Birding the Americas Trip
Report and Planning Repository
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Return to the Puerto Rico
11 - 21 April 2003
by Thomas L. Marko
A business engagement at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads (NSRR) was the
for this trip. NSRR is located on the eastern end of Puerto Rico
adjacent to the town of Ceiba. This was my 7th visit to PR, so I
somewhat familiar with finding my way around the island. However,
was my first birding experience in the Caribbean and a solo adventure
put my developing birding skills to the test. I was able to bird
dusk to dawn on the weekends that bracketed my workweek at NSRR.
than list the birds found at each location, a detailed species account
On Friday (April 11), I arrived at the airport near San Juan, picked up
rental car, and proceeded toward NSRR via the PR 187 coastal road that
through the towns of Loiza and Rio Grande. First birds observed
Brown Pelicans flying along the shoreline. I stopped at the first
area and immediately found a PR Woodpecker at eye level a mere 15 feet
working the trunk of a coconut palm. A nice start with a somewhat
looking bird and an endemic at that! Along PR 187, I
a boardwalk bike trail that parallels the roadway and winds its way
coastal swamps. I walked a small stretch, noting that would be a
place to return to for an early morning bird walk. Scratching the
bites on my arms, I also made a note to have insect repellant readily
hand. (Total species: 17).
I arrived at NSRR later that afternoon and checked in. My overall
was to bird locations on the eastern end of PR the first weekend and
southwest corner the second. I attempted to make a room
for my visit to the southwest. What I failed to take into account
Easter, a major travel weekend in PR since Good Friday and Easter
are holidays. I was able to locate a seaside room in Guanica,
the law of supply and demand pegged the rate at $145.00 for a night,
too much for my birding budget and for a site unseen
I decided I would wing it when I arrived in that area the following
On Saturday morning (April 12), I drove to the nearby town of Fajardo
to visit the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve. I didn’t
that entry is dependent on an advance reservation. Undeterred, I
the Fajardo environs to include a stop at the El Conquistador Resort
Country Club to see what that developed, but lushly green, habitat
(Total species: 20)
From Fajardo it was a 30-minute drive via Autopista 53 to the Humacao
Reserve (HNR). HNR is only open until 1530 but well worth
since its wetland habitat produced the overall greatest number of
It was the only place I regretted not having my spotting scope.
waterfowl on the far side of the lagoons would have been nice with
power optics. The tradeoff was not lugging a scope in the hot,
weather. In addition to birds, large iguanas exceeding 3 feet in
were abundant. When surprised, these scaly-faced creatures
in branches would leap into the water with a definitive splash,
scaring the wits out of me. (Total species: 30)
Sunday (April 13) was devoted to the Caribbean National Forest
located on the slopes of the Luquillo Mountains and topped off by the
Yunque peak. CNF has the distinction of being the only rainforest
the national forest system. It’s probably the most heavily
tourist attraction in PR, so arrive early and hike the less visited
to avoid the crowds. The new visitor center (a structure
integrated into the surrounding tropical landscape) and access road are
from 0700-1800. The visitor center entry fee is $3.00 per
or half price with a National Parks pass. Birding was best on the
part of the mountain, around the visitor center, and along the visitor
trail. It was also good in parking areas along PR 191, the road
winds its way up the mountain. I hiked the Mount Britton Spur
and returned via the closed portion of PR 191. Two mongoose
my eye along these trails. This animal, introduced to control
is a serious nest predator. (Total species: 20)
On Tuesday (April 15), I drove to the Army post at Fort
located in Bayamon just west of San Juan, to visit one of my program
FB was unique because of the groups of parrots that could be heard
and chattering in the trees throughout the post. I was told that
are regular visitors here. Unfortunately, my situation didn’t
me to break away with my binoculars. I did get a good look at a
pair of Blue-Gold Macaws as they passed over and landed in a palm tree.
Thursday and Friday (April 17 & 18) were cataclysmic
Torrential rains flooded coastal areas and low-lying roads. It
I would have to abort my trip to the southwest, but a late Friday
report indicated clearing skies over that part of the island. It
On Saturday (April 19), I departed NSRR at 0330 and arrived at
gate of the Guanica Dry Forest (GDF) by 0600. I parked the car
the entrance, walked around the gate that blocks the roadway, and hiked
The forest was quite green due to the abundant rainfall over the past
months. The first birds observed were three flyover nighthawks,
their speed and the lowlight made it impossible to distinguish Common
Caribbean, two very similar species. As dawn broke, the quiet of
forest was quickly overwhelmed by the sound of birds. Cuckoos
be heard calling in the distance. When the gate opened at 0700, I
up to the visitor center, obtained a trail map and, upon the
of the attendant, hiked the Lluberas and Granados trails. That
sun-filled morning produced the overall greatest number of birds
on the trip. I left GDF just prior to noon and explored the PR
coastal road along the southern edge of the GDF. (Total species:
From Guanica, I worked my way west to La Parguera, a roosting site for
critically endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. Due to the
weekend, cars and people overran this small seaside resort town.
streets were narrow, parking was limited, and, to top it off, it
raining heavily. I almost beat a hasty retreat but eventually
a parking spot. Soothed by a cold beer, I walked over to the
Villa La Parguera, parked myself under an overhang in the garden, and
I didn’t think I would see anything due to a noisy group of kids
in the pool. However, the rain finally subsided and at 1515 I
a blackbird sitting on a palm frond that was slightly smaller than the
grackles. Bingo - a Yellow-shouldered Blackbird! By 1530
were three more in another tree that were close enough to observe
Satisfied with the great looks at the blackbirds, I departed La
and headed for the Maricoa State Forest (MSF) via PR 116 to Autopista 2
PR 120 (at Sabana Grande) and on up the mountain. A stop at the
office found it closed. Fog was starting to envelop the top of
mountain making driving hazardous on the winding road, so I continued
the nearby Parador Hacienda Juanita with the vague hope of finding a
Alas, there was no room at the inn. It was too bad because the
Juanita was extremely attractive. The property sits on a hillside
a lush, tropical valley and it even has its own birding trails.
and coffee plantations dot the surrounding countryside. It’s
a place to revisit with a reservation in hand. By this time it
late in the day and I was tired. Finding a secluded area in the
lot, I parked the car, read for a short while, crawled into the back
and nodded off to sleep. I was awakened during the night by the
sound of a screech owl calling. Previous trip reports indicated
a pair of PR Screech Owls could be found here. As hard as I
I could not locate the owls in the dim light. The calls continued
the night, but sleep got the better part of me. I slept
well despite the confined accommodations.
On Easter morning (April 20), I awoke around 0600.
sleep from my eyes, I turned on the ignition, drove back to PR 120, and
the entrance of the forestry office at Km 16.2, which is closed on
I parked next to the picnic area, took advantage of the restroom
and birded the surrounding area. I hiked a not-so-birdy rocky
that began at an abandoned stone house, continued up along a ridge, and
at PR 120.
From the visitor center, I drove to Km 16.8 where two very nice trails
found. I hiked both, with one trail descending and the other
steeply along a ridge affording great views of the surrounding
Along the upper trail I had a nice look at a Puerto Rican Emerald
on a branch. Upon rounding the next bend, a Red-Tailed Hawk
from its perch down into the valley below enabling me to see the hawk’s
tail from above. This quick contrast between hummingbird and hawk
illustrated the diversity of birds, perhaps the primary reason I’m
to bird watching.
I continued to Km 14.1, the highest point along PR 120, where an
of communication towers and utility buildings are found. No real
here but the open areas allow for birding along the forest edge.
next stop was a stone tower overlook, just a short distance further
the road. I met the only other person carrying binoculars during
entire trip at this location. We exchanged greetings and
our mutual disappointment of not finding Elfin Wood Warbler, the target
endemic. I departed MSF early afternoon for the ride back to
where unpacked bags for the next day’s flight home awaited. (Total
Here’s a bit about NSRR as a side note. It’s the largest naval
in the world by landmass comprising 31,000 acres. NSRR contains
acres and the bombing range on the island of Vieques 22,400
The installation is relatively undeveloped and contains a rich
of habitat. With the cessation of bombing exercises in May 2003,
future of NSRR as a military installation is uncertain. Should it
it would be sad if Puerto Rico lost this natural resource to the
of commercial development. I was heartened to hear the Vieques
has been turned over to the Department of the Interior.
the forces of conservation will prevail. (Total species: 29)
4/11-18 & 4/20-21, NSRR Combined Batchelor Quarters
4/19-20, Villa Chevy Cavalier
Avis, $29.20/day (government rate), unlimited mileage, Chevrolet
A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies, 1998, Herbert Raffaele
al, Princeton University Press (bulky to carry but a must).
I would like to express my thanks to Gail Mackiernan, fellow member of
Montgomery County Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, for
her in-depth trip reports and invaluable expertise on Caribbean
A total of 71 species observed to include 36 life birds. Of the
Puerto Rico endemics, 13 observed and 1 heard.
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
1 at HNR.
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens
Single birds or small groups readily observed soaring along coastal
Brown Booby Sula leucogaster
Groups of 2-10 at NSRR flying offshore.
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
4 at HNR and groups of 2-5 birds observed along the coast.
Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis
2 at HNR in the cattails.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron Nyctanassa violacea
1 immature at HNR.
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Fairly common throughout HNR and in wet habitats.
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor
4 at HNR.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Common and widespread along roadsides and in fields. Three trees
the edge of a farm field held hundreds of roosting birds.
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
4 at HNR and 3 at NSRR. Also observed along roadsides.
Great Egret Ardea alba
6 at HNR and 4 at NSRR. Fairly common along roadsides and in
White-cheeked Pintail Anas bahamensis
3 at HNR.
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
7 at HNR.
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Common in the southwest, not seen elsewhere.
Osprey Pandion hailaetus
1 at HNR perched on a snag.
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
1 along the Route 187 coastal road perched on a snag, 1 at NSRR outside
room window perched on a utility pole, 1 flyover at HNR, 1 flyover
a road, and 1 at MSF.
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
1 in Fajardo perched on a residential TV antenna, 1 at NSRR perched in
tree, and 1 at MSF perched on a wire.
Puerto Rican Screech Owl Otus nudipes Endemic
Heard at night in the parking lot of the Parador Hacienda Juanita in
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
15-20 at HNR.
Caribbean Coot Fulica caribea
2 at HNR.
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
4 at Fajardo at the waterfront park in Las Croabas.
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
1 at Fajardo in the parking lot of the El Conquistador Resort and 3 at
in a salt pond along the PR 333 coastal road.
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
7 at GDF in a salt pond along the PR 333 coastal road.
Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca
15+ at NSRR on a flooded golf course.
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
70+ at NSRR on a flooded golf course.
Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla
1 at GDF on the shoreline along the PR 333 coastal road.
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia
2 at Fajardo at the waterfront park in Las Croabas.
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla
25 at Fajardo roosting on a pier and 50+ flyovers at HNR.
Royal Tern Sterna maxima
20 at Fajardo roosting on rocks along the shoreline.
Rock Dove Columba livia
Common and widespread, especially in urban areas.
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita
Less common than White-winged Dove but readily observed along roadsides
in open areas.
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Common and widespread in a variety of habitats.
Common Ground Dove Columbina passerina
Fairly common and widespread along roadsides and in open areas.
Red-crowned Parrot Amazona viridigenalis
8-10 at Fajardo in a tree.
Blue-Gold Macaw Ara ararauna
2 at Fort Buchanan, most likely escapees.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor
1 at Fajardo, 1 at NSRR, and 2 at GDF.
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo Saurothera vielotti Endemic
3 at GDF, several others heard.
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani
3 at HNR, 6 at NSRR, and 4 along rural roads.
Puerto Rican Emerald Chlorostilbon maugaeus Endemic
2 at CNF (1 at Km 11.8 “Palo Colorado” and 1 along the closed section
PR 191 leading down from the Mount Britton Spur Trail) and 4 at MSF.
Antillean Crested Hummingbird Orthorhynchus cristatus
5 at NSRR and 1 at HNR. A beautiful hummer with a distinctive
crest that appears pasted to its forehead.
Green Mango Anthracothorax viridis Endemic
1 at Fajardo in a backyard flowering tree and 1 at HNR.
Puerto Rican Tody Todus mexicanus Endemic
2 at CNF along the visitor center nature trail, 2 at NSRR, 12 at GDF,
4 at MSF. Perhaps the most endearing bird I have ever seen.
Puerto Rican Woodpecker Melanerpes potroricensis Endemic
Fairly common and widespread. Observed in every location visited
include 6 at HNR. At one time there were 3 on the same tree with
in the field of view of my optics.
Puerto Rican Flycatcher Myiarchus antillarum Endemic
3 at NSRR, 3 at HNR and 4 at GDF.
Puerto Rican Pewee Contopus portorecenis Endemic
2 at GDF.
Gray Kingbird Tyrannus dominicensis
Common and widespread 20-30 observed daily.
Puerto Rican Vireo Vireo latimeri Endemic
4 at GDF and 5 at MSF.
Black-whiskered Vireo Vireo altiloquus
Common and widespread at CNF (along PR 191) and in the MSF, more often
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
Fairly common and widespread. Found around roadways over water
the birds nest under the overpass.
Caribbean Martin Progne dominicencis
3 along the PR 187 coastal road perched on a wire.
Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus
10 at CNF (especially around the visitor center and along PR 191
up to El Yunque) and 4 at the MSF.
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottus
4-6 observed daily along roadways and edge habitat.
Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatus
4-6 observed daily in wooded habitat.
Black-throated Blue Warbler Dendroica caerulescens
2 at CNF and 1 at MSF.
American Redstart Setophaga ruticiila
1 (female) at MSF.
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
1 (male) at NSRR, bathing in a roadside rain puddle.
Blackpoll Warbler Dendrioca striata
1 at GDF
Adelaide’s Warbler Dendroica Adelaide Endemic
5 at GDF along the Granados Trail and 1 at MSF by the communication
Puerto Rican Spidalis Spindalis portoricensis Endemic
4 at CNF along the closed section of PR 191 that leads down from the
Britton Spur Trail.
Puerto Rican Tanager Nesopingus speculiferus Endemic
2 at CNF (1 along the visitor center nature trail and 1 at Km
Tower) and 12 at MSF.
Bananaquit Coereba flaveola
Ubiquitous - observed and heard everywhere with vegetation. As
as this little birds is, I found its incessant high-pitched,
buzz annoying at times.
Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolor
Fairly common and widespread along grassy edges.
Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivacea
Widespread but less common than Black-faced Grassquit, mostly seen in
Black-cowled Oriole Icterus dominicencis
1 at CNF (flew over the visitor center parking area and eventually
on the side view mirror of a car for a great look) and 1 at MSF (in the
office parking area).
Baltimore Oriole Iceterus galbula
1 (a brilliantly colored male) at GDF along the PR 333 coastal road.
Yellow-shouldered Blackbird Agelaius xanthomus Endemic
4 at La Parguera in the garden of the Parador Villa La Parguera.
Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger
Common and widespread with 50+ observed daily in every habitat from
Puerto Rican Bullfinch Loxigilla portorecenis Endemic
2 at CNF, 9 at GDF, and 7 at MSF.
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Uncommon, 1 at Fajardo and 2 at HNR.
Nutmeg Mannikin Lonchura punctulata
A group of 10-12 at NSRR along the grassy edge of a ball field.
Oranged-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda
Fairly common and widespread. A small, delightfully colored
species observed in tight groups of 8-12. Best look was a
bathing in a rain puddle at HNR.
Thomas L. Marko