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Puerto Rico: November 6-13, 2007, ,
Seduced by low air fares offered by Spirit Airlines (www.spiritair.com) from Orlando to San Juan, we made a one-week birding visit that covered the key birding sites in Puerto Rico. In this report I will highlight the changes we noticed as compared to other reports that have been published, only a few of which are recent and only one short one is from November. In several cases, sites and/or conditions have changed. I have also put together a spreadsheet that lists the birds we saw at each major site. We did not do any specific shore-birding so our total of 75 birds seen plus 1 heard-only was not as high as it could have been – almost every lake and mud flat we saw did contain flocks of waders which remained unidentified. For us, the trip was an unqualified success – we had 33 life birds and saw all endemics except for the critically-endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. We also saw many of the regional specialties and potential “splits”. A week is enough to accomplish this without much rushing around, although in several cases we only saw one or two birds of a species. Most birds are silent at this time of year; those that were calling were seen readily and typically in more than one location. We were fortunate that our weather was almost perfect, with only an hour or two lost to rain, despite November typically being one of the rainier months.
It is very convenient that Puerto Rico is part of the US, so flights there are domestic and no passports are necessary. Of course, US dollars are the currency. One idiosyncrasy is that the road distances are marked in kilometers but the speed limits are in miles per hour and the car speedometers show miles per hour. The roadside kilometer markers, or bornes, are very handy when looking for a specific location.
We stayed at hotel / inns (“paradors”) mentioned in previous reports and rented a car at a very reasonable rate from Enterprise (much less than Hertz, Avis, etc.). The Enterprise location is a few miles from the airport, which means a shuttle bus ride and a bit more time to be allocated for pickup and return. They were a little pushy with regard to insurance but otherwise we had no problems at all.
Their case for insurance was somewhat valid. As others have noted, the drivers in Puerto Rico are not so good, changing lanes randomly and turning across lanes and running lights and stop signs with regularity. Defensive driving is a must. We used the toll roads when possible to minimize traffic but even there we saw some very erratic driving. It was not uncommon for only one lane to be passable on a two-lane main road because of double-parked cars. Drivers on winding roads routinely cut corners and children play in the roads.
In the main towns there were major branded gas stations, and most we saw were open on Sunday and had a small food shop. They do not yet have “pay at the pump” systems, so you give the attendant inside the store some money, get the gas, and then go get your change.
We did not have any problems by only speaking rudimentary Spanish, but fewer people than I expected spoke English. Fortunately, a Big Mac is a Big Mac in any language, but anything more complicated often led to some confusion. However, everyone was friendly and a lot can be communicated with gestures.
It is very useful to have a co-pilot to navigate and essential to have a detailed map. We bought the MetroData road map (www.metropr.com) ahead of time through Amazon.com to help plan the trip. I would recommend buying this map prior to a trip despite the additional cost for mailing because I am not sure where a similar map could be readily found once there. Some of the roads are well-marked, many are not. In particular, driving through towns is a challenge as it is common for “major” roads to make 90-degree turns, become one-way, etc. Often the route is only noted by a sign pointing to a location, not by a route number. It is also common to find oneself facing the wrong way down a one-way road that is unmarked as such. This can lead to a certain tension in the car between the map-reader and the driver!
Although we never had any sense of danger, we saw evidence of high levels of security everywhere. We typically saw 20+ police cars per day on the roads. Mail boxes were locked, houses were totally fenced in. The message here is not to be reckless and not to leave anything of value in an unattended vehicle.
Birding was generally easy. In most places the trails were really overgrown roads, wide and easy to walk on. Mosquitoes and other flying insects were fierce along the coastal areas, not so much in the mountains. We used the standard Raffaele birding guide and relied on the reports (listed at the end of this report) for key information. Several others provided additional info via e-mail. Many thanks to all for the assistance. Complete details and references are given at the end of this report.
Tuesday November 6:
We flew from Orlando to San Juan on Spirit Airlines, arriving at 4PM, and then picked up our rental car. The most common bird seen along the drive was Greater Antillean Grackle. One trip report mentioned that the two West Coast hummingbirds, the Antillean Crested and the Green-throated Carib, could be found along the coast from Fajardo to Las Croabas. We made the drive through residential areas in these towns but it was impractical to stop to bird, so we drove down to the Ceiba Country Inn, our lodging for this evening, after a stop for supper at a fast-food restaurant (a trend for the week). This is a pleasant lodge with nice rooms but no food available. They do have a bar serving drinks from 6 to 9PM and also offer a continental breakfast (which, as typical, is available too late for a birder to enjoy).
A very attractive feature of the Ceiba Country Inn is their resident pair of Puerto Rican Screech-Owls. We settled in at 8:15 PM with a cold Medalla Light beer when we first heard the distant trill of the owls in the direction of the dumpster at the end of the parking area, but seeing them at that range was futile and they were deep in the trees. But within 30 minutes we heard closer trills from alongside the lodge. I played a tape and within ten seconds we had a dive-bombing owl cruise past us – a perfect flight view in good light from the lodge. So we returned to have another beer in celebration. This was a hoped-for sighting but far from guaranteed. However, we were interrupted about 30 minutes later by a longer two-part owl call, loud and close. This one has been described as a trill followed by a maniacal cackle, and that is accurate. The cackle part is similar to the call of an Australian Kookaburra, and the effect is both eerie and comical. So we returned to the side of the lodge, trying to locate the owls. We figured out what tree they had to be in, but it was beyond the lighting of the lodge and down a steep and muddy hill. But we decided to try to see them, and clumsily moved to within about 20 feet of where we thought the owls must be – this was about the maximum range of the small flashlight we had. A quick scan of the tree and – yes- there were the two owls, in the light and looking down at us, not at all concerned. We watched them for at least a minute before they flew off. What a great start to the birding trip!
Wednesday November 7:
We were up early to go to the Humacao Reserve. This should be an easy place to find, but for us it was not. The route is to simply take Route 53 south to Route 3 north/east towards Punta Santiago, then stay on Route 3 for 2 miles and the Humacao Reserve is on the right side (same side as the ocean). We missed it, probably due to confusion over miles / kilometers and the fact a truck was blocking the sign. We arrived at 8AM, after the official opening time of 7:30AM. A ranger there confirmed that the place to try to see West Indian Whistling-Duck was to follow the main road over two bridges, and then take an immediate right and follow that road to a large lagoon on the left side. On our way down the main road, we did a quick scan of a lagoon on the right, and saw our first White-cheeked Pintails, the most common bird there. There were very few other birds in that lagoon except for some Black-necked Stilts. We went to the lagoon past the second bridge, but did not see any whistling ducks. The West Indian Whistling Ducks are nocturnal, so we had not expected to see them when we were not there as planned at dawn. We did see a few other birds at Humacao: Orange-cheeked Waxbill in grasses farther along the trail just past the lagoon, Zenaida Dove, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, and Puerto Rican Tody, plus an Osprey on a nest. We were more successful when we returned to Humacao on our last day of birding.
At 10AM we departed for El Yunque National Park. The only access to the park is from the north, on Route 191 off Route 3 about 20 miles east of San Juan. Many maps show access from the south, or that Route 191 is a through road. Neither is correct. There is a visitor center at El Portal (KM 4.3) with a charge of $ 3 per person to enter. Others have reported some nice birding around the visitor’s center. However, there is no fee if you instead simply continue up Route 191 to the end (KM 13), which is where the best birding is. At the end of Route 191, there is a closed gate and a sign to Forest Road (FR) 930; we parked at the end of FR 930 which is where the Mt Britton Trail begins. This was a nice trail of a few hundred meters, but a bit slippery when wet (and since this is a tropical rain forest, it is always wet). The trail ends at a road which is the extension of Route 191 beyond the gate. We walked up the road where there are two trails: one goes uphill to Mt Britton Tower, the other is called the Mt Britton Spur and is a flat trail through forest. Unfortunately, as we arrived here, there were several groups of families on both trails, so we instead walked back down the road (extension of Route 191) to the gate and then back to the parked car. The closed part of Route 191 proved to be very birdy and had great views as well.
Along the Mt Britton Trail we saw a fantastic Puerto Rican Emerald on its nest and flyover Scaly-naped Pigeons. We added Puerto Rican Spindalis and Black-faced Grassquit while walking down the closed section of Route 191, along with Puerto Rican Tody. This is a great bird, active and colorful and it makes a type of full-body hiccup when it makes its call. They were common but always fun to see.
My opinion of El Yunque is that it is not worth the special trip to go there. Other than the Puerto Rican Parrot, which there is almost zero chance to see, all other birds can be seen in the SW part of Puerto Rico at Maricao and Guanica.
We left El Yunque as we entered, on Route 191 to Route 3, and then drove west to Route 186 southbound. Many maps show that this road is not a through road, but in fact it is. We were following up on a report of Puerto Rican Parrot being seen in early 2007 at the Rio Espiritu Santo Overlook on Route 186. We found the overlook, which is a few hundred meters past (south) of where the road crosses the river, but it is totally overgrown. So we did not linger here, instead continuing south on 186 to Route 30 west in Juncos to head over to Comerio to try for Plain Pigeon.
But we hit a solid traffic jam due to an accident on Route 30 and it took us three hours to travel the 10 miles from Juncos to Route 52, by which time it was dark. So we instead stayed on Route 52 and drove to the southwest corner of Puerto Rico and the Parador Villa Perguera. This is easy to find – Route 52 to Ponce where it turns into Route 2, west to Route 116 (exit for Guanica), stay on 116 to Route 304 south. When the road appears to end at the harbor, turn right and the hotel is on the left.
Thursday November 8:
In previous years there were reports of reliable sightings of roosting Yellow-shouldered Blackbird at Villa Parguera, but there were none when we awoke. So we drove a bit further west on Route 304 to a small general store on the right to pick up some breakfast and lunch items. We had also read that the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds sometimes come to this location. At 7:30AM, large flocks of Ringed Turtle Doves descended on the side of the store, where we noticed the owner had tossed out piles of bread (old, I assume). They were followed by Greater Antillean grackles and Shiny Cowbirds, and mixed in this group were several Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds. If we had not dawdled a bit at the hotel, and then again while shopping at the store, we would have left before the birds arrived.
The Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds did not show the large shoulder patch as illustrated in the field guide, and would have been easy to miss if we had not been aware that they had been seen there before. The yellow was actually difficult to see, much as a Red-winged Blackbird can keep its red shoulder patch mostly hidden until it is in display.
With another key bird seen, we headed to Guanica by returning up Route 304 to Route 116 east to Route 334 south which leads directly into the Guanica Dry Forest. There is also a Route 333 that goes along the coast to the southern end of the Guanica Dry Forest, but the main entrance is via Route 334 which goes through the town of Guanica. We followed the road to the end where there is a small building that is open from 8:30 to 3:30. There are no admission fees here or at any of the other parks or forests we visited. We parked here and walked down a road that is across from the small building, past a small open area and a building with meeting rooms and a set of restrooms. Here we were greeted by lots of mosquitoes and other biting insects. Despite lots of DEET repellant, we still were bitten and buzzed constantly. But within the first few hundred meters we saw several target birds: Adelaide Warbler (several), Antillean Mango (female), a fantastic Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo (feeding a chick an insect), Caribbean Elaenia (two or three), Lesser Antillean Pewee (one), Puerto Rican Flycatcher (one), Puerto Rican Bullfinch (poor views though), and Black-faced Grassquits.
By the time we returned, the “visitors center” was open and the ranger there suggested we bird along the Fuerte Trail when we returned. On the way out, we stopped at a few other side trails closer to the bottom of the hill but we did not see any new birds and the bugs drove us away.
We returned to La Parguera by way of Route 116 west to Route 325 south to Ensenata, then Route 324 west to a spot where Ruddy Quail-Dove had been reported. This is about 4 miles west of Ensenata where there is a windmill on the right (north) side of the road and some cement water tanks. Of course, as it was noon and hot, we did not see a Ruddy Quail-Dove, but we did see a nice mix of grassland birds including White-throated Mannikins, several Neotropical warblers, and heard a Northern Bobwhite.
After lunch at the Villa Parguera, we started a frustrating effort to reach Laguna Cartagena, a potential spot for West Indian Whistling-Duck. Two access points are reported. One is on the west side of the reserve, taking Route 101 west through Lajas (where we were diverted for a time by a funeral procession) to where Route 306 goes north. At this intersection, take the left (south) road instead, which is not posted as Route 306 but is often referred to in reports as Route 306. The idea is to follow this to a gate and then walk to the west end. But this road was washed out and impassable, so we backtracked to Route 101 then to Route 116 towards Guanica and then to Route 305 west (also known as Calle El Toro). We followed this road about 100 meters and reached what appeared to be a dirt track. We managed to explain to a woman there that we wanted to go to Laguna Cartagena, and she pointed in the direction we were going (but also seemed to think we were crazy). We drove a bit, and sure enough there were signs on the fence on our right stating we were on the border of the reserve. But the road quickly became impassable as well. Although this project only covered a few miles, it took several hours and we still had not seen a lagoon. Ironically, one of the best views we had of the lowland area when we later went up the mountains to Maricao was of Laguna Cartagena.
So we aborted this plan and instead headed back to Route 116 and then Route 334 to the Guanica Dry Forest. Our quarry here was Puerto Rican Nightjar. The main gate was already locked when we arrived at 5:30 PM, so we parked at the entrance and walked a few hundred meters up the road. There is a small cement building on the left side when going up, and we decided to stay between there and 100 meters uphill. Unfortunately, I had estimated dusk based on when we were in the east, and now we were in the west and dusk was later so we sat around being buzzed and bitten by more bugs as darkness fell. I had downloaded a call of the nightjar so I knew what it sounded like. At about 7PM, as it became dark, we started to hear several nightjars calling around us, but there was no movement for about 5 minutes. Then we could tell that the birds were flying due to the movement of the calls, but we could not see any. I played back a tape of the call, and we had a nightjar swoop within a few feet of our heads, in just enough light to give a good view of the white tail markings. As it became darker, more and more birds called and buzzed us. In total, we had good views of 5 Puerto Rican Nightjars, although we never were able to get a perched view. Within 10 minutes, the birds were no longer calling. The key to seeing the birds was being in the right place at the right time.
We returned to Villa Parguera for supper, and then went on a boat trip to the “Phosphorescent Bay” next to la Parguera, where there are microscopic aquatic organisms that glow when disturbed by boats or swimmers. Apparently this had been quite a sight in the past, but for whatever reason the activity was minimal and the light show was pretty much a dud. Heavy rain began just after we returned to the hotel and continued through the night, ending just at dawn.
Friday November 9:
We went first to Guanica for a better look at Puerto Rican Bullfinch, but the bugs saw us coming and descended on us. We left quickly without a bullfinch sighting, but we did get a fine view of a male Antillean Mango near the parking area.
We then drove on Route 2 to Sabana Grande and then on Route 368 a few miles east (past the Route 365 intersection) to the entrance to Susua Forest. The entrance road is several miles long and climbs into nice forest. There is a ranger station and campground at the end. We registered at the ranger house, and then walked around the locked gate and further down the road. Here we saw many of the same birds, but had our first Puerto Rican Vireo. We also had our best views of Scaly-naped Pigeon – there was a pair calling just over the road, but they flushed as we approached. After returning to Sabana Grande and lunch at Subway, we drove north on Route 120 towards the Maricao Forest.
We stopped at the park headquarters at KM 16.2, and walked along the entrance road. I saw some rapid movement back in the tangles and it was the only Elfin Woods Warbler we would see. We had passable views, bits and pieces of a moving bird behind lots of obstructions, but enough to confirm the identity. We stopped at the ranger station and asked if the resident ranger Adrian Muniz was there – he has been reported several times as being a great source of information and assistance. But we determined through poor Spanish that he was in San Juan.
We walked past the parking area and found a trail / road with a gate on the right side of the road. This was a nice open trail, and others had reported both quail-doves here (at least, we think we were on the same trail). But the trail was quiet, with only the regulars such as Puerto Rican Tody and Bananaquit for company. We then went to the trail at KM 16.8. There is a gate here and two trails, one going up and the other going down. This time we took the upper trail for several hundred meters, ending up quite a bit down the hill and into some forest. Very quiet here with only some Neotropical warblers, but we did hear a distant Key West Quail-Dove. We then went to Parador Hacienda Juanita, and checked into our small but nice room. There is a short trail on the grounds which we took but did not see anything special. We then returned to the KM 16.8 trails and this time walked the lower trail. Within a few minutes a late-afternoon thunderstorm rolled in, cutting the walk short at about 5PM. This was to be the only time our birding was really affected by rain the entire week. On the return, we had one Red-legged Thrush flush from alongside the road but did not get a good look other than a flash of its white tail feathers.
Saturday November 10:
We left early for the park HQ, getting a good view of a Red-legged Thrush walking on the side of the road. We saw a Green Mango along the entrance road, but it was too dark to get all the color. Walking the trail, primarily in search of the quail-doves, we had a female Antillean Euphonia as our only new bird. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and then went to the upper 16.8 trail where we saw a variety of Neotropical warblers plus Puerto Rican Vireo and Woodpecker. After lunch, we again walked the HQ trail and the two KM 16.8 trails. Nothing new.
Sunday November 11:
This was to be our last day at Maricao, and we had several target birds yet to see. We had not yet seen any Puerto Rican Tanagers, which everyone else had reported as being common and easy to see. We also had been looking for Greater Antillean Oriole while around the HQ area, where it has been reported to nest, without success. And we were still hoping to stumble across any quail-doves. We started by doing the upper KM 16.8 trail before breakfast, nothing new. We then walked the HQ trail, and finally came across a small but completely quiet flock of Puerto Rican Tanagers, but still no sign of any quail-doves. With great relief at having seen the last of the endemics, we were about to move over to the KM 16.8 trail when we noticed someone new at the ranger station. I went over and asked if he knew if Adrian Muniz was around, and he said “at your service”. More good luck! We mentioned we had not seen the oriole, and he confirmed that they were often seen in the large palm tree in the yard of the HQ, but mostly at dawn or dusk so we were probably out of luck (it was 10AM). This presented an immediate quandary, because our plan was to leave that afternoon to head to Humacao. We also said we would like a better look at the Elfin Woods Warbler, and he said they often were around his residence area but that since they were not calling they were difficult to locate. While we were looking for them there (unsuccessfully), Adrian said he heard the Greater Antillean Orioles, and sure enough we soon located them in the very palm tree he had pointed out. Unbelievable luck.
We then thanked Adrian and returned to the hotel for breakfast and checked out, making a last stop at the KM 16.8 trail to give a look for quail-doves. We did not see any, but saw another flock of Puerto Rican Tanagers. We then made a brief stop back at the HQ to look for Elfin Woods Warbler but did not see any.
Our next stop was the Copamarina Hotel on Route 333 in Guanica, which I had read was a good site for Troupial in the many palm trees. Although there was a guard house, we simply drove right in and walked around. We were once again attacked by biting insects, but finally saw a bright bird flitting in the palms. And it was – another Greater Antillean Oriole! So in a few hours we went from no Puerto Rican Tanagers and no Greater Antillean Orioles to two separate sightings of each.
Next, we made a rushed trip to Comerio to try for Plain Pigeon. But we soon hit traffic, and found that travel on the roads to Comerio was much slower than expected. We arrived at the ball park at Comerio literally at dusk, and saw a large flock of Plain Pigeons moving to roost in a large tree adjacent to the ball park. We got good looks, but even before we could get our scope out, it was too dark to see anything. This was another true last-gasp sighting! Our approach to Comerio from the south was as follows: Route 52 north to Exit 32 / Route 1 (there is no Exit 31 despite this showing on the map), Route 1 north to Route 787 to Cidra, then Route 172 towards Comerio. After a few kilometers there is a side road, Route 7774, that actually goes to Comerio, but stay on Route 172. The ball field is at the KM 1.5 mark on Route 172. This route went through populated areas and was very slow. We left the ball park area via Route 172 north to Route 156, which has some winding sections but is much faster to reach Route 52.
We then headed back to Humacao. We did not have any hotel reservations, but thought we could find something closer to Humacao than driving back up to the Ceiba Country Inn. But we quickly found that there were no hotels in Humacao or nearby, so we called the Ceiba Country Inn and secured their last available room. Interestingly, that night we did not hear a sound from the Puerto Rican Screech-owls, so we were lucky we had seen them the first night. Around midnight heavy rain began to fall, which did not stop until a bit after dawn, delaying our departure for our return trip to Humacao.
Monday November 12:
We left for Humacao as soon as the rain stopped, arriving at 6:45AM. The park was officially closed, but we had read that it was possible to enter before the official opening time. However, the gates were locked and there was barbed wire fencing along the border of the park. There was no way in. While we were pondering this situation, a policeman walked over and, with gestures, basically asked us what exactly we were doing. So we showed him our binoculars and bird book. But it was clear we were not getting in. It may be that security now is tighter than when previous birders visited.
So we drove to the other site at Humacao, 0.6 km back (south) on Route 3 to Route 925 west (on the right). Note – this road is not marked when coming north on Route 3. Stay on Route 925 for 1.2 km and there is a large gate and a “Humacao Reserve” sign. This gate was also locked, but it was possible to squeeze through the gate. With nothing else to do, that is what we did. We walked a few hundred meters through sugar cane fields to a series of ponds, where we saw our only Caribbean Coot but no West Indian Whistling Ducks. The ponds were filled with other birds – several Least Bitterns, Clapper Rails, a Northern Bobwhite on the trail and a Wilson’s Snipe flushed from almost under our feet along with the standard mix of egrets and herons. But we soon began to hear gunshots from adjacent areas, and were concerned about how much of a reserve we were really in. We decided to turn back at 7:30, which is the official opening time, and within 5 minutes we saw a pickup truck with a ranger drove down the road. He was not too pleased to see us, because we obviously had to have entered the reserve early to get to were we were, but since it was then after opening time he simply drove by with a frown.
We then relocated to the main Humacao Reserve. We were surprised to see a lot of people there on a Monday until we realized it was Veteran’s Day holiday. We still looked unsuccessfully for West Indian Whistling Duck in the lagoon past the second bridge. The grassy part of the trail gave us a few Yellow-faced Grassquits in a flock of Black-faced Grassquits, Orange-cheeked Waxbills and Nutmeg Mannikins. However, none of the flowering trees held either of the hummingbirds we were looking for. After a brief rain shower, we returned to the main entrance road and saw large numbers of visitors pouring in, including one busload of young and noisy schoolchildren. One of the adults with the group approached us and asked us in perfect English if we had seen any birds. We mentioned we were looking for the duck and hummingbirds. He said that the lagoons had recently been drained and re-routed, resulting in a change in salinity and he doubted that there would be any West Indian Whistling-Ducks there now. I cannot say if he is correct or not, but that would account for the relative dearth of birds other than Common Moorhens and White-cheeked Pintails in the lagoons. So, based on our experience, the north side of the Humacao reserve off Route 925 may now be the better bet for the ducks.
While standing near the reserve HQ pondering our alternatives, we saw some flittering in a Yellow Flamboyant tree, which turned out to be a pair of Antillean Crested Hummingbirds. They were drenched from the rain and that made their crests look bedraggled and comical. So at least we got one of the hummers. About 15 minutes later we saw a glimpse of a larger hummingbird, which had to be the Green-throated Carib. But it was just passing through and shot away. After about 45 more minutes of waiting and looking around for a possible return of the Carib, we decided to take a lunch break. By now there was a lot of activity from the visitors and it seemed the birds would be long gone. Then, literally as we were walking out of the gate, I looked up and there was a Green-throated Carib hovering a few feet over our heads in a poinciana tree. This was such an absurdly lucky last-second sighting that we both had to laugh as we enjoyed seeing all of the breast colors of the hummer as it flashed in the sun.
We then had lunch and drove down to Ponce to visit the art museum there. And of course we also kept an eye out for a Troupial, but no luck. Within a few minutes of leaving the museum and driving a bit around Ponce, a big storm moved in so we headed back to San Juan for the night and our departure the next morning.
We saw all of our target birds, but several were very close calls, such as:
1) We saw the Puerto Rican Screech-owl pair our first night at Ceiba Country Inn; they were not calling our second night so a sighting is not a sure thing. And seeing them perched was extremely fortunate.
2) We saw the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds only because we had hung around the store in La Parguera shopping for food.
3) In order to see the Puerto Rican Nightjar, we had to be in the right place at the right time, and we were. The nightjars called for only about 15 minutes and only in a short stretch of road.
4) We saw the Plain Pigeons in Comerio at the very last moment of daylight. The next night, our backup night, it was raining.
5) We saw our only Green-throated Carib after we decided it was hopeless and were literally walking out of the Humacao reserve.
6) In addition, we saw only a single Elfin Woods Warbler despite spending many hours in the right habitat. We also saw only a single Caribbean Euphonia, Caribbean Coot, and Green Mango.
And, if we had lost significant birding time to weather, it is likely we would not have picked up all of these.
So it is obvious why we were very happy with this trip.
The birding guide we used was A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, by Herbert A. Raffaele, revised edition 1989. This is the book most cited by others as well. It is correct that, as noted by others, the illustration of the Puerto Rican Flycatcher in the book is mostly brown and white whereas in the field the contrast is stronger and it appears to be more a black-and-white bird.
We used the Moon Handbook of Puerto Rico as a general travel guide. On-line reviews suggested it was more useful and up-to-date than the Lonely Planet version.
We are indebted to the birders who issued the following trip reports, which greatly helped the planning and execution of the trip. All were found on Blake Maybank’s Birding the Americas web site.
Bill Brenner, 17 – 21 January 2007,
Jennifer Rycenga and Peggy Marcus, 17 – 25 December 2006,
Jim Hully, 28 May – 1 June 2004,
David Klauber, 10-14 November 2002,
Barry Cooper and Gail Mackiernan, 14-27 March 2002,
Glen Tepke, 20 – 27 January 2002.
Mark Gawn, 27 August – 6 September 1998,
George Dremereaux, 10 – 20 July 1997,
Mark Oberle, 25 May – 1 June 1997,
Ron Outen, 1-3 February 1997
Outside of San Juan, there appear to be very few hotels. There are so few, in fact, that many are shown on the Puerto Rico map! Perhaps because the country is so small, and it is not more than four hours from San Juan to anywhere, the only hotels are either at resort areas or sprinkled around the countryside. We did not have problems getting last-minute rooms, but in retrospect we were lucky because two places (Parador Hacienda Juanita and Ceiba Country Inn) appeared to be full or nearly so, despite this being off-season. The La Parguera / Guanica area is less of an issue because there are several large hotels there.
We stayed at the following places:
Ceiba Country Inn, 787-885-0471, about 30 minutes north of Humacao Reserve, nice clean rooms with A/C and refrigerator, no on-site restaurant. There is not much in terms of restaurants in nearby Ceiba, so it is best to eat in Fajardo or Humacao before arriving. It has a resident pair of PR Screech-owls. The first night we stayed here, there were only a few other guests. The second time, it was full. http://www.lanierbb.com/inns/bb6488.html
Parador Villa Parguera, 787-899-7777, La Parguera, about 20 minutes west of Guanica and near sites for Golden-shouldered Blackbirds. Previously this bird has been reported as nesting at this hotel, but this does not appear to be the case now. The hotel has clean rooms, A/C, full restaurant. Another hotel, the Parador Parlomar, is only a few doors down from the Villa Parguera, and nearby Guanica also has some hotels. http://www.villaparguera.com
Parador Haceinda Juanita, 787-838-2550, about 15 minutes north of Maricao Forest. Nice but small rooms, full restaurant, nice balcony overlooking a valley where others have reported good bird sightings. There is also a trail on-site that goes through some forest and cultivation, which held quite a few birds. This is really the only place to stay near Maricao. This is a very nice place in the country. We were there on a weekend and it was pretty full. http://www.haciendajuanita.com
Recordings of several of the Puerto Rican endemics are available from the Cornell / Macauley library: http://www.animalbehaviorarchive.org/loginPublic.do
The only one I used to actually attract a bird was for the owl but it was helpful to have others to help identify the birds in the field by call.
El Yunque is a US National Forest and has a web site. But the info there is general and has some confusing trail information. There is a trail map at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/caribbean/recreation/recreation_hking.shtml, but note that north is at the bottom of the map!
Cabo Rojo is a US National Wildlife Refuge with a web site at: http://www.fs.fws.gov/caribbean/Caborojo/Maps.htm.
Mapquest is useless for planning much in Puerto Rico. For example, it shows many of the roads through El Yunque as being open, when in fact they are either closed or are walking trails and not roads at all. Distances between places may be accurate, but times are not because the roads are often filled with traffic, go through small towns, or are in poor condition. The toll roads (autopistas) can also be slow. Even the map issued by Enterprise showed Route 191 as being open through the park, when it is not. A good commercial map is much more useful.
Spirit Air offers good prices from Fort Lauderdale and Orlando: www.spiritair.com. This is a budget airline, charging extra for checked luggage and for anything on the plane such as drinking water. But the seats were comfortable and the planes were new, and the flights were all on-time. Spirit Air offers some unbelievable airfares of under $10 for last-minute travel at many Caribbean and Central and South American destinations. For normal travel, the trick seems to be to either buy tickets for dates within a couple of weeks, or for flights well in the future.
Enjoy Puerto Rico! Gary and Marlene Babic, The Villages, FL, firstname.lastname@example.org
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