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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Puerto Rico

2019 Narrative

Our first tour to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island proved challenging but ultimately successful. Though habitat was severely affected in several traditional locations and bird populations likewise down, we nevertheless located all the island’s 19 endemic bird species, and were pleased to find the western parts of the island much less devastated than the east. Starting from a charming hotel in Old San Juan, we poked around the east a bit before heading west, stopping overnight in Hatillo, then at the beautifully-situated Haciendo Juanita in the western mountains, before descending to the arid southwest coast at Guanica, where we spent two nights at charming Mary Lee’s by the Sea.

After a night in Old San Juan, we departed our well-situated hotel in the morning for the forest at Cambalache, in the east. This area saw major storm damage, and indeed there was little left of the canopy here. But we found plenty to look at! Our first Puerto Rican Todies showed brilliantly, as well as other endemics: a vireo, a lizard-cuckoo, a bullfinch, the outrageous woodpecker, and more. The trails here occupied us for a couple of hours, after which we made a swing through Cano Tiburones, lunch en route, and up into the forest of Rio Abajo. Here we hoped to discover the endemic Puerto Rican Parrot, a species on the brink which took a hard hit from Maria. We located at least one wild bird in the area around a captive breeding site. We also found Puerto Rican Pewee! In the afternoon we checked into our hotel in Hatillo and set out to explore the ponds around Camuy. It wasn’t hard to spot Pinky, Puerto Rico’s famous, long-staying American Flamingo. Lots of other birds on these ponds too, including numerous White-cheeked Pintails.

In the morning we packed up and continued our journey, stopping at the cliffs at Guajataca, where many White-tailed Tropicbirds could be spied, as well as stunning views of Adelaide’s Warbler. Cutting through the interior from here, we made a stop at Cava de Viento and took a wonderful hike down to the caves here, finding good birds along the way, including Key West Quail Dove. Continuing, we traversed a beautiful mountainous region up to the village of Maricao, birding our way to Hacienda Juanita. This wonderful hotel is perched on a hillside of coffee plantations and is truly birdy. We spent the afternoon hoping to find most of the mountain specialties, to take some pressure off the following morning. This worked well. We found Puerto Rican Tanager and Antillean Euphonia right on the grounds, among a frenzy of other species. At night we heard the Puerto Rican Screech-Owl.

The next day we explored the ridge forest up from Juanita. Here we found the Elfin Wood’s Warbler, a species unknown to science until this road was built in the 1970s, as well as a striking Spindalis. We descended the mountains out to the southwest coast and spent the afternoon at beautiful Cabo Rojo. This is where we discovered the Caribbean Elaenia, but not the host of shorebirds that are normally found here, perhaps the result of hurricane damage to the coastal habitat. After gathering some provisions, we settled into our comfortable lodgings at Mary Lee’s. With views of “Gilligan’s Island” and the emerald sea, and a great restaurant just down the road, this is a great place to call home for a couple of nights.

From here we were well-situated to go west in the morning after a home-cooked breakfast, venturing to La Parguera, where we found the endemic Yellow-shouldered Blackbird, and then on to Boqueron, a return to our hotel, an exploration of the Guanica Dry Forest, and an afternoon excursion to Cartagena, an excellent freshwater wetland full of rails and wading birds. The whole day was just full of pleasurable birding and good company.

Our last full day saw us departing the southwest for the capitol. We decided to park the van at the hotel and take a cab into Old San Juan for a delightful lunch. In the afternoon we drove out east to Fajardo in search of a bird or two we had difficulty locating in the storm-damaged part of the island, most notably Antillean Crested Hummingbird, which remained elusive. We rounded out the trip with a walk around Bio Bay watching Brown Boobies, before returning to town for an excellent final dinner. Our short jaunt around Puerto Rico is always a great tour. Thank you all for the great company!        

Updated: November 2022