Living in the Caribbean I had stopped over in San Juan several times on the way somewhere else, but never had time for any birding. When a chance for a week in Puerto Rico arose, off we went. “We” means my wife Lene and myself; she likes to watch some birds, but probably tire of it faster than I do.
Living in the Lesser Antilles means that my priorities are a little different than the typical visitor; seeing Green-throated Carib or Antillean Crested Hummingbirds was not important, I have those on my feeders every day. With that in mind, our itinerary started in the western portions of PR, with two days in Guanica and two days in Maricao. The last three nights were spent near El Yunque in the eastern end of Puerto Rico.
The primary information came from trip reports, the ones I used most were by Jan Vermeulen (1998) and by Glen Tepke (2002). This section is meant to supplement these reports, not replace them.
La Parguera: we parked about 200 meters/yards west of the hotel Parador Villa Parguera. On the opposite (east) side there was a small plaza with some food stalls and some trash-bins. Especially the latter seemed to attract the yellow-shouldered blackbirds. Also near the car on the way back did we see a blackbird.
Laguna Cartagena: the easiest access is from road 101: opposite of road 306 make a turn South on a gravel road. Following this southwards one will on the left see first the drainage channel, which currently is closed, and shortly thereafter a sign announcing the main entrance to the lagoon. We met an official inside, and he said there was free access inside as long as the fences were unharmed and you were either walking or riding a (non-motorized) bike. Walk from this entrance east until the first or second trail crosses, take this towards the left. If taking the first, you have to cross another couple of fences and parallel the cattails further east before water becomes visible. Caribbean coot, white-cheeked pintail and herons were the main birds observed.
Maricao Forest HQ (see included drawing): the entrance road goes downhill from road 120 until there is a Y-intersection with forest offices (O) to the right and a road continuing straight up again. The latter makes a left turn in front of a couple of benches and a transformer station (T). Park here, walk past the gate and continue past the ruin (R), after which a maintained trail turns right and continues up the hill parallel with road 120. This trail produced the Elfin Woods Warbler. A second trail made a loop back to the entrance road. We were told by a forestry official that it was OK as long as we stayed on these two short trail areas, but going further was not OK because they did not have any maps to hand out and did not want anyone to get lost. PR Lizard Cuckoo was more common here than in Guanica, and more importantly, we did not hear a single Mangrove Cuckoo, a species that is 10 times more common than PRLC in Guanica.
I had misread previous reports regarding El Yunque, AKA the Caribbean National Forest; the user fee only is necessary for the visitor center area, there is no fee for visiting the rest of the forest. The current brochure, that we got at the visitor center, tell you that the access control gate, situated midway up the road, currently is open from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. The visitor center with information movie, bookstore, and a nature trail opens around 9 am.
April 29th was a travel day. We arrived so late in San Juan that with immigration, picking up the rental car and getting out of town, Greater Antillean Grackle was the only species positively identified. Drove to our accommodation at Copamarina Beach Resort in Guanica (pricey but conveniently located).
April 30th: we were at the gate of Guanica Dry Forest on road 334 at 6:45. After birding the lower part of the access road we drove up to the visitor center, and birded around there and the Grenade trail; we saw plenty of Adelaide Warbler, PR Tody, and other sought after species including an undetermined quail dove. Shortly after noon, we did the Meseta trail at road 333, including the lagune. This was followed by a short stop at the hotel (with our first PR Woodpecker) and an excursion to La Parguera. Having found the Yellow-Shouldered Blackbird fairly quickly, we finished the day at Laguna Cartagena with Caribbean Coot.
May 1st: having missed the PR Nightjar the previous day, we went back to the gate on road 334 at 5:45 the next morning. We hiked up to the visitor center during the next hour, but only one time heard a sound that possibly was the nightjar. It came from too far into the forest for confirmation. I don’t know if the mongoose we saw on the way can be part of the explanation? We had good birding on the hike down again after enjoying the breakfast we carried. The Guanica area during these two days produced a total of 34 species with 8 Puerto Rican endemics. We then drove slowly through the countryside and rain showers towards Maricao and Hacienda Juanita (delayed on route by more motorcycles than I have ever seen in one place before). Along the road we birded a trail at the Maricao Forest HQ (road 120 km 16.1) but birding was slow.
May 2nd: the same trail near the forest HQ was much more bird-rich in the sunny morning. No less that three Elfin Woods Warblers (at least – seen again on the way down) was the highlight of the morning. Back at Hacienda Juanita from early afternoon, birding was a little slower, but singing PR Screech-Owl around 9 pm was a nice exclamation point for the day.
May 3rd: Back in the forest in early morning did not produce the hoped-for pewee (I was told that some of the less dry lowland forests are better for this species). The Maricao area including Hacienda Juanita produced a total of 27 species with 11 endemics. Mid morning, we started on the slow mountain roads towards east and Casa Cubuy near El Yunque (we chose the slow route on purpose, hoping for short stops with interesting birds. A few rain-showers did not really cooperate with this plan).
May 4th: we started the day in front of our room at Casa Cubuy, and it was mid morning before we arrived at Humacao NWR. Late afternoon saw us back at Casa Cubuy. The highlight of the day was approx. 43 Ruddy Duck in one of the lagoons at Humacao NWR.
May 5th was the day for the visit at El Yunque/Caribbean National Forest. The weather was not really good, especially in the upper reaches was the cloud forest obeying its name. Near Mt. Britton Tower, there was a sound like an Amazon parrot but different from the sounds I am used to here in Dominica. A short while later, we passed the captive breeding program location described by Jan Vermeulen, and the racket there from the Puerto Rican Parrots consisted of sounds very similar to those I had heard a little higher up. The Mt. Britton Tower area had palms with red fruits, probably ripe and food for a parrot?
May 6th was the day for going back home, we did not have time for any excursions before heading for San Juan and the car rental company. The trip total was 73 species, and I missed the PR Parrot, PR Nightjar and PR Pewee of the Puerto Rican endemics listed by Raffaele et al. Other birds present would probably be sought after as well, I saw 22 new species for me, and 21 of these are wholly or mostly confined to the Caribbean area.
What would I do differently? Given my location in the Lesser Antilles and the shear luck needed to get an observation of the PR Parrot, I would probably use even more time in western PR than what we did. On the other hand, maybe El Yunque can be better than what we experienced. Some time in the western end should be used for an evening walk on the access road in Guanica Dry Forest, and some of it might be used in e.g., the salt flats, some wetter lowland forest, or if the information is available, in search of the Plain Pigeon.
Dates are given with day-month-year. Letters in front of the bird name are
F A species I had not previously identified
U Uncertain, each entry contains an explanation why I included the bird in this list.
When I write e.g., “common” about a bird species that should be understood to mean that I saw this bird commonly at this particular trip. I cannot guarantee that others will find the bird equally common.
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Seen both of the places we came close to the sea (Guanica and Humacao)
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens
Seen both of the places we came close to the sea (Guanica and Humacao)
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Only seen 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Great Egret Ardea alba
Seen 30-4-05 along the road near Laguna Cartagena and 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor
Only seen 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Seen 30-4-05 Laguna Cartagena (1), 3-5-05 at Lago Guayo (2+), and 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Quite common in habitats where you expect to meet them, and even at the airport in San Juan!
Green Heron Butorides virescens
Only seen 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
White-cheeked Pintail Anas bahamensis
Seen 30-4-05 at Laguna Cartagena (4) and at least that many 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Ruddy Duck Oxyura jamaicensis
A flock of approx. 43 on 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR was a surprise for me.
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Seen everywhere in the western end of Puerto Rico
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Seen around forest, but not the dry forest of Guanica
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Only one, seen 3-5-05 along road in the middle of Cordillera Central
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Seen at the three places we looked at fresh water to any extent: Laguna Cartagena, Lago Garzas (short stop on dam), and Humacao NWR
F Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea
30-4-05 at Laguna Cartagena: 8 of which at least three had frontal shields large enough to be sure
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
Seen 30-4-05 at the lagoon near the Meseta trail in Guanica with 20+, and breeding was noted 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus
Seen 30-4-05 at the lagoon near the Meseta trail in Guanica with 2
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
One was seen 30-4-05 near Laguna Cartagena; by sound, several more were present in that general area
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia
One on 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Two on 30-4-05 at the lagoon near the Meseta trail in Guanica
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla
4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Along the coast on 30-4-05 by the Meseta trail in Guanica
Rock Dove Columba livia
2-5-05 Hacienda Juanita but I probably overlooked it in other places
Scaly-naped Pigeon Patagioenas squamosa
Very common over wet forest (Maricao Forest, Hacienda Juanita, Casa Cubuy and El Yunque
Eurasian Collared-Dove Streptopelia decaocto
Four on 30-4-05 at La Parguera.
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
30-4-05 at Laguna Cartagena.
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita
Quite common in the upper part of Guanica, but also seen along road from Casa Cubuy to Humacao NWR
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Common in lower elevations around Guanica, around Hacienda Juanita and especially in the eastern lowlands.
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
As common as the name hints
U Quail-Dove sp. Geotrygon sp.
30-4-05 Guanica: visitors center and Grenade trail, 1 noted by having a strong white band under the eye, green mantle. Definitely not Ruddy QD, but that still leaves Key West QD and Briddled QD as possibilities. My Puerto Rican contact says that the Key West QD is the one that should be present in that location.
U Puerto Rican Parrot Amazona vittata
El Yunque: 1 parrot was heard 5-5-05 near the last shelter before the Mt Britton Tower, making sound only a couple of times. The sound was less pleasing than what I am used to from amazon parrots here in Dominica. I later heard what sounded like a flock (making a racket) of the same birds, and after a few bends of the road passed by a compound that presumably is the captive breeding center for this species. It sounded like the same species!
I have listed this as uncertain because I didn’t see the bird; my Puerto Rican contact says that he does not know of any other parrots or parakeets that come this high.
Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor
Common in Guanica Dry Forest
F Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo Saurothera vieilloti
One to two at Guanica near the visitors center. Seemed more numerous at Maricao Forest near the HQ. One heard at Casa Cubuy on 4-5-05.
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani
Mainly in lowland: seen 30-4-05 Laguna Cartagena, 1-5-05 at Guanica, and 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR
U Barn Owl Tyto alba
On 3-5-05 at Casa Cubuy: 1 heard after dark but only one vocalization. In Dominica, that would have been enough, but I don’t know if Puerto Rico has a frog or something else that makes a similar sound at night, so this is stated as an uncertain observation, especially as Raffaele lists Barn Owl as very rare/vagrant on Puerto Rico.
F Puerto Rican Screech-Owl Otus nudipes
One heard 2-5-05 at Hacienda Juanita after dark. Not amenable to attraction with a tape (I met other birders that had one), on the contrary acted a little wary.
U Puerto Rican Nightjar Caprimulgus noctitherus
On the 1-5-05 at Guanica, we hiked up from the gate on road 334 to the visitor center and back with start at 5:45 am. Only once during the hike (5km) did we hear a sound in some bushes that could have been a nightjar: sounded similar to the call (not the song) of a European nightjar. 2-3 days later, we met other birders at HJ that played the song of Puerto Rican nightjar for me, and it was sufficiently similar that I think I had heard one; however, the time in between was too long for me to be certain. Surprising with only one, however, we did se mongoose in the forest as a possible explanation.
Black Swift Cypseloides niger
Only one bird, 3-5-05 at Casa Cubuy.
F Antillean Mango Anthracothorax dominicus
Seen both low and high in Guanica, and surprisingly one in the low area at the start of road 191 leading up to El Yunque.
F Green Mango Anthracothorax viridis
Seen only in the area around Maricao, including 1-5-05 at Hacienda Juanita, and 2nd + 3rd-5-05 at Maricao Forest HQ.
Antillean Crested Hummingbird Orthorhyncus cristatus
One female-colored on 4-5-05 at Humacao NWR.
F Puerto Rican Emerald Chlorostilbon maugaeus
2-5-05 Maricao Forest HQ: both male and female seen
F Puerto Rican Tody Todus mexicanus
Common in forest areas
F Puerto Rican Woodpecker Melanerpes portoricensis
I was surprised that the first one should turn up on the Copamarina resort area parking lot: 2 on a palm excavating a hole. Seen again in most wooded areas.
Caribbean Elaenia Elaenia martinica
The only certain observations were 30-4-05 at Guanica around the visitor’s center and Grenade trail
F Puerto Rican Flycatcher Myiarchus antillarum
Only seen with certainty at Guanica, especially on the Meseta trail. Similar sounds heard in most forested areas
Gray Kingbird Tyrannus dominicensis
F Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus
Only seen with certainty at Hacienda Juanita and at Casa Cubuy. It surprised me that they were thriving right under the nose of Gray Kingbird, a bird that is renowned for its aggressive demeanor, including (in Dominica) aggression towards e.g., Caribbean Elaenia.
Caribbean Martin Progne dominicensis
Seen at the northern start-point of road 191 and at San Juan Airport
Bank Swallow Riparia riparia
One on 30-4-05 at Meseta trail, Guanica, and one 5-5-05 at northern end of road 191. Probably reflects migration.
F Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
One was seen well enough to be certain (near Casa Cubuy) and a total of maybe 5 others were seen that probably were this species. I had expected more from the reports I had read.
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
One on 30-4-05 at Laguna Cartagena.
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
Seen commonly, especially in lowland areas. Notice that the bird on PR belong to a different subspecies compared to US birds.
Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatus
Red-legged Thrush Turdus plumbeus
Common near Maricao in the forest
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
City and village bird noted in Guanica, La Parguera, and San Juan Airport
F Orange-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda
Smaller flock on 3-5-05 at Casa Cubuy and two flocks on 4-5-05 in Humacao NWR.
F Puerto Rican Vireo Vireo latimeri
Seen both in Guanica and at Maricao Forest HQ
Black-whiskered Vireo Vireo altiloquus
Seen both at Maricao Forest HQ and at Casa Cubuy
F Adelaide Warbler Dendroica adelaidae
Quite common at Guanica dry forest, but only seen there.
F Elfin-woods Warbler Dendroica angelae
2-5-05 Maricao Forest HQ early morning to noon at the trail along the road (see description earlier in report): 2+ birds. On the way up, we saw one adult and one gray immature, and additionally one with similar stature that was mostly grayish yellow, and therefore did not show the characteristic markings; according to Raffaele, the youngest birds look like this. A similar group was seen on the way down. On the adult looking bird, the markings on the breast was weaker than what is shown in the Raffaele guide
Bananaquit Coereba flaveola
Seen everywhere. Even the casual visitor the Caribbean learns to overlook rather then look for this species.
F Puerto Rican Tanager Nesospingus speculiferus
Seen in areas with higher forest, including Maricao Forest, Hacienda Juanita, and El Yunque.
F Puerto Rican Spindalis Spindalis portoricensis
Seen once in Guanica, common in the Maricao area.
Antillean Euphonia Euphonia musica
Seen both at Maricao Forest and Casa Cubuy
F Yellow-faced Grassquit Tiaris olivacea
Seen only twice, both times in grassy areas along the road. Best views around the Dam at Lago Garzas
Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolor
Common almost everywhere
F Puerto Rican Bullfinch Loxigilla portoricensis
Seen in small numbers where-ever there was forest, including Guanica, Maricao Forest at the HQ, Hacienda Juanita, and El Yunque
F Yellow-shouldered Blackbird Agelaius xanthomus
Four or more on 30-4-05 at La Parguera: The first one was seen flying across the plaza just east of Hotel Parador Villa Parguera. Later a total of three around some trash-bins. Finally, one more at the place we had parked, maybe 200 m west of the hotel. We were later told that there were many more near the Bahia Sucia on fields near the salt flats there. We were also told that the total population of the blackbird numbered maybe a thousand now.
Greater Antillean Grackle Quiscalus niger
Ubiquitous in populated areas
Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis
One observation at Maricao Forest and quite common at Casa Cubuy
F Troupial Icterus icterus
Only seen in Guanica, and easiest to see at the Meseta trail
F Greater Antillean Oriole Icterus dominicensis
at Hacienda Juanita and repeatedly at Casa Cubuy
NLarsen AT rossmed.edu.dm