Puerto Rico - April 26th - May 5th, 2012

Published by John Thomton (jthomton AT hotmail.com)

Participants: John Thomton, Becky Thomton


My wife and I took a ten-day trip to Puerto Rico from 4/26/12 to 5/5/12. We had never been, and we had a wonderful time! While we weren't birding 100% of the time, we still managed to see most of the endemics, plus several other Caribbean birds.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 - Old San Juan, Fajardo

We flew into San Juan at about 1:00 PM. Our first stop after picking up our rental car was Old San Juan to have lunch at La Bombadera. Our Puerto Rican friend at home had told us that this famous and historical restaurant may be closing by the time we were to return to San Juan at the end of the following week. We enjoyed our lunches and our brief introduction to this beautiful part of town. We also spotted our first birds of the trip, species that would prove to be very common throughout the island: WHITE-WINGED DOVE, BANANQUIT and GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE. There were also ROCK PIGEONS and HOUSE SPARROWS, typical of urban areas throughout the island (and most of the world, really).

We then drove to our hotel for our first night: the Fajardo Inn located in the northeastern city of the same name. The drive over we managed to spot other birds such as CATTLE EGRET, GREEN HERON, RED-TAILED HAWK, ZENAIDA DOVE, GRAY KINGBIRD, and CARIBBEAN MARTIN. The hotel grounds had many of the same birds we had already seen, plus we added COMMON GROUND-DOVE, ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRD, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER and my first endemic and lifer of the trip, a PUERTO RICAN (PR hereafter) ORIOLE. From our room's balcony, we could see BROWN PELICANS and LAUGHING GULLS at the nearby coastline.

Friday, April 27th, 2012 - Vieques

The next morning, we got up early to catch the ferry to Vieques, the island off the east coast. We spent one night on Vieques, our main purpose being to join a pontoon boat tour of the famous bioluminescent bay that evening. Since the tour didn't begin until 7 PM, we had the rest of the day to bird and explore the island. After picking up our rental jeep in Isabel II, we headed over to our hotel in Esparanza on the island's south coast. From the hotel's restaurant which had a great view over the water, spotting new trip birds like BROWN BOOBY, YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON and ROYAL TERN.

From here we drove our rental car to the northwestern portion of the island along PR-994 and Punta Arenas Road, which is mostly incorporated in the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. We drove as far as the road would take us, stopping to enjoy the beach for about 30 minutes. While driving past the mangroves and dry, scrubby woodland, we encountered a variety of birds. Chief among these were two more lifers: PR WOODPECKER and LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD. The muddy areas around the open water held a variety of resident and migrant shorebirds, including WILSON'S and SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, BLACK-NECKED STILT, and SPOTTED and LEAST SANDPIPERS. Along the edge of the mangrove, we heard, then spotted the trip's only CLAPPER RAIL, as well as GREEN and TRICOLORED HERONS. Other landbirds seen were ZENAIDA DOVE, GRAY KINGBIRD, YELLOW WARBLER, SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, CARIBBEAN ELAENIA, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, BANANAQUIT, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, and our one and only WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON for the ten days.

Saturday, April 28th, 2012 – Vieques, Casa Cubuy (El Yunque)

The next morning, we were up by 6:00 AM and drove to the eastern part of Vieques NWR, right off of PR-997. This part of the refuge is mostly scrubby woodland, interspersed with open fields and several older (ex-military?) buildings in a state of disrepair. We drove the main road all the way to Playa La Plata, stopping to walk stretches along the way. We found several great birds, including our lifer ADELAIDE'S WARBLERS. Other birds included PR WOODPECKER, ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRD, YELLOW WARBLER, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD, ZENAIDA DOVE and our first AMERICAN KESTREL of the trip. The trees and fencelines around the abandoned buildings were popular with GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLES and WHITE-WINGED DOVES, while the open, grassy fields hosted several CATTLE EGRETS and KILLDEER. More WILSON'S PLOVERS were found on the beach itself.

After breakfast, more island exploration and lunch, we took the ferry back over to Fajardo and drove to Casa Cubuy, an ecolodge on the south side of El Yunque National Forest in the Luquillo Mountains. We didn't do much birding that evening, but we did find two PR SCREECH-OWLS walking home from dinner on PR-191 (the road the ecolodge is located on). We heard them at first, and then coaxed them in with a playback. They were seen very well with the flashlight we brought.

Sunday, April 29th, 2012 – Casa Cubuy (El Yunque)

This day we never got into our car! Instead, we went on three different hikes around the ecolodge, including one on a portion of PR-191 that was washed-out by a landslide several years ago. We felt very adventurous! The birding was very fun, with several lifers and endemics encountered. The day's list was: PR BULLFINCH, PR SPINDALIS, PR TODY, GREEN MANGO, BANANAQUIT, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD, SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, PR TANAGER, RED-LEGGED THRUSH, BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, PR EMERALD, ZENAIDA DOVE, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, GRAY KINGBIRD, PR ORIOLE, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER and RED-TAILED HAWK. As we enjoyed dinner that night at the only walking-distance restaurant, the trip's only BLACK SWIFT flew through the spectacular river valley view in front of us.

Monday, April 30th, 2012 – El Yunque and Ponce

This morning, through connections at work (I'm an Animal Keeper at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, FL), we got a tour of the El Yunque PR PARROT breeding facility from expert and gentleman Jafet Valez. It was wonderful. We never saw any wild parrots, but we saw many captive ones, and we even got to go in the free-flight aviary. This is closed to the public, so it was a privilege to be there. On our way back down from El Yunque, we did stop by the El Portal Visitor Center. We hiked the nature trail here, getting our first PR LIZARD-CUCKOO, and other birds like PR TODY and RED-LEGGED THRUSH. On our way to Ponce, we drove on the west side of the mountains to try our hand at searching for the wild PR PARROTS. Jafet told us of a spot where he had seen some of them fly very near the road a few days before while doing field work. Again, the parrots were a no-show, but we did have several other birds in this area, including GRAY KINGBIRD, BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, PR WOODPECKER and the first SMOOTH-BILLED ANIS of the trip.

We drove through the center of the island, got caught in a little traffic through Caguas, but then we arrived in Ponce at about 7 PM. We stayed in a hotel in the historic center of the city, just off the famous Plaza Las Delicias. It was getting dark by the time we checked in and got some dinner, but there were several urban birds in the area, like GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLES, WHITE-WINGED DOVES, GRAY KINGBIRDS, BANANAQUITS and CARIBBEAN MARTINS. In the fading light right above our hotel's lovely courtyard, we saw and heard the trip's debut ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS.

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 – Ponce area and Guanica

I began the day with a run through historic Ponce, encountering birds seen the previous evening, plus GREAT EGRET and COMMON GROUND-DOVE. Breakfast on the roof of our hotel also included the presence of a pair of BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS, while CARIBBEAN MARTINS and an AMERICAN KESTREL or two cruised the skies. We explored the city streets and the Parque de Bombas, the Ponce Cathedral and the fountains and monuments strewn about the large city square. There weren't too many new city birds for the morning, save for a PR SPINDALIS foraging in a tree in the Plaza. We drove around parts of the city, checking out the port, and finding new trip birds like TURKEY VULTURE and CAVE SWALLOW.

At about lunchtime, we visited the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center, where we learned about the pre-Columbian history in Puerto Rico. We got a great (private!) tour from one of the guides, who pointed out many of the local plants and birds. We got our lifer ANTILLEAN EUPHONIA here, as well as ADELAIDE'S WARBLER, ZENAIDA DOVE and other common birds seen around Ponce. Crossing the river from the museum area to the archeological site, we had the trip's only two LITTLE BLUE HERONS.

We then headed to Mary Lee's By The Sea, a small, comfortable hotel just outside Guanica State Forest, where we would spend the next two nights. After picking up groceries for dinner, we set out to see if we could find any PR NIGHTJARS in the area. They certainly weren't difficult to hear; we must have heard 12-15 in total that evening. However, even with a playback we were unable to coax one into view. We decided that the hiking trail heading north from PR-333 towards the center of Guanica seemed to hold the most promise, and that we would return there the following evening. We did see several more ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS in the area, including one on the ground right by the road. The lagoon near our hotel held WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL, BLACK-NECKED STILT and other shorebirds, as well as a few herons. From the dock leading right from the back of our hotel room, SANDWICH TERNS were seen out patrolling the water, while a PEARLY-EYED THRASHER seemed at home in the mangroves.

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 – Maricao State Forest, Laguna Cartagena, La Parguera, Guanica

This was perhaps our biggest targeted birding day. We began early in the morning and drove to Maricao State Forest, where we struggled initially to find our main target: ELFIN-WOODS WARBLER. We eventually found two along the entrance driveway from PR-120 at close to mid-day. We had already driven along and stopped at many places along PR-120, and hiked beyond the area for about two hours when we heard one back near where we parked the car! Still, it wasn't a waste of time, because we found many other species in the process: PR VIREO and LESSER ANTILLEAN PEWEE were two new lifers for the trip, but we also found PR LIZARD-CUCKOO, GRAY and LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRDS, PR BULLFINCH, PR TANAGER, BANANAQUIT, SCALY-NAPED PIGEON, PR EMERALD, PR TODY, PR WOODPECKER, PR ORIOLE, ANTILLEAN EUPHONIA, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, GREEN MANGO, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, RED-LEGGED THRUSH, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER, PR SPINDALIS, and BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO.

After lunch in San German, we headed to Laguna Cartagena to try for some water birds. This place is a little off the beaten path, and we discovered the roads can be a little tricky after a downpour. But the birds were great. We were able to add two more lifers (WEST INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCK and CARIBBEAN COOT) and we padded our trip list with many other species: COMMON and PURPLE GALLINULES, SOLITARY and STILT SANDPIPERS, GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, GREAT BLUE HERON, OSPREY, MOURNING DOVE, SNOWY EGRET, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, GLOSSY IBIS, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT. We also got our closest looks at SMOOTH-BILLED ANIS here, and we picked up ORANGE BISHOP and ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILL as two interesting exotics.

Next we drove to the small town of La Parguera, which is known in birding circles as the spot to get YELLOW-SHOULDERED BLACKBIRD. We found the park with the lawn next to the house with the feeders that gets the birds along with lots of GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLES, SHINY COWBIRDS and EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES. When we arrived, two birders were already there, one of whom was trying to take close-up pictures of the birds in the backyard from the park. We just stayed by the road, because you could see the blackbirds fine up in the trees. This was the only place on the island where we ran into other birders.

We had dinner at a delicious seafood place that's walking-distance from our hotel, where we also got the trip's only fly-by LEAST TERN and several more SHINY COWBIRDS. After dinner, we drove to the trailhead where we had been the night before looking for PR NIGHTJARS. In the fading light where we parked the car, we could see an ANTILLEAN MANGO roosting on a small tree. We hiked about 200-300 yards up the trail, and we began to hear the PR NIGHTJARS close to the path. We played our playback for a couple minutes, and a bird flew over the path twice. After about five minutes of this cat-and-mouse, my wife was able to get one perched at the top of one of the scrubby trees in the flashlight maybe 20-30 yards from where we stood. Through binoculars, you could clearly see it's body moving as it made it's Whip-poor-will-esque call, its bright eyeshine, and several plumage details. We were both delighted!

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 – Guanica, Rio Cumuy Caves Park, Arecibo Observatory

The next morning after checking out of our hotel, we drove over to the Guanica State Forest headquarters. On the way along PR-333, we had our only two PR FLYCATCHERS of the trip, and also a VENEZUELAN TROUPIAL. We arrived at about 8 AM and walked a fairly short loop, not wanting to spend too much time. The walk was hot, but nice. Unfortunately, our only new trip birds were heard-only: KEY WEST QUAIL-DOVE (which would have been a lifer if seen) and MANGROVE CUCKOO. Other birds seen and heard along the walk included PR BULLFINCH, PR TODY, PR LIZARD-CUCKOO, PR WOODPECKER, BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT, GRAY KINGBIRD, BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, CARIBBEAN ELAENIA and ADELAIDE'S WARBLER.

We left Guanica at about 10:30 AM and began our drive around the western end of the island on our way back to San Juan for our last two nights. On the way, we stopped at two impressive tourist sites. Neither is known for it's birding, but if you get to go, this is what we saw. At Rio Cumuy Caves Park, we had WHITE-WINGED and ZENAIDA DOVES, GRAY KINGBIRD, CAVE SWALLOW, RED-LEGGED THRUSH, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER and BANANAQUIT. At the Arecibo Observatory, we saw GRAY KINGBIRD, CARIBBEAN MARTIN, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER and BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT.

Friday, May 4th, 2012 – Old San Juan

For our final full day, we woke up in our little hotel in the heart of Old San Juan. The day was spent wandering the quaint, beautiful, historic streets, and exploring several monuments and forts. Despite the extremely urban surroundings, there were some birds to be found. A good chunk of our morning was spent at El Morro, the large fort and huge lawn on the western edge of Old San Juan. Looking out across the harbor from the tiny fort windows we found the bird of the day and our last lifer of the trip: at least six WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRDS were circling over the water. Other species at El Morro were MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, BROWN BOOBY, BROWN PELICAN, GREAT EGRET, ZENAIDA DOVE, GRAY KINGBIRD, CARIBBEAN MARTIN, CAVE SWALLOW and GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE. Many of these birds were also seen in the remainder of Old San Juan, but others were also spotted: WHITE-WINGED DOVE, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, MONK PARAKEET, RED-LEGGED THRUSH, NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, PEARLY-EYED THRASHER, BANANAQUIT, and one PR SPINDALIS.

Saturday, May 5th, 2012 – Homeward Bound

We flew back to Orlando this day, already scheming when our next trip to Puerto Rico would be. Several CARIBBEAN MARTINS were present just outside the windows at our airport gate to bid us farewell.


While we feel like we explored a good chunk of the island, there's always more to see! I thought missing Ruddy Quail-Dove, Green-Throated Carib and Yellow-Faced Grassquit was a little strange, but none would have been lifers. Also, we didn't try anywhere specific for Plain Pigeon. Only hearing Key West Quail-Doves was a little disappointing, but I know they are found on other islands so I still have hope!

The final verdict from a birder's perspective is GO to Puerto Rico. It isn't that expensive to get there and spend time in, most people speak at least some English, and the roads are fairly easy to navigate. I found myself thinking that Puerto Rico would be a fun place to base yourself for a year or two (or longer?) and really get to know the island's avifauna. Maybe someday...

Special thanks goes to Frank Rheindt, another birder who posted a Puerto Rico trip report here and who graciously answered many questions I had via e-mail.

Species Lists

We ended up with 93 species, including 24 lifers (in CAPS)

1.) WEST INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCK: 10-12, Laguna Cartagena

2.) Blue-Winged Teal: 1, Laguna Cartagena

3.) White-Cheeked Pintail: Guanica; Laguna Cartagena

4.) WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD: El Morro Fort, Old San Juan

5.) Magnificent Frigatebird: coasts

6.) Brown Booby: Vieques, El Morro Fort, Old San Juan

7.) Brown Pelican: coasts; Laguna Cartagena

8.) Great Blue Heron: Laguna Cartagena

9.) Great Egret: lowlands, mostly southern part of island

10.) Snowy Egret: Laguna Cartagena

11.) Little Blue Heron: Tibes

12.) Tricolored Heron: Vieques

13.) Cattle Egret: lowlands, Vieques

14.) Green Heron: lowlands

15.) Black-Crowned Night-Heron: Laguna Cartagena

16.) Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron: Vieques; Laguna Cartagena

17.) Glossy Ibis: Laguna Cartagena

18.) Turkey Vulture: Ponce area; Laguna Cartagena; Guanica

19.) Osprey: Laguna Cartagena

20.) Red-Tailed Hawk: Fajardo, Casa Cubuy; El Yunque

21.) American Kestrel: Vieques; Ponce area

22.) Clapper Rail: 1, Vieques

23.) Purple Gallinule: Laguna Cartagena

24.) Common Gallinule: Laguna Cartagena

25.) CARIBBEAN COOT: 8, Laguna Cartagena

26.) Wilson's Plover: Vieques, Guanica

27.) Semipalmated Plover: Vieques, Guanica, Laguna Cartagena

28.) Killdeer: Vieques, Guanica, Laguna Cartagena

29.) Black-Necked Stilt: Vieques, Guanica, Laguna Cartagena

30.) Spotted Sandpiper: Vieques, Laguna Cartagena

31.) Solitary Sandpiper: Laguna Cartagena

32.) Greater Yellowlegs: Laguna Cartagena

33.) Lesser Yellowlegs: Laguna Cartagena

34.) Ruddy Turnstone: Guanica

35.) Least Sandpiper: Vieques, Laguna Cartagena

36.) Stilt Sandpiper: Laguna Cartagena

37.) Laughing Gull: coasts

38.) Least Tern: Guanica

39.) Royal Tern: Vieques

40.) Sandwich Tern: Guanica

41.) Rock Pigeon: urban and agricultural areas

42.) Scaly-Naped Pigeon: Vieques, Casa Cubuy, Maricao

43.) White-Crowned Pigeon: 1, Vieques

44.) Eurasian Collared-Dove: La Parguera

45.) White-Winged Dove: very common throughout

46.) Zenaida Dove: mostly lowlands, but also Casa Cubuy area

47.) Mourning Dove: 5. Laguna Cartagena

48.) Common Ground-Dove: lowlands

49.) Key West Quail-Dove: Guanica (heard only)

50.) Monk Parakeet: Old San Juan

51.) Mangrove Cuckoo: Guanica (heard only)

52.) PUERTO RICAN LIZARD-CUCKOO: 2, El Yunque; 2 Maricao; 1 Guanica

53.) Smooth-Billed Ani: El Yunque; Laguna Cartagena


55.) Antillean Nighthawk: Ponce area; Guanica

56.) PUERTO RICAN NIGHTJAR: Guanica (12-15 heard, 1 seen well)

57.) BLACK SWIFT: 1, Casa Cubuy

58.) Antillean Mango: La Parguera; Guanica

59.) GREEN MANGO: Casa Cubuy; El Yunque; Maricao

60.) PUERTO RICAN EMERALD: Casa Cubuy; Maricao

61.) Antillean Crested Hummingbird: Fajardo; Vieques

62.) PUERTO RICAN TODY: Casa Cubuy; El Yunque; Maricao; Guanica

63.) PUERTO RICAN WOODPECKER: Vieques; El Yunque; Maricao; Guanica

64.) Caribbean Eleania: Vieques; Guanica



67.) Gray Kingbird: very common throughout

68.) LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD: Vieques; Casa Cubuy; Maricao

69.) PUERTO RICAN VIREO: 2, Maricao

70.) Black-Whiskered Vireo: Casa Cubuy; El Yunque; Maricao; Guanica

71.) Caribbean Martin: Old San Juan; Ponce area; Guanica; Arecibo Obs.

72.) Cave Swallow: Ponce area; Rio Cumuy Caves; El Morro Fort, Old San Juan

73.) RED-LEGGED THRUSH: Casa Cubuy; El Yunque; Maricao; Rio Cumuy Caves; Old San Juan

74.) Northern Mockingbird: lowlands

75.) Pearly-Eyed Thrasher: common in lowlands; uncommon in highlands like Casa Cubuy and Maricao

76.) Common Yellowthroat: 1, Laguna Cartagena

77.) ELFIN-WOODS WARBLER: 2, Maricao

78.) Yellow Warbler: Vieques; Laguna Cartagena

79.) ADELAIDE'S WARBLER: Vieques; Laguna Cartagena; Guanica; Tibes

80.) Bananaquit: very common throughout

81.) PUERTO RICAN TANAGER: Casa Cubuy; Maricao

82.) PUERTO RICAN SPINDALIS: Casa Cubuy; Ponce area; Maricao; 1, Old San Juan

83.) Black-Faced Grassquit: fairly common throughout

84.) PUERTO RICAN BULLFINCH: Casa Cubuy; Maricao; Guanica


86.) Greater Antillean Grackle: very common in lowlands throughout

87.) Shiny Cowbird: La Parguera; Guanica

88.) PUERTO RICAN ORIOLE: Fajardo; Casa Cubuy; Maricao

89.) Venezuelan Troupial: Guanica

90.) ANTILLEAN EUPHONIA: Tibes; Maricao

91.) House Sparrow: urban and agricultural areas

92.) Orange Bishop: Laguna Cartagena

93.) Orange-Cheeked Waxbill: Laguna Cartagena