Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gulls at the Marathon landfill

I did a quick swing through the Marathon Landfill this afternoon. There were about 300 gulls present although there was lots of turnover during my 20 minute stay. There were no Ring-billed Gulls yet. I enjoyed up-close views of four Glaucous Gulls and my first Great Black-backed Gull for the Thunder Bay District.

Otherwise, I haven't noticed any new arrivals. The flock of finches visiting out backyard feeders has diminished to about 90 birds comprised of Common and Hoary Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Purple Finch and Evening Grosbeaks.

Some Cuban lizards

During our recent visit to Cuba we were impressed by the diverse lizard fauna. While we didn't make a special effort to find them, anoles and curly-tailed lizards were conspicuous in most areas we visited. Unfortunately, we didn't find any geckos in our lodgings - perhaps a consequence of the very liberal use of insecticides in the resort buildings.

The evolutionary dimensions of Cuba's herpetofauna are elegantly detailed at Caribherp: West Indian amphibians and reptiles.

Caribherp is part of a cluster of visually stunning, content-rich, conservation-oriented websites developed by Penn State evolutionary biologist Blair Hedges. These are worth a visit by any naturalist entertaining a trip to the Caribbean.

Here's a taxonomic breakdown (Family: genus) of Cuba's lizards as catalogued by the Hedges lab:

Lizard species: 105
Gekkonidae: 3 (Hemidactylus: 3 - all introduced)
Iguanidae: 71 (Anolis: 64; Cyclura: 1; Leiocephalus: 6)
Sphaerodactylidae: 24 (Aristelliger: 1, Gonatodes: 1, Sphaerodactylus: 22)
Teiidae: Ameiva: 1.

Here are some incidental photos of a few of the animals we saw in the province of Matanzas . My ID's are very tentative.

The Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos protects a 3 km2 remnant of xeromorphic coastal scrub and mangrove at the tip of the 20 km. Hicacos Peninsula. Much of the peninsula, also known as the sun destination 'Varadero' to hundreds-of-thousands of international tourists, has been modified to accomodate scores of sprawling, all-inclusive resorts. During our morning visit to the reserve, the staff biologist Maxine oriented us to the flora and told us to keep our eyes peeled for the newly described (2009) Cuban Croaking Gecko (Aristelliger reyesi), the only Aristelliger known from Cuba. Dίaz and Hedges (2009) named the species after its discoverer, local biologist and bird guide Ernesto Reyes. Reportedly, this little-known lizard is often observed in or near the towering arborescent cactus Dendrocereus nudiflorus.
We didn't see Aristelliger but we did find the Cuban Ameiva and the Cuban Brown Curlytail in the leaflitter beside the trail.

Here is a photo of the endemic Cuban Croaking Gecko courtesy of its discover.

Related resources:

Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos.

Cuba: The Accidental Eden. Episode from the PBS series Nature. (Sept 26, 2010).

Dίaz, L. M. and S. B. Hedges. 2009. First record of the genus Aristelliger (Squamata: Sphaerodactylidae) in Cuba, with description of a new species. Zootaxa 2028:31-40 (pdf).

http://www.caribherp.org. West Indian amphibians and reptiles
http://www.caribnature.org. A nexus for Caribbean nature and conservation awareness.
http://www.caribmap.org. Cartographic history of the West Indies.

Flora y Vegetación de la Reserva Ecológica “Varahicacos”, Península de Hicacos, Varadero, Matanzas (pdf).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Blue-headed Quail-Dove video from Cuba

Here's a bit of video, regrettably and necessarily captured in poor light, from our recent trip to Cuba.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A quick trip to Cuba

Some friends and I decided to take advantage of a last-minute, all-inclusive, week-long Cuban vacation deal. Leaving from Thunder Bay on March 23rd, our only option was to fly into the gated tourist enclave of Varadero. After one bewildering night at the all-inclusive resort we headed south ~135 km to the famous Ciénaga de Zapata National Park where, for three days, we explored wetlands, woodlands and palm savannahs with the highly-regarded local bird guide Mario Morejon.

[click on images to enlarge]
The area is rich in endemic bird species and, only with the benefit of Mario's local knowledge, we saw most of these; however, we were no less impressed by the flora, herps, insects, crabs and land snails.

It was an amazing week. We could have spent a month exploring more of Cuba; however, we made the best of what little time we had. I'll most more photos in the coming days.