17 August 2012

Cuba 2012 - Part two

So, we'd arrived.
After the usual nonsense regarding booking in to the resort, sorting luggage and a rather lengthy mooch about waiting for a new room to be allocated to us (the one we had last year and had requested was now not available) we were eventually transported to our accommodation around 7pm. Unlike last year, we were given a first floor apartment and has returning guests, who were getting married, a bottle of champers & a cool bottle of Havana Club rum! After having a quick snoop around the room, I strode on to the balcony to overlook my empire for two weeks. Sadly, we were not situated on the edge of the resort, instead we were about 200 yards away from the surrounding habitat with a layer of apartments between us and the scrub.
The view from the balcony on that first night. The closest tree on the right held a surprise...
Leaving the wife-to-be to unpack the gear, I popped open the bottle of champagne and had half an hours posh birding. My notebook claims I saw Greater Antillean Grackle, Cuban Blackbird, House Sparrow, Turkey Vulture, Yellow faced Grassquit, Cuban Emerald, Northern Mockingbird, Red-legged Thrush, Gray Kingbird and a strange blob in that tree! Thru bins I knew what it was so I wapped the scope on it and Ka-Boom! Now although I'd seen loads of Antillean Nighthawks last year, I'd not seen one like this -

This creature roosted on the same bit of branch daily for the duration of our stay. A second bird was also discovered roosting in another tree to the right of this.

Start 'um young eh! A young Nighthawk spotter!
Our first full day (26th) dawned hot and humid. Heavy rain and thick cloud wasn't exactly Caribbean but the birds definitely were. As well as the stuff seen on the first night, additions in the morning included Western Spindalis (Stripe-headed Tanager) and a stunning male Cape May Warbler (in The Nighthawk Tree).
Western Spindalis (or Cabrero if you're Cuban). 
Cape May Warbler - YES!!
Later in the afternoon, after a meeting with 'The Wedding Organiser', the three of us (Lisa, my bins & I) went for a romantic stroll along the beach to a very romantic area that I had discovered last year. It just happens that this lovely spot is also good for birds but she wasn't to know that. In little over 45 minutes 'we' notched up 3+ Oriente Warblers, 2 Blackpolls, Palm Warbler, Black 'n' White Warbler, Yanky Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-whiskered Vireo, Mourning Doves, White-winged Dove & a Cattle Egret. This was amazing, for me anyhow. I hadn't witnessed anything like this last year and it was obvious that the north coast where we were situated was experiencing a bit of a fall due to the shitty weather that we were having. This area of coastal scrub was doing it's best to impersonate Spurn and I was doing my best to impersonate a dude at Spurn (minus the Sco-Pac)!

April 27th was initially another dull, grey but hot day but the sun soon broke thru again. In the morning I visited the 'Eco-Marsh' - This is basically a fresh water nature reserve (supplemented purely by rain I believe) about 50 yards inland from the sea. It's surrounded by tall trees and scrub and has patches of reeds and dead wood and stuff. It has a long bridge that spans the lagoon and it's this bridge where you scan from. I only had about 50 minutes this particular morning but the list of sightings included Cuban Emerald, 3 Green Herons, 2 Tri-coloured Herons, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 3 Spotted Sands, single Lesser & Greater Yellowlegs, Great (white) Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, (Black crowned) Night Heron, Common Yellowthroat & Tawny-shouldered Blackbird. Twitchwell Marsh eat ya fucking heart out!
Eco-Marsh & Tri-coloured Heron
 Today was also the day our other wedding guests arrived including MIKIPEDIA!
Mikipedia arrives...
....and can't wait to get stuck in!
To be continued...

5 August 2012

Cuba 2012 - Part one.

I've been meaning to do this for a while but kept putting it off. However, an extreme lack of decent birds in the UK leads me to be sat here on a Sunday morning, bored, hungover and preparing to scribe what you'll eventually end up reading; if you're lucky! Ok, there are a few decent bits about at the minute but they're either too far away (and too regular to even think about traipsing over to west Wales for) or just not rattling my passion.
So, this blog post. In 2011, I went to Cuba on a family holiday. It was basically a week of sunbathing, drinking, eating & perving with a very small dose of birding thrown in. Nothing hardcore, just a lazy meandering week of seeing what I could see where ever we happened to be. I notched up a small but interesting list of species, many that were new for me, a few endemics and an handful of familiar ones that I'd witnessed previously in Britain. On returning from Cuba, I was immediately hit with P.H.D (Post holiday depression) and one evening, after about a week or so, I happened to mention to my fiancĂ©e that I wanted to return to Cuba in 2012. I wasn't expecting the thundering volley of a reply that returned and hit me square in my ears - ''Yeh we can go, only if we get married over there!''.
Now I may have been on one of my regular rouge juice consumption missions that evening, I'd probably been perusing my holiday snaps with a desperate desire to return to the Caribbean, relishing the thought of lounging on those gorgeous white sands, frolicking in the crystal clear warm sea, sipping too many rum based cocktails... I'd have done anything to go back and that was made more evident by my unexpected (to me & her) riposte. ''Ok, yeh, let's do it!''. Now, anyone who has known me for a long time (pre-2008) will tell you that I was one of those small minded individuals (some might say I still am...) that never wanted to settle down, never buy a house, never have a pet and certainly not get married! But, here I was, in summer 2011, sitting in the house I own, with a pet hamster, agreeing to tie the knot! What was I doing! Something was insidiously wrong, surely!
However with the second bottle of rouge juice inevitably opened and the 'wife to be' instantly nabbing my laptop to start showing me wedding ideas, I recall kicking back, feet on the coffee table, hands behind my head and with a inner smile, I closed my eyes and let my brain seduce me into that Caribbean paradise that I now knew I was definitely gonna see again.
April 25th 2012. We're were at Manchester airport, about to board the plane to Cuba. Destination - Holguin airport on the NE bit of the island. I have a massive fear of flying. Not flying like Superman, cos that'd be mint, but sitting on a metal tube with wings whilst it spanks it across the vast Atlantic ocean at about 600mph at a height of over seven miles. But even this wasn't going to stop me, I'd mentally prepared myself for the journey by combining the thoughts of the paradise I was heading to with a few healthy glugs of scotch and a generic calming remedy that can be obtained from all good chemists. At this point, I can honestly say that the forthcoming wedding couldn't have been further from my thoughts. The weather in Manchester was grim. heavy rain and wind, a far cry from the melting sun and glorious blue skies that would be waiting for me at the conclusion of my nine hour journey. It was 9.40am. Most folk in the UK were already hard at work. By the time that some of them finish their day to day routines, I would be there...

San Salvador - 40 minutes to destination.
We arrived at Holguin at 7.40pm (UK time). In Cuba it was only 2.40pm and we had the rest of the day in front of us. The weather wasn't exactly mega but it was hot and the sun was trying to shine thru the huge dark clouds which hung in the sky like those horrible Dementors off of Harry Potter. Collecting our gear, we boarded the coach for the hour long drive to our resort.
En-route, I began to once again become acquainted with the familiar birds of the island. I counted 32 Turkey Vultures before it struck home that my final tally could be in the thousands, so I stopped looking at them. They are absolutely everywhere. It is solid fact that whenever you glance at the sky in Cuba, you WILL see a Turkey Vulture (except at night of course).

Turkey Vulture - number 14,562
A few Northern Mockingbirds and Red-legged Thrushes were noted, a single Cuban Blackbird and 22 Cattle Egrets.
At 4.55pm we arrived at our destination - Playa Pesquero. I was here. I felt at home. Cuba 2012. It had begun.