Day 13: The Trek to Farallones

Birds abound on a cliff-side hike, but still no Ivory-bill.

February 4, 2016, Cayo Probado, Humboldt National Park, Cuba—This was a great morning. After a hearty breakfast of beans and rice, a cup of coffee, and a bar of Baracoa chocolate, we took down our tents, packed everything away, and headed off on the long trek to Farallones. We planned to take it slow, birding and doing occasional double-knock sessions. Our Cuban friends would finish clearing the camp, load up the mules, and catch up with us later.

It was a very birdy morning. We saw a mixed flock of warblers—including American Redstart, Olive-capped Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Oriente Warbler, and more—two La Sagra’s Flycatchers, several Cuban Todys and Cuban Solitaires, plus a flyover by a flock of Cuban Parrots and another by a flock of Cuban Parakeets. We also saw a couple Northern Flickers foraging high in the pine trees. (The Cuban subspecies of Northern Flicker is far more arboreal than ours, in some ways behaving more like a Red-bellied Woodpecker.)

I was disappointed to realize a couple of hours into our journey that I had forgotten to bring the hiking stick Vladimir carved for me. I left it in camp, leaning against a tree. But at midmorning, Jabao rode past on his mule, carrying the hiking stick for me—which I was just starting to really miss. Life was good again.

The trail to Farallones is a mix of steep uphill and downhill grades, and the day had turned scorching hot, so I tried not to push too hard. Still, it was hard not to feel disappointed after struggling to reach the crest of a hill only to see that there was another climb ahead. I was overjoyed when we finally crested the last rise to see the cliffs of Farallones before us.

Later, after unloading our gear at the cabin where we’re spending the night and getting cleaned up, Jabao took us to a part of his coffee farm that has some flowering plants, and there we finally got good looks at a tiny Bee Hummingbird, the world’s smallest bird, perched on a branch above us. It was definitely worth the wait.

While we were there, a man at the neighboring farm called us over to the fence dividing the properties. His name is Fransisco, age 73, and he told us about the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers he used to see in the early 1960s in a place called Tres Fiebres, a few miles from there. But his son, who was standing behind Fransisco as we spoke, still goes there daily to tend a coffee plantation, and he said he had never seen or heard one of the birds. This seems to be a common story. Only older people remember the Carpintero Real.

Follow my daily blog as the search for the Ivory-bill unfolds.