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PUERTO RICO


28 May 28 - 1 June 2004

 

by Jim Hully

  I know this is over a year old but hopefully someone will find it useful. Thanks to some cheap airfares between Boston & San Juan I took an extended weekend of birding, concentrating on the islandís 17 endemics. I planned on spending most of the time in the southwest with at least one morning on the northeast for the two hummingbirds and parrot. As it turned out it was very successful, getting all of the island endemics and most of the endemic races.


 
Thanks to all the folks on Birdchat for their advice, the various trip report repositories and a special thanks to Mark Oberle for his help with some of the lesser-known birding sites. I used Herbert Raffaele et al field guide to the Birds of the West Indies (2003). The only map I found useful & accurate was the 1:190,000 scale from International Travel Maps.


Friday 28th May:


 
We arrived around midday at San Juan international airport, picked up a rental car and headed south on route 52 (toll) towards Cidra/Cima for Plain Pigeon. Not surprisingly, our first lifer was Greater Antillean Grackles, they proved to be everywhere. Taking route 156 (exit near Caguas) to the pigeon site was quick except for Aguas Buenas. The location is a school (I never saw a name but according to other reports itís either Escuela Superior Sabana or Escuela Maria C. Santiago!) with the birds frequenting the edges of the adjoining playing fields. It is easy to find on the west side of route 172 almost a mile south of the junction with 156. Basically, just pull into the small parking lot and scan the tall trees that line the playing field. There were plenty of pigeons flying overhead and many roosting in the trees. After setting up the scope they all turned out to be Plain Pigeons. Nearby were Puerto Rican Todies, Puerto Rican Woodpeckers, Pearly-eyed Thrashers, and Zenaida Doves. We retraced our route back to route 52 and headed towards Ponce on the south coast.


 
We were booked into the Holiday Inn on the west side of town. After dropping Gina off, I decided to check out the route to Maracao State Park (Bosque Estatal de Maricao) in daylight as I was planning on driving to Maracao before light the next morning. Except for a few wrong turns in Sabana Grande, I quickly found myself on route 120 and less than 16 kilometers from Maracao so I dashed up to the park headquarters. The narrow & windy road has been recently resurfaced so 30 minutes later I was birding along the entrance to the headquarters at kilometer post 16. The entrance and post marker (on your left coming from Sabana Grande are obvious. I found more Puerto Rican Todies, Puerto Rican Vireos, Puerto Rican Tanagers, Puerto Rican Spindalis & Scaly-naped Pigeon. Amazingly, an Elfin-wood Warbler hopped into view (100 metres from the entrance) and a Puerto Rican Bullfinch rounded the day off, or so I thought. I headed back towards Sabana Grande with a quick stop at the lookout tower on route 120 for Red-legged Thrush & Green Mango, both of which later proved to be elusive.


 
Back on route 2 with over 20 minutes of daylight remaining, I decided to check out Guanica State Park. Taking route 334 I arrived at the park entrance (gated) as it started to get dark. Despite the cacophony of geese, ducks, pigs, dogs & humans from the house that border the park, I could hear Puerto Rican Nightjars calling in the distance. Barely five minutes into the park and a Puerto Rican Nightjar flew along the road and perched in the open for me to video. Reluctantly, I retraced my steps back to the Ponce after a pretty amazing afternoon of birding.

 

Saturday, 29th May


  With yesterdayís successes I decided to go back to the entrance for Guanica State Park with Gina and concentrate on finding the Puerto Rican Owl. Again the encroaching human settlements around the park entrance was generating itís own dawn chorus and only after walking over the first rise could I appreciate the real dawn chorus in this unique habitat. Puerto Rican Nightjars again greeted me but as it slowly began to get light I heard a Puerto Rican Owl started calling. After much walking up & down the road I eventually pinpointed the bird. In typical fashion, as soon as I grabbed the video it flew away. For the rest of the morning we strolled along the road seeing lots of Mangrove Cuckoos, Puerto Rican Emerald, Antillean Mango, ubiquitous Gray Kingbirds, Adelaideís Warbler, Black-faced Grassquits, Caribbean Elaenia (the only one of the trip) & a noisy, brash Troupial. Heard Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoos at regular intervals but none were close to the road.


  After a pit stop for food at a Subway, we drove back up to the headquarters of Maracao State Park. While Gina was painting, I birded the trails that started just beyond the headquarters (there is a barrier on the same side as the buildings). I only explored the first kilometer (goes downhill very quickly) or so but still I found another Elfin-woods Warbler, lots of Bananaquits, my first Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo, a Loggerhead Kingbird. A pair of Greater Antillian Orioles appeared to be nesting in one of the building of the park headquarters. We check out Hacienda Juanita but it was by now too hot and consequently there were few birds.


  We continued on towards Mayaguez along an old and deteriorating road (route 105?). Although a slower route it offered plenty of prime forest and absolutely no traffic. Saw a good selection of birds essentially the same as Maracao including a very showy Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo. Eventually worked our way to the coast and headed north on route 2 for a pond near AŮasco which is the best site for West Indian Whistling Duck in Puerto Rico (recommended by Mark). Iím pretty sure I found the right pond but there were no Whistling Ducks, but I was compensated with great views of Caribbean Martins & a female Red Bishop.


  Back on route 2 we drove down to Parguera for the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds and dinner (in that order). Just as other birders have reported, we walked through the Parador Villa Parguera onto the manicure gardens and watched the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds & Greater Antillean Grackles in the tops of the palms. After a quick diner we drove west towards Boqueron, passing the entrance to Boqueron Forest Bird Refuge which was closed, and towards the lighthouse at Cabo Rojo. We never made it to the end as we watch the sun set from a obvious wooden lookout a few miles from of the lighthouse. This was the only place where we saw any shorebirds. As it began to get dark I saw more Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds (flying east to roost?) along with amazing eye-level views of vocal Antillean Nighthawks.

 

Sunday, May 30th


 
As I still needed Puerto Rican Pewee I drove back up to Maracao before light. A Puerto Rican Screech Owl was calling as I walked along the entrance road down to the headquarters. An hour later I had had much better views of Puerto Rican Vireo (now I see why it has itís own genus), Puerto Rican Bullfinch & Puerto Rican Spindalis but no pewee. Just as I was thinking of driving to Hacienda Juanita I heard a pewee-like call and there, on the wires right next to my car was a Puerto Rican Pewee. I decided to give the grounds of the hacienda a quick check as well as along the road. Saw the same stuff except for a brief and unsatisfactory look at a probable Antillean Euphonia. Stopped at Susua State Park (well marked east of Sabana Grande on route 368) but bailed after learning that there was a mountain bike competition.

  After breakfast, we drove to the southern end Guanica State Park and birded along route 333 which skirts the ocean. Despite the humidity & heat I quickly found Puerto Rican Flycatchers, Puerto Rican Woodpeckers and the ever-present Adelaideís Warbler. Finding a place to park here might be a hassle here as the adjoining beaches were very popular.

  Despite having been up there three times including this morning, we went back to Maracao State Park. I explored the same trails that start beyond the headquarters and loop around the back. Birds were still active and I had my best view of a Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo, a female Elfin-woods Warbler (seen three out of four visits!) and a Key West Quail Dove. In contrast to my previous experiences with quail doves, this individual hopped onto a low branch, did a few head dips and looked at me while I took some video. A Ruddy Quail Dove rounded off a very successful day.

 

Monday, May 31st


 
With the key endemics for southeast Puerto Rico out of the way I decided to explore Laguna Cartena. I found the entrance off a poorly marked road on the west side of the lake. The road appears to be a continuation of route 306 south from Llanos. As you cross over route 101 you will drive down a narrow muddy lane which could easily become a quagmire with a little rain. If driving along route 101 just look for the junction with 306 and take the road south. This track takes you close to the west side of the lake (though not visible from the car). Just before the track veers east, look for a metal gate on the same side. There should be a sign set somewhat back indicating the laguna. The habitat around the lake reminds me of Africa - tall grasses, acacia-like trees and flocks of Red & Orange Bishops! As I walked east the edge the lake gradually opened up and I scanned hoping for my nemesis bird, Masked Duck. But all I found were Ruddy Ducks, Black-winged Stilts and Caribbean Coots.

  After breakfast, we headed east to Humacao via Guayama. After lunch birded the Humacao Refuge (not shown on any of the maps). The refuge headquarters are 3.1 miles east of the intersection between routes 3 and 53 on the right side. Note that the refuge headquarters are closed at 3.30pm in winter (later in the summer), but there is access to the lagoons just beyond the headquarters. Look for a well-trodden path lined with litter that parallels the park headquarters fence. This provides public access to the beaches. Only the park headquarters are fenced off. Once you cross the sluices just beyond the headquarters there are a number of trails and ponds. The best birding areas are the ponds to the right. This is another good spot for West Indian Whistling Duck but not on this day, I did get a male Green-throated Carib and a pair of Black-billed Waxbills. I was surprised to hear Adelaideís Warbler but Mark Oberle confirmed that they do occur on the east coast. I was also surprised by the size of the iguanas that basked along the edges of the ponds.

  Mark had very kindly given me a location for Yellow-breasted Crake at a remote part of refuge. From the refuge entrance return towards Humacao on route 3 for 0.6 miles and turn right (north) on route 925. Drive 1.2 miles to a locked gate on the right (DRNA sign labeled Unidad Mandri). Walk the dirt road about half a mile through sugar canes to more open marshes & ponds. Unfortunately, I did not see or hear any rails but it was not a best time of the day.

  Drove to Ceiba and stayed at the Ceiba Country Inn. This is set in the foothills of El Yunque (Caribbean National Forest) but there are no roads to the top of the park from this side. As it got dark, Puerto Rican Screech Owls started calling close to the Inn.

 

Tuesday, June 1st


 
According to my research, the best location for the Puerto Rican Parrot was the higher elevations of the Tradewinds or El Toro trail that overlook the headwaters of the Rio Espiritu Santo and ideally to be there at first light. I did not think I would be able to find the trailheads in the dark so I elected to drive along route 186 on the northwest side of El Yunque and explore these trails from lower down. As it turned out there are a number of trails off this road and I took one which eventually led to a small waterfall but was not the start of the Tradewinds trail. I saw the usual set of higher elevation birds including great views of Scaly-naped Pigeons and Puerto Rican Vireos. On the way back I decided to stop at the Rio Espiritu overlook which in earlier times had been the classic site for the rare & threatened parrot. It may be overgrown but as I sat on the wall a single Puerto Rican Parrot emerged from the trees. I think I had disturbed it as it gave me the once-over before heading up the mountain.


 
I shot back to the hotel, grabbed breakfast, packed and drove down to Huamcao Refuge. At the headquarters I found Antillean Crested Hummingbird but West Indian Whistling Duck again eluded me. We started worked our way back to the San Juan airport stopping for lunch at the impressive headquarters of the Caribbean National Forest.

 

 

Notes


  Driving in Puerto Rico is no worse than Boston, USA. In fact I would say the roads are in better condition and most have signposts. Strangely, distances are given in kilometers but speed limits are in MPH. The most annoying habit is the local drivers cruising in the ďfastĒ lane. There are plenty of road cops but you usually get fair warning from other drivers. Despite the latest maps and advice from locals, the extension of route 53 from Guayama to Humacao and beyond was not finished as of June 2004. Route 3 is your only option and be prepared for a slow but scenic drive. As with most big cities, getting out of them and onto the right road rarely coincide. I never did find the turn off route 17 to get onto route 18/52. Lastly, just a heads-up, I could not find a gas station anywhere close to San Juan airport when coming from El Yunque.  Mapquest is a great resource for Puerto Rico, showing the same kind of details as it does for the USA. However, it is not good at putting a name or number to the smaller roads.

 

  I tried to stay at the better know sites (e.g. Hacienda Juanita, etc) but they only offered package deals requiring a prolonged stay making them impractical & expensive. Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Ponce sits atop of a hill overlooking the highway (route 2). It is easy to see from the road. Inexpensive but ideally located from a birding perspective. If you have non-birding spouses/children it offers plenty of the amenities including a casino, huge pool and a shuttle service to the town & beach. Interestingly, I heard Puerto Rican Nightjars calling from behind the parking lot which also happened to be the worse spot on the whole island for mosquitos! Ceiba Country Inn is reasonably priced B&B. Some may find the rooms rather small but it is a very quite and surrounded by decent habitat.

 

  We never had any trouble and found the people to be kind and helpful. Except in the mountains, I felt I was back in the USA.


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List of Birds seen

E = Endemic

 

      Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps antillarum)

      Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis occidentalis)

      Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)

      Great Egret (Ardea alba egretta)

      Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor ruficollis)

      Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

      Snowy Egret (Egretta thula brewsteri)

      Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis ibis)

      Green Heron (Butorides virescens maculatus)

      Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax hoactii)

      Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis exilis)

      White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis bahamensis)

      Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)

      Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis jamaicensis)

      Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura aura)

      Osprey (Pandion haliaetus carolinensis)  One at Mandri unit of Humacao Refuge. Looked like the migratory race rather than the pale-headed Caribbean subspecies ridgwayi.

      Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis jamaicensis)  A Greater Antillean subspecies.

      American Kestrel (Falco sparverius caribaearum)  A Lesser Antillean subspecies.

      Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio martinica)

      Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus cerceris)

      Caribbean Coot (Fulica caribaea)

      Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

      Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nivosus)

      Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia)

      Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)

      Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

      Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)

      Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)

      Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla)

      Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis)

      Royal Tern (Sterna maxima)

      Least Tern (Sterna antillarum)

      Rock Dove (Columba livia)

      Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa)  Common at the higher elevations.

      Plain Pigeon (Patagioenas inornata wetmorei)  An endemic subspecies. Seen well at the escuela near Cidra/Comerio.

      Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura macroura)  A Caribbean subspecies. One near Laguna Cartegena.

      Zenaida Dove (Zenaida aurita zenaida)

      White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica asiatica)

      Ringed Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia risoria)  Introduced. A pair in La Parguera.

      Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina portoricensis)  A Lesser Antillean subspecies.

      Key West Quail-Dove (Geotrygon chrysia)  Prolonged views of one on trail that goes behind the Maracao State Park headquarters.

      Ruddy Quail-Dove (Geotrygon montana montana)  Brief view on the same trail as for Key West Quail-Dove.

E    Puerto Rican Parrot (Amazona vittata vittata)  One individual at the Rio Espiritu Santo overlook. I got the impression that the bird had been perched (roosting) in a nearby tree as it appeared to fly out of one of the trees that overshadow the road. How lucky can you get!

      Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor)  Remarkably common in non-mangrove habitats.

E    Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo (Saurothera vieilloti)  Heard at Guanica SP and seen along trail that goes behind the headquarters at Maracao State Park. Also along the old road between Maricao & Mayaquez.

      Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)

E    Puerto Rican Screech-Owl (Megascops nudipes nudipes)  Heard most mornings at Guanica State Park, Maracao State Park, & Comeria.

      Antillean Nighthawk (Chordeiles gundlachii)  Common along the south coast.

E    Puerto Rican Nightjar (Caprimulgus noctitherus)  Seen at Guanica State Park and heard behind the Holiday Inn at Ponce.

      Black Swift (Cypseloides niger niger)  Flyover on route 52 as it transects Corillera Central.

      Antillean Mango (Anthracothorax dominicus)  An endemic subspecies. Seen around Maracao State Park.

E    Green Mango (Anthracothorax viridis)

      Green-throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus)  Found at the eastern side of the island. Seen at Humacao & El Yunque.

      Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus)  Again, more common on the eastern side of the island. One at Humacao Refuge headquarters.

E    Puerto Rican Emerald (Chlorostilbon maugaeus)

E    Puerto Rican Tody (Todus mexicanus)  Common and undoubtedly the bird of the trip.

E    Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis)  Common.

      Caribbean Elaenia (Elaenia martinica martinica)  At Guanica SP.

E    Puerto Rican Pewee (Contopus portoricensis)  Just one at the entrance to Maracao SP.

E    Puerto Rican Flycatcher (Myiarchus antillarum)  At Guanica SP.

      Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis dominicensis)  Common.

      Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus taylori)  One near the Maracao SP headquarters.

      Caribbean Martin (Progne dominicensis dominicensis)

      Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva puertoricensis)

      Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos orpheus)

      Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus fuscatus)  Common, noisy and showy. Nothing like its North American relatives.

      Red-legged Thrush (Turdus plumbeus ardosiaceus)  Only seem well on the road up to Maracao SP.

E    Puerto Rican Vireo (Vireo latimeri)  Seen best at Maracao SP.

      Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus altiloquus)  Common and calling all day

E    Adelaide Warbler (Dendroica adelaidae)  Common in the drier habitats of Guanica, Huamaco across to the foothills of the Caribbean NF.

E    Elfin-woods Warbler (Dendroica angelae)  Probably the number one endemic for many people. Took me all of 20 minutes to see my first.

      Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola portoricensis)  An endemic subspecies. Common.

E    Puerto Rican Tanager (Nesospingus speculiferus)

E    Puerto Rican Spindalis (Spindalis portoricensis)

      Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivacea bryanti)

      Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor omissus)

E    Puerto Rican Bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis portoricensis)  Seen best at higher altitudes.

E    Yellow-shouldered Blackbird (Agelaius xanthomus xanthomus)  Highly localized and threatened by cowbirds. Strange to see such a rare bird in the artificially-maintained habitat of a hotel. I did see more from the lookout near Cabo Rojo.

      Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger brachypterus)  Everywhere.

      Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis minimus)

      Venezuelan Troupial (Icterus icterus)  One at the gates to Guanica SP.

      Greater Antillean Oriole (Icterus dominicensis portoricensis)  Pair prospecting around the Maracao SP headquarters.

      House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  This and the birds below are all introduced.

      Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer)

      Red/Orange Bishop (Euplectes franciscanus) 

      Orange-cheeked Waxbill (Estrilda melpoda)

      Black-rumped Waxbill (Estrilda troglodytes)  A pair near Huamacao Refuge headquarters.

      White-throated Munia (Lonchura malabarica)

      Bronze Mannikin (Lonchura cucullata)

 

Jim Hully

Salisbury, MA

hullyjr@adelphia.net

July 2005


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