Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cuba's Far West

Daybreak at María la Gorda (Photos by Narca)

We set out for María la Gorda at the extreme western tip of Cuba. It's an all-day drive, and our unflinching NMOS leader Dave Krueper (sustained by the whole gang) is not going to leave any Cattle Egret or Smooth-billed Ani uncounted. Yes, this is fun, but I am ready for those endemics!

Along the way, we pass endemic Barrigon ("Big Belly") Palms. 

Giraldo Alayon, our very fine Cuban guide, talks to us about Cuba's geology and habitats as we travel––of the karstic (limestone) soils and the high level of endemism. Giraldo is a birder (and a very fine dancer!), but his more serious profession is arachnologist––a spider man.

In 1986 Giraldo spotted an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in eastern Cuba, igniting excitement that the species survived. Researchers found three Ivory-bills in that area, but in recent years biologists seeking Ivory-bills have been chasing evanescent rumors in Cuba. Hope has faded, but among Cuban biologists it hasn't died entirely.

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (Acrylic painting by Narca)

From Ray (Raydalie Pérez O'Farrill), our marvelous Cuban logistics-and-cultural guide, we learn of Vitamin R (rum). Only one day into the trip, spirits are high and joking is rampant.

After a few birding stops, we arrive at María la Gorda, where palms overhang the breaking surf and a Cuban Black-Hawk perches above mangroves. It's good to land!

Jerry Oldenettel, Jim Shiflett, Janet Ruth and Bruce Neville––relaxing!

Our cabaña at María la Gorda

Butterflies like this White Peacock enliven the path to the bungalows.

The hotel grounds are rich in Cuban Orioles, Cuban Pygmy-Owls, Cuban Bullfinches... I think we've found those endemics!

Cuban Black-Hawk is a recent split from Common Black-Hawk.

West Indian Woodpecker

Cuban Pygmy-Owl

Cuban Bullfinch

As I drift off to sleep, sea breezes are stirring, and waves lap at the shore, promising great adventure ahead.

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