Wednesday, March 4, 2009


If you've already successfully negotiated your way around this blog, don't bother reading this particular post. If this is your first time attempting to follow this blog, scroll down to the very bottom of this page and start there.  You have to read the successive posts from the bottom up. (No, Bruce, I don't mean reading each post from the bottom up, but rather the succession of posts!) I managed to put all posts on a single page - yay! Before I did that, it was pretty complicated to read the thing!
If you have any trouble, shoot me an email and I'll see if I can help you. I hope you enjoy what I've written about this fascinating place, Cuba, and our visit there.

That's all she wrote!

This was one of the most interesting and rewarding trips I've ever been on. I learned so much about birds, people, another country, history, it was incredible. I wondered before we left here what Cuba would actually be like. Would it be safe? Would the people be angry at Americans coming to their country, especially since the US hasn't been very neighborly to Cuba in the past 50 years or so? What would the countryside be like? As it turned out, Cuba was no different from any other place on earth. The people live their lives, doing the best they can. Birds still fly, clouds still pass, plants still grow, the sun still rises and sets. In my humble opinion, unsolicited by anyone, I think that it's time for the US to discuss having a normal relationship with our close neighbor. I do understand that these things are complicated, but the only ones hurt by the US policies are the simple and honest people of Cuba. The fat cats are still fat, the politicians are still interested only in themselves, the people are still so poor. This is an extremely interesting island nation with wonderful, friendly people. It's time for us to be good neighbors.
All the photos, unless otherwise stated, were taken by one of the two people pictured here. The good ones were taken by Ivan and the rest by me! The group photo of the entire gang was taken by the juice man using Giff's camera and I thank Giff for letting me put his photo on the blog. I want to reiterate my suggestion that you check out Giff's website to see even more photos from the trip. Giff is a terrific photographer, as well as being a pretty nice guy, and I think those of you who are interested in birds (or frogs or butterflies or spiders, etc.) would really enjoy his photos. His website address is  
I thank you for reading this blog. I hope, one day, that we can go back to Cuba without having to have permission from anyone. I think there are many of you, my friends and family, who would enjoy the country, the food, the music, the people, the birds, the beautiful beaches. I hope we can all do that some day. This was written, with much affection, for my family and my friends by me, Nora Schwab.

Zapata Sparrow

Yellow Warbler

Western Spindalis

West Indian Woodpecker x2

Cuban Trogon - Cuba's national bird - x2

Two views of a male Tody

Cuban Tody (with text!)

This is how hard these little guys were to find!

Snail Kite

Cuban Pewee x2

Cuban Oriole x3

Loggerhead Kingbird x2

Little Blue Heron

Great Lizard Cuckoo

Giant Kingbird

Fernandina's Flicker

Cuban Pygmy Owl x3

Cuban Black-Hawk

Bee Hummingbird x2


The next several photos are of some of the birds we saw. I think I already posted one of them, but I'm sure you won't mind since it's of the cutest bird in the world! I'll just identify the bird without a lot of gibberish.

Bird in bush!

This may have been when we saw the Fernandina's Flicker. Lar seems a bit distracted!

Everyone's a photographer!

We were all trying to photograph the 4 Cubans working with us - William, Palacio, Frank and Jesus.

A couple more people photos

This was taken at the first place we all had lunch in Havana. The tall thing on the table is a beer thing. The center column is filled with ice and the outer part is then filled with beer. We could dispense our own beer right at the table!

Almost-closing thoughts

OK, I lied. The group photo isn't the last one, but I'm going to put in a couple more photos with only brief identifications. The very last post will just be some of my thoughts about this trip and about Cuba. First I'm going to go eat lunch!

The Group

This is the gang. We had stopped at a rest stop where the very most delicious fresh juice was made and sold. We asked the juice man if he would take some photos of the group with various cameras and he agreed to do so. The photos taken with Ivan's and Lar's cameras were blurry, but the juice man seemed to have better luck with Giff's camera. Here's the line-up, from left to right:
Front row: Frank, Ed, Gary
Second row: Lar, Jeannie, Tony, William, Judith, Carol, Jesus
Back row: me, Giff, Palacio, Cooby, Ivan, Bruce

Personnel - Jesus Garcia

Jesus was with us from before sunrise (on many occasions) to after sunset. He took lunch orders, after giving us menu choices about 50 times so everyone knew what was offered. He was patient, full of excellent information about Cuba's tumultuous history, eager to go in the field and a very talented individual. I enjoyed having him on the trip very much.

Personnel - Palacio

This is Palacio (I apologize that I don't know his surname), our excellent driver. He was very careful and safe on the roads and friendly out of the vehicle. He was helpful with bags and was always very courteous. It was a pleasure to meet him. 

The Schwab Boys

These two guys are the best of everything in my book. From either shaking their fists at a poo'ing bird or blotting out the sun to see an aureole, to posing for a portrait, they were great! Being family, I'm allowed to say that. They had a great time on this trip, learning about life in Cuba, its people, its music, its bird life. This was the trip of a lifetime and, at the end, I felt like we were all a family. The people made the trip - well, the birds were nice too - so excellent.

Carol Foil & Judith O'Neale

I regret to note that I have no individual photos of these two ladies. When I tried to use one from a group photo, the result was horrible. I'm very sorry because Carol & Judith were great to have along on the trip. Carol is a veterinarian and has spent a lot of time in Central and South America. She was very gracious when I went on one of my infamous rants about the evils of domestic cats out in the world and the horrendous effect their rampant predation has on bird life. My recommendation that they all be garroted was met with polite disagreement and the thought that maybe there was a better way to deal with the problem. I respected her for her input. She's an excellent birder - one of the best on the trip - and I learned quite a bit from her too.
Judith is a woman of amazing energy and interest. This was her fourth trip to Cuba since 2000! We were thrilled for her when, with the sighting of the Cuban Gnatcatcher on Feb. 22, she has now seen all of Cuba's endemic birds. She knew many of the people we were in the field with and she and William had a delightful relationship. He was almost in tears when Judith actually saw the Gnatcatcher. I very much enjoyed spending time with her.

Cooby Greenway

Cooby Greenway was an unbelievable lot of fun on the trip. She's quite a good birder, but it was her goofy sense of humor that I really enjoyed! She and I often walked together on the trail, sometimes looking for cigarette packages (an activity Ivan thought was extremely humorous), sometimes just chatting quietly while we looked for birds. This is really not a very good photo of her, but it's one of only two I have. She's seen the other one and gasped with horror when she saw it! So, this is the one for the post. There are better ones of her in some of the group photos previously published and a better one in the photo of the group taken by Giff which will be the last photo of this blog.  I hope our paths will cross again!

Jeannie Wright

Not to leave Jeannie out, but she's been friends with Giff & Bruce for awhile too. She's a great birder and, now that she's retired from work, she's birding all over the world. I asked her where her next trip was going to be and she said she leaves this month (March) for Bhutan! I really enjoyed getting to know her. She seems very interested in new birding experiences and obviously enjoys being out, searching for and observing birds. I'd love to go birding with her again too! 

Giff Beaton

Giff was right up there with William, as far as being a quality birder goes (in my humble opinion). He knew the migrants and, within moments of seeing a Cuban bird, he knew those too. He also took some great photos which can be seen on his website: He, Bruce and Ed have been friends for a long time. All three are avid, and excellent, photographers. I very much enjoyed meeting and sharing thoughts on a variety of topics with Giff.

Bruce Hallett

Meet Bruce. He is one of the world's best tasers, er, teasers. He's also one of the best birders I've ever met. As with the others, he was very helpful in the field and was always ready with a spontaneous quip to lighten the mood. He took some great photos too. What else can I say, Bruce, without getting into trouble? I very much enjoyed meeting him.

Ed Harper

This is not a great photo of Ed, but I like it because he was always friendly and happy to be out birding. He is an excellent birder and, as with Tony, he was a big help to me with field identification. I do know that he took some fabulous photos of some of the birds we saw on our outings. I hope to see some of those photos whenever he gets through sorting them. Ed participated with Ivan and me (and with Judith) in bringing equipment from the Birder's Exchange to ornithology volunteers in Havana. I was delighted to find out that he lives in Carmichael, about a 15 minute drive from where we live!

Tony White

Tony White was the common denominator for most of us. He knew everyone in the group with the exception of Judith, Carol and me. There were many times on the trip that he would shout out a bird name & point somewhere. When we looked where he was pointing, sure enough there was a tody or bullfinch or some other bird that no one else had seen or heard. He was a big help to me, the least experienced of all the participants, in field identification and, at the end, in my compiling of the summary bird list for the trip. I'd love to do another trip with him.

William Suarez - Our Cuban Ornithologist

Dr. William Suarez was our Cuban ornithologist and field leader. To say he was an excellent birder would be a serious understatement. He could hear a bird, identify it to us and, usually within a few minutes, point its location out to us. He led our infamous "List meetings" each evening when we would note on our lists the birds that were seen that day and how many of each were seen. He became famous for his oft-repeated phrase, "More than that?" after he had given a number for each bird species. I think I can safely speak for everyone on the trip in saying that he was a delight to have with us. We all learned quite a bit from him.

The Boss - Gary Markowski

Meet Gary Markowski, the CEO of the Caribbean Conservation Trust and the man who was in charge of our rag-tag bunch of birders and scofflaws. Gary was the best organized and most helpful trip leader I've ever known. I'm not sure he knew what to do with some of us, but he seemed to know just how much rope to give us so we could play, but not hang ourselves. I'm proud to say that he's wearing the Fair Oaks hat I gave him at the beginning of the trip. I would take another trip with him as leader in a heartbeat.

Day 10 - Back in Havana

Feb. 24 - We arrived back in Havana before lunch and some folks did a walking tour of Old Havana while others of us sat in the courtyard of the Hotel Nacionál and caught up on our journals! There had been some strong winds for the past 24 hours and waves were crashing on the wall along the Malecón, a wide scenic street and sidewalk that follows the curves of the seafront and passes right behind the Hotel Nacionál. Bruce and Giff went out to try to photograph some of that activity and to identify the gulls they saw there. Tony, Cooby and I sat in the courtyard, enjoying our Cuba Librés and people-watching, an activity that, in Cuba, yields many interesting sights.
That evening, we all dressed in our finery and walked to the restaurant, La Torre, for our last supper together. This restaurant was at the top of a 33-story building and had stunning views of Havana.  After the meal was over, everyone named their 5 favorite birds of the trip and the Cuban Tody was named the most times! Seemed like an excellent choice to me!
For my final few posts, I'm going to publish some photos of the people who were on this trip. They made the trip truly fun and memorable and, for me, a treasured learning experience.

Last of the "billboards"

These two signs were on the walls of a store and of a restaurant at one of our rest stops. The "Viva Cuba" sign was on the wall of the shop at Hato de Jicarita in Matanzas province near Jagüey Grande. The other sign was on the wall of the cafe at the same stop. As we drove along, almost anywhere, we saw what appeared to be hand-written signs that said the equivalent of "Viva Fidel!" or "Viva la revolucion!" These signs were stuck on fenceposts, or on front doors, or on a tree in a garden. It was not clear to me if individual people made the signs out of political enthusiasm or if someone gave them the signs and asked/told them to display them. I can tell you with certainty that there were such signs everywhere we went.

Day 10 - More billboards

Feb 24 - More on the billboard scene
Besides the patriotic billboards there were others that elicited small smiles from some of us. The mainly red one has a really bad image of W on it on the left and words to the effect that this person is actually a terrorist.  The one with the car is kind of sad. It declares to the Cuban people that the people of the "First World" are "absurd" because they (we) are putting their produce, in the form of corn ethanol, into their fancy sports cars instead of using the corn for food. I call it sad because the message implies that all "first worlders" have fancy cars and support the corn ethanol idea.