I have been adding lots more updates to the photos recently, mainly moths and reptiles so far but I'm also in the process of updating the Odonata. As we haven't been able to go to Cuba ourselves for a while I have been using open access photos from the internet in many instances including many great photos from Wayne Fidler who uploads his data to iNaturalist.
I also participate in several Cuban natural history Facebook groups and it has been amazing to watch not just the increase in knowledge that these groups provide but also the increase in quality of photography especially the amongst the bird photographers. Here is a beautiful shot by Karlos Ross of a female Cuban Emerald feeding its newly fledged youngster.
And just the other day Alexis Callejas Segura posted some pictures of a very rare reptile that was first described as recently as 2004. It is Sphaerodactylus dimorphicus - Yellow-tailed Sphaero (Geckolet). There are over 130 endemic reptiles in Cuba and 22 of these of these are in Sphaerodactylidae. This species has only been found on a short stretch of the east coast of Cuba near Santiago de Cuba. Most of the species in this group are found on or near the ground under piles of timber or stones but some can also be found under the bark of trees up to 2m above the ground.
Alexis also sent me this picture of another beautiful endemic the Cuban Mimic-White Dismorphia cubana which he took at the wonderful Gran Piedra just to the east of Santiago. It's a species that we have yet to see and we'll certainly be going back to Gran Piedra as the mothing can be spectacular and there are lots of other things to see too. Just a bit of a shame that the hotel has some of the grumpiest unhelpful staff one could ever wish to meet - but the wildlife makes up for it.
We have had some wonderful experiences watching Antillean Nighthawk in Cuba and they can be commonly seen at dusk during the summer, as they awake from their daytime roost to catch their mainly moth prey to feed to their chicks. The locals call them Querequeté which is onomatopoeic. They are just summer visitors to Cuba presumably wintering somewhere in South America. Like all the members of this group they nest on the ground and this wonderful photo of a chick was taken by Roberto Jovel in July this year on a dry river bed in the Alejandro de Humboldt NP near Baracoa. What amazing cryptic coloration, and full marks to Roberto for spotting it. It reminds me of our mainly butterfly-watching trip to Thailand in March 2018 when as we got out of the vehicle one day in the forest at Kaeng Krachan NP our driver flushed a Large-tailed Nightjar from beside the vehicle. It quickly resettled a few yards away so clearly had a nest. A careful inspection soon revealed two tiny chicks in a small scrape in the ground just 18" from the edge of the tarmac road. They must have emerged just hours before as they still retain the egg-tooth on the bill that enables baby birds to break out of the shell. I had read about this but never actually witnessed it myself. We quickly took pictures and the driver moved the vehicle to a safe distance to allow the parent to return to its nest. This story could have ended so differently if he had chosen to pull off the road just a couple of seconds earlier.
But back to Cuba... and this lovely portrait of the endemic Cuban Pigmy Owl was taken by bird guide Karlos Ross near Holguin. It makes us realise how much we have missed going to Cuba and seeing our friends and the stunning wildlife. But with the release of vaccines quite soon things are starting to look more promising for next year. Can't wait. Thank you Roberto and Karlos - readers can find their contact details on the Links page.
In the latest published list of Lepidoptera found in Cuba (2012), there are approximately 1350 moth species. Many others residing in collections remain unnamed and I and others have many photos of species which are also unidentified so far. It is quite possible that some of these will in fact be new to science.
Back in 2018 I was sent some photos of a noctuid moth by Marek Bartczak that he thought initially to be Litoprosopus hatuey. It soon became clear however when experts viewed the images that it was in fact an undescribed species of Litoprosopus. Two years on and the paper describing this and many other species new to Florida has now been published Troubridge, J. T. 2020. It has been named Litoprosopus linea and the genus has been moved from the Eulepidotinae to Dyopsinae. It is known from Cuba, the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, and peninsular Florida at least as far north as Ocala. The type material dates back to 1982.
And I couldn't resist adding a couple more great pictures from Roberto Jovel who found a pair of Cuban Gnatcatchers last week just east of Guantanamo. They are not uncommon in thorny scrub at the east end of the island especially along the coast. The picture above is a male I think as they have a broader black stripe behind the eye than the female. And Roberto even found a nest there slung on the spines of two adjacent cacti - brilliant. There seems to be just one young visible in the nest but of course others may well be hidden out of sight. The adults normally lay 3-5 brown-spotted white eggs (Garrido & Kirkconnell) who also say that they nest from March-July whereas this nest was found at the end of August and the young have not fledged yet. Thank you again Roberto for sharing your great finds. And don't forget that anyone can stay at their beautiful 'casa particular' called Villa Paradiso in Baracoa with more details on their website here.
This is arguably the most beautiful of all the many endemic anoles of Cuba. It is Anolis smallwoodi Green-blotched Giant Anole which is one of the Anolis equestris complex. It is found from the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains east to Punta de Maisi and north to Mayari. We once found a juvenile near Sigua on the south coast but like most larger anoles it was vary wary. This superb photo was taken a few days ago just east of Guantanamo Bay by Roberto Jovel who, with his partner has a beautiful casa particular called Villa Paradiso in Baracoa and a great website that has loads of information on eco-tourism in the area. We can't wait to go there especially as they also get Anolis baracoae Baracoa Giant Anole in their garden!
Many thanks Roberto for allowing me to use your photos.
Mangrove Cuckoo is a locally common resident of mangroves along the north and south-east coasts of Cuba. They differ from Yellow-billed Cuckoo in being orange-buff rather than white on the belly and under-tail coverts. They also lack any yellow on the upper mandible. This is another great picture from Karlos Ross, the bird guide at Holguin. Thank you Karlos.
And here is a picture of Yellow-billed Cuckoo for comparison from when we there in June last year.
Lockdown here in the UK and elsewhere due to Covid-19 means that we are not going anywhere soon on a plane. We desperately miss wonderful friends in Cuba and its diverse wildlife but everyone's safety needs to be paramount. We do however see that our Cuban friends are continuing to take some great photos so I'm going to share some of those from Karlos Ross, the bird guide at Holguin (you can see others on the Reptiles page). The first is one that we have only seen once, if I had the id of that one correct - a Cuban Curlytail Leiocephalus cubensis. There is no doubting the identification of this male though. It is one of the 132 species of endemic reptiles found in Cuba and one of six species in the genus. It is said to be widespread in the island but I am doubtful that that is correct. It must be far from common or we would have come across it more than we have on our travels. It's not something that we would have overlooked.
Next are two of the Anolis. The first of which is Cuban Brown Anole Anolis sagrei the commonest reptile on Cuba with its distinctive red dewlap with a cream border. And the other is Cuban Coast Anole Anolis jubar which I believe is found just in the eastern half of the island. The males have a distinctive crest on the tail but I'm not sure whether they have this all year round. Their dewlap is similar but shows more yellow-orange at the base of the dewlap.
And Cuban Twig Anole Anolis angusticeps is another that is said to be widespread that we have only seen once though is perhaps easier to overlook.
And finally one of the many beautiful snakes of Cuba. We see only two species quite commonly and they are the Cuban Racer Cubophis cantherigerus and the Giant Trope Tropidophis melanurus which seem to be largely diurnal. I suspect the reason that we don't see any others is because they are nocturnal though it has to be said too that most are also extremely range restricted. This one is the Gracile Banded Trope Tropidophis wrighti found in the eastern half of the island. Most people in Cuba are fearful of all snakes and kill them without hesitation despite them not being a danger.
Thank you Karlos for sharing these great pictures.
Our final morning and just time to head over to the salt water creek to see if the tide was in, and it was. I wanted to see if I could get some better pictures of the fish in the creek to see if I could identify them. Now everything's relative and the photos are actually pretty rubbish but without getting in the water with an underwater camera which I don't have these were the best that I was going to manage. And surprisingly I've even managed to identify some of them. This I recognised at the time as a puffer fish and its actually a Chequered Puffer Sphoeroides testudineus.
And I've even managed to identify these two as well. And the ones on the right with the vertical black bands, probably the commonest species there, are Atlantic Sargeant Abudefduf saxatilis.
I haven't been so successful with the crabs yet but I'm working on it.
So that's it till we get back there again - these are difficult times not just here but around the world, and our thoughts go out to all our friends and others in Cuba where Trump's entirely vindictive and solely self-serving extra sanctions were already hurting before Covid came along. Fifty years of sanctions have not broken Cuba and they won't now. They won't hurt the leadership but only the people. I will continue to add blog posts with wildlife photos taken by our friends in Cuba though they like us are currently somewhat restricted. But looking through old photos is reliving the moment and the memories.
On the way to breakfast this Red-legged Thrush was busy collecting food for its chicks.
A final catch-up with the Zapata Sparrows was the plan for today so Joel picked us up at 08.00 to go over to the cave disco. No sign of them or the Quail Doves but there were two Black Witch Moths Ascalapha odorata taking moisture on an old log and slowly flapping about before returning. That was quite a treat as they are normally very flighty. It is not considered an agricultural pest as its large brownish caterpillars feed on woody legumes such as Acacia, Cassia and Senna.
We explored along the road again looking mainly for butterflies and saw a Caribbean Sailor Dynamine serina female as well as Caribbean Banner Lucinia sida and Cuban White Ganyra menciae.
As before it was not until back at the car-park that we saw the Zapata Sparrows
Close to where we saw the adult Cuban Iguana a few days ago we stopped and spotted a juvenile out on the road. It was only about 400mm long and the first time we had seen a young one. I also saw what I'm pretty certain was a Dusky Swallowtail Heraclides aristodemus fly past but it didn't stop. Although pretty rare it is the commonest of the swallowtails that I haven't yet managed to get reasonable pictures of.
We continued exploring the area until, for the third day running, we heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, this time calling in a tree not far away. I moved forward very slowly until I picked it up in the thick scrub. And at last decent views even though it was against the light.
Back on 6 November 1976 I'd had a call from a friend of mine (no mobiles in those days) saying that he had found a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that morning at Pennington Marsh on the Hampshire coast of the UK. It wasn't seen again and ever since I had wanted to see one well. Not just brief flight views but to be able to study it. And this was the moment..
I didn't know anything about their ecology so had to look it up. Only sometimes do they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, they don’t do this nearly as often as the Common Cuckoo of Eurasia, which made the behavior famous. When outbreaks of cicadas, tent caterpillars, gypsy moths, and other prey create an abundant food supply, Yellow-billed Cuckoos then sometimes do lay their eggs in the nests of other cuckoos as well as in those of American Robins, Gray Catbirds, and Wood Thrushes. And that explains the calling - it must have had a nest nearby.
They also have one of the shortest nesting cycles of any bird species. From the start of incubation to fledging can take as little as 17 days! Although born naked, the young birds develop quickly; within a week of hatching the chicks are fully feathered and ready to leave the nest.
And if you live outside the UK and are not familiar with the Cuckoo that we get here in summer in alarmingly diminishing numbers you can read a rather salutary piece written here by wildlife champion and writer, and wonderful photographer Paul Sterry.
Dragonflies in the genus Tramea have a habit of perching quite high on dead branches which can make photography a challenge. They are known as Saddlebags from the shape of the brown marks at the base of the hindwings. There are six species that have been recorded from Cuba and I'm pretty sure this is Antillean Saddlebags Tramea insularis.
We enjoyed it so much yesterday that we decided to come back here again and we picked up our guide on the way to save him having to walk all the way there. As we walked up the hill there were two young Red-tailed Hawks calling incessantly. I've noticed that newly fledged Buzzards here at home do the same and I'm presuming that they are just letting their parents know that they are hungry.
And again we saw Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Northern Flicker and several other of the common endemics - what a lovely piece of woodland this is.
And the butterflies didn't disappoint either with Zebra Heliconian Heliconius charithonia, Cuban Snout Libytheana motya, Many-lined Daggerwing Marpesia chiron and even a beautiful Red-striped Leafwing Siderone galanthis that glided around before settling in front of us. We also found a small Cecropia tree with the distinctive feeding damage of Mosaic Colobura dirce larvae but they were long gone.
Back down in the horse field next to the road we added another skipper that we hadn't seen yesterday - a Eufala Skipper Lerodea eufala and we saw again many of the species that we had noted then. And again it was nice to get up close and personal with Cuban Mercurial Skipper Proteides mercurius.
And this dragonfly has me a little puzzled. It has been suggested that it is Seaside Dragonlet Erythrodiplax berenice again but the makings on the sides seem significantly different to those we've seen previously. But I can't think what else it is.
I managed slightly better pictures than yesterday of the Tricolored Munias, though not much better.
And this is just so, so sad. No animal or bird should be subjected to this. It is frankly an utter disgrace that a globally endangered bird should be kept like this. And for what - just the mindless pleasure of an unthinking human. And I'm not singling out Cuba in this regard though it is a big industry in Cuba as it is in many other countries around the world. Here in the UK it is much less of a problem I think though we certainly have more than our share of stupid unthinking humans - I could name quite a few in our current government.
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Here we will post interesting news about what we and others have seen in Cuba.