Puerto Rico’s lush forests, full of flowering trees, are home to a wide selection of endemics and Caribbean specialities. Photo: Gavin Bieber
Puerto Rico, once a Spanish colony and now a U.S. territory and popular holiday destination provides a perfect and easy weeklong getaway for the visiting birder. With an excellent road system providing convenient access to its many forest reserves, Puerto Rico offers some of the easiest and most enjoyable birdwatching in the Caribbean. On our tour we’ll seek out 18 of the 19 island endemics and more than two-dozen Caribbean specialities, visiting every habitat from the windswept elfin woods of Maricao to the bird-rich thorn scrub of the Guanica Dry Forest.
This tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour to Dominican Republic.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm in the lobby of our hotel in San Juan. Night in San Juan.
Day 2: This morning we will start the trip with a visit to the northeastern corner of the island. Here, amongst flowering trees and lush gardens, we should encounter the beautiful Green-throated Carib, and the very charismatic Antillean Crested Hummingbird. We’ll then head south, stopping briefly along the coast, to look for Brown Boobies, gulls, terns and Magnificent Frigatebirds. At a nearby forest reserve, the dense and very tropical looking vine and palm forests should yield our first Puerto Rican endemics with Puerto Rican Woodpecker and Puerto Rican Flycatcher. Here too there are some sheltered ponds where typically White-cheeked Pintail occur amongst other species of waterfowl. If we are lucky we may encounter a Masked Duck or West Indian Whistling-Duck in one of the more vegetated ponds. After lunch we’ll drive across the island’s north shore stopping en route to examine a marsh that sometimes harbours the secretive Yellow-breasted Crake. Night in Hatillo.
Day 3: Cambalache State Forest offers one of the largest lowland tracts of forest on the northern shore of the island, and we’ll start the day on some very productive trails. The dawn chorus here is usually good and just past the parking lot we should hear a host of endemic birds greeting the morning. Along the trails we’ll look for the beautiful Puerto Rican Bullfinch. Here too will be the exquisite Puerto Rican Tody and the entertaining Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo. Further up the trail we’ll look for Puerto Rican Spindalis, sprightly Adelaide’s Warblers and Puerto Rican Vireo. It’s also worth checking the trail edges, as Key West Quail-Dove often forage along the cleared path early in the morning. At a nearby grassy savannah we often encounter flocks of waxbills or hunting swallows and raptors. After lunch we’ll start heading west, stopping at a few wetlands that typically hold a nice assortment of waders and waterfowl. Then we’ll pause at a cliffside overlook where White-tailed Tropicbirds should be conducting courtship flights in the bay below. In the late afternoon we’ll make our way to our comfortable lodgings at an historic hotel in the highlands near Maricao. Night in Maricao.
Day 4: After a leisurely start at our forest hotel, where we’ll likely enjoy some fine birding, we’ll spend most of today in the lush montane forest of Maricao State Forest and other protected areas along the mountainous central road. Two endemic hummingbirds occur here; the Puerto Rican Emerald and impressive Green Mango. In addition, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Tanager, Loggerhead Kingbird (endemic and distinctive subspecies), Puerto Rican Oriole, and Antillean Euphonia are all likely. The star attraction in the mountain region, however, is Elfin Woods Warbler, which was only discovered in 1971. This species can be hard to see well as it is very active and tends to remain partially hidden by the dense vegetation, but with some perseverance it generally reveals its secrets. In the afternoon we’ll descend to the lowlands of Susua forest to look for Lesser Antillean (Puerto Rican) Pewee and, with some luck, Key West Quail-Dove along the trails, before reaching our wonderful seaside hotel. Night near Guanica.
Days 5-6: We’ll spend Day 5 birding in the lowlands, and will have time to revisit some sites on the morning of Day 6 depending upon what species we may still be looking for. The southwestern sector of Puerto Rico offers a diversity of coastal, forest, and wetland habitats, each with its own distinctive birdlife. While birding coastal areas around Cabo Rojo, we’ll seek the endemic and scarce Yellow-shouldered Blackbird as well as migrant shorebirds. Many of Puerto Rico’s endemics are to be found in the Guanica Dry Forest, and we hope to find the attractive Adelaide’s Warbler here as well as the non-endemic Caribbean Elaenia. In the evening we’ll make a nighttime excursion to search for the local Puerto Rican Nightjar and Puerto Rican Screech-Owl. We’ll also investigate several wetland areas around the Southwest corner looking for rare species such as West Indian Whistling-Duck and Masked Duck, and will have an opportunity too to seek out some of the established exotics such as Venezuelan Troupial and Orange Bishops. On the afternoon of Day 6 we’ll head back to San Juan, stopping along the way at an out of the way spot that harbours the globally-scarce Plain Pigeon. Night near Guanica on Day 5, and San Juan on Day 6.
Day 7: The tour concludes this morning in San Juan.
Updated: 17 November 2020