Casa Grande Mountain Retreat, and eco-lodge in 265 acres within a rainforest at the Cordillera Central, Utuado, Puerto Rico

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Steven Weingarten is a former New York attorney who fell in love with the mountains of Puerto Rico while visiting in the mid-90s, and now runs one of the best eco-lodges in the world, while teaching yoga in his on-property studio daily.

La Casa Grande Mountain Retreat

Guests can take three-hour guided tours along mountainous hiking trails; identify local bird species; get a massage; or participate in yoga, dance or art classes. All 20 rooms feature private balconies with hammocks, reading lights, private bathrooms, wall fans and screened windows.

Every moment a delight, from reading in the porch hammocks to hiking the rainforest, swimming the nearby river, munching on local farm-to-table vegetables, and generally soaking in the scenery. The rooms have no television, no radio, no internet, so you have to unplug and be present.

The entertainment is outside: butterflies and flamboyant birds paint the sky, and mist spins the tall trees like a wheel turning wool. Sunbeams fracture across the wide palm leaves. In the distance, the mountains undulate as though forming the backbone of a giant beast that has laid down to sleep and might at any point awake and stand up several miles high. Great stories unfold from the wooden porch…

GUIDE TO NEARBY BIRDING AREAS

Lago Caonillas and Lago Dos Lagos: These two large reservoirs are not loaded with birds, but do increase the diversity on a given visit. Look here for Brown Pelican, herons, Egrets, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher (winter) and possibly shorebirds along the edges. Puerto Rican Woodpecker is fairly easy to find on the hills above the lake. The area near the dam makes for a convenient viewpoint; try driving the east side of the lake as well.

Rio Caonillas: Driving downstream from Casa Grande takes you along the river, with thickets, grassy areas, and patches of forest. Puerto Rican Tody and Bullfinch are two species to be alert for. Be sure to enjoy the heronry (mostly Cattle and Snowy Egrets) on the far side of the river before the bridge.

Iglesia Metodista Mision Poleo: To access some higher elevation forest where you may encounter other land birds, drive to the top of Rte. 140 (about xx miles from Casa Grande) and turn off at signs for the Iglesia. Here you can park and walk along the road to the Iglesia. Look for wintering warblers, Puerto Rican Vireo, Puerto Rican Today, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, and Key West Quail-Dove (secretive).

SPECIES LIST (52 species)

*= recorded from the grounds of Casa Grande Mountain retreat (30 species)
Lagos = Lago Dos Bocas and Lago Caonillas
† = Caribbean specialty; unique to Caribbean and not regularly found in United States (13 species)
†† = Puerto Rican endemic (10 species)
—————————————-Pied-billed Grebe________________________
Common at Lagos
Brown Pelican ___________________________ Uncommon at Lagos
Great Blue Heron________________________ Uncommon at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Great Egret*____________________________ Common at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Snowy Egret_____________________________ Common at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Little Blue Heron_________________________ Rare at Rio Caonillas/Lago Dos Bocas
Cattle Egret*____________________________ Common at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Green Heron*___________________________ Common at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Black-crowned Night-Heron*______________ Common at Lagos and Rio Caonillas; can be heard at night from Casa Grande
Turkey Vulture*_________________________ Rare to uncommon; usually overhead
Osprey__________________________________ Uncommon at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Red-tailed Hawk*________________________ Uncommon in area; usually overhead
American Kestrel*________________________ Uncommon in area
Peregrine Falcon_________________________ Rare in area
Puerto Rican Tody
©Marshall J. Iliff
Common Moorhen*______________________ Uncommon at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Spotted Sandpiper________________________ Uncommon at Lagos and Rio Caonillas
Rock Pigeon_____________________________ Uncommon towns and Lago Caonillas dam
†Scaly-naped Pigeon*_____________________ Common in area; usually flying overhead
White-winged Dove*______________________ Common in area
†Zenaida Dove*__________________________ Common in area
Common Ground-Dove*___________________ Uncommon in area and rare on grounds
†Key West Quail-Dove____________________ Rare in area
Mangrove Cuckoo________________________ Rare to uncommon in area
††Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo_____________ Rare to uncommon in area
Smooth-billed Ani*_______________________ Uncommon to common in area
††Puerto Rican Screech-Owl*______________ Uncommon; listen above cabins at night
††Green Mango*_________________________ Uncommon in area; visits flowers at lodge
††Puerto Rican Emerald*__________________ Uncommon in area; visits flowers at lodge
††Puerto Rican Tody______________________ Uncommon in area
Belted Kingfisher_________________________ Rare to uncommon at Lagos
††Puerto Rican Woodpecker*______________ Uncommon in area; esp. Lago Caonillas
††Puerto Rican Flycatcher*________________ Uncommon in area; best detected by call
Gray Kingbird*__________________________ Common; conspicuous at the lodge
Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo
©Marshall J. Iliff
Prairie Warbler__________________________ Uncommon in area
Northern Waterthrush____________________ Uncommon in area
†Bananaquit*____________________________ Common; conspicuous at lodge
†Yellow-faced Grassquit___________________ Uncommon along Rio Caonillas
†Black-faced Grassquit*___________________ Common in area; common on grounds
††Puerto Rican Bullfinch*_________________ Common in thickets; often below lodge
†Greater Antillean Grackle________________ Common in settled areas (i.e., near Lagos)
†Shiny Cowbird*_________________________ Common in area; often seen on grounds
†Greater Antillean Oriole*_________________ Common on the grounds; check palm trees
Orange-cheeked Waxbill*________________ Common; most common on Rio Caonillas
________________________________________
________________________________________

OTHER SPECIES TO WATCH FOR

American Coot
Killdeer
Northern Mockingbird Black-and-white Warbler American Redstart Ovenbird
Puerto Rican Spindalis Antillean Euphonia House Sparrow Pin-tailed Whydah
Acknowledgements: This list draws upon observations of several individuals, including Mikey Lutmerding, Bill Hubick. Melissa Forehand, and others. Their eBird submissions, they made them available for this list as well as other potential uses.
†Loggerhead Kingbird*___________________ Uncommon in area; more furtive than Gray
††Puerto Rican Vireo*____________________ Uncommon in area; best detected by song
Black-whiskered Vireo*___________________ Common; best detected by song
†Caribbean Martin_______________________ Uncommon around Lago Caonillas
Cave Swallow____________________________ Uncommon around Lago Caonillas
†Red-legged Thrush______________________ Uncommon; especially at higher elevations
†Pearly-eyed Thrasher*___________________ Common in area; conspicuous at lodge
Northern Parula_________________________ Uncommon in area
††Adelaide’s Warbler*____________________ Rare; easily found in sw. Puerto Rico

The Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association has named this hotel “Green Inn of the Year” four times. Green initiatives at Casa Grande include using cold water and biodegradable soaps, using energy-efficient light bulbs, maintaining a botanical garden, encouraging guests to reuse bath towels, timing outdoor lights and placing recycling receptacles in all guest rooms.

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