Now donâ€™t get me wrong: I really DO like Canadian winters â€“ cold with lots of snow. Great for skiing, snowshoeing, skating on natural ponds and looking for elusive Winter birds. But I have also come to like warm breezes soughing through palm trees, white-sand beaches, coral reefs and looking for elusive Winter birds.
As I wrote in a blog last year about my birding experiences in the Santa Lucia area, I have been coming to this area for several years now. I keep telling myself I should try other places in Cuba â€“ and someday I will â€“ but thereâ€™s something about this area I really like. The first, I guess, would be the Cuban people Iâ€™ve come to know â€“ warm, welcomingâ€¦.extended family almost. The second would be the interesting variety of birds in the area. Thereâ€™s a diversity of habitats – large salt ponds, seacoast, mangroves, low scrubby forest â€“ that provide habitat for both wintering and breeding birds. The third is the safety of the area â€“ you can wander miles from the resort (Brisas Santa Lucia) and NEVER feel threatened. The fourth would be the curiousity of seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same from year to year in terms of the birds. This year, I was especially interested to see if Hurricane Ike, which blew through here with devastating effects â€“ but no human deaths â€“ had affected the birds in any discernible way.
Santa Lucia, on the north coast of Cuba, sits on a peninsula that separates a long (10+ km), narrow salt water bay from the open Atlantic. The peninsula is quite narrow, never more than half a km wide. On the ocean side are wonderful beaches; between the beaches and the bay is an extensive area of scrubby forest. This habitat is found south of the bay as well. The bay, in the area of Santa Lucia and Teraraco (another town about halfway along the peninsula), has been divided into smaller bodies of water by manmade levees. Water can be moved from pond to pond by the opening of small floodgates on the levees. This movement of water facilitates the derivation of salt, which is the major industry of the area and is centred in Teraraco. These ponds, with their fluctuating water levels, make for excellent waterbird/shorebird habitat. West of Teraraco, the bay is not broken up by levees and is quite extensive. There is a rough road that has been built across it to allow for upkeep of a waterpipe system that brings water to the developed area. This road is an excellent place along which and from which to watch birds â€“ especially as this area of the bay is quite wild. The west end of the bay is at La Boca â€“ a village that overlooks a magnificent beach: Coco Beach. It borders the entrance to Neuvitas Bay. The tide funnels back and forth through the deep water channel (several hundred metres offshore and away from the beach) like a river. If you continue along the road through the village you come to a fork: you can continue along the channel or you can wind back along the south shore of the bay eventually reaching a road that takes you back to the resort. Shortly after leaving La Boca on this south shore route, you will see a built up reservoir. This is an excellent place to see ducks. Following this circle route, in leisurely bird-watching fashion, takes about 3-4 hours on bicycle and is about 20 km long.
Instead of going west from the resort and you went east, the road leads through the town/village of Santa Lucia and along the north side of the bay. The levees in this area are a combination of manmade berms and natural tongues of limestone. There are a number of shallow, seasonal ponds on these â€œtonguesâ€ which seem to attract a lot of shorebirds. They are especially good for wintering Black-bellied Plovers. Continuing along this road will bring you to a roundabout. You can continue along the coast on a dirt road or follow the main road south toward Camaguey. If you take the road, shortly after turning south there is a dirt road off to the left which leads to an old reservoir, now pretty well grown in. This is an interesting road as it leads beside a narrow pond/river(?) and turns up good sightings. In the area of the roundabout, there is a wooded swamp that is worth looking over as well. About 2 km along the main road you will meet a paved road leading off to the right, back toward the resort. Following this will bring you back â€“ again, about a 20 km loop. These 2 loops are like a figure-8 as they share a common road leading to the resort area that crosses the middle of the manmade saltwater embayments.
If youâ€™re not so energetic, you can see some really good birds in and around the resort. A variety of warblers (especially males) hang out in the flowering trees and shrubs of the resort â€“ and many seem to be protecting territories. Right across the main road in front of the resort is a path that takes you through a forested area in which are some smaller ponds â€“ I refer to these as the â€œhidden pondsâ€. There is a lot of life in and around these.
Up until this year, I have never seen another â€œbirderâ€ checking out the area. This year, however, I came across a guy I had heard about for a number of years but never met. We were wandering around in the forest across from the resort when we met up. He is Neil Taylor from the Kitchener-Waterloo area (and Naturalistsâ€™ Club). We had a very good outing, spending a morning walking down to the road west of Teraraco that crosses the wild part of the bay. Neil got a â€œliferâ€™ there â€“ a Roseate Spoonbill. (Note that Neil has sent me a very good Cuban Bird Checklist which is attached to the bottom of this post for downloading.)
Following is an annotated list of the birds I encountered on this trip. You can dig back through the archives of this blog to see last yearâ€™s account if youâ€™re interested in comparing them.
Most days I made an excursion into the forest across from the resort and out onto the levees for at least an hour per day. On January 20, I did the â€œloopâ€ to La Boca and around the wild part of the bay by bicycle. On the 22nd, I did the Santa Lucia â€œloopâ€ with a side jaunt to the Santa Lucia â€œreservoirâ€. On the 24th, Neil and I walked up to check out the â€œLPâ€ and the area in-between. On the 25th, I did an extensive walk through the forested area across from the resort and then out onto the levees â€“ especially the levees south of the town of Santa Lucia. It should also be noted that I kept a vigilant lookout on my many forays to the bar and buffet or along the beach.
For reasons of brevity I will use the following short forms:
SL = â€œsaltwater lagoonsâ€ across the road from the resort â€“ the part of the bay that has been modified with levees for salt production
LP = â€œlarge pondâ€ â€“ the extensive part of the bay that is largely unmodified and extends between Teraraco and La Boca
HP = â€œhidden pondsâ€ â€“ small brackish ponds in the scrubby forest right across from the resort
R = La Boca reservoir
Sc = â€œScrubâ€/forested area – the usual land-based habitat of the area
Least Grebe â€“ 1; R (Jan. 20)
Brown Pelican â€“ common; in small groups (up to 7); usually in SL
Double-crested Cormorant â€“ common; SL/LP
Neotropical Cormorant â€“ common; SL/LP
Great Blue Heron â€“ seen regularly but usually single birds; SL/LP
Reddish Egret â€“ seen regularly; often in pairs with an adult and imm.; SL/LP (e.g. 5 â€“ LP Jan. 24)
Tricoloured Heron â€“ common, especially in LP (e.g. 8, Jan.20)
Great Egret â€“ common; SL/LP (eg, 4, Jan. 20)
Snowy Egret â€“ common; usually in groups (13 â€“ LP, Jan. 20; 44 â€“ SL, Jan. 25)
Cattle Egret â€“ seen regularly around feeding horses in town areas [this birds is seen in abundance inland around cattle and horses]
Little Blue Heron â€“ only a few seen (3 â€“ LP; Jan.20)
Green Heron â€“ uncommon; 1 â€“ Sc across from resort; 1 â€“ LP; 1 Santa Lucia â€œreservoirâ€
Roseate Spoonbill â€“ 3; LP (Jan. 20); 1 â€“ LP (Jan. 24)
Greater Flamingo â€“ 300+; LP; seen consistently
Green-winged Teal â€“ 2; SL (Jan. 22)
Blue-winged Teal â€“ 3; HP
Northern Shoveler â€“ 2; R (Jan 20)
American Wigeon â€“ 2; R (Jan 20)
Lesser Scaup â€“ 2; R (Jan 20)
Red-breasted Merganser â€“ 1; LP (Jan 24)
Ruddy Duck â€“ 13; R (Jan 20)
Turkey Vulture â€“ abundant; all habitats; (e.g. 40 on one 360-degree horizon scan)
Crested Caracara â€“ uncommon; 1 Sc south of SL (Jan 20)
American Kestrel â€“ 2 on power lines to La Boca (Jan 20)
Merlin â€“ 1 Sc â€“ south of Santa Lucia
Black-necked Stilt â€“ 95; HP (Jan 25)
Semipalmated Plover â€“ 4; LP (Jan 20)
Wilsonâ€™s Plover â€“ 2; LP (Jan 20); 4; LP (Jan 24)
Killdeer â€“ seen regularly in small numbers; HP, SL, LP
Black-bellied Plover â€“ 133; levee south of Santa Lucia (Jan 25); 1; LP (Jan 24)
Ruddy Turnstone â€“ 3; Coco Beach (Jan 23); 7; SL (Jan 25)-in with Black-Bellied Plovers
Spotted Sandpiper â€“ 1; SL (Jan 20)
Solitary Sandpiper â€“ 1; pond/river toward Santa Lucia â€œreservoirâ€ (Jan 22)
Least Sandpiper â€“ 1; SL (Jan 25) [this has been a common shorebird in past years in the SLâ€™s]
Greater Yellowlegs â€“ seen regularly in small numbers; SL/LP
Lesser Yellowlegs â€“ seen regularly in small number; SL/LP
Unidentified Shorebirds â€“ 15 medium-sized; LP (Jan 20)
Laughing Gull â€“ common along coast (eg, 49 on Jan 20)
Caspian Tern â€“ seen only over bay; 4-LP (Jan 24); 10-SL (Jan 25)
Mourning Dove â€“ common in developed areas
Common Ground Dove â€“ seen regularly in small numbers; Sc
White-winged Dove â€“ Sc; across from hotel (eg, 5; Jan 20)
Smooth-billed Ani â€“ 4 south of Santa Lucia (Jan 22)
Cuban Emerald â€“ seen regularly; Sc; road edges; hotel grounds
Belted Kingfisher â€“ 1; SL (Jan22); 1; LP (Jan 24)
West Indian Woodpecker â€“ 1 seen several times on hotel grounds
Cuban Pewee â€“ 3; Sc by LP (Jan 20)
Loggerhead Kingbird â€“ seen regularly; Sc; road edges
Cuban Gnatcatcher â€“ seen regularly; Sc (eg, 8 on walk to LP; Jan 24)
Red-legged Thrush â€“ 2; Sc along road to La Boca
Northern Mockingbird â€“ common everywhere (eg, 20 on La Boca bicycle loop; Jan 20)
Bahama Mockingbird â€“ 1; Sc across road from the resort
Gray Catbird â€“ 1; Sc bordering SL (Jan 25)
Magnolia Warbler â€“ 1; Sc across road from resort
Yellow Warbler â€“ 1; SL (Jan 25)
Cape May Warbler â€“ common in resort â€“ especially males
Black & White Warbler â€“ 1; Sc south of LP (Jan 24)
Prairie Warbler â€“ seen regularly; Sc
Western Palm Warbler â€“ abundant; all habitats; (eg, 14 on walk to LP; Jan 24)
Black-throated Blue Warbler â€“ 2 males; Sc across form resort (Jan 20); 1 male; Sc La Boca area.
Northern Parula â€“ Sc; seen regularly in small numbers (eg, 3 on walk to LP; Jan 24)
Yellow-throated Warbler â€“ 1 on resort grounds (Jan 21); 1 â€“ Sc; on road to La Boca (Jan24)
Common Yellowthroat â€“ 1; Sc â€“ SL
American Redstart â€“ 1 ASY male; Sc on dirt road to Santa Lucia reservoir (Jan 22); 1 female; Sc along road to La Boca (Jan 24)
Oriente Warbler â€“ 2; Sc along road to La Boca (Jan 24)
Stripe-headed Tanager â€“ 2; Sc along road to La Boca (Jan 24)
Greater Antillean Grackle â€“ common; Sc; resort grounds
Black-cowled Oriole â€“ 2; Sc south of LP (Jan 20)
House Sparrow â€“ common around houses in developed areas
Click here to download an Excel copy of a Cuban Bird Checklist that was complied by Rafael Sanchez and sent to us by Neil Taylor.
Click here to download a PDF copy of the Cuban Bird Checklist.
Also, here are a number of photos that were sent to us by Neil Taylor, who did some birding with Rick in Cuba.
Many thanks to Neil Taylor for kindly passing on a copy of the Cuban bird checklist.
again I am loving the read and will download Neil’s checklist. I am missing your own photography and wondering why you did not include it this year.