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.
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. Thank you so much for sharing more of your fabulous travels with us.
    Ki would work for me.

  2. What a wonderfully colourful country - I think I could easily fill an SD card or two there. Your rock is almost certainly the calcareous skeleton of a long-dead coral. I once found one, a long time ago, in limestone in the UK. I was told they are called "starstones", though I can't recall the proper name for them.

  3. What a great series of photos David.
    I like the Cuban emerald.
    I also really like the blossoms on the trees.
    You had a great room in your holiday, the food also looks very tasty..
    I wish you a very nice weekend.
    Greetings Irma

  4. Lovely flowers and birds, David! I don't like birds and animals in cages either. The thorns on the acacia / Vachellia are terrible. The flowers protect themselves very well.
    Hugs and kisses, Marit

  5. A wonderful experience in Cuba. Getting to see the locals going about their daily life. Good sightings of birds and different types of plants and flowers. The food looks good too.

  6. I do like the idea of using "ki"! Love seeing the pics of your trip. :)

  7. With, of course, the exception of the caged birds, you are showing us an exceedingly attractive slice of Cuban culture, David. The icing on the cake, however, was another Cuban Pygmy Owl - I'm sorry that there will not be another one before you next visit Cuba!

    If I'd encountered that 'rock' in someone's garden I'd have thought it was a piece of coral that had been harvested in some exotic place and placed in its new location as a beautiful treasure.

    My very best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

    1. I have a good friend who is a geologist, Richard. I will send it to him.

  8. What a wonderful time you had! I love the variety there - in the houses, people, birds, modes of transport, food - everything. I am all for school uniform. Only private schools have it here, but in England we were always in uniform! Hugs, Valerie xxxx

    1. Same here, Valerie, uniforms are rarely seen.

    2. Actually, Catholic high schools in Ontario (Grade 9-12) do require uniforms.

    3. I had not realized it was a universal requirement for these schools.

  9. Hello David,
    I have been enjoying your Cuba travels, the birds, the scenery and colorful homes, the beautiful trees and plants. It is a little disturbing to see the wild birds in cages. The Owl and the Hummingbird were my favorites. I love the mural, well done. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Take care, have a happy weekend. PS, thank you for leaving me a comment.

  10. Nice photo of the Cuban emerald! I also enjoyed the image of Trinidad's old small residential buildings with their pastel colours.
    I agree with you on school uniforms, as this "great equalizer", as you mentioned, hides wealth disparities between students.

    Have a nice weekend :-)

  11. Thank you for sharing this remarkable trip with us, especially with us south-of-the-border and backwards citizens who don’t as freely have travel to Cuba in their future. (I’m not sure of the exact rules but they are in place). Everything looks very interesting. The decor of the hotel makes me curious — how did all this stuff survive? Somehow I guess it did.

    best… mae at

  12. ...David, you finished your trip with a bang!

    1. Not quite finished, Tom. One more episode to go.

  13. Hari OM
    Yes, the rock is almost certainly coral... and those pods could be from any number of trees I could name - yet the leaves contradict any of those IDs, so they remain unnamed! Ki would do... but then again, in English, there is always the option to refer to a critter of unknown gender as 'it'... YAM xx

  14. I will start with what I love the most, like you love birds. OLD BUILDINGS and antiques. awesome photos and love all those colors... your photos are EXCELLENT of anything you aim your camera towards. the little boy at the beginning is my next favorite. he is precious and all the kids look scrubbed clean and ready to go to school. unlike here.
    the pods look a lot like several of our trees but the leaves are not right. the plate of food looks sooo good. the birds are as always amazing

  15. caged birds deprived of flight, the thing they are born to do. you would never think from the outside that the interior of your accommodations in Trinidad would be so elegant. but I look at those pictures and am glad that I'm not the one that has to keep it all clean.

  16. This is a country I will never get to see so I appreciate you sharing the birds as well as other sights. Love that little owl of course and it's nice to see the school children!

  17. David, I'm so glad I wondered by to this. Very nice adventure in Cuba. This is the best taste I've had of the country and what it's like, it's people, it's environment, and of course it's birds. Very nice job. Nice job. I'm following you now and looking forward to many more such posts. Aloha from Honolulu

  18. Oh and I appreciate your land acknowledgment as well as your spot on smirk at Florida.

  19. What a wonderful Cuban experience you had. A country with lots of colour, friendly people and beautiful nature. A lovely record of your travels, thanks for sharing.

  20. Imprisoned and deprived of freedom describes the people of Cuba as well.


  21. Great series David..I very much enjoyed seeing your travels.Sorry about the caged birds..
    The kids look fresh and clean..
    Wonderful pictures..Love the Owl
    Interesting pastel colors of the buildings..Pretty
    Thank you for sharing your travels..

  22. Todo se ve tan maravilloso. Gracias por tan preciosas fotografías. Abrazos.

  23. Des journées bien remplies!Cela fait toujours de la peine de voir des oiseaux dans de si petites cages :(, comme les poissons dans un bocal.
    Encore de belles observations. Bonne soirée

  24. Estimado amigo David, otra nueva y encantadora visita con gran diversidad de plantas y de aves, los días en Cuba se agradecen, son serenos, tranquilos y la gente es superamable. Existe mucha edificación y mueble colonial español como habrás podido apreciar y comprobar.
    Precioso reportaje querido amigo.
    Recibe un afectuoso abrazo de este tu buen amigo Juan.

  25. This really does look great! I have gone back and read the other posts as well. Excitment is building. SM

  26. My how interesting to see all these photos of some of the things you saw.
    The children do look lovely and clean. Inside the house so many things on the wall but they all look good. Lovely all of it.

  27. I am entralled by these posts of your trip to Cuba. You write an excellent travelogue.

  28. Thank you for sharing your trip to Cuba. I like very much the owl. It's not very well to see wild birds in a little cage. Have a nice sunday.

  29. Hi David – those kids are so well dressed … and yes I can agree about uniform … great photos to see. Oh yes – poor caged birds … stunning image of the Cuban Pygmy Owl …

    Stony Coral – I see Ernst Haeckel illustrated them in 1904 … I wrote a bit about 'History of our earth from Coral' ten years ago! Perhaps I might write a post this week about it … and yes could you please send me Alan Morgan's notes (and links) thank you in advance!

    You've had the most wonderful break in Cuba – I've enjoyed all your posts – more to come: thank you. Cheers Hilary

  30. Hi david,

    Fantastic how you do justice to this beautiful country.
    With a lot of beautiful nature and also the population shows in everything they do.

    I enjoy all the beauty of this journey.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  31. School uniforms are a way of monitoring students in the public space.
    The owl is very cute.

  32. The birds in cages are hard to see but the owl won the day for me. Ki sounds like a great idea.

  33. Yes, it is still distressing to see birds in cages today! I don't understand and I feel so sorry for these birds that I would be able to open the doors .....
    The warbler is very pretty.
    The transport of the suitcases is at least ecological, I approve ;-)
    Kisses David

  34. Poinciana trees are common in Hawaii. They grow big and tall. The flowers are red and gorgeous, and gradually turn into those seed pods you pictured here. Thanks for your marvelous photos, David.

  35. Esos escolares, hubiera disfrutado mucho de la naturaleza, si te hubieran acompañado. Lo explicas todo de forma sencilla . Ese amor a la naturaleza, hay que fomentarlo desde una edad temprana.

    1. It would have been my pleasure to have had them along.

  36. That fence post tree is extraordinary.
    For taking time to share this post with us at IRBB, I want to thank you.

  37. What an interesting post of a beautiful country!....beautiful pictures!.....Abrazotes, Marcela

  38. Color, sunshine, birds! Marvelous. And the children are adorable.

  39. I missed this post during my crazy Saturday, and I'm glad I noticed it. I like seeing Cuba. And that hostelry is quite the place. That chandelier isn't what I would think of having in modern Cuba, but that is the best part of traveling, isn't it? When you discover things that are new or unexpected. hugs-Erika

  40. Wow! So many beautiful photos. You are fortunate to visit so many places and we are all fortunate that you share them with us.

  41. Dear David,
    Today I was able to treat myself with to two parts of your Cuba travel report. I have probably already told you that Edi and I were in Cuba in 2014. That means some things here are re-encounters - e.g. with Havana - and I had to laugh a lot about "I think that Selwyn and I were singing Guantanamera for the rest of the day!" Edi and I heard Guantanamera in Cuba so often that we didn't want to hear it anymore - but now I can handle the catchy tune again 😉
    Trinidad is beautiful. Unfortunately we were only there for a few hours (as part of a three-city tour, so very touristy, but still beautiful and interesting) - how wonderful to see the pretty colourful houses from the inside, too. Do you know the history of the Trinidad-cobblestones? I told it here:
    There would be a lot to write, but I'll keep it "short" and say it was great to experience exciting places, beautiful animals and lovely people from Cuba with you. As for the birds in the cages, I don't know if that's the custom in Cuba, but we've seen songbirds being captured in some countries to sell to charitable tourists who release them. (With a bit of bad luck, these birds experience this again and again...) The plant under the photo with the cows in part 7 is probably a Congea tomentosa and the lizard a Leiocephalus personatus. I want to thank you for the bird ID in my previous Costa Rica report, I also think cinnamon woodpecker might be right and added it! By the way, in my current blog post - as in one of your Cuba reports - there is also a Streptopelia decaocto.
    All the best from Austria and a good further pre-Easter week!
    Hugs, Traude 😘

  42. This is a country I really would like to visit. Those streets with their colorful houses just want me to sit down and sketch them! It looks like I would get a lot of inspiration here, for my photography as well as for for my art journal. And how do I love all the flowers and plants. I wouldn't mind having a living fence like that! So very beautiful.
    I'm sure you will remember this trip for a long time, not only for the birds that you saw, but also for the people. Maybe especially for the people.

  43. Sorry to be so late to this one! It's a gem. I'm glad you saw another pygmy owl and those rosary berries are so beautiful. I'm wild about the colorful houses (surprise, surprise) and the mural, too. And I'm so glad Miriam took so many photos of the interior -- I savored each and every one!

  44. Thank you for taking us inside Cuba for an up close and personal look. I'm finding it fascinating, not just for the wide variety of bird sightings, but the life, and color of this extraordinary place that has always been a bit of a mystery to me.

  45. A wonderful experience and trip, I have enjoyed all of your posts ...

    All the best Jan


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.