TRIP DATES: 27 April-10 May 2018 (15 days)

*Encounter all 23 “findable” Cuban endemics in 15 easy days of wonderful birding!

*Visit the sunny Cuban Cays on the north coast of Cuba

*Zapata National Park & Zapata Peninsula

*Cienfuegos Botanical Garden to sight the rare Gundlach’s Hawk

*Parque Nacional Vinales

*A Day in Historic Havana


*New since 2016:   Greg joins BirdsCaribbean & Acclaimed Cuban Bird Guide, Ernesto Reyes Mouriño, on the adventure of a lifetime!


Cuba is well-known for its amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and unique biodiversity.

According to the new Endemic Birds of Cuba: A Comprehensive Field Guide, 371 birds have been recorded in Cuba, including 26 which are endemic to the island and 30 which are considered globally threatened.

Due to its large land area and geographical position within the Caribbean, Cuba is also extraordinarily important for Neotropical migratory birds—more than 180 species pass through during migration or spend the winter on the island.

Our exciting itinerary takes you to several of the best and most beautiful birding locations in

Cuba, providing opportunities to see many of the island’s endemic species and subspecies, as well as many migrants. Along the way, we will meet people in local communities, stay mainly in wonderful Bed & Breakfast establishments (“Casas Particulares”) and eat fresh Cuban dishes in private restaurants (Paladars), allowing you to experience this remarkable country’s rich culture, delicious food, friendly people, and generous hospitality.

Natural Encounters Birding and Wildlife Photography Tours is offering its Cuba itineraries in association with BirdsCaribbean’s (BC) Cuba Program, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to this NGO to support bird conservation in Cuba.

Traveling with us helps Caribbean birds, because a portion of the proceeds from the trip supports BC’s bird conservation programs in Cuba and the Caribbean. With new relations between the US and Cuba opening up, this is the perfect time to take your birding trip to Cuba. This visitation window may close at anytime due to the new Trump Administration’s less welcoming polocies. Don’t delay!

Group leaders: Greg R. Homel, Founder of Natural Encounters Birding and Wildlife Photography Tours (NE); Ernesto Reyes Mouriño, perhaps Cuba’s top Bird Guide and Wildlife Photographer; Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director, BirdsCaribbean* & Jennifer Wheeler, Treasurer, BirdsCaribbean* (*Lisa and Jennifer will assist behind the scenes on our tours).

NOTE: The itineraries are based on previous NE & BC excursions, and may be modified depending on or reflecting new information, leading to an even better experience for our valued clients and participants.


Enjoy a scenic overland transfer from Santa Clara to beautiful Cayo Coco on the north-central coast of Cuba (3-4 hours, birding en route).

Today we meet up with our top Cuban bird guide, Ernesto Reyes Mouriño, then make our way to Cayo Coco and nearby offshore cays on Cuba’s northern (Atlantic) coast, which provides ideal habitat for an impressive diversity of waterbird species, including West Indian Whistling-Duck, migrants, restricted-range and endemic subspecies. For the past year or two the endangered, endemic Gundlach’s Hawk has nested near the airport and we will make an effort to see the bird shortly after we clear customs, and before driving toward Cayo Coco.

Since 1988 Cayo Coco has been connected to the mainland by a 27-km causeway. The

Cays currently offer pristine white-sand beaches, mangrove flats, low coastal scrub and crystal clear waters. However, the area is also being rapidly developed for “sun and sand tourism” and critical habitat for many important species may become threatened if overdevelopment occurs.

We will do some birding during our drive to the Cays to look for Snail Kite, White-cheeked Pintail, Fulvous Whistling-Duck and others.

Upon arrival we will check into our fine beachside hotel on Cayo Coco (Hotel Sol Cayo Coco or similar), with birding nearby, time allowing.


Early morning birding on Cayo Paredón Grande, the most northeastern cay in the archipelago and one of Cuba’s important migratory landfalls. Bahama Mockingbird, Cuban Gnatcatcher, Oriente Warbler, Gundlach’s Hawk, Scaly–naped Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo, Thick-billed Vireo and a subspecies of Zapata Sparrow are the main target birds for the archipelago.

Lunch daily at our lovely hotel, followed by an after lunch siesta during the hot part of the day. When the weather cools, we will go out in search of migratory birds on Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Romano.

We will also visit Cueva del Jabali, a great place to glass Key West Quail-Dove, Zenaida Dove, Cuban Tody, Oriente Warbler, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Red-legged Honeycreeper and many migratory songbirds.


Today we will make our way southwest toward Cienfuegos (~4 hrs) with birding stops and lunch en route, to look for the near endemic Palm Crow and Giant Kingbird before checking into our welcoming B&B (Casa Particular) for the night.

Our morning departure will head southeast toward Sancti Spiritus. Cultural stops during our journey may include La Trinidad. Cienfuegos & La Trinidad a one-of-a-kind, perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement, are both historic cities and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Cienfuegos is a bay-side city founded by French émigré and known as the “Pearl of the South,” has a Parisian feel to it with its parks, tree-lined boulevards and colonnades.

Our reason for overnighting here is that In recent years, the wonderfully historic and pleasant Cienfuegos Botanic Garden has hosted a relatively approachable pair of rare, endemic Gundlach’s Hawks and we will check with our local contacts to ascertain the birds’ current whereabouts.

The Botanic Garden is also an all around great birding hotspot, so whether or not the hawks make a showing, there will be plenty to see, and nearby agricultural fields and farmland is good for the near endemic Palm Crow and Giant Kingbird.\


Following breakfast we’ll make early morning visits the Cienfuegos Botanic Garden to search for Gundlach’s Hawk, and nearby ranch land for Palm Crow and Giant Kingbird.

Following, we may have some time to experience the laid back atmosphere of La Trinidad and Cienfuegos, exploring cobblestone streets, pastel-colored colonial mansions, plazas and churches (built from huge sugar fortunes), before arriving at our B&Bs to spend the night at beautiful Playa Grande, on the Bay of Pigs. Here we begin several days exploration of Cuba’s richest birding destination, PARQUE NACIONAL ZAPATA.

Check into our B&Bs, followed by a sumptuous seafood dinner of your choice.

Also en route, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Eco-village, Las Terrazas, offers close-up views of endemics—particularly the increasingly rare, endemic Cuban Grassquit at a special site known to us but not local bird catchers—and a lovely setting for our family-style lunch on a restaurant patio with views of forested hills ringing with bird song.

By late afternoon, we reach Playa Larga, a lovely little beach town on the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos), on the south shore of the Zapata Peninsula.

Days 6-7—CIENEGA DE ZAPATA & ZAPATA PENINSULA (Cienega de Zapata, La Cuchilla, Caminos los Jarrow, Bermejas, Cueva de los Peces & Los Hondones):

The Zapata Swamp is the third largest wetland in the Americas and home to two

endemic species of its own, the Endangered Zapata Wren (local but we should hear and see it nicely, with good chances for excellent photos as well, using ethical playback) and the Critically Endangered Zapata Rail, which has not been reliably reported for decades, although there is aN unsubstantiated, controversial claim of two sightings from 2014 that most Cuban ornithologists and birders do not believe (see link, here: http://www.birdlife.org/americas/news/rare-glimpse-elusive-rail).

The site is among the best localities to see a number of highly sought Cuban endemics that range beyond the swamp, notably the exciting Cuban Black Hawk (Common but Endangered), Gundlach’s Hawk (Endangered), Blue-headed Quail-Dove (Endangered), Gray-fronted (Gray-headed) Quail-Dove (Vulnerable), Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Cuban Nightjar, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Fernandina’s Flicker (Vulnerable with just 300 birds remaining, half on the Zapata Peninsula), Cuban Parakeet (Endangered), Bee Hummingbird (Near Threatened), Cuban Vireo, Yellow-headed Warbler, Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow, Cuban Oriole, Red-shouldered Blackbird (Vulnerable) and Cuban Blackbird.

Though named for its famous wetland, the Zapata Peninsula is actually a labyrinth of varied habitats ranging from cattail and cordgrass marshes to mangrove ecosystems, forested karst (limestone caves and topography), broadleaf forest and palm savannas, etc.

This exciting region offers the best birding in Cuba, so we will spend several enjoyable days birding here. About 254 species have been recorded for Zapata. Much of it is a Biosphere Reserve is a Ramsar Site, where it is possible to see more than 20 Cuban endemics in short order!

Near endemics, many of which are more easily seen here than elsewhere, include West Indian Whistling-Duck, Plain Pigeon, Cuban (Rose-throated) Parrot, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Antillean Palm Swift, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cuban Crow (common near our B&Bs), Red-legged Thrush, Western Spindalis, Cuban Bullfinch, Greater Antillean Grackle and Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, etc.


We will check-in at our nice B&Bs by day’s end, watch the sunset over the Bay of Pigs, followed by our first homestyle (comida tipica) Cuban dinner.

Bee Hummingbird, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Grey-fronted Quail-Dove, Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Cuban Parrot, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban Bullfinch, Loggerhead Kingbird, Bare-legged Owl and Cuban Pygmy Owl.

In the coming days, we will make visits to the above localities and possibly others, with opportunities for great views of the gorgeous Blue-headed Quail Dove at Cueva de los Peces, Cuba’s largest underwater saltwater cave; optional swimming and snorkeling at the lovely reef just off the beach, time allowing.

Los Hondones is a developing Eco-village where the community is focused on organic farming and the planting fruit trees, which attract many endemic and near endemic birds, such as the Cuban Parrot, Cuban Parakeet (with artificial nest boxes now on site), Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Great Lizard Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald and many migrants. Evening birdwatching for Stygian Owl, Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy Owl and the Greater Antillean (Cuban) Nightjar.

Although one of the best local birding here sites lies within the marshy part of Cienega de Zapata, it is accessible via a drivable (conditions permitting) forest-lined track leading to a wonderful sawgrass marsh, home to the endemic, endangered Zapata Wren and Cuban (Zapata) Sparrow.

Driving this track early in the morning affords good chances to see endemic Gray-fronted (Gray-headed) Quail-Dove and widespread, though usually seldom seen (except here), Ruddy Quail-Dove, at roadside.

Plus we’ll seek abundant warblers, tanagers, vireos, grosbeaks, buntings, and many other exciting migratory species. Cuban Emerald can be seen side-by-side with Ruby-throated Hummingbird here, during migration, in addition to White-crowned and Scaly-naped pigeons, White-winged Dove and Common Ground-Dove, etc.

Nocturnal birding opportunities in the region allow us to see and probably photograph endemic Cuban Nightjar and Bare-legged Owl, in addition to Stygian Owl, which is a widespread Neotropical owl, best seen at Cuba’s Zapata Peninsula (where we can sometimes see them outside our B&Bs at Playa Larga!)


Morning birding at Las Salinas Refuge (nearby flat, dry-dirt roadway 26+ klms). Habitat is varied among low, dense forest, mangrove, marsh, and open wetlands. Here we are likely to encounter the endemic Cuban Black Hawk as well as numerous shorebird, seabird, and waterbird species, including American Flamingo, Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egret, Wood Stork, and Clapper Rail.

Time allowing, we may also do some afternoon birding at Santa Tomas where we partake in a lovely and peaceful ride into the swamp via pole-powered boats.

Santa Tomas, with its sawgrass tussocks, is within the Zapata Swamp proper and is a very good site to see both Zapata Sparrow and Zapata Wren, both among Cuba’s most limited range endemic birds. We will watch also for White-crowned Pigeon, Great Lizard Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Cuban Tody, Cuban Bullfinch, Purple Gallinule, etc.



Bird watching in the Vinales region is wonderful, and we’ll be looking for Snail Kites and waterbirds residing in the aquatic aguadas and presas (reservoirs) formed behind dams built near the highway on our drive between Playa Larga and Viñales.

Viñales Valley is a land of tobacco farms and beautiful, forested landscapes dominated by striking limestone rises called mogotes.

We’ll explore Viñales National Park in pursuit of endemic Cuban Solitaire, Cuban Grassquit, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Western Spindalis, Cuban Tody, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Blackbird, Cuban-Green Woodpecker, as well as some migrant species like warblers, tanagers and buntings.

We’ll also bird the coniferous forests lining the road to Presa El Albino to search for the Olive-capped Warbler and Yellow-headed Warbler, with sunset cocktails at the home of Nils Navarro, renowned Cuban wildlife artist, naturalist and author of newly published Endemic Birds of Cuba: A Comprehensive Field Guide.

Dinner and check-in at our comfy B&Bs chosen by Ernesto Reyes Mouriño.


Final morning of our beautiful visit to Valle Viñales. Today we’ll switch gears to spend two days exploring Cuba’s historic Capital City of Havana (La Habana), which is scenic, historic and one-of-a-kind. En route to Havana, we’ll make a pleasant stop at Soroa to visit its remarkable Orchid and botanic garden (Jardin de Orquideas), surrounded by lush tropical forest, where Red-legged Thrush, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, and a variety of migratory songbirds and raptors (including possibly endemic Gundlach’s Hawk) may be seen.

Check into our B&Bs, followed by dinner, music/dancing (optional)

into the evening in Havana.


Enjoy one full day in Havana with diverse cultural activities, including a walking tour of Old Havana, driving tour in old-fashioned cars, visits to art galleries and museums, historical buildings and monuments, central park, walk on the Malecón, shooting of canon at Cabaña Fort, etc.

As a special highlight, depending on his schedule, we may also visit with Orlando Garrido, greatly respected retired naturalist and author of the Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba to see his private ornithological collection and chat about the history of Cuban ornithology, of which Orlando is a colorful and prominent figure.

We conclude our last night with a celebratory dinner at a nice restaurant with live Cuban music and dancing (optional), following.

Day 15—Breakfast, followed by checkout and 30-minute transfer to Jose Marti International Airport (HAV), where we’ll board our return flights to Tampa, FL:




©Greg R. Homel/Natural Encounters Birding & Wildlife Photography Tours, 2016

Number of Travelers: This exclusive, very personalized, bird-rich and authentic excursion will commence with 2 to 6 participants, plus guides.

Possible Cuban endemic birds to see on this trip include: Cuban Black Hawk, Gundlach’s Hawk, Blue-headed Quail-Dove, Gray-fronted (Gray-headed) Quail-Dove, Bare-legged Owl, Cuban Pygmy-Owl, Bee Hummingbird, Cuban Trogon, Cuban Tody, Cuban Green Woodpecker, Fernandina’s Flicker, Cuban Parakeet, Cuban Vireo, Zapata Wren, Cuban Gnatcatcher, Cuban Solitaire, Yellow-headed Warbler, Oriente Warbler, Cuban Grassquit, Zapata (Cuban) Sparrow (also Cayo Coco subspecies T. inexpectata varonai), Red-shouldered Blackbird, Cuban Blackbird, and Cuban Oriole.

Other species of interest (including near endemics and Caribbean specialties) include: West Indian Whistling-Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, Great Antillean (Cuban) Nightjar, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Cuban Parrot, West-Indian Woodpecker, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Cuban Pewee, Giant Kingbird, Loggerhead Kingbird, Cuban Crow, Palm Crow, Red-legged Thrush, Bahama Mockingbird, Olive-capped Warbler, Western Spindalis, Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Zenaida Dove, Plain Pigeon, Stygian Owl, Antillean Palm Swift, Thick-billed Vireo, Cuban Emerald, Cuban Bullfinch, Greater Antillean Grackle, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark (Cuban race), American Flamingo, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, a great variety of shorebirds and waterbirds, in addition to numerous resident and migratory songbirds.

The cost of the 15-day trip: $9,950 USD (price is subject to change). This covers the following:

Professional bilingual specialized bird guide (Ernesto Reyes Mouriño)

Group leaders (Greg Homel, Lisa Sorenson & Jennifer Wheeler; the latter two behind the scenes on this excursion).

The trip includes:

*All lodging

*All meals and non-alcoholic beverages while in Cuba, all tips at restaurants and for porters and extra guides, etc.

*In-country transportation and professional driver through duration of trip

Admission fees (itinerary only).

*Tips for main bird guide, Ernesto Reyes Mouriño, (Greg Homel does not accept or require tips), housekeeping, driver, local guides/boatmen, etc.

*Donation of at least $200 USD to Birdlife Caribbean to help with conservation in Cuba/Caribbean.

Not included: Airfare from your home gateway. Alcoholic beverages (except during celebrations where Natural Encounters is happy to pay). Luggage fees and airport departure tax

Single supplement (may not always be available or applicable; please inquire) — add $900.00 USD

IMPORTANT NOTICE: We will be traveling to Cuba under a people-to-people license, which, under new regulations is now a general license. People-to-People exchange programs are licensed by the US OFAC Department of Treasury and will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between us, as travelers, and the citizens of Cuba. As of 2017 the new Trump Administration may adjust the terms of travel to Cuba for US Citizens. Please check with the Department of State.

To reserve your space on the trip, please contact NATURAL ENCOUNTERS BIRDING AND WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS to obtain the Reservation PDF and payment instructions. You can pay via credit card or send a check made out to NATURAL ENCOUNTERS BIRDING TOURS/GREG R. HOMEL, mailed to the following address:



P.O. Box 6221

1808 Poplar Way

Pine Mountain Club, CA 93222 USA

About our Cuban Guides:

Ernesto Reyes Mouriño http://www.mycubabirdguide.com is a biologist, award-winning wildlife photographer, conservationist, and bird tour guide with more than 15 years experience with birds in Cuba, Honduras, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas. He is well known as one of the premiere guides in Cuba, with a keen ability to find and share Cuba’s amazing birds and biodiversity. He is also a warm and wonderful person, taking great care to ensure that everyone enjoys the trip, with much kindness and good humor.

About our affiliation with BirdsCaribbean

*Jennifer Wheeler currently serves as Treasurer of BirdsCaribbean. She is particularly interested in seabird conservation, co-chairing the International Conservation Group for the Black-capped Petrel (an Endangered Species on the IUCN Red List) and supporting the Seabirds and Invasive Species (one of the key threats to seabirds worldwide) Working Groups. Jennifer has a M.S in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology from the University of Maryland and professional experience in both private for-profit and non-profit environmental organizations as well as US federal government. Outgoing, friendly and helpful, Jennifer ably served as co-group leader for one of BirdsCaribbean’s trips to Cuba in 2016 and can’t wait to make the trip again.

*Lisa Sorenson is Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean. She has been working in the region for 30 years, starting with field research in the Bahamas on the White-Cheeked Pintail for her PhD. Lisa coordinates many of BirdsCaribbean’s programs, raises funds, developing Caribbean wildlife biologists, develops materials, and facilitates training workshops in conservation education, bird research and monitoring techniques, and bird guide training. She is passionate about the region’s amazing and unique birds and habitats and has dedicated her life to their conservation. She has traveled to and worked with partners in nearly every country in the region and enjoys sharing her love of Cuba and its people.

*= Behind the scenes ground agents.

Recommended Field Guides:

Endemic Birds of Cuba: A Comprehensive Field Guide, including West Indian Endemics Residing in Cuba, by Nils Navarro. 2015. Ediciones Nuevos Mundos, 168 pp. Can be purchased on BirdsCaribbean’s website: http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2015/10/groundbreaking-endemic- birds-of-cuba-field-guide-available-now/

Field Guide to the Birds of Cuba, by O. Garrido and A. Kirkconnell. 2000. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY, 253 pp.

Who is BirdsCaribbean:

BirdsCaribbean is a vibrant network of members and partners committed to conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats in the insular Caribbean through education, conservation, science and action. As the leading 501 (c) 3 nonprofit conservation organization in the Caribbean, they are the “hub” for all things “Caribbean Birds.” Learn more at: www.BirdsCaribbean.org or find “Birds Caribbean on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@BirdsCaribbean). A portion of the proceeds from this trip will be donated to BirdsCaribbean to help support their conservation programs in Cuba and the Caribbean.

What is the Caribbean Birding Trail:

The Caribbean Birding Trail is being developed to raise global awareness of the unique birds and biodiversity of the Caribbean and to create a sustainable economy around these rare species, in an effort to protect them. This new project is an initiative of BirdsCaribbean. BirdsCaribbean has partnered with and/or trained local tour companies and guides, has first-hand knowledge of the best birding and heritage sites to visit, and knows the communities and NGOs that are working to conserve Caribbean birds and nature.

Travel Natural Encounters Birding and Wildlife Photography Tours and know that your tourism dollars will bring benefits to the organizations, communities and people that will put it to the best use. Learn more at www.CaribbeanBirdingTrail.org.

To see a report and photos from one of BirdsCaribbean earlier 2016 trips, click here: http://www.birdscaribbean.org/2016/04/on-the-caribbean-birding-trail-in-cuba/

Additional details:

Once you have registered to go on the trip you will receive more information from NATURAL ENCOUNTERS BIRDING AND WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS, including what to bring, what to wear, bird checklist, and travel in Cuba, which is an inimitable experience and part of the fun!

Rules, Terms and Legal Conditions:

Participants agree to indemnify Natural Encounters Birding Tours, BirdsCaribbean and its representatives, from any and all third party liability for any injuries, loss, claim, action, demand or damage of any kind arising from or in connection with participating in one of our field trips. Participants are required to sign a liability release

Natural Encounters Birding Tours, BirdsCaribbean reserves the right to adjust the price of the tour if there is an unexpected increase in costs, or if the tour is not filled to a minimum

Natural Encounters Birding Tours, BirdsCaribbean reserves the right to adjust the tour itinerary if unexpected circumstances warrant a change. Every effort will be made to provide a similar high quality

In case of cancellation by Natural Encounters Birding Tours, BirdsCaribbean, all deposits and payments will be refunded.

If you cancel your reservation 90 prior to the tour, you will receive a 50% refund of fees paid over the deposit. If you cancel less than 60 days, all deposits and payments are non-refundable, unless you can fill your space with another participant.

Price: $9,950.00 USD