Birding on Vieques

By Daphne Gemmill

What can you expect to see when birding Vieques?  The most sought after birds are the Puerto Rican endemics--Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, and Adelaide's Warbler. I think some uncommon birds such as Key West Quail Dove, Bridled Quail Dove and Ruddy Quail Dove might be found on Navy lands which have been off limits. As these lands become open to the public, it would certainly be worth looking for these species. Several lagoons on the island are important wintering feeding areas for the locally uncommon, threatened White-cheek Pintail, or Bahama Duck. I have counted at least 1/3 of the Puerto Rican population in one lagoon. In spring and fall, the island is an important staging area for waterbirds and neotropical migrants. Winter finds many wintering waterbirds, including Reddish Egret and Greater Flamingo (very rare), and shorebirds, mostly Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Resident birds of interest to North American birders are Gray and Loggerhead Kingbirds, Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean-crested Hummingbird, Green-throated Carib, Scaly-naped and White-crowned Pigeons, Zenaida Dove, Bananaquit, Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Greater Antillean Grackle, Black-faced and Yellow-faced Grassquits, and Caribbean Elaenia.  Raptors include Short-eared Owl, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and an occasional Merlin and Peregrine Falcon. Introduced species to watch for are Spice and Bronzed Mannikins, Pin-tailed Whydah, and English House Sparrow, a relatively newcomer in the last 5 years. See Vieques Checklist by clicking here.

To date, my favorite birding spots on the island are:

1. Sun Bay--In the winter the lagoons around Sun Bay, a beautiful bay with a movie set beach that is a state park, harbor many of the waders, waterfowl, and shorebirds seen on the island. I saw Greater Flamingo here for a fifth island record and Reddish Egret for a first island record.

2. Puerto Ferro--The best place for neotropical migrants ( One day I saw 12 warbler species, including Hooded Warbler) is the Puerto Ferro road just inside the Camp Gacia gate on the eastern end that is currently off limits due to protests against the Navy. Also very good for many of the resident passerines, especially Adelaide's Warbler and Puerto Rican Flycatcher as well as pigeons, which you usually just hear or hear their wing-beats as they fly away.

3. Boca Quebrada--Another favorite lagoon is Boca Quebrada on the western tip though last year it was fenced off due to hazardous waste sampling. The lagoon has exposed mud flats that attract waders and shorebirds. A first island record of Double-crested Cormorant was seen here as well as fourth record for Greater Flamingo. On the Mt. Pirata side, the small forest bordering the lagoon is a good place to look for neotropical migrants.

4. Mosquito or Bio Bay--On the west side with access off Route 997, you can drive to a kayak putin area and then walk a muddy road for about 1/2 mile. Look for neotropical migrants and Belted Kingfishers in the mangroves and acacia and Clapper Rail in the shallows behind the mangroves. Over head, you will see Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and maybe a wintering Peregrine Falcon hunting shorebirds.

5. Airport--During late summer and early fall, the grass apron at the airport is a good place to look for American Golden Plover, a rare fall migrant throughout the West Indies.

6. Cayo de Terra--The best place to see White-tailed and Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies is to head for Cayo de Terra off Sun Bay. Cross the sandspit on the western end where you can see Royal Terns in all seasons and Sandwich and Least Terns in late spring and summer, walk along the eastside of the Cayo until the land rises steeply. Here you have to look very carefully for the trail up the headland though usually it is easier to find the trail going up than it is down. On top head for the cliffs over the ocean and find a nice spot for scanning. If you are lucky tropicbirds and boobies will sail by below you. The lagoon at the base is a good spot in winter for shorebirds, White-cheeked Pintail and Blue-winged Teal

7. Route 995 via Pilon to the airport is not heavily traveled from La Finca to the airport road and makes for a nice bird walk to see many of the resident birds and neotropical migrants.

8. Lagoons--Generally any body of water is a good place to stop and look for birds. Vieques suffers long dry spells, and many of the lagoons may be dry and birdless at that time

With the transfer of key lands in the western part of the island to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I am looking forward to finding new birding spots.


Big Pockets, Rt 1 Box 4510, Dillwyn, VA 23936
fax: (434) 983-1074
email: info@bigpockets.com
please submit broken or outdated links by clicking here
Updated 01/20/05