Cuban Emerald, Cuba

Itching to Twitch in Cuba

Zegrahm Contributor|September 28, 2016|Blog Post

It is a condition found among many birdwatchers: the seemingly uncontrollable need to twitch. We’re not speaking here of the sudden, jerking motion—although the term is believed to have originated in the 1950s with a British birdwatcher known for his nervous demeanor. Rather, for serious birders, the act of twitching (also called chasing) is the willingness to travel vast distances for the chance to spot rare and elusive avian species, along with the bragging rights such sightings bring.

Which is why the relaxing of travel restrictions between the US and Cuba is so exciting for American birdwatchers, such as Zegrahm Expeditions cofounder Jack Grove, Ph.D. Grove, a marine biologist and professional photographer, will join a number of Zegrahm adventurers to the island-nation in early 2017, pointing guests toward such winged lovelies as the West Indian woodpecker, known to exist only in the Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and Cuba. “Its brilliant red plumage makes it one of the more beautiful species inhabiting the Caribbean’s largest island,” notes Grove.

The West Indian woodpecker is just one of the more than 350 species of birds recorded in Cuba, including 22 endemics. One of Grove’s favorites is the black-cowled oriole, a sweet little chirper whose ebony plumage is contrasted by its bright yellow belly and rump. Another is the Cuban trogan; known locally by multiple names—tocororo, tocoloro, or guatini —it boasts the distinction of being Cuba’s national bird, most notably because its splendid blue, red, and white feathers reflect the colors of the country’s flag.

Serious birders have long been salivating for the chance to explore the Ciénaga de Zapata or Zapata Swamp. Located around 80 miles from Havana, this 2,300-square-mile wetlands—the largest in Cuba, and one of the best preserved in the entire Caribbean—has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It is also home to some 175 resident bird species, as well as dozens of other migratory ones. Nearly all of the nation’s endemics can be found here, including the rare Zapata wren; the cute Cuban tody with its unusually large head; the Cuban solitaire or Cuban nightingale, an elusive creature known for its mesmerizing song; and the bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest known bird averaging just over two inches in length.

With guides such as Grove, even our guests who aren’t avid birders will be itching to get twitching on their Cuban adventure.


For more information on our upcoming trips to Cuba, visit our Cuba Destination Page. 

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