Cuba - Part 7 - The search for the Zapata Sparrow

'Twas an earlier start today in order to try and get Cuban Nightjar on the road down to Latuga where we hoped to see more endemics. Unfortunately there were no nightjars and it seemed that when we got to the Zapata Wren site, there were none of them showing either. We could hear a couple but Angel's tape lure just wasn't working. So I tried the call on my iPhone and hey presto! Relatively great views of this very localised and secretive species. I didn't manage any photos but with a bit of luck Mark will have one I can use (he's far quicker on the draw - I'm too busy trying to find the bird!).
Red-shouldered Blackbird
Anyway there were a few Red-shouldered Blackbirds in the area (and Tawnies just to confuse) as we headed off to the site for the sparrows. We were basically on a track surrounded by deep ditches that led off to all point of a huge expanse of Sawgrass bog. We searched for the sparrows but to no avail - was this species going to be our bogey bird having missed it at Cayo Coco where it's meant to be "Common". We eventually gave in and returned to the woods at Soplillar to search for stuff we'd not seen yet - a Stygian Owl was definitely the best bird along with a few more Grey-headed Quail Doves. We searched for another endemic - Gundlachs's Hawk, a rare but widely distributed large Sparrowhawk essentially. That too was proving to be difficult!
Stygian Owl
After a long afternoon's repose, we set off for Cuban Nightjar and when it was virtually completely dark we heard them singing and managed to get some silhouette views as they flew over us.

So Monday was a make or break day for the remaining endemics and our last day with Angel. We were also joined by Andy Mitchel who'd concluded his organised group trip and informed us that they too hadn't seen Zapata Sparrow of Cayo Coco nor Cuban Grassquit. So we set off down an horrendous track leading out into the marsh - 23km or so that took a long time. However, once we'd got into the marshy bit proper there was the promise of birds. Plenty of egrets and herons around but eventually we found our quarry and Zapata Sparrow was added to the list.
A pair of Zapata Sparrows
We had a lovely Wilson's Snipe on the return leg and Rob had brief views of a rail sp.!!! But it was interminable bumpy roads again for an hour or so and then a trip to Soplillar again for that hawk. Angel took us to a nest site but there were no birds around and though we tried the following day, it was to be the only endemic that we had a chance of seeing that we didn't. However Mark spotted a Swainson's Warbler in a dense area of woodland that was part of a mixed warbler flock - a rarity but one can only wonder how many are missed as it was very difficult to pick up. We were all very happy with that lifer when I saw a bright yellow head - "Blue-winged Warbler!". Rob had been desperate to see this species and Mark and I had previously seen them in Canada, but what a stonker and amazingly difficult to pick up despite its brighter colours.
Great Lizard Cuckoo

We said our farewells to Angel and did a spot of birding along the road in the afternoon but there just weren't the birds to be seen - just loads of crabs to crunch over! We managed to arrange for another guide for our final day to take us down to Salinas - most weren't bothering as it had been so dry but we had lots of good views of some waterbirds and added a few more to the list including Wood Stork.
Greater Flamingo
A reddish Reddish Egret
A white Reddish Egret
White Ibis
American Coots, Blue-winged Teal and Shoveler
Our final trip was to search for the hawk again but to no avail, however we were taken to the back garden in Palpate where we had wonderful close views of a female Bee Hummingbird - and Mark got a pic!
The trip to the airport on Wednesday was interesting - we scoured the area around the Crocodile Farm for warblers but it was to be our only day that we didn't add a new bird to the trip list which stood in the end at a very impressive 172. I'd got 89 lifers and some great experiences. We took our time getting back going through villages and taking in the dry Cuban countryside.
Traffic chaos, Cuban style
A "School"?
Saw lots of these, all built to the same formula and some were occupied by children.
Need a lift?
If you're thinking of going to Cuba, then do it. I get the feeling things are changing and it might not be for the better. Apart from the hugely expensive car hire and expensive hotels on the cays, it's a good value birding trip - perhaps not as many species as in South America but a pace you can enjoy. I felt extremely safe wherever we went and the people were very friendly, especially the further away from Havana you go. Thanks, Cuba for some memorable birds!


  1. Excellent report Dave, some great pics there! brought back some great memories of Cuba.


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