Once again at first light we checked the moths in the moth trap at the security gate. The guard at the gate was very accommodating but we kept out of his way as he was kept busy checking in all the people arriving for work. Some we recognised from yesterday but there were lots of new and very attractive ones too. I wonder how many amateur moth-ers there are in Cuba (or professional ones for that matter!). I expect I could count them all on the fingers of one hand but I might be wrong. Sasha hadn't appeared at supper last night which was unusual and she didn't appear this morning either so we were a bit concerned as to what might have happened to her.
We again had Eric with his jeep today plus Yassil our guide and went off to explore some of the trails at a higher elevation. We checked the area where we had seen the Antillean Mapwing Hypanartia paullus a couple of days ago but it was rather too windy here and not enough sun for butterflies. But there were several warblers including Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Worm-eating and a couple of Ovenbirds feeding on the ground in deep cover making it near impossible to get any pictures. Worm-eating Warbler is described as a common winter resident in Cuba but we have only seen it a few times and would certainly not describe it as common in the areas that we have been but perhaps we haven't looked in the right habitat.
This huge wasp crossed our path and landed on the vegetation. Douglas says it is known as a Bee Wasp as it preys on bees. Remarkably there is a website on the bees and wasps of Cuba which says that in 2003 there were 1,156 species described and estimated that there were likely to be in excess of 2,700 species.
We saw our only Polydamas Swallowtail Battus polydamas and Fulvous Hairstreak Electrostrymon angelia of the trip and one of only three Boisduval's Yellow Eurema boisduvaliana.
We also saw Caribbean Daggerwing Marpesia eleuchea and some of the commoner species but it was mostly cloudy and so butterflies were not flying very much, but a La Sagra's Flycatcher put on a good show and I had a fleeting view of a Baltimore Oriole.
I don't have a dog, and I hate cats for the appalling damage that they do to our native birds and other wildlife, but if I do ever get a dog it would be one like this. We learned later that her name was Sasha. She was bright enough to know that if she sat outside the restaurant at meal times with a doleful expression that she would get fed scraps. Lynn is always a sucker for this and despite the fact that Sasha was clearly the best fed dog in Cuba, Lynn would always save some tasty bits for her. This led to her following us back to our room each evening and in the morning before breakfast following our scent trail up to the security gate to sit with us while we went through the moth trap that we had left there.
Yesterday we were kindly given permission to leave the moth trap on next to the security gate so at first light Doug and I went up the hill to see what we had caught. We guessed it would be quite good as even during the day we had seen quite a few moths on the walls that had been attracted to the building light that had been left on all night. I've managed to identify a few of them so far and will have to spend more time on the others later. This is just a selection:
On our walk after breakfast we encountered a twig anole Anolis sp making a rather risky crossing of the road. We haven't come across this one before but have been given the contact details for a reptile expert in Habana so will contact him for help. It does have a long tail which is not clear from the photo as it's hidden behind a stone.
We watched several fresh White Peacock Anartia jatrophae including a female laying on Phylum sp.
And Doug once again managed to find some larvae including a nice Zebra Heliconian Heliconius charithonia.
Once again our guide for the day was Alex and our driver was Eric. We set off to explore one of the trails in the Parque Guanayara. Our first stop was to see Cuban Parrot and Cuban Crow which both showed well but the lighting wasn't great for photography. We took a lovely walk down the river passing various tranquil pools and waterfalls. It was a bit quiet on the butterfly front though a nice Orange-barred Sulphur Phoebis philea was nectaring on the Black-eyed Susan. And I've managed to identify a new anole for us Blue-eyed Twig Anole Anolis alutaceus. I say 'new' but I'm pretty sure that I've seen this before but am only just starting to get my head around the identification features. I do find the lack of an identification guide quite surprising.
After our picnic lunch and as we drove off we bumped into our friend Luis who had come to look for us so he joined us for the afternoon. We stopped at a bend in the road where we had seen Many-spotted King Anetia briarea three years ago but there was no sign of this species. Then Eric called us over to ask us what the butterfly was nectaring on the Ageratum next to the vehicle...
This caused a few moments of panic as it was an Antillean Mapwing Hypanartia paullus which was new for all of us including Douglas. It is a rare species and what a great find by Eric, Cuba's latest convert to butterfly-watching aficionado. In fact it stayed nectaring on the same flowerhead for twenty minutes and was still there when we left.
We headed off to another trail and were soon watching a Giant Kingbird. It was building a rather flimsy looking nest in the top of a tree next to the path. It is a bulkier bird than Loggerhead Kingbird with a much larger broader bill.
A pair of Limpkins feeding amongst the young coffee bushes seemed slightly incongruous but further down the path several Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala were flying. I spotted the foodplant, a cicad close by, and on turning over a leaf found several atala eggs stuck to the underside. In may ways atala are unlike any other hairstreaks with which I'm familiar though of course there may be other similar ones in mainland America. Although the larvae are typical of a hairstreak, the adults lack tails, have aposematic coloration and females leave hairs from their anal tufts on the eggs as a form of protection. The eggs contain significant amounts of the toxin cycasin sequestered from the foodplant and passed on through each stage of the life cycle. The anal tuft hairs left on the eggs have been shown to be aposematic to warn off potential predators.
Alex showed us the tree on which he often sees a Cuban Knight Anole Anolis equestris and told us that during the winter it didn't come out much from the hole in which it hides. During this period it remained brown and only gained the green colouration during the summer. It was very wary and I only managed a couple of pictures before it slowly lowered itself down out of view.
Alex also showed us the introduced Bullfrog - we had heard this once before at Soroa, it sounds like a bull bellowing. We saw a few Purple Bluet Enellagma coecum by the river and were surprised by a Cuban Treefrog Osteopilus septentrionalis that crashed to the ground beside us from high in a tree above. What caused it to fall we don't know but it seemed to have injured itself doing so so seemed unlikely to survive long.
A small larva, probably second instar, of a Cuban Rhinthon Rhinthon cubana in a larval shelter found by Doug, proved to be parasitised unfortunately.
The day was spent walking the roads and trails around the hotel. We had clear but brief views of Many-spotted King Anetia briarea which was our only sighting of the trip, as was a Cuban Crescent Anthanassa frisia and a Hammock Skipper Polygonus leo.
We also saw Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus and many of the commoner species plus the beautiful Orange-washed Sulphur Phoebis avellaneda. The larvae of this and Orange-barred Sulphur Phoebis philea were fairly common in the area on the Senna spectabilis but often didn't live long due to predation by birds. The larger larvae were easy to distinguish but when not in the final two instars they are not so easy, though in truth this is probably just because I haven't worked out the definitive features yet when they are smaller. I think these two are P. philea from the pattern of the spots though I may be wrong as the blueish tinge along the flanks is more indicative of P. avellaneda. The one on the right has been parasitised - you can see the parasites cocoon next to it.
There was also a Boisduval's Yellow Eurema boisduvaliana larva and on searching a palm Doug found a Monk Skipper Asbolis capucinus pupa in a shelter between two fronds attached together with silk - note the tell-tale feeding damage on the adjacent fronds.
A Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus was nectaring on the Bidens and Doug found a small larva of the Zebra Heliconian Heliconius charithonia on a Passiflora tendril.
Four Cuban Parrots flew over and settled for a while in a distant tree and as we were walking back up the hill to the hotel a female Northern Flicker flew down and started feeding on ants on the verge in front of us. These birds are fairly common residents in forested areas. This bird lacks the black moustachial stripe that the males have.
Checking the lights around the hotel produced just one noctuid moth on the reception ceiling. I'm pretty sure it is Renodes aequalis but there is another species of Renodes on Cuba called R. eupithecioides and I can't find any pictures of this to check.
I read an interesting quote from Prof. Jonathan Losos recently. He is Professor and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. It reads "I've spent my entire professional career studying anoles and have discovered that the more I learn about anoles, the more I realize I don't know."
Now that makes me feel a whole lot better because I'm still struggling to identify some of the common widespread species of Cuba. Every time I think I've got something clear in my mind something else pops up that throws that into doubt. This is in no small part due to the lack of any good literature on the subject. What is needed is a really good field guide. Perhaps there is one but if so I can't find any reference to it though there has certainly been discussion of one being in production.
I think that this is Cuban Coast Anole Anolis jubar due to the crest along the back and the orange dewlap.
I have at last got round to updating the downloadable butterfly checklist here. There are no new species added this time but I have changed the order to separate the Eudaminae skippers from the Pyrginae. I had done this previously on the species pages but hadn't got round to amending the downloadable list itself. Please feel free to print this and use as your checklist if you are going to Cuba for a holiday.
Next to our rooms was a row of large fruiting palms that were a great attraction to a flock of Scaly-naped Pigeons which is a widespread species but I've never had such close views of them though they were surprisingly wary considering that there are always people around the hotel.
As arranged we set off in a jeep after breakfast with our guide Alex for the day to go to the Sierra de Codina. This is at a higher elevation and was quite cool when we arrived and slightly damp underfoot. We soon saw Orange-washed Sulphur Phoebis avellaneda, Orange-barred Sulphur Phoebis philea and White-angled Sulphur Anteos clorinde. We had a coffee at the hacienda and a look around the gardens where there were Cape May Warblers, Cuban Tody, Cuban Emerald and Cuban Trogons everywhere.
There were many fruit trees in the garden including quite a lot of oranges. Alex explained that the West Indian Woodpeckers are not liked by the locals because they have a habit of eating and destroying the oranges. While he was telling us this we watched one fly across into an orange tree and do just that.
There are various trails from here but we opted for the Magic Carpet trail which was a fairly easy 7km.
There are lots of orchids in the area, 132 to be precise, though at this time of year not very many of them are in flower but we did see some that were epiphytes and some that were not.
There were quite a few warblers about too and we saw Black-throated Blue, Prairie, Black-throated Green, Parula, Black & White, Ovenbird plus Cuban and Black-whiskered Vireos. There weren't many adult butterflies but Doug was always on the lookout for larvae and found Caribbean Faceted Skipper Synapte malitiosa, Caribbean Ruby-eye Perichares philetes and a pupa of Perching Saliana Saliana esperi. But it was a larval shelter on a vine that caught his eye and proved of most interest as he didn't recognise the plant. On opening it there was a black and yellow striped larva inside that looked just like an Antillean Flasher Astraptes xagua larva but the foodplant was wrong. There are four other Astraptes species in Cuba and Doug guessed that it was going to prove to be Green Flasher Astraptes talus which indeed turned out to be the case. A further careful search provided another larva and several hatched eggs. And the vine foodplant has proved to be Mucuna urens - Thank you Eddy for the id.
Black-striped White Melete salacia feeds on mistletoes in the larval stages so when we found some mistletoe sp we made a point of searching it carefully - but no luck this time.
We walked back along the river in a limestone gorge past a huge strangler fig to where the day trekkers were going to be feeding on roast pig later in the evening. A great day out with the very knowledgeable Alex.
My 'traveling' moth trap comprises a cardboard box (kindly given to me by Chris Manley) that folds up into the bottom of my suitcase. The bulb is an energy-saving bulb that I brought from Canada as it operates on 110v and doesn't need a heavy choke. It is mounted on a wooden bar with a rainguard. Inside I put a few egg cartons or large dry leaves. There were about a dozen species in the trap this morning which we spent time photographing before releasing. I haven't yet managed to identify any of them! One of them is a Eublemma unless I'm very much mistaken. There are three species on the Cuban list - cinnamomeum, minima and rectum (recta?) and it isn't any of these as far as I can make out.
After breakfast we were collected by Rafael Giraldo and transferred to the main hotel as promised. Rafael is the Sales Manager at the hotel and organises the tours so we arranged to have a jeep trip tomorrow with a guide to go to Sierra de Codina. Douglas then found a larva of Cuban Rhinthon Rhinthon cubana on the Hedychium plants growing just behind our rooms. An excellent find this as it is a rare skipper that we had looked for before but not found. It has been recorded here just once before.
There are quite a few roads and trails around the hotel so we set off to explore.
The colour of the dewlap is an important identification feature for anoles. Both of these two are quite common but its always useful to see the dewlap to clinch the id as body colour is very variable on these two and Cuban Coast Anole Anolis jubar which you can see on the reptiles page.
At the bottom of the hill is a small stream where we disturbed a Little Blue Heron and just above that was a patch of Lablab purpureus, a type of bean, which Doug explained was the foodplant of Caribbean Yellow-tipped Flasher Astraptes anaphus. We searched the leaves and found a larval shelter but unfortunately it was empty. Close - but no cigar.
We searched the Costus spiralis plants for larvae but only found a pupal exuvia of Perching Saliana Saliana esperi. As we left the restaurant after supper a group of people were photographing a Cuban Tree Frog Osteopilus septentrionalis high up on the wall. These are large frogs and it's amazing how they cling on to a vertical surface with their suckered feet. The other frog we have seen before but still not sure of the id.
The large pine tree outside our room attracted various birds early in the mornings including White-winged Doves. Greater Antillean Grackles with their strange tails would sit preening in the sunshine and Tawny-shouldered Blackbirds looked for insects. Their orange shoulder patches are often hidden but the slightly smaller bill and more slender appearance distinguishes them from Cuban Blackbird which are far more common.
Great Lizard Cuckoo are widespread and common but are rather skulking so when one approached us in scattered scrub on the path down by the lake this morning I stood still and waited for it to come to me, which It did in rather spectacular fashion
We set off for Topes de Collantes this morning which lies to the south of Lake Hanabanilla and is higher in elevation. On the way we stopped at a viewpoint for a short break with its wonderful view to the north with the southern arm of Lake Hanabanilla in the distance.
We had arranged to stay at Los Helechos Hotel for eight nights but when we arrived it looked as if it had seen better days!
Only joking! In fact the hotel is quite nice and the standard has been raised a lot since we were last here. This was an old apartment block from which, when the hotels were built here, they moved people out into various cities. The hotel has good food, pleasant rooms and a very smart brand new swimming pool that Lynn used every day. In fact we were treated like honoured guests during our stay, and we couldn't figure out why until the end. It turned out that in all the years that the hotel had been open nobody had ever stayed for eight days - usually its just one or two nights as part of a whistle-stop tour of Cuba. As the main hotel was full for the first night we were given a spacious little bungalow for the night at Villa Caburni which is a short way up the road with the promise that we would be moved down the next day.
Los Helechos is run by Gaviota which is in effect a part of the military so the transport for tours and day trips is in old military vehicles - lorries and jeeps depending on how many of you there are. We had tried to arrange our own vehicle and driver to stay with us here to give us more flexibility but had been told this wasn't possible but were never given a reason why. I suspect this is just Gaviota maintaining a monopoly on tourist transport in the area as I can't think of any other reason. And in fact that worked out just fine as some days we wanted to walk locally and others we arranged a jeep plus driver and guide to take us out. After getting set up in our rooms we went out for a walk and soon found larvae of Orange-washed Sulphur Phoebis avellaneda and Orange-barred Sulphur Phoebis philea on Senna spectabilis amongst the bushes in front of the concrete shell of the apartment block. There were also eggs of White-angled Sulphur Anteos clorinde. We searched the Passiflora for Heliconiinae eggs and larvae but couldn't find any.
Doug pointed out the distinctive feeding damage of Red-striped Leafwing Siderone galanthis on Casearia with the tell-tale brown leaf fragments left hanging in a line along the midrib, and also of Perching Saliana Saliana esperi on Costus spiralis with the rather straight-cut edges where the larva had been feeding on the leaves. Both these species have been recorded here before but we didn't see adults of either during our stay.
Red-legged Honey-creepers and Cuban Orioles were feeding in a large flowering Erythrina tree but the distance was to great for any reasonable pictures of these with my camera set-up. Having checked with the security guard that it would be ok to run the moth lamp outside the bungalow overnight we set it up running the cable out through an open window. There were plenty of trees just outside so we looked forward to seeing what there would be in the morning.
On 30 May a friend at the Sol Rio Luna y Mares hotel near Guardalavaca north of Holguin wrote to say that for the past three weeks there had been an amazing migration of thousands of butterflies. He described this as an incredible sight which he had never previously witnessed. He also added that there has been no rain yet!
I sought further information from our Cuban friend Félix, a butterfly enthusiast in Gibara a few miles to the west, and his reply the same day was very interesting. He confirmed that a huge migration had been taking place. He said that migrations occur most years between May and July often lasting between three and five days followed by a gap. The most abundant species are Great Southern White Ascia monuste and Lyside Sulphur Kricogonia lyside, with Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae, Large Orange Sulphur Phoebis agarithe and Cuban Snout Libytheana motya present in smaller numbers.
This year he says that in April there was a large migration of Great Southern White Ascia monuste with a few Lyside Sulphur Kricogonia lyside - unusual so early in the year. During the last twelve days of May there was a huge migration of mainly Great Southern White Ascia monuste from the NE which has also been seen in Holguin, Banes, Guardalavaca and Puerto Padre mainly between 8am and 1pm. This migration also included some Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae, Large Orange Sulphur Phoebis agarithe and Lyside Sulphur Kricogonia lyside but these were scarcer.
Thank you Félix for your insight and to Ronald for first alerting us to this – just a shame we aren’t there to witness it for ourselves.
Postscript - I have since heard from Douglas Fernández who lives at Camagüey in the centre of the island who tells me that on 25 May in his neighborhood he and his wife Norris watched many Great Southern White Ascia monuste flying north after midday at a rate of about 100 per minute. And again on 27 May he and his son Douglas saw many flying north over the savanna grasslands at Albaiza, a few km outside Camagüey. Thank you Doug for sharing.
Because of the dry weather we've been struggling to find good habitat locally with butterflies flying other than around the hotel so we decided to go back to Cienfuegos Botanic Garden again today. Soon after we arrived we saw a Gundlach's Hawk briefly circling over the trees above us. This rare endemic, though widely distributed, is far from easy to see and this is only our second sighting. Another good find was a Barn Owl sitting low down in one of the large trees.
The Scaly-breasted Munias were again in evidence feeding in the bamboos with Yellow-faced Grass-quits.
But other than that we saw little new today in the Botanic Garden and our search for the two Hairstreaks drew a blank. A fly over White-collared Swift late in the day near the hotel was a good sighting and only the second time I have seen one in Cuba. They are a rare permanent resident in the mountains of the island though they are also widespread in Central and South America. We saw them, again only briefly, in the Sierra Maestra mountains in the south-east in March 2015.
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Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.