Trip Start Apr 21, 2011
17Trip End May 06, 2011
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Where I stayed
The hire car needed to be back in Havana for 5 p.m. to avoid an extra day’s charge but we reckoned we only needed a couple of hours to go back there so JD and CC were back at Chino’s place after breakfast where we picked up his brother Angel, another well known birding guide in the area. Angel was going to take us to the Salinas in search of various water birds.
The first bit of road and track was a bit bumpy but after we’d spoken to the guard at the entrance to the reserve and admired the cheerful-looking Cuban Parrot that was occupying the top of the tree over his hut, the roads into the Salinas were not too bad, though there was ample evidence of yesterday’s rain in the form of numerous apparently bottomless puddles
A wader that Angel thought might have been a Solitary Sandpiper flushed from the side of the track and Red-legged Thrushes kept trying to trick us into thinking they were something more exciting as we drove on through low, dense forest for a few miles to a viewing platform that overlooked several water filled Salinas. This was birding at its best. There were hundreds of birds and the most immediately obvious were a complete surprise. Over 30 American White Pelicans in a couple of groups were close to the platform. Garrido and Kirkonnell describes this species as an ‘extremely rare vagrant’ with only eight records in the 19th and 20th centuries. Angel said that they were being seen more frequently nowadays but he was still pleased to see them.
Stacks of herons, ibises and egrets, dozens of cormorants, loads of Black-necked Stilts and fantastic Roseate Spoonbills. Least Terns and the occasional Gull-billed Terns wheeled overhead. Waders came and went - Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper. A Belted Kingfisher took off from the far side of the pond and fled the scene. In the distance, flocks of Greater Flamingos. We could have stopped there for hours, despite the strength of the sun and the lack of shade. Activity was constant and it was hard to know which way to turn.
Angel had more to show us, so we carried on, flushing numerous Least Sandpiper from the trackside as we drove. Close up views of the flamingos were obtained, using the car as a hide and at a pull in further out we found a Wilson’s Plover, the only one of the trip
Returning through the forest Angel thought he saw a Northern Waterthrush fly up from the roadside and a little further on where we had stopped to watch a Northern Flicker we got a proper view of a Waterthrush and were able to confirm its identity.
We had enough time for one more site and Angel directed us down a number of lanes and side tracks to a spot where we could leave the car in some shade and then set of through the trees, past trogons and flycatchers and several doves. He came to a small clearing and asked us to find the bird. JD spotted it first, though it took some time and helped CC to separate it from various bits of branches that were lying around. A Cuban Nightjar (formerly Greater Antillean Nightjar) was lying out in the sun amongst the fallen leaves with it’s eyes tightly shut.
There was not much chance that it could get any better and we had a 12 o’clock checkout deadline to beat so we dropped Angel back at home, said goodbye to El Chino again and went to finish packing.
The drive back to Havana was uneventful and by 4 p.m
Car returned and the 2nd penalty of the day avoided, we set off to see some more of Old Havana. CC & JD at least were in a better mood to enjoy it than on the day of our arrival. We worked up a bit of a thirst and stopped in at a harbour-side bar for a drink or two, confirming that the terns and gulls in the harbour were Royal and Laughing respectively. Plaza del Armas was charming in the late afternoon sun with some guys playing West African music on koras and continuing down O’Reilly we decided that the Restaurente La Domenica looked a bit too pricey, but they were setting up for live music and so we checked the menu and were delighted to see that the meals were very reasonably priced. We booked a table for later that evening
Next we wandered down to the Capitol building and from there negotiated briefly for a ride back to the hotel in one of the aging American cars left over from the pre-revolutionary period that are now used as taxis. At well over 50 years old, these cars now run on diesel engines from tractors and have been patched and restored and painted over and over again. The interior is seldom as exotic as the exterior but they’re inexpensive and uniquely Habanero.
Having shaved, if necessary, showered, changed and taken a few sunset photos from our 7th floor balcony (the Deauville might have some of the best views in the city) we got another old car back into the old city and spent about 10 minutes getting change because the driver couldn’t change a 10 CUC note and then it was straight to La Domenica where we had an excellent Italian meal al fresco in a delightful setting, with a competent band (yes, we bought the CD) and additional entertainment from a gentleman on the street who knew and danced to every tune that was played and who had some terrific moves. He didn’t hassle anybody or ask for money and seemed to genuinely there for the music.
We had an early start planned for the next day so after a quick mojito we went to find a cab back to the hotel