We left Playa Larga with mixed emotions, leaving behind something we had enjoyed but in front a new adventure beckoned.
We didn't have a huge journey ahead, we were heading to La Boca, described as a half forgotten fishing village in our travel guide, but it's within only a few kilometres of Trinidad, a tourist hotspot and World Heritage Site, and the mountains of the Topes de Collantes. An ideal spot for a 4 night stop over.
With plenty of time to complete the half day journey we took the scenic route and along the way we diverted to visit the Botanical gardens near Cienfuegos. Claire is passionate about her garden so it's only fair that her holiday wishes are looked after too. Besides gardens attract birds! We paid the $2 entry fee and were surprised when we had to produce our passports too. Most strange.
Anyway, the gardens were disappointing. Nearly all trees and no flowers and shrubs worth talking about. A metre long grey snake slithered across the road as we drove towards the visitor centre virtually guaranteeing that there was no way Claire would go off road once we parked up! Birds were few and far between, brief sightings of only 4 or 5 species all previously seen including the apparently ever present Cuban Pewee.
In fairness though it was the best shot of one I took during our holiday and curiously, although I didn't realise then, the last sighting of one too.
We had pre-booked all our accommodation either directly in the case of Playa Larga or using local Casa Particular agencies based in Cuba for most of the others. As it's hard to pay monies in advance, most reservations are held on trust but you are asked to reconfirm your booking a few days before arriving. Most Casa owners are more than happy to do this for you.
The pre booked Casa in La Boca was the first time we had had a problem. They denied all knowledge of the booking despite the fact that confirmations had been emailed to me and with a copy to the Casa. Anyway, the agency was locally based at Playa Larga and the owner came and apologised personally and arranged alternative accommodation for us.
For the first time though I hadn't a clue what to expect. Everywhere else had been carefully selected to include good Trip Advisor reports on location, general standards and especially food ! The ability to communicate in English was an added bonus. Our Casa in La Boca was certainly a bit different. An old colonial style house with a grand porch overlooking the grounds of another Casa. I noticed a flowering bush right in front of us had a regular visitor...a Cuban Emerald!
Excellent, I could jump up from my rocking chair in the porch and nip over to try and capture the bird on camera.
Just along the road was the rather disappointing beach at the mouth of a river.
Still, the fishing boats were moored here and they played host to a Little Blue Heron and always had Brown Pelicans hanging around too.
The Pelicans were very confiding, so much so you could see the fishermen trying to beat them away from their boats as they would no doubt try and steal the fish before they were landed! Suited me though!
A distant fly past by a Belted Kingfisher was one of the few sightings of Kingfisher I had during the trip.
I was surprised to find that there is only one species of Kingfisher found in Cuba and that wasn't nearly as common as you would imagine it to be considering some of the terrain I visited.
There are only two species of Hummingbird that are permanent residents too, another disappointing fact about Cuba's species list. The Cuban Emerald is reasonably common though and great fun to try and photograph. When all else failed I got my fix photographing the one that frequented our Casa.
The same difficulties as with photographing the Bee Hummingbirds when it comes to motion blur.
Catch the wing right and it's not a problem. The lighting was much better here too, direct sunlight all day.
A trip to Trinidad lasted a few hours but not really my kind of place. Too many tourists but at least we found an ATM and a WiFi hotspot to catch up with the news from the past 10 or so days.
A drive to Playa Ancon revealed a decent stretch of beach but behind the peninsular holding the couple of hotels that are there the lagoons were virtually bereft of birds. ( Seen distantly in the background on this shot)
A few distant Caspian Terns roosting and that was that. I decided not to bother returning at first light, besides, a problem I had with the car was that it was locked up in the Casa grounds during the night so getting it out wasn't easy and I'd decided not to park it in the street although it would probably have come to no harm.
On our second day we headed up to the mountains and a walk in the forest.
We had the place entirely to ourselves and very scenic it was too !
Photography was difficult though as birds were all high up in the canopy with the exception of an Ovenbird which disappeared all too quickly. On the roadside back to the car though I spotted Trogan,Tody and Parrot within the space of 50 metres. Not a bad little list of endemics!
On our return drive I stopped to take a scenic photo and the timing was perfect. A raptor appeared over the top of the trees being mobbed by some crows. It landed in a nearby tree. I quickly grabbed my birding camera to get a distant shot.
I contemplated swopping lenses to get a bit more reach and was glad I hadn't as it took off and I would have missed the shot as it flew over.
No need to confirm the ID on this one, an obviously Red-tailed Hawk! It had been a pleasant trip out.
The Cuban Emerald certainly held my attention though, over two days I had a few sessions and I was very happy with what I got.
The sun continued to help me in my quest
Lots of different poses as the bird appeared to hover longer than the Bee Hummingbird.
The nature of the bush helped too.
The branches being close knit meant the Emerald couldn't disappear inside.
Satisfied that I wouldn't get much better I was happy to move on a day early when the subject came up in conversation. It wasn't that we were unhappy where we were, we just decided we could use an extra day somewhere else to better advantage.
We gave notice we were going to leave to the Casa owner who didn't have a problem, he had got an extra 3 nights out of us after all.
Would we live to regret the move ? Time would tell.