Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Despacito...aves photocito, in Puerto Rico, despacito

I just got done with a birding adventure that was so good, the group wrote a song about it, and not to the tune of "Despecito," we chose Ricky Martin, "La vida loca"  I will get to this later in the blog....despacito, take it slowly, passionately.....

After a nearly two year hiatus from COVID, my island endemic project continued on what should be an American state...Puerto Rico, where 17 island endemics waited my viewing and an unknown total of butterflies including.....a really really rare one, so rare it makes my local Dakota skippers look common.

We teamed up with 5 other birders, really nice people, three from Michigan, one from Boulder, and another from Youngstown Ohio.  This was a normal "Wildside Tour" with Gabriel Lugo as a guide.  A man I once met in a parking lot at Estero in South Texas, in the small field of birding.  I got his name from another birder I picked up from the side of the road near Nome on birding trips past.  That birder from South Florida remains a Facebook friend.  

The trip was a bit punishing for the non-driven birder (no beach, no pool, no nightclubs, the bed was one's guilty pleasure after night birding, but with good to great food, great sights, good lodging and a great group, heck, and being bored to death from COVID, and sitting in our RV after a second year of having a Bhutan trip postponed, it was a good time to go birding and a great time to get Puerto Rican birds.  The trip had two spots left in November when I got the urge and Silja came too!

We had a safe trip.  The mountains on the island are great.  Things look back to normal post Irma, maybe more back to normal than we are from our lost house.  The villages are more fun than San Juan.

We sort of got attacked by a guy meticulously leaf blowing a main road in front of our euphonia stakeout.  I think he would have blown the dust off my shoes if I had held them up.  Gabriel swore he did not work for anyone, but apparently he liked a very clean road.  When birders notice OCD, you know it is bad.

Puerto Rico seemed a friendly place, but one somewhere stuck between the US and whatever it is.  They are metric, mile markers in Kilometers, gas in Liters, but drinks in ounces, and the speed limit signs are in MPH.  They drive on the right, unlike St Thomas USVI drives on the left for some reason.  They have the US Post office, US Dollar, and it all appears American and despite this being a long ways from Florida, oddly, Diesel is $0.75 a gallon (well it is $0.73 a liter) cheaper here than Florida, heck it is cheaper here than Oklahoma.  It is the cheapest Diesel in America.  Where do they get it?  Gasoline is a little more than Florida prices and above diesel.  I am still bewildered, with all the EPA mandates in America, it looks like they sell old fashioned high Sulphur diesel here, which is used to power mostly old trucks.  There were a couple new Volvo trucks on the road.  

The roads are narrow and in places, full of pot holes...the Eighties were calling and wanted their roads back.  Parking is sort of on faith as is meeting other cars. Gabriel only had to move in his side mirrors once.  Roads on state trunk roads flood out due to lack of ditching, when we had heavy rain where, "This is the dry side of the island." We drove through water the Weather Channel says to never do. Traffic is crazy in the towns but it seems to work.  They even sell Ice cream out of trunks of cars that drive around with their trucks open and prices written on the underside of the lids.  Other cars are decked out with full speakers in open trucks, blasting us with a Puerto Rican beat, sort of hip-hop meets a Latin beat.  The school buses have been privatized, so many of the buses are painted up with Latin flair.

They also have a great chain restaurant here, Meson Sandwiches, it is almost too good to work in America, though.  There is one in Orlando.  Toll roads abound here.  They are pretty COVID cautious, few if any mask objectors and the vaccination rates here are very very high.

What kind of name for milk is "Tres Monjitas" three nuns.....think about that.  Milk and nuns...??

Not a chain, just a local cafe we stopped by to eat a little lunch, what we ate I do not know.  Some of it tasted like chicken, but iguana....also tastes like chicken...whatever it was or called, it tasted good.

The place does not appear perfectly set to do it yourself.  The Parrot especially is not inviting to just a random walk to get the bird as it hangs near the rehab center and it is not very inviting to birders.

Silja at the parrot stake out which is basically outside the gate of the parrot rehab center.  The wild birds come and talk to their captive cousins.  We got lucky on this bird.

The verdant mountains, a part of the island few see.  There is more than a cruise ship port, beachs and old San Juan

Mofongo, a local dish of plantain and chicken.  The sauce was very, very good

    As it would turn out, this was the only birding trip where I have been the only photographer.  I do wish we had stopped more to photograph other stuff, for you to get a better flavor of the place but I would not have probably taken that many photos as I would have been looking for birds and bugs.  


#1 The Elfin-Woods Warbler, just identified in 1968, and a threatened bird

#2 Adelaide's warbler, a composite of two photos, one of each end showing the field marks of the bird

#3 Green Mango, a larger hummer

#4 Puerto Rican Emerald

#5 Puerto Rican Lizard-cuckoo

#6 Puerto Rican Owl, which does truly have a head, but even getting this photo at night with only a flashlight was good

#7 Puerto Rican Spindalis, this showy male liked the parking lot of our hotel the second night.

#8 Puerto Rican Parrot, nearly extirpated due to deforestation over the years and then hurricane Irma, the numbers are now higher, but higher than the 70 birds estimated 15 years ago puts its peril in a little perspective.  Definitely along with the blackbird and the Elfin-woods warblers, to see them before they die out, and were the birds of the trip.  I found this bird perched through the tiniest of unobstructed holes in the forest.  Everyone got it as well.

#9 Yellow-shouldered blackbird. a bird so threatened and obscure, I had never heard of it before researching this trip, with populations dropping to around 300 in the mid-Eighties, there are now nearly 1250 pairs by estimate.  They aren't as sexy as the parrot and does anyone really care about blackbirds? Their lives are spent in three geographically distinct areas including the Roosevelt Military base, and the offshore island of Mona.  For blackbirds, they were not that easy to find or see.

#10 Puerto Rican Tanager

#11 Puerto Rican Woodpecker

Hey, DESPACITO!  Take it slow with your gal, you're in Puerto Rico...

#12 Puerto Rican Tody, the little guy of the forest, everyone's favorite

#13 Puerto Rican Oriole

There is a lot more yellow on that bird than it looks from this view.  This is the only one we saw, for reasons unknown.  On this and the Puerto Rican Flycatcher, another bird, we saw once or twice, it was good I got photos

#14 Puerto Rican nightjar, The white dot is its eye, you can see the white tail band, this was taken in the dead of night, 30 yards away, using a flashlight and ISO at 30,000.  It seems a good get to me?

#15 Puerto Rican Vireo, a bit elusive, skulky, and fast, we also did not see this bird much

#16 Puerto Rican Bullfinch, we played peekaboo with this bird the whole time here.  A handsome finch, that just did not want to come out and be photographed.

#17 Puerto Rican Flycatcher. bad effort on my part, they'd be all over, but like the oriole, only a single other bird would show up in morning light, ...and my ISO was still set at 70,000, I tried almost everything to fix this photo up, but alas, below was the best I could do.  A sad end to my 17th endemic, and a bit of a downer.

There were also a few non-island-only endemics that I needed which would be considered more West Indian endemics
Lifer, Plain Pigeon 

Lifer, West Indian Whistling Duck

Lifer, Antillean Euphonia

Lifer, Antillean Mango, the only one we saw, over exposed into the sun, but the identifying white patch is visible, so it counts 

Lifer, Lesser Antillean Pewee, photo sucks but well, we saw it twice, and this was the best I could do.

That made 22 lifers for the trip, as in birds I have never seen before.  about 110 species overall.  I saw an exotic to the island, an Indian silverbill, what one does with that, IDK. 
Then there were birds that I have seen before that will make additions when Puerto Rico is added to the "US/ ABA re-revised List," especially as I believe this should be a state.  Why Hawaii and not Puerto Rico?"  The ABA is having their conference here next I am padding my PR numbers.  You heard it here first.

Caribbean Elaenia, first seen in St Martin FWI

Pearly-eyed thrasher, first seen in St Martin FWI

Scaly-naped pigeon, first seen in St Martin FWI

Greater Antillean Grackle, first seen on Jamaica

Loggerhead Kingbird,  first seen on Jamaica

Green-throated carib, the dominant hummingbird of St. Martin

There was also a Crested Antillean Hummingbird, which I only half-heartedly put a camera on and got a blurry vision of a cool hummer, I have photographed many times before in St. Martin. 

Then there are the introduced birds....would they count on an ABA Puerto Rican 51st state kind of list?  
Venezuelan troupial, has been here the longest, over 100 years, but I shot so many photos on Curacao that I took only two of this bird.  Is the yellow faced grassquit introduced or not, Indian Silverbills, assorted parakeets, munia, and...even the red jungle fowl, including this handsome fellow.  The chicken is already on the list in Key West and Kauai, but he is STILL a handsome fellow.

The rooster was heading towards this handsome fellow.  He was also watching me watch this chicken, possibly, HIS chicken.  There were feral or semi feral cats all over the island. 

"Hey human, go stuff yourself.  This field is owned by cats." 


The oddly named Modest Sister

Cassius blue above and this one

Ceraunus blue

Dingy purplewing

Florida purplewing

Apricot sulphur

great southern white

Gulf Fritillary 

Hispaniola mimic-white



Mexican fritillary 

Nero skipper otherwise known as a Puerto Rican Panoquin

Ocala skipper

Pale cracker, a good mimic

Wow, the goal bug of butterfly hunters everywhere, the Puerto Rican Harlequin.  I saw two of them at two sites!  This butterfly was down to a census of 70 individuals estimated, 25 years ago.  Why it declined is unknown.  It has plenty of food plants.  This insect might not outlive me as a species, sadly.  I wanted to see one, and, Gabriel found them.

Local subspecies of the Florida leafwing, which I assume will be split into the Puerto Rican leafwing someday

Puerto Rican ringlet

Puerto Rican skipper

Puerto Rican yellow, I almost missed this endemic

Sickle winged skipper, a butterfly whose identity baffled me and Gabriel for days

Southern broken dash

Tropical buckeye

tropical checkered skipper

Vitelline  or "V-mark" skipper

white peacock, which looks like no peacock I have ever seen

This was a good butterfly, even Gabriel got his camera out on this one, and....I sort of screwed up my pewee photo.....ZESTOS SKIPPER, versus pewee?  This butterfly went extinct in Mainland America in 2004 with the last holdouts being on the Key West Botanical Gardens, now they are gone forever.  Maybe not so special in Puerto Rico, but this butterfly was blazened on my mind to notice it and I did, unfortunately in the wrong part of America.

I photographed 19 lifer species of butterflies to go along with the 22 species of birds.  We saw 35 species of butterflies, all photographed except the monarch.  It was fun.  
Lifer beer, after the Yellow shouldered blackbird

I am not sure if the other birders appreciated my looking and obsessing about the harlequin after a long look at a rare Hispaniola white mimic, at some stops, like the plain pigeon spot, with everyone at the stakeout, as the bird did not readily appear, I gleaned diminutive butterflies to photograph.  I was not paying attention, and then I looked up and refocused my camera on a bird in the powerline which 14 minutes later, someone else noticed which was the plain pigeon.  I could have saved everyone 15 minutes on an biting ant laced field.
Olaf (left) and Gabriel (right) on the Plain pigeon, unknown horse helping out


Although I doubt few of the participants will read this, here is the song composed by fellow birder, Linda, last name withheld, sung to La Vida Loca

Were in Puerto Rico
Were ready to fly
were hyped for endemics
oh well, we'll try

Our guide is "spot on"
We got 8 the first day
lizard cuckoo, spindalis, get out of our way

 Puerto Rico, 
Puerto Rico,
Your Caribbean sea, your mountains and wetlands, we'll return to see.

With 8 pairs of bins, the bullfinch came next, 
but the euphonia, and pewee, escaping our grip

through mountains and tree tops,
we gave up our watch,
Puerto Rican Alm-ver-zo,
in town,
was "top notch"

We returned to our watch to get that ^&^* bird, 
we encountered a noise so insane, 
in birding never heard....

In the top of the forest,
and down the road, 
was a man 
and his machine, having his leaves blown, 
Having HIS leaves blown!

Puerto Rico, 
Puerto Rico,
Your Caribbean sea, your mountains and wetlands, we'll return to see.

We dropped our bins down, 
cussing the ground,
Please don't ruin our day, 
but the birds just flew away.

Ah, there he is,
He 's building the nest 
that sweet euphonia,
us birders can now rest,

The trip went on, 
eight birders on the prowl,
one more bird, 
the pigeon we almost through in the towel,
But Under the Tits of Cayay
he suddenly flew our way!

Puerto Rico, 
Puerto Rico,
Your Caribbean sea, your mountains and wetlands, we'll return to see.

Puerto Rico, 
Puerto Rico,
Your Caribbean sea, your mountains and wetlands, we'll return to see.

A trip with a theme song.....if I could only sing
Thanks to all for a great trip, and I apologize for my photographic shortcomings..
Viva Puerto Rico 
but Despacito.....take it slowly
come and enjoy the island of Puerto Rico

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