Puerto Rico - 14-23 January 2008

Published by Ryan Douglas (rnd4 AT cornell.edu)

Participants: Ryan Douglas


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody
West Indian Whistling Duck
West Indian Whistling Duck
Puerto Rican Woodpecker
Puerto Rican Woodpecker
Adelaide's Warbler
Adelaide's Warbler
Antillean Mango
Antillean Mango

I visited Puerto Rico from 14-23 January 2008 to work in a maize field as part of my graduate research, but I was able to sneak away for a fair amount of birding as well. Unfortunately, the field work kept me from doing any birding prior to 1pm each day. I feel that I would have had much better luck finding more birds had I been able to bird in the mornings.

We stayed at Hotel Parador Baños de Coamo just south of Coamo, PR. The cost was about $85/night for a room with a/c and two double beds. The shower only had hot water three of the ten times I showered, but the birding in the evenings was pretty good.

Highlights for the trip were:
-20+ West Indian Whistling Ducks at Laguna Cartegena on 17 and 20 January
-1 Red-footed Booby flying past the beach at the end of Rt. 333 in Bosque Estatal Guánica
-4 Puerto Rican Nightjars about 1 km from the end of Rt. 333 in Bosque Estatal Guánica
-20+ Brown Boobies on the cliffs at Cabo Rojo
-10+ Glossy Ibis at Laguna Cartegena on 20 January
-81 species total, including 10 island endemics

As I go through the trip, I will likely omit the more common species. It's safe to say that Greater Antillean Grackles, Cattle Egrets, Gray Kingbirds, Bananaquits, Common Ground-Doves and Cave Swallows were present almost everywhere I went.

14 Jan 08: I was picked up at the San Juan airport by two non-birding friends around 4pm local time (1 hour earlier than East Coast Time in the US) and almost immediately saw my first Greater Antillean Grackles. We took Rt. 52 to our hotel (be prepared for tolls) near Coamo, and the drive took about 90 minutes. Along the way I saw my first Zenaida Dove perched in a tree at a gas station near the airport. On the drive I could see several Scaly-naped Pigeons perched atop trees as we zipped past, and as we neared the southern coast American Kestrels, Gray Kingbirds and Red-tailed Hawks became commonplace. We arrived at the hotel with too little light to do any more birding the first day.

15 Jan 08: On the 30 minute drive from our hotel to my field (located near the intersection of Rt. 1 and Rt. 594 south of Ft. Allen (which itself is south of Juana Díaz)) I saw my first pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring over Río Caños with hundreds of Cave Swallows. However, neither species was seen in that location the rest of the trip. At the field itself there were dozens of Cattle Egrets and Bananaquits, plus an energetic Merlin that hunted the fields for the duration of my stay.

We finished working in the field around noon, so we headed towards Bosque Estatal Guánica. We drove down Rt. 333 into the forest and stopped near the abandoned looking lighthouse at a trail that led west to a cliff overlooking the Bahía de Guaníca. In the forest was the first Adelaide's Warlber of the trip. A kilometer or two down the road we stopped at a small beach that held a Sanderling and three Ruddy Turnstones, plus a passing Brown Pelican. A little poking around presented us with a small mangrove lagoon where a Puerto Rican Woodpecker was tapping on a log, and several shorebirds were poking around in the lagoon including Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper and a Western Sandpiper.

At the end of Rt. 333 my friends took to the beach and I hit a trail near the parking lot to turn up a bright Prairie Warbler, a Little Blue Heron and a single white Red-footed Booby traveling not too far off shore. This was the first time during the trip that I wished I had a spotting scope with me.

Back at Hotel Parador Baños de Coamo around 5pm and I found a pair of Puerto Rican Todies, many White-winged Doves, Black-faced Grassquits, an Indigo Bunting, many Northern Parulas, more Adelaide's Warblers and a single Green-throated Carib.

16 Jan 08: Today in the field I added Killdeer, Nortern Mockingbird and Smooth-billed Ani to the trip list. Many Cave Swallows twittered overhead all day.

We again finished early, so we visited Reserva Forestal Toro Negro to the north of Villalba. We drove north on Rt. 149 and eventually turned west on Rt. 143, where we only found a small rest area to get out of the car. However, the rest area was filled with birds. There were at least five Puerto Rican Spindalis, a Puerto Rican Tanager, a Mangrove Cuckoo, several Puerto Rican Todies, a Green Mango or two, Puerto Rican Emeralds, a Merlin and Red-tailed Hawks. Later, we drove east on Rt. 143 until we found a headquarters of sorts that offered actual hiking trails.

Being late in the day I only added a Black-throated Blue Warbler, Puerto Rican Woodpeckers and Pearly-eyed Thrashers to the trip list.

Back at Hotel Parador Baños de Coamo several Zenaida Doves were seen. I should mention that at least 200 Cattle Egrets roost in a tree outside the hotel each night, as do hundreds of Greater Antillean Grackles and a handful of Gray Kingbirds and Shiny Cowbirds. This evening I watched a Merlin dive into the roosting tree and leave with a grackle. Shortly after dark a pair of Puerto Rican Screech-Owls were heard dueting near my room, and I was able to briefly spot one in my flashlight. The owls were heard almost every night from this point on.

17 Jan 08: Grasshopper Sparrow was added to the field list this morning.

With three people it was becoming easy to finish early, and I convinced my friends to head to Laguna Cartagena in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. We had a little trouble finding the observation tower here, but if you just drive all the way to the south end of Rt. 306 (a dirt path by now) you will easily find it.

Smooth-billed Anis and Turkey Vultres (plus a teathered blimp of some sort) greeted us to the refuge. On the drive in Nutmeg Mannikins and Yellow-faced Grassquits popped up out of the grass while American Kestrels and Merlins zoomed overhead.

The real star of this area is the observation tower/boardwalk at the end of a ~1km trail from the parking area/blue gate. From here I saw Great Blue Heron, tons of Blue-winged Teal, several Ruddy Duck pairs with chicks, dozens of Caribbean Coots, bold Purple Gallinules right next to the boardwalk (including a downy black chick), Great Egrets and Little Blue Herons. As soon as I walked to the end of the boardwalk I was a little suprised to notice not just one or two, but at least 20 West Indian Whistling Ducks in plain view. Common Moorhen and a calling Sora rounded out the list for the lake itself, but Bronze Mannikins and an Osprey also made appearances.

We next headed to Cabo Rojo to end the day with a brilliant sunset. From the cliffs I spent my time watching passing Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans, plus a single Magnificent Frigatebird that occassionaly hovered just a handful of meters away. With a little daring I was also able to count over 20 Brown Boobies roosting for the evening on the cliff faces.

If anyone wants to look from the tower at the salt flats, it might help to know it closes promptly at 4pm. We arrived at 4:15pm this day, and 4:03pm later in the trip and found it locked each time.

18 Jan 08: The field took longer today, so in the afternoon we headed to Bosque Estatal de Aguirre southeast of Salinas. I do not reccommend the trip. The road dead ended in a promising mangrove swamp/lagoon, but the birds were few and far between. However, we did see another Magnificent Frigatebird, several Brown Pelicans, a Prairie Warbler and the only Antillean Mango of the trip.

On the way out there was some sort of lagoon/tidal flat that held hundreds of Willets, a few Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipers, a Tricolored Heron, a Snowy Egret and a rattling Belted Kingfisher.

Birding at Hotel Parador Baños de Coamo in the evening was much more rewarding. Puerto Rican Spindalis and Adelaide's Warbler were common and easy to find. Puerto Rican Woodpecker and Tody were around in smaller numbers. Tricolored Mannikins, Shiny Cowbirds, Green-throated Caribs, Black-faced Grassquits, and a single Greater Antillean Oriole were found in addtion to the much more common species. In all, I totaled 24 species at the hotel between 5pm and 5:45pm, mostly standing in the same spot alongside the road.

19 Jan 08: One of my co-workers had to go back to New York today, so after we dropped him off we visited the very frustrating and very crowded El Yunque. Scaly-naped Pigeons and Bananaquits were common. The only other birds I found were single American Redstarts and Northern Parulas.

20 Jan 08: The field finished early, so we headed back to Laguna Cartagena and Cabo Rojo. At Laguna Cartagena I was able to find a handful of Glossy Ibis, several White-cheeked Pintail, a male Green-winged Teal and a few Mourning Doves, in addition to what I saw on the previous trip. The Whistling Ducks were all still present.

At Cabo Rojo Puerto Rican Flycatchers were common, all of the previous birds were refound and we spent a little time looking at the salt flats. Here I saw 200+ Black-necked Stilts, dozens of Royal Terns, a few White-cheeked Pintail and a Tricolored Heron.

On the way home we stopped at Bosque Estatal Guánica on Rt. 333, arriving about 1-2 km from the end of the road by 5:50pm. Almost immediately we heard a single Puerto Rican Nightjar to the north. Within a few moments another was calling much closer and I was able to get a brief view in a flashlight. We only heard two other nightjars on the way out.

21 Jan 08: Too much to do in the field to go birding at all today.

22 Jan 08: A flock of 8 Indian Silverbills showed at the field today. In the afternoon we returned to Toro Negro and I found almost zero birds at the rest area. At the trails to the east of Rt. 149 I found many Pearly-eyed Thrashers and Scaly-naped Pigeons, plus Bananaquits and Puerto Rican Emeralds.

23 Jan 08: Going over the toll bridge to the airport around 7am I saw several Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Great Egrets and Royal Terns. While sitting inside the airport terminal at least three Caribbean Martins were flying around.