Bee Humming

Perhaps the most sought after Cuban endemic is the Bee Hummingbird. The smallest bird in the World is enigmatic and emblamatic, it is a gem. At around 2.5 inches it is hard to realise just how tiny it is until you see your first. Our first came courtesy of Orlando at the Bermejas reserve. We were driving down the road looking for it when an apparition in the rear view mirror stood waving a newspaper to attract our attention. We made a legal u-turn, to use the parlance adopted by our Satnav, and pulled alongside. The language barrier was bridged by two words, Bee Humming. We walked all of 40 feet off the road and there was a male, sat on an exposed perched swaying violently in the wind. The male didn’t pose and so when our Zapata guide offered to show us a nest, a nest known by only three people, we thought great, a scope view would be nice.

We left the road and picked out way throught the detritus generated by the nearby village, not uncommon in the tropics. Ahead was a scooterette aand nearby a man adorned in jewellery, the man was the famous bird guide, Chino. We walked towards him, swaying right slightly to avoid a protruding branch and looking left as we did, the female Bee Hummingbird below was sat on her tiny nest. Apparently she’d laid two peas-sized eggs, one of which had hatched and was well on the way to supplying more little Bee Hummers for everyone to enjoy. The photos are just under life sized!

Local birds

While we were away in Cuba a nice little group of Horned Grebes were found in nearby Vaudreuil. Ornitho-QC was reporting three still present today so I went down for a look. I could only come up with one but the weather is conducive to migration so they are probably slipping away. Nearby were a few Buffleheads that didn’t panic when I pointed the camera at them. On a whim I checked on one of my local Pine Warblers, it came straight in to a whistled immitation of it’s call but not would give me a classic pose, nice enough though.

Fernandina’s fabulous Flicker

Cuba is famous in birding circles for the endemic bird species found there. For those of you with a comprehensive education, endemic means only found within the defined geographical boundaries, whether country, island or even state , rather like Poutine in Quebec (you Brits look it up). With a population of under 800 birds and declining, Fernandina’s Flicker is a highly prized endemic and one that we missed in 2010. I looked up who Fernandina was, apparently it is what Cuba used to be called but that came from Wikidecevia which can be occasionally creative. We visited the Bermejas area and local reserve warden Orlando (not bloom but the likeness was stunning if you add on a year or two) took us to one of his spots to see it. Later in the trip we would find our own but the first was special.

We walked into the area of palms and stood a respectable distance from a hole. There was even no need to lob half a house brick at the tree to get its attention as the flicker stuck his head out of the hole and had a good look at us, he then decamped to a nearby bush while the hole’s owner, a West Indian Woodpecker, finished the renovations.

The Fernandina’s are declining because the more numerous West Indian Woodpecker is dominating the shared habitat but they are trying to rear them in captivity with mixed success, habitat loss is another major factor, if Cuba ever modernises its screwed but since they couldn’t even supply tourists with bottled water for three days it should be fine for a while yet.

So here are the snaps, hope you like them.

Antillean Nighthawk

While in Cuba ( April 21st-28th) we were based at Playa Giron, rapidly dubbed the Gulag. The complex was the worst place we have ever stopped and with hindsight we should have used the services of the many Casa Particulars in the area. I don’t normally complain about hotels, especially when you go for the cheap option and bearing in mind Cuba’s difficulties but even a minimum of effort would have improved things there and that effort is clearly missing. If you are tempted to visit the Zapata area of Cuba and don’t want to shell out the $3,000CAN or more that tour companies ask then Selloffvacations trips at around $750CAN will get you flights, airport transfers and first and last night beds but I strongly recommend that you don’t plan to spend a full week at Gulag Playa Giron. We didn’t, we went west for one night, we should have made it three!

The birds were a different story and we saw just about everything we wanted to, bearing in mind that we had been in Cuba in 2010 but located out on the cays. One bird that we saw daily was the Antillean Nighthawk. Every afternoon a pair would perform their aerial ballet accompanied by the kit-ik-kit-it calls, the perfomance would last for a couple of hours or more, they were always the first and last birds of the day, unless you count Chickens. I spent a bit of time waving a camera at the nighthawks but they were very quick when displaying, wheeling around and stooping at speed. Eventually they landed for a rest one day, the male in particular looked like he needed a breather. In the montage he is always the one behind, on the ground he’s the one napping.

I’ll post a trip report when done, just check the tab in the headed under trip reports. More photos and commentary to follow, Cuba offers great birding in a safe environment and with a good birding set up and, accommodation issues aside, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit.

Bluebirds back

Spring continues to gather momentum here in Quebec with a few new avian arrivals today. In the garden the first White-throated Sparrows have found the seed and are disputing gleaning rights with the dozen or so Dark-eyed Juncos left over from the winter. At St-Lazare sand pits the first Brown Thrashers warbled their melodious thrash from the depths of the scrub and along Chemin Fief, one of my regular haunts, the first Eastern Bluebirds of the season were getting to know each other, they were quite coy so it was probably a first date.

Eastern Bluebird is one of the gems of the spring here. If they follow the form I’ve noted over the past few years then several pairs will be obvious for a few weeks before becoming unobtrusive as they raise their families. Later, if the season is kind to them, they will be everywhere along the north end of Fief. I’ve tried to photograph bluebirds along Fief for a while but none ever seemed brave enough to come within camera range. Today I approached with the car windows down and just sat, amazingly no other vehicles came along the road and the bluebirds returned to their favoured trees and fenceposts to pose.

Below are a few shots for your delictation. For those following the birding diary, 2002 was posted yesterday. I have one more UK based diary to do before starting on Canada, the UK ones will remain available for a few weeks more and then will disappear, more on why later.

Breezy

Winds have been whipping through Quebec this past couple of days. Today it has a cooler edge, yesterday we had the ridiculous temperature of 27C. Butterflies have been on the move, it has been reminiscent of Cape May with hundreds of Red Admirals and Eastern Comma charging north along with a moth species. I also saw my first dragonfly of the season yesterday, probably a Green Darner. The migrant birds have been arriving too with three species of swallow today at St-Lazare sand pits. Yesterday the hawks liked the conditions and, in a short watch from the garden I saw one Golden Eagle, eight Broad-winged Hawks and single Merlin, American Kestrel and Sharp-shinned Hawk. Today my tree destroying Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was back and wasting no time getting out there and making new holes.