It's been a weird winter here in the bay area. It seems to rain constantly, and I am in a persistant daze due to the newborn baby that strangely requires frequent attention. However, I can't bitch about not getting to the tropics this winter, because it was only back in December that our group from MAX REBO BIRDING TOURS were slaying Caribbean birds in Puerto Rico. The trip report must go on...
It is about time I posted a picture of one of my first lifers of the trip...Greater Antillean Grackle. I somehow did not get to crush them as well as I could, so I had to settle with photographing them while sitting around eating lunch after we birded Laguna Cartagena. An old lady with bad Parkinson's was feeding them rice, so I stole a few grackle souls.
These are one of the most abundant native birds of Puerto Rico. They are quite small, more like a Common than a Great-tailed, and haven't totally abandoned native habitats in favor of streets and parking lots. They are also much less cacophonous and obtrusive than Great-tailed...I ended up liking them a lot, considering they are literally a trash bird.
After lunch we decided to check out Silvestre de Boqueron, a coastal site that is not mentioned in a single trip report that I could find, but boasts a very robust (for Puerto Rico) site list in eBird. We found the entrance road easily enough and parked at the admin buildings. Here, there is a boardwalk trail through the mangroves, and longer trails that go to the south and to the west. We chose to walk the southern trail, which ended up being very rewarding...almost immediately we got our first White-crowned Pigeon of the trip, which was a lifer both Officer Searcy and Dipper Dan. They turned out to be fairly common there, and one of the dudes who works at the refuge says they nest next to the other trail that we did not take.
White-crowned Pigeon did not turn out to be the highlight though...a few minutes later, we were blessed with an increasingly rare group lifer (#grouplifer)...at long last, we had found a Lesser Antillean Pewee! YESSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! This was a major target bird of the trip (again, all Caribbean species were targets for us), and I was getting worried that we might end up dipping on it. The Puerto Rican birds population may be treated as their own species someday, so it was a very bankable bird as well.
We saw multiple pewees on this trail, in a habitat where none of us were expecting them...they are not exactly considered a mangrove species from what I could tell. Though the birds would rarely sit in crushable light, they were bizarrely cooperative, which I appreciated very much. Their buffy underparts and trusting ways were most mellowing. We would not go on to see them anywhere else, though I did hear one at Bosque Susua.
Puerto Rican Woodpeckers were common and widespread. This eye-catching endemic is built to last, occupying many different habitats...unfortunately I never got the crush that this bird deserves. It is much, much more interesting than your average Melanerpes.
The most surprising thing about our time at Silvestre de Boquerón was how fucking birdy the place was. Almost everywhere we birded on the island was somewhere between not birdy and kinda birdy, but there was a lot of activity here. Northern Parulas were very common, showing up in almost every mixed flock we crossed paths with.
As with most sites, Puerto Rican Flycatchers were holding it down.
Unlike the pewee, Prothonotary Warblers are known to be lovers of swamps and mangroves. This dimly-lit (but still facemelting) rarity was another excellent trip bird; a Black-and-white Warbler near the parking area was another new North American migrant for the trip list. Good times at this place...if you are interested in checking out this site, our eBird checklist can be viewed right here. Note that during the hunting season the refuge is not accessible seven days a week. We were also told that it was ok to park outside the entrance gate and walk in to bird outside of normal hours.
We had some daylight left, so it was back to Cabo Rojo to continue the never-ending search for trip birds (other than the mythical Masked Duck, we had run out of lifers to get in immediate area). Our spot that previously produced a huge peep flock and Franklin's Gull earlier was almost devoid of birds, which did not surprise any of us. Still a bummer though.
This friendly Merlin provided some consolation. I don't know about ya'll, but friendly Merlins are few and far between out here. Oh, and while I think of it, how come Merlins seem to be so unpopular with falconers? Seems like the next logical bird to graduate to after a kestrel, and they are fun as hell to watch hunt. Oh well, leave them in the wild, suits me.
Our search for waterbirds took us all the way to the end of the road, at the parking area for the hella popular beach. Despite a great deal of good habitat, there was little to see...maybe the tide was too high?
We did see some cool terrestrial snails at least. Who doesn't appreciate a good snail?
On the way back we pulled over where some shorebirds and a group of icterids were roosting; Dipper Dan noticed some Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds in the flock, so we hung out and looked around.
A little while later, we refound the Franklin's Gull picking at shit out in the lagoon...a nice bird, but there was a lot more to look at...the closer to sunset it got, the more and more birds we noticed began to arrive...and that is when we realized it was happening.
Thousands of icterids flew south down the peninsula to roost next to where we had parked. Shiny Cowbirds (above) comprised a large portion of these birds, which I had mixed feelings about; they are a major factor in the decline of the blackbird...but they were also a bird I had just lifered only days before. We also started seeing Prairie Warblers fly in to roost (!), which was a most fetching thing to watch.
Luckily for us, Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds came streaming in over our heads with the grackles and cowbirds. Ace.
Amazing looks at these hell of rare birds. While it is easy to think of them as just a Red-winged Blackbird with a different wing patch, there is another major difference between the two species, phenologically speaking...the sexes have identical plumage. Yup, these might be females. Astounding, no? I wonder how this unisex plumage evolved.
Flocks of Stilt Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs wheeled around over the laguna while we watched the blackbirds fly in, adding to the birding ambiance.
The laguna and distant Guanica Dry Forest glowed beneath afternoon storm clouds in the fading light. Our time here at the blackbird roost was one of the definite highlights of the trip, and I would highly recommend attempting to see the blackbirds here (17.954779°, -67.198514°) in the late afternoon instead of the mutant bread-lovers at the hardware store.