Tag: Northern Red Bishop

Birding Puerto Rico #2: Laguna Cartagena, Cabo Rojo

An eye-catching non-native Venezuelan Troupial

Birding Southwest Puerto Rico: Laguna Cartagena

Puerto Rico is a brick-shaped island that is 100 miles wide and 35 miles tall. That’s big enough to provide a good amount of habitat and species diversity. It’s small enough that any spot can be reached in 2-3 hours (traffic permitting). One popular area for birding is the southwest corner of the island, where there are a couple of national wildlife refuges. During my one full day of birding in Puerto Rico, I spent part of it in the southwest. I headed first to Laguna Cartagena, a big lake in the middle of dry forest. You get there by driving down a short flat dirt road through some hay fields. If it wasn’t already noon, and muggy and hot, when I arrived, the roadside birding would probably have been quite good. But my target was the lake itself where I hoped to spot three or four lifers.

If you’re headed to the observation tower, which I was, park here. At the parking area, Venezuelan Troupial, an introduced exotic native to South America that likes dry scrub, and Puerto Rican Woodpeckers were moving around the tall trees. It’s a 10 or 15 minute walk to a big wooden observation tower that offers views of the lake. Despite the mid-day heat, the walk to the observation tower was quite full of birds. A group of Smooth-billed Ani were making some noise. Turkey Vultures, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds were soaring above. Some Monk Parakeets went zooming past. And in the scrub along the path were Black-faced Grassquit and multiple super-bright Northern Red Bishops. 

The observation tower is pretty far from the lake, but it offers sweeping views of the area. I scanned the distant water looking for two target duck species. One was present – some West Indian Whistling Ducks. I struck out on White-cheeked Pintail. There were also some Ruddy Ducks and Coots out on the water as well. Next to the observation tower, there’s a wooden walkway that takes you out to the edge of the water. The water was mostly covered with lily-like vegetation. Walking around on those lilies were Green Heron, Common Gallinule, and a lifer Purple Gallinule.

The view from atop the observation tower at Laguna Cartagena

In some trees alongside the wooden path, a lifer Yellow-faced Grassquit appeared for a moment and then vanished. Some non-native Orange-cheeked Waxbill counted in eBird as a reluctant lifer, having established themselves in Puerto Rico. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo did some tail-lifting exercises. 


There is a lot of ground to cover at Laguna Cartagena. Just north of the path to the observation tower is an alternative path that gets you closer to the water. Had there been more ducks and whatnot around, I might’ve walked down it. Some mountain biking trails extended into the vegetation south of the lake. For the 90 minutes I was there on a Saturday at mid-day, I didn’t see anyone else.

Birding Southwest Puerto Rico: Cabo Rojo NWR

A main birding reason to go to southwest Puerto Rico is to find an endangered Yellow-Shouldered Blackbird. They live only on Puerto Rico and nearby tiny Mona Island. They favor coastal mangrove forests and scrub. EBird had reports from a few different spots in the southwest. I first tried to visit the Boqueron Wildlife Refuge (Refugio de Vida Silvestre de Boqueron), but I couldn’t find a way into the place. All I found were closed gates at a couple entrances. So I headed to Cabo Rojo NWR, which is a large area of coastal habitat, including some supposedly pink salt flats. Again, I was stymied here, finding first a closed gate and then a closed road between me and my destination.

I finally managed to find a way to a spot where Yellow-Shouldered Blackbirds had recently been reported. The eBird hotspot is a mouthful – “Salinas de Cabo Rojo NWR – camino villa pesquera Fraternidad.” It wasn’t clear that the spot was open to the public. But there was a road (called Short Road on google maps) that crossed a salt flat and led to some scruby bushes. It seemed like good habitat. As I walked, I spotted some Black-necked Stilts, Snowy Plovers, and a Ruddy Turnstone feeding in the shallow, stinky water. Then, I saw a half dozen black birds flying south towards me from the nearby residential area. I got one in my binoculars, and it was a Greater Antillean Grackle. They were flying right at me, and I enjoyed the views. After they passed, I lowered my binoculars and noticed another group of 3 blackbirds flying over the salt flat towards the coast. These birds had yellow patches on the wing!

Maybe if they weren’t so blurry, Yellow-Shouldered Blackbirds wouldn’t be endangered

I quickly snapped a record shot and walked to the patch of bushes where they’d flown. I couldn’t refind them. I did spot a lifer Caribbean Eleania while I wandered. There was also a pair of American Oystercatcher at water’s edge that my camera managed not to focus on.

I checked out a couple of other spots in the area, which is vast, often scenic, and occasionally stinky. The Interpretive Center for the Salt Flats was closed when I arrived at 4:30pm, so I didn’t get to wander there. Overall, though, it was pretty good birding in SW Puerto Rico. There are a bunch of different spots, all within 20 minutes or so of each other, with good species variety.


Budgerigar and Exotics

Budgerigar Playa Vista

California: the land of fruits and nuts … and exotic birds, like this Budgerigar

Budgerigar in the 5MR

I was recently having a conversation with a birding friend about whether to chase exotic birds. It was prompted by a sighting on back-to-back days of a Rosy-faced Lovebird in Harbor City. I’d seen one on Maui a couple years ago, and got a countable Rosy-faced Lovebird in Phoenix last year. Those birds were part of non-native breeding populations. Any Lovebird in L.A. is going to be somebody’s pet that flew away. Even though I’d never seen one in L.A. County, I decided not to chase it. More below on the tension between life lists and escaped cage birds.

Then, a couple of days later, while out on a casual walk down the Playa Vista Riparian Corridor, I heard an odd tink coming from bushes across the creek. Within seconds, I had a crazy parakeet in my sights. It wasn’t one of our many parrots or parakeets here in L.A. It was a Budgerigar. The Budgerigar is a small parrot native to Australia. They are kept as cage birds. You can buy them for $25. Wikipedia says they are the third most popular pet in the world, after dogs and cats. Apparently, they are pretty good mimics. My son and I found some funny videos online of Budgerigars “talking.”

The Budgerigar was actually pretty hard to see, despite its bright coloring. When two sets of walkers asked me what I was looking at, I told them and pointed them directly at the tree, 30 feet away. None could find the Budgerigar. I watched the bird for about ten minutes. It flew from tree to tree, pecking at branches occasionally. Its feathers were in good shape. It looked, if I can say it, brand new. It never said anything to me in English. It was a new L.A. County lifer for me, and even better, I found it while birding my 5MR.

Birding and Exotic Species

It turns out that a Budgerigar, presumably this same bird, had been reported in eBird at this very spot a week before. I never saw that report. And unless you know the exact checklist to view, you won’t find it by searching for Budgerigar sightings in Playa Vista. Reports of escaped cage birds like Budgerigar get filtered out of the public display in eBird. 

Rose-ringed Parakeet

Rose-ringed Parakeet: native to India, a small population lives in my 5MR

Not only that, an eBird reviewer contacted me after I reported the Budgerigar, asking me to switch my entry from “Budgerigar” to “Budgerigar (domestic type)”. The switch meant that the bird would not “count” in my eBird life list. That’s no big deal – I support the mission of eBird. I want it to be an accurate and complete database for scientists. Not reporting the bird, and others like it, deprives scientists of data about exotic populations. And this bird was certainly an escaped/released caged bird that was almost certainly domesticated and not a wild bird brought to the U.S. from Australia (though I couldn’t rule that out). 

Helmeted Guineafowl Kenneth Hahn

Helmeted Guineafowl: a domesticated species, this bird lasted a couple of months before a dog ended its life

It just so happened that the eBird reviewer who contacted me (a friend, a good birder, and a birding ambassador) is one of those never-ending L.A. County Big Year birders who chases birds all over our massive, enormous county, year after year. But neither the reviewer, nor a single eBird “Top 100” birder, had come to find the Budgerigar. Maybe they’ve all got Budgerigar on their life lists already. Maybe they all saw one already this year in L.A. Maybe this bird was too far away to chase. Maybe they never knew about it because it doesn’t appear in eBird public data or alerts. I don’t begrudge anyone for birding in their own way, but arbitrary eBird species tallies isn’t what guides me.

Note: I recognize the irony of a 5MR booster apparently criticizing birders for not chasing after a bird. It’s not the failure to chase this bird that bugs me. It’s what drives the chasing that I think is worth discussing.

Why do some species have a “Budgerigar (domestic type)” option and others, like the Japanese Tit that lurked in L.A. for some weeks, or the Rosy-faced Lovebird, don’t? Some species are actually domesticated – that is, they are bred rather than caught in the wild. That explains why there is such an option in eBird for Budgerigars but not some other exotic birds found in L.A. Why the domesticated escaped pets don’t “count” in eBird for life lists, but the one-off oddities that get found from time to time do count, is another story. An uninteresting and inconsequential story, but a story nonetheless.

Chukar Los Angeles

Chukar: an Asian native found throughout the American West

Whatever eBird does with regard to its tallies, I can put any birds I see on my own life list and 5MR list, which I did for the Budgerigar. And there are lots of exotic birds to see in L.A. Some, like the many species of parrots and parakeets, and Scaly-breasted Munia, Pin-tailed Whydah, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Northern Red Bishop, are breeders in the county. While they may have begun as released or escaped birds, they have managed to find mates and build-up sustaining, if limited, populations. Others are one-off escapees. These include the occasional Cockatiel, and birds like a Venezuelan Troupial that gets reported every once in a while, and Red-cheeked Cordonbleus (I haven’t seen either of those last two).

What’s the point of all this jibber-jabber about exotics and eBird? It’s me trying to resolve the tension between adding to my L.A. County life list and the guilt of chasing birds that days before were somebody’s pet. So I’ve come up with an idiosyncratic rule for exotics – chase them if they are reported in my 5MR; wait at least a week to chase one anywhere else. If the bird can survive in the concrete jungle for a week, it deserves to be recognized and is worth chasing beyond my 5MR, whether it “counts” for my eBird list or not.

Here are a few more exotic bird species I’ve managed to see in L.A. county.


Yellow-crowned Bishop

Yellow-crowned Bishop: Sub-Saharan species seen in my 5MR for a couple of weeks

Northern Red Bishop

Northern Red Bishop: tack sharp shot worthy of @TheIneptBirder