Birding at the Bay of Pigs

The Bahia de Cochinos is infamous for the botched invasion, carried out by CIA-trained Cuban rebels, that led to a tense Russian-US standoff.  We happened to be on-site on the 52nd anniversary date of the invasion (Apr 17, 1961), but managed to avoid the local “celebrations”.

This section of the southern Cuban coast was either named for the native pigs that ran wild through the region, or is a mis-translation of the Spanish name for a species of orange-sided triggerfish commonly found in the bay.  The bay is lined by stunningly beautiful beaches of white sand and aquamarine water, and is a popular dive and snorkel site.

The beach front at our hotel in Playa Larga, near the landing site of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The beach front at our hotel in Playa Larga, near the landing site of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Over our three days at sites surrounding Playa Larga (at the head end of the bay), we found 101 of the total 143 bird species seen during our 9 day adventure, many of them North American migrants, as well as Cuban endemics. These numbers alone speak to the importance of the unique character of this region in the Peninsula de Zapata which is a vast complex of marsh, sawgrass wetland, shallow lagoons, palm savanna, as well as dense forest.

The sawgrass wetland area of the Zapata peninsula looks (and functions) much like the Everglades in Florida.

The sawgrass wetland area of the Zapata peninsula looks (and functions) much like the Everglades in Florida.

Drying pools in the La Salina area of the Zapata peninsula are favorite foraging areas for North American migrant waterfowl.  A Reddish Egret performs his hunting dance in the foreground.  Blue-winged Teal are in the background.

Drying pools in the La Salina area of the Zapata peninsula are favorite foraging areas for North American migrant waterfowl. A Reddish Egret performs his hunting dance in the foreground. Blue-winged Teal are in the background.

Wild pig, mongoose, iguana, crocodile, and the native Cuban Jutia (or Hutia, similar in size and looks to a nutria but less aquatic) also are found throughout this Biosphere Reserve.

These medium sized rodents were once hunted for food.

These medium sized rodents were once hunted for food.

Cuba has 24 endemic bird species, and our guides did a great job ensuring that we saw a majority of them.  I was able to photograph quite a few of them, even with my meager 270 mm lens.  Some of my favorites:

The Cuban Green Woodpecker is about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker.  The belly feathers are lemon yellow, which adds to its colorfulness.

The Cuban Green Woodpecker is about the size of a Hairy Woodpecker. The belly feathers are lemon yellow, which adds to its colorfulness.

The Fernandina Flicker was seen only in one area in mature trees of a palm savanna.

The Fernandina Flicker was seen only in one area in mature trees of a palm savanna.

Everyone's favorite little bird was the Cuban Tody, which fluffs out its garish red neck feathers and pink underwing feathers as it sings.

Everyone’s favorite little bird was the Cuban Tody, which fluffs out its garish red neck feathers and pink underwing feathers as it sings.

Gray-headed Quail-Doves are shy and somewhat solitary.  We waited almost two hours for this one to show up.

Gray-headed Quail-Doves are shy and somewhat solitary. We waited almost two hours for this one to show up.

Cuban Pygmy Owls were not the least bit shy about being photographed.

Cuban Pygmy Owls were not the least bit shy about being photographed.

11 thoughts on “Birding at the Bay of Pigs

  1. I’m not sure I’d want to be an American in Cuba on the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, but I’d like to go there for a month long visit some time. Everything about it seem beautiful or interesting or both.

  2. Nice shots, Sue. I think my favorite might be the pygmy owl. The scenery there looks to be breathtaking and it’s wonderful that you had this opportunity to see it.

    • Thanks, Mike. I would have loved to photograph more of the landscapes, but the bus stopped for birds, not scenery. Cuba is a jewel of a place for both.

  3. Fantastic photos and text, Sue. Maybe if you had been my biology teacher, I would have taken a different life path. Ahhhh the road not taken… Karen E

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