Too much food!

Trip Start Apr 21, 2011
Trip End May 06, 2011

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Where I stayed
Rancho La Belen,
What I did
Rare birds and scenery

Flag of Cuba  , Camagüey,
Monday, April 25, 2011

JD and CC were out and about shortly after sunrise. From trip reports we’d read we understood that there was a lake on Cayo Coco, west of the causeway, where we thought we might find some water birds. Having parked the car we set off down the rural track with plenty of birds in the surrounding trees and bushes, including more Oriente Warblers and Cuban Bullfinches. After less than a mile we reached the lake which was completely dry. We didn’t hang around for long because there were lots of biting flies and mosquitoes. Back at the parking area the custodian of the reserve had arisen and got us to sign the visitors book and pay a small conservation charge. There was a pretty American Kestrel, the first of many, atop a mast and a pair of Killdeers, also the first of many, were making a fuss in the pasture near the car parking area.

Back to the motel to join Alex for breakfast and then we packed the car, getting excellent views of the attractive but common West Indian Woodpecker just before we left. Time to move on, with a bit of uncertainty. The hills east of the small town of Najasa in Camaguey province are home to a number of very rare birds and trip reports say that Pedro Regalado is the man to help you find them. Internet in Cuba is expensive and uncommon and we had failed to make contact with Pedro beforehand but we knew how to find his house and also the location of Rancho Belen, where we hoped to stay for a couple of nights. After checking out of the hotel we called in at La Silla for some photos. There’s a little watch tower at the restaurant, with a small room at the bottom with some bird pictures and notes that faces the wrong way and from this tower we saw three Clapper Rails and an Iguana.

At the end of the causeway, after passing a raft of hundreds of cormorants and gulls on the way across we paid the 2 CUC toll and set off for Camaguey. We stopped for lunch (pork, rice and beans) at a very non-touristy place somewhere on the Carraterra Central between Florida and Camaguey where they seemed a little surprised to see tourists and almost as surprised to receive convertible pesos in payment.

The drive to Najasa is a long one and some sections are on pretty rough road. On the approach to the town there are numerous monuments to heroes of the revolution and we noted one for Pedro with a picture of a Giant Kingbird, on which he is probably the world’s foremost authority. Quite a distance further we reached Pedro’s place to be told that he had moved - to the house by the roadside sign! The entrance to Rancho Belen was visible from where we had stopped to enquire so we went to ask if they had rooms before arranging guiding.

I’d read that the welcome at the ranch is not always warm and the custodians at the gate were at least a little suspicious but after a check of our passports the gate was unlocked and we drove the 3 kms to reception where we were given a couple of nice rooms overlooking a shady courtyard. They also said that they would arrange for Camillo to meet us early the next day for a 4-5 hour birding walk. There was time for a bit of self-guiding and a short stroll near the ranch, which is a working concern with perhaps 150 horses, four zebras and some realistic cowboys resulted in some good local specialities including Cuban Parrot, Cuban Parakeet and Cuban Crow.

Dinner was in the pleasant ‘rustique’ restaurant and consisted of three courses of mainly of home produced ingredients. The soup was particularly good but would have made a reasonable meal on its own, without the two huge courses that followed. The restaurant is open on all sides in one way or another and during dessert we were joined by a nice bright green leaf insect.  
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