Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Puerto Rico Winter Tour Y2K16: Humacao and Ceiba Country Inn


December 3: Again we woke up fighting the blear (do you blear what I blear?) that always comes with getting up hella early in tropical places with jetlag and without coffee. We birded briefly around Ceiba Country Inn before breakfast. We have realized by now that Zenaida Doves are abundant and widespread (though I did not come back with good enough photos), and a couple were poking around the driveway early in the morning.


Red-legged Thrushes are also easy to find in areas with second-growth forest. Unfortunately, most of the birds we saw were on the shy side. The one bird that sat 10 feet away in the sun glowing like a bastard chose to appear while my camera was out of reach (typical), though Dan and Adam got to crush it (also typical). If you go to PR, don't expect these birds to be hella approachable unless you blunder into a tame mall bird like we did.


Loggerhead and Gray Kingbird combo! A pair of Loggerhead Kingbirds briefly hung out near the inn, which we had not seen the day before. They remind me of a cross between an Eastern Kingbird and a large Eastern Phoebe.

After breakfast (toast AND cereal this time...luxurious!) we rolled down to bird Humacao ("Reserva Natural de Humacao" in eBird) on the east coast, a site that can be good for waterbirds and the two "eastern" hummingbirds of the island, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib. According to the birder's guide, this area was good for West Indian Whistling-Duck and Masked Duck, but eBird suggests that this has not been true in recent years - as both species are prone to wandering, Humacao may eventually become a good spot for both species again. Unsurprisingly, we did not see either species here.

The access situation is a bit odd - there is the "official" access along Rte 3, which has limited hours and is closed on weekends, but immediately east of there is some kind of park (across from the tire store) with concession stands and an information kiosk that essentially allows access to the same areas. This is where we entered (18.150726°, -65.772021°), and it worked out quite well. We did not try birding the northern part of the reserve (north of 3), where it looks like there is a lot of good habitat as well.

The birding here was interesting; the habitat looked very good, but it wasn't a particularly birdy place. It seemed like Humacao would be dripping with North American warblers, but as we noticed the previous day at Ceiba and El Yunque, there were relatively few migrant warblers (Northern Waterthrushes, redstarts, a Prairie Warbler, and some dude playing an Ovenbird tape). This would become a theme for the entire trip; we only found two sites that had more than a handful of warblers, but that would come later. The one exception to this rule of warbler scarcity was Northern Waterthrush, which were abundant in mangroves everywhere.


The first birds of note were white-shielded American Coots, which until recently were Caribbean Coots. Soon afterward, we got on two White-cheeked Pintails in one of the lagoons...what a refreshing lifer. I haven't seen a new duck in a long time...a long time.


As with practically every vegetated place in Puerto Rico, there were Bananaquits galore, though this photo was taken in El Yunque. In Puerto Rico, they seem to have a foothold in a wide array of terrestrial niches.


Puerto Rican Flycatchers were widespread and common during our trip at lowland and mid-elevation sites. This is another very Eastern Phoebeish bird from certain angles.


It was here at Hamacao that we had a run-in with our second Reluctant Lifer of the trip, in the form of Tricolored Munia (the first was Bronze Munia/Mannikin back at Ceiba). None of us were interested in going out of our way for filthy, disgusting exotics, but it was inevitable that we would be dealing with them. Much more interesting than the munias were our first visuals of Mangrove Cuckoos of the trip.


Mangrove Cuckoos are surprisingly common in Puerto Rico, and can be found in many different habitats.


I'd only seen them once before (in Costa Rica), so this was a nice bird to get to see almost every day.


Most sites were teeming with lizard or frogs or both. In the lizard department, we saw a lot of whiptails.


This big one was rocking an indigo belly patch. I'm into it. It could be a different species than the yellow-striped duder above or just an adult. It's not like I'm #7 in whiptails, cut me some slack.


We plodded through the mud, slowly accumulating trip birds. Dan got looks at the first Green-throated Carib of the trip, while Adam and I were gripped off and forced to stew in our juices. Further on down the trail we ran into a patch of Antillean Crested Hummingbirds (lifer!), one of which Adam brought in by hanging an orange bag in a tree. Brilliant.

On the way back to the car, we noticed the tree behind Adam (above) had a lot of yellow blossoms, and waiting around the tree ended up producing both Green-throated Carib (lifer!) and another Antillean Crested Hummingbird. I was very fucking relieved to see these birds, as we had missed them the previous day and they are much harder to find on the west side of the island, where we would be spending most of our time. The night before, in a dream, I thought I found a Carib...but it turned out to be some sort of weird Anna's Hummingbird hybrid...talk about a fucking nightmare. I took it to mean that we would be doomed in finding this bird, but fortunately it was probably just the fruit of all the emotional baggage I have with Anna's Hummingbirds. Anyways, it is worth mentioning that there were hardly any flowering trees at Humacao when we were there, and we found hummingbirds at all of them.

Having succeeded with multiple target birds (our eBird checklist is here), we decided to try the Fajardo Inn to see if we could put the crush on any hummingbirds there (there didn't seem to be much blooming across from the police station at the time, another suggested spot). It seemed pretty barren for a while.


This large, plain anoley thing was one of the few noteworthy finds at the hotel.

Eventually, Adam got on an Antillean Crested Hummingbird in a bottlebrush tree next to the tennis courts, where we had some mild success in getting photos of this little facemelting bastard with flash.


What a good bird.


These things are tiny and blackish with short little bills, quite different from the island's other hummingbirds. The males have amazing crests that glow blue in natural light. I dig the subtle iridescent feather tips on the underparts you can see here too.

That night would be our final night staying in Ceiba, so after we got back from farting around Fajardo we put on our rally caps and started looking for Puerto Rican Screech-Owls, our last remaining local target, which again seemed to be very quiet compared to our first night there. After doing many laps around the inn (these are very short laps) and walking all the way down the driveway and back up again, we got visuals of two Puerto Rican Screech-Owls next to the parking lot. Talk about grinding out a bird! Getting long looks at these birds turned out to be clutch, as not surprisingly we would not see any more during the trip. For those of you thinking about staying here, Ceiba Country Inn is a very good place to get the owls, and one of the guys running the place seemed surprised that we failed to see them our first night when they were constantly calling. Though it was hard to recover from this ruthless browbeating, we took advantage of our final chance and got quality looks.

Having secured all our local target birds in the nick of time, it would be time to move on in the morning. Up next, the nerds go west on a Plain Pigeon odyssey, and make the long sandwichy trash fire trek to Guanica.

6 comments:

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    1. It's a really good one. Yet again, the potential of geri birding in the area remains unfulfilled.

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  2. These were useful reports, thanks. Since I visited, I've thought Puerto Rico is woefully underbirded for being so close and part of the US. If all goes well, there should be an article about birding Puerto Rico in the next ABA Birder's Guide to Travel in March 2017.

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    1. Definitely underbirded, we had a great time and managed to get almost all of our targets, as well as a number of bonus North American species. Looking forward to seeing the Birder's Guide piece.

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  3. Antillean Crested Hummingbird! Damn, good bird...just a tinge of jealousy on this one gotta say

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  4. I was surprised too by the lack of migrant warblers despite some great looking habitat...only spot I had a number of warblers was Cabo Rojo NWR in the evening where I had dozens of prairie warblers streaming past...other than that quite quiet for migrant warblers

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