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!


  1. Damn that little nest is awesome. I will have to find a video of a tody making fart sounds because that sounds intriguing.

  2. Pretty gorgeous.
    I like that Puerto Rican birding can also allow a novice (like myself) to get away with knowing only general birds instead of specific IDs: "Of that flycatcher? Yeah that's a Puerto Rican Flycatcher. That Trogon? Sure, it's a Puerto Rican Trogon. That dick that won't turn right on red? That's a Puerto Rican dick.

    The Toddies are great and the warbler and thrush crushes are phenom.
    Now that Hawaii is ABA, when will Puerto Rico follow?

    1. It is very straightforward, I think most of the ID problems are with North American migrants. Studying before the trip was hardly devoted to knowing how to identify stuff, almost all was just just trying to pin down where to see everything.

  3. There is no such thing as a Masked Duck. They are made up. Like Collared Plover.

    1. Did we ever tell you that after we dropped you off at the airport we went to a super reliable spot for Collared Plover? And guess what happened...