I am Brian Young's wife Lise and I enjoyed a 10-day guided tour of Cuba in June 2016. My very competent, patient and persistent bird guide is called El Chino de Zapata (aka Orestes Martinez). The quest was to photograph more birds on the ABA list for the website CCNAB and to take pictures of endemic birds of Cuba.
The birding adventures started in Havana and my guide and I ultimately travelled from Havana to Soroa, Viñales, Playa Larga/Playa Caleton and Trinidad City. As we were leaving Havana we spotted our first target birds, the male and female Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds. My bird guide is very gifted at making sounds through his lips and fingers and was able to attract these blackbirds to the closest tree. I was able to get some wonderful pictures of the colourful patch on the male blackbirds. We made several stops along the way and saw the Yellow-headed Warbler, Eastern Kingbird, Cuban Green Woodpecker. I attempted to photograph the Antillean Palm Swift, but this aerobatic bird is so fast and does not seem to perch.
Upon arriving in Viñales, I was treated to the beautiful song of the Cuban Solitaire. This is a splendid vocal bird that is quite difficult to see atop the highest branches of trees. We also happened upon a family of Cuban trogons which included two juveniles and a male and female. This bird is the national bird of Cuba, as it wears the colours of the Cuban flag, green, red and white.
Throughout my trip in Cuba we stayed in casa particulars. These are rooms that are rented out of private homes, sort of the equivalent of our bed & breakfasts accommodations. It was a nice way to meet the Cuban people and get to know their culture.
On the following days we were lucky to see the Olive-capped Warbler, Cuban Tody, Western Spindalis among other birds. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to photograph the male, female and juvenile Bee Hummingbird. The Bee Hummingbird is one of the world's smallest birds and measures 2 ½ inches in length.
To find the Zapata Sparrow and the Zapata Wren involved getting into a rowboat and a boatman polled us through a channel of water to the Zapata Swamp. After a bit of coaxing the Zapata wrens felt comfortable enough to call to one another and I was able to photograph this secretive and shy bird. Three Zapata sparrows were not to be outdone by the wrens. The sparrows came out to pose and be photographed as well. In this wet area we also saw the Cuban Emerald, Cuban Trogon, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Cuban Pewee, Great-lizard Cuckoo, Red-legged Thrush, a juvenile Turkey Vulture and a Northern Jacana.
In a forested area near Playa Larga I was thrilled to see and photograph a family of Fernandina's flickers, two Bare-legged owls dwelling in a dead palm tree. In an area known as The Caves, I was lucky to see a half dozen glorious Blue-headed Quail-Doves. Some of the bird species that eluded me on this trip were the Gray-fronted Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Stygian Owl, King Rail, Palm Crow and the Black and White-collared swifts. I had success photographing a nesting Greater Antillean Nightjar, Cuban Oriole, Cuban Parrot, Cuban Vireo, Northern Crested Caracara, Cuban Crow, Cuban Black Hawk and a Cuban Pygmy-Owl.
I look forward to a return trip to Cuba in the near future.
Written by: Lise Young
My wife, Lise and I traveled to Portugal in January 2016. This was our first trip to Europe and we were looking forward to photographing European birds that are on the ABA list. We were very pleased with the results, as we were able to capture the photos of more than 100 bird species, of which more than 40 were on our target list.
We began our quest in the wetlands around Alchochete, located 30 minutes from Lisbon, and included mudflats, marshes and saltpans. Some of the birds we photographed included the Common Redshank, Common Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Moorhen and the Common Greenshank, to mention a few. We also saw numerous White Wagtail, European Stonechat and a couple of European Kestrel. We were delighted to catch a glimpse of the magnificent and colourful Bluethroat. In the Cork Oak forests and rice fields we spotted our first of many Northern Lapwings. We also viewed many Glossy Ibis, Gray Heron, Common Snipe and two Squacco Heron.
We continued our trek to Mertola, which is a marvelous medieval town, with castles, beautiful landscapes and the meandering Guardiana River. We were guided by an excellent and very informative bird guide named Domingos Leitão. We birded in the village and saw many bird species including the Hoopoe, Song Thrush and Jackdaw. Domingos directed us to the Castro Verde Plains, which are the most important dry-grassland areas of Portugal. As well as the Great Bustard, many other rare birds live in these grasslands: Griffon, Black Vulture, Golden, Bonelli's and Spanish Imperial Eagles, Little Bustard and Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Calandra, Thekla and Sky Larks as well as the Spanish Sparrow.
Portugal's landscape is beautiful and we saw a variety of trees which included orange and lemon trees, almond and olive trees as well as cork trees. We proceeded to drive south to the eastern part of the Algarve. We visited the Castro Marim Nature Reserve near the border of Spain. We spotted large numbers of Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Little Egret, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Kentish Plovers, etc.
Finally we drove to the seaside town of Tavira. We explored the peninsula of Sagres and saw many seabirds at Cape São Vicente, which is the most south-western point of Continental Europe. We saw some Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel and the Red-billed Chough including two Little Owl, that were perched on the roofs of abandoned farm buildings.
The Portuguese were very friendly, the grilled seafood was excellent, the landscape beautiful and we had a lot of opportunity to photograph a multitude of birds. We hope to return one day!