When my friend, Ken, invited me to join him on a birding trip to Puerto Rico I went out and bought Birds of the West Indies to familiarize myself with the birds there. It seemed like every bird I looked at was on some other island in the Caribbean. Ken said I would be lucky to see 30 new birds and that most people do not see more than 100 total species in a one to two week trip. So my only goal was to see the five hummingbird species found there (and after my arrival I added a goal to see one new species every day of the trip). I asked Ken over and over if we would see all the hummers and he assured me we would. He recommended that I print out and read a trip report by Jennifer Rycenga, a birder we both know from San Mateo County. We both read it and took a copy with us to Puerto Rico. Besides our map of the island, it became our most valuable asset. I would like to thank Jennifer Rycenga for taking the time to create such a thoughtful, well written and thorough report which included a wonderful bird list at the end with locations where each species had been found and its prevalence on the island.
Ken and I met in Atlanta on the morning of December 8 (after I had made a mad scramble to Target to buy a new suitcase after mine split wide open en route from San Francisco) and flew from there to San Juan, the capital. After picking up our tiny rental car we checked into the Villa del Sol on Calle Rosa Carolina and then walked the side streets near the hotel in the hour or so before sunset. I immediately saw four birds that were new to me, the beautiful but ubiquitous Bananaquit, Greater Antillean Grackle, Zenaida Dove, and Red-legged Thrush. It became too dark to film and so we walked over to La Playita for dinner. The meal was marginal so I can’t really recommend it but the deck at the hotel is a nice perch for watching birds.
The next morning, December 9, we walked the side streets some more around Villa Del Sol. We saw more Red-legged Thrush in the trees and in the grassy areas two more new species, the pretty but introduced Saffron Finch and the native Black Grassquit. Ken found a femalePuerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager. The male is a gorgeous stripe headed thing but the female is just gray with a prominent sub-mustacial stripe. It was an unsatisfying look at that but nevertheless new bird number seven in less than 24 hours. In the same area we saw White-winged Dove and Common Ground -Dove, the latter very common throughout the island. After breakfast we left San Juan and drove east to Ceiba Country Inn where we would be staying the next three nights. As we pulled into the parking area we saw directly in front of us a Puerto Rican Woodpecker pecking not 10 feet away in a palm tree. We both jumped out and started filming. Michael, the owner came out and asked us if he could help. We said we were staying there but we were early and would just walk around for a while. He told us about the resident screech-owls, the woodpecker, and an oriole on the property. He maintains two short trails on the property which we took advantage of to fantastic results. We walked the short trail directly from the parking lot about 200-300 yards dead ending in a dense forest. Since it was mid-day there was little activity but we did hear a cuckoo cackling. It finally made an appearance but was a Mangrove Cuckoo, a bird I worked hard as hell to find in Florida in 2008, and not the endemic Puerto Rican Lizzard Cuckoo. There were many Zenaida Doves in the trees and a few Scaly-naped Pigeons flew by numerous times but would never land. We waited by some concrete remnants and soon a black and yellow bird flew by– the Greater Antillean Oriole. Gray Kingbirds were all over the place and indeed were found on every square inch of the island. We studied each one looking for the much more uncommon Loggerhead Kingbird. We found a very accommodating one in the front of the property. After checking in, our walk was cut short by a brief rain but we were able to continue to enjoy the birds from the veranda in front of my room. We watched the Zenaida Doves for a while until the rain stopped and then resumed our walk down the other trail which loops back to the concrete structure. That didn’t result in any sightings. However, upon looping back to the back of the property we were shocked to find a Puerto Rican Lizzard-Cuckoo perched in a tree in the wide open for at least ten minutes giving us magnificent views and filming opportunities. When the sun went down we went out on the trail to the concrete remnants and heard four Puerto Rican Screech-owls calling but none would come close so we went back to the side of my room where the Lizzard-cuckoo had been. One of the screech-owls flew from one branch to another and we both got a good look at a stretched wing but that was as much of that species as we could muster. During the night one of the owls came close to my window and I heard it calling most of the night near by.
On the morning of December 10, I could not get Ken to leave Ceiba. He was up bright and early and told me he had found the Oriole nest. On the concrete remnant trail we both got good looks at it. The Scaly-naped Pigeons continued to tantalize but refused to perch. We had a nice breakfast that Michael fixed at Ceiba Country Inn and then I finally tore Ken away and we drove to El Yunque, the Caribbean National Forest. El Yunque is a rain forest in the middle of Puerto Rico and in both of our opinions is the crown jewel of Puerto Rico. Just the drive up Highway 191 to its dead end dazzles the eye with its magnificent ferns, flowers, palms, waterfalls, butterflies, and forested peaks with expansive views of the Caribbean, are worth the visit. Even if I had not seen any birds in El Yunque it would have still been worth the trip to see this fantastic place and no one should visit Puerto Rico without going there. After a few hundred yards up the trail we found our first Puerto Rican Tody, and what a dandy. This gorgeous little emerald green-backed thing with a bright red throat delights the senses. It was not shy at all and we were easily able to film it and enjoyed looking at it. I wanted to proceed up this lovely trail but Ken has trouble lugging his 45 pound camera very far so we turned around after the Tody perched for ten minutes or more on the rear view mirror of somebody’s car. We walked around the barrier toward a sign that said, “Tradewinds Trail.” I thought it was the way to El Toro Trail but it was not marked as such and was headed downhill. So we turned off instead on an unmarked road. We walked up it and saw many new species of butterflies and beautiful blooming flowers. After no more than 100 yards we came across a perched hummingbird on some yellow flowers. Just as I got my camera on it it flew right toward me flaring its bright green gorget. Later we determined that it was a male Puerto Rican Emerald. Later we learned that this road continues uphill connecting to the Mt. Britton Trail. It was a lovely walk and I would have enjoyed continuing but for the fact that for some reason they decided that trucks needed to use the road that day. Every five minutes a truck came squealing down the hill on this narrow winding road and we were constantly leaping out of the way protecting our tripods, cameras, and bodies. Finally the last straw came when a crazed Puerto Rican truck driver came barrelling down the hill going about 45 MPH. He obviously was not expecting or didn’t care that anyone was in the road as he never so much as slowed down as he came around the bend and came within inches of swiping my shoulder. At that point we decided to return to our cars. We stopped in a clearing to have our peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and saw some more Grassquits. On the way back down 191 we heard a bird singing. So we parked and got out to look at a Puerto Rican Bullfinch, which is a black bird with a pretty russet colored throat and undertail coverts. This bird is one of thirteen birds endemic to Puerto Rico. One of Ken’s goals was to see all thirteen endemic species and mine was to see all five of Puerto Rico’s hummingbirds. It would be nearly impossible to see all of the endemics since of them, the Puerto Rican Parrot, found in El Yunque, is one of the ten most endangered bird species in the world: there are only 44 left in the wild. In fact, E. O. Wilson would say they are de facto extinct. We didn’t see one.
We left El Yunque and drove down to the coast hoping to find a Green-throated Carrib, a hummingbird that favors flowers growing on the coast. We searched in vain for Furjado Beach but became lost in a maze of side streets. Ken tried to ask for directions in Spanish, since no one outside of San Juan speaks English. One guy refused to even respond. Ken became more and moer frantic two more people sent us on a wild goose chase. Finally after an hour we found it. There were Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Royal Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Brown Pelican. We pulled off an exit of PR 3 looking for a restroom where Ken found a Pearly-eyed Thrasher in some trees lining the street. It was rather marginal habitat, just some trees lining a farmer’s field but we also found our firstAdelaide’s Warbler of the trip. We stopped at the Econo for some food and there was a Common Ground Dove flying around inside.
On December 11, we skipped Michael’s breakfast since it started too late for our needs. We got up at 5:30 AM in order to make the gate at El Yunque which was supposed to open at 7:30 AM. We arrived on time but the gate was still locked so we walked around La Coca Falls where we found a number of overwintering Eastern warblers species including Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Northern Parula. Finally the gate opened at 7:45 AM and we drove up to one of the pull outs along 191 where we found the beautiful Puerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager. While admiring it I also found the much duller, Puerto Rican Tanager, just a gray bird with a darker gray head. The striped-headed is exotic by comparison. We also got a fleeting look at the Puerto Rican Emerald, our first confirmed hummingbird sighting of the trip. We drove all the way to the end of 191 and parked and then headed back toward the opening near the Tradewinds sign where we got jaw dropping looks at a perchedGreen Mango, our second hummer of the trip. It sat perched for about ten minutes while we admired and filmed it. We also some more Todys. We walked down the trailhead for El Toro Trail. A sign said it was closed: it was in bad shape but we continued anyway. After about two miles of hiking Ken found a female Elfin Woods Warbler, another endemic and endangered species. Ken was disappointed we had been unable to film it. The trail was beautiful though tough to negotiate while carrying a camera attached to a tripod particularly given the large washouts, gashes, and fallen trees. After El Toro we left El Yunque and drove southeast to Humacao Reserve. We first started out on a canal on a side street off of PR 3 where we saw numerous Smooth-billed Anis and Yellow-crowned Bishops. There were hundreds of Cattle Egrets and a few Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets. In the canal were Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, and Ruddy Duck. An Osprey and Merlin flew over. It was pretty hot and so we turned back to check the main portion of the reserve. On the return walk I found a flock of Orange-cheeked Waxbills. We pulled up to the gate just before 4:00 PM. A large sign announced the reserve hours — 9-5 but the gate was locked and protected by a double barb-wired fence. Our plan to find the two species of hummingbird found only on the eastern side of the island had been foiled. Ken was outraged: I was disappointed. I slipped through the barb-wired fence tearing my leg and hand. I walked up the trail and only saw Pied-billed Grebe, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, and Northern Waterthrush and one iguana. I saw no flowering plants and was skeptical about seeing the hummers. There was no time to do anything else but drive back to Ceiba Country Inn. Along the way we stopped at the marginal habitat off PR 3 and saw Nutmeg Mannikin, another introduced species (Puerto Rico has the most of any Carribean nation). It was new species number 24. We had dinner in Furjado at Todo Coco. The service was excellent and the food was delicious.
On Sunday, December 12 , we checked out of the Ceiba Country Inn and drove the back roads inland to Camerio where we were hoping to find another endangered species, the Plain Pigeon. The roads were narrow, poorly marked, and winding. Most people go in the evening when the birds are about to roost. We went in the morning but miscalculated the time it would take. Ken panicked when we were almost there and stopped to ask a man directions.The man spoke no English. Ken said “hay un parque de basbol aqui?” The man held his hands up as if to say “stop butchering Spanish!” He was clearly outraged because he said, ” no lo hay” when actually the field was less than half a mile past his house. Ken frantically turned around and drove up a winding road where I saw a Black-rumped Waxbills. Finally we decided to turn around and pass the man’s house anyway even though he said there was no ball park and there it was. We got out and immediately saw a Plain Pigeon in a tree. I found about four more up a hillside and Ken spotted an immature Broad-winged Hawk, rare in Puerto Rico. We walked through town to get a closer look at the hawk. A lady came out of her house and asked what we were doing. Ken explained in Spanish that there was a bird rare to Puerto Rico up in a tree. The woman looked up in the tree and said “Guaraguao” Spanish for hawk. I was amazed. Most people don’t even notice birds much less know what they are. After Ken had filmed it for about 20 minutes we walked back to the car where Ken was waylaid by another woman who was chatting Ken up in Spanish. I could make out part of what she was saying but had to sit down in the car because I just can’t stand in one spot for hours. Ken came to the car and asked what ruido meant. I was noise and then he admitted he could not understand a word the woman was saying. It was then I decided to take over the Spanish interpreting. We left Camerio and drove back down out of the winding mountain roads all the way to the southwest coastal town of Guanica to Mary Lee’s by the Sea where we stayed the next three nights. Guanica is a great town. Our place at Mary Lee’s was a huge three bedroom two bath affair right on the Caribbean looking out at Gilligan’s Island. It was a bit funky and dirty. We checked in and then drove to Guinica State Forest on PR 334. I asked the ranger what time it closed and he said 4:30. As we were about to head down a trail a lady walked up. She and her husband were birders from Ohio and they explained they had been hiking for two hours and only saw Caribbean Elaenia. Ken got their number in case they found something unusual. The lady, Darlene, told me we should go to Laguna Cartagena and explained how to get there. She said don’t take PR 305 because it is impassible to cars. She also said when we passed the first Kiosk to keep driving even though it appears you cannot go any farther because it would take us to a tower overlooking the lake. She also mentioned the ranger told her Guanica State Forest closed at 4:00 PM (probably because she couldn’t speak Spanish).
We walked the Dinamite Trail and heard a Caribbean Elaenia, a few Todys and finally for me a Pearly-eyed Thrasher. Near 4:30 we left and drove to the end of PR 333 where there is a small pond with Yellowlegs, Egrets, Black-necked Stilt, and Little Blue Heron.
After dark we returned to Guanica State Forest and parked outside. We walked up the hill and heard Puerto Rican Nightjar. It stopped calling when the Puerto Rican Screech-Owl showed up.
Monday, December 13, we stopped at a large pond on PR 333. There were some White-cheeked Pintails on the water that flushed when I got out of the car. Ken started screaming at me and telling me I couldn’t get out of the car until he was ready. He was freaking out and acting like he would never see a White-cheeked Pintail ever again. I walked around to the back side of the pond and of course the Pintails came back. There was also a large flock of Ruddy Turnstones, one Yellow Warbler, lots of Blue-winged Teals, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Black-necked Stilts, Glossy Ibis, and some Fulvous Whistling-ducks. I heard a Clapper Rail calling. Next we went back to Guanica State Forest. When I got out of the car the ranger yelled out “Buen dia!” He came right over very animated aoubt a bird with a blue head. Just then a gorgeous male Antillean Euphonia flew into a tree right in front of us at eye level. Gorgeous bird. Ken was outraged and walked away to a tree below. The ranger asked me if Ken was my husband. I thought it was odd that he immediately reverted with the familiar. He told me I spoke Spanish well. Ken marched well ahead of me flushing all the birds. It was a miracle that I was able to refind the Puerto Rican Pewee. Other birds on the trail were the Caribbean Elaenia, Tody, Adelaide’s Warbler, and my third hummer of the trip, Antillean Mango. We had lunch at the picnic area after our walk and then left Guanica Forest to drive to Parguera where Darlene and Dan said the Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds were a “gimmie.” They said to look in the parking lot of the supermarket next door to the Parguera Hotel. There was no supermarket next door. We drove all over town and saw nothing. We stopped at a reserve that went down to the beach and I saw a Mangrove Cuckoo right before a little punk derelict called me a gringo. Ken pulled down a side street and I glimpsed an Indian Silverbell in a tree. We stopped to have a look and found a flock of Nutmeg Mannikins, Adeliade’s Warbler, and a male Antillean Mango. Ken filmed the Antillean Mango for about an hour while I baked in the sun. Finally he finished and we drove past a large parking area where finally we found the flock of Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds, a critically endangered species, in someone’s back yard. Ken filmed those for about a half hour before we could finally leave the stinky town of Parguera. We bought some sesame treats at the supermarket and then drove to Laguna Cartagena. We passed Dan and Darlene on the dirt entrance road. They were desperate to find a Green Mango so we told them about our secret spot on the Tradewinds Trail. We stopped at the first kiosk and walked past a gate toward a blind. The lake was full of birds, Purple Gallinule, Sora, Blue-winged Teal, Common Moorhen, Caribbean Coot, and Glossy Ibis. Along the trail were Smooth-billed Ani and Black-faced Grassquit. We heard a Yellow-breasted Crake calling incessantly but it would never reveal itself. That made new species 36. We got in the car and kept driving the dirt road just as Darlene had explained but we came to a fork and didn’t know which way to go. We went to the left even though it appeared impassible just as Darla had mentioned but it soon was obvious there was no way we could make it. So where was this mysterious tower?
December 14, I got up and was drinking coffee on the veranda at Mary Lee’s by the Sea when a Puerto Rican Nightjar flew up twice. When Ken got up we drove to the PR 333 Pond and the White-cheeked Pintails were back long with some Yellowlegs and Turnstones. From there we continued to Playa Jaboncilla but there was nothing there but a few Common Ground-doves, Grackles, and Pearly-eyed Thrasher. So we left and went to Guanica State Forest. There was a lot of noise from construction of the new bathroom, visitor center, and large forest map. In the parking lot Ken said to “get out and do my own thing” while he ate his disgusting noisome Buger King thing that leads to deforestation of the rain forests because he was too lazy to fix something wholesome with the full kitchen we had at Mary Lee’s. So I got out and saw the same Antillean Mango from the other day and started filming it. Ken had filmed one for about an hour in Parguera but when he saw me filming this one he went berserk and started yelling at me and telling me I would have to go back to San Juan and get my own rental car. Then he stormed off and said be back at the car at 11:00 AM. So I left and without him flushing all of the birds in front of me I finally found a Puerto Rican Flycatcher and saw a Carribean Elaenia perched in the open. There were a lot of butterflies to enjoy as well. As I headed down the Ganados Trail I saw my first Puerto Rican Vireo. I also heard another Lizzard-cuckoo and Mangrove Cuckoo. There was also another Puerto Rican Tody. I arrived back at the car right at 11:00 but Ken wasn’t there so I sat down on a picnic bench. I smelled paint but thought it was coming from the new visitor center. When I put my binoculars down I felt something sticky. Those crazy Puerto Ricans had painted a picnic table at lunch time and failed to put a sign up! There was green paint on my hand, hat, and shorts. When Ken returned we left Guanica and drove to Boqueron Wildlife Refuge, a Puerto Rican treasure. It is a mangrove swamp with a nice boardwalk for walking through it. We had admiring looks at an accommodating Pearly-eyed Thrasher and a few Northern Waterthrushes, Prairie Warbler, Northern Parula, and Yellow Warbler. Then we took the boardwalk and saw very close Least Bittern, Least Grebe, and Puerto Rican Flycatcher. A Tri-colored Heron was perched on the boardwalk. The boardwalk opened to a path. While Ken was looking at a Kestrel I noticed a dove about 200 yards down the trail. We could not see any spots on it but it had a distinctive pot-bellied look and ruddy brown color. We determined that it was a Ruddy Quail-dove. We tried to get closer but the Kestrel flew at it trying to eat it and scared it away. We saw a rat in a tree that the ranger told us was an introduced pest that they had set traps for. Sadly it was our first mammal sighting not counting the thousands and thousands of cats and dogs on the island. Driving back out on PR 305 Ken thought he saw some Stilt Sandpipers in an agricultural field but traffic was bearing down on us and we couldn’t verify it. I kept asking Ken to go to Cabo Rojo or Copamarina to look for Troupial but he said he had not interest in filming a Tropial. Finally after Bouqueron we went to Cabo Rojo but it was the middle of the day and there were zero shorebirds on the salt flats. The road was full of pot holes so we turned around and drove to Laguna Cartagena. We still had not found this alleged observation tower Roy and Dale had mentioned. It was also mentioned in Jennifer Rycenga’s report. We stopped at the gate for the blind and Ken wanted to just walk down there but I was determined to find the tower so I just walked the road by myself. Something didn’t seem right; the road was incredibly bad with five foot deep gashes in it and I just couldn’t imagine Jennifer Rycenga walking it. To the right were private property signs. Something was wrong. My phone rang. I was practically running since it was 5:00 PM and darkness would come at 6:15. Who would call me? It was Ken reporting a West Indian Whistling-Ducks at the blind. I felt ill. I was running as I was committed now to this damn road. After two miles I came to a town! There were cars, pigs the size of a house, cows, and people! Oh my god I had just walked two miles to the town of Mayaguabo. I quickly turned around and started to run back before the sun set. I was sweating and my neck hurt from carrying that big ole camera. My phone rang again. Damn. It was Ken again reporting Masked Ducks. I ran as fast as I could with a 10 pound camera in my hand but I had to relieve myself so I stepped behind the second kiosk and was stunned to see a map on the back side showing a short trail to a tower! It had been there all along behind the kiosk that Dale told us to drive past until we could drive no more. Now I had a dilemma. Should I run to the tower and try to see a Whistling Duck or just go to where Ken was at the blind and try for the Masked Duck? There were only 15 minutes of sunlight left. I decided on the tower. I ran the 200 yards to the tower but it was too late to run up it. so I ran out on the short boardwalk but with so little light I couldn’t tell what the ducks were. So I ran back to kiosk one and out on the blind trail where Ken should have been but the car was gone and so was Ken. It was by now dark and impossible to pick out a duck of any kind. My phone rang again (why had I given Ken that phone for Christmas?). Ken had driven past me while I was running to the tower. We both turned around and met on the road. My shirt was soaked. Four miles I had run for nothing. If Dale hadn’t told us to drive even though it looks like you can’t go any farther we probably would have stopped at the kiosk in the first place. I was so disappointed.
December 15, we got up super early and stopped at Playa Jaboncilla while it was still dark. There were several Puerto Rican Nightjars in the trees but unlike the much more accommodating Common Poorwills at home, these nightjars would not go to the ground and instead stayed in the tree tops. We left and drove to Laguna Cartagena. We decided to just stay on the blind trail and walked out on it carefully. We found a whole family of Masked Ducks with adults feeding chicks. Next we walked up the tower and saw a whole flock of whistling ducks but they were curled up and just looked like brown balls. We had cameras not scopes and couldn’t tell if they were West Indian or Fulvous Whistling Ducks. We went back to the first kiosk and walked the blind trail. It seemed hopelessly late in the day (West Indian Whistling-Ducks are nocturnal) but as we walked out two flushed and I just got my bins on one and made out the gray upper wing and black underwing of the endangered West Indian Whistling-Duck. On our way out the dirt road we saw Bronze Mannikin, Orange Bishop, and two Blue Grosbeaks.
We left Guanica and headed up the mountains to Maricao. We had reservations there at Hacienda Juanita for three nights. The road was winding and endless. Finally we arrived and pulled into the drive way but there was no office. In fact, there was no one there. We got out and walked around. The garden was overgrown, the shutters were boarded up, the swimming pool was foul, and the water tower was collapsing. I expected to see Mrs. Habersham in the window. We called the lady who took our reservation but it was incessantly busy. I emailed her. Meanwhile a car load of people pulled up and we thought they were the help but no they were just there for a “visit.” A whole family, four generations worth, poured out and walked around. Finally they left. We saw a Puerto Rican Bullfinch and Pearly-eyed Thrasher. The agent emailed me back in broken English “They files bankruptcy. You makes claims at www.condelaw.com.” And that was it. No apology or explanation. Those criminals had taken our money and worse we had no where to stay for three nights. We left Maricao and drove all the way back to Guanica where we got a room at the Copamarina for two nights. It turned out to be the best accommodation of the whole trip. We were given two free drink tickets after we told them our sad story which we had along with dinner at the Las Palmas Restaurant.
December 16, we got up at 4:30 AM in order to arrive at Cabo Rojo Lighthouse at dawn. We watched the sun come up over Cabo Rojo and it was spectacular. When light came we saw an American Oystercatcher and several Brown Boobies just off shore. Ken found a Red-legged Booby mixed in. After enjoying the sunrise I walked back down toward the parking area and there, just as Jennifer Rycenga had mentioned in her report, was the beautiful Troupial. What a beautiful bird. They are not sure whether it was introduced or blown off course from South America but either way it’s a pretty bird with bright orange and black and a blue eye mask. We walked the Candelaria Trail and got more close up looks at four Troupials plus several species of butterfly. When we had had our fill we left and drove to Boqueron. We saw the same species as before and I heard a cuckoo. From there we went back to Laguna Cartagena where we found more Masked Ducks hiding in the lettuce and a Purple Gallinule chick. We continued to Parguera because I was still looking for a Shiny Cowbird. Ken said we could find one there. He really just wanted to buy more sesame snacks. It started raining so we left. We drov to Guanica State Forest. We found a Caribbean Elaenia on the Dinamite Trail as well as another Bullfinch and Adelaide’s Warbler. From there we drove back to Laguna Cartagena. It was near dusk. Along the entrance road we found Yellow-faced Grassquits mentioned by Dale and Roy. The male has a stunning yellow and black face. We also saw another Blue Grosbeak. Out on the blind trail we heard the crake calling again. We walked to the end of the trail and incredibly there was a flock of ten West Indian Whistling-Ducks. This time there was no doubt. We watched them swim out of the water and up onto shore. On our way back to the car Ken spotted something running over the lettuce being chased by a Sora. I just got my bins on it to make out the smaller size and lack of white in the tail– Yellow-breasted Crake.
December 17 we checked out of the Copamarina and drove up PR 121 into the mountains because Ken wanted to film the Elfin Woods Warbler. It was so cold and windy that I was almost glad Hacienda Juanita had stolen our money and closed. We stopped a couple of times along the road and I saw a Stripe-headed Tanager but it was too windy and cold. Ken was about to turn around when I noticed a sign up ahead. We had stumbled upon Maricao Bosque. We drove in and took one of the trails.. I was picking oranges from a tree when four Elfin Woods Warblers flew in foraging in a tree. I stopped at a restroom before we left and in the toilet was a Coki in it. I was happy to get out of the cold and back to the coast. We drove like mad all the way across the island back to the eastern side to Humacao. We arrived at Humacao Reserve and this time it was open. As soon as we walked in we found a Mangrove Cuckoo right out in the open perched up. We were looking at this very large iguana when this woman walked up. She told me her mother had a house for rent on the beach at Punta Santiago. She wanted to show it to me but I said we were looking for two hummingbirds first. She said the house, Villa Jennice, was right on the beach and had flowers in the garden and might have hummers. I said we would come by later. While looking for a bathroom Ken claimed he saw an Antillean Crested Hummingbird, one of the two hummers I still had not seen. We walked up and down but there were no flowers and it seemed improbable we would see the last remaining hummer, the Green-throated Carib. We waited and waited. My feet began to hurt so I sat down on a stump while Ken went to check on the car. While he was gone a female Antillean Crested Hummingbird flew down to within one foot of my face and hovered for several minutes while I sat there quietly unable to move. I studied it with my naked eye. Wow. Ken finally came back and we watched it disappear into some branches above where I was sitting into a nest! While we were watching her on the nest two large busses pulled up and about 50 people poured out headed right for us. There was no way we were ever going to find the last hummer with all those people. I suggested we try Jennice’s mother’s house. We drove the short distance from Humacao Reserve to Punta Santiago and parked near the beach. Ken joked a Green-throated Carib was probably nesting at their house. We saw Jennice at he house but we didn’t want to barge in so we walked up the beach. There were coconuts all over the beach, Magnificent Frigatebirds flying overhead, Brown Boobies, Brown Pelicans, and lots of Sandwich Terns perched on a concrete slab just off shore. We walked up toward some blooming flowers in their neighbor’s yard and found two more skipper species of butterfly but it was very windy and doubtful we would find a hummer. Then Jennice walked out on the beach and invited us in to see the house. As soon as we walked into the back yard there it was– the Green-throated Carib! It was coming to her flowers just as we had guessed. I now had all five species of hummingbirds found on Puerto Rico fulfilling my meager expectations. After looking at the house Jennice said they were going for a late lunch but we could stay as long as we wanted and leave our car safely inside their gate. We set up our tripods and waited for the Carib to come back. After getting some video of it we left for a restaurant Jennice’s mother recommended, La Casa del Mofongo. We had chillo (Red Snapper) and plantain buttons. It was delicious. I would recommend anyone wanting to bird around Humacao to rent Villa Jennice (http://www.flipkey.com/properties/view/251383/beachfront+cottage+punta+santiago+humacao+p+r/. It’s right on the beach at Humacao and has its own Green-throated Carib. It’s also very cheap. After dinner we left Humacao and drove back to Ceiba Country Inn where we stayed for our last night. The owner, Michael, told us that two other birders had come back. I said I bet they were desperately looking for a Green Mango. Michael said that’s right; how’d you know?
December 18 was our last day. We got up before dawn and headed back to El Yunque. Instead of heading right back to the end of 191 I suggested we pull into Rio Grande at the base to look for parrots. After all we were on a tropical island and hadn’t seen a single one. We didn’t find any but we saw Red-legged Thrush, Scaly-naped Pigeons parked in a tree, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, and Loggerhead Kingbird. Next we headed into the park stopping at Yokihui Tower where we saw a Broad-winged Hawk soaring. We stopped at Las Palmas and walked around but it was so windy and overcast that birds were scarce. There was nothing at our secret spot either so we headed up the Mt. Brittan Trail and after a while a Puerto Rican Emerald came and perched near the flowers where we saw it on the first day. I continued up the trail which had expansive views of the Caribbean and El Yunque. Time was running out so we made a dash for the coast at Fajardo Beach. We only had time to pull in and see a single Indigo Bunting on a fence– rare for Puerto Rico. It was not a new bird for me but was new for our trip list. Technically it was a travel day and I had added a new bird on every other day of the trip fulfilling my other expectation to see a new bird every day. Although the bird guides say you will be lucky to see 100 birds in a week or even two week trip, we had broken all records and seen an incredible 118 species and I had seen 47 new species (in bold on the list) well past the 30 Ken said I could expect. It had been a grand trip. I was a pirate of the Caribbean.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
West Indian Whistling-Duck
Puerto Rican Lizzard-Cuckoo
Puerto Rican Screech-owl
Puerto Rican Nightjar
Puerto Rican Emerald
Antillean Crested Hummingbird
Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Woodpecker
Puerto Rican Flycatcher
Puerto Rican Pewee
Puerto Rican Vireo
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Elfin Woods Warbler
Puerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager
Puerto Rican Tanager
Puerto Rican Bullfinch
Greater Antillean Grackle