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11 - 21 April 2003

by Thomas L. Marko

A business engagement at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads (NSRR) was the catalyst for this trip.  NSRR is located on the eastern end of Puerto Rico (PR) adjacent to the town of Ceiba.  This was my 7th visit to PR, so I was somewhat familiar with finding my way around the island.  However, it was my first birding experience in the Caribbean and a solo adventure that put my developing birding skills to the test.  I was able to bird from dusk to dawn on the weekends that bracketed my workweek at NSRR.  Rather than list the birds found at each location, a detailed species account is provided below.

On Friday (April 11), I arrived at the airport near San Juan, picked up a rental car, and proceeded toward NSRR via the PR 187 coastal road that passes through the towns of Loiza and Rio Grande.  First birds observed were Brown Pelicans flying along the shoreline.  I stopped at the first promising area and immediately found a PR Woodpecker at eye level a mere 15 feet away working the trunk of a coconut palm.  A nice start with a somewhat comical looking bird and an endemic at that!   Along PR 187, I noticed a boardwalk bike trail that parallels the roadway and winds its way through coastal swamps.  I walked a small stretch, noting that would be a great place to return to for an early morning bird walk.  Scratching the mosquito bites on my arms, I also made a note to have insect repellant readily at hand.  (Total species: 17).

I arrived at NSRR later that afternoon and checked in.  My overall plan was to bird locations on the eastern end of PR the first weekend and the southwest corner the second.  I attempted to make a room reservation for my visit to the southwest.  What I failed to take into account was Easter, a major travel weekend in PR since Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays.  I was able to locate a seaside room in Guanica, however, the law of supply and demand pegged the rate at $145.00 for a night, far too much for my birding budget and for a site unseen accommodation.  I decided I would wing it when I arrived in that area the following weekend.

On Saturday morning (April 12), I drove to the nearby town of Fajardo hoping to visit the Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve.  I didn’t realize that entry is dependent on an advance reservation.  Undeterred, I explored the Fajardo environs to include a stop at the El Conquistador Resort & Country Club to see what that developed, but lushly green, habitat offered.  (Total species: 20)

From Fajardo it was a 30-minute drive via Autopista 53 to the Humacao Nature Reserve (HNR).  HNR is only open until 1530 but well worth visiting since its wetland habitat produced the overall greatest number of species.  It was the only place I regretted not having my spotting scope.  Viewing waterfowl on the far side of the lagoons would have been nice with higher power optics.  The tradeoff was not lugging a scope in the hot, humid weather.  In addition to birds, large iguanas exceeding 3 feet in length were abundant.  When surprised, these scaly-faced creatures basking in branches would leap into the water with a definitive splash, sometimes scaring the wits out of me.  (Total species: 30)

Sunday (April 13) was devoted to the Caribbean National Forest (CNF), located on the slopes of the Luquillo Mountains and topped off by the El Yunque peak.  CNF has the distinction of being the only rainforest in the national forest system.   It’s probably the most heavily visited tourist attraction in PR, so arrive early and hike the less visited trails to avoid the crowds.  The new visitor center (a structure beautifully integrated into the surrounding tropical landscape) and access road are open from 0700-1800.   The visitor center entry fee is $3.00 per vehicle or half price with a National Parks pass.  Birding was best on the lower part of the mountain, around the visitor center, and along the visitor center trail.  It was also good in parking areas along PR 191, the road that winds its way up the mountain.  I hiked the Mount Britton Spur Trail and returned via the closed portion of PR 191.  Two mongoose caught my eye along these trails.  This animal, introduced to control snakes, is a serious nest predator. (Total species: 20)

On Tuesday (April 15), I drove to the Army post at Fort Buchanan (FB), located in Bayamon just west of San Juan, to visit one of my program sites.  FB was unique because of the groups of parrots that could be heard squawking and chattering in the trees throughout the post.  I was told that they are regular visitors here.  Unfortunately, my situation didn’t allow me to break away with my binoculars.  I did get a good look at a beautiful pair of Blue-Gold Macaws as they passed over and landed in a palm tree.

Thursday and Friday (April 17 & 18) were cataclysmic weather-wise.  Torrential rains flooded coastal areas and low-lying roads.  It appeared I would have to abort my trip to the southwest, but a late Friday weather report indicated clearing skies over that part of the island.  It was a go!

On Saturday (April 19), I departed NSRR at 0330 and arrived at the gate of the Guanica Dry Forest (GDF) by 0600.  I parked the car near the entrance, walked around the gate that blocks the roadway, and hiked in.  The forest was quite green due to the abundant rainfall over the past several months.  The first birds observed were three flyover nighthawks, but their speed and the lowlight made it impossible to distinguish Common from Caribbean, two very similar species.  As dawn broke, the quiet of the forest was quickly overwhelmed by the sound of birds.  Cuckoos could be heard calling in the distance.  When the gate opened at 0700, I drove up to the visitor center, obtained a trail map and, upon the recommendation of the attendant, hiked the Lluberas and Granados trails.  That clear, sun-filled morning produced the overall greatest number of birds observed on the trip.  I left GDF just prior to noon and explored the PR 333 coastal road along the southern edge of the GDF.  (Total species: 27)

From Guanica, I worked my way west to La Parguera, a roosting site for the critically endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird.  Due to the holiday weekend, cars and people overran this small seaside resort town.  The streets were narrow, parking was limited, and, to top it off, it started raining heavily.  I almost beat a hasty retreat but eventually found a parking spot.  Soothed by a cold beer, I walked over to the Parador Villa La Parguera, parked myself under an overhang in the garden, and waited.  I didn’t think I would see anything due to a noisy group of kids splashing in the pool.  However, the rain finally subsided and at 1515 I noticed a blackbird sitting on a palm frond that was slightly smaller than the nearby grackles.  Bingo - a Yellow-shouldered Blackbird!  By 1530 there were three more in another tree that were close enough to observe without binoculars.

Satisfied with the great looks at the blackbirds, I departed La Parguera and headed for the Maricoa State Forest (MSF) via PR 116 to Autopista 2 to PR 120 (at Sabana Grande) and on up the mountain.  A stop at the forestry office found it closed.  Fog was starting to envelop the top of the mountain making driving hazardous on the winding road, so I continued to the nearby Parador Hacienda Juanita with the vague hope of finding a vacancy.  Alas, there was no room at the inn.  It was too bad because the Hacienda Juanita was extremely attractive. The property sits on a hillside overlooking a lush, tropical valley and it even has its own birding trails.  Banana and coffee plantations dot the surrounding countryside.  It’s definitely a place to revisit with a reservation in hand.  By this time it was late in the day and I was tired.  Finding a secluded area in the parking lot, I parked the car, read for a short while, crawled into the back seat, and nodded off to sleep.  I was awakened during the night by the distinctive sound of a screech owl calling.  Previous trip reports indicated that a pair of PR Screech Owls could be found here.  As hard as I tried, I could not locate the owls in the dim light.  The calls continued into the night, but sleep got the better part of me.  I slept surprisingly well despite the confined accommodations.

On Easter morning (April 20), I awoke around 0600.  Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I turned on the ignition, drove back to PR 120, and into the entrance of the forestry office at Km 16.2, which is closed on Sundays.  I parked next to the picnic area, took advantage of the restroom facilities, and birded the surrounding area.  I hiked a not-so-birdy rocky trail that began at an abandoned stone house, continued up along a ridge, and ended at PR 120.

From the visitor center, I drove to Km 16.8 where two very nice trails are found.  I hiked both, with one trail descending and the other ascending steeply along a ridge affording great views of the surrounding countryside.  Along the upper trail I had a nice look at a Puerto Rican Emerald perched on a branch.  Upon rounding the next bend, a Red-Tailed Hawk soared from its perch down into the valley below enabling me to see the hawk’s red tail from above.  This quick contrast between hummingbird and hawk perfectly illustrated the diversity of birds, perhaps the primary reason I’m attracted to bird watching.

I continued to Km 14.1, the highest point along PR 120, where an assortment of communication towers and utility buildings are found.  No real trails here but the open areas allow for birding along the forest edge.  The next stop was a stone tower overlook, just a short distance further along the road.  I met the only other person carrying binoculars during the entire trip at this location.  We exchanged greetings and expressed our mutual disappointment of not finding Elfin Wood Warbler, the target MSF endemic.  I departed MSF early afternoon for the ride back to NSRR, where unpacked bags for the next day’s flight home awaited. (Total species: 20)

Here’s a bit about NSRR as a side note.  It’s the largest naval station in the world by landmass comprising 31,000 acres.  NSRR contains 8,600 acres and the bombing range on the island of Vieques 22,400 acres.  The installation is relatively undeveloped and contains a rich diversity of habitat.  With the cessation of bombing exercises in May 2003, the future of NSRR as a military installation is uncertain.  Should it close, it would be sad if Puerto Rico lost this natural resource to the onslaught of commercial development.  I was heartened to hear the Vieques portion has been turned over to the Department of the Interior.  Hopefully, 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

Car rental:

Avis, $29.20/day (government rate), unlimited mileage, Chevrolet Cavalier.


A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies, 1998, Herbert Raffaele et al, Princeton University Press (bulky to carry but a must).


I would like to express my thanks to Gail Mackiernan, fellow member of the Montgomery County Chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society, for sharing her in-depth trip reports and invaluable expertise on Caribbean birding.

Species List:

A total of 71 species observed to include 36 life birds.  Of the 17 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 areas.

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 at 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 wetland habitat.

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 my room window perched on a utility pole, 1 flyover at HNR, 1 flyover along a road, and 1 at MSF.

American Kestrel Falco sparverius
1 in Fajardo perched on a residential TV antenna, 1 at NSRR perched in a 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 Maricoa.

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 GDF 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 and 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 of 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 elongated 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, and 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 to include 6 at HNR.  At one time there were 3 on the same tree with 2 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 heard than observed.

Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
Fairly common and widespread.  Found around roadways over water where 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 leading 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 towers.

Puerto Rican Spidalis Spindalis portoricensis Endemic
4 at CNF along the closed section of PR 191 that leads down from the Mt. Britton Spur Trail.

Puerto Rican Tanager Nesopingus speculiferus Endemic
2 at CNF (1 along the visitor center nature trail and 1 at Km 8.0-Yokahu Tower) and 12 at MSF.

Bananaquit Coereba flaveola
Ubiquitous - observed and heard everywhere with vegetation.  As attractive as this little birds is, I found its incessant high-pitched, insect-like 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 male-female pairs.

Black-cowled Oriole Icterus dominicencis
1 at CNF (flew over the visitor center parking area and eventually perched on the side view mirror of a car for a great look) and 1 at MSF (in the forestry 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 rural to urban.

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.  An introduced species.

Oranged-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda
Fairly common and widespread.  A small, delightfully colored introduced species observed in tight groups of  8-12.  Best look was a group bathing in a rain puddle at HNR.

Thomas L. Marko (home)

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