17 - August 2000
by Robert H. Packard
This was my first trip to Puerto Rico, my second to the Caribbean, having visited Grand Bahama. I was encouraged by the great trip reports on the web, and the fact that you can get a quick cheap flight to a U.S. territory.
The weather was usually hot and humid, a sharp contrast to our unusually cold and rainy New England summer. The sun was brutal, until Hurricane Debby clouded up the skies. Use your sunscreen, the only places I got burnt were where I forgot to apply it.
The driving was horrible, because P.R. has the worst drivers I’ve ever encountered, and some pretty hairy roads as well. People weave in and out of traffic on the highways, no one stops for stop signs or stop lights, or even school buses, and almost no one uses their blinkers! But having said all this, after a couple of days I got used to it, and felt comfortable again. I was also grateful for the experience, and feel that after driving here, I can drive anywhere. Still, the mountain roads are very slow going, horribly winding, and often not well signed.
English was spoken just about everywhere, although sometimes not too well. P.R. spanish is very fast and very hard to understand.
For references I used:
“A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies” by Herbert Raffaele et.al. A beautiful book, but too large for a field guide. The information on P.R. has not been updated since Raffaele’s P.R. field guide.
“A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands” by Herbert Raffaele A good field guide covering all the birds, with status charts and a few maps, but a little outdated, and only adequate plates.
“The Amphibians and Reptiles of Puerto Rico” by Juan A. Rivero. A great reference, but it is not an identification guide, and it is much too large anyway.
“The Butterflies of the West Indies and South Florida” by David Spencer Smith et.al. An excellent reference, with beautiful plates and great information, but again too large for use in the field.
“Descriptive Flora of Puerto Rico and adjacent Islands” by
Alain Liogier. If you’re crazy enough to try and identify all the
in this tropical jungle, then this is the reference you’re looking for.
At least 5 volumes.
“Lonely Planet’s Puerto Rico” by Randall Peffer. Up to Lonely Planet’s usual great standards, with great maps, but they could have looked a little harder for cheap accommodations.
International Travel Map of Puerto Rico-2nd edition 1:190,000 $9.00 I think this was last updated by Columbus himself, but it is the most detailed map I could find. Most of the dead end roads and roads under construction are now completed. You could get away with just using the maps in Lonely Planet.
The only bird I should have seen but didn’t was Antillean Euphonia. From all the reports I’d read it seemed fairly easy, but for some reason I saw nor heard nary a one.
August 17th - San Juan to Humacao and Fajardo
Flight from Hartford,CT to San Juan $298.00 RT. A convenient electronic ticket from travelocity.com.
I rented an economy car from National. $195.00 grand total for a week. A Toyota Echo which was great ergonomically and economically, but the handling was only so-so.
I got on the highway from the airport, and quickly missed my exit onto Rte 17, and it took me about 15 minutes to find Rte 18 to Rte 52 into the mountains. Rte 52 is a well marked highway with a few cheap, quick tolls. From the highway I saw one Caribbean Martin, a few Cave Swallows over the overpasses, one Red-tailed Hawk, and a few Cattle Egrets and Greater Antillean Grackles. I missed the exit to Rte 30 to Humacao(It’s only marked Rte 1) and had to get off and get back on Rte 52 north and onto Rte 30 east.(It is marked Rte 30 from the south). I followed Rte 30 to Rte 3 and the Reserva Natural in Humacao. The entrance is right on Rte 3 between Rte 53 and the coast. You can park in the lot inside the fence. The reserve is open from 7:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. Admission is free, and they have kayaks for rent, which would be a great way to see some birds. I walked in, crossed two bridges, and turned right to the lagoons. The lagoons will be on your left, with a few smaller ponds hidden on your right. The path past the last large lagoon is overgrown with grasses, and too high to see over. The birdlist is for the afternoons of both the 17th and 18th.
From Humacao I took Rte 3 to Rte 53 to Fajardo. The toll highway(Rte 53) is much faster. I stayed at the Puerto Real Guesthouse on the road to the ferry. This is not an easy place to find. The rooms are a little shabby and basic, but OK. It has secure parking and the owners are friendly. Cable TV and an old air conditioner. At the lights in the parking lot were the ubiquitous and fascinating House Geckos - Hemidactylus brooki and Common Anoles hunting insects.
I certainly would not use the word “grim” to describe this neighborhood, as my Lonely Planet Guide does. It’s nothing to write home about, but it certainly doesn’t compare to a lot of places in South America.
At Fajardo Bay were 4 Brown Boobys fishing very close to shore and perched on buoys, along with 5 Sandwich Terns, 1 Royal Tern, and 2 Northen Mockingbirds - Mimus polyglottos.
I got up early and had an easy drive to El Yunque from Fajardo. Rte 3 to Rte 191. The entrance road is easy to miss, it’s a little turn off Rte 3 through a crowded suburb. El Yunque could be skipped, birdwise, but it does offer fantastic views, lush jungle, waterfalls, and a helpful staff. And a million to one shot of seeing Puerto Rican Parrot. I drove to the end of Rte 191, where it’s gated, and walked for a mile or two down the road. Unfortunately, the El Toro trail, a good spot for Elfin Woods Warbler, was closed. At the gate, you can hear the captive P.R.Parrots squawking from their cages at the top of the hill. There are also quite a few nest boxes for the parrots along this road but of course I spotted none.
El Yunque Birdlist
Ameiva exsul - 1
“coquis’ - app 50 - These are the little frogs you will hear everywhere you go in P.R.
From El Yunque I took Rte 3 east to Rte 53 back to Humacao(See previous page), then Rte 30 west to Rte 52 south to Rte 172 west to Comerio to look for Plain Pigeon - Columba inornata. The earlier trip reports are not exaggerating about this road. This is a very slow, very winding road, with people, dogs, cars, chickens, etc. in the road. It is well - marked with bournes, and I arrived at km 1.5 at about 5:00 P.M. The Plain Pigeons were there at the Escuela Superior Sabana, with a few Zenaida Doves and Common Ground-Doves. I only saw two pigeons, one while looking back towards the school from the ballfield, and the other perched in a dead tree between the field and the road.
The map didn’t show any good alternatives, so I reluctantly headed back up Rte 172 to Cidra. (Afterwards I did see a post that said Rte 156 is much faster). From Cidra I took Rte 171 to Rte 731 to Cayey. This was not a good choice, and I wasted a bit of time here. The entrance to Rte 52 is north of Cayey, so I took Rte 170 to Rte 1 down to Rte 712 and got on Rte 52 there. From there I went south to Rte 53 east and then to Rte 3 in Guayama to Arroyo. In Arroyo I camped at Centro Vacacional Punta Guilarte, which is NOT at km 126 on Rte 3 but closer to km 122. There is a large arch and a line of streetlights leading to the beach. I got there after dark and found a security guard to ask how to pay. He said to pay at headquarters(about ½ mile east of the camping area) in the morning. It’s $10.00 a site. I slept under the stars in my sleeping bag(no - see - ums), and went to HQ to pay at 7:00 A.M., but the man there said I had to wait until 9:00 A.M., so I just left, not wanting to waste any more time waiting to pay for one campsite.
Punta Guilarte Birdlist August 18th
Bahia de Jobos August 19th
From Arroyo I drove west on Rte 3 to Rte 705 south to Aguirre and the visitor’s center (bear left before town) of the Reserva Natural de Bahia de Jobos. The reserve manager was very friendly and helpful, and directed me back east to Rte 7710 off Rte 3 for a good birding spot. Look for a chained dirt road before a small estuary. She also said the only way to see the manatees here is to hire a boat, of which there are, at present, limited possibilities. It was late morning, and the birding was very slow.
Bahia de Jobos Birdlist
Redfin Needlefish - Strongylura notata - 7 - Estuary
fiddler crabs - 1000+ - mangroves
From Bahia de Jobos I took Rte 7710 to Highway 53 west to Rte 2 to Rte 116 south to Rte 334 east to Guanica State Forest. All of these roads were fast, easy, and well - marked, although there were a few traffic cops stopping people. On Rte 334 bear left at the first fork. The bosque de seco is a strange, fragrant, dry forest with many trails. The gate here is only open from 7:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., but you can walk in earlier. For the most part I birded the main road through the park (Rte 334) and had good luck. There is little traffic. The second morning I arrived at the gate at 4:30 A.M. and walked in. It was at least 15 minutes before I heard anything (besides the numerous roosters), a Puerto Rican Screech-Owl calling far off below me. After another 15 minutes, at the top of the hill, I started hearing more screech - owls, along with a few Puerto Rican Nightjars. And a Short-eared Owl started circling right over me! Near dawn a couple of Antillean Nighthawks started calling also. Also all along this road small bats were flying back and forth, zipping right by my head with surprisingly loud wings. The screech - owls kept singing until 6:40 A.M., about when the Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoos started singing. The only bird I saw before dawn was the Short-eared Owl, but for me it is simply no longer necessary to see these night birds.
For anyone birding P.R., this predawn walk is simply a must, it is just magical listening to all these rare endemics while walking through this aromatic forest.
Guanica Birdlist August 19th - 21st
“blue” butterfly - Hemiargus hanno - 5+ - At flowers at visitors center.
La Parguera - August 19th - 21st
While birding the southwest I stayed in La Parguera, at Andino’s Guesthouse and Chalet on 8th Street. Not near the shore, and a couple streets back from Rte 304, it is nevertheless a nice little hotel, with AC, cable TV, parking (unsecured but unneccesary), and a huge Flaming Poinciana in the courtyard, which attracted a few Bananaquits and hummingbirds. $40.00 a night. It’s just a 5 minute walk into town, and a 15 minute drive into Guanica. This is a small coastal resort town, with all services (except Internet access), with nice views of the ocean from a hillside drive. Oh yes, and Yellow - shouldered Blackbirds.
La Parguera Birdlist
Rte 324, La Parguera
My Lonely Planet Guide said this was a depressing route from Guanica to La Parguera, but I took it anyway. There are many salt ponds along this road, with quite a few shorebirds. Otherwise the road has scattered farms and arid scrub. This is a slightly longer route than Rte 116 and Rte 304 from Guanica to La Parguera.
Rte 324 Birdlist
Cabo Rojo - August 20th
From La Parguera I took Rte 304 north to Rte 116 west through Lajas to Rte 101 to Rte 301 down to the lighthouse. These roads were well marked, and fairly east to find. On the way I looked for the Laguna Cartagena on Rte 306, but this road just led into some suburbs. I didn’t look that hard because of all the disappointing trip reports, but if anyone has any new information on the lagoon, please post it. My map also showed a large “Laguna de Guanica” north of Guanica, but I couldn’t find that either, and it simply wasn’t there when I drove by it on Highway 2.
The dirt road to the lighthouse has some huge potholes in it, but they are easy to negotiate. There were quite a few people here, and the sun was baking. Also the wind at the lighthouse was very strong.
Bird List for Caho Rojo
Rte 303 - August 20th
I took this road from Cabo Rojo to La Parguera hoping for Yellow - faced Grassquit, and found a few. This is a nice shortcut, through rolling grasslands with little traffic, back to La Parguera.
Bosque Estatal de Susua August 21st
From La Parguera I took Rte 304 north to Rte 116 west to Rte 117 east just before Lajas. From La Parguera it is much faster to go back to Guanica on Rte 116 and take Rte 2 west to the first Sabana Grande exit. In Sabana Grande get on Rte 121 north a short ways until you see the INT 368 sign. The road id about 25 yards ahead (easily missed). I think it’s the second right after the sign. From Rte 368 proceed a couple miles east past Rte 365 until you see a large brown state park sign at about km 2.1, about ¼ mile past Rte 365. The road in is fairly long and winding, and dead ends at the state forest. The state forest is NOT on Rte 365 as stated in some earlier trip reports. I drove up and down this road for two hours before someone showed me where the forest really was.
The state forest is in a beautiful valley, but birding was fairly slow, and I failed to find Key West Quail - Dove, a bird I was looking for.
scorpion - 1 - under rock
From La Parguera I took Rte 304 north to Rte 116 east to Rte 2 west to the first Sabana Grande exit. This exit leads to Rte 121 which I took north to Rte 120 north. All these roads are fairly easy to find, and well marked, and Rte 120 is marked with stone bournes with kilometer markings. Rte 120, and all the mountain roads, are incredibly narrow and winding. Drive slowly and carefully.
At km 16.2, the ranger station, I met the forest ranger, Adrian Muniz, who was very helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic about his forest. He would love to see more birders up there, and can show you where the best spots are for Elfin Woods Warbler, Antillean Euphonia, Black - cowled Oriole, etc. He would also welcome anyone who would like to do population studies of this rare endemic warbler. He plans on putting up a hummingbird feeder along the entrance road, and has some excellent ideas about managing this vulnerable forest. He can be reached at Forest Manager, Maricao S.F, P.O.Box 365, Maricao,P.R. 00606 (787) 786 - 2707
While here I stayed at Hacienda Juanita on Rte 105. My room was $51.00 after a 25% off internet coupon. There are no telephones, AC or TV, but the weather is cool here in the mountains, and there are pay phones near the office. It also looked like they were about to install TVs, as there was a new satellite dish and a slew of new televisions in the office. The rooms are beautiful old rooms in a renovated coffee plantation, with antique furniture, and there is a tiny museum and an old spanish swimming pool on the grounds. The manager is helpful and friendly, and spoke some english. There are also ice and soda machines outside and a swimming pool.
If you are in a group, Adrian said it would be cheaper to stay at Centro Vacacional Monte de Estado at km 13.1 on Rte 120. Anyone (not just researchers) can stay here, and they have cabins that sleep six, with refrigerators, fireplaces, hot water, swimming pool, basketball court, etc. Cabins are $65.00 a night, and if it’s slow (as it was when I was there) you don’t need reservations. But it’s always wise to check ahead. Their numbers are (787) 722 - 1551, (787) 722 - 1771, (787) 873 - 5632.
KM 16.2 Birdlist
Grass Anole - Anolis pulchellus - 1 - A handsome dark brown anole with a white sidestripe.
“anole” sp. - 2
Adrian said this was another good spot for Elfin Woods Warbler. Look for a path into the forest on the north side of the road and bushwack through the tall grasses.
There is an old road up into the woods, but I saw most of the birds next to Rte 120.
There are a few trails here, through much lusher vegetation than along Rte 120, and they also have a birdlist.
Back to San Juan August 23rd - 24th
From Maricao I took the Ruta Panoramica east to Adjuntas and Rte 10 so I could zip down to San Juan in the morning. This route is a crazy mix of different routes snaking along the crest of the cordillera central. Road conditions vary dramatically from route to route, but it’s mostly the same narrow winding roads as around Maricao. The route east is NOT well marked, and there are at least four unsigned forks. Try to take the more well - used road, or the one following the higher crests. This was also just after a minor hurricane, and there were rocks, branches, banana plants, epiphytes, road crews, clay falls, etc. etc. in the road. Be careful.
In Adjuntas I stayed at the Monte Rio Hotel on a sidestreet just west of the plaza. It has AC, cable TV, friendly staff and good food at their restaurant, although not too many people there.. $49.00 a single.
On the 24th I got up early and took Rte 10 down to Arecibo. The beginning of this route is slow and winding, but after Utuado it is a fast highway. Take the left over the bridge before entering Utuado. A ways after Utuado you will get to see some of the fascinating karst country landscape.
From Rte 10 before Arecibo I got on Rte 22 east to San Juan. A toll highway. I quickly ran into a huge traffic jam at about Manati, and inched along for about two hours all the way into San Juan and the airport. From what I’ve heard, this is just the usual state of affairs. The rental car exit sign at the airport is small and comes up fast, so keep your eyes open. I stored my luggage at the airport ($8.00 for 24 hours) and took a bus into Old San Juan and the El Morro fort. When you walk out of the airport, go all the way to the last bus stop on the right, about 100 yards, and take either the B - 40 or C - 45 bus. Get off at the Isla Verde bus stop (5 minutes) and wait for the A - 5 bus, which takes you to the Old San Juan bus station. It’s 25 cents per bus and takes 45 minutes to an hour for the whole trip.
Before entering San Juan I had seen 96 species, and thought I could find 4 more in town without too much trouble, with all the exotics here, and the seabirds in the harbor. But the only new bird I saw was Java Sparrow, and I didn’t get a good look at that. But Old San Juan was a very pleasant place to walk around and enjoy the historic sites and shops and restaurants and the old fort.
San Juan Birdlist August 24th
Robert H. Packard