite side of the lagoons. About half a kilometer up the road is a reservoir on the right which is an excellent spot for ducks, grebes and coots. Continuing on this road I was able to complete a 20-km loop back to the hotel.

Another excellent area can be reached by bike by cycling in the opposite direction – east. This will take you through the town of Santa Lucia. Once through the town the road goes around a traffic circle. The scrub in this area, on the south side of the road, hides a small swamp which I found to be good for neotropical warblers.

A highlight of the trip for me was a day trip to the Hacienda La Belen – a beautiful house and ranch built by a Peruvian architect in the 1940’s. It is now an historic site and preserved and sits on the edge of a nature reserve in the Sierra Najasa. A long (3.5 hour) horseback ride through the grounds followed by a 2-hour hike – both in the company of a marvelous guide (she could pick out everything by ear) – turned up many species. La Belen is about 2 ½ hours from the hotel, southeast of Camaguey.

Birds seen: (Unless otherwise noted, birds were seen in the Santa Lucia/hotel area.)
• Least Grebe – La Boca reservoir
• Pied-billed Grebe – La Belen
• Brown Pelican
• Double-crested Cormorant
• Neotropic Cormorant – La Belen
• Great Blue Heron
• Reddish Egret
• Tricoloured Heron
• Yellow-crowned Night-heron
• Great Egret
• Snowy Egret
• Cattle Egret
• Little Blue Heron
• Green Heron
• Greater Flamingo – salt lagoon ~1/2 km west of La Boca
• White Ibis – salt lagoon – La Boca
• Blue-winged Teal
• Northern Shoveler – La Boca reservoir
• Lesser Scaup – La Boca reservoir
• Hooded Merganser – large lagoon [Note: it is listed as a “Vagrant” with only 3 previous sightings noted.]
• Ruddy Duck – La Boca reservoir
• Turkey Vulture
• Red-tailed Hawk
• Osprey – salt lagoon – La Boca
• Crested Caracara
• American Kestrel (both white and red morphs)
• Helmeted Guineafowl
• Northern Jacana – La Belen; small wetland near San Miguel
• Limpkin – beside road between hotel and Camaguey
• American Coot – Lo Boca reservoir
• Purple Gallinule – La Belen
• Common Moorhen – La Belen; numerous small wetlands beside road to Camaguey
• Black-necked Stilt
• Semipalmated Plover – salt lagoon – La Boca
• Killdeer
• Black-bellied Plover
• Ruddy turnstone – salt lagoon – La Boca
• Lesser Yellowlegs
• Greater Yellowlegs
• Least Sandpiper
• Semipalmated Sandpiper
• Willet – salt lagoon – La Boca
• Laughing Gull
• Herring Gull
• **Lesser Black-backed Gull – salt lagoon – La Boca [NOT listed in “Birds of Cuba” guide – this was an adult bird and readily identifiable.]
• Royal tern
• Sandwich Tern – pier in Teraracos (small village west of hotel)
• Mourning Dove
• Plain Pigeon – La Belen [an endangered permanent resident]
• Rock Dove
• White-winged Dove
• Common Ground-dove
• Smooth-billed Ani
• Cuban Parakeet – La Belen [status is “vulnerable”]
• Cuban Pygmy-owl – La Belen; Santa Lucia circle
• Antillean Palm-swift – Minas area
• Cuban Emerald
• Belted Kingfisher
• Cuban Trogon – La Belen
• Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – La Belen
• West Indian Woodpecker – La Belen
• La Sagra’s Flycatcher
• Cuban Pewee
• Loggerhead Kingbird
• Cuban Crow – La Belen
• Tree Swallow
• Cuban Gnatcatcher
• Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – La Belen
• Red-legged Thrush
• Gray Catbird
• Northern Mockingbird
• Yellow Warbler
• Cape May Warbler
• Black & White Warbler
• Prairie Warbler
• Western Palm Warbler (the most common warbler – easily seen anywhere)
• Black-throated Warbler
• Yellow-rumped Warbler
• Black-throated Green Warbler – La Belen
• Northern Parula
• Yellow-throated Warbler
• Common Yellow throat
• Northern Waterthrush
• Ovenbird – La Belen
• American Redstart
• Oriente Warbler
• Stripe-headed Tanager
• Cuban Grassquit – La Belen
• Yellow-faced Grassquit – La Belen
• House Sparrow
• Eastern Meadowlark – roadsides between hotel and Camaguey
• Greater Antillean Grackle
• Cuban Blackbird
• Tawny-shouldered Blackbird – La Belen
• Black-cowled Oriole

A few pictures from the trip:

Black-necked Stilts in salt lagoon in the hotel area.

Cuban Emerald – common at the hotel

A “pink smudge” of flamingos in one of the large lagoons

The beach at La Boca

Ruggedly handsome gaucho/revolutionary on his trusty horse “Glue” (which is Spanish for “I’m so knackered I can’t even find the barn”). Please note that photo captions were created by Rick.

La Belen

La Belen

La Belen

Ponds in the vicinity of the Hotel.


Stilts and Yellowlegs in a salt lagoon in the hotel area.

Male Cape May Warbler that was stunned when it bounced off a window.

6 thoughts on “Rick’s trip to Santa Lucia, Cuba – Feb 2nd-15th, 2008

  1. Quite an extensive list of birds! Leave it to Rick to bring us back bird info. in these tortuous locations… : )

  2. Tortuous indeed!! But I somehow found the courage to persevere. Perhaps it was the copious imbibing of gin and tonic – very useful to fend off malaria. I can report that this method works – I didn’t get malaria.

  3. hey Im think of going to the same hotel is it nice ? hows the water and the food? Please can you get back to me ! Thanks

  4. Not what you would call a birder myself. I simply love nature and Cuba. I just retuned from Oasis Brisas in Santa Lucia. This was a return visit including a couple visits to La Boca to see people we met on a previous occassion. As I said I love nature and I am a big time backyard birder here in Canada so to everybodies dismay I hold up our outings taking photos of dogs, cats, birds Hutia, horses goats….whatever. Do to the group nature of my holidays I am not able to spend as much time photographing nature as I would like therefore on my return I tend to want to capture some of what I did see and that which I know I missed. This is how I located your site. Thank you I enjoyed not only the photo’s but the read.


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