Saturday, June 18, 2016

Faces of Cuba

Here's a gallery of some people pictures I took this past January and February in eastern Cuba.


Schoolgirls in Moa, Cuba. Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher



Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher


Photo by Tim Gallagher




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Travels with El Indio in the Mountains Above Bahia de Taco




                            Photo by Tim Gallagher

It rained hard much of the night but it had eased by dawn, so we began our hike, making our way up the treacherous, rain-slick, red-clay trails, following El Indio to the pine forest above. 




Photo by Tim Gallagher


Martjan began his double-knock protocol as we reached the high pine forest, strapping the resonator box to a tree and pounding the hinged dowels to create the Bam-bam sound of a drumming Campephilus woodpecker. This was the first time anyone had used a device of this kind in Cuba; the sound echoed through the forest. At the end of the drumming session, Martjan held up a small mp3 player with a speaker and broadcast the calls of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker—kent, kent-kent, kent—recorded in northern Louisiana in 1935 by a team of researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Photo by Tim Gallagher


After each session, which lasted about half an hour, we hiked to the next spot, 500 meters away, and tried again—Bam-bam—waited about 25 seconds, then Bam-bam again. We tried this 4 times today. The last time, I stayed behind to hear what it sounds like from a distance, and I was amazed at how realistic it is—just like the double-knocks of Robust Woodpeckers (a relative of the Ivory-bill) I heard last year in the Atlantic Forest of Argentina. And the sound carries a remarkably long way. I couldn’t hear the kent calls at all—and these were previously the only acoustic lure researchers had to attract the birds. The double-knock device extends our range significantly, and we are eager to try it out in prime Ivory-billed Woodpecker areas as soon as our permits arrive.

Photo by Tim Gallagher

We heard high-pitched chirps coming from the leaf litter, and El Indio soon pulled out a tiny amphibian to show us. It was one of the smallest frogs in the world—an eastern Cuban endemic called Eleutherodactylus iberia. Cuban researcher Alberto R. Estrada discovered the species during Martjan’s 1993 Cuba expedition. El Indio held it up for me to take a picture. It was smaller than his thumbnail.

Photo by Tim Gallagher

During our dawn-to-dusk hike, we asked El Indio if he has ever seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and he astounded us with a description of four birds he saw when he was seven or eight years old in the early 1980s. They were very close to here, he said, in a canyon leading up into the mountains. He was with his father when he saw the birds, he said. He described the appearance of the birds and their calls perfectly. This news is very welcome. In the distant past, Ivory-bills had lived in lowland areas in Cuba, but most of them vanished as the forests were cut in the 19th century. The only sightings since the 1940s took place in mountain pine forests. If the birds are still nesting in canyons with tropical forests, it certainly raises the chances of their survival. When we asked him whether he believes the Ivory-bill might still exist, El Indio said yes but that the only way to prove it would be to launch a major two-month-long expedition, scouring the mountains and valleys of this entire area, including all of Humboldt National Park and more.

Photo by Tim Gallagher

The view of Bahia de Taco from a mountain ridge.  We had spent from dawn to dusk hiking from the beach up to the high pine forest and back down again on the slippery trails, sometimes having to bushwhack with machetes.

Cuba 2016 Photo Gallery



Photo by Tim Gallagher


We met our driver last night, a young Cuban named Yuri, who owns a black ’55 Willys 4-wheel-drive wagon—a popular vehicle in the United States in the 1940s and ’50s, and a direct linear ancestor of Jeep Wagoneers and Cherokees. Vintage cars are common in Cuba, and often used as taxis. Some are in immaculate condition with fresh paint and gleaming chrome; others are complete beaters with crumpled fenders, belching black smoke as they cruise down the byways. Our Willys is somewhere in between.

Photo by Tim Gallagher

Yuri raced through these small towns and villages, tooting his loud, high-pitched horn constantly as he slalomed through a moving maze of horse-drawn taxi carts, bicycles, pedestrians, and livestock.

 
Photo by Tim Gallagher

Carlos Pena (at left)—a Cuban biologist who took part in Ivory-billed Woodpecker expeditions in the 1980s and early 1990s—met with us at our casa particular (the Cuban version of a B&B) in Holguin to discuss our search. Although he wouldn’t be taking part in it with us, he was a great help to us in making our preparations. We all sat together in an open patio, looking at Google Earth maps of the places we would be exploring.

Photo by Tim Gallagher

Before we left Farallones, we met Rafael—a spry 91-year-old with close-cropped white hair and an easy smile. He has lived in Carpentero Real (Ivory-billed Woodpecker) country for his entire life, and he told us of his many encounters with them over the years. It was obvious he knows what he’s talking about. He was in his early teens when he first saw them, he said—large, elegant, black-and-white birds, sometimes moving in family groups. He mimicked their calls perfectly—enk, enk, enk—and told us with a laugh that they reminded him of the sounds of a young goat. They were so numerous he never had any trouble finding them, he said, and he could not have imagined that they would ever vanish from the face of the Earth. It was difficult to pin him down on the exact time when he stopped seeing them here. Heavy logging had taken place in the area for years. He seemed eager to talk but wanted to tell us about other things—his life, his dreams. He spoke of his wife, who passed away three years earlier, and of his philosophy: “I love everybody,” he said. “Every nationality, every color. Everyone is my family.” As we stood to leave, Rafael hugged us both tightly and wished us well on our journey.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cuban Ivory-bill Search Featured in Audubon

Journalist Mac McClelland, who accompanied us in Cuba, wrote an in-depth article on the search, which is featured in the May/June 2016 issue of Audubon and can be viewed online. Mac's article and Greg Kahn's excellent photographs vividly capture the intensity and hardship of our time in the mountains of Cuba.


                                                                                                                  Photo by Greg Kahn/Audubon

The Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Cuba

Earlier this year, I headed to eastern Cuba with my colleague Martjan Lammertink to search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the mountains above Guantanamo, the last place they were seen in the country. You can read my daily blog posts from the search on the Audubon magazine website.


                                                                                                                  Photo by Greg Kahn/Audubon

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rest in Peace, Stephen Frank


































I was saddened to hear about the death of legendary British falconer Stephen Frank (at right, above), who passed away last Saturday morning. Steve was one of the most interesting people I've met in a lifetime of falconry. He lived for decades in a battered old crofter's cottage on a lonely grouse moor in the Scottish Highlands, above the Dornoch Firth. He was one of a handful of British falconer who kept the sport alived in the years after the Second World War. Steve cut quite a figure in the field in his youth, always racing full speed over the moors like a wild stag, clad in sneakers and a bright-red sweater (which he hoped his falcon would key in on) as his falcon circled high above him. And he was constantly shouting encouragements to his falcon and his dog, his voice echoing across the moors. He was always a picture of vigor, exuberance, and boundless optimism. When I visited him a few years ago, we sat together drinking tea in front of his old cottage, basking in one of those rare Scottish days when the sun is shining. His old pointer, Handel, lay curled nearby on a battered easy chair with stuffing sticking out of torn seams in the tweed. We spoke endlessly about hawking and about bird dogs—which he loved as much as his falcons. The last time I saw him, he was already well into his 70s, and he'd had a hip replacement, but he was in no way ready to give up the sport he loved. He was training a new eyas tiercel Peregrine and a pointer pup. This was his answer to creeping old age and its accompanying infirmities. He will be greatly missed.