Saturday, 27 February 2016

Cuba self drive. January/February 2016. Part 5. D.I.Y or Pro Guide ?

With 10 days to spare, I decided that I would spend the first couple of days just looking around by myself to see how the ground lay and what I could find. Casa owner Tony suggested that I might like to take his brother Arial with me. He's not an official guide and in fact doesn't have too much knowledge of birds, well at least I don't think so. His English is just a bit better than my non existent Spanish!
Seemed like a good idea so off we went. First stop was outside someone's house.
I had heard that there was a garden where you can see the world's smallest bird and here it was. Excellent!
I think it was top of my wanted list. When deciding what photographic gear I was going to take my 600mm lens was a must. I had heard that this tiny little bird likes to perch at the top of a tree.
We walked around the back of the house and there in their yard were a group of about 6 people plus their guide. I'm not sure if they were birders, they all looked at me and my huge lens and tripod like I had just walked in from another planet. Anyway, I soon forgot them and was setting up my gear as there on the flowering bush was a Bee-hummer. Yes ! What a sight!
Then I started to feel stupid.
Whilst I am backing further away from the said bush because it's too close to obtain focus, one of the group has a Go-Pro on a stick and is following the bird around the bush from about a foot away. 
I'm not sure if I was irritated by the fact the other person had outsmarted me, my equipment cost a fortune in comparison, or that he was hassling the bird by following it so closely.
To be fair though the bird was used to human presence. The house owners have a nice little earner going on here, indeed the garden has been adapted for tours, and the birds are very confiding.
Bee Hummingbird      male    Cuba
The group didn't stay long but neither did we really. I knew where to come now, very useful indeed, I had the transport and I was told there usually isn't anyone there in the afternoon.
Unhappy with what I had got so far I could return with a smaller more portable lens later and make up for less reach by standing closer!
In total I returned 3 times during the following days and spent a couple of hours on each visit both being entertained and frustrated in equal measure. The birds never showed quite as well as they did on that first visit though.
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The females appeared to be more numerical.
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I need to return for another attempt one day though I'm not sure I'm capable of bettering what I achieved..
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I'm only showing you the few that came out ! I think I need to take a notebook or laptop on my travels next time. What looks OK on the back of the camera doesn't on a big screen.
The Hummers move so fast you need the fastest shutter speed you can muster, trouble is if the light isn't brilliant you need to compensate. You end up with the lens wide open and loose depth of field even on a tiny bird. You also need to settle for high ISO and the noise that comes with it. 
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See what I mean?
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Just occasionally the male bird would sit in the bush, the females did so regularly, but the bush also attracted Cuban Emeralds and they were quick to see off the opposition if given a chance. The male returned to the top of a nearby tree.
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Indeed the male is a very handsome bird compared to the female. If the light catches the plumage in a certain direction the change in appearance is stunning.
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Anyway, I might add some more shots later in the blog, but back to that Monday a few weeks ago, Arial directed me back towards Sopillar, somewhere I was already familiar with but of course he knew some different spots. We headed off down a farm track and after exchanging pleasantries with the farmers, who he knew, we walked out to the edge of a large heavily flooded field. In the distance American Coots and Northern Jacanas.
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They were too far away to get a decent shot and also seemed very nervy and took to the air if they saw us, even at considerable distance.
A pair of Killdeer were less so.
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Moving on I discovered what Arial was keen to show me.
What a gorgeous little bird, in fact there was a pair and they nest in a nearby tree although not as yet this year.
Along with the Bee Hummingbird and Cuban Trogan and Parrot, the Cuban Today was a top,top target.
I think of all the birds I saw this has to be the favourite. As pretty and delicate as a ballerina.
I spent ages trying to get the perfect shot but Arial was more than happy to hang around watching or having a smoke. 
We had one more bird to add to the list before we called it a day.
On the floor of a muddy bit of woodland, an Ovenbird.
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It had been a few hours well spent and I gave Arial 15 CUC ( the tourist currency 1= $1 U.S.) to supplement his wage as a fisherman.
I also decided it probably made more sense to take a pro guide sooner than later. That way I'd know what was left to find with the days remaining.
Tony arranged for one to come around to see me the following morning and we could discuss my target birds.
Seemed like a good idea!

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