Saturday, April 01, 2023

Birding in Cuba - Part 8 - February, 2023

17 February, 2023
Trinidad and Surrounding Region

     After a great breakfast in the courtyard, I was out on the street waiting for the others to join me.
     It was impressive to see Cuban schoolchildren of every age, scrubbed and clean, and immaculately turned out heading off to school.

     As a personal matter, I am all in favour of school uniforms, and I think an argument can be made that such dress can be a great equalizer.

     Sometimes, mom even walks you to school.

     You will recall that Jiovani had not been able to drive close to our lodging, so we all walked happily down to where he had parked the vehicle.

     We passed several houses where caged birds were being kept, and while we were taken aback by the practice, we realized that local traditions are not jettisoned for visiting naturalists.

     It was nevertheless a little distressing to see wild birds imprisoned in these tiny cages, deprived of freedom and the opportunity to mate.
     Older children were also waiting for school to open.

    We joined Jiovani and boarded our bus to head off to the countryside. 
    A very pleasing early sighting was a White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus), a trophy bird in Ontario.

       I have been unable identify these pods, but they remind me vaguely of a Locust tree (family Fabaceae); perhaps it is a similar legume. (Note: Thanks to my good friend, Lynne Lowe, of Summerside, PEI, I believe this tree is Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), a native of Madagascar, but widely introduced in many tropical regions of the world.)

     Cuban Emerald (Riccordia ricordii) was both delightful and ubiquitous. We saw it every day, but it never lost its allure even for a moment.

     A Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis tricha) reminded us of home.

     The following picture is not great but the insect seems to be an interesting representative of the Hymenoptera.

     Rosary Pea (Abrus precatorius) looks beautiful and indeed the berries are often used as jewelry, but it is tenaciously invasive and difficult to eradicate once established.

     If the seeds are chewed they are highly toxic to horses and humans, potentially fatal. 
     I mentioned in an earlier post that Cuban Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium siju) was seen on four different days. This was our final sighting.

     As we explored Cuba we were seldom far from the ocean and often skirted along the coast to magnificent views.

     Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana) is native to Cuba, and quite beautiful. 

     It is favoured as a nesting site for several species of bird, the fearsome thorns no doubt providing a degree of protection from potential nest predators.
     Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) in Cuba was more common than House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) in Ontario!

     The Fence Post Tree (Gliricidia sepium), as the name implies, is widely used in the form of poles as live fencing. 

     Such a beautiful bloom on a utilitarian tree!
     It's always a joy to see a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) and to enjoy their mimicry of several other species.

     This "rock" is a puzzle for us, and perhaps someone with knowledge in this area can provide an explanation. It looks like some corallite structure embedded with fossils. (Note: My friend, Alan Morgan, geologist extraordinaire, has identified this artifact as Scleractinian coral in the phylum Cnidaria. There is much more information in his reply to my inquiry, which I can send to you if you wish.)

     Cuban Palm Crow (Corvus minutus) is exceedingly rare and localized, but Tania took us to an area where she has seen this bird in the past.

     A farmer, working on his fields, attracted both Palm Crows and Western Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) but always at a distance. 

     We did see a few Palm Crows, but it was not the most satisying sighting, and I have my fingers and toes crossed for a better experience on my next visit.
     Cattle in a field in Cuba present as bucolic a scene as they do back home in Ontario.

     Peregrina (Jatropha integerrima) is a very attractive plant that is native to Cuba and Hispaniola.

     A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) surveyed his domain from a lofty perch; and suitable prey would not escape his keen eye.

     Permit me a slight digression here, if you will. I use the possessive pronoun "his" not to signify gender, and I have no idea whether the bird was male or female. "His/her" gets a little cumbersome and were I to use "her" in the interests of fair play, you might reasonably ask how I determined the sex of the bird. If I use "his" it effectively becomes a neutral classification, but if I use "her" it requires justification.
     Robin Wall Kimmerer, seeking elucidation from her Potawatomi origins was offered aakibmaadiziiwin by tribal elder, Stewart King for "he/she". This translates as "a being of the earth" and this seems like a perfect gender neutral term to me. However, it is a bit of a mouthful for most of us, and Kimmerer realized this. It can be shortened to "ki", signifying "being of the living earth" and I would cast my vote that we all start to use "ki" as an acceptable substitute for our gender- specific terms in English.
     After all we are moving towards gender non-binary terms for humans (unless you live in Florida, that is) and this may be the right time to embrace "ki".
     Back to Cuba! 
     Morning Glory (Convolvulceae) was, as its name implies, glorious.

     White Manjack (Cordia sulcata) is found throughout the Caribbean from Cuba to Trinidad (the country).

     We returned to Trinidad (the city) for lunch and were joined by a couple of Mariana's friends to add additional spark to the conversation.
     The streets of this ancient city continued to enchant us.

     After lunch, we went "home" to relax for a while, snooze, read a book, watch the world go by.
     Before dinner we all clambered up onto the rooftop patio to scan the skies for White-collared Swifts (Streptoprocne zonaris) and were rewarded with scores of them cavorting in the sky.
     We walked for dinner to a nearby restaurant, where the food was excellent, the wine delicious and the music throbbed. The musicians were very adaptable and covered everything from Cuban favourites to which Marianna and Tania sang along, to upbeat renditions of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Mozart's Jupiter Symphony. It seemed to us to be quintessential Cuba where good spirits and joie de vivre endure; despite hardship, despite privation, despite daily struggles, the human spirit soars.
     Jiovani joined us late, after most of us had finished eating, having been stranded in a lineup to get gas. 
     Our walk down cobbled streets redolent with history, music playing, bodies swaying, was an idyllic end to another captivating day.
     Viva Cuba, hoy, mañana y siempre!

18 February, 2023
Trinidad - Jagüey Grande - Havana

     We had breakfast again in the courtyard, enjoying the pleasure of dining in the open air having left the cold of Ontario behind us.
     Before leaving this fabulous hostelry, Miriam took a whole series of pictures of just a small selection of the curios and treasures assembled there.

     Just look at the imposing door, and the view one has onto the street.

     It is a rare treat to experience such places.

     One did not want for interesting objects to observe.

     You may believe me when I tell you that there was always more.

     I would not want to have to wash that chandelier!
     There were books.....

     ..... and beautiful red vases.

     We could happily have spent another hour or two looking and asking questions, but our horse drawn conveyance was patiently waiting outside to deliver us and our luggage to Jiovani.

     Mariana took the lead and we all obediently followed.

     This sign certainly says it all for me - and for everyone else I have no doubt.

     The streets were, as ever, charming.

     A bird in a cage not so much!

     People were hard at work as we, priviliged tourists, set off to play.

     We made a stop at Jagüey Grande to visit with Tania's parents and her youngest daughter, Rocío, a very talented young lady, self-assured and mature beyond her years.
     Look at her mural painted on the wall above a sink on the patio.

     If ever she visits our house, I will clear a wall for her!
     She made coffee for everyone and served it with the finesse and aplomb of a high-class hostess.

     You can see Rocío in the centre in the picture below.

     I was happy to spend most of my time talking to this bright young lady, and discussing her vision for the future. Tania has indeed raised two exceptional young women.
     We pressed on towards Havana, stopping for lunch along the highway, at km143 in fact.

     It was bright and lovely.

     And we ate well.

     Then it was back on the bus to complete our journey to Havana
      We arrived at our hotel late afternoon.

     All the rooms were not ready, so we remained in the lobby for a while and chatted to Tania and Marianna about life in general, and what the future holds for them.
     When our room was ready we mounted the stairs and were happy with what greeted us.

     Just along the hall there was a pleasant sitting area, with books left by guests. 

     It opened onto a small balcony where one could sit and watch the street life of Havana below, a fascinating pastime and one that I indulged. There was also access to the roof via a narrow spiral staircase, where there were tables and a small coffee shop, with an encompassing view of a section of the old city.
     Dinner was taken at a lovely restaurant directly across the street from out hotel, and the food was delicious.
      We were back in our room at 21h:10, ready to get a good night's sleep in preparation for the final day of our visit to Cuba.
       Buenas noches a todos.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.