PR Diaries: Trip to San Patricio Forest with Estuario, 12/23/19

Continuing with our December 2019 birding expedition with Estuario we went to San Patricio Forest in Bayamon. When Coral provided the directions a day before and my mom started looking it up on google, we knew we were in for a great surprise.

In the morning, at around 7:00 am, we reached San Patricio Forest. It is still not open to the public, but Eliezer and Coral was able to get the permission for our visit. And I’m so glad that I was able to join them on this trip. We were the first visitors after Hurricane Maria. Hopefully the San Patricio Forest will be open soon for the public.

So, the surprise – San Patricio Forest location – It is dense forest situated in the middle of the city. This is gated and till you go in, you will not know how dense and beautiful this is. It is very close to San Patricio Plaza, and I was very well confused how a forest was there. It seemed like it was a saved region that was planned to be cut down.

We were greeted by the park rangers as they opened the gates for us. We then did spend sometime completing signup formalities and distributing the binoculars to the people who needed it. Park rangers do some experiments there and have also created some interesting planters such as using bamboo itself.

We were also warned to be watchful about some hanging branches those were damaged during Maria and park rangers are still trying to get those cleaned up.

As we started our walk, we saw so many almond shape fruits on the ground. These are called Puerto Rican Almonds and perfectly edible but for some reason no one cares about them. I’ll click picture of the tree and fruit next time for reference.We also found some Passionfruit dropped on the ground and even tasted them. Fresh fruits found in the jungle taste amazing.

Coming to birding that I almost forgot about – we first saw a few Ground Doves, and then a few warblers. We looked closely and these were Northern Parulas around 4 of them . The trees in the San Patricio are very high (may be 50 to 60 ft) and these tiny warblers love to play on the top branches. It makes us very difficult for photographing them. Northern Parulas are fairly common in the area, but they always cheer me up. We also heard and saw some Monk Parakeets flying around. As we moved forward on the trail and made a loop around a part, we saw some flittering on the top branches of one tree. As we observed closer we identified it as male Puerto Rican Spindalis. Then we were watching for the movements nearby in the undergrowth of the forest and spotted an Adelaide’s Warbler. Warblers are some of my favorite birds. 

Northern Parula Male

In this part of the forest, it was moss grown on the road and it was very sweet smell all around that seemed like Basil though it was not Basil. The sweet smell is still a mystery for me to solve. There were also touch-me-not plants in the forest. They are sensitive plants that when you touch them, they will close up. 

We also saw something interesting, on the specific section there were so many Mollusk Shells, it was just impossible to walk there without stepping onto them. Not sure what was causing them to be in numbers in that specific patch.

After the sweet smelling grass/tree area, there was a turn and we stopped to search for the Hooded Warbler, but that didn’t go well. But our sophisticated Grackles made their appearance in the show. It was quite odd that we didn’t see them beforehand, but you know, grackles aren’t that fond of forests. I think they were in this area as this was near the wall around the city neighborhood. So Grackles must be sneaking in to check out the forest life. We scanned the trees for sometime and saw two birds on the top of the tall tree in the bright sunlight. We initially thought these were Gray Kingbirds, but the closer look with binoculars revealed one of them as a Puerto Rican Flycatcher. We also heard a Mangrove Cuckoo but it did not come out to see us.

We decided to return early as my parents had some work. On our way back we kept birding and saw another small bird going in and out on the tall tree branches. This was the Prairie Warbler. One of my other favorite and made my day.

The eBird checklist is here.

In the meanwhile, enjoy some pictures of this lush green San Patricio Forest right in the middle of the bustling city.

Thank you for reading and see you next time!

PR Diaries: Parque Central in San Juan, PR with Estuario, 12/22/19

We used to see this green lush park during our drive’s from Guaynabo to San Juan or vice versa. With the park there also seems to be the nice walkway around the mangroves. We were not sure what this is but always wished to go there !! So, when we saw Estuario trip plan and looked at the location, I was over joyed. So, This is the trip with Estuario to Central Park (Or Parque Central) in San Juan. We did start birding in the specific part of the park known as “PARQUE DE LOS NIÑOS Y DE LAS NIÑAS TAMBIÉN” Enjoy!

6:00 AM in the morning, probably wake up time for most people, we were getting ready for a birding trip. Super excited we started early. We met our friends Coral, Eliezer and Carols once we reached there. This is a nice park with all the green area for birding as well as other facilities like swimming, tennis etc. While waiting for more birding friends to join, we spotted many nests of Monk Parakeets in the tall poles of the park facilities. Most of the poles have big nests of Monk Parakeets. As we were enjoying Parakeet sites, we were met by heavy some rain and took shelter under one of the buildings.

It took sometime but sky cleared up and we started our walk following the back trail.

It was fun walking on the wet patches of gravel pathway that was surrounded by the tall trees. We first got greeted by a Northern Parula. They are small, migratory warblers that breed in the continental U.S. and winter in the neotropics. Near them, there were a few Prairie Warblers. Those were surprise birds, as we usually don’t get migratories in that park. We then saw a Green Heron hiding in the branches of the mangroves. I have seen a Tricolored Heron before, but not a Green Heron. So this was my first sighting of Green Heron. As we walked forward, we heard Puerto Rican Woodpecker and the saw a little bird flittering around on the tall tree. That turned out to be Yellow-throated Warbler. It is a rare bird there. Most of the above are all rares to the park except the Green Heron and . Other regular one’s we saw were Grackles, Pigeons and Gray Kingbirds.

From there, Carlos spotted a Yellow-crowned Heron hiding again in the Mangrove. This was followed by the sighting of a Black-faced Grassquit. As we were walking we came to the junction, that was once opened for the walk on the water along the mangroves. This is not open anymore due to the water taxi accident that damaged the portion of that walkway. We hope that it gets fixed soon but you never know. There we saw a Pearly Eyed Thrasher and a Red-legged Thrush. While staying there and chatting, we heard something. It was a Northern Waterthrush. At first I couldn’t see it, but then I spotted it initially on the ground behind the closed doors of the walkway. Then it went into the tree. Thanks to my dad for the picture. 

Northern Waterthrush (view in circle)

From there, we saw a few Monk parakeets again but nothing much. I had a lot of fun talking with the people over there. I talked a lot with Carlos Ortíz, who is a photographer. He loves birds and he knows a lot about birds. When we reached the parking lot, we saw this grackle going in and out of a trash can!

Greater Antillean Grackle

We interacted with birding friends for sometime exchanging our findings and knowing about each other and then left for the day.

Thank you for reading and I will see you next time!

Bird checklist for the trip is here.

PR Diaries: Birding with Estuario, Laguna Secreta in Cataño, 12/21/19

Hi there! Today I will be talking about the CBC (Christmas Bird Count) in Laguna Secreta (Secret Lagoon). This was our second trip with Estuario; the first one was at Paseo Las Curías. So on to the walk:

We woke up at 6 am because we needed to reach there by 7 am. This was the large group so when we reached there, we were split into 3 groups: One going to the bay, another going to a forest, and another going to the lagoon. We decided to go to the lagoon because we wanted to see some shorebirds as well.

We started at around 7:30 in the morning. Our leader was José Enrique, someone who has been birding there for the past 30 years and explores Secret Lagoon at least once a month. Jose has been birding so much that he can tell just by mere sight what bird it is. We were also joined by Carlos Ortiz another birding partner and great photographer. It was a few minutes drive to the birding spot. When José stopped at the construction / manufacturing facility, we were surprised as where we were going. We did some birding near the area while José got his spotting scope set and we got all our gears ready. In the manufacturing area we saw 7 Grackles and 12 Pigeons before moving forward.

The Grackles are gloss allover, except the yellow iris. They are very common and hence ignored in PR. I think they deserved to be clicked, so in one of my future posts, I would get a nice click of Grackle and post. And the pigeons, I don’t think I need to introduce you to it. They’re your common Rock Pigeons or Rock Doves or whatever you call it, but they all mean the same. If you don’t know what a pigeon is, then I don’t know how you read this far without having to look the bird up.

As we moved forward on the gravel road, we spotted our regular Gray Kingbirds. We were expecting to continue to the same gravel path, till Jose asked us to cross a small fence and move towards a tall grassy and woody field. Everyone was surprised as where we were heading, it looked like a heavily overgrown jungle.

Jose mentioned that this walkway is usually kept clean by the wild horses grazing the greens, but seems they had not been here in quite sometime. The reason to take this path was to observe some migratory warblers, but the best we got was the Bananaquit. If you have seen a little, yellow-breasted bird with a white stripes on head, that is Bananaquit, a VERY common bird in PR. Then, at the end, we realized that we could’ve went an easier way! But still, we would have missed all the fun and adventure of going through the tall grasses, getting stung by some grass seeds sticking to our clothes and miss a few Bananaquits. This was experience by itself. 

After crossing the area, we got down on the shortcut that would have taken us there without any hustle with the tall metal gate again. But this time, there was enough opening in the gate that we were able to squeeze through that. A little further into the Jungle and we had a face-off with wild horses. To give them time to choose their way we decided to stay put and do some birding there, we saw few Bananaquits and a Red Legged Thrush.

Seems these were kind of domesticated wild horses (if there is a type), they are not afraid of humans and also do not bother them if we pass from nearby. So we decided to move forward. After a gravel walk there was a deck with tall grass around the lagoon. We have to save ourselves from grass scratches while walking and to reach on the rocking deck.

Lagoon was a beautiful sight, we forget everything as soon we saw it. Jose did set-up his spotting scope and we started scouting for waterbirds.

I immediately spotted an Osprey sitting on the small island of sticks. Ospreys are birds of prey that have a striped head of gray and brown, a brown back, and a gray breast. There also was a Brown Pelican. Brown Pelican was sitting in front of a Great Blue Heron. And the Great Blue Heron was on the diagonal side of the flock of ducks. It took time for us to spot these 3 but once we saw, this was the sequence. In the duck flock, most of them were Ruddy Ducks, but two were rares: A male and female Lesser Scaup. We could easily tell them apart because they were both so distinct.Thanks to Jose’s spotting scope that helped us to see and identify these birds bit clearly. We also saw a Green Heron and Great Egret. I saw a Sora at the very end, but it was moving fast.

Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, Blue Heron

After soaking in the beauty of Lagoon we decided to go back and this time decided to take a short cut instead of going through the jungle.

At last, We met up at the parking lot we parked on in the morning and talked about our best finds.

Thank you for reading and see you in the next adventure post with Estuario !!!

PR Diaries: Paseo Las Curías in San Juan, PR with Estuario, 12/20/19

Hi there! Along winter break, we have been taking many walks around the metropolitan area of Puerto Rico. We were introduced to a new PR non-profit organization Estuario de la Bahía de San Juan (will refer them as Estuario later) by some of our SOPI birding friends as well as found their facebook page. Estuario is a non-profit organization focused on managing water quality, water shed restoration and associated ecosystems around San Juan bay, PR. As a part of their education program Estuario lead lots of natural science related classes that includes birding related classes and nature and birding trips. They also do the birding census for Audubon in PR San Juan area. And they do the best thing – Doing back to back birding trips from mid Dec to 1st week of Jan. It can not be better than this.

As we were itching to find more birding places in and around San Juan, Guaynabo area, Estuario trips were our first choices. I could not join some of their earlier trips due to school in session, but this is the first walk I did with them.

So on to the birding walk – This was just a 20 min trip from our home to Paseo Las Curías – a wonderfully designed dam and an unusual one. We started at around 6:30 AM in the morning and met our birding leader Coral and Eliezer from Estuario there. We realized that we met Coral before on one of the birding trip and she was the one who asked SOPI to share the Esturio program details with us. Thank you so much Coral.

It was a little chilly morning for PR standards, but it felt nice. When we reached there, I was surprised to see that Paseo Las Curías was very well maintained. The other places I had went with SOPI were the natural jungles but this was man made and managed dam and hence it was cleaner. It felt really nice to find a place really close to home for birding. Sadly, the lake around the dam has been infested by the ill-native plants, but water management teams were working on cleaning this. The dam has an unusual design as a circular pothole / sinkhole that takes all the overflow of water through it. Lake around the dam is shallow at the edges and bit deep in the middle. If you want to see it, go here.

Now finally the birding part, in the parking lot trees we saw around 3 Bananaquits, 1 Prairie Warbler, and 1 Spindalis. And no, I am not crazy about Spindalises, but I certainly like them. They are so beautiful. The males have a striped black-and-white head with an orange breast and grayish wings. They have some sort of a seet seet call. The Prairie Warbler has a yellow face and breast, and a grayish-brown back. Sadly, I couldn’t get any decent pictures of these.

When we started our walk, we saw a few Gray Kingbirds on the posts. Coral told us that we could possibly see a few Blue-and-yellow Macaws fly-by. We saw a very friendly American Kestrel who I believe wanted to have a photo shoot. I got super close to it and it didn’t get scared at all! We heard Macaws in distance and when we looked around, those were flying around the far trees. Those were some of my first Macaws I have seen clearly. We have seen some while driving around but not a great unclose look with binoculars. They are Yellow in the breast and blue on the back. They were such a sight. We also saw a few Loggerhead Kingbirds and then moved onto near the forested area and saw a few Black-faced Grassquits.

American Kestrel
Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Black-faced Grassquit

From there, we walked a bit on the streets with local PR houses on each sides. This was like a country side of PR with the feeling of El Yunque, but then also like Guánica. It wasn’t so humid, but also wasn’t so dry. It was in a happy middle. There were so many pet dogs barking and marking their territories. A trick I learned from Eliezer that if we do not get scared and stand unto them and ignore them, they won’t do anything and will just keep barking. Birds – we saw few Grassquits, Pigeons, Hens and Roosters, Bananquit, Gray Kingbird. The only big finds were a woodpecker and Red-tailed Hawk. We were hoping for the Smooth-billed Anis, but they were no where to be seen. So, we decided to comeback.

But as soon as we came out to the nearby foresty spot we were birding, we were greeted by 5 Smooth-billed Anis! They sort of look like a parakeet, but their bill is so obscure that you can almost always identify the Ani. They are complete black and glossy, so in the right lighting, you can see it somewhat metallic green-blue. It was sort of like a meeting at 9:00 sharp!

Smooth-billed Anis

We then walked back to where we started and spotted some of the same birds we saw on our way forward.

Thank you for reading! I will see you in the next post.

PS: I went recently again to Paseo Las Curías and lake is really getting cleaned. It was fun to visit this place again with my friend Krish.

Notice that a swallow decided to come in the frame 🙂

PR Diaries: Trip to San Miguel, Luquillo (Pitahya Borinquen) with, 12/15/19

4:00 AM. I woke up, sort of tired, but also excited. Tired because well, I think you would be tired if you woke up at 4 am. Excited because it was my first CBC (Christmas Bird Count) in Puerto Rico. I have done one of them in California at Ed Levine County Park. 

We left at about 5 am. We had to reach the meeting point by 6 am at Playa Surf, then we were supposed to drive to the birding the place from there. One of our birding friend mentioned that beach was calm. I don’t know what they mean by calm, I was amazed by the amount of waves over there. But it was a beautiful morning and sunrise. When the rest of the people came, I was surprised to see most people speaking English. The other bird walks I’ve went with SOPI (Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña Inc.) were in Spanish. So, this was a good start for me. At least I can ask questions and clear my doubts.

When we went to the actual place, Laura (our birding partner and organizer) told us that where we were birding is privately owned by the government and you need to get permits and all that stuff. There was a big metal gate in front where we parked at the birding site and I was hoping that with all this permission we would have the keys to open the door and walk in. So, here was the first surprise, to start the trip we first had to climb tall metal gate and to get in, sort of like trespassing. Though this was my first time, I liked it though. It rained before, and water still didn’t soak and there were deep mud and puddles all around.

Initially I was so intrigued by walking in the wet water and getting all my shoes dirty, but I got over my apprehension, it was fun. My mom was excited as she was able to find all kinds of Indian Flora Fun around. We heard many birds and saw Bananaquit, Osprey and Egret, but the first highlight was to find a Puerto Rican Tody. Puerto Rican Todies are a tiny, little, endemic species of Puerto Rico. They are scarlet red in the throat, white in the breast, and green elsewhere. I first saw them at El Yunque. It was very close but not the great lighting and environment for me to click pictures.

Puerto Rican Tody

While we were busy having a good look at Puerto Rican Tody, we heard some parakeets. Though they were far our birding partners identified those as Orange-fronted Parakeet.

Then, we started going uphill. There we spotted an Adelaide’s Warbler and a Northern Parula. They are both warblers: small, energetic, and lively birds. Once we reached the top, we had to “trespass” again. This time, it was harder to climb as tall gate did not had great bars to hold. So I went through space under the gate. Once we did that, we had a 5-minute break for water and snacks. We shared banana bread that my mom baked for us.

From there, we started going downhill. There was a lot of cow dung along the way. It was disgusting. But it was all worth when we spotted a Belted Kingfisher in the distant tree.

Belted Kingfisher

Once we reached down, we had to cross many puddles. I liked it. I was surprised by one puddle getting in the way. It seemed deep. My dad helped me cross it. My mom loves photos, so she clicked a lot of photos. We also managed to find a cow behind the bushes. 

In between hopping through all the puddles we managed to see a surprise Orange-cheeked Waxbill.

Orange-cheeked Waxbill

We crossed third tall gate before starting our walk nearing the beach. On the way a birding friend named Jane (she moved from New Hampshire to retire in PR) showed us a noni fruit and sea grapes. These were first time fruits for us. These were not ripe to taste but on our list to explore.

Noni Fruit
Sea Grapes

Jane’s husband worked there for monitoring the nest sites of the Leatherback turtles. That’s why she knows so much about the place. Once we entered the beach, Laura pointed out some Semipalmated Plovers and a Sanderling. I first saw the Sanderling when I was 3, when I didn’t even know it. The first time I saw a Semipalmated Plover was at Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo. We also saw a Spotted Sandpiper.

Semipalmated Plover
Spotted Sandpiper

The beach had a quick sand and it was difficult to walk on the beach with shoes on. Even on the wet sand our feet were sinking in the bit before we could take another step. So we decided to take shoes off, but that did not made it any easier.

On the beach, I saw something that could relate to our explorations unit in school: water. And no, I’m not talking about the ocean, although if you guessed the ocean, you were close. It was an estuary. An estuary is where rivers meet oceans. The estuaries are very, very shallow. It didn’t even reach my ankle!

Then, we needed to walk across another estuary. It was a little bit deeper, but not so deep.

We had to walk from there to the parking, which was approximately a kilometer. Once we reached there, Laura got the drivers into her car and drove them to their cars. Then they came back with their own car.

Then we came back.

Thank you for reading and see you next time! As this is a bit long post, I took my mom’s help to update this. We could have written few pages about our experience, but not sure if this would have retained your attentions. So, this is it for now, may be we will expand on this someday.

Happy Birding!! Enjoy the view from top.

View from the top

PR Diaries: Birding at Playa de Borinquén with Sociedad Orintólogica Puertorriqueña, Aguadilla, PR 11/09/2019

Hi! Today I will be talking about our birding visit to El Playa de Borinquén, or in english, Borinquen Beach, and we went with the Sociedad Orintólogica Puertorriqueña.

El Playa de Borinquén is a beach in the northwestern corner of Puerto Rico. There are some main places such as: Wilderness Beach, Las Ruinas del Faro La Ponderosa, Crash Boat Beach, and the actual Borinquén Beach. Be careful while swimming though; the sea and currents are really strong. Once you park, look toward the sea and look right of that, you will see a giant cliff. I saw Pelicans going in and out of the cliff. It seen=med like there are some nests. And maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.

The drive from home to Aguadilla took approximately two hours. We were excited about the forest and what birds we would find there. I was mainly wanting to find the Puerto Rican Spindalis, Northern Parula, and American Redstart, but any warbler would make me happy.

When we reached there, the very first thing I saw was the pelicans foraging. While we were waiting for the rest of the birding members to come, I spotted a Whimbrel and clicked some pictures.

It was a nice surprise to find many bilingual local birders as I was expecting mostly Spanish speaking birders based on past trip experience.

Brown Pelican

We were split into two groups for the actual birding trip. I was very happy to be Gabriel Lugo – expert birding guide and one of my birding mentor to whom I ask so many questions and he patiently responds to those.

In our group, along the road, we first witnessed a Prairie Warbler. It is yellow with black breast stripes. Right after that, on that same tree, we saw a Northern Parula. Parula’s have blue-gray backs and yellow breasts. They both are very energetic birds and move at almost every split-second. It was a delight to see these birds flitter around.

I was able to then see the Puerto Rican Spindalis for my first time! I was so happy. On the tree right next to it, we also saw an American Redstart! And it was a male! That was one warbler I was dreaming to see.

We hiked a little bit, and in between we heard a Ovenbird. When you first see it, it looks sort of like a thrush. But, it is a warbler. Once we reached the top, we saw a Cape May Warbler, Adelaide’s Warbler (Endemic to Puerto Rico), Northern Parula, Puerto Rican Oriole, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Bananaquit, and Puerto Rican Woodpecker. Too bad I couldn’t get any good photos of the warblers as I’m still adjusting to the dense forest birding in Puerto Rico and not great at clicking pictures.

Signing off, TheKidBirder.

Trip around Camuy with Sadhu Govardhan and Kenny Enriquez, 12/28/19 (Part 3 of SOPIPR CBC)

To see the first part, go here.

To see the second part, go here.

After seeing the Upland Sandpiper, we stopped for a short break at the La Industrial Bakery in Barceloneta; the bakery had some great selection of sweets if you have a sweet tooth. After a quick lunch we all decided to visit Camuy to try finding the Red Knot, the American Golden-Plover and the Great-tailed Grackle. Camuy is a 45 min drive from Barceloneta. When we reached our first stop a small pond on Rt-485 (also known as Flamingo pond as a lone flamingo used to live there for 10 years), right away we saw a Little Blue Heron. And yes, the Little Blue Heron is smaller than the Great Blue Heron. We saw an uncommon Whimbrel, many Lesser Yellowlegs, Some Ruddy Turnstones, Glossy Ibises, and a few White-cheeked Pintails. 

Glossy Ibis
Whimbrel (uncommon)
White-cheeked Pintails
Little Blue Heron
Ruddy Turnstones

We then went to another pond in the diameter of Finca Nolla. We saw mainly the same species but many in numbers. But I identified a new species – Muscovy Duck. They are domesticated in PR, and their face sort of looks like a turkey. That might be all I have to tell you because it is so unique.

Mainly all the birds here, how many can you identify?

We then went to the beach section of Finca Nolla. Sadly, due to high tides we did not see the sandpiper we were looking for: Red Knot. Nonetheless, we saw some nice flying pelicans, turnstones, and Black-bellied Plovers. This was at 3:30 pm in the evening.
We all were very tired after the full day birding and decided to end CBC for the day.

Black-bellied Plover
Ruddy Turnstone
Brown Pelicans

I’m so thankful to Sadhu Govardhan and Kenny Enriquez for that one day trip. They are such expert birder and yet very humble human beings. I have learned a lot from these two mentors in birding, birding equipments, and more as how to be a great human being. 

That’s all for the trip! See you later!