Sunday, June 17, 2007

Puerto Rico June 13-15, 2007

Spent just a few days on the lovely island of Puerto Rico earlier this week. It was more a tourist trip than a birding trip, but I did manage to drag my friend along for some birding. This marks the start of my official world birding list.

June 13 – Old San Juan
Of course, the first bird spotted was the ubiquitous Greater Antillean Grackle* – bright yellow eyes and black shiny feathers. Also spotted a Brown Booby and Brown Pelican fishing the bay near El Morro. Hundreds of Rock Pigeons were hanging out at el Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). These birds have apparently been here hundreds of years and are fed by tourists and local school children alike. Other birds in the old city included Common Ground Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove and House Sparrow. Here as well as for the whole trip, there were many Turkey Vultures in the sky.

June 14 – Guanica
Most of the day was spent driving from Ponce to Mayaguez, but we stopped near Guanica in southwest Puerto Rico for a few hours to eat and visit el Bosque Seco or dry forest. This forest gets just a small amount of rain fall each year, but the forest does seem to survive. It seemed to me that it must have rained here recently as the trees were very green with lots of new growth and the mosquitoes were very active.

Within minutes of entering the forest, we were greeted by a number of small birds. The first one spotted was the Puerto Rican Tody*. This little bird looks like a cross between a hummingbird and a kingfisher. It had a mechanical sound that I thought might be an insect of some sort at first. He sat in a tree for a while and let me get good looks as well as a couple of shots with the camera. The picture above is one I took myself.

Also in the trees that afternoon were Bananaquit*, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo* (being quite vireo-like in his annoyingly constant singing and excellent hiding places!) and Adelaide’s Warbler*. There were probably many more, but the mosquitoes were also numerous and we hadn’t armed ourselves with any insect repellant. We practically ran for the car and the Benedryl it contained.

We stopped at a small inlet on the Guanica Bay and spotted a Magnificant Frigatebird* flying among the Turkey Vultures. There was also a youthful Little Blue Heron molting to adult plumage and stepping carefully on the clumps of water plants. At the restaurant, a Pearly-eyed Thrasher* checked out the patrons and foraged for scraps under the tables.

June 15 – Cabo Rojo

Just south of Mayaquez is Cabo Rojo and it was recommended as one of the best birding places in PR. When we got to (what we thought was) the entrance, the sign indicated that the gate did not open until 7:30. So we scouted around for somewhere to eat breakfast and found (what else) McDonald’s. At 7:30 we headed back and as we drove down the access road, a Gray Kingbird* was flycatching from the wires. He allowed me to get some good looks at him before we drove off to find the parking lot.

We had our choice of places to visit and decided to first explore the “dry bird” area which I took to mean as “land birds” and opposed to the “wet birds” of the opposite direction. Lots of Bananaquits here as well as great views of Yellow Warblers, a bird I haven’t seen a quite a few years. Also got good views of Puerto Rican Woodpecker* and Lesser Antillean Peewee* here and a fleeting look at a Black-faced Grassquit. Interestingly, there were lots of Eurasian-collared Doves here, but they aren’t listed on my Puerto Rican bird listing, so I guess, here as elsewhere they are extending their range.

As for the “wet birds” we found lots of Blue-winged Teal family groups, although the babies looked almost full grown; Great Egrets, Black-necked Stilts (who were obviously nesting and quite agitated by our presence); Common Moorhen; and American Coot. Someday, I think I would like to go back and bird this island seriously to find more of the specialties.