Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Puerto Rico, December 2009

Luquillo, Puerto Rico
La Pared at Luquillo

I just got back from Puerto Rico, where I spent Christmas holiday both enjoying the island and of course looking for birds! Anyone who knows me realizes that I love to travel and I love birds. Although I would probably go anywhere at the drop of a hat, I choose destinations more carefully than it might appear. For example, in this case I really wanted to go to a place where it was warm in December (check), there were birds I hadn't seen before (17 endemics plus a few eastern Caribbean specialties), it wasn't a SUPER long flight (8 hours, still closer than Africa or S.A.), and it was safe to rent a car and drive around (check). Plus, I don't want to bird every waking moment... there is also snorkeling and swimming and kayaking and some interesting sights and scenery as well.

All in all, it was a great vacation. We stayed two nights in Luquillo on the northeast coast and four nights near Guanica at the southwest coast. Luquillo is near El Yunque, or Caribbean National Forest, last refuge of the Puerto Rican Parrot. (It also is a popular surfing destination.) The habitat here is tropical rain forest. Guanica is on the dry side of the island, with an interesting biome that hosts the Puerto Rican Nightjar (found nowhere else on earth). It is also near Maricao, another tropical rain forest refuge, and home to the Elfin Woods Warbler... a black and white warbler only discovered (or as we decided, "noticed") in 1971.

Skipping the narrative, here is the trip summary:

Total Species Seen: 70

Life Birds: 20 (several I had seen in Jamaica or Abaco, but it was the first "serious" trip to the eastern Caribbean)

Endemics Seen: 14 of 17!! Puerto Rican... 1. Vireo, 2. Pewee, 3. Nightjar, 4. Flycatcher, 5. Bullfinch, 6. Lizard Cuckoo, 7. Tody, 8. Tanager, 9. Emerald, 10. Woodpecker. Plus, 11. Elfin Woods Warbler, 12. Adelaide's Warbler, 13. Yellow-shouldered Blackbird, 14. Green Mango.

Best Bird of the Trip: Elfin Woods Warbler. This was a fairly easy find off the highway to Maricao, and the very top of the ridge. The books said they hang around Puerto Rican Tanagers, so once I saw a flock of those in an orange tree, I only had to wait 10 minutes for a little black-and-white warbler to show up close to them. A cutie-pie, and pretty rare too. I did get a photo of the tanagers, but the warbler was too fast for me.

Best Location: Bird-wise, the visitor's center at El Yunque. I just walked up and saw a Black-cowled Oriole and Scaly-naped Pigeon fly by a Loggerhead Kingbird. I also got my awesome shots of a Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo!
Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, El Yunque, Puerto Rico

Best Migrant: The best find (for a Pacific Coast bird-gal) was a Prairie Warbler in the scrub near the Copamarina Beach Resort. The runner-up would be a Stilt Sandpiper in a shorebird pond at San Jacinto, right next to the same hotel. There were not many migrants other than the many shorebirds in this pond, which I found a bit surprising.

Stilt Sandpiper, San Jacinto, Puerto Rico

Best Photo: Pearly-eyed Thrasher. I'm not much of a fan of this bird since they raid other birds' nests and eat their eggs. They also refused to allow me to photograph them until literally the last moment of the trip, just as we were checking out of our hotel. Then two of them hopped up on the ground and waited for me to snap this shot before flying off for good.Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Guanica, Puerto Rico It was too tempting to resist :-)

Most (Seemingly) Photogenic Bird: Puerto Rican Tody. These little guys represent a unique family of birds, confined to only the Greater Antilles. They are related to kingfishers, and do sort of resemble them, but amazing (and Christmas-sy) colors and they make an adorable (and readily memorable) buzz as they fly around above you. I was tempted to photograph every one I saw, just because they had so much character. Too bad they are always in the shade and moving quickly, else some of those might have come up :-P

Puerto Rican Tody, El Yunque, Puerto Rico

Biggest Camera Hogs: Gray Kingbird. Not only are they incredibly common (especially near Guanica), but at times they were even chasing away birds I was trying to photograph and took over their branch! Here is one posing with a Troupial, who seems to be looking at him in dismay.

Gray Kingbird and Troupial, Guanica, Puerto Rico

Annoying Bird of the Trip: There were a few contenders, but I have to say hands down that it's the Bananaquit. Don't get me wrong. They are cute. They have a nice song. But there are more Bananaquits than any other type of bird in El Yunque. Plus, they have many calls and MANY songs. Holy cow. I might have even missed the Puerto Rican Spindialis just because I started tuning out any bird with a yellow underside, black head, white eyebrow. Which the Spindialis also has. That was my excuse anyway, for the only common bird I missed. :-(

Bananaquit, highway to Maricao, Puerto Rico

Highlights (non-bird-related): This is a completely unsolicited plug. The churrasco at Guava's in Luquillo (near La Pared) is to die for. This was soooo good, we went back the second night and I had it again.

Lowlights: John had some issues staying on his kayak. I'll let him explain in his own blog :-)

Other Photos: A few more just because I liked them :-)

White-cheeked Pintails, enjoying an early morning swim at San Jacinto. This is a little pond next to the Copamarina Beach Resort, in Guanica Dry Forest.
White-cheeked Pintail, Guanica, Puerto Rico

One of many Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring above Puerto Rico. This male was flying over the Copamarina Beach Resort.

Magnificent Frigatebird, Guanica, Puerto Rico

An Adelaide's Warbler. This shot was taken at San Jacinto, next to the shorebird pond.

Adelaide's Warbler, Guanica, Puerto Rico

A Puerto Rican Woodpecker, interrupted from his loud calls in front of the Copamarina Beach Resort one morning.

Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Guanica, Puerto Rico

A Zenaida Dove, showing off his colors at a park in Carolina.

Zenaida Dove, Carolina, Puerto Rico

A Red-legged Thrush at the same park in Carolina.

Red-legged Thrush, Carolina, Puerto Rico

A Mangrove Cuckoo, holding what appears to be a grasshopper (though I'm no entomologist). This shot was taken early morning in the Guanica Dry Forest.

Mangrove Cuckoo, Guanica, Puerto Rico

A Black-faced Grassquit by the side of the road in San Jacinto. These were so common I at first though they were some sort of escaped cagebird. But they are indeed native to these islands.
Black-faced Grassquit, Guanica, Puerto Rico
Finally, the Puerto Rican Tanager. This is not a very good shot, but I had to include it out of respect for the species... they led me to the Elfin Woods Warbler. This was even taken moments after that event, and he almost seems to be saying "You're welcome" :-)