Friday, February 23, 2018

Cuba ocho – Cuban Tody

Cuban Tody Todus multicolor

An endemic Tody for each island...
Bond...J. Bond.
Irie to the max  

  The Cuban Tody - what can you say about a bird like this? This teeny tiny shimmering gem of a species was my #1 target for the trip, and Viñales did not disappoint. We had several along the trails on both days, and I was shocked at how confiding they were. I had to back up a few times, as they were too close for my lens to focus. I spent many long, blissful minutes in the company of these truly charismatic birds, watching them forage at their own relaxed pace. Swoon.
  I missed out on some other Cuban targets, such as Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, and Yellow-headed Warbler, but you have to leave some birds on the table for next time, innit. I ended up picking up 30 lifers on the trip, with a good number of regional endemics mixed in there, so I had a blast.
  While perhaps a bit of misguided rationalization, I wear the Bee Hummingbird dip as a badge of honour. I didn’t have a tour guide to show me a reliable spot for the world's smallest species - the one pocked with constellations of tripod holes. Freestylin’! Yep, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
  Again, the week wasn’t designed as a birding trip, but I managed to insinuate quite a bit of birding into it: “Oh look, we’ve ended up right next to 
this Jardin Botánico, that’s weird. Wanna go in real quick? Huh huh? Wanna go in?”
  “¡Muchas gracias!” to my father for lending me his Bushnells, to Chris Lansdell for taking the time to give me the scoop on regional field guides and logistics (I had a good time sifting through the epic Cuba posts on his blog, which helped me get a feel for what would be around:, and especially Matt French, without whom the trip would literally not have happened for me. What is this, an awards ceremony?
  If you’re lucky enough to find yourself headed to the West Indies, I would forcefully recommend picking up Birds of the West Indies by Norman Arlott. A superlative field guide, and perfect for the birder who travels light. While it may not feature illustrations of juvenile or in-flight birds for most species, these strategic omissions end up being worth their weight in gold. The book is well-laid out, the descriptions clinically concise, the illustrations are clear and "modern" - and then there’s the size. It is slightly smaller than a DVD case, and light. This portability was very much welcomed, especially when you’re living out of a man purse for a week, heh heh. I also thought it was a neat bit of trivia to spot the inspiration for Ian Flemming’s famous spy in the “Further Reading” section.
  Oh wait, what’s this I see on page 96? More Todies you say? An endemic Tody on each large Caribbean island? Damn it, be right back.

Cuba siete – Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor

  Who knows when I'll see one of these tranquil beauts again. A real beaut! What a beaut.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Cuba seis – Viñales NP, February 17, 2018

Matt French gets after a Cuban Tody
The Nope Tree
Cuban Bullfinch Melopyrrha nigra
Cuban Bullfinch Melopyrrha nigra
Cuban Bullfinch Melopyrrha nigra
Great (Cuban) Lizard-Cuckoo Coccyzus merlini
Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee Contopus caribaeus
Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee Contopus caribaeus
Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus
Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus
Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica
Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica
American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
American Kestrel Falco sparverius (sparveroides)
American Kestrel Falco sparverius (sparveroides)
Cuatro amigos
Brown Anole Anolis Sagrei (I think...)
Habana Anole Anolis homolechis
  A few welcome new species at the base of the mogotes on the 17th, on a much longer session, with just Matt French. I was chuffed to finally cross paths with a Cuban Bullfinch in the wild – an absolutely charming bird, we had a few calmly foraging right next to the trail. I saw several kept as cagebirds in town.
  The Great Lizard Cuckoo was a nice way to end the spidey sense was going off, and I insisted we push a final 200 feet in the blazing sun - we saw the bird right where we turned around to head back.
  On the way out, thrilling close encounters with Prairie and Yellow-throated Warblers, two species that had overshoots show up in Québec last summer. The wood-warblers (and most other species) in Cuba were much more confiding, sluggish even, when compared with their counterparts encountered on migration in Canada. Cuba is a pretty laid back country, I guess it rubs off on all visitors. On that note, time for a siesta.

Green Heron-1
Great White Egret-2
Snowy Egret-3
Cattle Egret-8+
Turkey Vulture-10+
American Kestrel-3 (all light phase, no sign of yesterday’s reds)
White-winged Dove-2
Zenaida Dove-2
Mourning Dove-5+
Common Ground Dove-10+
Smooth-billed Ani-7
Great Lizard-Cuckoo-1
Antillean Palm Swift-20+
Cuban Emerald-1
Cuban Tody-6 to 8
Cuban Pewee-4
La Sagra’s Flycatcher-6+
Loggerhead Kingbird-3
Cuban Solitaire-2
Red-legged Thrush-10
Gray Catbird-1
Northern Mockingbird-12
Northern Parula-8 to 10
Black-throated Blue Warbler-1 heard
Yellow-throated Warbler-1
Prairie Warbler-1
Palm Warbler-25+
Black-and-white Warbler-1
American Redstart-4
Common Yellowthroat-1
Western Spindalis-5
Indigo Bunting-1 female
Yellow-faced Grassquit-35+
Cuban Bullfinch-14
Cuban Blackbird-20+
Greater Antillean Grackle-30+

Cuba cinco – Viñales NP, February 16, 2018

male Western Spindalis Spindalis zena (pretrei)
female Western Spindalis Spindalis zena (pretrei)
Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivaceus
Cuban Solitaire Myadestes elisabeth
Cuban Solitaire Myadestes elisabeth
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani
Cuban Vireo Vireo gundlachii
Northern Parula Setophaga americana
Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum
La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae
'red' American Kestrels Falco sparverius (sparveroides)
Killdeer Charadrius vociferous
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
  Finally got up into the outback of Viñales NP on the 16th, and had an awesome morning out. Matt French (co-worker from Jeju) and his bud Doug Watts were spotting birds left and right, in a target-rich environment. Picked up quite a few Cuba specials, including the Cuban Tody, a spectacular little gem that merits its own post. By midday, that tropical sun sure can be an ass-kicker – good thing there was a little mojito shack on the way out.
  The Cuban Solitaire was a talented songster, singing what the field guide described as a "...far-carrying song, said to sound like a wet finger rubbed on the rim of a fine porcelain cup." Ooh la-la.

Great White Egret-3
Snowy Egret-2
Cattle Egret-5
Turkey Vulture-20+
American Kestrel-2 dark phase birds seen mating
Zenaida Dove-2
Mourning Dove-4
Common Ground Dove-8+
Smooth-billed Ani-6
Antillean Palm Swift-50+
Cuban Emerald-1
Cuban Tody-2
Cuban Pewee-3
La Sagra’s Flycatcher-3

Cuban Vireo-1
Cuban Solitaire-2
Red-legged Thrush-1
Northern Mockingbird-15+
Northern Parula-2
Yellow-rumped Warbler-3
Prairie Warbler-1
Palm Warbler-20+
American Redstart-1
Western Spindalis-3
(Rose-breasted Grosbeak-1 female possibly seen)
House Sparrow-6+
Yellow-faced Grassquit-18+
Cuban Blackbird-8
Greater Antillean Grackle-20+