Cuba Mar 30—Apr 09, 2016

Posted by David Ascanio


David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent over 35 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the...

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No matter how many consecutive times I lead Cuba tours, it is always exciting, as if it were my first time ever guiding in this amazing island. Maybe this is because of Cuba’s uniqueness, or its endemic birds, or possibly the mix of Neotropical warblers, or perhaps its amazing art deco architecture mixed with contemporary history, or maybe a mix of all of these things.

Cuban Tody

Cuban Tody— Photo: David Ascanio


Part of this excitement comes from the fact that each tour has its own personality, its own dynamic, and its own pace. This time, we practiced an old saying, one that worked very well: “continuous effort pays back, and sometimes pays back well!” Right from the start in Los Caneyes, we were nailing superb views of one of the most difficult-to-see endemic Cuban birds, the Gundlach’s Hawk. Later, in Cayo Coco, we worked out a way to see Cuban Gnatcatcher and the ever-comical Cuban Tody. However, I’m sure that the real surprise was a secretive species that’s sometimes almost impossible to see: the Bahama Mockingbird.

Later we enjoyed astonishing views of the Cuban Trogon (the national bird of Cuba) and the Greater Antilles Oriole (sometimes treated as a Cuban endemic).

Cuban Trogon

Cuban Trogon— Photo: David Ascanio








The best was still to come in the Bay of Pigs where we nailed three species of quail-doves (Blue-headed, White-fronted, and Key West), as well as the rare and secretive Zapata Wren, one that we enjoyed singing at eye level! After shocking views of so many endemic Cuban birds, we had to bet for a full swing in the Zapata Peninsula, and for that we nailed the smallest bird in the world, the Bee Hummingbird.

On our last birding day we were missing only a few birds, and chances for seeing the Giant Kingbird were low. But again, luck comes with effort. With the support of our driver and Gustavo, our local guide, we took an hour drive to Hacienda Cortina, and just before our deadline, there was a magnificent Giant Kingbird perched atop a tree. What a big slam! Back to our regular route, we visited Las Terrazas, enjoying views of several male and female Cuban Grassquits in the afternoon. Seeing the grassquit rounded-up a perfect tour that combined birds, architecture, and people.