Friday, February 12, 2010

Puerto Rico – Non-Avian Highlights

Birds weren’t all that we saw in Puerto Rico. There were many butterflies seen flitting about that I didn’t get photographs of. These included Great Southern White, Cloudless Sulphur, and Florida Purplewing. I did get one decent butterfly photo of a Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak.

mallow scrub-hairstreak

Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak

We found two funky-looking moths. The first flew into the restaurant during dinner in Maricao. It’s about the size of a monarch.

Funky Moth1

The second was found at Casa Cubuy in El Yunque. This one was about 3” long.

funky moth2

Lizards are plentiful in Puerto Rico. The most common are of the Anolis genus like the one below.


We also saw this interesting lizard in a tree. Maybe someone out there knows the ID. It’s probably another anole! (Update - might be Puerto Rican Crested Anole)


This concludes all of the Puerto Rico posts I had planned. It was a fantastic trip!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Puerto Rico Bird List

Here is the complete list of species seen. Asterisk denotes an endemic.

West Indian Whistling-Duck
Blue-winged Teal
White-cheeked Pintail
Least Grebe
Brown Booby
Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Glossy Ibis
Turkey Vulture
Broad-winged Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Caribbean Coot
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon
Scaly-naped Pigeon
Plain Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
White-winged Dove
Zenaida Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Monk Parakeet
Mangrove Cuckoo
Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo*
Smooth-billed Ani
Puerto Rican Screech-Owl (heard)*
Puerto Rican Nightjar (heard)*
Antillean Mango
Green Mango*
Green-throated Carib
Antillean Crested Hummingbird
Puerto Rican Emerald*
Puerto Rican Tody*
Belted Kingfisher
Puerto Rican Woodpecker*
Lesser Antillean Pewee
Puerto Rican Flycatcher*
Gray Kingbird
Loggerhead Kingbird
Puerto Rican Vireo*
Caribbean Martin
Barn Swallow
Cave Swallow
Red-legged Thrush
Northern Mockingbird
Pearly-eyed Thrasher
Northern Parula
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Adelaide's Warbler*
Prairie Warbler
Elfin-woods Warbler*
Black-and-white Warbler
Puerto Rican Tanager*
Puerto Rican Spindalis*
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Black-faced Grassquit
Puerto Rican Bullfinch*
Yellow-shouldered Blackbird*
Greater Antillean Grackle
Shiny Cowbird
Greater Antillean Oriole
Venezuelan Troupial
Antillean Euphonia
House Sparrow
Orange Bishop
Orange-cheeked Waxbill
Bronze Mannikin
Nutmeg Mannikin
-------- STATISTICS --------
Species seen - 86

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Puerto Rico Day 6: Last day and final thoughts

We spent the night at Casa Cubuy eco-lodge. It’s a really nice spot overlooking the rainforest. There’s a river and waterfalls nearby. It’s very open, but covered from the rain. There are lots of comfy seats, a little fridge with beer and wine for purchase, and lots of hammocks. It could benefit from some bird feeders. The rooms are nicely decorated, although ours had quirky 4-poster beds which didn’t really match the eco-lodge theme. The rooms were clean and comfortable. Like many tropical sites, they had the “no flushing toilet paper” rule.


It rained all night and into the morning. We spent 45 minutes or so on the deck, but didn’t see many birds. It was pretty foggy. We did have great views of Greater Antillean Oriole. I’ve heard the breakfasts at Casa Cubuy are great, but we didn’t stay.


We packed up for our journey toward the airport. We stopped for breakfast at the Fajardo Inn. Not only is this a nice resort with good breakfast, the grounds are a great place to see two sought-after hummingbirds: Green-throated Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird. We were not disappointed. Both hummingbirds were right there in the parking lot! We also saw Nutmeg Mannikins and another Greater Antillean Oriole.

Green-throated Carib

crested hummerAntillean Crested Hummingbird

Greater Antillean Oriole

We made a few stops in El Yunque in hopes of seeing Puerto Rican Parrots, but we didn’t find any. We did see some nice waterfalls and a Black-throated Blue Warbler.


Thus ended our trip in Puerto Rico. I had a blast. I highly recommend Wildside Nature Tours. My experience was great with very competent, flexible, and personable leaders. Others who have done trips with them have said similar things. Thanks again to 10,000 Birds and Wildside Nature Tours for sponsoring the contest that got me there!

Go to Day 6

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Puerto Rico Day 5: Finding What We Missed

We started around 6:00AM and headed back to Guanica State Forest to try once more for the Puerto Rican Nightjar. We drove to the forest, headed up the road at a closed gate, and stood waiting in the darkness. Actually, it was a bright moon, so it wasn’t really that dark. In any event, it wasn’t long before we heard a “Whirr!” of a nightjar. It was quite close, but deep enough in the dense woods that we couldn’t see it. We heard 1 or 2 others, but never did see one. It was cool knowing that we were hearing a bird that only exists in this small area of Puerto Rico and nowhere else on the planet. We also heard a Puerto Rican Screech Owl.

With one target species down, we grabbed breakfast and then hit the road. This was mostly a travel day to El Yunque, basically across the southern part of PR from west to east, but we did have a few more birding stops to pick up some other birds we hadn’t seen yet. Our first stop was back to the feeder area where we had less-than-desirable views of the Yellow-shouldered Blackbird the day before. This time there were several of them on trees near the feeding station. They were joined by some Shiny Cowbirds, a known nuisance to the blackbird’s population, and also a ton of Eurasian Collared-Doves.

Yellow-shouldered Blackbird

We then went back to Guanica State Forest for some daytime birding. It was quite windy and the forest was very quiet. We were standing around and listening when I saw something move in my peripheral vision. It was a Mangrove Cuckoo!

cuckoo Hello there!

We also had great looks at two Puerto Rican Todies. It’s hard to pick a favorite PR bird, but this one is certainly high on the list. Tody pictures below.



Our next stop was back to Laguna Cartajena NWR to look for West Indian Whistling-Ducks. While looking for them, we found a couple Least Grebes, a bird I hadn’t seen since 2005 in South Texas. I like their beady little eyes. We had terrific views of one West Indian Whistling-Duck flying by, but it landed out of view. The sky was filled with Cave Swallows and I was able to pick out an oddball in the group, which turned out to be a Caribbean Martin. We had a long ride ahead of us and one more birding spot.

Caribbean Coot – Notice how high the white face shield goes up its head.

cattleegrets Cattle Egrets are everywhere in PR

After a bit of a drive, a nap, and a stop at Sizzler (they still have those?), we stopped at a school baseball field in a tiny town. Oddly, this is the best spot in PR to see Plain Pigeon* (what a name!), a rare Caribbean specialty. Sure enough, we quickly found one high in a tree on a hill side. It’s not as plain-looking as its name suggests.

After the pigeon site, we were on the road heading to El Yunque and the Casa Cubuy eco-lodge. We arrived at the lodge after dark. After dinner, we listened for screech owls. We heard one, but the wind and rain were not conducive to finding the bird. This was our last night in PR. Stay tuned for some cool hummingbirds and thoughts on Casa Cubuy in the next installment.

*I think the worst West Indian bird name goes to the Sad Flycatcher.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Puerto Rico Day 4: Mountains to the Coast

We spent the night of day 3 at Hacienda Juanita, a lodge in the mountains on a banana and coffee plantation. It was a bit rustic, but comfortable enough. On the hotel grounds, we listened for the endemic Puerto Rican Screech Owl and heard multiple individuals. One was so close but it was straight up a rock wall that butted against the lodge. There was no way to see it.


The view from the Hacienda Juanita

We woke the morning of day 4 to find that our breakfast was slightly delayed. The cook wasn’t there yet, so we’d have to wait a little. We took the opportunity to do a little birding around the property and saw some of the same species we’d already seen. Breakfast was worth the wait. I had a great omelet and some hot harina cereal. Tasty! We also had good views of a female Puerto Rican Emerald (a hummingbird) from the breakfast table. After breakfast, I was buying coffee in the office when I heard one of the leaders call from outside, “Antillean Euphonia!” While not an endemic, it’s a much sought-after Caribbean species. We all had amazing looks at a male and female checking out bromeliads (that’s where they nest) in a large tree in the parking lot. What luck!


Antillean Euphonia

We packed up and left Hacienda Juanita for another shot at the Lesser Antillean Pewee at the nearby fishery. Luck was with us again and it was there, flycatching from a perch over a creek. Neat bird! Too small and far for photos though. The late breakfast turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

We packed into the minivan again and made our way to the coast, specifically Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. On our way there, the leader saw an odd animal cross the road. We did a u-turn to see what it was and it turned out to be… MONKEYS! Macaques to be exact. There are no native monkeys on Puerto Rico. These are apparently escapes from a feral colony on a nearby island. No one knows how they got to the mainland, according to one local.


Cabo Rojo is a GORGEOUS area in the southwest corner of PR with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean beating against red cliffs that give Cabo Rojo (the red coast) its name. It’s much drier than the rest of the places we had visited. We saw cacti and succulent plants all around.

We got our first taste of shorebirds for the trip at Cabo Rojo with side-by-side Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin, and Spotted Sandpiper. A group of Royal Terns lounged atop a group of pilings as well.

royal terns

Royal Terns

The whole time, the Los Morillos Lighthouse loomed high on a cliff watching over us.


We walked up to the lighthouse to get a good view of the sea. The view was breathtaking.


A Brown Booby soared right over our heads and joined a dozen of its brethren on a large rock in the sea. I had distant views of these birds in Australia, but these views were fantastic, although the light was harsh and my photos reflect that.



We left Cabo Rojo and continued to Laguna Cartajena NWR, a large marsh and home to Caribbean Coots and West Indian Whistling-Ducks. This was one of my favorite stops on the trip. I love waterfowl and wading birds and this place was chock full of them. Caribbean Coots were plentiful along with Common Moorhens, a few Purple Gallinules, Ruddy Ducks, White-cheeked Pintails, and 9 species of waders. We even had a chance to compare American Coots to Caribbean Coots. The Caribbean’s fast shield extends further up the head than the American’s. We looked for the West Indian Whistling-Duck, but didn’t see one. So we planned to return the next day, since we had something big waiting for us.


We left Laguna Cartajena and headed to the town of Parguera, looking for the endangered and endemic Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. They live in the mangroves, but come to a local feeder next to a little store each afternoon. Our timing was a bit late and the birds were already in the mangroves. After much waiting, we did see a few birds silhouetted in a bare tree in the mangroves. These would have to wait for another try the next morning as well.

In the evening, we went to Guanica State Forest, the stronghold of the Puerto Rican Nightjar. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear or see this rare species. It was incredibly windy and perhaps this kept the birds down. After much waiting, we decided to pack it in.

IMG_4551My friend Mike shows the most comfy way to look for PR Nightjars

At dinner, we agreed to wake up extra early to try again for the nightjar. More on that in our next installment and more photos from Laguna Cartajena.

Go to Day 5

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Puerto Rico Day 3: Rare Birds and Bacalao Ice Cream


Note: This is my first attempt to post with Windows Live Writer so I hope it doesn’t look like garbage.

We woke at an ungodly hour and had the equivalent of a NJ diner breakfast (not a bad thing) before departing for the Cambalache State Forest. This is a small, and I mean SMALL, plot of tropical forest that holds a surprising number of Puerto Rican endemics. Upon exiting the minivan, we immediately were hearing and seeing birds.

The first was the sing-song-y Puerto Rican Vireo which gave us great looks. He was followed by the cardinal-like call of the Puerto Rican Bullfinch which also gave stellar looks. The birds were coming quick. We heard the short bzzt of the Puerto Rican Tody, but he remained out of sight. A loud call from around a bend was that of the Puerto Rican Woodpecker – a Melanerpes unlike any I had seen before. We had brief looks at one, but better looks were to come. A raucous rattle was that of the Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, one of the birds I most wanted to see on the trip. It spent time high in a tree giving us views of just pieces of the bird at time. A nearby fart-like sound led us to crippling, eye-level views of the Puerto Rican Tody. As one person said, it looks like a lollipop and the bill is the stick. So true! It looks like it would taste good if you licked it. My photos of this one stink, but there were more to come later on the trip.

Common Ground Dove

A Common Ground-Dove

We got crippling looks at the Puerto Rican Woodpecker in a hole in a telephone pole. This bird was too cool.

PR Woodpecker
Puerto Rican Woodpecker

PR Woodpecker2
Digiscoped shot

We then headed over to the Rio Abajo area in search of Puerto Rican Parrots. With less than 40 wild birds left, this came down to a matter of luck. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the birds, but did add Loggerhead Kingbird, Broad-winged Hawk (pretty rare in PR), and Scaly-naped Pigeon to our tally. We also saw the gorgeous flowers of the Poma Rosa or Rose Apple.

Rose Apple

On the road near Rio Abajo, we also spied Shiny Cowbird. An attractive blackbird, this bird has caused problems for the endemic Yellow-shouldered Blackbird.

Shiny Cowbird
Shiny Cowbird

We stopped at a famous ice cream shop in the town of Lares. They are known for having hundreds of different flavors of ice cream including many non-traditional flavors like rum, ginger, garlic, rice & beans, carrot, and the one I tried… SALT COD (AKA Bacalao). Even being a vegetarian, I couldn’t resist trying fish-flavored ice cream. You know how they say that things are an “acquired taste?” I don’t know how anyone could acquire a taste for it. Blech. I ended up getting one scoop of peanut and one scoop of sweet plantain. It was great.


We were back on the road again heading to Maricao State Forest, home of the recently discovered (well, 1972) Elfin-woods Warbler. It was late in the day. We paced up and down the road listening for its chip note (it doesn’t sing). After some time, we heard that chip and the diminutive bird gave us terrific, although brief, views. What a feeling to know that we were seeing a bird that is relatively new to science and limited in range. We ended the day looking for a Lesser Antillean Pewee at a nearby fishery, but were skunked. We would try again in the morning! Look for my Day 4 report in the next few days. I guarantee photos of boobies.

Go to Day 4

Monday, February 01, 2010

Puerto Rico Day 1 & 2: Caribbean Gems

The view from the hotel beach

My friend Mike and I arrived the evening before our birding tour in Puerto Rico to avoid any potential weather-related events that might have caused flight issues. He and I toured around Old San Juan, ate some great local food thanks to a cab driver's recommendation, and drank VERY locally at a dive bar - $1.50 Medalla Light! Bird-wise, we only saw the ubiquitous Bananaquit that first day.

We awoke the next morning and, as I opened the blinds of our balcony, a bird took off from the deck. A Greater Antillean Grackle had brought a chicken bone to our balcony and had been eating it there.

Greater Antillean Grackle

We birded around the hotel a bit where we saw more grackles, a Brown Pelican, Red-legged Thrush (the Puerto Rican version of a robin), and Zenaida Dove.

Zenaida Dove

At 12:30, we met our leaders Kevin and Lena from Wildside Nature Tours and the two other tour participants. After a brief food and fuel stop, we headed west from San Juan toward the town of Hatillo. We made our first birding stop at Laguna Tortuguero, a small woodland area next to a large lake. We immediately started hearing and seeing some of our sought after Puerto Rican endemics.

The first endemic we saw was Adelaide's Warbler - a gorgeous bird, but uncooperative for a photograph. Pearly-eyed Thrashers called from the undergrowth and several female Puerto Rican Spindalises (Spindali?) flitted in the limbs of an Orchid Tree. Luck was with us and a splendid male Spindalis joined the party. He stayed just out of view for a while, but then came down ridiculously close to feed on the flower petals of the Orchid Tree.

PR Spindalis with a piece of petal in his mouth

A hummingbird made itself known by buzzing over the canopy of the tree. It was a female Antillean Mango - a specialty of the Caribbean.

Antillean Mango - the leaf is not really stuck to the end of his bill, just bad positioning in the photo

We also saw some familiar birds like Osprey and Northern Parula and less familiar ones like the introduced Orange-cheeked Waxbill. We ended our time there and continued to our hotel for the night. I had a great dinner of some eggplant dish with a delicious side of rice and beans, along with some flan de vanilla for dessert. Yum. We were off to a terrific start! Day 3 was filled with tremendous birds. More on that later.

Go to day 3