Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Birding in Cuba - Part 7 - February, 2023

16 February, 2023
Playa Larga - Trinidad

     We were all sad to say goodbye to our kind, considerate, gentle hosts, of whom we had become very fond.

Jose, Sr., Damita, Jose, Jr.

     But, it was time to move on and we had the renowned old colonial city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in our sights.
     It is a remarkable place, with its ancient cobbled streets, and venerable old buildings; history oozing from its pores and Cuban life in all its varied manifestations thrumming all around.
     Street musicians there would be worthy of a stage in Canada, such was their musical proficiency and sheer exuberance in what they did.

     I think that Selwyn and I were singing Guantanamera for the rest of the day! You have never really heard it until you hear the full-throated joyful rendition of a couple of Cubans on warm, sunny day in Trinidad.
     We had our own personal tour guide in Mariana who is very knowledgeable about the city and its historic context. 

     Every minute of every day Mariana charmed us with her big smile, affectionate ways and her sheer exuberance for life. Her presence added so much to our experience of Cuba.
     I do not remember all that she told us about the various buildings, and the Cuban heroes who were so important in the development of the country, but the pictures below will give you the flavour of the place.

     The Teatro Tomás Terry has been carefully and lovingly restored and is a cultural gem.

     Old cars are part of the streetscape everywhere in Cuba, some so well preserved and restored as to defy belief.

     But let it be remembered that we are a team of impassioned birders and nothing with wings escaped our attention.
     A Rock Dove (Columba livia), common the world over, nevertheless looked exceptionally splendid when bathed in sunlight atop an ancient tree.

     Everyone got a good look at Cuban Martin (Progne cryptoleuca), initially as they wheeled above the streets and then when they came to rest.

     Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is conquering the world, and is quite at home in Cuba.

     No doubt they are all happy to make Trinidad their home.

     We were very happy to visit.

     There were attractive murals to admire.

     Ernesto (Che) Guevara remains an enduring hero of the Revolution and his memory is cherished and his legacy celebrated by Cubans.

     We left downtown to visit a local arboretum. A classic Cuban scene presented itself as these hard-working people went about their business.

     A grand sweep of palm trees heralded the entrance to the arboretum.

     We were greeted by our friendly and very competent guide, a plant biologist working at the arboretum, whose name, sadly, I forget. 

     White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae) was quite common and this individual seems to have suffered from the rigours of flight or the perils of attempted predation.

     The whimsical name of Shaving Brush Tree (Pseudobombax ellipticum), sometimes called the Dr. Seuss tree, is very descriptive of the flowers, in both pink and white versions.

     Our arboretum guide was quite superb and provided lots of information on the trees we examined, but I cannot remember it all, not even the names in some instances. In this case a search has not helped me so all I can tell you is that this is a tree!

     Bear in mind that this is an arboretum and trees from around the world are cultivated there.
     Buttercup Tree follows. There seems to be two scientific names in use for this plant, Cochlospernum religiosum or C. vitifolium. I am not sure which is in current usage so I am providing both.

     As we all marched ahead, Lisa was glancing back to capture something that had caught her eye.

     Fig Trees (Moraceae) were very interesting.

     Our guide was anxious to show us the strength of their trailing branches and swung to and fro in an impressive display of physical fitness.

     Lisa and Tina, the unsinkable Den Besten sisters, posed in the woods like sprites from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

      Palms are magificent, numerous, exotic and appealing - and difficult for the uninitiated to identify as to species! You will have to be content knowing only that these fan-like beauties are in the family Arecaceae.

     I do not recall specifically the function of these plastic covers on the branches, but I am assuming that it is a protective device against undesireable insects. It could also be a means of facilitating a graft and shielding the wound from pathogens.

     Our guide was lamenting the fact that cattle frequently stray into the arboretum and eat just about anything they can reach, and it is becoming a serious problem. We saw evidence of this in several locations.

     I am afraid that once again the following plant, beautiful though it is, has to remain unkown.

     Victoria had been hoping for a good, solid look at Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) and several were quite obliging and she was able to study them in detail.

     More plants that I am unable to identify, I'm afraid.

     This interesting structure is colloquially know as a monkey pot, apparently in reference to the tendency of monkeys in its South American home to attempt to breach its defences. 

     It is the empty seed pod of the Brazil Nut Tree (family Lecythidoideae), the familiar nuts having originally been nestled inside.
     They would make great nest boxes suitably mounted on a tree.
     There is not a birder alive who does not love an owl, and even people generally not intimately concerned with nature, enjoy seeing them. On this visit to Cuba, Cuban Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium siju) was seen on no less than four occasions.

     Another Smooth-billed Ani presented itself for study by Dr. Ho.

     We saw this kind of waste receptacle quite often, and thought it a great use of natural material, and quite attractive in addition to being utilitarian.

     People seemed to use it too and not toss their trash on the ground.
     Try not to be too shocked - here is another plant I am unable to identify.

     Cuban Butterup (Turnera subulata) gave me no trouble at all!

     Is it not beautiful?
     Yellow Trumpet Flower (Tecoma stans) is equally captivating.

     Spiderwort (Subfamily: Commelinoideae) of one variety or another was widespread.

     We returned to Trinidad where we took lunch in a restarant that would not have been out of place on the Champs Elysée. Elegance, good taste and excellent service was personifed from start to finish. Miriam and I decided that a gin and tonic on a hot day was just the ticket, and that is what we had. Miriam shared a pizza with Mariana and I had a ham and cheese sandwich, with french fries cooked to perfection. Much as I made a very valiant effort to resist, and despite my protestations to the contrary, a slice of lava cake with ice cream appeared in front of me. What could I do but eat it, followed of course by delicious coffee. How do you spell satisfaction? - C U B A.
     After lunch we ventured into the countryside; my notes are scant as to what we saw, but here we are searching.

     This lizard charmed us but I have been unable to identify it.

     When we returned to Trinidad in late afternoon to claim our B&B Jiovani was unable to drive along the narrow cobbled street where it was located, so a horse and cart was pressed into service to deliver our luggage to the front door, and we walked alongside and behind, all the while finding interesting sights to occupy our attention.

     One could easily imagine being transported back in time.

     Our casa from the outside resembled all the other doors on the street, but once across the threshold it was a different story.

     There was a fascinating collection of historical artifacts to rival a museum and a pleasant little courtyard. It was truly charming.

     At one point this was no doubt a grand mansion with many rooms, now converted to serve the tourist trade. The level of dignified grandeur has been maintained, however, and our room was very comfortable.

     As we had encountered elsewhere the ceilings were very high - around four metres would be my guess - to permit hot air to rise during the intense heat of the summer, I presume.
     We were able to climb up onto the roof and this was one of the views from that vantage point.

     Tania had granted us an extended siesta until 17h:30 when we left to go for dinner, after enjoying a pleasant stroll through the city.

     It staggers the imagination to contemplate the passage of history that these cobbled streets have witnessed.

     At all times we had our beautiful Mariana to provide a narrative for us.

     Here we are glancing skyward, at White-collared Swifts (Streptoprocne zonaris) I presume, many of which were feeding on insects high above our heads.

     As we made our way through the streets, eyes darting hither and yon at every step along the way, this display of traditional Cuban craft caught Miriam's eye. 

     It is called pulled-thread embroidery, we believe and it is interesting, intricate and beautiful.

     I would never claim for a moment that my knowledge of this kind of work approaches Miriam's, but when you are married to a quilter you learn to appreciate the creative process and the finesse of the end result. A lot of work is required to accomplish the perfection you see here, starting with considerable creative talent.

     I kick myself for not having bought one.
     We went for dinner to the Vista Gourmet restaurant.

     It had pretentions that were not quite realized, but was very pleasant nonetheless, and everyone enjoyed a fine meal.
     Another view of the city was an agreeable corollary to a splendid day in fine company.

     We made our way back to our rooms as the city lights illuminated the streets, well content in every respect, with Victoria and Selwyn waltzing down the cobbled streets. 
     Mary Oliver asked, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Maybe including a day or two in Cuba is not a bad start.
David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. Quite a full day. So many exotic trees. I think that I would like Cuba very much. and yes, David, you should have bought one of those beautiful embroidered pieces.

    1. I have no doubt that you would love Cuba, Ellen,

  2. Experiences you will cherish for a long time.

  3. You have had quite a trip. Such interesting places and sights. Did I read that you plan to return again in the fall?

    1. I have two more sold-out tours planned, one for November and one for February 2024.

  4. Hi David.

    What a great holiday you had there.
    Pretty buildings
    The wall paintings are beautiful.
    Beautiful plants and birds.
    The shaving brush tree is fantastic.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  5. Had to be sad leaving. What a lovely trip!! :)

  6. C'est vraiment très joli. Ici de telles voitures seraient vite dégradées, tout comme les bâtiments.
    Tout semble si propre et bien entretenu. Avec les grèves en ce moment en France, il y'a des casses et des feux dans les grandes villes et des bâtiments historiques sont abimés.
    Les gens n'ont aucun respect, une grève n'est pas un prétexte pour tout saccager.
    Bonne journée

    1. You are absolutely right, a strike is not an excuse to destroy cities and other people's property.

  7. Very interesting look at Cuba, which is quite different from Hawaii. I posted photos of birds of Hawaii today and mentioned your name.

  8. Hey David,

    I just wanted to let you know that your photos of Cuba are absolutely amazing! I'm blown away by how beautiful the country looks through your lens. The picture with the plume-like flower is my absolute favorite!

    Looking at your photos, it hit me that I don't know much about the history of Cuba. I need to learn more about this fascinating country!

    Thanks for sharing the photos and the culture and theh very old cars. You've made my world bigger and more beautiful.


  9. Another great trip report. I see so many beautiful birds and great photos. The Cuban Martin is lovely, I always love to see the Owls, the Smooth-billed Ani is any favorite. Wonderful views of the trees, plants and flowers. Take care, have a great day!

  10. The horse-drawn cart can still be seen in the Balkans.

  11. I think I had loved to visit Cuba very much. All the beautiful orchids, trees, bushes, flowers and birds of course are very beautiful. I have one theory about the plastic covers, David. I'm not good to explain in english, but I will try. I think they do it that way to make a new offshoot of the tree. I'm not sure if that's the correct word, because I must use google translate sometimes ;)
    I have vistited one arboretum here in Norway, and it's in Bergen. They have also many beautiful trees.

    Hugs and kisses, Marit

    1. Your English is just fine, Marit, and I suspect your explanation is correct. Hugs and kisses - David

  12. ...this was a fabulous trip, thanks for sharing!

  13. Thanks for the tour. My eye was captured by the examples of embroidery as I used to do a bit of that myself. That woman is quite talented.

  14. What a beautiful placed to visit! You saw so much while you were there, a journey through so much beauty! I'm sure you are raring to go again! Hugs, Vaerie xxx

  15. Hari OM
    Thank you, David, for sharing a deeper look at the culture around you. Not that the birds are unappreciated! Trinidad certainly looks like a wonderful place to visit - and worry not about naming all the plants and trees - we can enjoy them nonetheless! YAM xx

  16. Estimado amigo David, después de una corta ausencia ya estamos de vuelta por estos lares saludando a los amigos/as.
    Un interesante viaje que ha dado para mucho y de gran belleza, sobre todo en cuanto se refiere a naturaleza.
    Sigue siendo una verdadera pena que una Cuba que podría ser una maravilla a nivel mundial continúe aún en estos tiempos que corren con ese régimen totalitario y demoledor para los propios cubanos, no deja de ser de gran tristeza amigo mío.
    Deberías de haber comprado uno de esos bordados artesanales tan maravillosos.
    Recibe un gran abrazo querido profesor y amigo.


  17. My heart practically bursts with joy upon reading - and sometimes rereading - the Cuba instalments. I simply can't get over all of the amazing things we saw and experienced, and with such enjoyable companions to share it with made it even more special.
    I smiled and I laughed out loud more than once. The "wings" comment regarding the old cars was a good one! As I looked at the pictures of the pull-thread embroidery, I kicked myself for not having bought one - only to read that you had done the exact same thing.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart - and the top and middle too! Xo Lisa

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Everyone should have a Lisa in their lives. I am a lucky man.

  18. It looks like a truly fabulous trip and I am truly happy for you that you had the experience. I am sure that your enthusiasm made everyone you came in contact with smile - as it should.

  19. your guide is lovely, all of your photos are gorgeous and I am enjoying your trip. we have two fig trees in our back yard and they are every where here. the things we don't have are monkeys, horse drawn vehicles and old cars. but other that that it is just like parts of Florida. I like that aqua house. a lot. thanks for all the photos. we have a huge population of hispanics and cubans here and the majority of them are bright and cheerful and full of joy, just like you describe the people you came in contact with

  20. Además de las buenas fotos dedicadas a la naturaleza, hoy me ha sorprendido por las fotos que has hecho en la ciudad. Me ha encantado las vistas y la belleza, que he descubierto en ellas. También los pueblos, tienen su especial encanto y eso ya lo has dejado para el final.

  21. What a great trip....nature and culture at the same time........Abrazotes, Marcela

  22. Another wonderful day! I love that the houses are so colorful, it just tells of a certain joy of life that is just irresistible. The old cobblestone reminded me a lot of my home - as kids we used to ride our bikes over it, it's wild! And how could you not reject that lava cake - that would have been very rude!

  23. Trinidad looks like a lovely place to visit. It does look old world in a charming way. And that arboretum looks like a lovely place to walk around. I'm not surprised you even found so birds. Hugs-Erika

  24. You have certainly highlighted Cuba as a wonderful place to visit. I hope you are able to go back there again one day.

  25. Hi there - that Smooth-billed Ani is a very strange looking bird - and given the collection of strange birds we have here, that is saying something. Once I worked out this was Trinidad the town and not the coutry my poor little brain had a better time! Cheers SM.

  26. So many beautiful things to see, everything is just amazing. Lovely photos.

  27. What an experience this trip is, you can look back on it with great pleasure.
    You have seen beautiful plants.
    The Cuban Pygmy Owl and the Smooth-billed Ani are great to see.
    Greetings Irma

  28. Such a fantastic trip you had, David.
    I shall now add Cuba to my bucket list.

  29. Beautiful shots! Your view of that owl is my favorite.

  30. Wonderful to see Cuba through your eyes David. Thank you.

  31. It was a very attractive and beautiful trip.
    I admire all the flowers and plants in the arboretum.

  32. Wow, what a trip! I find Cuba very interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

  33. What a wonderful trip, David. Beautiful photos of the wildlife, city and people. Thanks so much for sharing this trip, it was a pleasure to come along.

  34. You continue to pile on the temptation, David, but I thought that I was getting thick-skinned - until you produced another Cuban Pygmy Owl.

    The Smooth-billed Ani looks like a very ordinary bird - and then you get to that outrageous bill.

    Thank you for showing us more of the culture and art in this post.

    Best wishes - - - Richard

    1. It has an interesting breeding strategy too, Richard.

  35. A few days in Cuba sounds like a wonderful way to spend some of that life! I loved sharing this day... The birds were lovely, the people even more so and of course the scenery. Some people we know here at our winter home traveled to Cuba a few years ago but the only thing they talked about was the old cars. We obviously do not know the right people! ... I tried to go back to the beginning of your trip by scrolling back before reading this , but so far no success (I'm sure it's my lack of skill rather than your blog and I'll keep trying. Meanwhile I loved Day 7!

    1. So many tourists never get beyond the all-inclusive resorts or the major cities and don't mingle with the people throughout the country as we do on the kind of nature- based tours we undertake. We notice the cars, but there is a whole lot more!

  36. What a beautiful place! My daughter Marie has been there, but I don’t expect I will ever go so I appreciate your detailed posts.

  37. Cuba is interesting and beautiful place. So many things to see in your post. A place worth visiting.

  38. I'm thrilled...thank you David for your travelogue...I don't think I can go to Cuba in this life. And then you see - how important it is that you report on your wonderful journey.
    Many thanks.

  39. Trinidad is gorgeous and I can see why you had a lovely time in this city. I'm wild about the architecture and the murals are gorgeous. And the music sounds fun, too. I love the stitchwork you showed. I know how long that takes and it was lovely. You have had the most remarkable time on this trip and I'm loving following along.

  40. Hello David, :=)
    Between you and Traude I'm having a great time enjoying your time spent in Cuba. The Pygmy Owls are delightful birds, and the Smooth-billed Ani is rather a strange looking bird but none the less interesting. I enjoy Cuban music very much.,it's so exuberant it makes me want to dance.:=) and Marianas smile is so infectious, she is a lovely young lady..
    The plastic covered branch is a graft, I do them myself with our fruit trees, and the thread pulling embroidery is also done here in Portugal..The many different trees and
    flowers in the Arboretum are so beautiful, the Shaving Brush flowers are gorgeous. and the Brazil nut shell would, make a cosy and ample nesting place. All the wonders of nature never fail to amaze and thrill me. Thank you once again for a glimpse into your
    birding vacation, and so much more.
    A huge hug and my warm good wishes,

    1. Traude was in Costa Rica, Sonjia, not Cuba. Equally delightful, however.

  41. Owls can be seen in the amazing daylight

  42. Great post on your Cubs Trip! It is wonderful seeing the architecture, the people, the plants and flowers and of course the birds are all beautiful. Wonderful photos! Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, have a happy weekend. PS, thank you for leaving me a comment.

  43. A great and most interesting post this is David. What amazing buildings and so well restored to their former glory. The houses and street life give a great impression of CUBA.
    Thank you.
    Warm regards,

  44. Ya te he comentado que yo habría estado feliz con vosotros. Todo me gusta, aves, plantas, personas, arquitectura, bueno todo NATURALEZA. Montones de besos y abrazos.

  45. A lovely trip, so many wonderful places and sights to see.

    All the best Jan

  46. Enjoyed yet another Cuban your this week! Thanks for linking up at IRBB

  47. How many things have you seen and enjoyed in Cuba. Lots of Spanish colonial construction. The diversity of plants and flowers is unparalleled. I have time for blogs again, I'll look around a little more, I have a few weeks off, although I still have a lot of homework to do and I don't have a holiday from other work. A hug

  48. I'd love to visit the Caribbean islands. Luckily for me I'm travelling to Costa Rica with my wife in two weeks haha. I'm glad you saw so much wildlife, congratulations :)

  49. Excellent report, I loved seeing the city and nature.
    In the city I highlight the cars and the theater building which is spectacular.
    In nature, everything exuberant to brighten my eyes today and how fantastic the flowers of the Shaving Brush Tree were.
    These are trips that you never forget.

  50. Oh my goodness David! What a gorgeous post!!! I have never been to Cuba, it looks delightful where you visited! All of the photos were stunning, especially that "fan palm" beautiful is that tree. And the Dr Seuss tree, I immediately thought of the Who's from the Grinch! ☺

  51. Hello David,
    I'm always surprised to see clean streets without any European-style "bazaar"!
    Cuba has inherited beautiful cars and the people have known how to preserve them.
    With that there are beautiful discoveries of flora and avifauna.
    Kisses David

  52. David - late ... but what a wonderful trip you've had - I've loved the photos. Definitely a nod to the brain to buy some of that embroidery on your next visit! Cheers Hilary

  53. You did a great job capturing the essence of Trinidad, and Cuba has now risen high up on my list of places to go. The Shaving Brush Trees are magnificent, as is that very unusual palm tree.


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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.