Sunday, December 16, 2012

Laguna Cartegna 2nd Try 12/11: HELMETED GUINEAFOWL, TUFTED DUCK

This was the day of the serious birding. We met Hilda's associate, Sergio Colon, at our hotel at 7:30 and headed back to Laguna Cartegna in our now clean car. (It was so covered in mud that the car wash charged us an extra $5.) By 8 o'clock we were back on the farm road, finding many of the same birds as the previous day. It wasn't until we reached the farm yard that we saw 10 HELMETED GUINEAFOWL emerge out of the field and run through the chickens like a football players on a kickoff. The guineafowl, like about 1/3 of the birds of Puerto Rico, is an introduced species. Sergio said these were probably feral, which made them countable, and judging from the chicken's reaction, they were certainly not on a friendly basis. On the other hand, the 5 or 6 dogs laying about took no interest in them.
Laguna Cartegna
Photos: Shari Zirlin
We parked our car just inside the boundary of the refuge and walked perhaps 3/4 of a mile up the road to the entrance.  Here the birding exploded with waterfowl. Five West Indian Whistling Ducks were immediately spotted standing at the end of the trail.  Walking the trail we heard 2 Soras. The lagoon had Caribbean Coot, Common Gallinule, and one American Coot. Plus ducks: teals, shoveler, many Ruddy Ducks, and 3 rarities for the island: Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and a hen TUFTED DUCK.

Of all the places to find your lifer Tufted Duck, Puerto Rico is certainly the least likely. Tufted Duck is common throughout Eurasia, and every year there a few sightings on either coast of the North America. This duck is a Puerto Rico first.  Shari & I chased one a couple of years ago that was reported on Long Island and failed to find it, despite a long search in bitter winter weather. Nice to see it while wearing short sleeves. We all saw the little tuft on its head on through 2 scopes, but it was much too far away to get any pictures. Sergio said he knew someone who had kayaked out into the lagoon to obtain photos.

There is another trail at the lagoon a little farther south called the Tower Trail. We hadn't been on that one 2 years ago. Walking toward it, back on the farm road, Shari heard something chirping. Looking into the brush she found a huge, old iguana. You can age iguanas by color, Hilda told us. The young ones are green, and as they age they turn browner, then red as they enter their dotage. Look at the wattle hanging down on that beast!

The Tower Trail, as you might imagine, leads to an observation tower as well as a long boardwalk that takes you out into the middle of the water. While we were walking along the trail I saw a coot out of the corner of my eye that looked different. I scoped it out, immediately saw the red & white face shield and when the sun hit the bird just right, the rich violet body of the slightly misnamed Purple Gallinule. We saw a couple more from the head of the boardwalk.

While I was climbing the tower to see if was worth the effort for Shari, she called me with urgency in her voice. While scanning the flocks of ducks she found a stiff tail with brown horizontal lines on its face. She Sergio on the bird and he immediately confirmed her suspicion that it was a Masked Duck, either a hen or a non-breeding drake. Our fourth rare duck of the day, and one we hadn't seen since our Texas trip almost 5 years ago.

Sergio get really enthusiastic when he sees an unusual bird, saw a couple of birders he knew and called them over to see the duck. While they were checking it out, I pointed out a Magnificent Frigatebird that was hunting over the lagoon. To Sergio and his two friends, though, it was no big deal and they barely glanced at it.
Magnificent Frigatebird (female)
Smooth-billed Ani along Tower Trail
It was now midday and time for lunch, so we began the walk back to the car. The walk back to the car, as usual, didn't seem as long as the walk in, when the goal was out of sight.

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