Puerto Rico_________________________________________________



Puerto Rico 2016

...with Mark Finn

26th March

This tour to the island of Puerto Rico produced a large majority of the islands fifteen endemic bird species plus several others at the western end of their ranges in the Lesser Antilles. Highlights included Elfin Woods Warblers which are declining in rapid numbers along with Puerto Rican Vireos. The forests around Maricao were particularly productive for the endemic birds including the local race of Loggerhead Kingbird which is bound to be split in the near future. The wetland and saltpans of the southwest corner again produced some exceptional bird sightings. At a new site this included Least Grebe and the rarely encountered Masked Duck. On the north coast White-tailed Tropicbirds performed at close range whilst further east Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoos put on a great show.

Our next tour to Puerto Rico which can be combined with Jamaica is in March 2017.

March 26th: Hatillo, Cambalache, Quebradillas, Abajo Forest, Guayanilla

Weather: Sunny with rain showers on an easterly wind 27 C

Most of the group had arrived from Jamaica on the 25th so we were ready and eager to get birding on Puerto Rico. Breakfast was taken in Hatillo where the common birds of the island were observed; Greater Antillean Grackle, Zenaida and African Mourning Doves and Grey Kingbirds. Cambalache was the first major birding area with a mix of dry limestone forest and fields used for cattle raising. The trees were alive with the songs of Black Whiskered Vireos and Bananaquit. After a little while a Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo showed well in an open tree whilst in the background we could hear the distinctive calls of a Mangrove Cuckoo. A return to the main highway added Monk Parakeet, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel and House Sparrow. Next on the agenda was the cliffs at Quebradillas where a short walk provided the group with close views of White-tailed Tropicbirds, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and in the dry forest endemic Adelaide's Warbler, Puerto Rican Vireo and Mourning Dove. The afternoon was spent at Abajo Forest an area of woodland situated in limestone karsts. On arrival birding was slow but it eventually became very good as the afternoon progressed. Puerto Rican Tody was the first to show flitting from branch to branch in search of insects. A flowering tree was the main point of interest as it attracted Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Oriole, Puerto Rican Bullfinch and dozens of Bananaquit. Other species in mature trees included Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Scaly-naped Pigeon and Ruddy Quail Doves. Time was getting on as I travelled to the south coast and our hotel at Guayanilla.

March 27th: Guayanilla, Cartagena, Cabo Rojo, Road 120, Road 333

Weather: Rather mixed with sunshine and rain on an east wind 20 C / 26 C

Breakfast at 0700 hours and then onto Cartagena wetland reserve. Around the hotel car park the group observed Grey Kingbird, Venezuelan Troupial and Greater Antillean Grackles. Cartagena is the best wetland on the island and reached by rough tracks running through farm land. The latter held Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks and parties of Smooth-billed Ani. A walk along the track traversing the reserve is always productive. The first pools held Black-necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs and many Blue-winged Teal. In the open waters we located Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue and Tricoloured Herons, White-cheeked Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Caribbean and American Coots, Common and American Purple Gallinules. Overhead at least two Ospreys were joined by migrant Barn and Cave Swallows and returning Caribbean Martins. Something disturbed the birds into flight and the group were rewarded with views of Fulvous Whistling Ducks. It was time to visit Cabo Rojo but the large amounts of salt has affected the birds as we recorded a pair of Snowy Plovers and a party of Brown Pelicans. We visited the forest along Road 120 although it was affected by low cloud and rain. On arrival a Puerto Rican Tanager calling and singing from a mature tree. A walk along the road proved to be very productive for views of Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Green Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Puerto Rican Vireo, Puerto Rican Woodpecker and migrants including American Redstart and Black and White Warblers. On the return walk a pair of Loggerhead Kingbirds (shortly to be split to Puerto Rican Kingbird) and two Elfin Woods Warblers gleaning insects from leaves. The day ended with a night drive along Road 333, no nightjars on this occasion probably due to the windy conditions affecting the island.

March 28th: Guayanilla, Maricao Forest, Road 120, Cabo Rojo, La Parguera

Weather: Sunny with a warm easterly wind 31 C

This morning we headed back towards the mountains of Maricao via the town of Sabana Grande. In the town centre several Caribbean Martins were noted plus a pair of White-winged Parakeets flew overhead. Our journey took us to the headquarters of Maricao National Park with the entrance road attracting Red-legged Thrushes. At the parking lot a fruiting tree had Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Tanager, Puerto Rican Spindalis and Puerto Rican Oriole. A walk along the entrance road provided us with views of the commoner birds plus a calling Key West Quail Dove. Our favoured birding spot on Road 120 was next on the agenda and again it turned out to be a clever move. A walk on the minor road provided us with Puerto Rican Emerald, Mangrove Cuckoo (heard), and best of all a pair of Antillean Euphonia feeding in a berry bush. On the 120 itself fantastic views of Elfin Woods Warblers, Puerto Rican and Black Whiskered Vireos, Puerto Rican Bullfinch and the scarce Puerto Rican Peewee. Lunch taken in Sabana Grande where we were served by a delightful young lady from Pennsylvania. From the town a short journey down to Cabo Rojo and the lighthouse lagoon. The shallow waters were covered in flies and attracted many birds including Royal Tern, Least, Stilt, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs and high numbers of Black-necked Stilts. We ended the day at the coastal settlement of La Parguera where we eventually located Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds another rare endemic. A male Merlin flew over as we were about to leave a fitting end to another great days birding in Puerto Rico.

March 29th: Guayanilla, Lajas Rice Fields, Sabana (Road 172), Fajhado

Weather: Sunny with the odd rain shower 30 C. Winds from the east

The usual birds were around the parking lot with the addition of White-winged Parakeets. Our first birding destination today was the rice fields close to the town of Lajas. On the entrance track we were fortunate to see Grasshopper Sparrow on a fence wire. Nearby in the grasses Yellow-faced and Black-faced Grassquits. On reaching the main offices we proceeded to an area with a small pond. This remarkable spot provided us with views of Least Grebe, Masked Duck and Sora Rail. On the return journey a patch of rice fields with mud attracted Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and a few Pin-tailed Whydahs. Picked up supplies in Sabana Grande and headed east towards the town of Cidra and the maze of roads north of town. It is easy to get lost here but I eventually found the place for the rare and localised Plain Pigeon. The pigeons duly showed feeding in a dense green tree. It was time to head eastwards to the coastal town of Fajhado our last base on the tour. On arrival the parking area had nesting Puerto Rican Woodpeckers and Bronze Munia.

March 30th: Fajhado, Humacao, El Yunque

Final species total: 100

Weather: Rather mixed with sunshine and showers on an easterly wind 26 C

Our last full day on the island of Puerto Rico started with a walk around the hotel gardens. The lower part of the gardens was the best area for birds as the group located Puerto Rican Oriole, Red-legged Thrush, Pearly-eyed Thrashers and a Antillean Crested Hummingbird the latter species being confined to the east coast. After breakfast we made the short journey to the waterfront which is always a good spot for birds. On the old pier Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover and Spotted Sandpiper in breeding plumage. A Peregrine Falcon flew by scattering the local feral pigeons. It was time to move on towards Humacao a coastal wetland south of Fajhado. On the way sightings of Great Egret and Magnificent Frigatebirds. On arrival we embarked on a walk around the reserve at a leisurely pace. The open waters held Pied-billed Grebe, White-cheeked Pintail, Ruddy Duck, American and Caribbean Coots, Common Gallinule, and in the trees Snowy Egret and Tricolored Herons. The next hour or so was memorable for two sightings of Mangrove Cuckoo one of which did not move from a few feet away perched in a tree. Puerto Rican Flycatcher was eventually located sitting quietly in a large tree whilst five Green Herons squabbled on the bridge. A flowering tree attracted Green-throated Caribs and Bananaquit before we headed back towards the car park. Picked up supplies for lunch and consumed them on a beach close to Humacao. Birding from a bridge allowed views of Osprey before a return to base. A walk around the gardens had similar birds to the morning session. At 1800 we met up again and travelled the short distance to El Yunque a woodland reserve close to San Juan. Despite the poor weather three stops were made for the nocturnal Puerto Rican Screech Owl which we succeeded in seeing in flight and giving its mysterious calls from thick cover. A fitting end to our birding journey of this island.


For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.

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