Puerto Rico: Enchanted Island Endemics

This is a Birding Tour. The goal of this tour is to see as many birds as possible, with a particular focus on the specialties and endemics of the region and island. However, cameras are perfectly welcome, and you are free to take photos on this tour, when the opportunities arise.

For details of how Tropical Birding will be operating this tour, here are our guidelines and tour practices: Safety Tour Regulations and Policy.

Puerto Rico is known as the “Island of Enchantment” by virtue of its beautiful landscapes. Although it is a US Territory, it feels a world away from there, being located in the Greater Antilles island group, within the West Indies of the Caribbean. Much of the birdlife is unique to the island or region, which includes three specialty Caribbean bird families, and seventeen island endemic bird species. Puerto Rico is a small territory (equal to the US state of Connecticut) , and so we will be able to cover the north, northeast, and very different, drier southwest of the island during this 6-day tour. We will be seeking some of the most treasured local specialties, such as Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Tanager, Elfin Woods and Adelaide’s Warblers, and a handful of exquisite local hummingbirds. Three of these occupy key families of the Caribbean, Todies, Spindalises and Puerto Rican Tanager; all of which are typically easily located. This makes for a perfect late winter getaway, with a real chance of finding most of our local targets, along with a host of wintering waterbirds and songbirds to enhance the bird list even further.


Day 1: Arrival in San Juan; transfer to Arecibo. Following an early afternoon arrival in the Puerto Rican capital, we will drive west to Arecibo, perhaps picking up a Puerto Rican Woodpecker along the way. That evening we will make our first foray into nightbirding, checking a local forest for the endemic Puerto Rican Screech-Owl.

Puerto Rican Woodpecker is pleasantly abundant
Puerto Rican Woodpecker is pleasantly abundant (Andrew Spencer)

Day 2: Arecibo to Southwest Puerto Rico. The first option of the morning will depend on local regulations at the time. If possible, we will check a local protected area for Puerto Rican Parrot, the toughest and rarest of the endemics, and one which access has been restricted to since the hurricane of 2017. After that, we will check another local reserve for hummingbirds. Puerto Rican Emerald, Antillean Mango and Green Mango all occur there. After this stop, we will head south to the drier southwest corner of the island, visiting some wonderful wetland areas (Laguna Cartagena) in the afternoon, which could yield West Indian Whistling-Duck, Masked Duck, Least Grebe, and a host of ducks, shorebirds, and other waterbirds. The scrubby edges are also home to Caribbean Elaenia, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Gray and Loggerhead Kingbirds, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Black-faced Grassquit, and the lemon-yellow Adelaide’s Warbler. We will check into the coastal town of La Parguera for a two-night stay, checking the mangroves on the edge of town for the endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird coming into roost in the afternoon.

We'll search large wetlands in the southwest for West Indian Whistling-Duck
We'll search large wetlands in the southwest for West Indian Whistling-Duck (Andrew Spencer)

Day 3: Maricao State Forest and Cabo Rojo. In complete contrast to our afternoon in the coastal lowlands, thew afternoon before, we will welcome the shade and elevation of the forest on this morning (around 2600ft/800m), when we visit Maricao State Forest, north of our base. This beautiful area of montane forest hosts some real top quality specialties, we will seek out Elfin Woods Warbler among the forest vines, and small, active groups of Puerto Rican Tanagers roaming the midstory. Other island specialties we will be seeking, include the shimmering Green Mango, striking Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Vireo, the scarce Antillean Euphonia, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, and the tangerine-breasted Puerto Rican Spindalis. Wintering warblers from the boreal north may also be present, like Black-throated Blue and Black-and-white Warblers, and American Redstart. There may be time in the afternoon, to cover some more coastal areas west of La Parguera, for another dose of shorebirds and wetland species. In the evening, we will check a local spot for the local Puerto Rican Nightjar, before a final night in La Parguera.

One of the most prize endemic, the Puerto Rican Tody
One of the most prize endemic, the Puerto Rican Tody (Andrew Spencer)

Day 4: La Parguera to Northeast Puerto Rico. We will swap the dry southwest of the island, for the wetter northeast corner, where we will be seeking two particular hummingbirds; Green-throated Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird. These will be searched for at Humacao on the way, and then around Fajardo, where we stay too for the following two nights.

Bananaquits are common on Puerto Rico
Bananaquits are common on Puerto Rico (Sam Woods)

Day 5: Clean-up day in northern Puerto Rico. Our final day will have some flexibility to it, and is deliberately left open so we can roam where needed. We will pick sites, depending on what gaps we are seeking to fill on our list. There are nearby mountain rainforests, like El Yunque to the west, coastal scrub sites all around, and humid forests to the south, all within easy reach on this small island. Whatever, we decide, we will return to Fajardo on the east coast for the final night of the tour, and to reflect on an exciting list of endemics seen!

Loggerhead Kingbird is a Caribbean specialty
Loggerhead Kingbird is a Caribbean specialty (Sam Woods)

Day 6: Departures from San Juan. After breakfast, we shall pack up and leave for the airport as a group, getting there in time for afternoon departures.

Greater Antillean Grackle is the common grackle on the island
Greater Antillean Grackle is the common grackle on the island (Sam Woods)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Easy. While early starts and long days are required, this is not a physically difficult tour. Sunrise is at around 7am in this season, so breakfasts are likely to be taken at around 6am with a 6:30am departure. Sunset is at around 6pm. There will be several nights of the tour dedicated to finding the two local endemic nightbirds. This will be done before diner for those who wish to do this; others who do not can take an earlier dinner if required. These are optional though, and can be sat out if desired. The pace is fairly relaxed.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy. The walking on this trip is generally easy, with no steep or difficult hikes. Most of the walks will be on roads, or on short, forest trails. The highest point of the tour will be on day 3 at Maricao, at only 2600ft /800m. Puerto Rico is small, with the longest drive being from southwest to northeast Puerto Rico on day 4, at around 3 hours. Generally speaking the road conditions are good, with most of these being paved, with only short sections of bad paved road, or dirt road.

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All places have en-suite bathrooms, full time electricity, and Internet.

CLIMATE: At this time of year, some of the coolest temperatures are recorded, and it is typically the driest time of year. In short, this is the most pleasant time to visit, as it is not so hot, and avoids the rainy season. That said, it is still hot and humid in the lowlands. Average temperatures at this time of year through the region are 72F – 84F (22 – 29C), so it is still very hot in the lowlands of the Caribbean, even in this cool, dry season. In February, there are around 13 days of rainfall.

WHEN TO GO: This part of the Caribbean is generally cooler and drier at this time of year, and therefore has been timed for the most pleasant time to bird it (i.e. December to March). This is also the time of year when the Caribbean residents are supplemented by a substantial number of boreal migrants wintering from North America, making this arguably the optimum birding season.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: Entry requirements are the same as for the United States. For US citizens, there are no special travel requirements. For all foreign citizens, please check the ever-changing restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Tropical Birding cannot be responsible for changes in entrance policy or restriction levied by the US government. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which can be applied for online. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Those who need to apply for an ESTA or Visa should do so long in advance of the tour, as these can take days weeks to be issued.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to all people, EXCEPT porters and Tropical Birding guide; accommodation from night of day 1 through night of day 5; meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 6; one group arrival airport pick-up, and one departure airport drop off by the tour leader (specific times of this will be confirmed by the Tropical Birding Tours office); ground transport to all the sites listed on the itinerary in a suitable modern rental vehicle with the tour leader driving; entrance fees to all sites on the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for any luggage porters (if you require their services); any flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included (drinking water is the only included drink); alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.