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10 - 14 November 2002

by David Klauber

From October 29 to November 14 I birded the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico. This trip report is for the Puerto Rico only, from November 10 through November 14. The Lesser Antilles report is written up separately.

I had worked in Puerto Rico for 2 weeks in March 1996, and saw all but three of the endemics in just a weekend plus one Saturday. The former Hilton Hotel in Mayaguez had several species when I was there in 1996. The idea was to try for the 3 endemics – PR Nightjar, PR Screech-Owl, and the difficult PR Parrot - as well as a few exotics for my North America list. I also wanted to see several birds again, especially the Elfin Woods Warbler. I did not visit very many sites since I was concentrating on finding the night birds, which required repeat visits to the same locations. I did not see the parrot, and was disappointed not to see the Lizard-Cuckoo this time.

If you want to try for the parrot, contact Jafet Velez who I think is with the Dept. of Fish & Wildlife at 787-887-8769. His boss is Fernando Nunez. They both speak English well. Jafet was very receptive, but Fernando understandably was not going to give one of his staff just to accompany me to see the birds. Unfortunately during my visit staff were working on aviary maintenance for the captive birds, and nobody was available to take me where the wild parrots are. On occasion they have taken birders there, which I believe involves meeting somewhere at 4 AM, then hiking for several hours.

Another possibility is Pedro Rios at the USDA Forest Service, 787-888-1810. Try contacting them first, find out if and when they are visiting the area, then plan your trip around them. Otherwise the parrot is an extreme long shot, as there are now less than 30 wild birds, and in mostly inaccessible areas. They are declining in the wild. The parrot overlook on route 186 is getting seriously overgrown, obscuring much of the view.  Puerto Rico is very Americanized, not surprisingly, with many fast food chains and stores familiar to someone from the USA. What surprised me was that I did not see any of the ice cream chains, like Dairy Queen, which would seem to be a logical fit for a tropical climate.

Reference Material

Several trip reports taken from Birding The Americas trip reports site.

A very strong thank you to Mike Flieg who advanced me information from his forthcoming bird finding guide for the West Indies


Lonely Planet Puerto Rico Oct 1999

A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies – Raffaele, Wiley, etc - the best around but very weak on subspecies, alternate plumages, and specific distributions. For the relatively small number of specialities they should have provided much more information

Puerto Rico Bird Guide – outdated and some poor artwork, but with more detail than the other books

Allan Sander & Mike Flieg – A Photographic Guide to the West Indies

Birds of the West Indies – Bond, 5th edition, 1993 – virtually useless

Names and Contacts

Jafet Velez or Fernando Nunez, US Dept of Fish & Wildlife – 787–887–8769

Pedro Rios USDA Forest Service – 787-888-1810


I rented from Hertz, arranged in the USA before arrival. Arranging car rentals in your country of origin is recommended, as you can often get better deals and unlimited mileage. There are many companies, so prices should be competitive. I think gas was about the same as the USA. Roads were generally quite good, noticeably improved since 1996. The toll highways are excellent except for the Puerto Ricans, who have no concept of the left lane, usually cruising well below the speed limit in the left lane and never moving aside.


The US dollar is the unit of currency. I brought traveler’s checks, American Express, US dollars, and some cash. ATMs are also available.


Accomodations are not low budget, but decent lodging can be had for $40 - $60. Food in local restaurants isn’t that costly. Water is safe to drink and I drank tap water everywhere.


I saw 92 species, and heard one more, with 5 lifers and 2 new for North America. These totals include 2 introduced species that are not countable, to the best of my knowledge – Hill Myna and Yellow-Crowned Amazon.  I missed the PR Parrot and the lizard cuckoo, although I did not spend much time looking for the lizard-cuckoo. Most of my time was spent looking for the 2 nightbirds.


November 10, Sunday – west coast  and Guanica area

My flight arrived from St. Lucia around 9 AM. I picked up my car from Hertz, $185 for 4 days, including all taxes. I drove west towards Aguadilla on the fast highway 22 past Arecibo, then highway 2 to the house of Allen and Laurie Lewis. They gave me lunch and we chatted for a bit, seeing Nutmeg Mannikins and Antillean Mangos at their feeders. About 1:30 Allen and I set off for some ponds near Coloso, not far from a large (cement?) factory, where Allen had seen the whistling duck. We had just driven through a downpour, and quickly walked around the ponds before the rain hit us. Sure enough, there was a pair of West Indian Whistling-Ducks on the ponds, as well as Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Purple and Common Gallinule. In the tall grasses were more Nutmeg Mannikins and Orange Bishops, the bishops in drab plumage. We then drove to Cartagena lagoon, which unfortunately is very overgrown with tall vegetation, obscuring most of the lagoon.

The entrance road is the southern extension of route 306, just a dirt cane road that goes a few miles. Drive past a large ranch, then past a ditch to where there is a sign on the left. There is a gate, but on the right side of the gate is a passage into the area. Walk straight, then bear left after about 5 minutes, and you arrive at a small area of open water. On the right edge is a broken pier or boardwalk. You can just see a bit of the lagoon in the distance. The water level in the small area was high, with little edge for rails, and we saw nothing at all.

Allen drove home, and I checked in to the Villa Andujar Guest House in Playa Parguera, a bright pink building on the right as you first enter the town, about 3 blocks from the waterfront. The room was small and basic, but had AC and cost $45. This may be a cash only place. I then drove east towards Guanica, trying to find route 325, which Allen had said was better for the nightjar. I found the turnoff for 325, but after arriving in the small town of Ensenada got confused. After a few questions, I took the road for Playa Santa, and found a dirt track to the left, about half a mile before the beach town.

I drove 1 –2 miles, rough but doable, with care, in a regular car. I heard one or two nightjars, and saw a silhouette fly over, but couldn’t get one to come in to a tape. I heard a screech-owl call nearby and played my tape. A shadow nearly hit me, but I never saw or heard it again, except for one bird in the distance. I gave up about 7:30 and drove to Playa Parguera for dinner. Weather was hot and humid with showers in mid-afternoon.

November 11, Monday – Guanica area

I left the hotel about 4:15, this time going to route 334, arriving around 4:45. It is only a mile from the turnoff on route 116 to the gate. I parked outside the closed gate and walked up the road. After a ¼ mile I heard a screech-owl reasonably close. I had a repeat performance of a shadow nearly hitting my head, then silence and no more activity. After walking uphill 20 – 30 minutes I came to a chained path to the left, signed Camino Las Cobanas. This descended into the forest and after a few minutes walk I heard a couple of nightjars. One was close, and I saw it fly over me a few times in the starlit night. I never could see it perched, even though it called quite close to me. I heard another screech-owl, but it didn’t respond to the tape. Several nightjars were calling in the distance.

Eventually it became light and the nightjars stopped calling. I walked out slowly, seeing Adelaide’s Warbler and a brief PR Tody. I left Guanica at 7:30 and drove to Maricao Forest, arriving at 8:30. I birded here until 10:45. I started down a track past the power station at the top of the hill, past the park headquarters. I somehow did a loop arriving back near the park headquarters. Beware – the red packed mud/clay/rocks is EXTREMELY slippery, and it’s quite difficult to walk on some patches.

The best area was right by the entrance, near the stream that flows under the road. I had excellent looks at a pair of Elfin Woods Warblers, PR Spindalis, PR Tanager, and PR Bullfinch here. Also in the area were Black & White Warbler and American Redstart, and the dreaded mongoose. Around 10:45 I drove west to Hacienda Juanita, a very nice but pricey parador in a beautiful location. I had read the Euphonia could be seen here, but I had no luck. There is small loop trail that starts just by the entrance road, passing through forest that was shaded and active even at noon. I had Red-legged Thrush and a few migrant warblers. In the courtyard by the restaurant a small bird with a very long tail flew by, which must have been a Pin-tailed Wydah.

I had lunch there, then drove south to San German, and the Interamerican campus to look for introduced parrots. It’s a bit tricky to find the entrance, which is off a back road on the east side. It rained as I got lost trying to find the entrance, subsiding to a light rain when I arrived. I quickly found a tree of White-winged Parakeets, and a group of 3 large Amazons flew by. They later landed in a tree over my head, and I believe they were Yellow-Crowned Amazons, based on the picture in Raffaele and Juniper and Parr’s Parrots monograph. They had no yellow in the cheek or tail, with yellow foreheads. I thought it was a bit odd there were 3 birds, if they were escapes.

I had checked out of the Villa Andujar, and decided to return to Playa Parguera to secure the room for another night. Nobody was there, and nobody answered the phone, but my room was unlocked and not cleaned, although the key was gone. I parked and walked to the beachfront, quickly seeing a banded Yellow-shouldered Blackbird with the Grackles. Still no life at the hotel when I returned, so I left a note and set off back to Guanica. This time I took route 333 to the beach parking lot. I walked the 5-10 minutes to the lagoon on the north side of the path, but there were only a few shorebirds and distant ducks that I couldn’t identify. I drove back slowly, stopping a bit before the Copa Marina Hotel.
I heard an odd call which turned out to be the Troupial I was looking for. I drove to the gate on route 334, arriving in daylight about 5:45. I walked up the road to the stares of the local kids and again went down the Camino las Cobanas trail. This time I had a nightjar fly over while there was enough light to see, then repeated the previous morning’s experience with silhouettes flying over me in the moonlight. I never saw the PR Nightjar perched in a branch or the road, although it was frustratingly close at times. I heard many birds calling here, further up the road, and in the distance, so it seems to be common. I returned to the hotel with a light in the house but a locked gate, and I had dinner at the Parador. When I returned the room was cleaned, but I couldn’t contact the landlady. I went in, showered, and spent the night.

November 12, Tuesday – Cartagena Lagoon, Guanica, Humacao, El Yunque

I decided to try Cartagena Lagoon early in a futile attempt for Yellow-breasted Crake. The landlady called out to me as I left, and I told her I left money in the drawer, but she didn’t seem very concerned. I drove the 20 minutes to the lagoon, arriving at 6:15, staying until 9 AM. The lagoon was a bust, there was no response to the crake tape, and I wandered the paths in the area looking for exotics or anything. I did see PR Flycatcher, Prairie Warblers, and 2 PR Vireos were by the gate. I drove back to route 334, where the gate was now opened, for a quick try for the Lizard-Cuckoo.

I walked a loop trail to the left, past the office buildings, but didn’t see much during my 45 minute walk, about 9:45 to 10:30. It was partially wooded but hot, and I saw several Adelaide’s Warblers, a PR Flycatcher, and heard a Caribbean Elaenia. I drove east, stopping at Ponce airport to look for exotics, but only saw a lone House Sparrow. There are scrubby fields just before the airport, but I didn’t explore them as it was already noon and I was heading for El Yunque and Humacao.

I arrived at Humacao refuge at 2:30, and took the chained path that is just past the official headquarters, which close at 3:30. Walk up this chained path, surrounded by garbage at the entrance, veer left by the first opening by concrete structures, then right a hundred yards or so after that. You will be on a path that passes two large ponds or lagoons. There are huge iguanas here which make a racket as they scramble or fall into the water. More mongooses also, and Orange-cheeked Waxbills. It was very hot and humid until it rained, after which it cooled down considerably. With clever foresight I left my portable umbrella in the car, and was rained upon about 40 minutes into my walk.

On the way back I saw White-cheeked Pintail, a Least Bittern, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a tree full of hummingbirds over the path with Antillean Crested, Green-throated Caribs, and PR Emeralds. It had been quiet an hour earlier before it rained. In 1996 I saw Caribbean Coot here, and this is supposed to be a spot for the WI Whistling Duck, better at dusk. I drove to Fajardo, staying at La Familia for the discounted rate of $60 with taxes. Rooms here are large and nice, but avoid those near the reception on the ground floor, as they’re noisy.

I drove to El Yunque. Note that driving north from Fajardo, the turnoff is route 968, which shortly takes you to 191. It does say El Yunque, although the sign isn’t big. I arrived at dusk and drove up hill. I went to km 12, but was a bit nervous since they are supposed to lock the gates at 6 PM. I tried the tape for the Screech-Owl with no luck, then descended slowly listening, and trying the owl tape where there were pullovers. At km 5.3 I pulled over and an owl called when I closed my door.

I tried the tape and saw the owl fly over my head, then heard another call nearby. I saw the owl fly over in the moonlight several times. Once it was in a tree within 50 feet, but the closest I got to seeing the sitting bird was 2 seconds in the flashlight before it flew. The owl has an alternate laughing call reminiscent of a kookaburra – a maniacal laugh. It seemed to do this when it stayed in one place for a while, probably deservedly letting me know his opinion of me and birders with tapes. I gave up and returned to Fajardo for dinner.

November 13, Wednesday – El Yunque, Old San Juan, Parque Central

There is a back road from near the large resort near La Familia which puts you on the main highway a few miles north of Fajardo. There is a shop en route, on the road of the left turn that occurs after the 3 speed bumps, on the left, that serves bakery items and breakfast, and was open at 4:40 in the morning. I left Fajardo at 4:30, arriving at km 5.3 at 5 AM for a rematch and more of the same – flying over, maniacal laugh, no good look. I conceded defeat and drove to km 12, arriving a bit before dawn. The gate was open. I tried the tape at the beginning of the trail near the parking lot, that goes to the right and quickly arrives at a pool. I didn’t hear anything and gave up, walking up 191. Returning 5 minutes later I heard an owl call in the forest, but never saw it.

I descended to the Sierra Palm parking lot and walked down the road, looking for the overgrown turnoff to the old restaurant, but could not find it. I returned to the parking lot and walked the Big Tree Trail, interesting in its own right for the plaques about trees, but densely forested and low in bird species. Red-legged Thrush and Louisiana Waterthrush were the only birds of note. I drove down to the tower, which was closed until 9 AM, and it was only 8. I stayed about 30 minutes, seeing Scaly-naped Pigeons and a Mangrove Cuckoo, then went down to Coco Falls in an unsuccessful attempt for the Euphonia. I saw the thrush again, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a large iguana sunning on a treetop, but no Euphonia during a 30-40 minute stop.

I decided to go to Old San Juan for the day, arriving at  Fort Cristobal, thinking it was El Moro. I spent 30 minutes exploring the fort, then went to El Moro fortress. This is an interesting building, and I had read Tropicbirds could be seen flying around the walls. Not today – all I saw were a couple of Royal Terns over the water, and a Brown Booby perched on a buoy. I left the fort and explored the weedy edges of the perimeter, but there was nothing of interest. By the footpath entrance, near the college, a Myna flew by, which I guess was Hill Myna, but I couldn’t relocate the bird.

I was trying to get to the area near the Coast Guard station, which a trip report said was good for exotics, but driving the small streets at lunchtime is a nightmare, with no place to park. I wound up exiting the Old San Juan area, somehow arriving at nearby Parque Central at 12:45. I spent 45 minutes walking around the perimeter, seeing a family of Saffron Finches just past the underpass, many Red-legged Thrushes, but nothing different, and no Java Sparrows.

I drove to route 186 on the western side of El Yunque, to the overlook that is 100 yards past the second waterfall, complete with benches. It’s about 15-20 minutes drive along 186. Unfortunately this potential parrot overlook is overgrown, with a large patch of bamboo and a cecropia smack in the middle, taking out over half the view, leaving small vistas at either side. I stayed here until dusk, neither seeing nor hearing parrots. The weather was overcast, a bit windy, with the feel of impending rain, but it never did rain. PR Tanager, Red-legged Thrush, PR Woodpecker, and Scaly-naped Pigeons appeared at times. I decided to return to Fajardo, and this time stayed at the Anchor Inn for $60, a bit nicer than La Familia.

November 14, Thursday – El Yunque, Old San Juan,  and flight home

I left Fajardo at 5:30, arriving at the parrot overlook at 6:15. I stayed until 8:15, not seeing any parrots. My farewell present was 2 or 3 Antillean Euphonias that flew into the treetop of the flowering tree to the left of the bamboo. I saw Mangrove Cuckoo, PR Emerald, Loggerhead Kingbird, PR Flycatcher, PR Bullfinch, PR Spindalis, and several migrant warblers – Black-throated Blue, Black-and-White, and Northern Parula. I made a brief trip to Old San Juan, visiting a park that was under construction a mile or so into the area. Prairie Warbler was the only bird of note. I left for the airport and handed in the rental car at 10:30


ENDEMICS are in capitals

L = lifer (5 species, including 1 introduction)

AOU =  new for AOU area/North America (2 species)

- - - - -

Pied-Billed Grebe – One on the ponds near Coloso

Brown Booby – One on a buoy, seen from El Moro

Brown Pelican – Flybys in the Old San Juan area

Magnificent Frigatebird – Several seen by the shore in various places

Great Blue Heron – Ponds by Coloso

Great Egret – Several areas, fairly common

Snowy Egret – As above

Little Blue Heron – Parque Central

Tricolored Heron – Humacao

Cattle Egret – Common

Green Heron – Coloso ponds, Humacao, common

Least Bittern – Humacao, on left shore of first pond

West Indian Whistling Duck (L) – 2 or 3 birds on Coloso ponds; the biggest surprise of the trip

White-cheeked Pintail – Humacao

Blue-winged Teal – Coloso ponds and Humacao

Ring-necked Duck – Coloso ponds

Lesser Scaup – Coloso ponds

Ruddy Duck – Coloso ponds

Turkey Vulture – Common throughout

Osprey – Common

Red-tailed Hawk – Several in various places, common

American Kestrel – Several in various places, common

Merlin – Coloso ponds

Purple Gallinule – Coloso ponds

Common Moorhen – Coloso ponds, Humacao, Parque Central

American Coot – Coloso ponds

Ruddy Duck – Coloso ponds

Black-bellied Plover – Guanica lagoon, route 333

Killdeer – Humacao

Black-necked Stilt – Guanica lagoon, route 333

Greater Yellowlegs – Coloso ponds, Cartagena Lagoon

Lesser Yellowlegs – Coloso ponds

Spotted Sandpiper – Humacao

“Peep” Sandpiper sp – Guanica lagoon

Royal Tern – A couple flying by in the harbor by El Moro

Sandwich Tern – A couple flying by in the harbor by El Moro

Rock Dove – Too common

Scaly-naped Pigeon – Maricao, and common at El Yunque

White-crowned Pigeon – Interamericana University at San German

Zenaida Dove – Common

Mourning Dove – Several locations, fairly common

White-winged Dove – Several locations, fairly common

Common Ground-Dove – Common

White-winged Parakeet – A large flock in trees at the Interamericana University, San German
Yellow-crowned Amazon – 3 birds at the Interamericana, San German. This species is not listed in the Puerto Rico guide. I saw them well flying and perched in a tree. They had yellow foreheads, but no yellow on the cheek, and no yellow in the tail that I could see, and a red wing patch in flight. If they are escapes, it seems odd there were 3 birds. Not countable as far as I know

Mangrove Cuckoo – Heard in several locations, seen at El Yunque

Smooth-billed Ani – Cartagena lagoon and lowlands

PUERTO RICAN SCREECH OWL (L) – Guanica route 334 and El Yunque at km 5.3 on route 191. I saw it flying by several times in the moonlight, but only got a brief glimpse at a perched bird. Seems fairly common along route 191.

PUERTO RICAN NIGHTJAR (L) – Another silhouette. I had a decent look at a flying bird in twilight, and also in moonlight along route 325 and 334. Many heard calling along route 334, Guanica. Maybe this bird does not sit in the road like some other nightjars.

PUERTO RICAN EMERALD – Common in several locations – El Yunque, Maricao

Antillean Mango – Aguadilla at Allen Lewis’ feeders

Green-throated Carib – Humacao

Antillean Crested Hummingbird – Humacao

PUERTO RICAN TODY – Guanica, Maricao. A neat little bird

PUERTO RICAN WOODPECKER – A few seen in a variety of habitats, mountains and lowlands – one of the prettier Melanerpes

Caribbean Elaenia – Heard only near headquarters on route 334, Guanica

PUERTO RICAN FLYCATCHER – Guanica, El Yunque parrot overlook. The Raffaele West Indies illustration has a few errors, the Puerto Rican guide illustration is terrible – just look for a Myiarchus

Gray Kingbird – Everywhere

Loggerhead Kingbird – El Yunque, parrot overlook on route 186, last day only

Cave Swallow – Flying over Cartagena lagoon early morning; many small flocks

Barn Swallow – As above

Red-legged Thrush – Fairly common in forests, Old San Juan, and Parque Central

Northern Mockingbird – Common.

Pearly-eyed Thrasher – A few at route 186 parrot overlook

PUERTO RICAN VIREO – Heard at Maricao; a pair seen by the gates to Cartagena lagoon

Hill Myna – A flyby outside the El Moro area; I only saw a black bird with a white wing patch, and am assuming it was this species. Not countable, I believe

Yellow Warbler – Fairly common

Northern Parula Warbler – A couple in forested areas

Black and White Warbler – Maricao and the parrot overlook

Black-throated Blue Warbler – One male at the parrot overlook

Chestnut-sided Warbler – One by the parking lot at Coco Falls

Prairie Warbler – Common in the scrub at Cartagena Lagoon; one at park in Old San Juan

ADELAIDE’S WARBLER – Fairly common in Guanica and a few at Maricao

ELFIN WOODS WARBLER – A pair by the entrance at Maricao

Blackpoll Warbler – One bird at Humacao

American Redstart – A few females in forested areas

Louisiana Waterthrush – On the Big Tree Trail in El Yunque

Northern Waterthrush – One at Humacao

Bananaquit– Everywhere

Antillean Euphonia (L) – Finally saw at least 2 birds at the parrot overlook on route 186 on my last morning. They flew into the tops of a flowering (mistletoe?) tree

PUERTO RICAN SPINDALIS – One seen at Maricao forest, another at the parrot overlook

PUERTO RICAN TANAGER – Fairly common in forested areas


Black-faced Grassquit – Lowlands

Yellow-faced Grassquit – Lowlands, common at Cartagena Lagoon

Saffron Finch – A family group at Parque Central, in the woods just past the underpass

Greater Antillean Grackle – Common everywhere

Troupial (AOU) – One on route 333, Guanica, a few hundred yards past the Copa Marina Hotel. Allegedly common in the area, but I missed it in 1996 and only saw the one bird this time.

YELLOW-SHOULDERED BLACKBIRD – One banded bird at the mangroves in town in Playa Parguera

House Sparrow – One at Ponce airport in the parking lot

Pin-tailed Wydah – One flyby at Hacienda Juanita near Maricao

Orange (Red?) Bishop (L) – Several small flocks of female and dull-plumaged birds near Coloso

Orange-cheeked Waxbill – A small flock at Humacao, in the grassy areas between the two ponds. Also seen here in 1996

Nutmeg Mannikin (AOU) – Aguadilla at the Lewis’ house; also in grassy areas by Coloso ponds


The dreaded mongoose, all too common

David Klauber"

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