I heard from our friend Karlos Ross the bird guide today. He operates mainly in the Guardalavaca and Holguin area so we always meet up for some days out with him when we are there. Unfortunately the demise of Thomas Cook means that UK visitor numbers have dropped off considerably so until direct flights start up again Brits will have to travel via Canada. There are other options but I think that's probably the best one. Karlos knows the area well and can show you all the local endemics and lots of other nice things. He is good company and a good naturalist and has recently made some great finds in the Guardalavaca area. The first is Masked Duck. I haven't heard of anyone else seeing this in Cuba recently and never seen photos taken in Cuba. It is a resident but hard to find and they inhabit swamps, marshes, rice paddies, ponds and small lakes with emergent vegetation where they can remain hidden for long periods. Here is a pair with another female/immature skulking in the background.
And Karlos' other recent find is Painted Bunting which is rare in Cuba in winter though is more often seen during migration. He has found a family party of three, including this male, recently on a beach near Guardalavaca. What a fabulous bird and great photo. If you are planning a trip to the area and would like to use his services then you can contact him using Messenger or by email email@example.com
We received this lovely card from a friend a couple of days ago which I thought I would share with you.
The heading above refers of course to the recent general election here in the UK where the lying Tories have won an overall majority of seats. I thought that the heading summed it up quite well but I might have guessed that someone else would have thought of it first as I found this cartoon just now depicting John Bercow, the recently retired Speaker of the Commons, announcing the vote on the Brexit Bill - a parody of the out-dated way that the Speaker announces which way the House has voted when he says "the Ayes have it" or "the Nays have it".
The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims that he has been given an overwhelming mandate by the British people. Yet another lie to add to the many previous lies. No, he hasn’t been given an overwhelming mandate as less than 30% of the electorate voted for him and less than 44% of those that voted did so. It is only because of the rigged political system in this country that he now has a large majority of seats in the House of Commons. How is this Democracy? I believe that the majority of thinking people in this country think he is a buffoon and a disgrace, and treat him with complete contempt.
And the most sickening thing I've seen is Boris making his entire cabinet recite the the debunked lies about the NHS at a Cabinet meeting including that they will provide 50,000 new nurses in five years. He had previously been forced to admit that 13,500 of these were existing nurses or ones they hoped to attract back! Fat chance of that. The NHS is already short of 40,00 nurses not helped by George Osborne’s decision in 2015 when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer to stop paying nursing students’ tuition fees and maintenance grants which has led to a 31% drop in those applying to be nurses at the same time as the NHS is facing its most debilitating shortage of them in decades. Most nurses finish training with a large debt and the number of nurses who now rely on payday loans to get them through the month numbers tens of thousands. I will talk more about the NHS later. Johnson just repeats a few untruthful slogans again and again, copying Trump in the mendacity. He says we'll have 20,000 more police. No - that will be 20,000 new police to replace the 20,000 expected to leave or retire in the same time period. So the overall number will remain about the same.
And this is the Leader of the House of Commons and Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg during a debate on the UK leaving the European Union. Labour MP Anna Turley called this "the physical embodiment of arrogance, entitlement, disrespect and contempt for our Parliament". A pretty fair summary I would say. Anyone who has watched the proceedings in the House of Commons on TV can see how archaic and out-dated it is and the behaviour of many MP's utterly shameful. I am ashamed of this portrayal of our country around the world. With MP's screaming aggressively at each other across the floor of the house and Johnson using words like 'betrayal' and 'traitor' only helping to inflame the situation, some MP's with calmer heads are calling for urgent change across the political divide. But it won't happen with the Tories in power.
Many people have either believed the many Tory lies fed to them by the billionaire-owned press in this country or they just don't care. In my opinion and many of those I speak to, the BBC (and ITV for that matter) has been complicit in disproportionately promoting Brexit on some of its news outlets. I gave up watching the BBC news on TV or listening to BBC Radio 4 in the morning a long time ago because of what many perceive to be blatant bias. Many people now refer to it as the Biased Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC seems to think that all sides should be given time to give their view. So if some people say the world is round and some, amazingly, still think its flat does that mean the latter should be given airtime? Of course not because the science is overwhelming.
I thought this sums up the issue quite well too:
"A journalism student had this quote from their lecturer which I think would benefit those BBC reporters who feel they are obliged to give every point of view equal air time:
“When someone says it’s raining and another says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. It’s your job to look out the f**king window and find out which is true”."
Johnson like Trump (and many other leaders around the world) is a climate change denier. Outwardly they express the view that climate change is nothing to do with man's activity on the planet. When it snows Trumps tweets a picture saying that this is proof that the world is not warming up! Whether he really doesn't know the difference between weather and climate, or whether he does and it's just to convince his many fervent supporters that climate breakdown is all a lie I don't know. Johnson refused to meet with Greta Thunberg and all the other party leaders to discuss climate change. He ran scared just like Trump. When she was crowned Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Donald Trump tweeted in less than encouraging terms that she should work on her anger management problem.
The science however is very clear. Our planet is in great danger caused by man's increasing use of fossil fuels that has released large quantities of CO2 which is warming the planet to very dangerous levels. There have been five great extinction events on planet earth to date according to Cosmos magazine:
The UN COP25 Conference
The UN is a group founded on the principle that multilateral cooperation can stop international conflicts. The United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC) is the international response to climate change. It is a treaty that establishes the basic obligations of the 196 Parties (States) plus the European Union to combat climate change.
At this years annual Climate Conference, the 25th, the talks were characterised by squabbling over technical details. Brazil, Australia, the US, China and other major emitters were all accused of holding up progress. The snail’s pace and low ambition of the talks stood in stark contrast to pleas from activists, who staged a 500,000-strong march through the Spanish capital Madrid. Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist, said that the last year of protests had “achieved nothing” as countries were still failing to bring forward the measures needed (Guardian).
At a time when our countries leaders around the world should be working closely together flat out to quickly solve the greatest problem by far on the planet today, we have Trump denying that there is a problem and saying that he will always put America first ie continuing the divisive rhetoric.
To be continued....
We fly back to the UK later today so spent a lazy morning saying goodbye to the staff and chatting with new friends made during the holiday and enjoying the nice view from the Mares pool balcony where a merlin shot past in a final display and with a Frigatebird and Brown Pelicans overhead.
Many people in Cuba are very superstitious and Carlos' usual taxi driver won't go anywhere near one so we went with another friend of his to this small cemetery in the forest a few miles to the south where Carlos had seen lots of butterflies a couple of weeks before. It was a bit quieter today but we did see a Poey's Swallowtail Heraclides caiguanabus but it didn't stop.
There were a few Mexican Fritillary Euptoieta hegesia and several birds including White-eyed Vireo and the endemic Oriente Warbler.
Our attention then turned to reptiles as there were several anoles on the fence and tombstones.
This led to a major search of all the woodpiles but we couldn't find any more though Carlos did turn up this Dusky Dwarf Boa Tropidophis melanurus which was very confiding so we took some pictures and carefully put the stone back under which it was hiding. Even the eyes are camouflaged. And the tail can be used to wiggle like a worm to attract frogs into range.
Later we went to an area of mangroves and lagoons where there is a new Memories Hotel being constructed where we watched a Mexican Sailor Dynamine postverta laying eggs.
In the evening at the Luna y Mares hotel we watched a female red morph American Kestrel catch a bat and sit and eat it on the roof. The two Merlins again also put on a fantastic display chasing the bats that were coming out of their roost in the Theatre building. They were in view almost continuously from 17.20-17.40 often hunting in tandem and sometimes coming so close that you could hear and feel the wind from their wings. Brilliant to watch and a fantastic wildlife spectacle though much less successful that the American Kestrel as we only saw one bat caught by the Merlins.
I do and I recently upgraded to Flickr Pro which gives the advantage of ad-free browsing for you and anyone browsing your photos. It also has unlimited storage of your photos. Two years ago, Flickr was losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Last year it was bought by SmugMug who have since greatly improved the system, speed, support and services, and done away with the annoying Yahoo login. It has modernized its technology along the way and as a result pages are already 20% faster and photos load 30% more quickly.
Hundreds of thousands of loyal Flickr members stepped up and joined Flickr Pro so it’s losing a lot less money than it was, but it’s not yet making enough to cover costs. If you value Flickr finally being independent, built for photographers and by photographers and above all , they don't sell your data, then now is the time to join if you aren't already a member.
SmugMug are launching their end-of-year Pro subscription campaign on Thursday, December 26, but want to give you a coupon code to share with friends, family, or anyone who shares your love of photography and community so they can enjoy the same 25% discount before the campaign starts.
Please share coupon code 25in2019 or click this link to give the gift of 25% off Flickr Pro now.
That's a nice idea for a Christmas gift and their are various other perks for photographers in joining too which you can see on their website.
Carlos had told us that he had recently seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker feeding on the tall palms at the front of the hotel so we went to have a look this morning. During the summer they are found in a wide band across southern Canada and northern US. They migrate south to spend the winter in southern US, Central America and the Caribbean. There was plenty of evidence that they have fed here over the years as several of the trees had the distinctive extensive bands of holes drilled where they had been feeding on the sap from the trees. But this morning there was no Sapsucker and only the endemic Cuban Green Woodpecker.
We then took a taxi for the morning and went first to the beach just east of Guardalavaca. This is the nearest site that we know for Mangrove Buckeye Junonia neildi and it wasn't long before we saw them among the Black Mangrove Avicennia germinans. In flight they look very different from Tropical Buckeye Junonia zonalis as they lack the whitish band across the forewing and look all orange-brown. We also found Miami Blue Cyclargus thomasi an Antillean Crescent Antillea pelops which was our 100th butterfly species for the trip and the first of five new species today.
Another exciting find was a pair of Tiger Beetles Cicindela sp. We've never seen any of the group in Cuba before and so far I haven't found anyone who can identify them.
We then went off to a little village called Cuatros Caminos just to the south that has proved to be quite good for butterflies in the past and it was again today and we saw some nice things including four new species for the trip though most were rather worn or I only managed a poor photo. The good thing about the place is that there are lots of nectar sources, mainly Lantana but other things too. The Lantana was also a good source of food for warblers including this Prairie Warbler. Like the Northern Mockingbird yesterday the Ovenbird was very agitated about something on the ground - maybe another snake or perhaps a cat.
The other new butterfly species that we saw today were Dusky Emperor Asterocampa idyja, Violet-banded Skipper Nyctelius nyctelius, Grey Ministreak Ministrymon azia and finally an Amethyst Hairstreak Chlorostrymon maesites. This last was most surprising as it is rare and as far as I was aware it has only been seen in the west of Cuba, we have only ever seen it before at the Guanahacabibes Peninsular. I spotted it from some distance nectaring on a Chromolaena and took a couple of shots as a record but as I moved a little closer it flew and we couldn't relocate it. It is not surprising that it occurs in the east too as it is seen on Hispaniola. And having never seen Lantana Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon bazochii before this trip we saw two more today so that's on three out of the last four days that we have seen them.
The Frangipani Plumeria sp were flowering beautifully in hotel garden and the scent in the evenings was gorgeous. They are pollinated by Sphinx moths with their long tongues but in fact they are tricked by the plant as they produce no nectar.
I spent a few minutes today photographing the bees nectaring on the flowers at Cuatros Caminos and will Julio Genaro get to identify them if the pictures are good enough.
After breakfast we started with a walk around the gardens at the Luna y Mares hotel and saw a Miami Blue Cyclargus thomasi, Mesogramma Skipper Atalopedes mesogramma and a Chestnut Leafwing Memphis echemus. We also watched a female Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus as she flew around over the parched 'lawn' looking for somewhere to lay. To my surprise instead of searching for green grass blades in the less scorched areas she laid on a dead grass blade. I'm not on my knees praying here, I'm taking the photo of the egg with the Panasonic compact TZ41. It would have been so interesting to have marked the egg and observed when it hatched. How long did it take, was development delayed until after substantial rain that let new grass grow or did the egg simply hatch after a given number of days?
Whilst watching for a while from the balcony near the Mares pool I noticed a Northern Mockingbird watching me from the top of the bushes about 25 metres away. I was curious to know why so waited patiently sitting on the balcony wall and taking care not make eye contact with it and making little movement. After a while it flew across into the small bushes next to me and the reason became clear. Like many of the small warblers it was after the lantana berries on the bushes close to me. The Mockingbird gradually came closer and closer until it was just a few feet from me and started feeding. Suddenly it started looking intently downwards and flicking its wings and tail with alarm. I think the most likely reason was that there was a snake very close to me just below where I was sitting. We have seen two species here in the gardens - the Cuban Boa Chilabothrus angulifer and the Cuban Racer Cubophis cantherigerus (though there may well be others too). I think the latter was more likely but I couldn't see it without disturbing the bird.
It was a wonderful ten minutes spent with an enchantingly confiding bird.
And there were a couple of anoles that joined me on the balcony, they were looking for insects too.
And a Cuban endemic the Cuban Snout Libytheana motya and Cuban White Ganyra menciae. The latter is said to be also found on St Lucia and Venezuela though this would be an extremely odd distribution so further work needs to be done.
The rest of the morning was spent at the Las Guanas nature reserve just on the western boundary of the hotel. The first find was rather unexpected and was made by Lynn. It was a Three-banded Sphaero Sphaerodactylus nigropunctatus in the entrance building where you pay the 3CUC entrance fee. Sphaeros are mainly nocturnal so it was great to find one during the day.
But apart from the Sphaero we didn't see anything unusual that we hadn't seen many times before though we did learn that Cuban Iguana and Cuban Boa had both been seen on the reserve recently. We haven't yet seen either here but live in hope. I'd quite like to go in here at first light or at night looking for reptiles but that isn't possible unfortunately. Sadly the former is still killed for food so is rare around here, and the boa is also killed in many places just because of people's fear of snakes despite the fact that none are any danger to humans - quite the reverse.
Welcome to our Blog
Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.