20 - 27 January 2002
by Glen Tepke
My wife Carol Chetkovich and I visited Puerto Rico from 1/20/02 to 1/27/02. We had a great time and heartily recommend the island to fellow birders. The number of species is not nearly as high as tropical areas on the mainland but Puerto Rico is very user-friendly and the birding was quite enjoyable. The most amazing thing was that we saw no other birders other than a handful of U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees on assignment to Puerto Rico who were getting in a little birding after work at Villa Parguera, and a Victor Emanuel tour group at Guanica. Most of the time, we had the birding sites to ourselves.
We stayed at the Copamarina, a beach resort near Guanica on the southwest coast and at the Gallery Inn, a charming hotel in Old San Juan. The Parador Hacienda Juanita and the Parador Villa Parguera would also be good options in the southwest. We didn't check out any ecotourism lodging options in the northeast (there are a few).
We birded primarily in the following locations. I've given these sites from 0 to 3 stars to indicate how birdy we found them, particularly for endemics and other specialties, but our results probably reflect the time of day we visited more than the actual number of birds present. The birding slowed markedly in the afternoons and there were just not enough mornings to go around.
Guanica State Forest - Playa Jaboncillo**, a short unpaved spur road down to a beach off Rt. 333 a few miles east of Guanica (before Balneario Cana Gorda, a large public beach), and various trails around the headquarters* at the end of Rt. 334 east of Guanica.
Parador Villa Parguera** (grounds of a hotel) in La Parguera - from Rt. 116 take Rt 304 south and turn right where 304 appears to end at the harbor; Villa Parguera is just ahead on the left. Walk through the lobby or through the parking lot beyond the hotel to get to the grounds and mangroves behind the hotel.
Maricao State Forest (Bosque Estatal)*** - headquarters area at km 16.2 on Rt. 120 north of Sabana Grande. We also stopped a couple of times at the lookout tower at km 14.1 but didn't see anything except a distant flock of what were probably Cave Swallows. At the HQ we met Adrian, the forest manager. He is very interested in having birders visit his forest and was extraordinarily helpful. He asked which species we were looking for and gave us suggestions on where to look for each and then drove off on an errand. A few minutes later he raced back and told us to jump in the vehicle; he had just seen a Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, one of our target birds, just down the road. We didn't find that one but did see our lifer Puerto Rican Tanager. If you visit Maricao, be sure to sign the guest book; I suspect his budget is tied to the number of visitors he attracts.
Susua State Forest** - picnic area and campground - from Rt. 120 in the center of Sabana Grande, take Rt. 368 east a couple of miles, past Rt. 365, to the signed entrance road on the left, follow that to the end. The campground was closed with prominent signs prohibiting entry, but after we signed in at the headquarters, we were told walking in was OK.
Parador Hacienda Juanita* (grounds of a lodge) - on the north side of Rt. 105 about 1.5 km west of the junction with Rt. 120. A nature trail goes down the hill west of the pool and loops back to the lodge entrance. This place is reputed to have great birding but we didn't get there until mid-day and our visit was cut short by rain.
Universidad Interamericana campus in San German* - from Rt. 2 take San German exit, proceed south less than a mile, turn right on Rt. 102 (no sign but there was a sign for the university), go a mile or two (past Cilantros, an excellent high-end restaurant, on the left) to the campus gate on the right.
El Yunque (aka Caribbean National Forest or Bosque Nacional) - El Portal Visitors Center**, Yokahu lookout tower and a short segment of the Tradewinds trail. From San Juan, take Rt. 3 east, south on Rt. 191 to the visitors center (the first of several) and the tower. The Tradewinds trail starts about 1/4 mile past the gate at the end of 191.
Humacao Natural Reserve* - on the east side of Rt. 3 a couple of miles north of Humacao. Also features very large iguanas.
Old San Juan* - particularly in and around the large parking lot between Paseo de La Princesa and the Coast Guard station.
former Isla Grande Naval Reserve - this site is described by Raffaele (see below) as one of the best in San Juan but is being redeveloped as a convention center. We checked around the perimeter but the site had already been bulldozed and we didn't see many birds.
Parque Central* - we managed to find this place but I'm not sure how. See the Wildlife Viewing Guide for directions (see below).
Jardin Botanico* (Botanical Gardens) - ditto.
We saw 74 bird species and heard but did not see three more. Of the 16 endemic and near-endemic species that we were focusing on, we saw 13 and heard two. The only one we missed completely was the Puerto Rican Parrot, one of the rarest species in the world. Since this was our first visit to the Caribbean (not counting Trinidad & Tobago where the birds are more South American than Caribbean), we had a lot of lifers - 33. I've marked the list with the following codes and given locations and other comments for the endemics and specialties. The field guides referenced are discussed below.
E - Endemic to Puerto Rico N - Near-endemic, found only in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands C - Caribbean specialty I - Introduced L - Lifer for us.
|COMMON NAME||SCIENTIFIC NAME||NOTES|
|Brown Pelican||Pelecanus occidentalis||-|
|Double-crested Cormorant||Phalacrocorax auritus||one in mangroves off Villa Parguera - described in the field guides as a rare but increasing visitor|
|Magnificent Frigatebird||Fregata magnificens||-|
|Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias||-|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba||-|
|Tricolored Heron||Egretta tricolor||-|
|Snowy Egret||Egretta thula||-|
|Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis||-|
|Green Heron||Butorides virescens||-|
|White-cheeked Pintail||Anas bahamensis||L - Humacao|
|Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura||-|
|Red-tailed Hawk||Buteo jamaicensis||-|
|American Kestrel||Falco sparverius||-|
|Common Moorhen||Gallinula chloropus||Humacao|
|Solitary Sandpiper||Tringa solitaria||-|
|Spotted Sandpiper||Actitis macularia||-|
|Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres||-|
|Royal Tern||Sterna maxima||-|
|Rock Dove||Columba livia||-|
|Scaly-naped Pigeon||Columba squamosa||CL - Maricao, El Yunque - Most were seen flying fast and direct over the trees and looked dark and nondescript; we finally got a good look at one perched in a snag from the Yokahu tower and found it to be a very dramatic-looking bird.|
|Eurasian Collared-Dove||Streptopelia decaocto||I - Villa Parguera - Apparently a recent arrival on the island; the field guides indicate that it is not found in Puerto Rico but is expanding its range in the West Indies. Not a Ringed Turtle-Dove; the ID was confirmed by the USFWS birders.|
|Zenaida Dove||Zenaida aurita||CL - common and widespread at lower elevations.|
|White-winged Dove||Zenaida asiatica||Another dove expanding its range; the field guides reported it uncommon in Puerto Rico but we found it common and widespread at lower elevations.|
|Common Ground-Dove||Columbina passerina||-|
|Ruddy Quail-Dove||Geotrygon montana||Hacienda Juanita|
|Monk Parakeet||Myiopsitta monachus||I - Old San Juan|
|White-winged Parakeet||Brotogeris versicolurus||IL - Jardin Botanico, near the entrance - our last bird, found minutes before we departed for the airport. The campus of Interamerican University in San German is reportedly the most reliable spot for this bird but we did not find any in a mid-afternoon visit.|
|Yellow-headed Parrot||Amazona oratrix||IL - Old San Juan - A trio passed through, stopping to perch atop the Catedral San Juan, squawking raucously as a wedding party emerged from the church. A great scene.|
|Mangrove Cuckoo||Coccyzus minor||L - Playa Jaboncillo, Humacao|
|Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo||Saurothera vieilloti||NL - Seen at El Portal, heard near Guanica HQ and at Susua. We were happy to finally see one near the end of our trip. Our favorite bird of the trip; reminded me of Velociraptor.|
|Smooth-billed Ani||Crotophaga ani||-|
|Antillean Mango||Anthracothorax dominicus||CL - Villa Parguera, Guanica HQ|
|Green Mango||Anthracothorax viridis||EL - Maricao, Hacienda Juanita|
|Green-throated Carib||Eulampis holosericeus||CL - At the San Juan airport, feeding at flowers in an atrium on the other side of the glass near baggage carousel B. The first bird we saw when we got off the plane and a lifer - a good omen for the trip. The only one we saw.|
|Antillean Crested Hummingbird||Orthorhyncus cristatus||CL - Humacao|
|Puerto Rican Emerald||Chlorostilbon maugaeus||EL - Maricao HQ area, Guanica HQ area, Tradewinds trail|
|Puerto Rican Tody||Todus mexicanus||EL - Guanica (Playa Jaboncillo and HQ area), Maricao HQ, Susua|
|Puerto Rican Woodpecker||Melanerpes portoricensis||EL - Playa Jaboncillo, Maricao, Susua, Universidad Interamericana, El Portal|
|Caribbean Elaenia||Elaenia martinica||CL - Guanica HQ area|
|Lesser Antillean Pewee||Contopus latirostris||CL - Maricao, Susua - In Raffaele, et al, the Puerto Rican form of this bird is split into Puerto Rican Pewee (C. portoricensis), which would be another endemic, but I think this split has not yet been recognized by the AOU or Clements in his Birds of the World taxonomy.|
|Puerto Rican Flycatcher||Myiarchus antillarum||NL - Guanica (Playa Jaboncillo and HQ area), El Portal. You might have trouble identifying this species if you rely on the illustrations in the field guides. The text in both books states that the lack of wingbars and lack of yellow in the belly distinguish this bird from other flycatchers, but the illustrations in both books show wingbars and Raffaele, et al, also shows a yellow wash on the belly! In real life, the birds we saw all agreed with the text rather than the illustrations: longitudinal white lines in the wings but no wingbars and no yellow. If you are familiar with other Myiarchus flycatchers like Great-crested, you should have no trouble recognizing this species by jizz alone.|
|Gray Kingbird||Tyrannus dominicensis||ubiquitous|
|Loggerhead Kingbird||Tyrannus caudifasciatus||CL - Maricao, El Portal, Old San Juan|
|Caribbean Martin||Progne dominicensis||CL - flyover at Villa Parguera|
|Cave Swallow||Petrochelidon fulva||L - flyover at Villa Parguera|
|Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica||-|
|Northern Mockingbird||Mimus polyglottos||-|
|Pearly-eyed Thrasher||Margarops fuscatus||CL - common all over at lower elevations|
|Red-legged Thrush||Turdus plumbeus||CL - common all over|
|Orange-cheeked Waxbill||Estrilda melpoda||IL - Humacao|
|Bronze Mannikin||Lonchura cucullata||IL - Universidad Interamericana, Isla Grande, Jardin Botanico|
|Nutmeg Mannikin||Lonchura punctulata||I - Universidad Interamericana|
|Puerto Rican Vireo||Vireo latimeri||EL - Maricao, Susua|
|Northern Parula||Parula americana||-|
|Yellow Warbler||Dendroica petechia||Villa Parguera - the resident "cruciana" subspecies, part of the "Golden Warbler" group which is a potential split candidate|
|Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens||-|
|Adelaide Warbler||Dendroica adelaidae||EL - Guanica (common around the HQ), Playa Jaboncillo, Susua|
|Prairie Warbler||Dendroica discolor||-|
|Elfin-woods Warbler||Dendroica angelae||EL - Maricao HQ - along the entrance road near the benches and above the small cascade across from the HQ buildings, also about 1/4 mile out a gated unpaved road that goes off to the right shortly after the buildings (bear left at the first fork). Prefers dense vine tangles. A rare and local species that was not even discovered until 1971.|
|Black-and-white Warbler||Mniotilta varia||-|
|Northern Waterthrush||Seiurus noveboracensis||-|
|Puerto Rican Tanager||Nesospingus speculiferus||EL - Maricao|
|Puerto Rican Spindalis||Spindalis portoricensis||EL - Maricao, Hacienda Juanita - Called Stripe-headed Tanager in Raffaele and Puerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager in Raffaele, et al. Has since been renamed.|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||Tiaris olivacea||El Portal|
|Black-faced Grassquit||Tiaris bicolor||Playa Jaboncillo, Susua, Jardin Botanico|
|Puerto Rican Bullfinch||Loxigilla portoricensis||EL - Maricao, Guanica HQ, Susua|
|Yellow-shouldered Blackbird||Agelaius xanthomus||EL - Villa Parguera - Previous trip reports said this bird was most reliable at Villa Parguera late in the day, but we failed to find any in two late afternoon visits. We found them easily on our third attempt at about 8:00 in the morning. Endangered species due to Shiny Cowbird parasitism.|
|Greater Antillean Grackle||Quiscalus niger||CL - ubiquitous|
|Shiny Cowbird||Molothrus bonariensis||El Portal|
|Greater Antillean Oriole||Icterus dominicensis||CL - El Portal - Called Black-cowled Oriole in both field guides. Has since been split.|
|House Sparrow||Passer domesticus||I|
|COMMON NAME||SCIENTIFIC NAME||NOTES|
|Clapper Rail||Rallus longirostris||Villa Parguera|
|Puerto Rican Screech-Owl||Otus nudipes||N - Rt. 105 about a mile west of Hacienda Juanita and at the entrance to Guanica on Rt. 334. Hacienda Juanita and the Maricao HQ are reportedly the most reliable places for this bird in the western mountains but we did not hear any in brief nighttime visits to both spots. Presumably just bad timing.|
|Puerto Rican Night-Jar||Caprimulgus noctitherus||E - Guanica - lower portion of Cuevas trail near end of Rt. 333 and along Rt. 333 between Guanica and Cana Gorda. Rare and very local, pretty much confined to Guanica State Forest.|
In addition, driving to San Juan on Rt. 52 we saw a crow flying next to the road near Caguas. It took a moment to remember that there are no corvids on the Puerto Rico checklist. According to Raffaele, White-necked Crow (Corvus leucognaphalus) was extirpated from Puerto Rico in 1963 but escaped captives are sometimes seen in the wild. Presumably this was one of those birds.
We used two field guides: A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by Herbert A. Raffaele (Princeton, 1989) and A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by Raffaele, Wiley, Garrido, Keith and Raffaele (Princeton, 1998). The former includes only birds found in Puerto Rico (and the Virgin Islands) and is more portable; the latter is fairly large and hard-cover but it has generally better illustrations, particularly for flycatchers, and covers all of the islands, so you'll probably get more use out of it. I'm fairly tolerant of carrying stuff while birding and like the option of a second opinion so we carried and used both. We did not get the classic Peterson guide by James Bond but I've read that it suffers in comparison to the newer guides.
There is no bird-finding guide per se to the Caribbean that I'm aware of. A Birder's West Indies by Roland Wauer (University of Texas Press, 1996) is more of a journal of the author's visits to most of the major islands and provides useful information. Even more helpful are trip reports written by other birders who visited Puerto Rico before us; several are archived on Blake Maybank's website. Thanks to all of the authors of these reports (I read them all) and to Blake Maybank for providing the site.
Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Wildlife Viewing Guide by David Nellis (Falcon, 1999), part of the Watchable Wildlife Series doesn't provide too much detail on birds but does include directions to most of the sites we visited and many others. For a general travel guide we used the Adventure Guide to Puerto Rico by Pitzer and Stevens (Hunter 2001) which included trail maps for Guanica and El Yunque, but there are many others to choose from.
The most detailed map I found - the only one that appears to show and label all of the routes mentioned above - is published by International Travel Maps in Vancouver BC. Rand McNally's Puerto Rico map shows the most detail for San Juan. Rt. 53 between Ceiba and Humacao on the northeast coast, which our maps showed as proposed, now appears to be complete.
A number of the earlier trip reports described the driving as somewhat hairy but I found it pretty tame compared to Boston. Be aware that driving slowly in the left lane and passing on the right are routine behaviors. Some of the mountain roads, particularly the entrance road to Susua, are very narrow and winding.
One last tip: A researcher radio-tracking Red-tailed Hawks at the Yokahu Tower in El Yunque told me the best chance of seeing the critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot (less than 50 in the wild) is to be on the Tradewinds Trail overlooking the headwaters of the Rio Espiritu Santo (1-2 miles out?) very early in the morning. We'll try that on our next visit.
Boston, MA, USA