On leaving La Boca we hadn't gone more than a few hundred metres when I spotted a Great Blue Heron complete with a bill full with a fish. Unfortunately I hadn't got my camera ready and by the time I'd dug it out of the case the bird had flown.
Fortunately not far !
It was my only real photo opportunity of the trip for this species as with so many others, it was so disappointing the lack water birds but you can't have everything. Just another mile or so down the road and we spotted a couple of juvenile Reddish Egrets. Only my second sighting of them too.
Maybe I should have checked out those lagoons earlier in the day after all. Ah well, too late now!
We had a big drive on the cards today, by far the longest of our trip. We were heading to Los Tunas which was over 400kms away. Not too much time to hang around but half way along the route I had to stop when I spotted an Eastern Meadowlark up on the wires.
I'm not too keen on birds on the wire so when I saw some more sat on a wooden fence I had to stop again. They were not willing to let me get near them though and flew in to a nearby field.
This was open country now, ranching country. Another great spot was a White-collared Swift which flew over the road in front of us. I decided not to bother seeing if I could get a shot and drove on eventually getting to Los Tunas at around 4.30pm. We had pre booked and paid for our hotel here, just one night as a stop over but the catch was it was for the following day!!!. It took us ages to find the place, Google maps had put it somewhere totally different to where it actually was. When we finally found it it was all to no avail. We assumed they would let us bring forward our booking but they were fully booked. We'd forgotten it was a Friday night so they were very busy. I made the mistake of cancelling our booking, we wouldn't be here the following night but since I had paid for it I might just as easily left it open in case we decided to head back ! Instead we left Los Tunas and headed south to Bayamo which was nearly 200kms more added to the journey. We made it just as it was getting dark, a huge relief because driving at night is not recommended. Our relief soon turned to dismay though. Our first Casa enquiry drew a blank but the owner kindly rang as many Casa's as she had numbers for all of which were also fully booked. Things were looking distinctly grim!
Call after call, I had left Claire sat in the car out of sight of the Casa and I was starting to worry that she would be worried as to where I had disappeared to! Suddenly the Casa owner beamed, she had found us a room. The owner came on his bicycle to collect us, he explained it wasn't a Casa but we couldn't care. The room was more than acceptable but the owner was taking a big chance. The fines for taking in illegal customers are huge. However, we weren't going to tell anyone, I had imagined sleeping in the car so we were very grateful and headed out for a restaurant meal and a few beers.It appeared there was a music festival in Bayamo the following day , we could have stayed but instead headed to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second city where we had asked the person we stayed with to phone ahead to make sure we had a room. Thankfully no problem, we now had two nights instead of the original one.
Arriving early we went for a walk down to the harbour. I didn't have my big camera so the identity of the Tern amongst the Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls will always remain a mystery.It's right at the back of the shot! Smaller than the Royal Terns too.
Sunday was Valentine's Day and we had already booked a table at our Casa which also has the topped ranked restaurant in Santiago according to Trip Advisor. In the morning we headed out to the nearest beach resort which also happened to be the place from which Fidel Casto launched his first disastrous attempt at revolution.
Far from disastrous for me though. Claire enjoyed a bit of sun and I had my camera out for the first time in 48 hours. I had been suffering withdrawal symptoms but got an immediate fix with the first bird I spotted on a Palm tree in the car park.
The bird stayed firmly in the shaded half of the tree trunk but was still in reasonable light. I spent ages before wandering off until I found a Spotted Sandpiper, and trip first.
Returning to the beach to find Claire at the appointed time, she was happy where she was so i went and had another shot at the Sapsucker.
It hadn't gone very far , in fact I'm not sure it had moved at all. There were so many holes to investigate in the tree trunk.
The interesting thing though was the changing background as the tree swayed considerably in the wind.
My fix complete we headed back to town and had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in a Santiago pub. Just like Dublin on a Sunday afternoon, complete with live music. Superb!
They certainly know how to enjoy themselves. The locals buy an iced beer dispenser to sit on their table which saves having to go back to the bar too often!
A great afternoon and a great evening meal was enjoyed later. Not a bad day at all.
Next stop was as far east as you can go really. Baracoa is nearer to Haiti than Havana. On the way you pass through Guantanamo and as you leave town you can stop at a viewing station to see the infamous American camp way in the distance. I decided not to use a big lens on this shot, might have got me in trouble!
We arrived in Baracoa to rain. We were also bumped at our pre booked Casa too. We had confirmed our long standing booking three days previously but on arrival we were told he was full so would we mind staying with his brother in his Casa across the street We agreed to do so but our room, although well appointed, was tiny. To make matters worse as we went out for a walk I saw new arrivals across the street walking in to our intended Casa.
Even in the sunshine which briefly came through, Baracoa looked miserable.
To cap it off we had a bad dinner experience thanks to a loud mouthed ignorant local.We decided to leave the following day, our intended walk in the forests would probably be hampered by floods and mud following the torrential rain that had apparently been falling there for the previous three days.
So it was onwards again. The scenery was interesting but the road was appalling. 64kms of badly pot-holed track which took 2 hours and full concentration to cover before getting back on a proper road for the remaining 180kms. We decided we would return to our initial hotel in Holguin. They had a swimming pool, sun beds and lots of grounds to bird in.
Once again we were thwarted. They were fully booked for the rest of the week but one of their staff was most helpful though and managed to find us a room in a Casa in Gibara our intended destination for the last three nights. We were now booked in to two different spots but for a total of six nights instead of the planned three.
On arrival Gibara looked really nice compared to Baracoa. Our new Casa was probably the most basic we stayed in but the owners were lovely and the food good.
The first morning I was out in the car and it wasn't long before I got my first new tick, the endemic Cuban Gnatcatcher.
I was delighted with that especially being an endemic to add to the list. I now had 15 of the 21 that are listed.
That however was really as good as it got. During the day the wind came up and it remained pretty strong and blustery for the next 6 days until we left. The birds just appeared to have vanished, taking cover in the windy conditions. I searched but to no avail.
Only one new species was added, apparently not confirmed as being in Cuba until as recently as 1990 but now rapidly expanding in numbers.
The Collared Dove isn't exactly a high to end on but it did get me in to the 90's for species seen. Not the biggest of lists but reasonable enough. I had managed record shots of 74 of them so I was happy enough.
One last photo buzz remained though. In the high winds and waves a pair of Brown Pelican fished just off the promenade. A little too distant for the best of shots but a challenge to capture.
Not the most elegant of divers
but it must be effective!
So that was it, trip over. We left Gibara and returned to the Mirador de Maybe for our third time to pass the final few hours before our flights home. I wandered the grounds but didn't really get any photos worth keeping. The bird were there though. Shame we hadn't managed to get those extra nights there.
Ah well, although the trip had fizzled out in some respects we still had had a good holiday. Driving nearly 4000kms we had seen much of Cuba's varied scenery and a lot more than those who confine their trips to an all inclusive holiday resort.
I hope you are inspired to take a look for yourselves!