Tim Lenz and I joined Chris Wood for a long weekend birding in Puerto Rico. The trip was a last-minute idea, and we bought tickets one week in advance for $240 (JFK-SJU). Our last-minute improvised itinerary is as follows.
Day 1: 25 February 2006: Bosque Estatal de Guánica; La Parguera
Day 2: 26 February 2006: Bosque Estatal de Maricao; Quebradillas; Punta Algarrobo (N Mayaguez)
Day 3: 27 February 2006.Bosque Estatal de Guánica; Bosque Estatal de Susúa; Laguna Cartegena; Cabo Rojo; back to Laguna Cartegena
Day 4: 28 February 2006. Humacao Wildlife Refuge; Las Croabas; Ensenada Comezon – Punta Picua
Noteworthy records include (note, list is exclusive of island endemics):
• West Indian Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna arborea) – 4 seen at Laguna Cartegena, 27Feb2006
• Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus) – 1 seen at Laguna Cartegena, 27Feb2006
• Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) – 12 seen from the bluffs at Quebradillas, 26Feb2006
• Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) – 1 seen at Laguna Cartegena, 27Feb2006
• Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) – 1 seen on the mangrove flats at Cabo Rojo, 27Feb2006.
• Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus) – 1 seen on beach at Punta Algarrobo, 26Feb2006
• Great Black-backed Gull (L. marinus) – 1 seen on beach at Punta Algarrobo, 26Feb2006
• Lesser Black-backed Gull (L. fuscus) – 7 seen on beach at Punta Algarrobo, 26Feb2006
• Herring Gull (L. argentatus) – 1 seen on beach at Punta Algarrobo, 26Feb2006
• Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) – 2 seen at Laguna Cartegena, 27Feb2006
Day 1: 25 February 2006.
Lost luggage kept us in San Juan until 3am, but by then we were on the road to Guánica in the dry southwest. The autopista Route 52 made this 2.5-hour drive easy and we arrived on Route 333 in Bosque Estatal de Guánica by 530 hrs. [NOTE: a trip on this route at midday will be filled with much more traffic, thus taking about 3.5-4 hours.] We easily heard 3-4 Puerto Rican Nightjars (Caprimulgus noctitherus) and one was spot-lighted as it flushed from its song perch atop a tree about 5-6 m up.
The dawn chorus began around 600 hrs with Caribbean Elaenia (Elaenia martinica), Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis), Adelaide’s Warbler (Dendroica adelaidae), Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor), and Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos). A fruiting gumbo limbo tree attracted many birds including one Pearly-eyed Thrasher (Margarops fuscatus), Puerto Rican Bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis), and Antillean Mango (Anthracothorax dominicus) [17˚57’09.82”N 66˚53’08.49”W].
At 830 hrs we drove to the gate on Route 334 and waited for it to open (about 850 hrs). In the nearby neighborhood, Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) were nest-building and Eurasian Collared-Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) and Puerto Rican Emeralds (Chlorostilbon maugaeus) were also seen about town.
About 100-200m east of the gate on Route 334 there is a small white cement structure on the left. We spent the next hour between this structure and the first major 90˚ turn to the left, which held many birds of interest. This 90˚ turn is only a few hundred meters past the cement structure. Puerto Rican Tody (Todus mexicanus) was common along the roadside; their quiet, insect-like buzzy call note is conspicuous once learned. A pair of Puerto Rican Woodpeckers (Melanerpes portoricensis) were quite vocal, one bird calling from either side of the road. After a little playback we enticed 6-8 Mangrove Cuckoos (Coccyzus minor) to the roadside. Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoos (Coccyzus [Saurothera] vieilloti) could be heard upslope, but it wasn’t until after the 90˚ turn that we saw one. Also seen here were Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Red-legged Thrush (Turdus plumbeus), and Puerto Rican Vireo (Vireo latimeri).
We ate lunch, a greasy lot of empanadas on the malecon in Guánica. Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) and Brown Pelicans (Pelacanus occidentalis) were flying about the bay and one Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) was perched on a buoy.
After lunch we checked into our hotel for the next three days, Villa del Rey on Route 361 NW of San German. At $109 (after tax) per night for two beds and a cot, it was a bit pricey, but comfortable and conveniently located about equidistant between Guánica and Maricao State Forests. Also, it was the only place with vacancies at the last minute! [NOTE: Highly advised to make reservations, particularly in the winter months.]
Around 1615 hrs we drove 30 minutes to La Parguera on the SW coast, west of Guánica to look for Yellow-shouldered Blackbird (Agelaius xanthomus). We parked for free and walked into the Parador Villa Parguera right on the main street through town. We walked right through to the back lawn alongside the swimming pool [17˚58’25.27”N 67˚02’59.29”W]. We bought three rather overpriced Coronas and took a seat next to a handful of Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds foraging for scraps on the lawn with Greater Antillean Grackles (Quiscalus niger). It was rather ironic to observe this endangered species feeding on the lawn next to a pool and bar with blaring music and lots of people. In the 45 minutes we stayed there, little else of note was observed. A female Antillean Mango fed off-and-on in the flowering shrubs on the hotel grounds and a Merlin (Falco columbarius) and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) were seen flying by.
Day 2: 26 February 2006.
Dawn saw us driving east on Route 2 to Sabana Grande and north on Route 120 up into the mountains to Bosque Estatal de Maricao. We stopped at 600 hrs at km 12.2 and heard two Puerto Rican Screech-Owls (Megascops nudipes). One came in to playback, but offered only a glimpse. Dawn was fast approaching with a chorus of Red-legged Thrushes so we continued on to km 16.2 where there is a driveway down to the left that leads to a small visitor’s center [18˚09.024’N 66˚59.622’W, 775m elevation]. We parked here and walked back to the road where we spent the next 2.5 hours birding the road from km 16.2 to 17.3. Within 30 minutes we had heard our first Elfin Woods Warbler (Dendroica angelae), but could not entice it into view with playback. Just five minutes later, though, we saw two cooperative adults in a mixed species flock. Most other species seen along this road were rather common and offered good views, most in mixed flocks. These included Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus) and Puerto Rican Vireo, Puerto Rican Tanager (Nesospingus speculiferus), Puerto Rican Spindalis (Spindalis portoricensis), Lesser Antillean “Puerto Rican” Pewee (Contopus latirostris portoricensis), Puerto Rican Tody, etc. Just as we were leaving two Greater Antillean Orioles (Icterus dominicensis) flew into a tall palm at the visitor’s center.
At 830 hrs we drove west on Route 105 (Antillean Euphonia [Euphonia musica]) to Mayaguez (30 minutes), then north on Route 2 to Quebradillas. Before reaching Quebradillas, Route 2 approaches the coast quite closely. From this parking lot and the bluff overlook [18˚29’23.43”N 66˚56’57.95”W] we saw 30+ White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus) flying about. Much farther out was a flock of 12 Red-footed Boobies (Sula sula); about 4 white-morph adults and 8 brown-morph adults.
On a tip from a visiting birder we drove back south to Punta Algarrobo, a stretch of beach north of Mayaguez. We parked at the end of Calle Los Alamos [18˚15’48”N, 67˚11’09”W] and walked north on the beach to the outflow of an unnamed river [18˚15’59”N, 67˚11’22”W]. At low tide, a sandbar is exposed which held many roosting gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Highlights included 7 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus), 1 Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus), 1 Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus), 1 Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), 22 Royal Terns (Sterna maxima), 35 Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola), and 30 Sanderling (Calidris alba). We also observed an intriguing Calidris in basic-plumage. It was the general size of Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla), with rather long legs and an attenuated appearance to the primaries. The overall posture seemed rather upright with a bit of a long-necked appearance. The bill was thin, and slightly drooped, and lacked any hint of a bulbous tip. A rather pixilated, zoomed-in photo of the bird’s foot shows no evidence of palmations.
We watched a heron roost at sunset from the bridge at [18˚15’05”N, 67˚10’36”W]. Cattle Egrets (Bubulcis ibis) were the most common with smaller numbers of Great Egret (Ardea alba), Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), Tricolored and Little Blue Herons (E. tricolor and E. careulescens).
Day 3: 27 February 2006.
We started at 545hrs just past the gate on Route 334 in Bosque Estatal de Guánica. A pair of Puerto Rican Screech-Owls was easily called in with tape. One was observed briefly in our spotlight and we listened to them duet for more than five minutes. We spent barely two hours here walking up to the visitor’s center. Birds were not as vocal as they were two days ago, and, it being a weekday, the neighborhoods below were rather noisy with garbage trucks, rush-hour traffic, barking dogs, and chickens. We taped in one Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, and a pair of Antillean Euphonia was seen well foraging on mistletoe (also heard singing).
From here we drove to Bosque Estatal de Susúa where we had killer looks at Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa), also Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Greater Antillean Oriole, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Lesser Antillean “Puerto Rican” Pewee, and Key West Quail-Dove (Geotrygon chrysia). All birds were seen around the cleared picnic/camping area at the park entrance.
Late in the morning we drove the dirt road (Route 305) on the south end of Laguna Cartegena and made a right onto Route 306. Here [18˚00.674’N, 67˚06.540’W] we birded the lagoon for a little more than an hour and had some nice birds including 4 West Indian Whistling-Ducks (Dendrocygna arborea), Antillean Mango, Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus), 3 Purple Gallinules (Porphyrio martinica), and a pair of Mourning Doves (Zenaida aurora)—the only two of the trip.
Early in the afternoon we drove southwest to Cabo Rojo and birded the salt flats and mangrove estuaries near the lighthouse towards the tip of Route 101 [17˚56’09”N, 67˚11’31”W]. Good numbers of shorebirds were present including 19 Stilt Sandpipers (Calidris himantopus), 50 Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper (C. pusilla) and 1 Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor). We also spotted a single Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostre) and Merlin.
A bit further north on the same road, we stopped at some dredging ponds [17˚57’09”N, 67˚11’48”W] that held 63 Wilson’s Plovers (Charadrius wilsonia).
In the evening, we returned to Laguna Cartegena. This time we parked on Route 306 and walked east through a gate on a dirt track about 1km to a wooden boardwalk. We spent the next 2.5 hours watching birds come in to roost for the evening. Many great birds were noted here including one female Western Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), one Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus) seen well for about ten minutes through a scope, 7 Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), 5 Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), several Sora (Porzana carolina), many herons and egrets, 1 male Caribbean Martin (Progne dominicensis), 5 Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva), and a few African exotics including 2 female Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer), and Nutmeg and Bronze Manakin (Lonchura punctulata and L. cucullata).
Day 4: 28 February 2006.
This morning we drove east from San German to Humacao (lots of rush-hour traffic from Caguas to Humacao resulting in a 3 ½ hour drive). We birded the wildlife refuge NE of Humacao [18˚09’02.1”N 65˚46’17.4”W] for a couple of hours in the morning. One Green-throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus) was seen well along with 8-10 White-cheeked Pintail (Anas bahamensis). Also, we came across a foraging flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbills (Estrilda melpoda). Otherwise, not much of note here.
In hopes of finding Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus) we opted for the thirty minute drive to Las Croabas on the extreme northeast coast. Here we followed directions posted in previous trip reports to a specific flowering tree [18˚21.910N 65˚37.997W] where we easily found Green-throated Caribs and a pair of Antillean Cresteds.
On our way back to San Juan to catch our flights we stopped at Punta Picua [18˚24.457’N 65˚46.981’W] on the north coast east of San Juan. Here we saw a nice collection of shorebirds including 210 Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola), 12 Wilson’s Plover, and 1 Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri). Also, one male Antillean Crested Hummingbird in the scrub where we parked.