I am very grateful to Julia Wittman and Christoph Moning from Germany who have kindly provided some wonderful photos of birds and other wildlife taken on their recent trip to Cuba, and allowed me to share them here on the website. Thank you Julia and Christoph. I have replaced some of my own rather poor shots, that I had included as a stop gap, with theirs which are of a much higher quality.
With these additions there are now just two of the thirty Cuban endemics that are not yet featured here. The Zapata Wren below is only found on the Zapata Peninsular in south-west Cuba. It is not the easiest bird to see, we tried and failed though we did hear it singing in the distance, so to get shots like this is quite an achievement.
There are currently only about 1360 moth species on the list for Cuba. It is anyone's guess how many there really are but my punt would be that it is at least 50% more or even 100% more but that is only a wild guess. What is certain is that there is a great deal more to be discovered.
I have spent much of the last week uploading photographs kindly received from Rayner Núñez onto this website (and more still to add). I am very grateful for these and for those received from Douglas Fernández. They can be viewed by clicking on the Species>Other Wildlife>Moths tab above.
And as always if you have any good quality photographs that you would like to contribute then please get in touch. Likewise if you spot any errors in identification then please do let me know.
This was our last day of another great trip to Cuba. We had missed Hurricane Irma though sadly it taken its toll in Cuba making life even tougher for many of the lovely people who live there. We have seen 96 butterfly species in 3 weeks which is more than half of the total of resident species. There have been many highlights including the large number of Cuban Kite Swallowtail Eurytides celadon which have been very hard to see on previous visits.
On our morning walk around the local tracks and trails we found there had been a fresh emergence of Antillean Crescent Antillea pelops and Impostor Duskywing Gesta gesta.
We are already finalising our next trip to Cuba in the summer and plan another later in the year but missing the main hurricane season this time. Our thanks go to all our friends out there that helped to make it such a great trip and to the new friends that we made.
A Prairie Warbler was in the trees at the front of the hotel as we went out this morning. The numbers of warblers that we are seeing only now seem to be increasing slightly as birds move south to their wintering grounds.
We got a taxi round to the Paradisus hotel and then walked along the edge of the forest which is the Parque Nacional Bahía de Naranjo. We saw several Pale Cracker Hamadryas amphichloe and a Caribbean Banner Lucinia sida which have been surprisingly scarce on this trip. It seems their flight seasons are only just starting.
We also added two more species to the list for the trip in the form of a female Mexican Sailor Dynamine postverta and a Gold-spotted Aguna Aguna asander which flew past us along the track. This was not unexpected as we have seen them here before and a bit further along is the only Bauhinia bush that I know of in the area. It was difficult to access the bush this time as, following the hurricane, the Paradisus hotel have been dumping all their tree debris along the edge of the track. Bauhinia is the foodplant of the Aguna and although there was lots of feeding damage I couldn't see any larvae on this occasion.
We visited the small Las Guanas reserve today which lies just to the west of the Luna y Mares hotel. We always go here at least once during a trip but hadn’t managed it this time till now. There are little feeding stations along the trail where the fiddler crabs love to come and feed on what looks like crushed maize.
It was nice to see several Cuban Kite Swallowtail Eurytides celadon still. We have so far seen them on 15 of the 19 days and often in high numbers. There weren’t too many butterflies about but we found a Violet-banded Skipper Nyctelius nyctelius larva in a folded leaf shelter of grass which was a new species for the trip.
And a few Florida Duskywing Ephyriades brunnea were nectaring high up on small white flowers of a shrub which I don’t know the name of. And I spotted some feeding damage on the foodplant Stigmaphyllon which contained both eggs and a small larva. It also had eggs of a Cyclargus but I can’t tell whether it’s Nickerbean Blue Cyclargus ammon or Miami Blue Cyclargus thomasi.
We also found a Clouded Sulphur Phoebis sennae larva on Senna occidentalis and two Concolorous Skipper Burca concolor larvae on Croton. There are lots of different reptiles here on the reserve and we saw seven species during the morning.
At lunch there was a slow movement of whites and yellows flying east over the pool including a Lyside Sulphur Kricogonia lyside. We had arranged to meet Carlos later in the day where he took us to a friend’s garden near Holguin to look for reptiles. And what a great couple of hours it turned out to be. The owners kept a few chickens in cages that were moved around from time to time. Under various objects in the garden was a host of reptile food. There were lots of large cockroaches 2” long and lots of their eggs and young. We also saw two species of scorpion and several huge tarantula. This black scorpion was about 3” long and the other was smaller and more colourful.
But it was the reptiles that we came for and it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t know what many of them were at the time, and one of them I’m still not sure of, but others I have managed to identify since. And if I have got any wrong then I’m happy to be corrected. The list is:
You can see more pictures of all these on the reptiles page.
One that I have only just identified seems to be Jamaican Stippled Sphaero (or Ocellated Sphaero) Sphaerodactylus argus. I hadn’t considered this previously as although it occurs in 11 provinces including over in the east of Holguín province this seems to be the first time it has been recorded near the city of Holguín.
This is the anole that I’m not sure of. It might be Cuban Green Anole Anolis porcatus but it might be something else, and there was also a smaller one that is perhaps a juvenile of the same species. It wasn’t until I looked at the photos later that I noticed the long-dead one.
Under one board there were lots of small hatched reptile eggs - perhaps Gonatodes as they looked a little large for the Sphaeros.
There was even a tiny frog Eleutherodactylus sp that I haven’t yet identified but I hope to by going through Díaz & Cádiz (2008). I wish I had given him/her a clean-up before taking the picture but there was so much going on there wasn't time for that.
We also spent a while searching by torchlight for the Prehensile-tailed Jutía Mysateles prehensilis which occurs in the spiny cactus hedges here but we had no luck on this occasion. It is a species of rodent in the family Capromyidae, one of many species endemic to Cuba. It is an arboreal herbivore found in both primary and secondary forest. This and Desmarest's Jutía Capromys pilorides are the only two species that are said to be still widespread on Cuba, many are already extinct.
What a brilliant few hours so thank you Carlos for arranging.
We recently received an email from our friend Amaury at the Luna y Mares hotel near Guardalavaca telling us about the bad weather they have been having lately ie lots of rain throughout February which is very unusual there (February and March should be the height of the dry season). The temperature was about 30⁰ C so that made us chuckle when we are also having unusual weather here in the UK where it has been pretty cold for the last few days and lots of very late snow. Even here in Hampshire hundreds of people were stuck in their cars last night and needed rescuing by the military. And in other parts of the country it has been a lot worse.
Here on the lawn there is 100mm of snow but I've fed the birds and think I'll go for a walk.
And at Guardalavaca I'm sure the sun is shining. The plants will soon recover and the butterflies will be flying.
I have amended three species’ scientific names here on the website. I have done this both in the species texts and in the downloadable species list that you can print out and use as a checklist if you wish while on holiday in Cuba.
The first is changing Hanno Blue Hemiargus hanno to Ceraunus Blue Hemiargus ceraunus. The identity of the Cuban species has changed over the years in the various publications that I have been able to check as follows:
1975, Riley – Hemiargus hanno filenus
1994, Smith, Miller & Miller - Hemiargus hanno filenus
1999, Alayo & Hernández - Hemiargus hanno filenus
2004, Hernández – Cyclargus ceraunus filenus
2011, Barro, Núñez & Larramendi - Hemiargus hanno filenus
Current thinking is that Ceraunus Blue Hemiargus ceraunus is a N & C American species that extends south as far as Panama and through the Greater Antilles (including Cuba and the Isla de Juventad) as far as Hispaniola whilst Hanno Blue is a S American species (range uncertain) also found in the Lesser Antilles and extending as far as north as Puerto Rico. Whether this will be the end of the story who knows?
The other changes made are to two of the three Buckeye Junonia species on Cuba. This group has long been problematic due in no small part to a published paper where the scientific names were incorrectly transposed. This confusion has led to many different books and websites having different scientific names for Tropical and Mangrove Buckeyes. For instance on the BAMONA website you can see photos of both species under Tropical Buckeye and the same situation under Mangrove Buckeye.
Melanie Lalonde (University of Manitoba) has however recently clarified the taxonomy of the Junonia species in North America in her MSc thesis (Lalonde, M. M. L. 2016) using molecular and morphological data. Tropical Buckeye has been reassigned as Junonia zonalis, and Mangrove Buckeye has been reassigned as Junonia nieldi. Of course published books cannot be changed but websites can and so I have done so here. Hopefully the fact that the latest scientific names get away from the genoveva/evarete confusion of recent decades will lead to a period of stability in names. In the American Southwest, Common Buckeye Junonia coenia has now been split into J. coenia and J. grisea. Lalonde is continuing her research into Junonia and perhaps we can expect further revelations in the future.
What we know as the 'farm on the hill' is about 4km away as the crow flies on the SW side of the Cerro de Yaguajay. It provides us with some good exercise walking up the hill and we always find something interesting. On the way up we saw our only Miami Blue Cyclargus thomasi of the trip on exactly the same bush that we found them this time last year. Pale Cracker Hamadryas amphichloe is common in the area but flies later in the year so we have seen only small numbers so far. There were lots of Tropical Buckeye Junonia genoveva flying and I also found a small larva of this species which I only noticed while photographing a pair of Cassius Blue Leptotes cassius.
Adult bee-flies of the Family Bombyliidae are mainly nectar feeders and mimic bees not only in appearance but also in their loud buzzing flight. This Batesian mimicry affords them some protection from predation. We do occasionally see bee-flies in Cuba but have never seen this one before. It was medium-sized and very loud as it moved from flower to flower on the Blue Porterweed Stachytarpheta. The larval stages (often host-specific) are predators or parasitoids of the eggs and larvae of other insects. The adult females usually deposit eggs in the vicinity of possible hosts, quite often in the burrows of beetles or wasps or solitary bees.
One of the commonest day-flying moths here is Spoladea recurvalis (Crambidae). On this trip we have seen it in quite large numbers in several places but when disturbed it invariably flies up and settles on the underside of another leaf making them difficult to photograph. Its larvae feed on many different plants including many that we humans use as food including spinach, beet, maize and soybean.
We saw a single Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis, the only one of the trip, but it flew as soon as I pointed the camera at it. On the bird front we saw several Cuban Emerald and Cuban Tody while we could hear Cuban Trogons calling further along the hillside.
Cuban Whiptail Pholidoscelis auberi was the commonest reptile here though we also saw a very large and fat Saw-scaled Curlytail Leiocephalus carinatus - I'm not sure if its a pregnant female or whether its just eaten a large meal. Many of these reptiles will eat smaller reptiles if they can catch them.
We saw small numbers of Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus every day but I still hadn't managed to get any better pictures of them and today wasn't any different though I did see a female laying on a grass leaf.
Both Northern and Louisiana Waterthrush are common winter residents and transients in Cuba. Northern Waterthrush prefer the mangrove swamps so are more coastal than Louisiana Waterthrush which prefers woodland streams and ponds. The differences in appearance can be subtle but Northern has a streaked throat, darker legs, finer bill and a supercilium that tapers behind the eye and is usually buffish (though it can be white). Louisiana Waterthrush has a white unstreaked throat, pink legs, stouter bill and a white supercilium that broadens behind the eye.
We went this morning for another explore on the outskirts of the village of Yaguajay where we had been a few days previously. There had been more rain in the meantime so the track was even wetter than before and there were once again groups of whites and yellows taking moisture on the mud. On the left a Statira Sulphur Aphrissa statira settles amongst a group of Bush Sulphur Pyrisitia dina, and on the right the Statira Sulphur overflies Florida Whites Glutophrissa drusilla on the left and Great Southern Whites Ascia monuste on the right. On the right of the picture is a Boisduval's Yellow Eurema boisduvaliana which seems to be much scarcer than the others and we have only ever seen one or two at a time. A Lime Swallowtail Papilio demoleus also joined them for a while.
Once again there were also Caribbean Daggerwing Marpesia eleuchea, Impostor Duskywing Gesta gesta, Cuban Kite Swallowtail Eurytides celadon as well as Cuban White Ganyra menciae and Lyside Sulphur Kricogonia lyside.
Further along several dragonflies were flying around a large puddle that covered the width of the road. I watched for a while but there were no perching places so I collected a couple of twigs, stuck them in the mud at the edge and settled down to watch. There were males of Erithrodiplax umbrata and Orthemis ferruginea. They would tolerate each other and readily settle on the same twig.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel and checked out the lagoon in the evening where we saw a Peregrine fly over and managed a few shots of a Cuban Vireo which was feeding in the bushes. The light wasn't great and I had to set the camera to ISO 1000.
By December the lagoon will be full of egrets and herons but at this time in early October numbers are still very low with most birds still on their way from further north. This makes me think that this juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron was born here in the mangroves around the lagoon. It was unusually confiding as I slowly walked to wards it on the open bridge. They have a much stouter bill then Black-crowned Night Heron indicating a preference for crabs in their diet rather than fish and frogs.
Last year at the same hotel we met Bernd and Beate from Germany and this year they were back. Bernd had taken us to the top of the Cerro de Yaguajáy a few miles to the south and we wanted to go back with the object of getting better pictures of Spanish Flag Anole Anolis allogus. We left Beate on the beach and this time set off with Fidel in his horse and trap to save us some of the hard work. When we got to the base of the hills Fidel tied up the horse and the four of us set off on foot. We stopped to watch a Cuban Tody on the way, and there were several butterflies including our only Braco Skipper Burca braco of the trip as well as Cuban Kite Swallowtails Eurytides celadon, Cuban Snout Libytheana motya, Caribbean Daggerwing Marpesia eleuchea, Concolorous Skipper Burca concolor and Dorantes Longtail Urbanus dorantes.
As we got up towards the cliff there was a an orchid Oeceoclades maculata growing by the path and several centipedes and delicate fungi growing out of the detritus in the clefts of the limestone.
There are a series of ladders that you have to climb as you go up and I was pleased to see that they had been repaired since we were last here.
We then encountered the first of several Spanish Flag Anole Anolis allogus with their long laterally flattened tails.
In fact we saw eight reptile species in all - Anolis allogus, A. sagrei, A. jubar, A. homolechis, A. argenteolus, A. auberi, Leiocephalus macropus and L. carinatus. You can see pictures of of all these and more on the reptiles page. I would just love to come up here at night to look for reptiles and see what else creeps around in the dark but I don't think it would be too easy to arrange without walking the whole way in the dark.
In this area we also found the attractive pyralid moth Lypotigris reginalis. We have seen this once before at Gran Piedra in the SE of Cuba.
The path continues along the ridge running west until you come to a viewing area looking down towards the coast to the north. On the left you can see the Bahia de Naranjo with our hotel just to the right of the entrance to the bay.
On the way back down we spotted a Cuban Pigmy Owl in the trees above, and a Prairie Warbler as well as a new dragonfly, the Evening Skimmer Tholymis citrina so called because of its crepuscular habits - my thanks once again to Jurg Carl Demarmels for the ID.
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Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.