Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zapata Peninsula

Our sojourn with New Mexico Ornithological Society moves on to the Zapata Peninsula on the central south coast of Cuba––a fabled land! Indeed, three birds are named for the region––the Zapata Wren, the Zapata Sparrow, and the Zapata Rail––of those, all are highly adapted to the marshy conditions of Zapata Swamp, and all are endangered.

Zapata Swamp National Park and Biosphere Reserve is also a RAMSAR site for conserving wetlands of international importance.
(Photos by Narca, except for Jerry's wren)

The wren and the rail are endemic to the Zapata Peninsula, at present time living nowhere else. Two other populations of the Zapata Sparrow live in Cayo Coco and Guantánamo Province. The rail, sadly, is slipping towards extinction, and none have been seen in several years. It suffers from predation by introduced African Sharptooth Catfish, which eat the rail chicks, and introduced Small Asian Mongooses. Our hopes, however, are high for finding the wren and the sparrow.

Our base here is Playa Larga ("Long Beach"), a lovely seaside hotel with scattered cabañas and a resident Stygian Owl. When we pull in, a Great Lizard Cuckoo is prowling the entry way.

A Great Lizard Cuckoo at the entry to Playa Larga

One idiosyncrasy of Cuban resorts is towel origami. They fold bath towels to resemble hearts, swans bearing flowers, and the like––and they carry the practice to a high art.

In Cuba, towel-folding gives a new twist to origami.

But Playa Larga is the only place where I've seen them attempt to fold a blanket in this manner!

This origami resembles a Red-throated Loon more than a swan.

The wetlands of Zapata Swamp are even more flooded than usual.

Venturing along roads with flooded sawgrass savanna on either side, we find Zapata's famous namesakes. The sparrow is especially cooperative: a pair observes us, then resumes foraging, until finally we walk away from them! This beautiful sparrow recalls for me the colorful brush finches of Central and South America.

A curious, confiding Zapata Sparrow (not all are so cooperative!)

The endangered Zapata Wren is more secretive, creeping through the undergrowth by the road, but eventually he relaxes with our presence and hops into full view. His flat crown strikes me as very distinctive.

Zapata Wren (Photo by Jerry Oldenettel)

The Zapata Peninsula is also the site of the 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion. We visit a museum which presents the Cuban point of view of events here, where US actions were seen as an extreme provocation. To understand the US viewpoint, we have to place ourselves back in the fearful mindset of the Cold War. There is no need now to perpetuate those particular old fears. It's time to move on to today's vantage point, and normalize relations between the two countries!

No comments:

Post a Comment