Life, some would say, can be tough at times but when the Society of Toxicologic Pathologists decided to hold its annual conference at a beach resort in Puerto Rico who was I to complain. Of course, I did do a lot of hard work (and a deal too much networking – it’s nice to catch up with old friends and former colleagues but I can happily pass the rest of the BS) but here I will confine comments to birding rather than pathology.
Beach-birding at dawn
So – day 1 at 6.00am finds me out on the beach ticking off the first lifers of the week. Lots of good birds – mostly fairly common ones for PR but nevertheless lifers for me and including Pearly Thrasher, Black-necked Stilt, Gray Kingbird, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Laughing Gull, Great, Snowy & Cattle Egrets, PR Flycatcher, Clapper Rail, White-winged Dove, Green-backed & Little-blue Herons, Shiny Cowbird, Greater-Antillean Grackle, Plain Pigeon and Semi-palmated Plover – other species included Brown Pelicans, Red-tailed Hawk, Ruddy Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, Common Tern, Tree & Barn Swallows and a regular Killdeer or two.
Great Egret and Little Blue Heron
Other sightings worthy of note mostly revolved around vorious lizards and Iguanas, some of which achieved a huge size of up to 4ft or more in length. They were lounging around all over the nearby golf-course with a subsidiary colony under my hotel room balcony
Iguana – about 4 feet long
This first day was rounded off by an arrangement with friends to be out again on day-2, only this time at 5.15am. Well worth it – at dawn we were in the lower reaches of the El Yunque rainforest park where, in the space of the next 90 minutes or so (until, that is, duty called us back to the conference) we heard and saw a lot of really neat birds starting with the loud, distinctive and repetitious calls of the Puerto Rican Screech Owl. Good birds that followed then included the target bird for the whole week as far as I was concerned – the Lizard-eating Cuckoo and also Red-legged Thrush, PR Bullfinch, PR Tanager, Bananquit, PR Tody and a small number of obstreperous Green Mango and Emerald Hummingbirds.
Mid-afternoon, suffering from ennuie, I took a turn outside and, over the bay east of the hotel was lucky to be able to see two magnificent Magnificent Frigatebirds, another highly desired “tick”… and I needed a boost as the evening “entertainment” revolved around a company bonding session for pathologists from all of the CR sites worldwide … Yawn (plus, the food was pretty average – this being a sort of “colony” of the US.)
And then to Day 3 – the morning conference papers were OK-ish (pre-work strolling added a Yellow-crowned Night Heron) but the afternoon was free and we took ourselves off for an expedition in the El Yunque rainforest … As everywhere on this island there were the ever-present calls of the Co-Qui frogs but a good hike along a trail found us some very scenic tropical waterfalls, a number of glorious Bromeliads and eventually a nice flight display from a Scaley-naped Pigeon.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Back in the hotel grounds we saw some friends with a spotting-scope peering earnestly into a stand of bamboo where they had found a pair of roosting PR Screech Owls of which we now have photographic proof. A good day.
Last day – out in the forest again at dawn where a Black-whiskered Vireo was added to the list. Otherwise things were generally quiet until a Lizard-eating Cuckoo appeared on a branch very close to us and sat there for several minutes while we admired him and congratulated ourselves on our birding skills (no camera naturally but I have witnesses) …… the payoff for this unexpected good luck being a sudden and blattering tropical downpour – rarely have I been so wet, so fast.
That’s it – 21 lifers in 4 days. Worth the travel and the conferring.