El Yunque – Greetings from Frog ‘Coqui’
Puerto Rico has the only tropical rainforest in North America which is the main reason that attracted us to this island. This archipelago is located in the North Eastern Caribbean Sea. When we visit a new terrain, we tend to look for the fauna and flora attraction of the place. There were many colorful birds in Puerto Rico, but the main attraction for us was the Frog called ‘Coqui’. This frog makes the sound coqui from which it gets its name.
El Yunque National forest welcomed us with rain, what is there to see a rainforest without rain. After the little rain, the forest looked more enchanting. Coca falls and Yokahu tower are few tourist attractions. There is another falls where people were taking bath but our eye went to the rocks near the falls which was an ideal place for orchids or impatiens. We found a flower but not the orchid we were looking for.
There were many well laid short trails and few roads to the telecommunication center at the top of El Yunque. These trails were covered with trees and the trees themselves with epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow attached to the trees and have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts. Since they derive water from the moisture laden air they are present in places where there is constant mist or regular rainfall i.e places like rainforest.
In other trails there were not many people so its almost silent for us to hear the Coqui sound clearly. When we went near the plants from where we heard the sound we couldn’t spot any frog. This frog is not a very colorful one to attract our attention, its just a frog with sweet voice. We were not yet accustomed to Coqui sound, so sometimes we confused it for bird call. When we entered the El Yunque we were very confident that the first thing we were going to spot was to be Coqui as that was the common frog in that area. By mid-day we spotted so many colorful birds and flowers but no sign of Coqui. Most of the birds and flowers in this park is endemic to this island. So almost all the flowers and birds we saw were lifer to us. The Rican Tody and Bananaquit were our favorite colorful birds in the forest who gave us company many time in the forest and in the place we stayed.
We were lucky to see these colorful Caribbean endemic birds Red Legged Thrush,Caribbean Oriole,Puertorican Spindalis,Puertorican Bullfinch. Birding in rainforest is usually tough as the birds tend to hide in the dense foliage, but we were fortunate enough to see these colorful birds.
On the other hand Marcgravia sintenisii , Puertorican lobelia were few of the uniquely shaped flowers in the trail. Sphatoglottis plicata orchids, were in full bloom on the sides of the trail. Initially we spotted it on a slope which was not reachable for our click, but later we found them on the road sides itself. We were so happy to see this attractive pink orchid though we later found that to be an invasive plant in that island.
In rainforest most of the plants were with large leaves, so the color of the forest is different shades of green. Even when the blooms were very colorful, only when we searched for the flowers we spotted them otherwise its all just green. The bromeliads perching on the trees added additional charm to this rainforest. The importance of the flora in this region is high as most of them are endemic.
The fern trees that can grow up to 30ft were everywhere and the spreading fern leaves gave a magnificent look to the forest. Every leaf or plant we look has a snail or a lizard or a small insect on them, there were so much activities going on all over the forest. The entire forest was alive with the sounds of insects,birds,waterfalls and coqui. The forest gave us quite a colorful show and the hikes were not tiring but the only thing we missed to see was the coqui frog. The side roads meant for telecommunication towers maintenance turned out to be the
ideal place for birding. Since they were creating openings inside the continuous cover of green foliage , birds were coming out in the open to bask in the sun. We found all our humming birds of the trip in this stretch alone. The Puertorican Emerald was hovering all over the place and gave a beautiful display of a humming birds flight capabilities. They really are a treat to watch.
Anyway we decided to do herping in the night near the homestay where we stayed which was closer to El Yunque National Forest. If a common frog can’t be spotted at night, then there is some problem with us. When night falls, the trees were vibrating with Coqui calls. We took our torches and set out in search of Coqui. The same place which looked enchanting in day light looked a bit scary to me especially with continuous rustling sound in the ground. I jumped on seeing a giant spider running under the fallen leaves. I felt like someone watching us from the tree and when i turned my torch on the tree, an owl was sitting there who screeched and flew away. I felt dreadful for disturbing the owl who was having a peaceful night. After turning few leaves in search of Coqui, suddenly there was a football sized thing moved infront of me. I was so caught at the moment and backstepped pointing the torch at the thing to see two big antennas with eyes, its a giant land crab. Never seen one this big in our life. It was confused with the commotions and it ran towards me. I back pedalled and ran back to the room to see a Coqui sitting on the room entrance.
What a fineturn of the events! Its like the frog finally lost its patience in the peek-a-boo game to expose itself to us. After few minutes of posing it silently jumped into the dark bushes making Coqui sound.