This is it...the last Puerto Rico post! I'll go over the last day of our trip (very good birding), mistakes that were made, and general comments and recommendations for those of you thinking about birding there in the future.
The main destination for our final morning was a spot I knew almost nothing about. While doing research before the trip, I was trolling through eBird, looking for good sites for quail-doves...clearly one of the most dependable spots for both species found on "mainland" Puerto Rico was Bosque Estatal de Cambalache, in the Arecibo area. This site was not mentioned in any trip report I could find, but clearly this was a Geotrygon stronghold, so why not bird it? A Mangrove Cuckoo greeted us in the predawn light.
After a spell of no quail-doves at all, we began hearing Key West Quail-Doves and flushing unidentified quail-doves from the road...without being able to identify them of course. This would happen over and over again, even though we were moving painstakingly slowly to avoid it. Mercifully, a Key West Quail-Dove cooperated for good looks, relieving Dan and Adam of their itchy and sore grip-off episode I dealt them the previous day at Bosque Susua. A tiny anole cooperated for even better looks.
A few minutes later, our bitternish pace on the trail rewarded us with distant looks at a Ruddy Quail-Dove, which was a sweet sweet lifer for yours truly. And under the watchful gaze of terrestrial snails, we got great looks at a second individual shortly afterward. Fuck yes.
Our eBird checklist from the site is here. Note that we did not include several unidentified quail-doves that flushed from the road before we could get bins on them. Though not a super birdy site, we did have a good mix of native birds and great success with KWQD and RUQD, so I would definitely recommend birding here if you get to this part of the island.
Hacienda Esperanza was another site in eBird that boasted a healthy site list, and many potential trip birds were on the menu. However, when we arrived a guard at the gate told us we needed reservations, which was railer. We tried another access point to the east though, and a guard waved us through. Some nice beaches here and a few much-appreciated trip birds, though we didn't see anything very exciting.
If you care about seeing exotics, I would definitely recommend birding the open areas of the access road to Hacienda Esperanza....there are flocks and flocks of exotics here, the most interesting of which were these Monk Parakeets.
Don't worry, you will see plenty of Gray Kingbirds along the road as well.
At this point we had only one last target bird of the trip to go for, so we headed west toward Camuy. A roadside pond halted our progress and yielded a flock of Glossy Ibis.
Pile of turtles, pile of ibis.
The most exciting bird here was, believe it or not, a Ring-billed Gull. I have never been so happy to see a Ring-billed Gull before. This was only the second individual gull we saw on the trip.
Alas, we left the Ring-billed Gull behind and finally arrived at our last birding destination of the entire trip, a medium-sized farm pond with a great number of birds. White-cheeked Pintails were one of the most abundant species.
RUDU-WCPI takeoff combo? I'll take it.
Ducks are cool and all, but we had come to this random pond for one reason...AMERICAN FLAMINGO. This Vague Runt has been on the island for years and only occasionally moves around; it is usually found at this pond. What a ridiculous, impressive, and unbelievable bird. I've never really taken one in before, if we are being honest here (but not literal), they really walk the line between being completely crippling and profoundly absurd.
This is not a bird to be taken lightly. It is too outlandish. Too good. Too pink. It's bill is incomprehensible. What a marvel.
This was the last group lifer of the trip. Note that our eBird checklist features Mallard! This is a good spot for waterfowl, in addition to the famous resident flamingo.
At this point we decided to do the unthinkable...go somewhere for reasons other than birds/food/beer. The Arecibo Observatory is a scientific behmoth that borders on being a monstrosity. Definitely a tourist trap, but it is too grand a thing to not see in person. If you are a space nerd, you would love this shit. If you are not a space nerd, it's still hard to not be impressed. It does, for good or ill, give you a moderate Death Star vibe. Yes, that is a lip of the giant dish carved into the earth that you can see at the bottom of the photo, but so far it has yet to be used against rebellious planets or Mon Calamari cruisers.
The trip was a great success. Not a shitload of birds, but many lifers. The lifer-to-bird ratio was very solid, in fact. Good people. Good vacay. Some pocket. Great pinchos. Not quite enough rum. Annabelle does not have microcephaly. Winning.
We took a leisurely 8 days to bird the island; most birders are usually only hunting endemics, and take less time to bird Puerto Rico...though I'm not sure where else they are planning on seeing something like Antillean Crested Hummingbird anytime soon. Anyways, we were going for all the Caribbean specialties in addition to all the endemics, and we did really well with our target birds, so I think ours was a quality timeline. I got 46 lifers...phenomenal. Around 40 were native birds, not a bad ratio considering the number of bizarre introduced species in Puerto Rico. We got to see a lot of the island this way as well, instead of just being relegated to the southwest corner where most endemics are easiest.
We planned our route and chose our hotspots using trip reports (very helpful), tips from a couple of former Bird Police (very helpful, thanks Tom and John), eBird (quite helpful), and A Birdwatchers' Guide to Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the Caymans (somewhat helpful). We found the book to be, well, not very well-written, especially when it comes to giving directions. That said, it was still useful, but you don't need to have this book when birding Puerto Rico.
We had a 4x4 Jeep. We did actually use four wheel drive several times, it came in handy! If you go during the rainy season and want to access places like Laguna Cartagena and other spots in the Lajas Valley, I would recommend you do the same. If you are prone to getting lost, it can help you out.
As I mentioned before, Google Maps led us astray repeatedly. It can help you get places here, and it can help you get lost. Don't put all your birding eggs in the Google Maps basket.
We stayed at Ceiba Country Inn and two different Airbnbs, one just outside of Guanica and one near Arecibo. Ceiba had decent rooms, decent birding on site (we got visuals of Puerto Rican Screech-Owl nowhere else), but poor breakfast for the price. Not a bad place for a birder to stay though, if you get to the east side of the island. Nice dogs.
White-tailed Tropicbird is an easy bird in spring along the northwestern coast, but considerably more difficult to find in early winter. However, I think we could have gotten one if we devoted some time to seawatching, which we did not attempt.
Masked Duck is not only my Nemesis Bird, I think it is fair to say that it is also Dipper Dan's Nemesis Bird, so of course we weren't going to see one despite lots of effort in lots of good places. However, we can completely blame Officer Searcy for our failure to find this bird, as he claimed we would see one...this is a grave mistake, do not do this if you are hoping to see a Masked Duck. Looking at eBird, it looks like they started showing up at Laguna Cartagena after our trip. Typical.
We were bummed to miss the local Sharp-shinned and Broad-winged Hawk subspecies. The local Sharpie is critically endangered and not at all easy to see though.
Few visiting birders make the effort, but if you take the ferry to Vieques, you stand a strong chance of getting Bridled Quail-Dove if you can make it to the right part of the island. We did not undertake this journey.
It turns out Black-whiskered Vireo is quite rare in December; we missed this species entirely despite looking for them constantly. They are much easier later in the winter (February) when migrants arrive.
We were aware that Antillean Nighthawk and Caribbean Martin are spring birds, not to be expected in early winter. We saw neither.
We left Puerto Rico with 137 species in the bag, a good avian haul I reckon. Thanks again to MAX REBO BIRDING TOURS for making this all possible!