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PUERTO RICO & St. John, USVI
3-13 January 2006
By Michael R. Greenwald
Having been to Cuba in 2004 and Trinidad & Tobago in 2005, I decided to try birding in the Caribbean on my own. Puerto Rico was my first choice because it is less expensive to get to than most of the other islands and has a manageable number of endemics and Caribbean specialties. I had read that January is not the best time of year to bird Puerto Rico, but that is when my vacation is, and when I got there, I found that there is a fair amount of song, so birding is reasonably good.
My method for drawing up an itinerary was to make a list of potential life birds from the list of birds seen in Puerto Rico (discounting pelagics and vagrants but including introduced species) according to Raffaele et al. 1998 and then go through various guidebooks and trip reports from Blake Maybank’s website to see where each of the 48 species on my list had been seen by others. As one sees various locations repeating for each species, an itinerary begins to emerge.
My goal for the trip was to see as many life birds as possible, not to amass a large Puerto Rico or even Caribbean list. For this reason, I did not go anywhere in particular to see shorebirds; neither did I make the trip to Cidra-Comerío to see Plain Pigeon.
Bareuther, Carol M. and Lynda Lohr. 2005. Fodor’s U.S. & British Virgin Islands. 17th edition. New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications
Porter, Darwin and Danforth Prince. 2005. Frommer’s Portable Puerto Rico. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publications – not very useful.
Stallings, Douglas, ed. 2005. Fodor’s Puerto Rico. New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications – also not very useful. Suggested restaurants in Rincón that were closed, one of which had been closed for a year.
Tolles, Juliana, ed. 2006. Let’s Go Puerto Rico. New York: St. Martin’s Press – quite limited, but has some good maps of smaller towns.
St. John: Berndtson Map of the Virgin Islands (U.S. & British). The 1:80,000 map of St. John was not great, but much better than nothing. The 1:15,000 map of Cruz Bay was not very useful at all. For Cruz Bay, get the free tourist map from your car rental agency.
Puerto Rico: International Travel Maps (1:190,000) - Somewhat out of date, but had most of the roads that one needs for this trip. See my warning about PR 305 on the daily log for January 5, my comment about PR 166 on the daily log for the 6th, and note that autopista 53 is now complete from Humacao to Fajardo.
Bird Trip Guides
Wauer, Roland H. 1996. A Birder’s West Indies: An Island by Island Tour. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press – not so much a “where to find birds” book as a narrative travelogue, but useful nonetheless to determine places where species have been seen.
Wheatley, Nigel and David Brewer. 2001. Where to Watch Birds in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press – somewhat derivative, has mistakes, but is useful nonetheless. I carry photocopies of the relevant chapters wherever I go.
Bond, James. 1993. Birds of the West Indies. 5th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin – not really a 5th edition. The bibliography has been updated at least through 1983, but the taxonomy follows that of the 5th (1957) AOU checklist. For decades this was the best available field guide to the West Indies, but it is now quite out-dated.
Oberle, Mark W. 2003. Puerto Rico’s Birds in Photographs: A Complete Guide and CD-ROM Including the Virgin Islands. 2nd Rev. Ed. Seattle: Editorial Humanitas – This book has been greatly under-marketed. Without getting into the debate between photographs versus drawn plates, this book contains a considerable amount of useful information. At the end of nearly every species account, Oberle suggests where the bird might be found. The CD-ROM contains vocalizations and a recommended itinerary and is in both English and Spanish. You do not need to carry this book into the field (and Mary Lee has a copy of the first edition), but you should digest the information in it before you go.
Raffaele, Herbert A. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. The drawings are small, there is a shortage of plumage variations, and the taxonomy is a bit out of date, but if you are going only to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, this is the only guide that you need to carry. Much of the data in Raffaele et al. 1998 comes directly from this book. The 2003 field guide by the same authors has more current taxonomy, but this guide is quite sufficient.
Raffaele, Herbert A., James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, and Janis Raffaele. 1998. A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Limited plumage variations on the plates, taxonomy is a bit outdated, but the best guide available to the birds of the West Indies as a whole. A bit heavy for field use, but see the guide immediately below. If you are going only to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the above 1989 book is sufficient.
Raffaele, Herbert A., James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, and Janis Raffaele. 2003. Birds of the West Indies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. The field guide version of the above. This book is five years newer, so the taxonomy is more current. Nevertheless, changes have been made even since this book came out. Again, not necessary if you are going only to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Trip Reports from Blake Maybank’s “Birding the Americas” Website
These were far more useful than most travel guides. To those who have written reports, thank you, but most especially, thanks to Blake Maybank for maintaining the website.
Niels J. Larsen (29 April to 6 May 2005)
Jim Hully (28 May to 1 June 2004) – the distances for the Humacao Wildlife Refuge are from his report
David Klauber (10-14 November 2002)
Barry Cooper and Gail Mackiernan (14-27 March 2002)
Mark Lockwood (February 2002)
Glen Tepke (20-27 January 2002)
Ron Hoff (13-17 February 2001)
Greg Lasley & Cheryl Johnson (1-14 July 1998)
Jan Vermeulen (1-13 June 1998) – on birdtours.co.uk site
Jet Blue from JFK to San Juan (SJU) and return (but check rates; Jet Blue is not always the cheapest) $347.20 Round Trip
Cape Air from San Juan to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (STT) and return – (800) 352-0714 $258.99 Round Trip
Both airlines can now be booked on expedia.com; use kayak.com to compare rates (does not include orbitz.com)
Ferry from Red Hook, St. Thomas to Cruz Bay, St. John -
Accommodations (for comments and directions, see the daily log below)
Maho Bay Camps (St. John)
Box 310, St. John, USVI 00831
Reservations: (800)392-9004; Front Desk: (340)776-6626
Fax: (340) 776-6504
e-mail: email@example.com website: www.maho.org
Mary Lee’s by the Sea (Guánica, Puerto Rico)
P.O. Box 394, Guánica, PR 00653
Hotel LaPlaya (San Juan, PR) – See caveat and addendum for January 7, 2006
Hampton Inn (San Juan, PR)
6530 Isla Verde Road, Carolina, PR 00979
Reservations: (800) ham-pton (787) 791-8777
Fax: (787) 791-8757
St. John – Delbert Hill’s Taxi and Jeep Rental, Inc.
P.O. Box 247, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI 00830
(340) 776-6637/ (340) 693-8819
Puerto Rico - National Car Rental, San Juan Airport
(cheapest at the time)
Reservations: (800) 227-7368
(800) 568-3019; (787) 791-1805
$234.70/week; $39.99/day; $13.33/hour
+ 11% concession fee
Be sure to get a local number to call for possible repair
Before I left New York, I had been warned about driving in Puerto Rico. My experience, however, is that driving in Puerto Rico is not nearly as bad as in Boston, where I had lived for 12 years. Some drivers do not think of the left lane as a passing lane, but this is usually not a problem. Be careful, however, on mountain roads. Although usually in good condition, they are winding and people are not always careful to stay to the right when rounding the turns. Note: road signs in Puerto Rico are in kilometers; automobile odometers and speed limits are in miles. Also note that autopistas are toll roads.
The language of Puerto Rico is Spanish. English is spoken in the major resort areas and hotels, but elsewhere, especially in the countryside, a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish is helpful. Note that Puerto Rico has a distinctive accent in which “s” is frequently dropped and “j” is substituted for “y.” However Puerto Ricans are much more patient and tolerant of people struggling with Spanish than most Americans are with people struggling with English.
I had also been warned that Puerto Rico was dangerous, especially in the cities. I was therefore cautious in both San Juan and Ponce, but never experienced any problems anywhere.
Although May to November is the rainy season in Puerto Rico, location is also important. Flying into San Juan, I could see the rain over the Luquillo Mountains (“El Yunque”), and that was true every day that I could see El Yunque. However the southwest of the island is significantly drier. Far more important was the wind that came up every afternoon.
Birding Locations with target species
E = Puerto Rican (or Puerto Rican/Virgin Island) endemic
C = Caribbean endemic or near endemic
I = Introduced species
Species in boldface are those that I actually saw OR heard in this location
Cinnamon Bay Loop: Bridled Quail-Dove C, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C
Mary Point Trail: Bridled Quail-Dove C, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch C, Green-throated Carib C, Antillean Crested Hummingbird C, Caribbean Elaenia C, Puerto Rican Flycatcher E, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C
Lind Point Trail: Lesser Antillean Bullfinch C, Green-throated Carib C, Antillean Crested-Hummingbird C, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C
Guánica State Forest, from the PR 334 (Main) Entrance (includes trails emanating from the headquarters and the headquarters area): Puerto-Rican Screech-Owl E, Puerto Rican Nightjar E, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo E, Antillean Mango C, Puerto Rican Emerald E, Puerto Rican Tody E, Puerto Rican Woodpecker E, Caribbean Elaenia C, Puerto Rican Pewee E, Puerto Rican Flycatcher E, Puerto Rican Vireo E, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C, Adelaide’s Warbler E, Puerto Rican Bullfinch E, Greater Antillean Oriole C, Venezuelan Troupial I
Guánica State Forest, PR 333 Entrance: Puerto Rican Nightjar E, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo E, Antillean Mango C, Puerto Rican Tody E, Puerto Rican Woodpecker E (Copamarina Resort), Caribbean Elaenia C, Puerto Rican Flycatcher E, Puerto Rican Vireo E, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C, Adelaide’s Warbler E, Venezuelan Troupial I
Laguna Cartagena: Caribbean Coot C, Antillean Mango C, Puerto Rican Tody E, Puerto Rican Woodpecker E, Puerto Rican Pewee E, Puerto Rican Flycatcher E, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C, Adelaide’s Warbler E, Greater Antillean Oriole C, Venezuelan Troupial I, Orange Bishop I, Yellow-crowned Bishop I, Orange-cheeked Waxbill I, Bronze Mannikin I, Tricolored Munia I
InterAmerican University, San Germán: Hispaniolan Parakeet I, White-winged Parakeet I, Hispaniolan Parrot I, Puerto Rican Woodpecker E, Bronze Mannikin I, Nutmeg Mannikin I
LaParguera area: Black-hooded Parakeet I, Yellow-shouldered Blackbird E, Indian Silverbill I, Pin-tailed Whydah I
Maricao State Forest and Hacienda Juanita: Puerto Rican Screech-Owl E, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo E, Green Mango E, Puerto Rican Emerald E, Puerto Rican Tody E, Puerto Rican Woodpecker E, Puerto Rican Pewee E, Puerto Rican Vireo E, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C, Adelaide’s Warbler E, Elfin-woods Warbler E, Puerto Rican Tanager E, Puerto Rican Spindalis E, Puerto Rican Bullfinch E, Greater Antillean Oriole C, Antillean Euphonia C
Humacao Wildlife Refuge: West-Indian Whistling-Duck C, Yellow-breasted Crake, Caribbean Coot C, Black-hooded Parakeet (Fajardo) I, Green-throated Carib C (Fajardo), Antillean Crested Hummingbird C, Caribbean Martin C (Playa del Mar – generally migrates out in winter), Pearly-eyed Thrasher C, Adelaide’s Warbler E, Orange Bishop I (Fajardo airport), Orange-cheeked Waxbill I, Black-rumped Waxbill I
El Yunque: Puerto Rican Parrot E, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo E, Puerto Rican Screech-Owl E, Antillean Mango C, Green Mango E, Puerto Rican Emerald E, Puerto Rican Tody E, Puerto Rican Woodpecker E, Puerto Rican Flycatcher E, Pearly-eyed Thrasher C, Elfin-woods Warbler E, Puerto Rican Spindalis E, Puerto Rican Bullfinch E, Greater Antillean Oriole C, Antillean Euphonia C, Bronze Mannikin I
Old San Juan, Isla Grande and Jardín Botánico: Orange-fronted Parakeet I, Hispaniolan Parakeet I, White-winged Parakeet I, Green-throated Carib C, Saffron Finch I, Venezuelan Troupial I, Bronze Mannikin I, Nutmeg Mannikin I, Java Sparrow I, Pin-tailed Whydah I
January 3, 2006
I landed in San Juan on a Jet Blue flight from New York and transferred to a Cape Air Flight to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, the capital of the U. S. Virgin Islands. Because there is no airport on St. John, one must take a ferry either from Red Hook ($5/person; $3/bag) or Charlotte Amalie (runs much less frequently $7/person) or bring your own boat. The trick is to get from the airport in Charlotte Amalie to the ferry landing at Red Hook. One can easily catch a cab from the airport, but the first cab driver that I hailed said that she would charge me $50 for a private ride. One needs to go to the end of the airport and find the cab going to the east end of the island. This was only $10, but it doesn’t leave until it fills. I sat for half-an-hour waiting until the driver thought he had enough passengers and just caught the 4:00 ferry to Cruz Bay, St. John. During the 35 minute ferry ride I saw 3 Brown Boobies, 2 Great Egrets, an Osprey, and, as we pulled into Cruz Bay, 3 Scaly-naped Pigeons.
Arranging for a rental car on St. John during high tourist season was also an interesting proposition. Even though I made my first attempt in late October, St. John Car Rental told me that they would have nothing available. Cool Breeze told me that they did not rent for less than a week, and neither did anyone else on the island. This latter proved to be untrue, and I was able to rent a Jeep Liberty from Delbert Hill’s Taxi and Jeep Rental. The cost was $87.00/per day including taxes, but nothing is cheap on St. John. Two things to note: many travel guides say that a 4-wheel drive is necessary on St. John. For the little driving that I did, this was not the case. Second, petty theft is reported to be a problem there. It is therefore wise to rent a vehicle in which you can hide your baggage. Although the people at Delbert Hill’s assured me that this was the case with the Jeep Liberty, it was not, and this would prove to be a problem later that afternoon.
The purpose of the trip to St. John was to find Bridled Quail-Dove (supposed to be easier here than anywhere else in the Caribbean) and any of the Lesser Antillean specialties that either do not appear in Puerto Rico (Lesser Antillean Bullfinch) or are much more difficult to find in Puerto Rico (Green-throated Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird). I was going to be staying at Maho Bay Camps, and since Cinnamon Bay Beach and Campground is on the way, and since this is one of the best places on St. John to find the quail-dove, I decided to stop here to see if I could find the bird in the 45 minutes of daylight that were left. This is where the visibility of all of my baggage became a problem. I was reluctant to leave the car in the parking lot with everything exposed. However, even at this hour, I did hear a Bridled Quail-Dove calling. Unfortunately, it was on private property, and so I could not run it down. I also heard Lesser Antillean Bullfinches and Caribbean Elaenia and saw my first Pearly-eyed Thrashers.
I then proceeded to Maho Bay Campground, arriving just before dark and where I also heard 2 Zenaida Doves and 3 more Pearly-eyed Thrashers. Note that all of the “rooms” here are tents. There is no walkway lighting, so you need to have a light. Unfortunately my headlamp bulb had burned out en route, so I had to find my tent using my owling lamp. I hope no one went to bed early.
A word about Maho Bay Camps: This is not truly a “campground” in the traditional sense of the word. It is rather a tent motel with a cafeteria-style restaurant attached. They claim a commitment to having as little impact on the environment as possible. They recycle whenever possible and ask their guests to do likewise. They have raised wooden walkways to minimize the impact of human traffic on the forest plants. However they also have free-roaming cats. My impression of Maho Bay is that they serve a clientele that is made up largely of divers, and indeed, the evening naturalist program on coral reefs was excellent. This focus on divers can present a bit of a problem for birders and birding schedules, however. They require a $30 deposit to guarantee the condition of the tent and its accoutrements. They also permit checkout only between 7:30 and 11:00 A.M., in other words, during prime birding hours. Furthermore, you must give them 30 minutes notice before checking out, meaning effectively that checkout cannot occur before 8:00. This means that you must either remain in the campground until 8:00 or return later in the morning. They do permit checkout the previous evening, but then you must either count on them to refund your deposit to your credit card or opt to donate the deposit to the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park. I might also note that they are not cheap: The cost to stay in a tent for one night was $135.00 including tax.
To get to Cinnamon Bay Campground from Cruz Bay, take the North Shore Road (Route 20). How you get to North Shore Road will depend on where you rent a vehicle. Cruz Bay isn’t very big, but it is a maze of one-way streets. Ask for the free tourist map and directions from your car rental agency. The parking lot for Cinnamon Bay is about 6 miles along this road on your left; the trailhead is on the opposite side of the road. To get to Maho Bay Camps, continue on North Shore Road for another 2 miles or so to a left turn toward Annaberg Ruins. Turn left and proceed along this road for about ¾ mile to a T-intersection. The right turn will take you to Annaberg and Leinster Bay. Turn left. On your right you will see some ruins and the parking lot for the Mary Point Trail. Continue another 100 yards or so and turn left for Maho Bay Campground. If you miss this left turn, you will be in the water in another few hundred yards.
One caution about driving on St. John: The roads that I drove on were paved as far as the T-intersection. They were in good condition and well marked, but they are narrow and winding. Watch for on-coming traffic and pedestrians at the bends.
January 4, 2006
The first bird I heard singing was a Zenaida Dove, which began at 6:00 A.M. and stopped shortly thereafter: a nice alarm clock complete with snooze button. I heard a Scaly-naped Pigeon as I walked toward the parking lot. I headed directly to Cinnamon Bay in order to walk the Cinnamon Bay Loop (not to be confused with the Cinnamon Bay Trail), supposedly one of the better places on the island for the Bridled Quail-Dove.
I arrived at the parking lot at 6:50 A.M. just as it was beginning to get light enough to bird. Sunrise happens quickly in the tropics, so it is important to be in the field to catch the short dawn while it lasts. Sure enough, as I got out of the car, I could hear 2 Bridled Quail-Doves calling, including the bird that I heard the previous evening (or another calling from the same place). However, since they were still on private property, I headed for the Cinnamon Bay Loop. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily during the night, so listening for quail-doves as they forage in the forest litter was useless: I didn’t want to chase every raindrop plopping in the leaf-litter on the forest floor. As I started on the trail, however, I thought I would be in luck because I could hear as many as 4 quail-doves calling from around the loop. However, as I went farther, the sounds began to recede behind me. As I rounded the top of the loop, I began to lose heart. On the descending leg, I was walking and looking up in the trees at the same time, slipped on some wet leaves, and startled a Bridled Quail-Dove. The bird, a male, perched on a bare tree branch ten feet away and out in the open. I had a chance to study the bird carefully from every angle (the bird even drooped its wings so that I could see its rufous secondaries), took copious notes, and finally walked away. Also in the Cinnamon Bay area were Scaly-naped Pigeon, Zenaida Dove, White-winged Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, and Pearly-eyed Thrasher.
I then had to return to Maho Bay to check out, but on the way, I stopped at Mary Point Pond, a spot recommended by both Herbert Raffaele in the Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and Greg Lasley in his July 1998 trip report. I did not see any of my target birds, but did find Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Little Blue Heron, White-cheeked Pintail (a pair with ducklings), American Kestrel, Zenaida Dove, Spotted Sandpiper, Caribbean Elaenia (heard only), Gray Kingbird, Bananaquit, and Black-faced Grassquit.
During the check-out/haul-my-baggage-up-the-hill process, I had a great eyeball-to-eyeball look at a Scaly-naped Pigeon, the ubiquitous Pearly-eyed Thrasher, and a small flock of Bananaquits. I found that anyone planning to bird in the Caribbean must learn to love Bananaquits.
I then returned to Cinnamon Bay hoping to find either of the hummingbirds in the flowering plants around the small store there, but there was nothing. I then went into Cruz Bay to hike the Lind Point Trail. Previous trip reports have indicated that this was one of the most productive trails on the island. However it was 11:00, hot, and there were virtually no birds around. So I returned the car and caught the ferry back to St. Thomas having seen among my target birds only the Bridled Quail-Dove, several Pearly-eyed Thrashers, and two backlit Lesser Antillean Bullfinches. I did not see a single hummingbird.
The boat ride back to St. Thomas was uneventful but did produce one of the few Great Blue Herons that I saw on this trip. However leaving St. Thomas on my Cape Air flight to Puerto Rico, I was stunned to be asked for my passport, which I did not have. Apparently going from one U.S. possession to another is not the same as going from New York to Vermont, although I was not asked for a passport upon either entering or leaving Puerto Rico nor upon entering the Virgin Islands. I eventually convinced the immigration officer that I was a perfectly respectable American citizen, but if you are going to the Virgin Islands, it would be wise to carry a passport.
Upon arriving in San Juan, I picked up my car from National Rent-a-Car and headed for Mary-Lee’s-by-the-Sea in Guánica. Be sure to get a phone number in Puerto Rico that you can call if you have trouble with the car. I eventually had transmission trouble and the stateside number that they had given me for emergencies was useless.
You can check Mary Lee’s website (see above) for complete directions to her cottages. The directions are fine except for the last direction after the right turn off PR 333. She says that “It’s .6 miles to Mary Lee’s by the Sea.” This is correct, but what she doesn’t tell you is that “straight” is not really straight. If you do go straight, the road pitches down an embankment, passes a few houses, and goes into the Caribbean. Just before this happens and just after the San Jacinto Restaurant on your right, the street you have been on (Calle San Jacinto) turns left. Take this left turn and go over the slight rise. Mary Lee’s is on the right almost at the end of the street. Mary Lee’s has been justifiably recommended by a number of birders as the place to stay if you are birding in southwest Puerto Rico. She runs a number of self-catering rooms/cottages of different sizes and prices. I spent three nights in her least expensive (single room, microwave, plus bathroom and shower) room at $80.00/night. I too recommend her place highly. Alternatively, you could stay at the Copamarina Beach Resort, a full service but much pricier resort on PR 333 (the cheapest room available when I checked was $235.00/night).
January 5, 2006
The goal today was to see as many of the dry forest birds as possible. To that end, I decided to bird inside Guánica State Forest from the PR 334 entrance. To get there from Mary Lee’s, retrace your route back to PR 333, go west on 333 to PR 116 (4.4 miles, about 6km), north (right) to the next traffic light (about .2m), and then east (right) on PR 334. Some of the directions in previous trip reports say that you should bear left at each of two forks, which is correct, but the main route is fairly obvious, albeit unmarked. The first fork is the one most likely to cause confusion.
The first birds that I wanted to find were the Puerto Rican Screech-Owl and the Puerto Rican Nightjar. Officially, the gates open at 8:30 A.M., but “whenever” is actually closer to the mark. On the mornings that I was there, the workers opened the gate at about 7:40, which is much too late for either bird, but you can park off the road just before the entrance and then walk in. I was never harassed in any way any of the times that I did this. This day, I was in the field by 5:50 A.M. and the nightjars began to sing at 6:05. As it turned out, I was lucky. I walked this route several times over a seven-day period, and this was the best morning. As I walked up the hill during the next 35 minutes, I counted at least 7 individuals, but there may have been more. I was even luckier to be able to catch a male in the beam of my lamp and hold it there while the bird flutter-gleaned on the outside of a tree directly over the road. I did NOT use a tape. This is an endangered species. In his guide to the birds of Puerto Rico, Mark Oberle asks that people not use tapes for this bird. This is sound advice; the welfare of the birds should be paramount. Later in the morning, I ran into Dr. John Faaborg of the University of Missouri-Columbia who, together with some graduate students, was running mist net lines through the forest in order to count both native and migrant species (and saving some of them?). He said that the nightjars and the owls had been singing in good numbers higher up the hill as well. I did not hear any screech-owls that morning, but more on that later.
The nightjars quit at about 6:40, just as it got light enough to look for everything else (sunrise itself was about 20 minutes later). The first birds that I heard were Caribbean Elaenias, although at first, these, together with the Puerto Rican Vireos, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoos, Adelaide’s Warblers, and a single Puerto Rican Flycatcher were very uncooperative and would not show themselves. I also heard Zenaida and White-winged Doves and numerous local roosters, but since these were not life birds, I was content with hearing them. After finally seeing the first of several Puerto Rican Todies (which I consistently found to be the first diurnal bird to become active after the doves), I returned to my car, now about .6m back down the hill. I then drove up to the headquarters/picnic area and continued birding from there.
There are numerous trails running through the Guánica State Forest, and several of these radiate from the headquarters/picnic area. Rudimentary maps are available at the headquarters, but the headquarters does not open until 8:30. I decided to bird the Granados Trail, which numerous previous trip reports had suggested, and return to the headquarters on the Julio Valez Trail. The trails are well-marked, indeed, much better than many of the roads on the island. I probably spent too much time at the trailhead trying to coax a Caribbean Elaenia into view, but was ultimately rewarded with good looks of both the elaenia and Adelaide’s Warbler. The numbers recorded at the end of this report rely heavily on birds that I heard, and Adelaide’s Warbler was by far the most vocal bird of the morning. Hiking along this trail, I also found Ruddy Quail-Dove, the butt end of a female Antillean Mango, the ubiquitous Bananaquits, a female Indigo Bunting, and Puerto Rican Bullfinch.
Approaching the headquarters on the Julio Valez Trail, I encountered two of Dr. Faaborg’s graduate assistants camped beside the trail and suddenly heard the squawk of a Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, a bird that I had already heard that morning but had been unable to see. The grad students and I headed off to where I had heard the cuckoo and, by now, Dr. Faaborg calling for his students. There at the intersection of the Julio Valez and Dinamita Trails was Dr. Faaborg with the cuckoo in hand (No, I didn’t count it. I have not counted any of the birds caught in the nets or seen in-hand). Dr. Faaborg graciously gave me the “ecotour” (his term) of his mist net lines strung out along the Dinamita Trail and a parallel trail (Murcielago?) that was connected by a bushwhacked trail, and saw a pair of Puerto Rican Woodpeckers along the way. He told me that a pair of Antillean Euphonias was beginning a nest along this parallel trail, but they were not present then. I should have asked for more specific directions because I would end up missing this bird altogether. Returning to the headquarters I added American Kestrel and Gray Kingbird to the morning’s list. I then headed back to Mary Lee’s (about 12:30).
During the afternoon, land birding becomes rather slow, so I decided to head to Laguna Cartagena. Between PR 333 and Mary Lee’s, there is a small tidal bay opposite the San Jacinto Restaurant. On the way back to PR 333, I stopped here and found Great and Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Heron, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Common Ground-Dove, Northern Mockingbird, and House Sparrow. I also stopped at the intersection of PR 333 to check the Bougainvillea surrounding the Copamarina Resort and found a male Antillean Mango. En route to Laguna Cartagena there were several Turkey Vultures, Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Kingbirds, and a Red-tailed Hawk. A note on getting through Lajas: my directions said to go south on PR 116 (which soon turns westward) from its intersection with PR 333, stay on PR 116 until it comes to a T-intersection at PR 101, turn left on 101 through Lajas until you come to the intersection of PR 306 in Llanos. This will work, but if one is coming from the south, the road signs say to do otherwise. When you come to the traffic light at the intersection of 116 and 315, the signs direct you left on 315 to Lajas. This works too. What you need to watch for is the turn that PR 101 takes in the middle of Lajas. If you take PR 116 to PR 101 and then south into Lajas, this turn will be a right. If you approach Lajas on 315, you must turn right at the T-intersection, go into town, and turn left on PR 101. Continue on 101 and ignore the first intersection with PR 306 in Palmarejo. Stay on 101 until you come to an intersection marked as a right turn onto PR 306 in Llanos. 306 actually goes in both directions. Turn left. Continue for about .5m until you see the laguna on the left. There is a small parking area with an information kiosk, but there was nothing on the kiosk, the gate was locked, and there was barbed wire meant to prevent people from even squeezing between the gate and the rest of the fence. I then returned to the road where I was able to get partial views of the laguna. Here I was able to see Great, Snowy, and Cattle Egrets; Little Blue and Green Herons, Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, Smooth-billed Ani, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, and most important, Caribbean Coot. Nevertheless, I hope that access to the laguna improves in the future. A word of caution: when I was there, PR 306 was freshly graded dirt. The grading clearly continued to a T-intersection and turned both right and left on PR 305. On the map, this appears to be a much shorter route back to PR 116. Raffaele recommends against it, however. On the other hand (I thought), his recommendation was made in 1989, and now the road is freshly graded. DON’T DO IT. Raffaele was right in 1989, and he was still right in 2006. The road becomes increasingly narrow and rutted. It was passable in a 2WD vehicle if done with care, but if you meet a car coming toward you, one of you is going to have to back up a long way.
Once you get to the intersection with PR 303, however, it is safe to continue on 305 to 116. From here, I headed eastward to PR 304 and the village of La Parguera in an attempt to find Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. The arrival of Shiny Cowbirds in Puerto Rico has drastically reduced the numbers of the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds, but they are supposed to be reliably seen in late afternoon inside the grounds of the Parador Villa Parguera before they fly out to roost on the mangrove islands. La Parguera also has the distinction of being the only town in Puerto Rico in which I did not get lost. It was 4:45 by the time I found a place to park, but there was still plenty of daylight left. I went to the Parador and asked permission to look for the birds on the grounds. They were a bit taken aback that I even asked: they do not seem to mind birders simply walking in and looking for the birds. Inside I found a pair of birders from Minnesota who assured me that I had not yet missed anything. Nor would I; the birds never made an appearance. The only birds seen that evening, including the walk from the car, were Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern, Turkey Vulture, Common Ground Dove, Gray Kingbird, Bananaquit, and Greater Antillean Grackle. I then had dinner at the Parador (not very good – the best place to eat in La Parguera, a bit pricey but recommended by Mary Lee, is a small restaurant called Aguazul. To find it, go eastward on the same street that the parador is on, continue past the intersection of PR 304, and the restaurant is on the left opposite a large parking lot. If you miss it, the road comes to a dead end in another ½ block, so simply retrace your steps, looking now to your right. The chef/owner of the restaurant trained at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, NY, not the other CIA), and the food is excellent [I ate there several days later]). La Casita at the west end of town has serviceable food at lower prices. The parador provides another option for accommodations, but for a weekend, it would be wise to book early. It is also 16 miles farther from Guánica State Forest than are Mary Lee’s or the Copamarina.
After dinner, I decided to return to the entrance of Guánica State Forest to try my luck on Puerto Rican Screech-Owl. I arrived at about 7:45 and headed up the road. At about 100m, I heard a screech-owl calling to my right. This time I did have a tape, but was having trouble with the cassette, so I was playing a very lethargic screech-owl. I found that these birds do respond to tapes; they call back. That is all they do; they do not fly in (or at least this one didn’t. From past trip reports, my guess is that he is used to birders). Raffaele suggests squeaking like an injured mouse. I did, and the owl called back. I am quite confident that my mouse squeak was accurate because I did manage to call in a (feral?) cat, but not the owl. After a bit more than ½ hour of playing cat, mouse, and owl, I decided to return to Mary Lee’s and to bed. There would be other days.
January 6, 2006
The principal goal this day was to bird the upper elevation montane forests of the Maricao State Forest. I left Mary Lee’s very early in order to get to the park headquarters at km 16.2 before sunrise, but I did not leave enough time for getting lost. Mark Oberle’s “Sample Birding Route” suggests that one leave PR 2 at “the western exit for Sabana Grande (PR 102). After getting off PR 2, head north from the freeway for 0.1m to a ‘T’ intersection. Turn right toward Sabana Grande, go 1.4 miles, then turn left at the signs for PR 120/Monte del Estado.” I can only imagine that, approaching Sabana Grande from the east, I left PR 2 too soon. At any rate, the turn onto PR 102 was a left, not a right, and I never saw any signs for PR 120. To make matters worse, there was not much open at 5:30 A.M. I did find a gas station, but the attendant knew no English, and although I knew enough Spanish to ask for directions, I didn’t know enough to understand the answer. One thing that I did learn, however: asking for directions by route number is frequently useless. Tell people where you want to go and they are most helpful. I did know that somehow I was too far to the north, but I had no way of knowing how many blocks I had to go to the south before turning west again. After about 45 minutes of frustrating trail and error, I finally found the road to Maricao (not marked with a route number). It started to get light when I was still 10-12 km from the headquarters, so any hope of owling there had to be abandoned. I did, however, see several Red-legged Thrushes as I drove along the road. At km 16.2 turn left off PR 120 into the entrance to the headquarters of Maricao State Forest. There are other places to pull off along the way, but most reports indicate that this spot is the most productive, especially for Elfin-woods Warbler. Those who might wish a list of alternative pull-offs should see Barry Cooper and Gail Mackiernan’s 2002 report. However this turn-off bears down the hill and keeps bearing left until it has made a complete 180̊ turn and is parallel to the highway. In a short distance, you will pass a pair of benches and see some parking spaces by a picnic pavilion and a fork to the right that will take you into the headquarters itself. The headquarters gate was locked, so I parked by the pavilion and retraced my route back down the road. Up on the hillside I heard several Scaly-naped Pigeons and saw a Green Mango feeding high up in the canopy. Several Puerto Rican Bullfinches were singing and a single Puerto Rican Screech-Owl was calling. This was great. The sun was not yet up on that side of the hill, but it was certainly light enough to bird (about 7:00 A.M.). But the bird was hidden well up in the trees, and again, try as I might, I could not coax it into view. By 7:15, it had stopped calling. Behind me, I saw a flycatcher perched on an antenna in the distance. It was too far away for me to make out all of its markings, but from its shape and general color pattern, I assumed that it was a Puerto Rican Flycatcher (that is, a Myarchus and not a kingbird) – not a good enough look for a life bird, though. I also heard Puerto Rican Pewee and Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo calling from somewhere out of sight and the ever-present Puerto Rican Todies had begun their daily excursions. I then turned back toward my original direction and continued past the headquarters entrance. A hundred yards or so beyond, there is a choice of three possible ways to go. A paved footpath heads up the hill to the left to some benches at an overlook, the main road becomes an unpaved jeep trail and continues straight ahead on the other side of a barrier and curves around to the left contouring the hillside, and a rather rough footpath heads steeply downhill to the right. Although not an Episcopalian, I took the middle way.
At first the route was not terribly productive. I saw a pair of American Kestrels and a Black-throated Blue Warbler (the first North American migrant of the trip), but not much else. A short way up, a side trail leads to the left off the main jeep road, which soon makes a sharp turn to the right. It was at this intersection that activity began to pick up. The first bird that I saw was a Puerto Rican Tanager. I quickly learned to watch for these; they are frequently the lead bird of a feeding flock. Furthermore, the immatures were intensely curious. Over the course of the morning, I had three or four approach to almost within an arm’s reach. Behind the tanagers came Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Vireo, Puerto Rican Pewee, and, in what has been reported to be the most reliable location on the island, an adult and an immature Elfin-woods Warbler, and yes, Bananaquits. I continued on, but saw nothing new. On the way back to the car I saw a Puerto Rican Woodpecker. By the time I got back to the car, the headquarters gate was open and picnickers had arrived. I went back toward the benches once more as a feeding flock was coming through. Following the tanagers came the more of what I had seen higher up with an additional adult Elfin-woods Warbler (not the same bird as above – the first bird had been banded, this one was not), and a male Black-and-White Warbler, which provided an opportunity to compare the two. I also found a Black-faced Grassquit along the road.
I left the headquarters area at about 10:45 and headed for Parador Hacienda Juanita. I would like to have stayed here, but since this weekend was La Fiesta de los Tres Reyes (Festival of the Three Kings), they were requiring a minimum three-night stay. To get there, continue on PR 120 to the end and turn left on PR 105. The parador is about 1 mile ahead on the right. Unfortunately, its presence was apparent long before I got there. Because of the holiday, they had a la plena band whose music was amplified well above the decibel level of a jet engine. Even when I put the hillside between the music and me, it was impossible to hear birds. The band did stop for lunch, but lunch is served only during specific hours, so if you don’t eat it when it is served, you don’t get any. There has also been some serious damage to the forest behind the parador. Much was damaged during hurricane Georges, but there has apparently been considerable recent bulldozing of the west side of the trail, so that that entire side is now in the open, albeit along the forest edge. There is a trail to the west off the loop trail, and I followed it for a bit, but this is certainly off the property of the parador. Nevertheless, I managed to find many of the same montane species as I had seen at the forest headquarters, adding only a pair of Loggerhead Kingbirds and a Puerto Rican Emerald to the trip list. If there were any Antillean Euphonias about, I could not have heard them. I left at about 2:30 and headed down the mountain on PR 105 and PR 119 from which I followed the signs for San Germán.
The reason for going to San Germán was to see the introduced White-winged Parakeets on the campus of the Universidad InterAmericana. The best directions to the university are those on the accompanying CD in Mark Oberle’s Puerto Rico’s Birds in Photographs. Everyone who gives directions says that the entrance is on the right side of the road on PR 102 (called Calle Luna in town) a mile or two west of town. Nevertheless, I could not find it. Once again, my Spanish was too weak to understand the directions that people gave me (which I suspect were unnecessarily complex). After driving PR 102 for a while, I decided to give up and head back to La Parguera to look for the blackbirds again. There is a sign marked to Lajas at a traffic light at what I suspect is a new road (at least it is not on my map) heading south (Oberle identifies this road as PR 166). As I was about to take the left turn onto the new road, I realized that the entrance to the university was opposite on my right. It is not marked; rather, it is the entrance to an athletic field. However the gate was padlocked and there was no guard, presumably because of the holiday, and so the whole trip was for naught in any case. I did, however, see an Osprey carrying a fish.
I arrived at La Parguera just before 5:00, parked the car, and on the way to the parador found three Puerto Rican Spindalises and two Indian Silverbills. There was nothing new at the parador, but I did meet some Americans who were interested in birds, who approached me with a copy of Peterson’s Eastern Birds, and who told me that they had seen a bird that they could not find in their field guide. They asked if I could identify the bird, which looked just like a Red-winged Blackbird but without any red in the wings. Birders must remember to maintain their senses of irony if not their senses of humor. They said that they had seen the birds that morning in the market stalls just down the road. I headed off in that direction, did not find the blackbirds, but I did find a large Greater Antillean Grackle roost on a side street behind the Nautilus Hotel. I had dinner at La Casita at the west end of town, serviceable but not fancy, and headed back to the PR 334 entrance to Guánica State Forest for the owl. I arrived at 6:45 and stayed for an hour. I heard no owl that night but did hear three Puerto Rican Nightjars. I then returned to Mary Lee’s for the night.
January 7, 2006
Once again I decided to go after the Puerto Rican Screech-Owl at the PR 334 entrance to Guánica State Forest. I arrived at 6:15 and started up the hill. At first I heard only the PR Nightjars (4), but as it started to get light, I saw 2 Puerto Rican Todies, a Puerto Rican Vireo, a Caribbean Elaenia, a Puerto Rican Emerald, two Adelaide’s Warblers, two Pearly-eyed Thrashers, and the requisite Bananaquits. I also heard two Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoos just above the entrance gate. The screech-owl called once at 6:40. I then headed to La Parguera to try again for the blackbirds.
I arrived at La Parguera at about 7:40, parked the car, and in a field immediately opposite my parking space alongside the church on Avienda de los Pescadores, I saw a feeding flock of 15 Bronze Mannikins and a Black-faced Grassquit. 3 Ringed Turtle-Doves were perched on the wires outside the parador together with a Gray Kingbird, and inside the parador grounds as well as in the market stalls were Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds. I saw a total of 4 before heading to the PR 333 entrance of Guánica State Forest at 8:10.
The PR 333 entrance is the far eastern end of PR 333. There is a large parking lot at “Puerto Ballena” to service the public Tamarindo Beach. The pool that many observers report opposite this lot did not exist at this time, but the cracked mud indicated where it had been. It was just after 9:00 A.M. when I arrived and was already quite warm and windy, but I decided to walk the Meseta Trail anyway. The forest here is much drier than that at the higher PR 334 entrance. The most common birds were Adelaide’s Warblers and Bananaquits, but the trail and the beach also produced Brown Pelican, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, a female Antillean Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, a good look at Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Caribbean Elaenia, Gray Kingbird, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Northern Mockingbird, and two Venezuelan Troupials. At about 10:45, I returned to Mary Lee’s to check out.
At about noon on the road from Mary Lee’s to PR 333, I found ~6 Yellow-faced Grassquits, a Black-faced Grassquit, and an Indian Silverbill. I decided to head back to Dr. Faaborg’s mist nets to look for the Antillean Euphonias that he had mentioned, but by the time I got there, it was 2:00 and windy, and I found nothing. I then headed to San Juan for the night.
Because my wife would be coming in to spend the rest of our vacation in Puerto Rico, I decided to spend the rest of my birding trip in San Juan. For logistical reasons, I also needed a place near the airport, which is on the northeast side of the city near the neighborhood of Isla Verde. I chose to spend the night and the time in San Juan with my wife at the small Hotel La Playa whose web page described it as a small family-run hotel on the beach at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood. Its closest large chain hotel was the Ritz-Carleton. And all of this was only $109/night. I then spent my worst night ever on a birding trip. There was virtually no parking; the cul-de-sac overlooked a large waste container; a loud band played until the wee hours of the morning; the room and bathroom were cleaned only superficially; the room was full of mosquitoes; there were no screens; the jalousies, which looked as if they hadn’t even been dusted in a decade, wouldn’t close. There was no way that I would ask my wife to stay here, but the final insult came at 5:00 A.M. when I found that I was padlocked in behind iron bars (I suspect that the escape route in case of fire was to dive into the ocean). I then had to argue with the night watchman to be let out, who then did not want to let me back in to retrieve the rest of my gear. I then decided to clear out completely and find another hotel. I went to the nearby Hampton Inn, which, because it is not on the beach, was much cheaper than other Isla Verde chain hotels and which fortunately had rooms available. After some negotiation, they gave me their $169/night rate ($184 with tax), and I made reservations for the remainder of our nights in San Juan. I then returned to the Hotel La Playa and checked out. Nevertheless, when I returned home, I found that they still charged me for one additional night. [ADDENDUM: The TripAdvisor web page, which either did not exist or else I did not know about it at the time, shows other experiences like mine at La Playa at this time. However it appears that this establishment was sold and renovated in 2008, and recent entries have much more pleasant reports].
January 8, 2006
Today was my day to bird at Humacao Wildlife Refuge to look for West Indian Whistling-Duck and Antillean Crested Hummingbird, but the change of hotels took time, and by the time I reached the refuge, it was 7:50 A.M. The route from San Juan is to take PR 17 from the airport to its junction with autopista 18. This junction is marked “Caguas”; there is no route number marking. Furthermore, the sign is at the bottom of the entry ramp under the underpass of the autopista. Autopista 18 becomes autopista 52. Autopista 30 divides from autopista 52 at a tollgate just north of Caguas. Just prior to Humacao, the autopista splits to intersect with autopista 53. Take the northernmost of the two possibilities and exit at route 3. Contrary to my map, autopista 53 is complete north of Humacao. Take route 3 north 3.1 miles to the refuge entrance on the right. The drive from San Juan to Humacao took about one hour.
By the time I arrived, it was already too late in the day to have a reasonable chance to find the whistling-duck, which occasionally occurs in the drainage ditch on the east side of the refuge. I looked through the flowering trees near the headquarters, and, finding no hummingbirds, continued into the refuge. I continued straight into the refuge, and before reaching the coast, turned right to a large lagoon. From there I continued in the same direction along the well-maintained trails along other lagoons. In addition to the large iguanas dropping into the lagoon, I found 6 Great Egrets, 6 Tricolored Herons, 5 Little Blue Herons, 9 Snowy Egrets, 2 Green Herons, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 17 White-cheeked Pintails, 4 Ospreys, 17 Common Moorhens, 3 American Coots, 7 Black-necked Stilts, 3 Greater and 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, 5 Spotted Sandpipers, a Royal Tern, 3 Eurasian Collared-Doves, a Zenaida Dove, 5 White-winged Doves, a pair of Common Ground-Doves, a Mangrove Cuckoo, 3 Smooth-billed Anis, a pair of Puerto Rican Woodpeckers, 7 Gray Kingbirds, a Northern Mockingbird, a Northern Parula, 9 Bananaquits, 4 Black-faced Grassquits, 7 Greater Antillean Grackles, and a flock of about 30 Orange-cheeked Waxbills and 3 Nutmeg Mannikins. A return trip later in the afternoon would produce a Great Blue Heron and an American Kestrel.
I then went to nearby Palmas del Mar to see if I could find Caribbean Martins, a small flock of which supposedly winters there. Palmas del Mar is a series of gated communities within a larger gated entrance. I was able to persuade the guard at the main gate to let me in to look for birds, but I found absolutely nothing. I went toward the golf course and checked all of the bougainvillea along the route, but still nothing. Without more specific information, there was not much point in trying to enter each individual community.
I then returned to autopista 53 and decided to drive to Fajardo to see if I could find hummingbirds in the trees along the beach. However, the signs pointing to the beach all led to the embarcadero for boats to Vieques and Culebra. I eventually found the beach, but no flowering trees. I checked all the bougainvillea I could find, but no hummingbirds. So I returned to Humacao refuge.
I intended to look for Yellow-breasted Crake in an isolated part of the refuge along PR 925 that is mentioned in Jim Hully’s 2004 trip report. I found the gate (about .6 mile from route 3 on the northern end of the 925 loop) without any trouble, but it was locked. I returned to the refuge headquarters where I was told that I need permission to enter. I was also told that I could get permission, but the person who could give it to me was not available on weekends; try again on Monday. Furthermore, I was told that it would not be safe for me to go in alone carrying all of my birding equipment. So I returned to the Hampton Inn (whose staff was perhaps the most courteous and most helpful I have found anywhere).
January 9, 2006
Today was the day to bird “El Yunque,” the Caribbean National Forest in the Sierra de Luquillo. My goal was to find the screech-owl, the two hummingbirds that I had not yet seen, Greater Antillean Oriole, Antillean Euphonia, and perhaps a closer look at Green Mango. The directions from Isla Verde are straight-forward: Take route 26 (the road to the airport) east until it merges with route 3 in Carolina and continue eastward until the turnoff to El Yunque on PR 191. I was told that this should take about 45 minutes. However, the road was under construction, there was heavy traffic in both directions even at 5:30-6:00 A.M., and there are many, many traffic lights. The trip took about ½ hour longer than planned. I arrived at 7:00 A.M. just as it was getting light.
The next problem was where to go: many trip reports refer to the “visitor center,” but it is not always clear which center is meant. There are three: the main center at El Portal plus Sierra Palm and Palo Colorado higher up. Furthermore, the El Portal center does not open until 9:00 A.M., and I was not allowed to park in the parking lot until then. There is also an access control gate at La Coca Falls (km 8.1), which is posted as being closed until 7:30 A.M. I later found out that this is rarely the case; the gate is almost always left open (although one should probably not risk getting caught behind the gate after 6:00 P.M. when it is supposed to be locked). Just beyond the El Portal Visitor Center, however, there are service buildings with a large employee parking lot. I decided to park there, and no one seemed to mind. On the other hand, I did not go far from the car or the parking lot. Just beyond that, there is a pull-out (bus stop?) with an information kiosk. I parked there later in the day, but my guess is that this is not supposed to be a parking lot.
My strategy was going to be to bird my way slowly up the hill, but as had been the case all that week, the upper regions of the forest were enshrouded in cloud, it was cold (~50̊F), and it was raining, sometimes quite hard. What I did, therefore, was follow my initial strategy until it rained too hard to bird and then went down to where the birding had been a bit more productive, birded for a while, and then went back up the mountain. At all times, the lower elevations were more productive. By the end of the day, I had found 4 Scaly-naped Pigeons; 3 Zenaida Doves; 5 White-winged Doves; 3 Common Ground-Doves; 2 Orange-winged Parrots (introduced) flying over the El Portal Visitor Center parking lot, identified by Victor Cuevas-Padró, a resident biologist who found me birding in the parking lot at closing time; a Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo (heard only); 10 Gray Kingbirds, 6 Red-legged Thrushes; 4 Pearly-eyed Thrashers; a Northern Parula; ~30 Bananaquits; 3 Yellow-faced Grassquits, 2 Puerto Rican Bullfinches; and 3 Greater Antillean Orioles, the latter thanks to Victor Cuevas-Padró. I then returned to San Juan to take a nap before my wife’s plane arrived.
January 10, 2006
My wife is not a birder, so there was no birding today. However we went to Morro Castle in Old San Juan, and I took my binoculars with the hope of seeing either Saffron Finch or Java Sparrow. But it was very windy and we saw no birds at all.
We then headed for Guánica to spend two nights in one of Mary Lee’s larger apartments (Alégre - $160/night).
January 11, 2006
I took advantage of the fact that Claudia likes to sleep late when she is on vacation and returned to the PR 334 entrance of Guánica State Forest in order to find the screech-owl. I arrived at the gate at 5:40 A.M. where it was noticeably quieter than it had been the week before. There were a few quick “whips” from a Puerto Rican Nightjar at about 6:00, and two birds called at 6:25, but that was it for the nightjars. I walked up the hill about ¼ mile, beyond where the road takes a left turn, where a screech-owl called, but I do not know if this was the same bird that had been just above the gate. I was unable to call the bird in. All of the birds this morning were heard only: 4 White-winged Doves, 2 Zenaida Doves, a Scaly-naped Pigeon, a Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, a Puerto Rican Screech-Owl, 2 or 3 Puerto Rican Nightjars, 2 Puerto Rican Todies, 3 Caribbean Elaenias, 2 Pearly-eyed Thrashers, a Puerto Rican Vireo, and 2 Adelaide’s Warblers. I left the gate at 7:15. At 7:30 at the lagoon opposite the San Jacinto Restaurant were 2 Brown Pelicans, 8 Great Egrets, an American Kestrel, a Greater Yellowlegs, and 2 Black-bellied Plovers.
January 12, 2006
In an effort to see (rather than hear) the screech-owl, my routine this morning was the same as the previous day. On this day, I again arrived at 5:40. The nightjars began to sing at 6:25 and continued for about 15 minutes. The screech-owl that was usually ~100 meters above the gate was calling, but again would not show himself. In addition to the tremolo, these birds have a vocalization that is often described as a “maniacal laugh” (Raffaele) or a cackle; it is actually a taunt. In addition to the invisible screech-owl, there was a Scaly-naped Pigeon, 3 Zenaida Doves, 2 White-winged Doves, 2 Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoos (both seen, albeit poorly), 3 Puerto Rican Nightjars (heard only), a Puerto Rican Emerald, 4 Puerto Rican Todies, 4 Caribbean Elaenias, 2 Pearly-eyed Thrashers, a Puerto Rican Vireo (heard only), 3 Adelaide’s Warblers (heard only), 4 Bananaquits, and a Greater Antillean Grackle. From 7:40-8:00 at the lagoon opposite the San Jacinto were 2 Brown Pelicans, 8 Great Egrets, 2 Common Ground-Doves, 2 Black-bellied Plovers, 15 Black-necked Stilts, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Greater Yellowlegs, 2 Lesser Yellowlegs, a Willet, a Stilt Sandpiper, and 2 Gray Kingbirds, and later that morning at Mary Lee’s, 2 House Sparrows.
Most of the birds at the lagoon were gone when we went by at 12:30 P.M., however, a Snowy Egret, 2 Little Blue Herons, and an American Kestrel appeared.
We decided to take the long way back to San Juan around the west coast of the island to Rincón. At about 3:00, we stopped at the Beyond-the-Point Restaurant in Rincón where, despite the rain, we saw a Brown Pelican, a Brown Booby, a Magnificent Frigatebird, numerous Greater Antillean Grackles, and about 40 Cave Swallows moving up the coast. A stop at the Rincón lighthouse about 45 minutes yielded nothing out of the ordinary.
January 13, 2006
Claudia left early this morning and I had a few hours before my flight left, so I decided to look around the Isla Grande Airport, which Raffaele recommends for some of the many introduced species on the island. To get there from Isla Verde, take route 26 toward Old San Juan and turn left at the intersection with route 1. The right turn into Casa Grande is a bit complicated, but it is almost immediately after the left on route 1. There is a new International Convention Center being built as one enters the peninsula. There was also considerable truck noise. There was nothing around except various doves, Gray Kingbirds, grackles, and Bananaquits. When I looked at Raffaele’s map later, it may have been that I did not go far enough onto the peninsula. His directions to Isla Grande are fine but do not use route numbers.
I then left Isla Grande and headed for the Jardín Botántico. To get there, follow route 1 south (Avienda Luis Muñoz Rivera) to its intersection with route 3 just south of the campus of the Universidad de Puerto Rico. The botanical garden is at this intersection. A map and bird list are available at the information center just up the hill on the left. The main parking lot is on the right. Not having much time, I headed to a weedy area to the right behind the Biology building. On the way I found a Great Egret and Common Moorhen, and behind the building were 3 Zenaida Doves, 3 Gray Kingbirds, a superb look at a Puerto Rican Flycatcher, 2 Mangrove Cuckoos, a Pearly-eyed Thrasher, and 4 Bananaquits. The garden is quite extensive and would be well worth a longer look for someone who has extra time in San Juan.
I left the botanical garden at noon and headed back to the airport and home.
E = Puerto Rican endemic
C = Caribbean endemic or near endemic
I = Introduced species
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
42 at Laguna Cartagena on January 5
White-cheeked Pintail Anas bahamensis C
Five at Mary Point Pond on St. John on January 4; 17 in one of the lagoons at Humacao Wildlife Refuge on the 8th
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
Two at Laguna Cartagena on January 5