by Jono Leadley
In recent years, Cuba has become one of the hottest Caribbean birding destinations. This is partly due to the high levels of bird endemism (21 species- see list below) and the relative ease of access since the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Together with fantastic resident and migrant bird populations, Cuba has an enthralling history, exciting culture and beautiful, welcoming people. It is refreshing to visit a country still largely free from Western consumer culture. Go now, before it is too late!
Any time of year is good for Cuban birding, although if you want to see large numbers of migrants, autumn and probably spring are excellent. Some of the endemics are very easy to find, whereas some, such as the Zapata Swamp specialists require a good guide and a lot of luck.
Due to how Cuba is run, a visitor must state where they will be staying before entering Cuba. This may seem difficult, but unless you have friends on the island, the best thing to do it to simply book a hotel in Havana for a few nights before you travel I used the internet) and then book the rest of your accomodation once there.
Independent travel is tricky in Cuba. We managed to hire a car fairly easily, although it is comparatively expensive. Public transport according to a friend of mine is pretty good, though some of the guidebooks suggest it is a nightmare! Hiring a car, though straight-forward can be a little awkward due to the lack of road signs! Although we had an excellent road map, the complete lack of roadsigns made navigation around Havana in particular very tricky, although we did not get lost too much!
In most destinations finding food and accomodation is easy, although we were there in the low season. It is worth using the travel desks in some of the larger Havana hotels, as the staff running these were excellent. As virtually everything is controlled by the government, you do not get ripped off and even though there are a number of hotels to choose from, it is nice to know you will always be charged the correct price!
Disease has been virtually eradicated on Cuba. We had massive problems around Zapata and the Bay of Pigs due to mozquitoes , but felt happier in the knowledge there is no Malaria! Do bring lots of mozzie repellent, as we got eaten alive and it did spoil our birding at times. After ten minutes of watching a displaying male Bee Hummingbird, I counted over 60 bites of my hands alone!
Arrived in Havana after British Airways flight from London Heathrow.Spent the afternoon walking around Havana, including Av. Marceo, which is the seafront.
Havana. Visited Arturo Kirkconnell, who gave us info about some good sites for some of the endemics.
Havana. Travelled to San Deigo de los Banos. Saw little of note on the journey.
La Guira NP, Cabanos dos Pinos. Birded the National Park.
Travelled down to Bay of Pigs area, staying at Playa Larga Resort.
Birded the coast road at dawn - mozzies awful and huge land crabs everywhere! In the late morning we took a guided tour into the Salinas, where the mozzies were even worse, but the birding even better!
Birded the Sopillar area looking for Bee Hummingbird, quail doves etc.
Spent the morning on the beach, then visited Cuevas de Pescado, a lagoon 17km east along the coast road from Playa Larga, for swimming and birding.
Visited Palpite in the morning looking for Blue-headed Quail-dove, without success.
Birded Berjemas in the morning, a known site for Fernandina's Flicker etc. Moved to Playa Giron, where we did much snorkelling and recovering from mozzie bites!
Birded Berjemas in the morning. Travelled back to Havana in the afternoon. Night in Havana.