Over the course of several days, our group from New Mexico Ornithological Society explores wild areas of the Zapata Peninsula. One morning we begin especially early, for we are going to Bermejas Wildlife Reserve, renowned for its quail-doves. We must arrive at first light and secret ourselves behind a blind, to be in place when the shy quail-doves venture out to feed.
On our first bird survey in Cuba (with Western Field Ornithologists), Alan and I missed seeing the spectacular Blue-headed Quail-Dove. It was the only Cuban endemic we missed, of those that we could reasonably hope for. So for once I am especially alert, this early in the morning!
Bermejas Wildlife Reserve, Zapata Peninsula, Cuba (Photo by Narca)
We walk a short distance down a trail at Bermejas, and stand behind a blind, silent and unmoving as the early morning light slowly grows. Very soon Zenaida Doves appear. We wait.
And then the first quail-dove joins the Zenaidas--a beautiful Gray-fronted, recently split from the White-fronted Quail-Dove of Hispaniola. "Gray-fronted" doesn't do it justice at all. Its head is entirely opalescent, and the violet of its back shimmers in the early light.
Gray-fronted Quail-Dove (Photo by Jerry Oldenettel)
Again, we wait. And at last the Blue-headed Quail-Doves emerge, two pairs of this endangered, exquisite species. (And this is just how the day starts!)
Blue-headed Quail-Dove (Photo by Jerry Oldenettel)
When we emerge from the quail-dove blind, Turkey Vultures are sunning.
Turkey Vulture (Photo by Narca)
We are now farther east in Cuba, and thus closer to the region recently hit by Hurricane Sandy––and we are finding more and more flooded habitats (even in this region of marsh land) where usually we would be able to walk. So finding Fernandina's Flicker and Bare-legged Owl becomes a major challenge. We eventually hear one flicker, but do not see it.
Our local guide Orlando is determined to show us the Bare-legged Owl. He knows the daytime roost for one, quite close to the road, and when the owl isn't visible at the cavity entrance, he wades knee-deep through the flooded grasses towards the snag. At his approach, the owl pops out to observe what manner of creature would brave the waters.
A Bare-legged Owl peers from its day roost. (Photo by Dave Krueper)
Orlando, our stalwart local guide, drains the water from his shoes.
(Photo by Narca)
All of us appreciate Orlando's generous effort! And afterwards, he wears those wet jeans as a badge of honor.