Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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July 3 - 5

13 juli 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  5522 × bekeken


I arrived in Puerto Rico at 7 PM, just as the sun set. While the plane taxied to the gate I could write down my first new world birds like Grey Kingbird and Zenaida Dove. After I cleared customs Gabriel Lugo (Birding Tours Puerto Rico) was already waiting for me and had a nice first endemic lined up, Puerto Rican Screech-owl – we first tried several locations for Antillean Nighthawk, but with no success.

The owl showed exceptionally well as it called right over our heads. What a great bird to start the second half of my Biggest Year with!

Finally a big day again! Gabriel and I left our hotel at 6 AM ready to take on a very tasty target list. Due to my unfortunate late arrival yesterday, three endemics were of the agenda, Elfin Woods Warbler, Puerto Rican Parrot and Puerto Rican Tanager. Another two endemics were not even included in the original 1,5 day itinerary because they were simply too far off-route, Puerto Rican Nightjar and Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. No worries, I will come back some day to track down those remaining five  species.

We started at a very birdy patch of woodland – Puerto Rico has actually gained forest-coverage from 6% to more than 75% of its entire land surface since they almost abandoned agriculture a couple of decades ago. In the first hour of birding we had already seen half of the specials, Puerto Rican Spindalis, the stunning Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo and Puerto Rican Lizard-cuckoo, a great start.

In a patch of grassland we quickly tracked down Yellow-faced- and Black-faced Grassquit and Grasshopper Sparrow and then it was time to look for some proper specialties again around some limestone karst-forest. Here we found two very good looking birds, the Adelaide’s Warbler and the sometimes tricky Antillean Euphonia which is a likely candidate to be split in the near future along with some other striking Puerto Rican subspecies.   

During the heat of the day we made a short loop along the very crowded coast – after all it was 4th of July today and Puerto Ricans love their BBQ at the beach. Here we found Caribbean Coot, Bridled Tern, Mangrove Rail and a stray American Flamingo, among others.

One of the highlights of our Puerto Rican big day was visiting the house of Jose Peppe, a naturalist who’s on a mission to video all of Puerto Rico's birds displaying – check out this cool project on Facebook: avesdepuertoricofelpe. In Jose Peppes’ garden we saw two endemic hummers, the Green Mango and the Puerto Rican Emerald, but the absolute highlight of the day was when Jose took us to a Puerto Rican Tody’s nest, a new family for me and my most wanted Puerto Rican endemic!

Just before it was time to head back to the airport Gabriel managed to find my last two remaining targets, Loggerhead Kingbird (a proposed split) and Lesser Antillean Pewee (also a proposed split).

White-crowned Pigeon Patagioenas leucocephala (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Caribbean Martin Progne dominicensis (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Puerto Rican Vireo Vireo latimeri (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus vieilloti (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Pearly-eyed thrasher Margarops fuscatus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Antillean euphonia Euphonia musica (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Green mango Anthracothorax viridis (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Puerto Rican Tody Todus mexicanus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Last night I’d arrived in Santa Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. It took me about 3 hours to find my accommodation near the Botanical Gardens, but once I had found the Posada Dilia del Alba the place turned out to be very nice, especially considering that I paid only 18 dollars.

At 4:45 AM the alarm rang, it was time to find Antillean Nighthawk. As I walked towards the botanical gardens it slowly got light and luckily Nighthawks called from every directions and after a while I saw about a dozen.

From several different sides I had heard that the Botanical Gardens would only open at 9 AM so I’d asked Gabriel to write a letter in Spanish explaining what I came to do and if they would please let me through before 6 AM. Luckily it was not an issue at all and they let me straight through. Since the botanical gardens is the only stretch of proper green in the area it attacks quite a lot of birds, most of them being Hispaniolan endemics.

My main target – the monotypic Palm Chat – was positively abundant and their communal nests occupied about every single palm tree in the gardens. Before sunrise I had already found Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, Hispaniolan Parakeet and Hispaniolan Woodpecker. My other main target – the West Indian Whistling-duck followed not long thereafter, but it took a little more searching to find the weird looking Black-capped Palm-tanager.

I left the gardens at 8:30 and after packing my bags at the Posada Dilia Alba I took a cab to the airport, ready for 3 hours of birding around the airport of Curacao. This plan unfortunately got cancelled as my flight had a 5 (!) hour delay, so some relaxed birding around the airport of Curacao changed in a hectic sprint to make my connection to Surinam. Luckily the only real target on Curacao was Cayenne Tern.

 Arjan Dwarshuis 

Palmchat Dulus dominicus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

West Indian whistling duck Dendrocygna arborea (Arjan Dwarshuis)