Thursday, January 19, 2017

Puerto Rico Winter Tour Y2K16: La Parguera, Maricao, Puerto Rican Nightjar, Laguna Cartagena


In the afternoon, we called it quits at Cabo Rojo and headed east to La Parguera for some good old-fashioned geri birding. The "hardware store" in La Parguera was easy enough to find, though not so easy to identify correctly. For anyone heading that way, this is what it looks like. You see, BB&B is here to help.

Why were we here? This was the easiest and most reliable place for Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. On the right side of the store, they toss out bread every day to feed the doves/icterids, and Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds are expected among the visitors. Well it turned out we got there way too early, but eventually the bread went out and the blackbirds came in.


Success! Another endemic down. We didn't see very many, and unfortunately 2-3 of the birds we did see (in other words, about half) had growths on their faces that looked a lot like avian pox. It was a bummer...I'm not sure what exactly it was or how they contracted their afflictions, but I suspect feeding them there may not be the best idea...they are endangered and not exactly thriving. We had a much better experience with them a couple days later someplace else, which I will get to in the next Puerto Rico post.


The next morning was just a total clusterfuck. There is no other way to describe it, although we did lifer Puerto Rican Vireo in the process. Not only did we get lost, we also definitely would have gotten ourselves stuck if not for being able to use 4X4. Google Maps was our enemy that day. We were trying to get to the Maricao forest, sanctuary of the Elfin-woods Warbler and supposedly one of the best places to bird...well it turns out getting there from the south is easy (go to Sabana Grande, take 120 all the way there), but that is the only way you can go! Don't even think about trying any other horseshit, unless it is from the town of Maricao itself (north of the forest).

We did finally make it, first stopping at a little unused track that goes north of 120 at the 13 km marker. We got great looks at Puerto Rican Vireos, which are not dissimilar from Eastern Bell's Vireo.


We couldn't ask for better looks really, so this was very satisfying. After getting vireo'd, the next bird we saw was a female Elfin-woods Warbler...holy shit! I thought those birds were supposed to be hard! A Green Mango was flitting around, and a little while later Dipper Dan and Officer Searcy found the male Elfin right on the main road.


If I was British, I would tell you that the views we had of this bird was superb. I'm not though, so the views we had were fucking sick. The bird was very cooperative, not being in any rush to get anyplace, and wasn't acting that much different than a typical warbler. Before I knew what was happening, it was already too late...I had birdgasmed.


I like this photo because it is confusing. Behold the No-headed Warbler ("No-faced" subspecies).


Though it lacks the power to melt face or cripple body and mind, seeing this bird well was one of the highlights of the trip for me. It is only found in higher altitudes on the island, and Maricao is the one really reliable place for it...had we missed it, we would have come right back up the next morning. It was first discovered in 1969, which is astoundingly recent. These idols of inconspicuousness managed to remain safely unidentified for an incredibly long time.

The rest of Maricao was...disappointing. It turns out middle of day is not always best time to make for greatest of bird. We had some mediocre road birding elsewhere, but the area around the ranger station was quite dead (though Officer Searcy did get another Elfin here), and we got kicked out of one of the recommended birding trails. There was some sort of bizarre operation going on that involved some biologists doing something bird-related who did not want to talk about what was happening, I don't know exactly what they were doing but it looked interesting. Which is not what needs to be talked about...the point is that I'm sure the birding is better earlier in the morning. We were bummed to not pick up anything else new for the trip (at this point, not seeing Lesser Antillean Pewee was getting stressful), but we got the bird that mattered most and headed down to roll the dice on Masked Duck.

Dipper Dan and I knew the fix was in even before we got out of the Jeep. We knew how the Masked Duck game works...the Masked Duck wins every time and anyone else playing eats shit. Simple. And so we made a long, hot walk through the mud (the roads were way too wet to drive) to the known Masked Duck pond in Lajas Valley. There were some crappy exotics, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, a Purple Gallinule (trip bird!), a rail that scurried over the aquatic plants that went unidentified (this is a good spot for Yellow-breasted Crake as well...dammit). No duck, as expected.


At least the incoming storm was nice to look at. I got stuck in the mud at one point on the way back (how embarrassing!), but at least we made it back to the Jeep before the rain really hit and no one had broken into it. Success? No.

Life is pain.

Maybe I will have another chance at Masked Duck in 2017. Or 2018. Does it really matter? I'm not going to see one.  Anyways, after our unsurprising failure we made the brilliant decision of quitting birding for the rest of the afternoon instead of hiking to another pond through the mud where we would not see Masked Duck again, and retreated to our place in Guanica. We got dinner fixins at a grocery store, chilled for an hour, then set the next nerdplan into action.

The good thing about staying where we were is that we were right next to the Guanica Dry Forest. El Seco is good for daylight birding and all, but what that really means is that we were staying right next to Puerto Rican Nightjars, which are pretty much endemic to this rare and restricted habitat type. Instead of looking for them where most people do, we turned east on 333 and slowly drove with the windows down, listening...we had them within 5 minutes! We heard multiple individuals and had great looks at one, though we lack photos to prove it...


The stretch of road around 17.957622, -66.869134 was quite good for them. I couldn't believe our luck, they were remarkably easy to find considering this species was thought to be extinct for a considerable span of time. How often do you get to see a species that has come back from the dead. Nocturnal [e]mission complete!

The next morning it was off to Laguna Cartagena, one of the best wetland sites on the island. White-winged Parakeet was a reluctant lifer en route. We approached from the only recommended entrance point, turning south off 101 at 18.028426, -67.109147. This is a straight shot down to the western access points of the refuge, but the road was covered in vast, deep puddles...it would not have been possible to barge this in a sedan, but we had no problem with the jeep. We made it to the trail to the tower without any problems.


There were a great many butterflies here...here is a buckeye thingy.


I think this here is a cracker thingy.


This American Kestrel (not a thingy) was following the trogon methodology of domain surveying.


When we first got to the tower, I was kind of disappointed...the laguna is highly filled in with sediment and vegetation, but with persistent scoping we found some ducks and gallinules in the smaller, more open pockets that hadn't been choked out by reeds and shrubs.


The tower really did provide a good view, as Officer Searcy demonstrates. Most importantly, it allowed us to find West Indian Whistling-Ducks (many!), which are very uncommon on Puerto Rico and not at all something that was guaranteed...this lifer helped make up for the lack of Masked Duck, which presumably can also be found in this large wetland. Dipper Dan even found a pair of whistling-ducks with ducklings, for bonus bird points. Other trip birds we got here included Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Sora.


[Insert caption here]


After the tower, we walked another trail from the entrance road out into the marsh (18.012569, -67.108868). The "trailhead" is well-marked, and a short distance north of the parking area for the tower. It is very overgrown but there was still some decent visibility toward the end. Fortunately, some West Indian Whistling-Ducks were holding things down, and although not hell of close I did my best to soak them in with my eyes.


West Indian Whistling-Duck and Glossy Ibis (trip bird!) combo. I really like that combo.


The marshes here are absolutely saturated with Purple Gallinules, I don't think I've ever seen so many in one place.


I've still never dealt one the crushing this species deserves, but I think you get the idea that these crippling blue bastards are just begging to be looked at. Why do they exist? How lucky are we to live in a world with Purple Gallinules?


Horrendously large numbers of butters here. Just terrible. Plagues of them. It was great.

Our eBird checklist for the morning is here. The birding had been very rewarding, and we were whistling-duck heroes...but there would be more heroics and more lifers before the day was done.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Fulfilling Destiny: The Five Mile Challenge


Last week I decided to take an impromptu day off...it had been raining day after day on end, we were finally going to get a break, and I wasn't very busy at work. It turns out when you are about to have a kid, you unexpectedly get a bunch of free time on your hands right before your fetus levels its warrior and becomes a baby. Anyways, I was twitching to go birding, and not just any kind of birding...I had a Five Mile Challenge (5MC) to do.

Flycatcher Jen had already carried out her challenge, getting 60 species despite below freezing conditions. She had threatened to attempt another challenge with a more intimidating species total, but the better weather she was hoping for never came. Portland currently resembles the North Pole more than the North Pole does. While 60 species was commendable considering the conditions she was stuck with, I thought that it would take a very bizarre turn of events for me to not exceed that number. I don't know my Five Mile Radius (5MR) like the back of my hand, but let's acknowledge the elephant in the room...I am the #7 birder in the United States. So, banking on my sevenness, I did what I thought was best and decided to plunge into the challenge, even though a storm had not quite finished passing through.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at my first site that fateful morning, I was essentially birding in a rain cloud. It sucked. 25 minutes spent at Lake Anza in Tilden Regional Park ended up being a total waste, with only 17 species, all of which I would see again during 5MC. I also missed target birds like Belted Kingfisher and Ring-necked Duck. Ugh...if I had to do it over again, Lake Anza would be out. So much for sevenness.

The next stop was another part of Tilden Regional Park, Jewel Lake and the area around the nature center. The weather was still pretty wet and dismal. This stop was supposed to provide the bread and butter for my passerines for the day, an area my 5MR is not particularly strong in. Fortunately, the birding here didn't end up being as regretful as it was at Lake Anza...Band-tailed Pigeon, Red-breasted Sapsucker and Purple Finch were all quality pickups, and by the time I abandoned Tilden I was up to a modest 35 species. I had missed some easy birds, but I figured that I could just wallop the bayshore sites and make my 5MC list swollen with waterbirds.


The Emeryville Marina was my next stop, which I had timed to be at high tide to pick up roosting shorebirds. Day birds came at a rapid clip...everything was proceeding as I had foreseen.


This was my only place to get Surfbird, a plump west coast specialty which did not disappoint. This roost site is one of the few reliable spots for Surfbird in Alameda County.


The godwits and Willets also sheltered Whimbrels, dowitchers and Black Turnstones. Redhead was definitely the best bird at this stop, and a completely unexpected bonus for the 5MC. The total lack of scoters was worrying, but I figured I would pick them up elsewhere.


An impromptu stop at Aquatic Park in Berkeley was next. I've never birded here before...is that weird? A lot of people bird here. Anyways, I'm glad I stopped because I just piled on more and more day birds, a number of which I didn't get anywhere else that day. I finally got my 5MC Great Blue Heron, which was my first of 2017...what a relief. However, as I had been anticipating for months, one of the locking arms in my tripod finally gave out, meaning that my tripod could only function if I was sitting down or on my knees. This was an ominous turn of events...would this end up crippling my effort?


Berkeley Meadows was the next stop. A distant woodpecker frustratingly had to go down as Downy/Hairy, but White-tailed Kite, Say's Phoebe and Lincoln's Sparrow were all new for the day. A flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers held another new 5MC species...


Mmmmmm...Western Bluebirds. This was one of the few sources of facemelt I got to experience during 5MC. With a decent haul from the meadow, Berkeley Marina would make for another quick stop as it was right next door. The Berkeley Fishing Pier is still closed (railer), but I finally got my Surf Scoters, and Downy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Red-winged Blackbird all made for quality bonus birds.

By this time, I knew I had surpassed Flycatcher Jen's total...it was just a matter of if I had done well enough to be out of reach of This Machine Nate yet. Since I don't have an iphone, the eBird app doesnt keep a day list for me, so I didn't quite know how I was doing. At any rate, it was time for a sandwich.


Getting a sandwich from Sea Breeze Deli (next to the marina) was very fortunate, in part because they make damn fine sandwiches, but also because I got another day bird behind the parking lot...Greater White-fronted Goose. Fuck yes...I was on a roll. Talk about the stars aligning! Ok GWFG isn't a monumental rarity or anything but it's locally rare and was one of the best birds of the challenge.

By now it was mid-afternoon, so after getting goosed I thought I should stop by the Albany Mudflats real quick to finish my sandwich and take advantage of the falling tide...Northern Pintail, American Avocet, Long-billed Curlew, and Mourning Dove were all new birds. At this point I felt invincible...I still did not know what my 5MC list was at, but it had to be over 70 and I still had to bird Meeker Slough, Richmond Marina, and the Albany Bulb...I was going to kill it. Who knows how many more birds awaited? But before I could go on to the next stop, I got a text message. This text message turned out to be life-changing. I knew, then and there, that the 5MC was over for me...there was something very important to do, something that could not wait, something that might not ever happen again in my entire life.

I know what you are thinking...no, Billy did not go into labor during the 5MC...that would make for a great story, but something even more unexpected had happened...a Ross's Gull had been found in Half Moon Bay, and that is where I had to be.

But that is for another post. My 5MC was completed with over two and a half hours of daylight remaining. I had missed a lot of birds, even taking into account my abbreviated day...Bushtit, Pacific Wren, American Pipit, Savannah Sparrow, American Goldfinch come to mind first...as I said, passerines are not the strong suit of my 5MR. But none of that matters now...I am the winner of the 5MC.

I just figured out my 5MC list while writing this post. I saw a lot of birds...I did not think I would get as many as I did, and now I know that it is possible to do a Big Day in my 5MR and get over 100 species...that's pretty fucking sick, don't you think? The final stats are: six hours, no help, no chased birds, no naps, no poops, some farts, one Contra Costa County bird (Red-breasted Sapsucker), one new 5MR bird (Redhead), one thermos of coffee, one ginger ale, one hella good sandwich, one awkward couple getting into a fight because their dog got loose, 40 year birds...and 86 species, most of which were in Alameda County, though 20 species were recorded in Contra Costa only.

I am the king of the 5MC. It is an honor and a privilege. I love getting 86'd, who knew it would be so good? Though I am a birding champion, props to Jen for making the 5MR a thing that seems to be catching on fast. You can read about Flycatcher Jen's effort here, and This Machine Nate's attempt with near-identical total over here - it is good to see him blogging again.

Well I would like to stick around and gloat, but I need to pick out my prizes...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2016's Biggest Misses


I saw many species of birds in 2016, but Common Eider was not one of them. Not birding within a species' normal range tends to lead to stuff like that happening. Though I mourned the absence of this eider in my life last year, and grieved for the eiders I have never seen, this was not a species I had any expectations for in 2016. Despite myself I had a whole lot of other expectations around some other birds, which didn't always pan out. Photographed in Biddeford, ME.

Full disclosure...I like keeping year lists. I'm not a county birding fiend (well...in most counties), so while many birders use county listing as a form of twisted, embarrassing motivation to get them out and about, I will occasionally sip the nectar from my inner year listing well and use that as birding fuel. I've only done one Big Year of any sort ever, when I set the Ventura County record as a teenager...the record was obliterated the following year but it was fun at the time and (unusually for a birder) I was not at all butthurt about losing my place at the top when my record fell. It would be fun to do again someday, someplace, though the thought of doing it on an ABA scale leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and causes my testicles to retreat into my body.

But we are not here to talk about big years, at least not today, just year birding. I am lucky enough to have done a lot of birding in Y2K16. I did exceedingly well in the rare bird department in California, even finding a couple highly sought-after birds myself, got some summer birding done in Colorado (awesome), and completed wildly successful nerd trips to West Mexico and Puerto Rico. As far as I know, in only one or two other years have I ever seen more birds.

But instead of humblebragging about all that shit, I thought I would run through the most surprising and most torturous birds I could not find last year. There were some truly painful misses, and a number of species I really thought I would just run into somehow never materialized. So in no particular order, here are some birds that gave me the slip and/or finger in Y2K16.


White-winged Scoter. I really, truly thought I would see these more than once, but it just never happened. I spent quite a bit of time birding the right places, but they just never appeared. How embarrassing. This is an uncommon and somewhat local species in the state, and the subspecies we get here on the west coast is known to be in decline. Photographed at the San Leando Marina, San Leandro, CA.

Collared Plover. What is the deal with Collared Plover? I've never seen one, so I wouldn't know. Despite immersing ourselves in great coastal shorebird habitat and putting a great many hours toward trying to find this fucking bird, we had no glory. I am excellent at not seeing Collared Plovers, both in Costa Rica and Mexico. I expect I am just as adept at avoiding them in other countries. If you do not want to have to look at a Collared Plover, come hang out with me. To make my drawn-out discomfort with this bird even worse, Dipper Dan recently reminded me that he saw Collared Plover in Costa Rica, while on a trip with me, presumably while I was passed out in the car with food poisoning. Great.


Prairie Falcon. I missed Prairie Falcons and I miss Prairie Falcons. This is a very good bird along the coast (where I usually bird) but I thought I would get them in Colorado or the Mono Lake area. Napes. Maybe I need to bird the Central Valley more often. Photographed on the Carrizo Plain, California, where they are very dependable.

Glaucous Gull. While a definite rarity in the state, they are not terribly hard to see or find yourself if you look at gull flocks enough...at least that's what I used to think. Not only did I not see a Glaucous Gull in 2016, I have somehow not seen one since 2012. I have no idea how I have accomplished this incredible feat. This bird is turning into a sort of nemesis for me somehow, and I've still never seen an adult.

Masked Duck. What the fuck does a guy have to do to see a Masked Duck? Sell my soul to the devil? At this rate, that actually seems like a very reasonable proposition. While I assumed we would miss them in Nayarit/Jalisco/Colima (relatively rare there), we had a great chance to get them in Puerto Rico...that is until Officer Searcy assured Dipper Dan and I that we would see one. That predictably fucked everything up, and I continue on course to go to my grave without ever seeing one.


Red-breasted Chat. This is my new Mexican nemesis bird, and I don't say that lightly. I believe everyone who went on the trip got to see one except me...actually that's a lie. I saw one, but it was such a shit look I won't even consider counting this very unique and utterly crippling bird. At least, they seem utterly crippling in photographs, I wouldn't really know since I haven't seen one in real life. Nerds saw them at multiple sites while in Mexico but I just could not ever get on one. I blocked out the pain for a while but I can still feel it in the depths of my nerdbrain. Photographed by Dipper Dan at Microondas San Francisco, Jalisco, Mexico.

Amethyst-throated Hummingbird. As I've said before, getting our hummingbird targets in Mexico was very frustrating. Even more frustrating was other nerds in the group lifering this bird, which I sorely wanted to see. At least I can say I was busy getting my face melted off by one of the best mixed flocks in my life while they were on the hummingbirds. Mixed flock aside, I saw what were likely multiple individuals of this species zooming by, but never got the conclusive looks everyone else had. Butt. Hurt. Other dishonorable misses on the trip, aside from hummingbirds, include Banded Quail, Greater Swallow-tailed Swift, Thick-billed Parrot, Mangrove Vireo, Aztec Thrush and Colima Warbler. Not that those are necessarily easy birds, but they all would have changed my life forever. Well, maybe not the vireo...


Sandhill Crane and Tundra Swan. These are both common in the Central Valley in winter. These are both species that birders really get off on seeing, and I am not above that. They are both steeped in majesty and make sounds that make you feel good inside. Does it really take a Falcated Duck for me to get deep into the valley? Apparently so. I had to dig deep into the archives for a passable crane shot...this is from Camas National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho, in the spring of 2011.


Blackpoll Warbler. There is perhaps no better place west of Texas to see this bird than Point Reyes (where in the past I have seen six in one day), which I birded a lot last fall. In fact, I birded the point better and harder and more than any other year. For whatever reason there just weren't many in the bay area last fall. This was a bit of a freakish miss, but those things happen. Photographed at Point Reyes, CA.

Hawaiian Petrel. Another potential lifer that has abstained from lifering with me. Ever since seeing a couple Mottled Petrels (and even those were seen poorly/all too briefly) while cruising through the Aleutians in 2010, I have been on a solid petrel shut out. I have put in a lot of boat hours since then and have still never (fully) connected with this bird. During a chaotic episode on a boat last fall I was both utterly convinced I saw one and utterly convinced that I did not see one. Now...I just don't know, but I sure as shit do not have identifiable pictures of one from that day, so this remains a species I need to see, very badly.

Other standout misses from 2016 include Flesh-footed Shearwater. Harlequin Duck, Pectoral Sandpiper, Black-legged Kittiwake, Short-eared Owl, Lewis's Woodpecker and California Thrasher.

I have no idea what 2017 will bring as far as birding goes...I have no trips planned at all, and I compulsively am almost always planning birding trips. Hell, I might not even get 300 species this year, a number I've not failed to meet in a long time...a long time. Being a bird junkie and a new father will be an interesting juggling act, as most people are under the impression that addicts and junkies typically aren't the best parents. But whatever happens, make no mistake...there will be birds, though my "worst misses of 2017" post might be more embarrassing than this one*.

* = I haven't seen Great Blue Heron yet...time to panic????

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Puerto Rico Winter Tour Y2K16: Guanica Dry Forest, Cabo Rojo NWR


This is going to be a massive post...hopefully friends who are about to head to Puerto Rico in the coming days will appreciate it. So without the usual preliminary bullshitting, here we go...

For our first morning on the west side of the island, we checked out the famous Guanica Dry Forest. The habitat here is unique and occupies a very small area; the endemic Puerto Rican Nightjar is almost completely dependent on this habitat, and a number of other great birds are found here as well. We accessed the main entrance (17.979549, -66.881285), which was very straightforward, and birded two different trails. One of the main trails that goes east from the parking area (17.972138, -66.867011) was the most productive...Adelaide's Warblers were singing all over the place (we had still yet to see one) and we heard multiple Key West Quail Doves, a lifer heard-only for all of us. Another Puerto Rican Emerald put in an appearance, which I failed to photograph yet again, but possibly the best bird we saw was this Antillean Euphonia.


I had no idea this was such a facemelting bird! I've seen quite a few euphonia species in Mexico and Costa Rica, and can confidently say that only the legendary Elegant Euphonia tops it in crippleness. Euphonias aren't the most attention-grabbing birds in most of their tropical range (they have a lot of competition), but this species is an exception. Not only did we have great looks, it was also the only one we would see on the trip! Clutch bird.


Guanica is littered with Adelaide's Warblers, and we got plenty of good lucks finally. The Grace's Warbler resemblance is strong. The area was devoid of any North American species.


As with many places on the island, we got more good looks at the bizarre and confiding Pearly-eyed Thrashers. This bird won't make your brain roll over in your head, but it will stick with you nonetheless.


Officer Searcy bends the knee to some Caribbean mushrooms. The dry forest was not all that dry when we were there, but presumably looks quite different later in the dry season and lacks much in the way of exotic fungus.


You were expecting tody pictures, so here are some tody pictures. These are truly hilarious, lovable birds, and are absolutely not worried about hanging out right next to the trail. I suspected that they might be awesome before the trip, and my suspicions were confirmed. Luckily, they are common and widespread on the island, and though they can be hard to spot they are easily located by their little fart sounds they frequently utter.


This bird got remarkably close to us. Better views not desired. Mission accomplished.


Unlike the todies, Puerto Rican Bullfinches do not want to be close to you or let you admire their goodness, so I was stoked to get this shot. Though not at all rare, it is one of the best birds on the island I reckon.


Nerds strut through El Seco during a gluttonous morning of lifering.

If you want to glance at the eBird checklist, it's right here. Not hella species on there, but they are almost all excellent birds and include quite a few lifers for us. The screech-owls on there were vocalizing late in the morning (bizarre), and that was the last we would hear or see of them on the trip.

After this Great Success, we went to do what we do best, which is bird someplace really hot in the middle of the day. Our choice for deploying this highly recommendable tactic was Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge, near the southwestern tip of the island. It turns out Cabo Rojo is a pretty big place, so if you are wondering we birded the trail at 17.980970, -67.168364. This area consists of scrub, grassland and open forest, with a couple small ponds, perfect for birding in the middle of the day with blazing sun. The birding was very slow at first (shocker) but by the time we got back to the car we had seen some decent stuff. There were massive numbers of butterflies around the whole time though, so do check out this area if you are into that sort of thing.


Sometimes when there aren't birds to look at you look at robber flies doing inappropriate things.


We lifered Antillean Mango earlier in the day at the dry forest, but got slightly better looks at this one. Like a great many pretty crippling hummingbirds, they look like shit in bad light, but we caught occasional glimpses of their brilliance during flybys. Getting Antillean Mango meant we swept all five of the island's hummingbirds in four days! This was very relieving considering my hummingbird failure that was the Mexico trip from earlier in the year, which still haunts me to this day. Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Bumblebee Hummingbird, Mexican Hermit, and Sparkling-tailed Woodstar are going to have to wait. Little bastards.


This little pond on the trail looked like it might have some Masked Duck potential, but as expected there was no Masked Duck.


There was a pair of Least Grebes (trip bird!) with chicks though, which was a soothing, cute and family-friendly consolation. The other trip birds we got were Yellow-faced Grassquit and Indigo Bunting, which have much to offer but lack the character of an ani...


Smooth-billed Anis galore! They are very common in areas with any open habitat on the island and Cabo Rojo was no exception. Anis have almost nothing to offer but character and some greasy shagginess.


Officer Searcy found this very pleasant little nest, which I assume was constructed by an Antillean Mango, though we had emeralds there also.


Near the parking lot we got looks at Caribbean Elaineas, another bird we had lifered earlier in the morning at the dry forest. They have a conspicuous, vireo-like song, and like vireos they were unafraid of belting them out in the middle of the day. Here and the dry forest were the only places we'd get this bird.


Presumably this is the caribaerum subspecies of American Kestrel endemic to Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles. Lots of new subspecies available for visual consumption on the island.

After our long, hot mid-day walk we decided it would best to bird more instead of do something reasonable like eat lunch or drink beer. There was a potentially very good shorebird spot just a few miles away, so we lurked over there (17.968347, -67.178826) in the quest for more trip birds.



A Puerto Rican Flycatcher teed up on a power line, but the real draw was the salt flats and lagoon on the other side of the road.


A massive flock of peeps here contained Least, Semipalmated and Western (trip bird!) Sandpipers. Other than this flock there weren't a whole lot of shorebirds though. But we didn't let a few Greater Yellowlegs get us down...Dipper Dan found a distant gull! A gull! The first gull of the trip! We hemmed and hawed over Laughing vs. Franklin's Gull (Laughing is expected, Franklin's is considerably rarer), but I finally settled on first cycle Franklin's, due to the dark and well-defined hood and lack of any gray wash on the nape, neck and breast. The bird did have a bizarrely large bill (not that you can tell in the photo below) but everything else fits Franklin's nicely.


It swam around contentedly picking bugs off the water; we would see it again a couple days later as well, doing the same thing further west. This is, presumably, the rarest bird of the trip. Though we didn't know it, according to eBird someone actually found it earlier in the morning, so I guess we can't really take credit.

There was still one more group lifer we would get that day, but this post is too damn long. ¡Ya basta!