American Flamingo

All posts tagged American Flamingo

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Hank Davis is a professional photographer, board member for the Delaware Nature Society, and is now a winner of the Great Backyard Bird Count photography contest.  Each year, the Great Backyard Bird Count has an associated photography contest, soliciting photographs from birders that are participating in the count.  Five “overall best photograph” winners are chosen.  In 2013, Hank’s photo of two feeding American Flamingo, pictured below, was chosen for 5th place, out of 7,000 entries.  This is quite an accomplishment!  Congratulations Hank!!

Hank Davis' photo of American Flamingos from the DNS trip to Cuba, February, 2013 won 5th place in the Great Backyard Bird Count contest last year.  It was chosen among 7,000 images entered into the contest.

Hank Davis’ photo of American Flamingos from the Delaware Nature Society trip to Cuba, February, 2013 won 5th place in the Great Backyard Bird Count contest last year. It was chosen among 7,000 images entered into the contest.  American Flamingo is common in many coastal locations in Cuba.

You might say, why flamingos?  Why Cuba?  Last year, the Great Backyard Bird Count went global.  Essentially, during a four-day period each February, birders count birds anywhere on earth, not just the backyard, and submit their sightings to the count at http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc.  The count is run by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in order to get a snapshot of bird populations around the globe in mid-winter.  This citizen science research is generating very important data that will answer questions about bird populations, movements, winter range, and will ultimately help to conserve birds and their habitats.  It just so happened, that during the count period last year, Hank was on the Delaware Nature Society bird survey trip that I was leading to Cuba.  We tried very hard to enter as many bird checklists from Cuba as we could, knowing that we might be the only birders representing the nation for the count.

Hank’s excellent flamingo photo is not his only entry that was recognized.  Below is a great photo of a Cuban Emerald that he captured, also on Cayo Coco, Cuba.  The Cuban Emerald photo was awarded an honorable mention in the “overall best photo” category.

Hank Davis takes some amazing photographs of birds.  This Cuban Emerald was taken on Cayo Coco, Cuba on the Delaware Nature Society trip to the island nation last February.

Hank Davis takes some amazing photographs of birds. This Cuban Emerald was taken on Cayo Coco, Cuba on the Delaware Nature Society trip to the island nation last February.  The Cuban Emerald is a large hummingbird that is very common across the island of Cuba.

If you want to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count in 2014, just go birding anywhere you want and submit your sightings to the website I provided above.  The dates of the count are February 14-17 and you are encouraged to enter as many checklists as you want, whether they are from your backyard, a local park, or while you are visiting another country!  Take a look at the results from the 2013 count, where 4,004 species of birds were reported from around the world, and in Delaware, 144 were reported.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Photos by Hank Davis, DNS Board Member, Professional Photographer, and one of the 13 skilled avian surveyors on the 2013 Cuba trip.

This February, I had the pleasure of leading my second Delaware Nature Society bird survey trip to Cuba.  I led this trip for the first time in November of 2010 and wrote about it extensively on this blog.  You can see the previous posts at these links:  Cuban Bird Survey, Zapata Swamp, Cueva y Hacienda, Guanacabibes National Park, Valle de Vinales.

We had a similar schedule and agenda when compared to the 2010 trip, which was to visit a variety of national parks, preserves, and other areas to conduct bird surveys with Cuban biologists and ornithologists.  Our constant guide and lead biologist was Dr. Giraldo Alayon Garcia, who accompanied the DNS group in 2010.  He is the Caribbean’s leading authority on spiders and has described many new species to science.  Giraldo is also an excellent birder, biologist, and conservationist.  He was on many of the expeditions to document the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Cuba in the 1980’s and saw the bird several times on these long trips.

Our skilled team of 13 avian surveyors (all Delaware Nature Society members) were charged with the task of documenting species in many of Cuba’s most beautiful, wild, and biologically diverse places.  We ventured to four National Parks including Peninsula de Guanahacabibes, La Guira, Cienega de Zapata, and Cayo Guillermo.  We traveled the entire western half of the island from the far western tip at Maria la Gorda to the Cayo Coco area on the longest archipelago in the western hemisphere.  Our data went to the Caribbean Conservation Trust as well as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

In this post and another one to come, I am going to feature the “Top Ten Cuban Birds” that we found on our surveys.  It is a little arbitrary, but I picked these species because they were on our “most wanted list” to see, some of them are very rare, and most of them are Cuban endemics, meaning they only live in Cuba.  Since we found about 160 species of birds, picking the top ten was a little difficult, and I risk some disagreement from my group, but I judged the list also partly on what the group told me the wanted to see, as well as their reaction after seeing it.

#10 – Fernandina’s Flicker

Fernandina's Flicker is a rare woodpecker that only lives in Cuba.

Fernandina’s Flicker is a rare woodpecker that only lives in Cuba.

Fernandina’s Flicker is a beautiful, but rare woodpecker that lives in scattered places across Cuba.  This Cuban endemic species is estimated to only have a population of about 600-800 birds, making it one of the world’s most endangered woodpeckers.  We saw this one at it’s nest in La Guira National Park, at a place called Hacienda Cortina.

#9 – American Flamingo

The American Flamingo is always a popular bird to see in the wild.  It is the only Flamingo that lives in North America.

The American Flamingo is always a popular bird to see in the wild. It is the only Flamingo that lives in North America.

Populations of American Flamingo are doing well on Cuba.  We saw them by the hundreds in the Zapata Swamp and the Cayo Coco area, where they feed in shallow lagoons and bays.  Flamingos are pretty strange birds.  They honk like a goose, and sift their curved bill in the water to filter-feed for small aquatic organisms.

#8 – Cuban Tody

The Cuban Tody is a very small, colorful puffball of a bird that is common in Cuba.

The Cuban Tody is a very small, colorful puffball of a bird that is common in Cuba.

The Cuban Tody is a tiny bird that darts around forests, spotting prey to leap up and snatch with it’s orange bill.  They are habitat generalists, which is why they are still common, living in just about any kind of forest.  It is a Cuban endemic species, and is difficult to photograph because it is found in low-light conditions, stays in thick vegetation, and moves around quickly.  Hank Davis did a superb job photographing this one.  Todies only live in the West Indies.

#7 – Cuban Trogon

The Cuban Trogon is the national bird of Cuba.  This colorful species of trogon has a strange ratcheted tail, and is common across the island.

The Cuban Trogon is the national bird of Cuba. This colorful species of trogon has a strange ratcheted tail, and is common across the island.

Luckily, the Cuban Trogon, another endemic species to Cuba is common across the island.  It lives in forested areas at all elevations, and sits very still as it searches for insects, fruit, and flowers to eat.  It can hover while it feeds, and nests in cavities in trees.  We saw many of them on our bird surveys, but photographing them can be difficult.  It is the national bird of Cuba because its colors resemble those on the Cuban flag, with its blue head, white chest, and red belly.

#6 – Stygian Owl

Stygian Owl is a rare sight on Cuba, where it is an endangered species.  It is commonly killed on the island, since many people consider it a bad omen.

Stygian Owl is a rare sight on Cuba, where it is an endangered species. It is commonly killed on the island, since many people consider it a bad omen.

Stygian refers to “from the River Styx”.  The fact that this bird’s name refers to it being from a river in Hades does not help it’s reputation as a bad omen in Cuba.  Because of this, it is routinely persecuted on the island, which makes them very difficult to find in the wild.  The only places where you have a chance to see one on Cuba is in remote wild areas, such as the Zapata Swamp and Guanahacabibes Peninsula.  We found this one at Maria la Gorda, which is a very remote scuba diving resort surrounded by miles of wilderness, far from people.  It called one night after dinner, and we were able to find it and photograph it.  Stygian Owls live in parts of Central and South America, as well as the Greater Antilles, and are related to Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, its cousins in North America.

Look for part II of the “Top Ten Cuban Birds” post coming up soon, where I will feature numbers 1 through 5.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

As a young birder 25 years ago, I read an article about Cuba’s famous Zapata Swamp, the largest wilderness area in the Caribbean.  This landscape, similar to Florida’s Everglades, has extensive mangrove-ringed coast, tropical forest, saw-grass savannah and scattered palm hammocks, and some very endangered wildlife.  The swamp is the last refuge of the Cuban Crocodile, is a breeding site for almost all of Cuba’s endemic birds, and is the winter home for many familiar migrant birds who summer in our area.  Three bird species live in this wilderness and nowhere else in the world…the Zapata Wren, Zapata Sparrow, and Zapata Rail.  I dreamt of going to this swamp someday…

The Zapata Swamp resembles the Florida Everglades and is the largest protected wilderness in the Caribbean at over 6,000 square kilometers. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

My long-ago dream became reality on the recent Delaware Nature Society Cuba Bird Survey trip.  Most of Cuba’s endemic species can be found in this huge area, as well as vast numbers of wintering neo-tropical migrant birds.  Our job was to visit several areas in this International Biosphere Reserve/National Park and survey for all of the species we could find.  We spent time in tropical forest, saw-grass/cattail wetland, and mangrove swamp.  A priority was to attempt to find the Zapata Wren and Zapata Sparrow.  The wren is found nowhere else on earth and the sparrow is only found in a few other locations in Cuba.  A third bird, the Zapata Rail, is virtually unknown to science and lives in remote corners of the swamp.  Even Orlando H. Garrido, author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba has not seen this bird, despite over 50 attempts to locate it.  We did not attempt to find this bird.  If you are a gambler, the odds on finding the wren are about 5 to 1 and the sparrow about 3 to 1.  I should have bet one of my Cuban Convertible Pesos on the wren!  The Zapata Sparrow eluded our attempts to see it.

Finally, our bird survey group caught a glimpse of a Zapata Wren, which is an endangered species. Here we are in its habitat. This bird, which looks like an over-sized House Wren, stays low in dense marsh grass and is very difficult to see. Its entire population lives in the Zapata Swamp. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

Another area we surveyed was a part of the reserve near the village of Bermajas.  The goal here was to find another endangered species, the Blue-headed Quail-dove.  Again, this is a shy bird like the Zapata Wren.  Seeing a small group of them required a stake-out of about an hour in the thick, mosquito-heavy tropical forest.  Finally, a group of three walked out of the forest onto the path in front of us.  They departed as quickly as they appeared.  After seeing these very rare and beautiful birds, we were free to speak at a volume more than a whisper and slap mosquitoes with vigor.

After finding the Blue-headed Quail-dove, our guides knew which dead tree to inspect to find a Bare-legged Owl, another Cuban endemic species. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

One of the most exciting finds of the trip was a Bee Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. At 2.5 inches, this endemic Cuban bird was a "must see" for our group. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

I think that our favorite part of the Zapata Swamp was the area near La Salina.  After traveling for miles on a dirt road through tropical forest, we came into seemingly endless mangrove swamp with open stretches of shallow water.  The birding got really exciting here, as we saw multitudes of familiar herons and egret plus rare Reddish Egrets, pink Roseate Spoonbills, and about 400 American Flamingo!

The area near La Salina in the Zapata Swamp was incredible for wading birds such as these American Flamingo. Photo by Joe Sebastiani

The Cuban Black-hawk, otherwise known as the "crab hawk" lives in coastal areas of Cuba and feeds on...you guessed it...crabs! It is considered "near threatened" and we saw several of them in the mangrove forests. Photo by Rachel Cameron

The Director of the Zapata National Park (left) and Giraldo Alayon (our naturalist guide for the trip) scan the area for birds in the park. Photo by Marilyn Henry

The natural beauty, abundant wildlife, and shear size of the Zapata Swamp is unequaled in the Caribbean.  Similar to the Florida Everglades, this exciting wilderness is a dream to visit for a naturalist and birder.  Our group of 11 visitors from the Delaware Nature Society could have spent many more days here exploring, learning, and birding.  Unfortunately, we had to leave to survey birds in another part of Cuba.  Fortunately, more of Cuba’s incredible natural areas awaited, and more bird discoveries were headed our way.

More on the two-week Delaware Nature Society trip to Cuba is on the way in future posts.  Stay tuned!