A Taste of Cuba – Birding with Ernesto : Varadero

“Ernesto was proud to mention that a species of Gecko he discovered there was named after him and he was able to find it for us”

 

Nature Reserve at Varadero

The Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos protects a 3 km2 remnant of xeromorphic coastal scrub and mangrove at the tip of the 20 km. Hicacos Peninsula. Much of the peninsula, also known as the sun destination ‘Varadero’ to hundreds-of-thousands of international tourists, has been modified to accommodate scores of sprawling, all-inclusive resorts. It is also home to the newly described (2009) Cuban Croaking Gecko (Aristelliger reyesi), the only Aristelliger known from Cuba. Dίaz and Hedges (2009) named the species after its discoverer, local biologist and bird guide Ernesto Reyes. (Source : http://northshorenature.blogspot.com/2012/03/some-cuban-lizards.html)

 

Ernesto works most days as a conservation officer at this nature reserve, which was a short taxi-ride from our hotel, and he was only too happy to include a walk through the reserve at any time during our stay. Andre and I took him up on the offer a few days after Geraldine and I visited Zapata Swamps with Ernesto and were glad we did, as it added another dimension to the Cuban birding experience and a number of lifers to the trip list.

Ernesto was proud to mention that a species of Gecko he discovered there was named after him and he was able to find it for us :

Ecological Reserve at Varadero
Ecological Reserve at Varadero
Cuban Croaking Gecko (Aristelliger Reyesi) named after its discoverer and our bird guide, Ernesto Reyes
Camouflaged Cuban Croaking Gecko (Aristelliger Reyesi) named after its discoverer and our bird guide, Ernesto Reyes

Ernesto took us along a few of the paths that run through the wooded part of the Reserve and  found a number of forest birds, many of which turned out to be Warblers of various combinations of black, brown, yellow and white. The new ones for our trip list and all lifers for me were :

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler (Interesting name)

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

All of them were too furtive and quick to get a photo for the record, so I took some photos of the Reserve’s other interesting features instead

Rocks are actually ancient coral reefs
Rocks are actually ancient coral reefs
Cuban Brown Curlytail (Leiocephalus cubensis)
Cuban Brown Curlytail (Leiocephalus cubensis)
My lovely assistant, Andre (someone had to carry the bird book)
My lovely assistant, Andre (someone had to carry the bird book – but note this is not a dumb blonde, he’s a Neurologist)
"Tourist Skin" tree - so called because it peels like the European visitors after a few days in Varadero's sun
“Tourist Skin” tree – so called because its thin red bark peels – just like the European tourists do after a few days in Varadero’s sun (Actual name is West-Indian Birch, I believe)

Ponds at Varadero Water Treatment Works

For good measure Ernesto took us to the nearby Varadero water treatment works the same day, where we clambered through a gap in the fence and found a number of exciting birds in the network of ponds.

Water treatment works at Varadero
Ponds at the Varadero Water treatment works

Tri-coloured Heron

White-chinned Pintail

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shovelers
Northern Shovelers take to flight

Blue-winged Teal

Common Moorhen (for a change, an “ordinary” bird)

Laughing Gull

White Ibis

American Coot

Coot and White Ibis
American Coot and White Ibis sharing a patch next to one of the ponds

 

Well-satisfied with our “bonus” trip to the Nature Reserve and Water Treatment works, we thanked Ernesto for his wonderful assistance, bade him goodbye and got a taxi back to our hotel, where we continued our lazy existence for the rest of our 11 day stay. When our memorable holiday came to an end, we were taken by bus back to Havana (all part of the package) where we caught the Virgin Atlantic flight back to Gatwick near London, followed by a taxi shuttle (which you can pre-book) to Heathrow for our overnight flight to Johannesburg.

 

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