We love talking about the pristine nature in Cuba and even more so introducing its divine birdlife so we can show case these birds, but even more importantly, so we can raise awareness in the need for protecting them as many of the 28 endemic species are endangered. One of the best ways to learn about these beauties is from our local birding guides. They know their areas intimately, can show you the specific species in the area and tell you all about them. What’s even more exciting is being able to bring one of Cuba’s greatest pioneers in raising awareness of the spectacular bird life – Nils Navarro.
Nils is best known for his work in curating and illustrating the book Endemic Birds of Cuba. It’s actually rather interesting how his career shaped into what it is today. He grew up in Holguin and spent a lot of time on the family farm, where he became mesmerised by the river and its surrounding flora and fauna.
‘I spent hours in the bush, looking for whatever creature I could find to take back home so I can draw later’ – Nils explains. In elementary school he joined a painting club, where his talents were discovered by a professor who convinced Nils’ parents to let him take the entry test for the Academy of fine arts, even though his genre of ‘bugs’ was certainly not for a mainstream piece. Nevertheless, we can mark this as the start of Nils’ remarkable career.
Whilst he was getting better at creating painted illustration of animals, he was also having a competition with his younger brother, learning the scientific names for hundreds of animals to see who knew more. He was thirsty for knowledge, used to hunt down every book about nature that he could find. This eagerness to learn has led Nils to meet some of Cuba’s greats in the scientific community who have helped to further shape his career, and before you knoew it, he found himels doing taxonomy.
‘It has been the best experience in life!!!!, Words cannot describe what it feels like to be with a species not described by science and knowing that you will have to make it public.’ – Nils claims excitedly. He loves exploring new things, which is one of the reasons why this year Nils spent two months in the eastern parts of Cuba, and found 40 new bird species that were not yet catalogued before. We are looking forward to finding out more about them in the new Guide to the birds of Cuba book he is curating. It’s quite an ambitious project. It aims to change the approach of a traditional field guide, providing freshness and includes a range of plumage patterns never before illustrated in any other guide book.
‘For me, field guides are the essential basis for conservation and any intention to study nature. The first thing that is needed is the correct identification of each biological entity and that is precisely the objective of these guides.’ – Nils explains.
The initial idea was to update the endemic guide, then it became bigger to include all Cuban birds. It is a long process and a lot is learned along the way, as new questions and issues to clarify arise every day, starting with Cuba not having an official list of bird species. Next major challenge is to create the detailed illustration of each species. Just imagine how beautiful it will be when it is ready!
Whilst the book is in the making, we are looking forward to partnering with Nils on our Simply Birds of Cuba Photography tour to share his vast knowledge with you and to see the birds in his ‘backyard’ – Vinales.
‘I believe that there is a lot more to tourism in Cuba, than sun and beach. Most importantly there is its nature!’ – Is what Nils said and we couldn’t agree more!
It’ll be such a fantastic experience to have one of Cuba’s greatest helping you to spot some beautiful species.
‘Sometimes they ask me about how many species of birds I have seen, well, I don’t know, nor have I ever been interested in knowing, I have seen many. There are people who list species they have seen, something that I respect of course, but in my case, I am not interested in making lists. I see birds, I enjoy spending hours looking at them, photographing them, studying them and discovering the details of their natural history. I don’t make field notes either, I don’t want to miss a second of what I’m observing, and I record everything, every sensation in my mind and then I put it on a piece of cardboard.’
And that passion and energy is what we can experience with Nils, through his books and his presence.
‘I believe that this is the job I am called to do and nothing Will stop me from doing it.’ – Nils says, and we are very happy to hear that, so he can share with us more knowledge, insight and amazing bird sightings in the future. If you’d love to have the chance to meet and work with Nils, join us on our Simply Birds of Cuba Photography Tour.