On our 2023 return to the Isla del Encanto, we had a delightful time seeing island endemics and a handful of vagrant surprises. Since the tour, the AOS elevated Puerto Rican Euphonia to full species status, so we gained a 19th endemic bird retroactively—needless to say, we found the other 18 as well!
Beginning in San Juan, we met for dinner at our hotel and kicked things off by watching Green-throated Caribs from our poolside vantage. Early the next morning, we headed west to the limestone karst hills of Rio Abajo. Here we found a large diversity of the island's endemic birds including Puerto Rican Owl, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Green Mango, and the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. Off to a good start, we continued to Cambalache State Forest where we added Adelaide's Warbler, Mangrove Cuckoo, Red-legged Thrush at a nest, and more. Stopping at Guajataca and Mayaquez as we headed around the west side of the island, we scanned for White-tailed Tropicbirds and perused an amazing flock of terns that included six Roseate and two vagrant White-winged terns from Eurasia. A full day in the books, we pulled in to La Parguera, our headquarters in the island's southwest for three nights.
From La Parguera, we explored in different directions each day. The freshwater wetlands of Laguna Cartagena hosted West Indian Whistling-Ducks, Yellow-breasted Crakes, and a big flock of wintering waterfowl. Nearby we found endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds in a quiet neighborhood. Ascending to the highlands of Maricao, we located the rare Elfin-woods Warbler, studied an active nest of Puerto Rican Euphonia, and enjoyed the bright songs of Puerto Rican Vireos and Puerto Rican Bullfinches. Closer to our hotel on the coast, we watched nests of Puerto Rican Mangos and soaked up a resonant dusk chorus of Puerto Rican Nightjars.
Continuing to the eastern end of the island, we made targeted side trips to find a few rare regional endemics in the form of Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Plain Pigeon. Our beautiful home for two nights was the cozy Casa Cubuy, nestled on the southern edge of the montane El Yunque National Forest. From this base, we walked in the national forest and also took a drive to the coast to check out the coastal flats near Roosevelt Roads. There we turned up Brown Boobies, large flocks of wintering shorebirds, and a surprising Scarlet Ibis. From here, we returned to San Juan for short flights back to the mainland.
It was a pleasure to bird with our friendly group on a short & sweet circuit around this wonderful island. Thanks for joining me in Puerto Rico, and I'll look forward to our next adventure in the field!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
WEST INDIAN WHISTLING-DUCK (Dendrocygna arborea)
On our two visits to Laguna Cartagena, we saw 17 and then 22 of these big, noisy tree ducks.
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
Dozens patrolled freshwater lakes and brackish estuaries around the island.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
Thirteen were mixed in with Blue-winged Teal at Laguna Cartagena.
WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL (Anas bahamensis)
Dozens of these striking waterfowl were at Boquerón, La Parguera, and Salinas.
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
We had a maximum of 90 birds at Laguna Cartagena.
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
At least 5 were mixed in with the Ring-necked Duck flock at Laguna Cartagena.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Up to 28 were at Laguna Cartagena.
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
These small, golden-eyed grebes were diving in the bird-filled pond at Boquerón.
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
A few swam around the edges of Laguna Cartagena.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
Common around towns and cities.
SCALY-NAPED PIGEON (Patagioenas squamosa)
Many of these big, native pigeons made themselves known with growling calls and percussive wing claps in hill and mountain forests, particularly at the east end of the island.
WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON (Patagioenas leucocephala)
One perched up for a good view above the mangroves of La Parguera.
PLAIN PIGEON (Patagioenas inornata wetmorei)
In Borinquen, we walked along a likely stretch of river until we spotted these big, wine-colored pigeons with the pale eyes. The species is quite rare in Puerto Rico, restricted to the highlands in the east-central part of the island.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
A handful of the birds we paid close attention to gave classic Eurasian vocalizations and fit the expected plumage pattern. "Figuring out" the collared-dove situation on Puerto Rico requires further study.
AFRICAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia roseogrisea) [I]
Fairly common, with many collared-doves giving a rough song typical of this species.
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina portoricensis)
We saw these tiny doves widely in singles and pairs.
RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE (Geotrygon montana)
Heard at Rio Abajo.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
Quite common and widespread.
ZENAIDA DOVE (Zenaida aurita)
Most of ours were in the humid eastern end of the island, though we did find them sprinkled around the west end too.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Seen regularly in the agricultural valleys of the island's southwest.
SMOOTH-BILLED ANI (Crotophaga ani)
Common in the agricultural fields and wetlands of the southwest.
MANGROVE CUCKOO (Coccyzus minor)
Excellent views of a few birds near the parking area at Cambalache.
PUERTO RICAN LIZARD-CUCKOO (Coccyzus vieilloti) [E]
On our first morning at Rio Abajo, we had some nice encounters with these big, tweezer-billed cuckoos. Later we also saw them at Maricao.
PUERTO RICAN NIGHTJAR (Antrostomus noctitherus) [E]
Up to 8 singing birds in the dry forest of the southwest made for quite a dusk chorus. We also got to see a few individuals on tree branch perches.
PUERTO RICAN MANGO (Anthracothorax aurulentus)
Formerly "Antillean Mango," these recently split hummingbirds (hooray, another island endemic species!) were nesting in La Parguera during our tour. We saw one nest with two chicks and a second nest being built just 60 meters away!
GREEN MANGO (Anthracothorax viridis) [E]
Super views at eye level during our first walk at Rio Abajo at the beginning of the tour.
GREEN-THROATED CARIB (Eulampis holosericeus)
During our first dinner together, we retrieved our binoculars and enjoyed poolside views of these oddly shaped hummingbirds in urban San Juan.
PUERTO RICAN EMERALD (Riccordia maugaeus) [E]
Though they were more challenging to lock on to than the other hummingbirds, we tracked down these small endemic hummers at several locations including Rio Abajo, Maricao, Monte del Estado, and El Yunque.
ANTILLEAN CRESTED HUMMINGBIRD (LESSER ANTILLES) (Orthorhyncus cristatus exilis)
A spike-crested male and a female were feeding at a small group of trumpet trees near the island's southern shore.
CLAPPER RAIL (CARIBBEAN) (Rallus crepitans caribaeus)
These big, mangrove-loving rails were quite common in the area around La Parguera. We heard up to 11 at one time and saw a few of them "up close and personal."
SORA (Porzana carolina)
At least 3 called at Laguna Cartagena.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
Dozens were at Laguna Cartagena.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Common at Laguna Cartagena where we saw both white-shielded (formerly "Caribbean Coot") and red-shielded birds.
PURPLE GALLINULE (Porphyrio martinica)
A few sightings along the edges of the water at Laguna Cartagena.
YELLOW-BREASTED CRAKE (Hapalocrex flaviventer)
Amazing! We found at least 4 birds (with 3 seen) at Laguna Cartagena on this visit, for my best-ever experience with the species on Puerto Rico. These tiny, secretive rails can walk across floating vegetation with their ridiculously long toes.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (Himantopus mexicanus)
Most of ours were on the flats at the Reserva Natural La Parguera.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
Scattered across a few coastal sites.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
These familiar plovers were at Boquerón and La Parguera.
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus)
The flock of 80 at Salinas was a big count for the island.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
Two were on the mangrove flats at La Parguera.
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)
At least 15 were mixed in with roosting Short-billed Dowitchers at Roosevelt Roads.
STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)
Around 35 were roosting near the flats at La Parguera.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
Two with other shorebirds at La Parguera.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
At least 120 were roosting on the flats at Roosevelt Roads.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
Just a couple of coastal sightings at the west end of the island.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
Most of ours were in a flooded set of rice fields in the Lajas Valley. Overall, outnumbered by Lesser Yellowlegs during our trip.
WILLET (Tringa semipalmata)
We saw dozens of Willets on the flats at La Parguera, Salinas, and Roosevelt Roads. These appeared to be the lanky, pale gray Western subspecies.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
Over 50 were in the flooded rice fields in the Lajas Valley, and we saw them scattered elsewhere in low numbers, too.
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
One was in the harbor at Fajardo.
WHITE-WINGED TERN (Chlidonias leucopterus)
Astonishing! Two of these vagrant Old World marsh terns were wintering at Punta Boca Morena on the island's west end. We were able to walk right up to their resting perches and had some amazing views in comparison to other species of terns.
ROSEATE TERN (Sterna dougallii)
At least six of these long distance migrants were in the same diverse tern flock that held the White-winged Terns at Punta Boca Morena. It was interesting and informative to study these birds in their winter plumage.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
The notable tern flock at Punta Boca Morena held at least 23 of these big orange-billed terns, and we saw small numbers elsewhere, too.
SANDWICH TERN (CABOT'S) (Thalasseus sandvicensis acuflavidus)
About 110 were at Punta Boca Morena.
WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD (Phaethon lepturus)
Six long-tailed birds patrolled the sea off the bluffs of Guajataca.
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens)
We saw these big pirates overhead at many coastal locations.
BROWN BOOBY (Sula leucogaster)
We saw these seabirds at great distance perched on buoys offshore the eastern end of the island.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Regularly seen along the coast, especially around Fajardo.
LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis)
We scoped one of these tiny marsh herons from the tower at Laguna Cartagena.
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
Small numbers, with a total of 8 seen.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
Common; seen at many locations.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
Just a few at Salinas and Fajardo.
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
Six at Roosevelt Roads.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
Singles on three occasions, including one a bit inland at Laguna Cartagena.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
Many came in to roost in the evening at Laguna Cartagena.
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
Common, especially around Laguna Cartagena.
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
A handful were hunting in the marsh at Laguna Cartagena; they became quite active around dusk.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nyctanassa violacea)
At least a dozen roosted in the mangroves near our hotel in La Parguera; at dusk, they took off and flew inland toward the rice fields of Lajas.
SCARLET IBIS (Eudocimus ruber)
This bright red ibis at Roosevelt Roads was a real oddball for the island. Puerto Rican Scarlet Ibis could be wanderers from the introduced/ reintroduced breeding population at Richard Branson's Necker Island in the Virgin Islands, but this isn't entirely clear.
GLOSSY IBIS (Plegadis falcinellus)
We saw 8 at Laguna Cartagena.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Common, especially at the west end of the island.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Small numbers patrolled coastal lagoons.
BROAD-WINGED HAWK (CARIBBEAN) (Buteo platypterus brunnescens)
We saw two of these short-winged island hawks in flight overhead at Rio Abajo. For those of us used to the mainland version, the difference in wing length (longer on the mainland) was quite striking!
RED-TAILED HAWK (JAMAICENSIS) (Buteo jamaicensis jamaicensis)
Common over open country and forest on the island.
PUERTO RICAN OWL (Gymnasio nudipes) [E]
Though we had views of multiple birds on the first morning of the tour, the one that showed off with its wings spread on our final evening together was the real show-stopper.
PUERTO RICAN TODY (Todus mexicanus) [E]
These little gems captivated us again and again.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
We saw wintering birds on at least two occasions.
PUERTO RICAN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes portoricensis) [E]
These handsome woodpeckers are common on the island (and quite noisy!).
AMERICAN KESTREL (EASTERN CARIBBEAN) (Falco sparverius caribaearum)
Regular sightings of these island residents in open habitats in the west.
MONK PARAKEET (Myiopsitta monachus) [I]
Our best views were during a lunch stop in Hatillo.
WHITE-WINGED PARAKEET (Brotogeris versicolurus) [I]
We had a couple of these exotic parakeets fly by at Laguna Cartagena, but they didn't stick around for long.
PUERTO RICAN PARROT (Amazona vittata) [E]
On our very first morning, we enjoyed a pair of adult Puerto Rican Parrots prospecting for nest sites in the picnic ground at Rio Abajo. It's exciting to see this endangered bird prospering after the major threat of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
CARIBBEAN ELAENIA (Elaenia martinica)
We had our first sighting in La Parguera; later, we found quite a few more at Roosevelt Roads.
LESSER ANTILLEAN PEWEE (PUERTO RICO) (Contopus latirostris blancoi)
Our first was tail-trembling in the dawn at Rio Abajo; later, we found another at Maricao.
PUERTO RICAN FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus antillarum) [E]
We found these slim, drab Myiarchus flycatchers at many locations by listening for their whistled calls.
GRAY KINGBIRD (Tyrannus dominicensis)
Nearly omnipresent in open habitats on the island.
LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD (PUERTO RICO) (Tyrannus caudifasciatus taylori)
We found these odd-shaped kingbirds regularly in forested areas, but they weren't as common as Gray Kingbird in open habitats. Keep an eye on this one—Loggerhead Kingbird probably includes multiple cryptic species with distinctive plumages and vocalizations, and these could be split in the future.
PUERTO RICAN VIREO (Vireo latimeri) [E]
The endemic vireo with the sweet song. We enjoyed an amazing, open view of a singing bird on that narrow trail in Maricao.
BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO (Vireo altiloquus)
Fairly common by voice, and we saw several. Best spots were Rio Abajo, Maricao, and Cambalache.
CARIBBEAN MARTIN (Progne dominicensis)
These long distance migrants (presumably wintering in South America) had just returned, and we found them during a rainstorm in Naguabo at the island's east end.
CAVE SWALLOW (CARIBBEAN) (Petrochelidon fulva puertoricensis)
Several scattered sightings of flocks in open areas around the island.
PEARLY-EYED THRASHER (Margarops fuscatus)
The Maricao highlands provided most of our sightings of this unusual, stocky thrasher.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Fairly common in open habitats and neighborhoods.
RED-LEGGED THRUSH (ANTILLEAN) (Turdus plumbeus ardosiaceus)
These stunning thrushes were found in several forested sites; perhaps the best sighting involved adults foraging and tending to a nest at Cambalache.
NORTHERN RED BISHOP (Euplectes franciscanus) [I]
These streaky Ploceids look a bit like stubby Bobolinks; we saw a flock of about 10 at Laguna Cartagena.
SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA (Lonchura punctulata) [I]
Close views of a group of 8 at our Plain Pigeon spot in Borinquen.
ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILL (Estrilda melpoda) [I]
Up to 17 in a flock at Laguna Cartagena.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
Small numbers around towns and cities.
ANTILLEAN EUPHONIA (PUERTO RICO) (Chlorophonia musica sclateri)
Antillean Euphonia has now been split into three species, and the birds in PR will soon be recognized as "Puerto Rican Euphonia." We staked out a nest in the Maricao highlands and were fortunate to see both the male and female visit during our stay.
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)
Interesting to see this familiar species in this context—a breeding resident on the island! We saw at least three individuals including one carrying food along the entrance road to Laguna Cartagena.
PUERTO RICAN TANAGER (Nesospingus speculiferus) [E]
We enjoyed great views of these odd songbirds at several spots in the Maricao highlands. This species is now in its own family (Nesospingidae), so birding visitors to the island are now even more keen to see this one.
PUERTO RICAN SPINDALIS (Spindalis portoricensis) [E]
These beautiful, striped songbirds showed nicely as they foraged in the midstory at Maricao.
PUERTO RICAN ORIOLE (Icterus portoricensis) [E]
On our first morning at Rio Abajo, we found an occupied hammock nest. Later, we saw these slim, mostly black orioles again at Cambalache and Maricao.
VENEZUELAN TROUPIAL (Icterus icterus) [I]
These striking exotics are increasingly common in the dry southwest of the island.
YELLOW-SHOULDERED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius xanthomus) [E]
These endangered blackbirds were a bit tougher to find than usual, but we tracked down a group of seven feeding in a shady tree at Boquerón.
SHINY COWBIRD (Molothrus bonariensis)
We saw just a few of these island invaders—at Maricao and Roosevelt Roads.
GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE (Quiscalus niger brachypterus)
Very common; seen frequently in towns and along roadsides.
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla)
We enjoyed seeing a bird that may be the same individual we've seen since 2015 along a riverside stretch of paved walking road in El Yunque.
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
Fairly common in mangroves in La Parguera and Roosevelt Roads.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
One was in coastal scrub forest at La Parguera.
ELFIN-WOODS WARBLER (Setophaga angelae) [E]
It was wonderful to hear the sizzling song of this rare, montane endemic through the morning air of Maricao. We tracked down a pair for extended views, though it took some patience to "lock on."
AMERICAN REDSTART (Setophaga ruticilla)
At least four wintering birds between Rio Abajo and Maricao.
NORTHERN PARULA (Setophaga americana)
A few wintering individuals were mixed in with foraging flocks of songbirds, mostly in the southwest but also at Roosevelt Roads.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
The Yellow Warblers we saw were resident birds that we found in mangroves around La Parguera.
PRAIRIE WARBLER (Setophaga discolor)
These slender tail-bobbers were in mangroves around La Parguera.
ADELAIDE'S WARBLER (Setophaga adelaidae) [E]
I still consider this one a Puerto Rican endemic even though it has recently colonized the Virgin Islands. We enjoyed them at many spots around the island, with particularly close views at Cambalache and Roosevelt Roads.
BANANAQUIT (PUERTO RICO) (Coereba flaveola portoricensis)
Found nearly everywhere with trees and flowers on the island.
YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT (Tiaris olivaceus bryanti)
These tiny, native songbirds were found in the same areas as many exotic "finches" in the grasses at Laguna Cartagena.
PUERTO RICAN BULLFINCH (Melopyrrha portoricensis) [E]
The bird with a song like a Northern Cardinal punctuated by a cymbal crash. Though we heard them in many forested spots, it was a bit challenging to get good views. Fortunately we pulled it off at Rio Abajo, Cambalache, and Maricao.
BLACK-FACED GRASSQUIT (Melanospiza bicolor omissa)
We found these tiny, plain songbirds feeding in grassy patches at the edge of forested habitats.
Totals for the tour: 119 bird taxa and 0 mammal taxa