For those of you traveling to Cuba for your holiday do please note that when you get your holiday cash to take with you, do note that it is important to get notes that are not written on. This had never been an issue on previous trips but on our last trip when we tried to change sterling into Cuban CUC we found that they would not accept several notes because they had biro marks on them. This is common practice in banks here in UK and could have caused a problem for us had I not taken more than we we required as a contingency.
...and it made me smile.
And I hope it makes you smile too.
Greta is back - to fight for our planet.
What a team.
Terminator meets Arnold.
We were interested to hear the news that Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall arrive in Cuba on 24th March 2019 for a three day visit. According to several media outlets the visit is being made to highlight the growing bilateral relationship with the UK.
The packed few days of engagements range from an official dinner with Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel to a visit to a music studio. All have been arranged to explore key themes such as arts, youth entrepreneurship, heritage restoration and sustainable agriculture.
Probably no time to look at butterflies then!
I am very grateful to Javier Torres Lopez for identifying quite a few of the 'unidentified' snakes and anoles for me on the Reptiles page. He has also kindly corrected some misidentifications on my part. The fact that there are still many others that I have photographed and appear on these pages that are not yet identified just shows how much there is still to learn about these wonderful creatures. When I have a bit more time in August I will spend a bit more time on the website and add more photos and new species.
Thanks are also due to Aslam Ibrahim Castellón Maure who has kindly allowed me to use his wonderful photo above of a Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) taken recently in Cuba. This species is widespread in North America and migrates to the southern United States and Mexico to avoid the harsh winters further north. The Cuban subspecies is a permanent resident of Cuba and is non-migratory. It is endangered and few people I know have seen one let alone photograph one. So well done Aslam. Our next trip was to have been to go and look for these birds but I ran out of time to organise it and so we have decided to go to Cayo Coco instead.
And thanks too for allowing me to use this great photo of a Red-shouldered Blackbird.
Our Tuesday flight from Heathrow to Holguin yesterday was delayed by an hour so we hadn't arrived at the Luna y Mares Hotel until 8pm but we were up early this morning, Lynn to have a swim and me to check out the lagoon. I was surprised to see how few birds there were - very few herons, and no osprey, kingfishers, ducks or grebes! I can only guess at the reasons. The water level was very high and we had heard that during the hurricane last year the shingle embankment between the lagoon and the sea had been breached so perhaps the salinity of the lagoon has greatly increased killing many of the fish. I did see a few warblers - Yellow, Black-throated Blue, American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush.
After breakfast we checked out the balcony area next to the Mares pool. It was great to see the gardens looking so good and full of flowers which is a credit to Amaury and his gardening staff. This juvenile Cuban Green Anole Anolis porcatus was athletically trying and failing to catch insects including a male Mesogramma Skipper Atalopedes mesogramma.
There were several other butterflies nectaring on the Lantana including Limenia Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon limenia, Miami Blue Cyclargus thomasi, Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus and best of all Cuban White Ganyra menciae. We don't often see this species though I am getting more proficient at identifying it in flight.
We later went and checked the sewage works ponds just behind the horse riding stables. In the bushes were Parula Warbler, Cuban Vireo and a Blackpoll Warbler which was the first time I had seen one in Cuba. Andy Mitchell tells me that large numbers passed through Cuba last autumn. Unfortunately I only managed a record shot and it moved on. The lagoons held the usual Black-necked Stilts, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, a Least Stint and a small flock of Blue-winged Teal.
Amongst the butterflies were Hispaniolan Leafwing Memphis verticordia, Smudged Yellow Eurema lucina, Common Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus, more Cuban White Ganyra menciae, Tropical Checkered Skipper Pyrgus oileus and several Concolorous Skipper Burca concolor.
As a general rule I stick to talking about the butterflies and other wildlife of Cuba on this blog but I'm going to make an exception here as this issue affects us all. This extraordinary young lady has been the reason and motivation to get 1.5+ million children in 2083 places in 125 countries on all continents around the world to go on school strike yesterday in support of urgent and immediate action by governments around the world to act to halt climate change.
And the response to those children in this country demanding action from our UK government to secure the future of the planet - and their future? Our PM and other government ministers called them truants that should get back to class! What dinosaurs, what fossil fools. Some to be fair have supported their action.
And to all of those egotistical dinosaurs and climate-change deniers that prefer to think only of short-term gain and lining their own pockets rather than serving the people and the planet then move over before its too late. We don't want denial, we don't want more lies and platitudes and inaction and mind-blowingly crass and stupid decisions on energy sourcing. Ours is the government that said on day one that it would be the greenest government ever. It then proceeded to remove green energy subsidies, cut Natural England funding to the bone, invest in the fossil fuel industry, support fracking and refuse to do anything meaningful about the illegal persecution of birds of prey by the shooting industry especially on driven grouse moors.
Greta went and addressed world leaders at Davos in January 2019 and has also done a remarkably inspiring Ted Talk which you need to see if you haven't already.
She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize which you can read about here.
“We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change it will be the cause of wars, conflict and refugees,” said Norwegian Socialist MP Freddy André Øvstegård. “Greta Thunberg has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”
Journalists are now taking notice as they should.
So I say to all readers - talk about this issue with everyone you can and spread the word. And encourage your children and grand-children to take part every Friday in the climate change strikes.
And to Greta I say WOW you are a wonderful inspiration to us all.
Life has been rather busy lately so it has taken me rather longer than usual to report on our latest trip to Cuba during December. We took a three week all-inclusive holiday to the Luna y Mares hotel near Guardalavaca in the north-east but took the middle week out to travel further east to the Alejandro de Humboldt NP. The Luna y Mares hotel was great as always. Due to our close calls with hurricanes in the last two years we decided this time to go a little later so set off from London on 28 November. The photographic opportunities around the hotel are great and the hotel gardens themselves were the best we have seen them with lots of flowers in bloom creating perfect conditions for many butterflies and birds to feed.
I haven't counted up how many butterfly species we saw in the gardens but it was impressive and included some great finds like Cuban Hairstreak Allosmaitia coelebs. In all we saw 104 butterfly species during the trip including four new ones for us, Lantana Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon bazochii, Bruner's Skipperling Oarisma bruneri, Corrupt Skipper Panoquina corrupta and a new Calisto - so 'new' in fact that the paper describing is still awaiting publication.
It was lovely to catch up with old friends including Doug who came with us for a week as we traveled further east, Felix, Paquita and Sandy at Gibara, and we enjoyed some wonderful trips out with Karlos who showed us some some great things around Guardalavaca including Hooded Warbler. One of the most memorable things during the trip was watching two immature merlins hunting bats in the grounds of the Luna y Mares. They would put on a terrific flying display each evening and I'll write more about this later but suffice it say that it would have been worth going there just for this.
As usual we saw several new species of dragonflies and reptiles, some of which I still have to identify. Several species of orchids were in flower and we were shown the tiny Lepanthes fulva with its flowers just 2mm across - I hadn't realised orchids grew that small.
And we made a special effort too to photograph the Hymenoptera that we came across for Julio Genaro so I will be posting these on the blog as well. On the outskirts of Guardalavaca we found a pair of Tiger beetles in the genus Cicindela. The butterflies can wait till further blogs...
This was our final full day at Santa Clara and Doug was leaving us today so we spent just a couple of hours first thing exploring the grassland and scrub opposite the Los Caneyes hotel. This whole area would definitely merit more attention, a whole holiday in fact but we didn't have that long. We did however find the tiny Nanus Skipperling Oarisma nanus and a beautiful male Bartram's Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon acis (both new for the trip) as well as several Mexican Fritillary Euptoieta hegesia and De Villiers' Swallowtail Battus devilliers, adults and larvae.
So we said farewell to Doug and dropped him at the bus station to make his way back home - a good friend, a perfect companion and a great entomologist - thank you Doug for another great trip. So Lynn and I set off on our own for a walk around the area and photographing things at leisure. Lynn had seen hundreds of Great Southern White Ascia monuste here first thing this morning but many had now dispersed. There were also plenty of Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae and White Peacock Anartia jatrophae. and we saw Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus and Dainty Sulphur Nathalis iole both of which have been quite scarce on this trip.
The Cuban Whiptail Pholidoscelis auberi has adapted to living on the ground and can be very common in some areas. It is endemic to the island and is widespread but very variable, having thirty recognised races.
And this appears to be a slightly dark Cuban Brown Anole Anolis sagrei and perhaps it is though the dewlap is unusual in having much more yellow on it. Normally the dewlap is all red in the centre with a pale yellow border so we'll have to see what the experts think.
And later a Cuban Blue Anole Anolis allisoni posed rather inelegantly but carefully avoiding the spines on the twigs. These too are common and widespread but perhaps less so than Cuban Green Anole Anolis porcatus.
In the afternoon we explored the hotel gardens and again I wasted quite a lot of time trying to get in-flight pictures of the Antillean Palm Swifts with very little to show for it. We did find a female Cuban Crescent Anthanassa frisia. I could tell it was a female by its behaviour because it alternated between sunning itself and exploring the low leaves close to the ground often crawling from one leaf to the next looking for suitable leaves on which to lay. Eventually it disappeared from view altogether for about a minute and then flew out to resume sunning itself. A search soon revealed nine freshly laid eggs on the underside of a leaf which I think is Ruellia blechum but I might be wrong as there were no flowers to go on.
The concrete water channels in the gardens still contained a bit of water and there were a few dragonflies, mainly Macrothemis celeno Antillean Sylph cruising up and down.
Yesterday evening we had noticed several large bats flying in and out of the mango tree by the Reception so this evening I took the camera and managed to get a picture from which it might be possible to identify it. I thought to begin with that they were fruit bats coming in for the ripe mangoes but it may be that they are insect feeders with a daytime roost here in the tree. There was also a group of about ten roosting in the top of the Reception itself.
We were awoken during the night by a loud crash in the bathroom and on checking we discovered that a large tree frog had knocked over the the shampoo bottles. He was evicted for his trouble. We checked the moth trap again at first light and once again there were some nice things including a few puzzlers.
After breakfast we got a taxi to take us to a spot a few miles to the east where we had seen lots of butterflies last year. But first we got him to take us to a bank in town as I needed to change a bit of money. And Doug, seeing a flower bed outside full of Caesalpinia pulcherrima couldn't miss the opportunity to check for Orbis Sulphur Aphrissa orbis eggs and quickly found several. This was a result as although we found two larvae near Camagüey in 2016 we have never managed to see an adult in any of our ten trips so far. Even while I was standing in the queue in the bank I was looking out of the window watching the Caesalpinia... but no butterflies.
Money changed and we set off again. It was only a short way off the road and we were soon watching several Cuban Leafwing Anaea cubana. This was not unexpected as we had seen one here before and didn't take long to find a larva hidden inside its single leaf larval shelter on a Croton as well. There were quite a few skippers here too, mainly Concolorous Skipper Burca concolor. There were lots of Smudged Yellow Eurema lucina on the track along with a Barred Yellow Eurema daira and a Poey's Swallowtail Heraclides caiguanabus.
The little stream which had been dry in March last year had quite a bit of water in and so there were several Odonata about. One appears to be Gynacantha ereagris which is endemic to Cuba and the Bahamas and is the first time we have come across it.
While Doug was exploring the forest he came across a nest which was a beautiful structure of lichen and moss spun together with spiders webs. It was a bit above head height so I couldn't see inside but I could see a Cuban Vireo making alarm calls so I took one photo and we backed off to let the bird return to the nest.
But best of all were two Orbis Sulphur Aphrissa orbis females that were ovipositing on a bush overhanging the stream. They soon moved off but I found a little clearing where several females were making intermittent visits to lay and managed to get some photos - not as good as I'd hoped but perhaps the first time that one has ever been photographed ovipositing. And a further search turned up several eggs and larvae as well. And a larva of Cassius Blue Leptotes cassius.
During the afternoon we explored the serpentine grassland area opposite the front of the Los Caneyes hotel. Doug soon found several Zebra Heliconian Heliconius charithonia larvae on a Passiflora sp. One of them had just shed its skin to change into the next instar. You can see how even the skin of the spines is shed to enable them to grow. You can also see the shed head capsule with its two long spines.
There were several eggs of De Villiers Swallowtail Battus devilliers on an Aristolochia which Dominik Frank from Germany has confirmed as Aristolochia passiflorifolia. Thank you Dominik.
We found a couple of Concolorous Skipper Burca concolor larvae on a Croton but then some very black clouds gathered overhead and we quickly retreated back to the hotel as it started thundering. Heading to dinner later we noticed that some large bats were feeding in a mango tree just outside reception but heavy rain put paid to any chances of watching them this evening.
We were up at first light to check the moth trap and there were some things that we recognised from Topes and others that were completely new to us. There was perhaps 40 species in all with some new additions that will take some research to identify. The American websites that I use seem rather poorly designed and have no thumbnail pages that you can quickly scroll through till you find what you are looking for, and instead you are left with having to click on each species individually which is a very laborious process.
After breakfast we set off for the Loma del Capiro park that lies just within the city ring road. When we visited there in March 2017 it showed a lot of promise and so determined to come back here in summer. Near the car park was a scrubby edge with lots of flowers.. and butterflies.
The first find was a Cuban Hairstreak Allosmaitia coelebs which was the first time we have managed to see this. It was slightly worn but allowed a very close approach as many hairstreaks do. The one exception that we have found is Fulvous Hairstreak Electrostrymon angelia which we have found wary and difficult to approach. Later we also saw Martial Scrub-Hairstreak Strymon martialis so it was nice to compare the two.
Along the scrubby edge was the first of six species of Swallowtail that we saw today, a Poey's Swallowtail Heraclides caiguanabus which was a great find and it stayed for a short while nectaring on the lantana. This is a female with its blueish-white spots on the hindwing whereas in males they are pale yellow like the forewing.
Unfortunately we weren't able to get to the top of eastern hill as we had last year as all the scrub had since grown up which was a pity. We did however see Purple-washed Skipper Panoquina lucas, Southern Broken Dash Wallengrenia otho and a Caribbean Faceted Skipper Synapte malitiosa. We saw 50 butterfly species in all today if you include one or two as larvae like this Bahaman Swallowtail Heraclides andraemon.
And there were some interesting Odonata too that we hadn't seen before.
We were back for a late lunch and despite having sorted out with the hotel only yesterday that we had paid for full board we were again told at the end of our meal that we had to pay for it as it wasn't included. Such is the rather tiresome incompetence of a military state where staff spend more time looking over their shoulder to make sure they don't do anything wrong rather than thinking how they can improve their system or their service.
Welcome to our Blog
Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.