Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Puerto Rico Winter Tour Y2K16: Comerio to Guanica

Our time in Ceiba was done, so the nerds got up early for making the Kessel Run trip to get the final east side target bird, none other than the rare, legendary and highly-localized endemic subspecies of Plain Pigeon. This is not a bird you will blunder into while birding in Puerto Rico; you definitely need to make a targeted effort to see them. Google Maps was highly ineffective in getting us to the right spot (again, beware the app's suggestions for shortcuts in Puerto Rico), but eventually we made it. It was a weird place...basically, you look for the birds from a baseball field. Lifer situation.

Adam and I immediately had a Plain Pigeon fly directly overhead when we arrived, basically looking down the first base line, though better views were definitely desired. Looking at the trees beyond the outfield was unproductive after the initial flyover, so I turned the scope around and started scanning the hillside beyond home plate....BINGO. We had distant but prolonged looks at two Plain Pigeons feeding in the blooming African tulip trees (local photogs call them tulipans)...fuck yes. A scope was essential here, so if you plan on seeing Plain Pigeon in any satisfactory way, do bring a scope or you run the risk of stringing a Scaly-naped Pigeon. We ran into some local bird photogs who were about to head up a road to the general area where we had seen the birds, so if you want to try and get closer to the birds you can walk up the small road at 18.222429°, -66.201390°.

Ground Zero in the valley of the Plain Pigeon.

Gray Kingbirds seem to run things in any remotely open habitat on the island.

The most conspicuous reptiles of Puerto Rico are the introduced green igaunas. They are everywhere. Any loud, crazy thrashing sounds you hear coming from shrubbery, plopping into ponds or falling out of trees are iguanas.

After the pigeon victory we headed down to the south coast, hoping to check out some random spots between Jobos and Guanica, where we sould be spending the night. This stretch of the island is seemingly unbirded by anyone who doesn't live in Puerto Rico, as this large area is completely absent from any trip reports I've found. Dipper Dan worked on trying to find some places to bird switching between eBird and Google Maps with mixed success...we managed to get to 2/4 spots we attempted to bird. Again, Google Maps on the island is not your best friend, but it's not worthless either.

Playita-Vertedero Salinas was a totally random spot Dan found on eBird that was not hard to access (17.955920, -66.286848). Just drive down the dirt road and park in the obvious dirt parking area next to the lagoon; scope the lagoon and bird further on down the road. The lagoon and salt flats were not overly birdy but did net us a number of trip birds (most notably the one and only Gull-billed Tern of the trip), and the mangroves along the road held Black-faced Grassquits (common and widespread on the island) and a smattering of warblers.

By far the best bird here (for me anyways) was this cooperative Green-throated Carib, which we got much better looks at than back at Humacao. Caribs appear to have their eyes set further back in their heads than other hummingbirds, which gives them a unique facial expression.

The deep blue belly contrasting with the emerald throat is a nice touch. This would be the last carib we would see on our trip, and we never saw Antillean Crested away from Humacao and the Fajardo Inn.

Palm Warbler was a new trip bird; we finally got our first Yellow Warblers of the trip here as well. The local Yellow Warbler subspecies turned out to be much more uncommon than we thought they would be.

Dipper Dan worked furiously on eBird, trying to figure out how to access other hotspots...attempts to access a couple bird areas east of here were met with abject failure (thanks Google Maps), but we did successfully reach Laguna Salinas (yes, another Salinas) after an awesome lunch at the Oasis Cafe and Bakery in Santa Isabel. Their coffee was unlike anything I've ever damn!

Accessing this site is have to get on an eastbound onramp to Hwy 2 and then make a sharp right turn onto a dirt road directly off the highway. The dropoff between the highway and the road is pretty big, so I'm not sure how well this would work with a sedan (we had a jeep, so it was mellow). At any rate, the turnoff to the laguna is at 17.974407, -66.673697. The birding here was decent (in other words, more trip birds), with close looks at a Clapper Rail being one of the highlights. Lifer subspecies!

I hadn't seen Wilson's Plover since I was working in Texas a couple years ago...this bird was standing in the middle of the road, a niche typically occupied by Killdeer. Lifer situation. I had forgotten what a massive bill is attached to that cute little plover face.

At the end of the day we finally pulled in to our Airbnb, a few minutes southeast of Guanica. As we had hoped, the area had some decent birding to offer...a big semi-birdy (genuinely birdy places are apparently rare in Puerto Rico) lagoon was right next to our place. Venezuelan Troupial was a facemelting but reluctant lifer (they are an introduced species), and were very common here. This would be home base for the next four nights. One of the beds smelled like piss and the tap water was burly (not the owner's fault obvi, but tap water in other parts of the island was excellent), but otherwise it worked out really well. Lots of great birding within an hour's drive!

The view from the balcony, a mellow mangrove-lined lagoon with the famous Guanica Dry Forest cloaking the hills in the background. Tranquilo, though the mosquitoes got annoying. This was one of the best views of any Airbnb I've ever stayed at, though I still think "The Edge" in Lubec, Maine, still edge.

These amazing/terrifying lobster-tailed things were crawling all over the place. You never know what is waiting in the bushes of love.

The lagoon was filled with Lesser Yellowlegs and Stilt Sandpipers; more than 400 Stilt Sandpipers could be seen roosting from our balcony every day, which is hella to a California birder. The only place we can see that (well, maybe not anymore 😓) is down at the Salton Sea.

White-cheeked Pintails were the commonest ducks here, which were always visible in some numbers. Fantastic. I no longer need to feel the pain of a stinging gripoff whenever one is seen in Florida.

The next day we would bird a lifer habitat in the Guanica Dry Forest, which was very kind to us. Spoiler alert: lifers.

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