PR Diaries : Trip to Ponce and Guánica – Sep 02, 2019

A little late post but happy that at last after 2 months of settling in my parents got time and we started exploring the various regions of Puerto Rico. So, we decided to go to the south of Puerto Rico and explore the city and beach of Ponce. We chose Ponce because we heard that it had completely different flora and fauna as part of a dry forest than compared to the north of Puerto Rico, that has more of the tropical forest. Also, we heard that Guánica – a dry forest for birdwatching was near it.

As we drove from Guaynabo to Ponce, we started seeing the difference in scenery after a 45 minute drive. The lush green forests were turning into a dry and brown landscape. It was more of plains and plateau structure and hot and dry weather. We saw dry farm lands, banana plantations, melon fields and some dairy farms (we saw cows grazing in some fields).

When we reached Ponce, the first birds we saw were some common Rock Pigeons. The only odd one was with black band on the back of the neck. I think it was an African/Eurasian-collared Dove. Then we decided to explore the boating dock as I was seeing some gull-like birds flying around there.

Now here comes the surprise – when we went to the dock, there were Terns and lots of Brown Pelicans. I have seen Brown Pelicans earlier but when I closely looked at the Terns – I got the surprise. These were Royal Terns and their juveniles – a brand new bird for me. Some people were hand feeding the terns and pelicans and it was quite a sight to see Terns flying and catching fish from somebody’s hand. Maybe I’ll be able to capture the moment next time. As this was the feeding dock, Brown Pelicans were fearless and flying, roaming all around the humans. This was an amazing picture chance of flying birds and I took the biggest advantage I could take.

Royal Tern
Royal Terns in a group
Royal Tern, Flying
Royal Tern, Flying
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

There was this one really cute moment: A Brown Pelican was babysitting some young terns. It may sound odd, although it’s true. Thanks to my mom to point this out to me.

From there on, we went to the beach of Ponce. We didn’t see much, but we saw the Pelicans and Terns. I think they were searching for food. Some were soaring, some were flying. But either way, they were both foraging. One Royal Tern was siting so still and nicely and I got this:

Royal Tern

Just look at that!

After that, I got to see my first male Magnificent Frigatebird! I was so happy to see it! It was soaring high in the sky! The males have a different color than the females because of the throat. The males have a red throat while the females have a white throat. If you are lucky, at the nesting site, the males usually puff up their throat and you can see it’s red throat clearly. It looks weird, although it is hard to see.

Magnificent Frigatebird

From there on we decided to explore Guánica. It was a completely dry place and seems to be full of Acacia trees. It was scorching hot, we got to know that this was birdwatcher’s paradise to find some of the endemic birds of Puerto Rico. But it was soon going to close so we just decided to explore nearby. The forest was brownish and greenish. Since the time I we reached the forest, I was hearing Bananaquits and finally found them. They’re the most common forest bird for me, because every forest I’ve visited in PR till now, I have seen at least a few Bananaquits.

Bananaquit

Although right after that, I saw something that I never saw before, a Puerto Rican Bullfinch. It looked so nice! I only got one picture of it, but it sticks in my memory. It has a red cap and throat, everything else black.

Puerto Rican Bullfinch

From there we went to see the salt flats of Cabo Rojo. It was hot like Guánica but more shore than forest. We saw some shore birds, but decided to explore later. I got to see a few Cave Swallows and lots of Turkey Vulture flying around. Later we figured out that nearby place was the trash dumpyard for Puerto Rico and that is why there were so many Turkey Vultures around.

Salt Beds of Cabo Rojo

Salt is made by drying the sea water. The sea water comes into the lagoons when there is high tide. That gets water trapped inside the lagoons and then it is directed and released to salt beds. Where it is left to evaporate for 1-3 months to crystallize and for salt crystals. These crystals forms big salt chunks. After the drying, salt crystals and chunks are made into a salt “hill” to dry up. Once it is dried, the salt is took for purification, grinding, and packaging, which is then ready to use.

I got to see the big salt fields. and some were pink. Do you know why?

It is because in the salt fields, there is this microalgae that shrimp eat and give shrimp its pink color.

Also, did you know that this salt flat was the first industry in Puerto Rico ?

That’s all for today! See you next time!

Puerto Rico Trip Part 1

3/27/19 – A decent morning, after we landed in Isla Verde, a bustling city in Puerto Rico, I was wondering what to do for birdwatching. Clearly Isla Verde is a party city where people play loud music on the street that you can even hear them from the sixteenth floor! I’d have to get used to it. My dad took us to beach early morning and to my surprise I was able to hear few birds in the apartment backyard. As we were tired, we decided to rest in the apartment for rest of the day. I was able to see a water lagoon far, but was not expecting to see any birds. Interesting enough my dad pointed out a soaring bird flying towards us from the lagoon. I observed its wings and the body shape. I was amazed that it was a Magnificent Frigatebird and I was seeing it right from our apartment. It was a really nice sighting. Here’s the photo:

Magnificent Frigatebird

3/28/19 – After another restless night of cars and loud music playing on the street, I couldn’t sleep and woke up early in the morning. I was tired, yet we went to apartment backyard at 7:00 am and our first bird of the day were some White-winged doves.

White-winged Dove

While seeing White-winged Doves, we also heard a new, high pitched bird call and I wasn’t sure what it was. I followed the call and soon enough spotted a tiny little bird hopping from one branch to another in the nearby tree. it was a beautiful little Bananaquit. What a funny name – ” You quit eating a banana and its a Bananaquit”. This became my favorite, cute little bird, and now I see it every time I visit the backyard.

Bananaquit

While catching up with Bananaquits from one tree to other, we spotted the bird in the picture below. I did not knew its name at the time. Can you guess the bird without reading further?

Red-legged Thrush

My initial ID research confirmed it is a Red-legged Thrush. They’re nice birds to see. And at 10:00 am, we came back in.

3/29/19, Excited to explore what else I’ll find in the backyard and ocean front for birdwatching, I got up early at 6:30 am and stepped out. The very first bird we saw were some White-winged doves.

White-winged Dove

And then a White-crowned Pigeon. Finding pigeons and doves on the beach was little unusual for me. I’m used to seeing some kind of shore birds there. Then my dad explained it to me the reason behind it. This beach is very sandy and clear with not much vegetation. So, no major fishes and sea weeds for birds to eat. Hence shore birds won’t come here. Also, this is surrounded by the residential buildings and pigeons and doves live on the buildings, thus we find more doves and pigeons. It was funny to watch pigeons digging the sand for food at sometimes.

White-crowned Pigeon

After the beach, we went to find my favorite Bananaquit. It was happily singing and skip hopping on the bushes in the backyard. I got to capture a photo of a singing Bananaquit! And that was all at the beach and backyard.

Bananaquit

As it was getting cloudy, we returned to our apartment. Our apartment window faces towards a beautiful lagoon in the far named – Laguna Los Corozos. It was getting misty and rainy and suddenly we spotted a circle of few birds soaring in the far. Soon their circle started flying towards us and I was able to zoom my camera and had a look at them. These were some Magnificent Frigatebirds. They sure like the rain and were enjoying soaring in it thoroughly.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Another highlight of the apartment birds is Black Swifts. I see them flying around the top of the building every morning and evening, but not able to get a picture. Today I was little patient and managed to click a blurry but ok picture of the Black Swift. And this concluded our morning birdwatching.

Black Swift

After resting for the afternoon, we decided to go for an evening walk to the beach. As a bird nerd, I refuse to leave my camera at home. And I’m so glad that I took it with me. Within 10 minutes walking of the shore, we spotted a not so usual bird towards one of the apartment building. As we approached to see closely, we found it was a Yellow-crowned Night-heron. This one might have lost its path and came here. This is the entirely new species in the trip. After few minutes, it stood so still for almost 20 or more minutes. It felt like a statue. I nearly got 20 photos of it from all angles. We went further and came back to check on it on the way back and it was still in the below statue position. Fascinated as how it can stand still for so long.

Yellow-crowned Night-heron

After the Yellow crowned Night Heron, I was able to click a good shot of the Greater Antillean Grackle. A bird you find like flies everywhere in Puerto Rico. Even though it is a common bird, but I felt it needed to be included in this report.

Greater Antillean Grackle

3/30/19, Another day and I was even more excited for what new possibilities of birds I can find today within the accessible areas nearby our apartment. We stepped out onto the beach, and walked further than we usually go. Luckily this was a weekday morning, when not a lot of tourists go on the beach partying. It was peaceful and calm and I saw a Greater Antillean Grackle.

Greater Antillean Grackle

Near Grackles was also a Scaly-naped Pigeon, a new species for the day.

Scaly-naped Pigeon

While I was clicking Scally-naped pigeon, my mom spotted few birds flittering in the nearby bushes in front of an apartment building. As sun was bright and all I could see was the black birds. I really needed a bird to perch on the right spot to sit for a nice click and identify. After flying across and over and under, a bird perched and I was able to get a good click after few tries. I had to come back to ID the bird. And it turned out to be a new species – Pearly-eyed Thrasher

Pearly-eyed Thrasher

Then on the way back I clicked a city-dweller that you clearly hate, either its population or their poop, the Rock Pigeon, although it wasn’t annoying.

Rock Pigeon

On 3/31/19, I was not as excited. We were going to the car dealership and expected to spend whole day there. I had no hopes of finding any birds there, but I was wrong. As we were waiting for the paper work to get done, we spotted a bird in the parking lot and followed it. To my surprise, we saw a Gray Kingbird and within minutes we spotted not just one, but four of them! I was sad as I did not carry a camera, but my mom came to rescue as she carried a small camera. I became so happy and clicked so many pictures of Gray Kingbird – another new species for me.

Gray Kingbird

And as usual we also saw some Greater Antillean Grackles.

Greater Antillean Grackle

With this I conclude this long post of Puerto Rico Birds Part 1. Let’s see what new I explore in upcoming days, before I head back to California.

As always Happy birding!

Barn Swallows At Charleston Slough

Charleston Slough bustles with the sights of shore birds through out the winter. In March as spring approaches, most of the shore birds have already started going north. After seeing the Belted Kingfisher and the Great Egret’s breakfast witness, I was keeping my fingers crossed to see some Pelicans. It was nearing the end of trail and no Pelicans in sight. But suddenly there was lots of activity of some small birds near the last pond where some weeds were growing, and there was a creek nearby. To our surprise, we saw around 40 Barn Swallows going here and there and up and down in all directions. These are beautiful, blue orange little creatures building their deck under pump station dock at the trail where one side goes to Palo Alto and another to Mountain View. If you are in the area, this would be good time to enjoy them.

These are pretty hard to capture on camera as they fly so swiftly, but few of them honored me and perched on the metal bars. Enjoy some pictures below.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow

Here’s some facts about this active and cute Barn Swallow that will help you identify them easily.

Size: Small bird around 5.9-7.5 in (15-19 cm)

Characteristics: Tan to Orange Underbelly, Orange Throat, Blue back and head, Forked tail, and quick flyers.

Habitat:They can be found in barns, meadows, and suburbs.

Nesting Grounds: Near water and under docks or similar structures near water

Nesting Season: March to July

Where in the World: North

Top Bird Photo Album Part 2

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Rufous Hummingbird ( My Backyard, California)
Dark-eyed Junco – Oregon Type (Santa Cruz Mountains, California)
Cedar Waxwing (Charleston Slough, California)
Belted Kingfisher (Charleston Slough, California)
Great Egret (Charleston Slough, California)
Barn Swallow (Charleston Slough, California)
Magnificent Frigatebird (Isla Verde, Puerto Rico)
White-winged Dove (Isla Verde, Puerto Rico)
Bananaquit (Isla Verde, Puerto Rico)
Red-legged Thrush (Isla Verde, Puerto Rico)

Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary

On August, 2018 trip to India, I went to Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. This is the place where I took some of my first photos of birds. This is literally a bird haven as you can see 400+ species at the right time (October till March). Even if you don’t come at peak season (like me, I went in August), you still can see birds. I spotted around 45 birds. If you are new, Bharatpur Sanctuary has unique guides, who drives you around in their cycle rickshaw. They have amazing knowledge and eyes for birds as they study Salim Ali’s (A world famous birder) bird books throughout the year. When you see them, you will mistake them for regular cycle rickshaw person with very little knowledge. But wait till you hear their wisdom about birds. They know more than 13 languages and guide world known birders in their trips. They are so humble and always excited to take you on the trip to bird paradise. Below are some of my favorite bird photos that I clicked and a link to my Bharatpur Photo Album Video. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Birding !!

White-throated Kingfisher
Forest Owlet (Rare Bird)
Red-vented Bulbul
Indian Peafowl

Top Bird Photo Album Part 1

Image

White-breasted Nuthatch (Almaden Lake, California)
California Towhee (Martial Cottle Park, California)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Martial Cottle Park, California)
Western Meadowlark (Martial Cottle Park, California)
Western Bluebird (Almaden Lake, California)
American Robin (Almaden Lake, California)
California Thrasher (Almaden Lake, California)
White-throated Kingfisher (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, India)
Forest Owlet (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, India)
White-crowned Sparrow (Martial Cottle, California)
Belted Kingfisher (Almaden Lake, California)