Cuba’s Island Cays (Keys)

The northern shore of Central Cuba has a chain of islands much like the Florida Keys, one of which, Cayo Coco, is connected to the mainland by a long (~15 mile) causeway from Ciego de Avila province.  Cayo Coco is famous for its all-inclusive resorts, and is very popular with foreign (especially British and Canadian) tourists.  Despite intense development along the shoreline, there are still a multitude of good birding spots, and some species seem undeterred by the buildings stuck in their normal habitat (see below).

One morning I watched Royal Terns diving for fish on the hotel’s beach.

The hotel beach at sunrise.

The hotel beach at sunrise.

Flying overhead and looking down, Royal Terns quickly flip into diving posture, barely get wet as they glance off the  ocean surface, and take off again.

Flying overhead and looking down, Royal Terns quickly flip into diving posture, barely get wet as they glance off the ocean surface, and take off again.

Like most resorts, this hotel offered all the basic amenities, and more...lots of birds among the vegetation.

Like most resorts, this hotel offered all the basic amenities, and more…lots of birds among the vegetation.

This pair of West Indian Woodpeckers did a fine job cleaning the insects and spiders off the windows and eaves.

This pair of West Indian Woodpeckers did a fine job cleaning the insects and spiders off the windows and eaves.

One of the woodpeckers flew over to the palm where I was standing.  I actually had to back up to fit the whole woodpecker in the frame of my telephoto lens.

One of the woodpeckers flew over to the palm where I was standing. I actually had to back up to fit the whole woodpecker in the frame of my telephoto lens.

On our morning bird walk around the hotel grounds, we found West Indian Whistling Ducks in the lagoon surrounding some condos, and warblers in the hedgerows.

The reflection of the condos in the lagoon water added color to the scene.

The reflection of the condos in the lagoon water added color to the scene.

I'm not sure what the significance of the raised wing feathers is.  The ducks were too busy eating to do much posing.

I’m not sure what the significance of the raised wing feathers is. The ducks were too busy eating to do much posing.

A Yellow Warbler male warming up with morning song

A Yellow Warbler male warming up with morning song

Like the Florida Keys, islands of mangrove dot the shallow water surrounding the cays, forming a huge area of salt flats, perfect for shorebirds and the 12,000+ flamingos which breed in the quieter waters northwest of Cayo Coco.  Further out, the whole archipelago is ringed by more than 400 km of coral reef.

Mangrove islands off the shore of Cayo Coco.

Mangrove islands off the shore of Cayo Coco.

Driving from site to site we saw huge flocks of Avocets (and took lousy photos through dirty bus windows) and a couple of perched Cuban Black Hawks taking a break from the morning hunt.

Nice scenery, even looking through a bus window.

Nice scenery, even looking through a bus window.

This robust Hawk is endemic to Cuba, and although locally common, it is classified as threatened because its preferred wetland habitat is shrinking.  One of their favorite foods is the land crabs that come out at night.

This robust Hawk is endemic to Cuba, and although locally common, it is classified as threatened because its preferred wetland habitat is shrinking. One of their favorite foods is the land crabs that come out at night.

We spent much of our day looking for small birds in dense vegetation.

Birders, take your positions.

Birders, take your positions.

Typical desert scrub habitat on Cayo Coco.  See anything?

Typical desert scrub habitat on Cayo Coco. See anything?  Neither did we.

Every now and then, you might get lucky.  This is the Cuban Gnatcatcher, a small insectivore, and another bird endemic to Cuba.

Every now and then, you get lucky. This is the Cuban Gnatcatcher, a small insectivore, and another bird endemic to Cuba.  That’s not a shadow; it really does have a “C” behind its eye.

This pair of Bahama Mockingbirds resisted being seen until it was almost too dark to take photos.  At last, they came to investigate the songs coming from the guide's speaker.

This pair of Bahama Mockingbirds resisted being seen until it was almost too dark to take photos. At last, they came to investigate the songs coming from the guide’s speaker.

The last find of the day was one of the best.

Western Spindalis, formerly Stripe-headed Tanager, eating berries.

Western Spindalis, formerly Stripe-headed Tanager, eating berries.

8 thoughts on “Cuba’s Island Cays (Keys)

  1. I think the shot of the woodpecker on the palm is one of the best bird photos I’ve seen, but the western spindalis runs a close second. I lived in Florida for awhile and one of the things I miss the most is the sky that always seemed to look like your first photo.

    • Thanks for the nice compliment! I had a couple of fortunate close encounters with those two birds (woodpecker and spindalis). You can’t ask for more than that.

  2. Pingback: Los cayos de cuba

  3. Pingback: The Best of 2013 | Back Yard Biology

  4. Gorgeous pictures Sue! Thank you for sharing. A few of them should really be available for sale as framed photos that could be shipped. My parents collect things like that, and I would love to buy a couple for myself. Or calendars would be good too.

    • Hi Lori, Thanks for your nice compliments! Cuba is such a gem of a place to photograph — so many birds and beautiful scenery. I made a book of the Cuba trip (from the blog) for my husband for Christmas.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s