Today we went up the adjacent hill to the Mirador but before that Yosiel made an important find of a larva on a vine called Mucuna pruriens near the entrance to the hotel. Doug then reared the larva and it turned out to be a Caribbean Yellow-tipped Flasher Telegonus anausis. Larvae have been found previously in Cuba but only on Lablab purpureus (Fabaceae). The finding has been written up and you can read it here.
Duviel drove us to the top of the hill from where we explored a bit in the grounds of the rebuilt hotel Castillo en Las Nubes that was largely destroyed by the Hurricane Ike in September 2008. It lay derelict for a few years and last time we were here in June 2015 workmen were just finishing off the rebuild. I presume it opened for business after that but then Covid struck and it has certainly been closed since 2020 and was not yet open for business in August 2022. It is a small hotel with just six rooms and had it been open we would certainly have stayed here as the mothing would have been brilliant. You can see details of our last visit here.
We started by exploring the garden here where a Cuban Green Anole Anolis porcatus was hunting butterflies. There were also lots of spiders on one of the conifer trees. I'm not sure of the species but it looks very similar to one that we saw commonly in Costa Rica now called Triconephila clavipes or Golden Silk Spider.
There were quite a few butterflies including the endemic Orange-washed Sulphur Phoebis avellaneda though distant. We started walking back down the hill and stopping at various points on the way. And we stopped also for a Bella moth Utetheisa ornatrix but it was slightly breezy which made getting a decent picture difficult. Nearby was a Crotalaria sp plant with a group of eggs on the flower which might well be from the moth as this is the foodplant.
I stopped for a while to photograph a Cuban Peewee - a rather frazzled moulting adult feeding a fresher youngster.
We saw 50 butterfly species today...
.... and found several more species as larvae or eggs.
I managed to photograph several Odonata species none of which I could identify at the time being a bit rusty, though I had seen the Antillean Skimmer Orthemis sp before. Having been through Dennis Paulson's books on Dragonflies in the US the first photo seems to be a close match to Erithrodiplax miniscula Little Blue Dragonlet but this doesn't appear on the list that I have for Cuba so I'll have to send this and the other (which Yosiel caught in his net so that I could get pictures before releasing it) to an expert in Cuba for verification.
This species is not an endemic to Cuba as it is also known from Hispaniola. It is an epiphyte with long leaves up to 250mm long. The clustered flowers are found on stems up to 400mm long. In Cuba it found only in the north-east and from the high mountains down to the coast.
Four species of Encyclia are found in Cuba but E. acutifolia is the only one in which the lateral lobes of the labellum are sharply reflexed backwards.
Thank you Roberto for the use of your beautiful photo. You can stay at Roberto's beautiful casa Villa Paradiso in Baracoa.
Prosthechea boothiana flowers from June to November. It is found throughout most of Cuba in coastal and low humidity forests, always below 200 m. It also grows in central America, Bahamas,
Hispaniola, Florida, Mexico and the Cayman Islands. Thank you Roberto for your beautiful photo. Roberto and his partner have a wonderful casa called Villa Paradiso where people can stay.
The Belted Kingfisher is a common winter resident in Cuba. It is found during the summer throughout North America but the birds in northern parts migrate south from the areas where the rivers and lakes freeze over making it impossible for them to catch the fish and water invertebrates on which they feed.
It is one of the few birds where the females are more brightly coloured than the males which lack the bright orange tones on the flanks and band across the breast.
Here in Britain this is an extremely rare bird and indeed the fact that it is able to cross the Atlantic is amazing. There have been just eleven records in the UK to date, and more in Ireland and Spain. The first was back in 1979 in Cornwall and I and a few friends went down to see it.
I suspect this picture above is a first winter female as it has started growing a few orange feathers on its flanks. All these wonderful pictures were taken in Matanzas, Cuba recently by Yadiel Veunes Alonso. Well done Yadiel.
This beautiful Orchid is very common in all the provinces of Cuba, and usually grows on trees or shrubs, but occasionally on rocks. It is endemic to Cuba and flowers from April to December. The flowering season has a marked altitudinal variation. In mountainous zones over 300m it flowers from August to December.
In the early hours of the morning, the flowers emit a strong fragrance that can be detected up to 5m away, and this attracts bees to pollinate them. People associate this fragrance with the smell
of chocolate or vanilla, giving rise to the common name.
Thank you Roberto for your beautiful photo. Roberto and his partner have a wonderful casa called Villa Paradiso where people can stay.
The Black Swift, like other members of the Apodidae, are aerial insect feeders. On sunny days it flies so high that it's just a speck. This large, black swift nests on dark and inaccessible ledges in caves and often behind waterfalls. It is known to nest down the west coast of N America from SE Alaska with isolated populations as far south as Costa Rica. Sadly, one of the few things we know about this species is that its U.S./Canada population has declined by 94% between 1970 and 2014.
It was only in 2009 that researchers in Colorado discovered where some go during the winter. They put tiny geolocators on 4 Black Swifts and learned that the birds spent the winter 4,000 miles away in the lowland rainforests of NW Brazil, a location the species had not been reported in before. Here it blends in with similar-looking Cypseloides swifts.
In the Caribbean it is known to be a year-round resident in Cuba and Hispaniola, the only places where it is known to be non-migratory. It also occurs on Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.
It wasn’t until 1901, when A. G. Vrooman, an egg collector, found the first nest of a Black Swift on a sea cliff near Santa Cruz, California. But his discovery was believed by others to be a storm-petrel nest until 1914 when Vrooman showed William Dawson, an ornithologist, the nest and he deemed Vrooman's sighting credible. Black Swifts are now known to nest in sea caves as well as behind waterfalls.
In Cuba, Rosalina Montes Espín and Lainet García Rivera discovered a nest on 21 June 2009 at La Batata cave, Topes de Collantes Protected Area, in the Sierra de Escambray (elevation 800 m), south-central Cuba. Rosalina says that this nest was occupied until at least 2000 but has not been checked since. In 2009 there were also 11 active nests of White-collared Swift Streptoprocne zonaris in La Batata cave.
Black Swifts lay just a single white egg and parents regurgitate a sticky ball of insects to feed their one and only nestling each season.
The oldest recorded Black Swift was at least 15 years and 1 month old when it was recaptured and released in California, the same state where it had been ringed. In eBird there are 93 sightings for Cuba but only two are documented with photos - one by Jeff Wells on July 18, 2018 in Topes de Collantes, Santis Spiritus and another by Ricel Polan in Granma.
You can watch a webinar on the Black Swift arranged by Birds Canada on this link here.
By Ed Augustin and Frances Robles of the San Juan Daily Star
Roger García Ordaz makes no secret of his many attempts to flee.
He has tried to leave Cuba 11 times on boats made of wood, Styrofoam and resin, and has a tattoo for each failed attempt, including three boat mishaps and eight times picked up at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and sent home.
Hundreds of homemade, rickety boats have left this year from the shores of Baracoa, a fishing village west of Havana where García, 34, lives -- so many that locals call the town “Terminal Three.”
“Of course I am going to keep on throwing myself into the sea until I get there,” he said. “Or if the sea wants to take my life, so be it.”
Living conditions in Cuba under Communist rule have long been precarious, but today, deepening poverty and hopelessness have set off the largest exodus from the Caribbean island nation since Fidel Castro rose to power over a half-century ago.
The country has been hit by a one-two punch of tighter U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic, which eviscerated one of Cuba’s lifelines -- the tourism industry. Food has become even more scarce and more expensive, lines at pharmacies with scant supplies begin before dawn and millions of people endure daily hourslong blackouts.
Over the past year, nearly 250,000 Cubans, more than 2% of the island’s 11 million population, have migrated to the United States, most of them arriving at the southern border by land, according to U.S. government data.
Even for a nation known for mass exodus, the current wave is remarkable -- larger than the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis combined, until recently the island’s two biggest migration events.
But while those movements peaked within a year, experts say this migration, which they compare with a wartime exodus, has no end in sight and threatens the stability of a country that already has one of the hemisphere’s oldest populations.
The avalanche of Cubans leaving has also become a challenge for the United States. Now one of the highest sources of migrants after Mexico, Cuba has become a top contributor to the crush of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been a major political liability for President Joe Biden and which the administration considers a serious national security issue.
“The numbers for Cuba are historic, and everybody recognizes that,” said a senior State Department official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. “That said, more people are migrating globally now than they ever have been and that trend is certainly bearing out in our hemisphere, too.”
Many experts say that U.S. policy toward the island is helping fuel the very migration crisis that the administration is now struggling to address.
To appeal to Cuban American voters in South Florida, the Trump administration discarded President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement, which included restoring diplomatic relations and increasing travel to the island. President Donald Trump replaced it with a “maximum pressure” campaign that ratcheted up sanctions and severely limited how much cash Cubans could receive from their families in the United States, a key source of revenue.
“This is not rocket science: If you devastate a country 90 miles from your border with sanctions, people will come to your border in search of economic opportunity,” said Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser under Obama and was the point person on talks with Cuba.
While any significant rollback of sanctions remains off the table, the two governments are engaged in efforts to address the extraordinary migration surge.
Washington recently announced that it would restart consular services in Havana in January and issue at least 20,000 visas to Cubans next year in line with long-standing agreements between the two nations, which officials hope will dissuade some people from trying to make dangerous journeys to the United States.
Havana has agreed to resume accepting flights from the United States of Cubans who are deported, another move to try to discourage migration. The Biden administration has also reversed the cap on money that Cuban Americans are allowed to send to relatives and licensed a U.S. company to process the wire transfers to Cuba.
Cuba’s free fall has been accelerated by the pandemic: Over the past three years, Cuba’s financial reserves have dwindled, and it has struggled to stock shore shelves. Imports -- largely food and fuel -- have dropped by half. The situation is so dire that the government electric company boasted this month that electrical service had run uninterrupted that day for 13 hours and 13 minutes.
Last year, fed up by the economic decline and a lack of freedom compounded by a COVID-19 lockdown, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets in the biggest anti-government protests in decades. A crackdown followed, with nearly 700 people still imprisoned, according to a Cuban human rights group.
Cubans of fewer means try to leave by building makeshift boats, and at least 100 have died at sea since 2020, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has intercepted nearly 3,000 Cubans at sea in the past two months alone.
But these days most Cuban migrants fly off the island, with relatives abroad often paying the airfare, followed by a tough overland journey. (Cuba lifted an exit visa requirement to leave by air a decade ago, although it is still illegal to leave by sea.)
The floodgates opened last year, when Nicaragua stopped requiring an entrance visa for Cubans. Tens of thousands of people sold their homes and belongings and flew to Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, paying smugglers to help them make the 1,700-mile journey by land to the U.S. border.
Katrin Hansing, an anthropologist at the City University of New York who is on sabbatical on the island, noted that the soaring migration figures do not account for the thousands who have left for other countries, including Serbia and Russia.
“This is the biggest quantitative and qualitative brain drain this country has ever had since the revolution,” she said. “It’s the best and the brightest and the ones with the most energy.”
The departure of many younger, working-age Cubans augurs a bleak demographic future for a country where the average life expectancy of 78 is higher than for the rest of the region, experts said. The government already can barely afford the meager pensions the country’s older population relies on.
The hemorrhaging of Cubans from their homeland is nothing short of “devastating,” said Elaine Acosta González, a research associate at Florida International University. “Cuba is depopulating.”
Just a few years ago, the country’s future seemed far different. With the Obama administration loosening restrictions on travel to Cuba, American tourists pumped dollars into the island’s fledgling private sector.
Now, travel is again severely limited, and years of economic downturn have for many Cubans extinguished the last embers of optimism.
Joan Cruz Méndez, a taxi driver who has tried to leave three times, looked out to the sea in Baracoa and explained why so many boats that once lined the town’s shores are gone, along with their owners.
“The last thing you can lose is hope, and I think a large part of the population has lost hope,” said Cruz, recounting how he had once made it out 30 miles to sea only to be forced to turn back, because too many people onboard got seasick and vomited.
In March, Cruz, 41, bought a plane ticket for his wife to fly to Panama and tapped his savings to pay a smuggler $6,000 to get her to the United States, where she claimed political asylum. She is working at an auto parts store in Houston.
In the woods just beyond the town, people were busy building more boats, stripping motors from cars, electric generators and lawn mowers.
When the sea is calm, they wait for the local Cuban coast guard contingent to clock off its shift, before carrying the makeshift vessels on their shoulders through town and over craggy rocks before lowering them gently into the water.
In May, Yoel Taureaux Duvergel, 32, and his wife, Yanari, who was five months pregnant with their only child, and four others set out in the wee hours. But their motor broke. They started rowing, but were intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard just a few miles from the United States and taken back to Cuba, where Taureaux tries to get by doing odd jobs.
Asked why he had tried to leave, he laughed. “What do you mean why did I want to leave?” he said. “Don’t you live in the Cuban reality?”
He intends to try again. “Once you start, you can’t stop,” he said.
Sitting beside him, Maikol Manuel Infanta Silva, 19, had sold his family’s refrigerator to build a boat that sank. He, too, will try again.
By law, he is supposed to be serving in the military, but he fled and tries to make a living catching fish with a harpoon.
In Cuba, he said, “everything keeps getting worse.”
Wow what a superb image - another absolute cracker taken by Yadiel Veunes Alonso recently at Ciénega de Zapata. Fernandina's Flicker is a species of woodpecker and is endemic to Cuba. It is thought that the population may now be down to around just 200 pairs. Never common, it was once more widespread across the island but is now restricted to just five isolated populations, with the Zapata area holding the largest at about 120 pairs. It is now one of the rarest woodpeckers in the World. It's natural habitats include dry forests, dry savanna, swamps, and pastures and it's thought that the main reasons for the decline are loss of habitat due to logging and hurricanes bringing down their nesting trees.
They often forage on the ground, primarily for ants, but also for other insects, worms, grubs and seeds. Fernandina's Flicker breeds between March and June, and during courtship, pairs regularly engage in high-flying chases.
Like all woodpeckers, it is a cavity nester. Recent fieldwork has shown that it prefers to use nest holes started by West Indian Woodpeckers; the Flicker usurps the original owners, finishes off the excavation work, and moves in. The female lays a clutch of three to five white eggs which are incubated for a period of about 18 days. The young fledge after 22 days. But the West Indian Woodpeckers sometimes get their own back and have been observed killing the chicks of Fernandina's Flickers.
A big thank you to Yadiel Veunes Alonso for allowing me to use his fabulous picture.
Moth-trapping overnight produced a few species of moths and a nice Cicada species. I'm not sure what its called yet but we haven't seen it before. In 2009 Alan F Sanborn from Barry University, Florida published the 'Checklist, new species and key to the cicadas of Cuba (Hemiptera, Cicadoidea, Cicadidae)'. I've emailed him asking for a copy of the paper so I'm hoping I will be able to identify it then. A total of 12 species, five genera, four tribes, and two subfamilies comprise the Cuban cicada fauna.
Of the moths, the pyrale Lygropia tripunctata was a new species for me and Carathis gortynoides was also new. Rayner had provided me with a photo of the very similar species Carathis alayorum ages ago but I had not seen either myself before.
We gave our driver Duviel a day off today so he went back to Habana last night, and we then spent the day exploring the hotel gardens and local area. First off with the reptiles: the two commonest species seemed to be the Cuban White-fanned Anole Anolis homolechis and the Cuban Brown Anole Anolis sagrei. Females and youngsters of the former have a rufous colouring to the head and have a pale dorsal line down the back.
Later as we were watching for the Tailed Cecropians, Doug spotted a large anole on a mango sitting high up in one of the trees. It is the endemic Western Giant Anole Anolis luteogularis which is only found west of Zapata and on the Isle of Youth. This is another species that I had wanted to see here and was part of the reason for staying here for several days.
On our previous stays we have never seen the Antillean Palm Swifts that nest here in the thatch of the bar next to the large swimming pool. but this time they were very obvious going in and out of their nests
On the north side of the hotel grounds there was a rough flowery area with lots of butterflies
There were lots of Cuban Crescent Anthanassa frisia and Phaon Crescent Phyciodes phaon and our first Polydamas Swallowtails Battus polydamas.
The calls of the endemic Cuba Trogon were almost constant and a small party of Smooth-billed Anis were were working through the freshly turned plot below the pool bar.
From the bridge overlooking the river we saw Fulvous Hairstreak Electrostrymon angelia and Doug then spotted the feeding damage of Mosaic Colobura dirce on a small Cecropian tree just below us next to the water.
A female Sleepy Orange Abaeis nicippe was flying up and down the track looking for small Senna plants on which to lay its eggs and a Queen Danaus gilippus larva was hiding under a Asclepias curassavica leaf.
We couldn't keep away. Now that flights to Cuba are again starting up from Europe and tourists are again starting to travel now that the worst effects of the pandemic are starting to decline due to the vaccination programs we thought we'd return with the primary objective of trying to find the Great King Anetia pantherata. We arrived in Habana last night after traveling from London via Madrid. Gone are the direct flights from London by Thomas Cook or Virgin so it was Air Europa via Madrid. We stayed as we have in the past at the Copacabana Hotel in the centre of Habana with swimming in the sea pool outside our windows.
Some things had changed, not least the roofs of parts of the hotel, which on our last visit had been clay pantiles in need of repair where many Cuban Martins nested where the pantiles had blown off. These had now all been removed and in their place was now just a pantile colour painted concrete roof. The many Cuban Martins that nested here on the two roofs in the first picture had now all been displaced. Luckily there were still a few pairs nesting under the imitation pantile sheet roofing on the side of the building just above our room. So before breakfast I spent half an hour trying to get a few pictures in the rather poor early morning light.
Our driver Duviel picked us up after breakfast, and as Doug and Yosiel had been a bit delayed, we went off with Duviel to the edge of Habana to get an oil change on the vehicle. While that was being done Lynn and I walked down the road to find some butterflies. There were several yellows, Ceraunus Blue Hemiargus ceraunus, both Phaon Crescent Phyciodes phaon and Cuban Crescent Anthanassa frisia. Cuban Calisto Calisto herophile and one or two skippers including Baracoa Skipper Polites baracoa and this Cuban Broken-dash Wallengrenia misera. This is a species that we see more often in woodland clearings rather than on roadside verges.
I should say at the start, that back in 2019, just before our whale-watching trip to Mexico, I had traded in my Canon DSLR for a Sony RX10 bridge camera. The Sony has some great advantages like a zoom lens up to 600mm, great image stabilisation, the image quality is not quite as sharp as I'd like it to be but its the speed of focusing that is a problem to me. Often the time it takes to find the bird or butterfly on the screen and to focus means that the target is long gone.
So we picked up Douglas and Yosiel and then headed off to Soroa where we were going to be staying at the Hotel Horizontes Villa Soroa for four nights. At the Reception as we were booking in we were told that the Hotel Maria La Gorda at Guanahacabibes, which was our next hotel, had just been closed due to power cut problems and we'd need to make other arrangements. Such is Cuba! Time for a quick photo of this Pyralid moth before off to our rooms.
We put our things in our rooms, quick wash and change and out to look for wildlife. There is a small strip of cultivated land just behind the hotel which is always good for butterflies and first was finding a Costus spiralis plant covered in the eggs of Perching Saliana - Saliana esperi. There was also a large larva too. Many of the tips of the leaves had an egg, or in the case below, two - of which one had already hatched.
And there was a pretty orchid that we hadn't seen before called Prosthechea boothiana. It is supposed to be widespread from the coast up to 200m asl but here at Soroa the altitude is around 225m asl.
On the edge of a small cultivated strip behind the hotel Doug spotted a small Scaly-breasted Mannikin which allowed a remarkably close approach and remained motionless near the ground apart from the occasional blinking of the eye.
There were lots of butterflies on the flowers of the weedy plot and we saw around twenty species in about an hour. A pair of Common Ground Dove were feeding on the freshly turned ground where the hand-driven oxen had passed with the plough and Doug and Yosiel found a Spanish Flag Anole Anolis allogus on a tree at the end of the plot.
Just below the bar area there was a short row of Mango trees with some fallen fruits on the ground which were attracting 5 or 6 Tailed Cecropian Historis acheronta and on a ripe fruit high up in one of the trees.
Of the butterflies on the flowers there were six Ocola Skipper Panoquina ocola, two Purple-washed Skipper Panoquina lucas and later a pair of Cuban Crescent Anthanassa frisia in cop and a Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae and several Dainty Sulphur Nathalis iole settling to roost in the grasses before it was time to go in for our evening meal.
Welcome to our Blog
Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.