Nearly a month into VCE’s Bicknell’s Thrush (BITH) field surveys on Puerto Rico, our quarry has finally revealed itself. On February 13, VCE field technician Julio Salgado was birding the stunted elfin forest that cloaks Cerro de Punta, the island’s highest peak at 4,390 feet (1,338 meters) elevation. He had just finished marking and georeferencing five points on sampling block #6719, in preparation for the next morning’s dawn census. Ever hopeful of finding an elusive BITH, Julio walked along the small service road that winds to the summit, playbacks bursting from his handheld speaker at 50-meter intervals. He had a feeling.
At the surprisingly late hour of 11:30 am (late by BITH standards, that is), just behind one of several telecommunications towers on the summit, Julio struck paydirt. A BITH responded, in no uncertain terms, quickly approaching to within 25 meters and voicing its strident disapproval of the apparent intruder for a full 2 minutes. The bird never allowed Julio a glimpse through the dense forest understory, but there was no question about identity. Its harsh, nasal calls and strong response to the playback erased any doubt.
This encounter was not only VCE’s first record of BITH on Puerto Rico, after three full weeks of targeted surveys, but a life bird for Julio. We doubt it will be the last he and José Salguero find during the final month of our islandwide surveys. They’re about to spend the next two weeks in Cordillera Central, which supports much elfin forest similar to that on Cerro de Punta. Halfway through this project, it seems clear that Puerto Rico does not constitute a hotbed of overwintering BITH activity – certainly not compared to Hispaniola – but if we’ve learned anything in nearly 25 years of studying this bird, it’s to expect the unexpected. Stay tuned.