Puerto Rico Trip - January 13-22, 2012

La Isla Del Encanto

Cabo Rojo Coastline
 It's always nice to catch a break from the cold Northeast winter and travel down to the tropics. This year was slightly different as 50 degree weather seems to be the norm temperature for the winter of 2012, in NY at least. In a way it felt like we were escaping Spring. Nonetheless, we were excited to head down and explore "La Isla del Encanto" or Puerto Rico as we all know it.

La isla del encanto translates to "The Island of Enchantment." Once only inhabited by the Taino people, the Island was eventually discovered by Columbus on his second voyage. The Tainos were a sea-faring society that inhabited much of Greater Antilles. Eventually their beautiful land was exposed and the Tainos were devastated by introduced disease. The Spaniards forced the Taino people into slavery and to adopt the plantation way of life. Few Taino populations remain in Puerto Rico today. Like many indigenous people, the Taino's were one with their land and sustainably coexisted with the native plants and animals.
Rincon Vicinity
We explored several natural areas during our 9 day stay in Puerto Rico. Our base was in Rincon, the western most tip on the west coast of the island. Rincon is an interesting place. It's a lovely mixture of strays(people that disappeared from their previous life without a trace), natives, hobos and surfers. The strays seem to be surfers that got sucked into the island of enchantment prior to its booming popularity. Rincon has become a favorite destination for people from all over the world but Long Islanders seem to dominate.

Sunset at Desecheo Inn
We enjoyed our stay at the Desecheo Inn. A prime location for sunset views with a lighthouse and Desecheo Island provided in the foreground. The inn is perched on a high hill that offers canopy views into a small tract of forest. I knew this was the right place when a Puerto Rican Oriole posted up on a palm frond just off our balcony. The Puerto Rican Oriole was once referred to as The Greater Antillean Oriole "Puerto Rican Race." The American Ornithologists Union has recently  recognized this species as its own. The forest below offered a nice trail network (mainly used by dirt bikes and quads, none of which we saw when we walked them). Highlights on those trails were Adelaides Warbler (island endemic), Mangrove Cuckoo, Cape May Warbler, Puerto Rican Spindalis (island endemic), Prairie Warbler, Puerto Rican Tody (island endemic), Puerto Rican Woodpecker (island endemic and one of my favorites), Common-ground Dove, and Yellow-faced Grassquit. Endemic refers to a certain species being unique to a defined geographic location. They usually evolve in isolated locations, such as islands, and are not found elsewhere. In this case, the avian endemic species that I mention are only found in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Woodpecker is one of my particular favorites. It is of the genus Melanerpes and is one of five Melanerpes that is found in the Antilles. The Puerto Rican Woodpecker has a black body, that almost appears as a midnight blue when seen in sunlit conditions. It has a white patch that runs across the forehead and surrounds both eyes. The red wash on the male's belly is unmistakable. They are common and widespread on the island and found in a variety of habitats. Their behaviour is said to be similar to that of the North American Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) The photo below was taken in Rincon along the roadway just South of Casa Islena.

Puerto Rican Woodpecker - Melanerpes portoricensis
The Maricao Forest Reserve
On Monday, January 16, 2012 a small white sedan drove by our house rental at 0600. I knew this was Sergio Colon. Sergio is a Puerto Rico native living in Arecibo, a city along the North coast of the island. I was first introduced to Sergio through a site called Ebird. Ebird is a project that was launched in 2002 that was developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. It is a huge global database that provides basic information on bird abundance and distribution, with so many other uses. Each region has its own data manager. Sergio Colon manages the Ebird information for Puerto Rico. In 2010, Chase Cammarota and I located a Roseate Spoonbill at a known birding site called Laguna Cartagena. Little did we know, this was the first spoonbill sighting in Puerto Rico since 2000. We responsibly submitted our list to Ebird. Weeks later I received an email from Sergio who was requesting for further details on our sighting. Little did I know that, 2 years later, Sergio would  be taking me into the Maricao Forest. One of the only two places on the island where the endemic Elfin Woods Warbler breeds.

Red-legged Thrush
We began our steep ascent into the Maricao Forest after a one hour drive from Rincon. Maricao is located in the Cordillera Central Mountain Range with averaging peaks in the 3,000 foot range. I didn't expect to feel fresh, cool mountain air in Puerto Rico. I've grown accustomed to the busy coastline with high emission vehicles, loud noise and strange smells. This was literally a breath of fresh air, synonymous to escaping into the Adirondack Park and rolling down your windows to inhale the scent of the crisp forest. Sergio took us near the visitor parking area and down a small, slippery grass trail where we began birding. Within moments Sergio's excitement grew wild. "Elfin Woods Warbler"!! Two small birds flew in fast and direct to a small medium sized shrub along the path's edge. They were right above me and I was getting excellent views. The Elfin Woods Warbler is somewhat similar in appearance to the Black and White Warbler. It is overall darker and has an incomplete white eye ring. Unfortunately I did not try for photographs of this species. This was my highlight bird for the trip and I wanted to absorb every moment with my binoculars. We turned up several excellent species during our trip to the Maricao Forest Vicinity. These include: Red-legged thrush, Puerto Rican Pewee, Puerto Rican Tanager*, Puerto Rican Vireo*, Elfin Woods Warbler*, Puerto Rican Bullfinch*, Green Mango*, Puerto Rican Emerald*, Pearly eyed Thrasher,Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parula, Puerto Rican Spindalis*, Black-faced Grassquit, Loggerhead Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Zenaida Dove, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Rock Pigeon, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk. The asterisk indicates that the bird is an island endemic. It was a real treat to be able to spend the day with Sergio. He taught us a ton about the island, its people and the wild inhabitants within.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Cabo Rojo
Cabo Rojo yields one of the most spectacular shorelines anyone can imagine. The approach is through a vast wetland rich in avian and plant diversity. Much of the land is set up in man made and natural salt flats. These flats provide incredible foraging grounds for a vast array of shorebird species. As soon as we entered the park area we encountered around 80 foraging Black-necked Stilts accompanied by many Lesser-yellow legs. I was also able to pick out 1 Stilt Sandpiper in the mix. The real reward remained at the end of the dirt road on the other side of the salt flats. The most scenic place that I have seen on earth. Photos cannot capture the cove inside of the red cliffs at Cabo Rojo. The softest sands, the bluest water and a cove that appears to be straight from Pirates of the Caribbean. Brown Booby's nest along the cliffs along with other pelagic bird species. I saw my first White-tailed Tropicbird banking off the edge of the high cliffs in search of it's next meal. This is one of my favorite places on earth.
Cove at Cabo Rojo

Black-necked Stilts

The End
Thanks for checking out the blog post for Puerto Rico. I hope you enjoyed the photos and were able to learn something! Feel free to click on my Flickr link to view more of my photos from this past Puerto Rico trip. For those interested, below is the full on bird list for the trip. We also spent a day at The Guajetaca Forest Reserve, located toward the Northern section of the island. We had a great day there with the highlights being the Puerto Rican Tody and The Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo. We also saw the explosive flight of the Ruddy Quail Dove and heard its erie "cooo" "cooo" cries from the woods. Laguna Cartagena is a whole story in its own. Again, the asterisk sign indicates that the bird is an island endemic. Birds in bold are personal highlights.

Maricao Vicinity
Red-legged thrush
Puerto Rican Pewee
Puerto Rican Tanager*
Puerto Rican Vireo*
Elfin Woods Warbler*
Puerto Rican Bullfinch*
Green Mango*
Puerto Rican Emerald*
Pearly eyed Thrasher
Louisiana  Waterthrush
Northern Parula
Puerto Rican Spindalis*
Black-faced Grassquit
Loggerhead Kingbird
Gray Kingbird
Zenaida Dove
Scaly-naped Pigeon
Rock Pigeon
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk

Cabo Rojo
White-tailed Tropicbird
Clapper Rail
Black-necked Stilt
Stilt Sandpiper
Lesser yellowlegs
Caribbean Elania
Magnificent Frigatebird
Yellow-shouldered Blackbird*
Yellow Warbler
Royal Tern
Common Ground Dove
Smooth-billed Ani
Brown Pelican

Rincon Vicinity
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Greater Antillean Grackle
Northern Mockingbird
Puerto Rican Oriole*

Brown Booby
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Sandwich Tern
House Sparrow
Cape May Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Adelaide's Warbler*
Great Egret
Antillean Mango
Caribbean Martin
White-winged Dove
Common Moorhen

Puerto Rican Woodpecker*
Mangrove Cuckoo
Orange-cheeked Waxbill

Little-blue Heron
Belted Kingfisher
Nutmeg Mannakin

Bosque De Guajetaca
Puerto Rican lizard Cuckoo*
Black and White Warbler
Puerto Rican Tody*
Ruddy-quail Dove

Laguna Cartagena
Masked Duck
Orange Bishop
West Indian Whistling Duck
Purple Gallinule
Palm Warbler
Snowy Egret
Solitary Sandpiper
Blue-winged Teal
Black-rumped Waxbill
Caribbean Coot
Green Heron
Great blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron

Puerto Rican Flycatcher* - heard but not seen

Mayaguez Route 102

76 Species


  1. Wow man. Looks like you killed it down there! Cant wait to flip through the pictures. Good job on the blog too, its great!

  2. This is my new favorite thing! And I have to say, the Puerto Rican Woodpecker is adorable!


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