Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The Quest for Snow Leopards in Mongolia

Greetings Everyone,
After a successful visit to Eastern Mongolia to see Pallas’s Cats we are now flying west to the city of Khovd with our trip leader Ian Green and our Greentours group. As we neared our destination we flew over a large lake surrounded by rocky mountains about 12,000-feet high. Here we would search for a second species of cat found in Mongolia, the fabled Snow Leopard!

Jargalant Mountains

We landed in Khovd where we were met by our local drivers and divided into five 4x4’s for the drive to our ger camp in the Jargalant Mountains where we’d spend the next 6 nights. We left the main tarmac road and headed toward the base of the mountains. Marc spotted some animals running across the steppe. With their heads hung low, we knew they were Saiga Antelopes! As it was nearing dusk and they were a long way off we didn’t get a good view. Hopefully, we’d see more in the coming days. We arrived in camp after dark and sorted ourselves into a series of 10 gers that had been set up by the local community for visitors. After dinner and a short night walk, it was time for bed.

(Snow Leopard) Camp

The next morning we woke to sunny skies and after breakfast, we climbed higher into the mountains in the 4x4’s to scan for Snow Leopards. At our first viewpoint overlooking a canyon we spotted Siberian Ibex in the far distance and two endangered Saker Falcons tussled overhead but sadly there were no leopards. Higher up in the mountains, local horsemen were also on the search. Word came in that they had found a Snow Leopard in the morning but had lost it. Bummer, we’d try again in the afternoon.

Saker Falcon

We drove even higher after lunch to a second viewpoint to scan for the elusive cat. Again we spotted Siberian Ibex, a favorite prey for the leopards but the cats themselves were nowhere to be seen. The horsemen above weren’t having any luck either so we called it a day and returned to camp for dinner. On the drive back we spotted 4 Golden Eagles soaring overhead. These birds are now famous due to the movie “The Eagle Huntress”. It’s worth a viewing if you haven’t seen it. 

Golden Eagles

A night walk produced Siberian Jerboas, a Tolai Hare and a Red Fox. Back in the dining Ger, the resident Mid-day Jird or Gerbil was picking up crumbs that we had left behind. I’m not sure why they are called Mid-day Jird since they are mostly nocturnal. We turned in hoping for better luck with the Snow Leopards in the morning.

Mid-day Jird

Another sunny day brought much-welcomed news, the horsemen had found a Snow Leopard! 

Dramatic Sunrise

After a hasty breakfast, we raced off in our 4x4’s to the location high in the mountains. When we arrived the horsemen were anxiously waiting and pointed out the Snow Leopard on a distant ridge 3 km away! We set up spotting scopes but to my dismay, the cat looked like a grey blob. We needed to get closer. I scanned the ridges looking for possible routes. To get on the ridge above the cat meant a long walk so we opted for a closer ridge across the valley from the leopard. We headed out with Ian and some of our group along an undulating ridge. We were able to get within 2 km of the Snow Leopard. It was still a long way off but at least I could make out that it was a cat in my binoculars. It was guarding a kill (most likely a Siberian Ibex) by a large boulder from a marauding Red Fox but after a couple of hours the cat lost interest in its meal and sauntered up to the ridge and out of view. Marc was able to get a decent photo of the distant cat. Maybe tomorrow we’d find a Snow Leopard a bit closer.

Snow Leopard!

We returned to camp and decided to explore the canyon above our gers by foot.  Last night, Ian had spotted a Steppe Polecat and we wanted to see if it was still around.  We didn't find the polecat but we did see some Siberian Ibex crossing the canyon ahead of us.

Siberian Ibex

The next morning we woke to cloudy skies and impending rain. With the mountains socked in we couldn’t go higher to look for Snow Leopards so we headed down to look for other wildlife. We spotted a lone Saiga Antelope feeding on the steppe. Again it was a long way off but a few of us set off on foot to get a closer view. We hid behind a low hill so the antelope was unaware of our presence. A prominent feature of the Saiga is a pair of closely spaced, bloated nostrils directed downward. During summer migrations, a Saiga’s nose helps filter out dust kicked up by the herd and cools the animal's blood. In the winter, it heats up the frigid air before it is taken to the lungs. We got to within 100 meters before the Saiga got wind of us and bounded off.

Saiga Antelope

Historically the Saiga Antelope was a common species on the Eurasian Steppe numbering over a million individuals. Today their numbers have been drastically reduced to 50,000 animals by climatic conditions and over-hunting. They are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. We were very lucky to get a close look at this beleaguered animal.

Herds of domestic yaks and Bactrian Camels were now grazing the steppe where once Saiga roamed.

Bactrian Camels and Domestic Yaks

We dove to Lake Durgan for lunch where we saw a few more Saiga and many shorebirds including this cute Kentish Plover.

Kentish Plover

On the drive back to camp we flushed a large flock of Pallas’s Sandgrouse. 

Pallas's Sandgrouse

The weather grew worse and the following morning we woke to snow!


We tried driving up but our vehicles didn’t have enough traction on the steep grades. We drove down into the steppe but got mired in mud so we returned to camp. With limited options, we chose to explore by foot further up the canyon near camp. We saw some birds including a dramatic view of a Northern Goshawk carrying an unfortunate Chukar Partridge but mammal-wise the canyon was quiet.

Northern Goshawk with Chukar Partridge

On our last full day at camp, the weather finally broke and we woke to sunny skies. 

Good Weather Returns

The fresh blanket of snow higher up was beautiful but limited our options for searching for Snow Leopards. It was September 20, our 32nd wedding anniversary and I told Marc a Snow Leopard would make the perfect gift. We drove to the Eastern Valley where the locals thought the Snow Leopard seen 3 days ago may have gone. 

Eastern Valley

We searched 2 side valleys where we found a total of 28 Siberian Ibex, 2 Red Foxes, and 2 Siberian Marmots but sadly no Snow Leopards. It was difficult being disappointed in such a beautiful and remote landscape. Even though we didn’t see the Snow Leopards we knew they were there possibly watching us from some rocky outcrop.
The following day we started the long journey back to Ulaanbaatar. On the drive out we encountered some Black-tailed or Goitered Gazelles and a small herd of 13 Saiga Antelope.

Black-tailed or Goitered Gazelles

We got word that our 10:30 AM flight had been delayed until 7:00 PM! The bad weather that had plagued us had also hit Ulaanbaatar canceling flights and backing up air traffic. It would be a late arrival into Ulaanbaatar. We left Western Mongolia with mixed feelings. We were hoping to have seen Snow Leopards much closer but how many people can claim to have seen a Snow Leopard in the wild? The next leg of our journey will take us to Hustai National Park in search of the world’s only true wild horse. Stay tuned to see if we are successful.
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Herding Cats in Mongolia

Greetings Everyone,
Our journeys have brought us back to Mongolia in search of the elusive Snow Leopard. We ventured here back in 2005 but then our focus was trekking and cultural. During this trip, we would travel to the Jargalant Mountains in the western part of the country near Khovd where a healthy population of Snow Leopards is known to reside. We added a few days to the beginning of our itinerary in order to rest up and get over jet lag but I couldn’t resist an opportunity to look for Pallas’s Cat, a smaller feline found on the Eastern Mongolian Steppe. We were able to book a private 3-day tour from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. After arriving late the night before we were picked up early the next morning by our guide Jargal for the 10-hour drive east. Once off the main road we drove along a rutted dirt track startling a Corsac Fox. Marc was able to catch him in full flight through the windshield.

Corsac Fox

Near the tint settlement of Kahlzan, Mongolian biologist Otgonbayar Baatargal (Oogi for short) had set up a tiny research camp to study Pallas’s Cats. We told Oogi we were from Vermont never expecting him to know where it was. To our amazement, he said he had collaborated with a professor, Dr. James Murdoch (Jed) from the University of Vermont! Jed is the director of the Wildlife & Fisheries Biology Program and his current research examines the ecological relationships between steppe carnivores in Mongolia, including Corsac Foxes, Red Foxes, badgers, and Pallas's cats, and the effectiveness of management strategies at protecting them. What a small world! We arrived late in the afternoon and settled in our ger, the Mongolian version of a yurt.

Ger Camp

We didn’t have much time to search for these small charismatic cats so instead Oogi suggested we go and take a look at a radio-collared one. When we arrived at the site we were surprised to find that one of Oogi’s assistants had a Pallas’s Cat in a white cotton bag. Like a large butterfly net, the bag was used to capture the cat in order to remove her radio collar. Carefully we peered inside. A beautiful cat with intense yellow-green eyes stared back. She seemed more annoyed than frightened most likely having been through this drill before.

Pallas's Cat

The Pallas’s Cat (Otocolobus maul) is the only member of its genus and is named after German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas who first described it in 1776! The genus Otocolobus comes from the Greek language and means “ugly-eared”. This cat was by no means ugly. Maybe unusual in that its eyes are in line with it ears, allowing the cat to peer over rocks exposing a tiny portion of its head while making it more difficult for prey to detect or predators to find. We admired her at close range, taking some photos before she was released. She paused momentarily before taking off to hide in the tall grass.

Pallas's Cat Out of the Bag!

This area of Mongolia has an unusually high density of Pallas’s Cats. The habit here consisted of open grasslands interspersed with rocky outcrops where the cats prefer to hide. Tomorrow we’d search for a Pallas’s Cat in a more natural setting. We returned to camp for dinner and some much-needed sleep.

Dinner Table at Ger Camp

Early the next morning we drove to Khalzan Village where we stopped to do some birding in a dry riverbed. There were some good birds here but a Eurasian Eagle-Owl stole the show. 

Eurasian Eagle-Owl

We drove past the village to an area with many rocky outcrops to start our search for a Pallas’s Cat. Along the way, we encountered a family of Demoiselle Cranes. Soon they would start their migration to the Indian Subcontinent where they will spend the winter.

Demoiselle Cranes

We parked and walked from rocky outcrop to rocky outcrop peering in tiny holes and crevices to no avail. Oogi’s assistants showed up on a motorbike and like us, they had no luck finding a cat. I found it amusing that the local assistants who use motorbikes to herd horses and sheep were using them to find Pallas’s Cats, “Like Herding Cats”, I thought.

Pallas's Cat Habitat

We decided to return to camp for lunch and on the drive back I spotted some Mongolian Gazelles running across a distant ridge. We stopped the vehicle and set off on foot to see if we could get closer to them but they were very wary and continued to run. Population estimates for this species range from 400,000 to 2,700,000 but they are hunted both legally and illegally hence their fear of humans. Although seemingly abundant now, populations can crash due to disease outbreaks and harsh winters.

Mongolian Gazelles

Back at camp we finished lunch and entertained ourselves by photographing the resident Brandt’s Voles, a major food source for the Pallas’s Cats. They’d pop up out of their burrows but disappear quickly if we approached too closely or moved too quickly.

Brandt's Vole

Just then we got the call from Oogi that his research assistants had located a Pallas’s Cat! We raced off to the location to the north of Khalzan to find a Pallas’s Cat hiding in the grass at the base of some rocks. We could approach slowly to within 6 feet to get a close but obscured view. Pallas’s Cats defense strategy seems to be to hide. 

Pallas's Cat

We backed off hoping the cat would move but he remained hidden. We convinced Jargal to let us remain with the cat until it moved while the others returned to camp. We had some camp chairs in our vehicle and set them up for the wait. It was so peaceful to be alone on the Mongolian Steppe with a Pallas’s Cat just 30 feet away. As we waited, a few Brandt’s Voles popped up from their burrows. A Mongolian couple on a motorbike stopped by curious as to what these foreigners were doing. We waved and said hi and they went on their way shaking their heads. After 3 long hours, we got up to check on the cat. He was still there! His patience was outlasting ours. We got a little too close and he jumped up and sprinted off across the Steppe. We were unprepared for his hasty departure but Marc was able to get a photo.

Pallas's Cat Escapes!

Early the next morning we went off in search of more Pallas’s Cats before starting the long drive back to Ulaanbaatar. Even with the help of Oogi’s assistants, we weren’t able to find another cat. Reluctantly we continued our journey west toward the capital city. Once back on the main road, Marc was able to photograph a Steppe Eagle flying away from the highway.

Steppe Eagle Flies Away

As we neared the city, traffic ground to a standstill. My how things have changed in 13 years! Ulaanbaatar was growing at a brisk pace. High-rise apartment buildings, motorways, and fancy hotels were being constructed all around us. It was a sharp contrast to the open steppe with miles and miles of grasslands and rolling hills. After battling the traffic we finally arrived at our hotel where we would meet our group for the Snow Leopard Tour. Let’s hope our luck with the Snow Leopards will be as good as it was with the Pallas’s Cats!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route:

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Return of “Mr. Orange”

Greetings Everyone,
"It’s Mr. Orange!" Marc exclaimed today while trying to photograph one of our favorite birds, a Golden-winged Warbler in Geprag’s Community Park in Hinesburg. Through my binoculars, I could see an orange band on his left leg. We had heard he had returned but it was a thrill to find him ourselves. This bird has a very special place in our hearts.

Mr. Orange on May 18, 2018

While birding last year on May 12, Marc and I observed a beautiful Golden-winged Warbler singing his characteristic bee-buzz song. Marc photographed this rare songbird whose numbers have been declining. When we examined the photo we discovered that this bird had an orange band on his left leg and a metal band on his right. 

Mr. Orange on May 12, 2017

We frantically texted Margaret Fowle, a conservation biologist with Audubon Vermont, that we had located a banded Golden-winged Warbler! She texted back that her coworker, Mark LaBarr, also a conservation biologist with Audubon Vermont, was currently onsite and we rushed off to find him. 

Mark and graduate student Steven Lamonde were attempting to find and recapture banded birds as part of an Audubon Vermont Conservation Project. We found Mark and excitedly showed him the photo of the banded bird. He exclaimed "He has a backpack!" "A backpack?" we enquired. "Yes," Mark replied, "actually a geolocator strapped to the bird's back!".

Mr. Orange with Geolocator on His Back

A geolocator periodically records ambient light level (solar irradiance) to determine a location and is used in bird migration research for tracking. Mark, Margaret, and Steven were particularly interested in recapturing birds with these tiny devices for information as to where they spend the winter. Beginning in May of 2016, Margaret and Mark started the process of placing geolocators on a total of 19 Golden-Winged Warblers and 18 Blue-winged Warblers and now they were trying to recapture them to retrieve these devices. To read more about this project and how you can help go to

We took Mark and Steven to the location we had seen the bird and sure enough there he was singing his heart out to attract a mate. Margaret joined us and along with Mark quickly set up a mist net to capture the bird. To lure him into the net Mark used a decoy and an audio recording of a female.

Mark and Margaret Set Up the Mist Net

We all waited breathlessly for the Golden-winged Warbler to fly into the net. It didn’t take long before he fell for the bait and flew straight into the net! Mark gently untangled him and there in his hand was the first winged warbler with a geolocator to be recaptured!

The First Winged Warbler with Recaptured Geolocator!

The geolocator was carefully snipped from his back and put in a film canister for safe keeping.

The Geolocator Has Been Removed

I couldn’t believe how small and fragile this warbler was. How could a creature weighing only 8-10 grams travel such long distances not once but twice in a year?

A Golden-winged Warbler

The experience was so overwhelming that it brought tears to my eyes. Mark said that since I was crying that I could release this tiny migrating marvel! He gently handed him over showing me how to hold him. This little guy has been through so much that the last thing I wanted to do was hurt him.

I Get to Release the Golden-winged Warbler!

I opened my hand and in a flash, he disappeared hopefully to find a mate and start the next generation of Golden-wings.

We’d have to wait for months until the data contained in the geolocator was deciphered by a graduate student from the University of Maine. Nearly a year later on May 10, 2018, Mark and Margaret gave a talk entitled “There and Back Again, Migration Patterns of Golden-winged and Blue-winged warblers in the Champlain Valley”, finally revealing where this little guy had spent the winter. Our 8-10 gram dynamo had flown nearly 2300 miles all the way to the South American country of Colombia to spend the winter! Although not his exact route the map below gives a sense of the incredible feat performed by our endearing Golden-winged Warbler now affectionately dubbed “Mr. Orange” for the orange band on his left leg. 

Mr. Orange's Approximate Migration Route 

Today the story has come full circle with the return of Mr. Orange. Many people visit Geprag's Community Park to see the Golden-winged Warblers and now some take note of Mr. Orange. Our sincere thanks to Margaret and Mark for all their hard work to protect these imperiled birds and their habitat. I hope we see more of Mr. Orange throughout the summer and in years to come.

We hope all is well with everyone,
Peggy and Marc

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Exploring the Biodiversity of Cuba

Greetings Everyone,
We have long been intrigued with visiting Cuba but strained relations with the United States had prevented us from doing so. Things have changed in recent years, opening a window of opportunity to visit this island nation. When we saw that Earthwatch, an organization that we have traveled with in the past, was offering a trip there, we jumped at the chance and signed on to Team II. Earthwatch is an organization that pairs volunteers with scientists and on this expedition, we’d have the opportunity to map some of Cuba’s amazing array of biodiversity. To learn more about Earthwatch and this project, in particular, go to:

We flew from Newark, NJ directly to Havana and in 3 hours it felt like we had stepped back in time. Havana is known for its vintage American cars and there was no shortage of them on the streets.

Old Cadillac in Havana

The next morning our team assembled at the hotel. It consisted of 9 volunteers from all over the United States and our assistant Principal Investigator or PI, André Baumgarten who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York City. He was filling in for Dr. Natalia Rossi, our lead scientist, who was unable to be with us at the start of our project. We were also joined by Tomas Cabrera, a Cuban herpetologist and Ariadna, a Cuban tour guide, who would accompany us on our entire trip.

Leaving Havana

We took a short detour to the town of Palpites, the home of Bernabe Hernandez Ulloa, where the world’s smallest bird is known to frequent. Here we met more members of our team: Jeff, a videographer from WCS, and Maydiel Morera, a Cuban bird guide. A garden had been planted with Firebush (Hamelia patens) and many hummingbird feeders had been set up to attract the birds. We were seeing the more common Cuban Emerald but where was the Bee Hummingbird? Finally, a female made an appearance and then a male with his brilliant ruby throat!

Male Bee Hummingbird

The Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is endemic to Cuba and is the smallest living bird. Females weigh 2.6 g (0.092 oz), are 6.1 cm (2.4 in) long, and are slightly larger than males with an average weight of 1.95 g (0.069 oz) and length of 5.5 cm (2.2 in). Bernabe handed me one of the hummingbird feeders and this tiny gem came right to my hand to feed. What a great start to our expedition!

Feeding a Bee Hummingbird (Courtesy of André Baumgarten)

We finally reached the Jarico Research Station in the Lomas de Banao Ecological Reserve around 5:30 in the evening and checked into our very comfortable rooms.

Jarico Field Station

We met even more members of our team, Maikel Morera, an ornithologist and his wife Lucia Schwesinger, a botanist. What a privilege to be working with so many Cuban experts in the field! We were eager to get started but that wouldn’t happen until the morning. After a hearty breakfast and a hot cup of coffee, we assembled in the visitor's center for an orientation. Chino, the technical specialist for the reserve, gave us an overview. Created in 2010, the Lomas de Banao Ecological Reserve protects 6138 hectares of the Guamuhaya Mountain Range. The Reserve harbors a staggering 500 species of plants, 88 species of birds, 24 species of reptiles and 17 species of amphibians many of which are endemic to Cuba. Maikel gave a talk on birds, Tomas gave a talk on reptiles and amphibians and Dr. Pedro Gutiérrez, the last member of our team gave a talk on plants.

Morning Briefing

Armed with all this new information we were now ready to start our field surveys but not before passing one critical test. That afternoon Maikel took us out on a trail behind the station to practice spotting birds in the dense forest and judging their horizontal distance from the trail. It sounded easier than it was. The twist was that the birds were nonvocal and stationary and were actually beer cans or rum bottles that Maikel had placed along the trail. After locating the pseudo-avians we had to estimate how many meters from the trail they were. We all passed the test more or less and were now prepared to perform our bird counts over the next few days.

Rum Bottle "Bird"

We divided into three teams and were given a survey schedule. Allyn, Marc and I formed Team Trogon. The following morning we joined Tomas to survey reptiles along Transect 2, a 0.5 km stretch of trail north of the research station. We had to wait until mid-morning in order for the lizards to warm up. During our survey, we counted a total of 35 reptiles, all Anole lizards representing three species: the Cuban Brown Anole, the Cuban White-fanned Anole and a single Cuban Green Anole.

Cuban Green Anole

The males would extend a flap of skin, normally folded under their throats, called a dewlap during territorial disputes with other males or perhaps to entice a female. I referred to this behavior as “dewlapping” which Tomas liked and decided to adopt. Marc was then challenged to photograph a male while he was “dewlapping”!

Cuban Brown Anole "Dewlapping"

During our survey, it was hard to ignore the Cuban Trogons, a beautiful bird endemic to Cuba. During this time of year, they are very vocal and active as males compete with each other for females and prime nesting spots.

Cuban Trogon

After lunch, we reassembled to plant Firebush. By now we had learned that this plant is an important food source for birds as it has fruit and flowers year round. Thirty-seven bird species including 6 endemics use Firebush and hopefully, these plants will attract some of these species to the research station.

Planting Firebush

After dinner, we returned to Transect 2 to conduct a night survey. A whole host of different herps come out at night. Maydiel joined us and found a Giant Trope also called a Cuban Dwarf Boa. Although by no means giant as they only grow up to 100 cm in length, it is the largest of Cuba’s Trope species.

Cuban Dwarf Boa

As we resumed our survey, Maikel came running up to us with a white bucket. Excitedly, he revealed the contents, a Cuban Tree Boa that he found near the Research Station. Up to four meters long, the Cuban Tree Boa is the island’s largest snake and a top predator. In May 2017, a study from the University of Tennessee was released indicating co-operative hunting of fruit bats in this species, the first documented instance of deliberate pack behavior in snakes!

Cuban Tree Boa 

The next day was "Plant Day." We helped Pedro, Lucia, and Chino survey two 20 x 20-meter plots along Transect 3. The area was very steep and it was difficult for Chino and Allyn to mark off the plot with red tape. 

Plant Transect 3

Now we had to record all the trees within each plot that had a diameter at breast height (DBH) of >7cm. Marc took the measurements while I recorded the data with the help of Lucia who identified the tree species. She also took note of the bushes growing within the plot.

Marc Measuring a Tree Diameter at Breast Height

The following morning we helped Maikel survey birds along a 1-km stretch of Transect 1. One of the highlights was a Pygmy Owl being harassed by a Cuban Green Woodpecker. In all, we counted 184 individual birds representing 23 species.

 Pygmy Owl and Cuban Green Woodpecker

Early the following morning we prepared for our transfer to La Sabina Field Station at over 600 meters, about a climb of 400 meters from the Jarico Field Station. We traveled on foot while our gear was carried by mules. We followed Chino and asked him to point out the tree where a hutia was known to live. I had never heard of these animals before and learned that there are 7 species of these rodents living in Cuba. We stopped at the tree but the resident wasn’t home - bummer! Just then he poked his head out from a higher hole. Yes, it was a Prehensile-tailed Hutia (Mysateles prehensilis), a new mammalian species for us!

Prehensile-tailed Hutia (Mysateles prehensilis)

We arrived at La Sabina around noon and sat on the front porch admiring the stunning view. After settling in and having lunch it was time to get to work. We were on plant duty so set off with a group of 11 to survey two plots along Transect 1. The first was in the area of an old cattle ranch. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s cattle were grazed here and Caribbean Pine trees (Pinus carribbea) were planted. The cattle were removed but the pines were allowed to stay although they aren’t native to this area or Cuba. 

La Sabina Field Station

Early the next morning we woke to a dense fog. It delayed the start of our surveys. The herps were slow to get moving today and we only saw 14 individuals but we did find two new species: the Escambray Blue-eyed Anole and Blue-eyed Twig Anole.

Escambray Blue-eyed Anole

When we returned to the research station Natalia had arrived and we finally got to meet her. That night we did our final herp survey along Transect 3. As Tomas predicted there were many frogs in this area. I counted around 57 individuals representing 7 species including 5 species of frog that were new to us. They were very tiny making them difficult to spot. 

Cuban Grey's Frog

The following day we conducted our final survey of the expedition. We helped Maikel and Natalia count birds along Transect 2. We saw only 16 species but around 88 individuals. To see a complete list go to the following link:

The next morning we prepared to leave La Sabina and hike back to the Jarico Research Station. We assembled for a group photo on the front lawn of this spectacular place.

Earthwatch Team II Group Photo (Courtesy of Jeff Morey)

On the way down we passed by the "hutia tree" but he was asleep deep inside. When we arrived back at Jarico, a surprise awaited us. A pair of Cuban Giant Anoles were spotted on a palm tree near the kitchen. They were quite close to the ground and Marc got great photos.

Cuban Giant Anole

After lunch, we played tourists and visited Trinidad, an old colonel town in the heart of Cuba. Known for its cobblestone streets, grand colonial buildings, museums and the Iglesia de la Santísima, a 19th-century cathedral, it’s a fun place to explore. 

Trinidad, Cuba

We finished the evening at a rooftop restaurant to watch the sunset. 

Sunset over Iglesia de la Santísima 

We recounted the adventures we had and the number of plant and animal species we found. We hope this data will be useful in helping to protect the Lomas de Banao Ecological Reserve. A heartfelt thanks goes to Earthwatch, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Cuban scientists who made this project possible.
Warm Regards,
Peggy and Marc

Postscript: When I returned home I created a project in iNaturalist, an online database where you can log wildlife observations. I titled the project "Mapping Biodiversity in Cuba" and entered many of our observations including birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. To get the Latin names and to see photos of the species we encountered go to:

Our route map: