27 August - 6 September 1998
by Mark Gawn
In the course of a family holiday to Puerto Rico, 87 species of birds were found, primarily in five days at three sites in the southwest of the island. Fifteen of the sixteen Puerto Rican endemics were seen, as well as a further 15 Caribbean endemics. No attempt was made to see the Puerto Rican Parrot as access to the habitat of this critically endangered species is restricted. Sixteen introduced species added a cosmopolitan flair. The logistics and driving were easy; our rental from budget performed flawlessly and we had no problems booking rooms just three weeks in advance. The fact that Angie is fluent in Spanish was a definite asset, but you could get by with English alone. The trip reports posted by Mark Oberle and Giff Beaton (May, 1995; December, 1995) and Ron Outen (Feb. 1997) were very helpful. We used "Birds of Puerto Rico" by Raffaele in the field and referred to "Birds of the West Indies" by Raffaele et al. on return.
Maricao State Forest.
We stayed for two nights at the Parador Juanita on Route 105 just north of the State Forest (basic rooms, but nice site). The grounds make for productive birding, and we saw most of the highland species here, including the amazing PR Tody - what a bird! There is a trail that loops below the hotel, providing access to a somewhat disturbed forest. The highlight was several (two or more) Puerto Rican Screech Owls which called off and on through the evenings, starting at about 7PM. On the first night we heard two dueting, and, on our second night, got a flashlight on one. It was perched about 3 meters up in a tree along Rt 105 near the eastern access road to the hotel. The owls did not respond to squeaking or hawk insects at the hotel lights. Two other goodies were a Puerto Rican Pewee (a recent split) along the trail and a Plain Pigeon which flew overhead, the latter a definite bonus. The Pewee did not call, but looked somewhat more rufous than LA Pewees seen in Dominica and Guadeloupe.
We found an immature Elfin Woods Warbler after about half on hour of searching in the Maricao State Forest along the radio tower trail beyond the picnic site at Km 16.2 on Rt. 120. It was in a mixed species flock with PR Tanager and several others. This site was also good for PR Vireo and Tody. We spent the afternoon in San German, a pretty town less than an hour's drive away, where we saw large flocks of Canary-winged Parakeets as well as a pair of Nutmeg Manakins (if you don't see the parakeets on the university campus, you can try the McDonald's parking lot!) In the late afternoon, we flushed 3 Ruddy Quail Dove from the roadside along Rt 105 a km or so west of the Parador.
Our next stop was La Parguera where we spent the night in the Parador Palomar. We liked the hotel, and our 3rd floor room had a great view (see below). We arrived at about noon and wondered over to the Villa Parguera in quest of Yellow-shouldered Blackbird but saw only an Antillean Mango (our only good view as it happened) and a Black-Cowled Oriole. Eventually 2 Yellow-shouldereds came in but that was that, until, glancing out our hotel window at about 5:30 PM I noted a flock go by; over the next half hour or so we were treated to flock after flock; they were still going by as it got dark. In total we saw over 200, however, we also saw a few cowbirds in the area, so the species is not out of danger yet. That night we took the boat tour to the phosphorescent bay, where bioluminescent diatoms glow when disturbed by the wake of a boat or swimmer, great fun for our seven year old daughter.
The next morning we "discovered" two interesting areas. The first of these were the cane fields south of Rt 303 just east of Llanos (near Lajas); an impromptu turn onto a dirt road through the fields turned up a "finch" bonanza: Pin-tailed Whydah, Orange Bishop, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Black-rumped Waxbill and Chestnut Manakin - at one point there were several displaying Bishops and Whydahs in sight, sort of like being in the African veld after the rains! The second site was an extensive area of mudflats adjacent to mangroves south of Rt 324 along the edge of Bahia Montalea (east of La Parguera) where there were hundreds of shorebirds including a Snowy Plover (another good shorebird spot were some flooded fields along Rt 303 east of Laguna Cartagena where there were dozens of Dowitchers).
Guanica State Forest.
Our next stop was Guanica, where we spent one night at Mary Lee's by the Sea (we preferred the Palomar). A late afternoon visit to the park headquarters at the end of route 334 was useless for birding, but gave us the opportunity to pick up a trail map and to learn that the park gate opens at 7am. After dark we trolled along Rt 333 between the Copamarina and Guanica but heard no PR Nightjars. A 5:00 AM start the next morning was much better, several PR Nightjars were heard calling, including two at the turn off to Jaboncillo Beach (as per the Oberle/Beaton December 1995 trip report). The first one was heard where the dry forest resumes west of the Copamarina Hotel, an incessant "whip whip whip" loud enough to be heard over the noise of the car. On stopping, it seemed to be coming from a tree right beside the road, so Mark walked into the bush armed with a Maglite. After approaching to about five meters, he flashed on the light, fully expecting a frog, only to see a nightjar take off from a tree at eye level! The morning was nicely rounded off by stunning views of a PR Lizard Cuckoo beside the "Ballena Trail" just below the parking lot at the end of Rt. 334. In addition, we had reasonable birding along the "Granados Trail", including several fine views of PR Tody, PR Emerald and incredibly confiding Adelaide's Warblers. A quick snorkel off the dock at Mary Lee's resulted in the discovery of a beautiful Milk Conch, a nice addition to our shell collection. We headed to Ponce that evening where we heard, and Angie saw, an Antillean Nighthawk over Plaza las Delicias, this making for a two nightjar day . The point at Playa de Ponce was good for shelling and the children's play area featured displaying Pin-tailed Whydahs (also a flyby Bank Swallow).
Old San Juan & Misc.
The El Morro fortifications are a must see, and incidentally allow fine views over the waterfront. Unfortunately there were no Tropicbirds (wrong time of year), but there were several distant, dense feeding flocks of terns and plenty of inshore Sandwich Terns to look at (no Cayene). Even better, there were flocks of Java Sparrow, along with a few flybys by Monk Parakeets. Birders who don't happen to live in Barbados would probably want to visit the eastern end of the island to have a go at Green-throated Carib and Crested Hummer; we didn't bother.
Pelagic Birding Tip.
We found brochures for a 6 hour whale watching trip which departs Puerto Real, Cabo Rojo at 11AM from mid-January to mid-April at ¤25 per person - I would definitely include this in a "winter" trip, both for the whales and for the pelagic birding possibilities.
Magnificant Frigatebird. Common at La Parguera
dozens hovered over offshore cays
Brown Pelican. Common along coast, e.g.: La Parguera, San Juan
Little Blue Heron. Several in mangroves near La Parguera, Guanica
Great Egret. Several dozen seen in the Salinas area
Cattle Egret. Abundant
Green-backed Heron. Several seen in mangroves, e.g.: La Parguera
Yellow-cr'd Night Heron. Several seen in mangroves, e.g.: La Parguera
Turkey Vulture. Commonly seen in the Southwest, e.g.: Ponce
Red-tailed Hawk. Ones and twos throughout, including Condado
American Kestrel. Family seen at Parador Juanita, also, Condado
Greater Yellowlegs. Common mangroves e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Lesser Yellowlegs. Common mangroves e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Spotted Sandpiper. Common
Ruddy Turnstone. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Short-billed Dowitcher. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea, flooded fields near Lajas
Semipalmated Sandpiper. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Western Sandpiper. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Least Sandpiper. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Stilt Sandpiper. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea
Black-necked Stilt. Common e.g.: Bahia Montalea, La Parguera
Gray Plover. Several mangroves e.g.: Bahia Montalea, La Parguera
Wilson's Plover. 2 in mangroves near Capamarina Hotel, Guanica
Snowy Plover. 1 on mudflat on Bahia Montalea
Laughing Gull. Several seen, San Juan
Royal Tern. Commonly seen along south coast, e.g.: La Parguera
Sandwich Tern. 1 Playa at Playa de Ponce, common San Juan
Roseate Tern. Small numbers, La Parguera, abundant, San Juan
Least Tern. Small numbers in mangrove areas, south coast
Rock Dove. Common in urban areas
Scaly-naped Pigeon. Common, Cordillera Central several assumed, San Juan area
Plain Pigeon. 1 flyby at Parador Juanita
Zenaida dove. Common
White-winged Dove. Common in sw, e.g.: flocks, San German; several, Parador Juanita
Ringed Turtle-Dove. Common, La Parguera. Status unclear.
Common Ground Dove. Abundant
Key West Quail-Dove. 1-2 Quail Doves heard, Guanica SF assumed this species
Ruddy Quail-Dove. 3 flushed in evening from Rt. 105 west of Parador Juanita
Canary-winged Parakeet. Common, San German
Monk Parakeet. Several small flocks, El Moro, old San Juan
Puerto Rican Screech Owl. 2 or 3 heard and one seen, Parador Juanita
Antillean Nighthawk. 1 or 2 heard, Plaza las Delicias, Ponce
Puerto Rican Nightjar. 1 seen, 2 or 3 additional heard, Guanica SF (Rt. 333)
Mangrove Cuckoo. Common in Guanica dry SF, also mangroves near La Parguera
Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo. 2 seen, Guanica state forest
Green Mango. Several, Parador Juanita
Puerto Rican Emerald. Several, Parador Juanita, Guanica SF
Antillean Mango. 1, La Parguera, several other possibles along south coast
Puerto Rican Tody. Common, Cordillera Central (e.g.: Maricao SF), Guanica SF
Caribbean Elaenia. Common in Guanica SF also mangroves near La Parguera
Puerto Rican Pewee. 1 seen along trail at Parador Juanita
Puerto Rican Flycatcher. Several seen, Guanica SF, Cordillera Central
Gray Kingbird. Abundant
Loggerhead Kingbird. Several seen in Cordillera Central, e.g.: at Parador Juanita
Black-whiskered Vireo. Common
Puerto Rican Vireo. Several seen, Maricao SF, others heard, Guanica SF
Red-legged Thrush. Common in Cordillera Central
Northern Mockingbird. Common
Pearly-eyed Thrasher. Several seen, Guanica SF
Caribbean Martin. Common
Sand Martin. 1 Playa de Ponce
Barn Swallow. Several seen in south west
Cave Swallow. Locally common, e.g.: highway bridges, San Juan airport
House Sparrow. Several Plaza las Delicias, Ponce, also with Java Sparrow, El Moro
Bronze Mannikin. Several, Condado, also 1 nest building near La Parguera
Scaly-breasted Munia. Pair nest building, Interamerican University Campus, San German
Pin-tailed Whydah. Common in southwest, many displaying males seen
Yellow Warbler. Common in mangroves in southwest
Prairie Warbler. Several heard, 1 seen, Guanica SF
Elfin Woods Warbler. 1 imm., Maricao SF (radio tower trail, Rt. 120, 16.2 km)
Adelaide's Warbler. Common, Guanica SF, 1 seen La Parguera
Northern Waterthrush. 1, La Parguera
PR Stripe-headed Tanager. Common in Cordillera Central
Puerto Rican Tanager. Common, Maricao SF, Parador Juanita
Antillean Euphonia. 1 seen at Parador Juanita, others heard
Black-faced Grassquit. Abundant
Puerto Rican Bullfinch. Common, Cordillera Central, Guanica SF
Black-cowled Oriole. 1 at La Parguera
Troupial. Several, woodlands near La Parguera
Yellow-sh'd Blackbird. Over 200 streaming by La Parguera in the evening
Greater Antillean Grackle. Abundant
Shiny Cowbird. Too common
Yellow-faced Grassquit. Several in mixed "finch" flock, sw of Llanos (near Lajas)
Orange Bishop. Common, many displaying males, Lajas area
Java Sparrow. Hundreds, old San Juan (El Moro), common, Condado
Black-rumped Waxbill. Several in mixed "finch" flock, sw of Llanos (near Lajas)
Chestnut Manakin. Several in mixed "finch" flock, sw of Llanos (near Lajas)
Warbling Silverbill. 2 at waterpoint by Rt. 324 just west of Ensenada
Mark Gawn & Angie Berrios-Gawn
Canadian High Commission, PO Box 404, Barbados