My family (wife, baby, mom and dad) took a cruise out of Santo Domingo on Royal Caribbean (March 29 – April 5, 2009). This trip report highlights the birding that we did in the Dominican Republic before and after the cruise. I wrote a separate trip report for the cruise portion.
We initially planned to spend 4 days prior to the cruise and 2 days after the cruise to bird the island (birding the southwest part of the island prior to the cruise and the Los Haitises National Park on returning from the cruise). However, due to several issues that developed, we were only able to arrive one day before the cruise. Thus, we changed our plans and cancelled going to the southwest part of the island and replaced it with a trip to Ebano Verde (in hopes of finding Eastern Chat-Tanager).
Both Ebano Verde and Los Haitises National Park can be done without a guide/tour. The sites are easily accessible from Santo Domingo. However, you must make prior arrangements to visit the upper portion of Ebano Verde. Hiring a local guide that knows the nest locations of Ridgway’s Hawk is also very advisable.
If you are planning to go self guided (which many do not recommend), I would contact Steve Brauning: stevebrauning AT yahoo.com
He was very, very helpful to us and he also maintains a website with very good information. http://www.geocities.com/birdsofhispaniola/index.htm Dominican Republic bird website
Guides that can be hired include:
Miquel Landestoy: mango_land AT yahoo.com
Kate Wallace: cua809 AT yahoo.com
Kate also maintains a website for her tour company: http://www.todytours.com/ Tody Tours
I also know that WINGS runs a trip that goes to Los Haitises to the see the hawk (http://wingsbirds.com/tours/view/2) - WINGS Dominican Republic Tour
Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve is located in the Central Cordillera on the road from Bonao to Constanza. It provides access to high elevation species (including Eastern Chat Tanager). The main office is located at lower elevation, a few kilometers west of the mountain crest. The upper portion of the reserve is accessed at the mountain crest along the road between Bonao and Constanza. The gate to the upper portion of the reserve is locked and you must contact Ebano Verde (809-565-1422) prior to your arrival so that a guard will meet you at the gate. There is a small fee for birding this area. You should confirm with Ebano Verde several times that you are coming so that the guard will meet you and unlock the gate. I was informed that the guard may not show up despite a prior reservation so be careful
Los Haitises National Park (Sabana de la Mar). This large national park is located on the south edge of the Gulf of Samana. It is the most reliable site for Ridgway’s Hawk and during the nesting season, the hawk is almost guaranteed.
We arrived at Santo Domingo on the evening of March 28. We spent the night in Santo Domingo and left early in the morning for Ebano Verde. We birded Ebano Verde on the morning of March 29, then went back to Santo Domingo to board the cruise ship on the afternoon of March 29.
We arrived back (from the cruise) in Santo Domingo on the morning of April 5. We took a cab to the airport (US $40 for two people, $60 for four people). We rented a car and drove to Sabana de la Mar, arriving at the hotel at 1pm. We birded the Los Haitises National Park on the afternoon of April 5 and morning of April 6. We drove back to Santo Domingo on the afternoon of April 6 and departed Santo Domingo on the afternoon of April 7. We had the morning of April 7 as back-up in case we needed to bird Los Haitises longer, decided to return to Ebano Verde, or decided to go to the Botanical Gardens in Santo Domingo. We ultimately hung out at our hotel in Santo Domingo.
Birds and Reference material:
For a field guide, we used the Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, by Steven Latta et al, copyright 2006. I recommend it as the plates are adequate and the text info is helpful.
We brought the Bird Sounds of the Dominican Republic, CD.
We also downloaded target species to our MP3 player from xeno-canto
http://www.xeno-canto.org/index.php Xeno Canto
We brought a small speaker so that we could tape in species. This proved helpful for a couple of species.
We were self guided at Ebano Verde. At Los Haitises, we hired a guide, Juan Cespedes, who is the Los Haitises park guard. He took us to the Ridgway’s Hawk nests and a site for the Ashy-faced Owl. He can be contacted by cell and only speaks Spanish. Note, Paraiso Cano Hondo can arrange for another local guide to assist you or can arrange for Juan Cespedes to guide you. I would highly recommend the local guide (Raffaele) that works at Paraiso Cano Hondo as he is familiar with the area, the birds, and the bird calls. Let me know if you want his contact info.
Timing of the trip:
The dry season is December to May. Most birding tours go from March through May. Ridgway’s Hawk begins nesting in March and remains around the nest through May. April is probably best.
The international airport is about 20-30 minutes west of downtown Santo Domingo. It is easy to get around. I saw no public buses from the airport to Santo Domingo, but there were plenty of taxis.
Driving is on the right side of the road and the vehicles have the steering wheel on the left side of the car (standard USA driving). Driving was easy. There were no major traffic problems in Santo Domingo. By Caribbean standards, roads were well signed.
We reserved a SUV from Budget Rental Car at the airport for one day on March 28 and for two days on April 5. When we showed up on March 28, Budget did not have the SUV that we had previously booked and they did not seem worried about it nor did they have any solutions. After some discussion, the budget employee contacted several agencies and Avis had a SUV for us. Remarkably, when we arrived at the Budget counter on April 5 to pick up our SUV, Budget, again DID NOT have a SUV (despite us again having reservations). This time, Enterprise had a SUV and we obtained the SUV from them. I WOULD RECOMMEND NOT RENTING FROM BUDGET. The major rental car agencies have locations at the airport (also there are additional rental car options about 1 mile north of the airport at the intersection with Highway 3, but I am not sure how you would get there beyond taxi/walking).
We never needed a 4 wheel drive anywhere we drove. The high clearance on the road up to Ebano Verde was helpful, but you could navigate it with care in a small vehicle. The road up to Ebano Verde was steep in places and if wet, 4 wheel drive might be necessary. I understand that 4 wheel drive is necessary for the southwest portion of the island.
A two wheel drive is sufficient to drive to Sabana de la Mar and Paraiso Cano Hondo.
I did not have to get a Dominican Republic driver’s license or show an International Driver’s license. My California driver’s license was satisfactory.
I purchased the Borch map Republica Dominicana (1:600,000) prior to departure. This was helpful, especially for driving in Santo Domingo.
Taxis and local transportation:
Taxis appeared common. There is no public transport to Ebano Verde for the time that you wish to arrive (first daylight). You can get to Sabana de la Mar by public bus from Santo Domingo. You would then need to arrange transport from Sabana de la Mar to Hotel Paraiso Cano Hondo (no public transport to this location).
The official language is Spanish. Many speak English.
Currency is the Dominican Republic Peso. US $ were accepted at the few places we tried and we paid for gas with credit cards. Bills of US $20 or less should be accepted at most places with change provided in Pesos.
Hotels and Food:
Santo Domingo: We stayed at the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel and Casino in Santo Domingo. It was on the coast and was fine for our needs and included wireless internet. Food was expensive so we ate in the surrounding neighborhood. There are numerous hotel options in Santo Domingo. Some people stay at the Hotel Embajador because Hispaniolan Parakeets roost in the trees in front of the hotel.
Sabana de la Mar: We stayed at Hotel Paraiso Cano Hondo while at Los Haitises. They were friendly and accommodating. Our room was large, clean and very functional.
They have a website: http://www.paraisocanohondo.com/ Paraiso Cano Hondo
They may be contacted by email at info AT paraisocanohondo.com
Their phone number is (809) 248 5995.
They offer meal plans. There are no other locations to eat close to this hotel so plan to eat all your meals at the hotel.
Ebano Verde: Most people stay in Hotel Jacaranda or Hotel Plaza Nouel in Bonao when they go to Ebano Verde. This saves over 1 hour of driving time. I can not comment on the quality of either.
Directions to sites:
Ebano Verde: This site is accessed from the main highway between Santiago and Santo Domingo. It is an approximate 1 hour and 45 minute drive from downtown Santo Domingo to the reserve gate. We departed Santo Domingo at 0405am and arrived at the Ebano Verde gate at 0540am. Directions as follows: Go north on the main highway from Santo Domingo towards Santiago (Autopista Duarte, Highway 1). There are signs for this highway to Santiago in Santo Domingo (we did not have any trouble finding the main highway). Go north until you reach Bonao. A little more than 5km after Bonao, you will exit right off the main highway and go back over the main highway via an overpass (it is signed to Constanza). Take this road, uphill (for ~10km, sorry I did not measure it) and at the crest of the hill, just before the road makes a 180 degree turn), the dirt road to Ebano Verde goes to the right. The gate is visible from the main road and there is a sign stating Ebano Verde.
Los Haitises (Sabana de la Mar): Sabana de la Mar is located along the south coast of the Samana Bay (Bahia de Samana). It is a 2.5 hour drive from the Santo Domingo airport to the hotel (almost 3 hour drive from downtown Santo Domingo). Go east from Santo Domingo on Highway 3. Go past the airport. Shortly past the airport, there is a sign for Highway 4. Follow that sign and take the road that connects Highway 3 to Highway 4 (there are several major league baseball teams, including the Mets and Marlins, that have workout centers on this road). Once you get to Highway 4, take it right (east). Follow Highway 4 and it will go left (north) just before you reach San Pedro de Macoris (this is a four way stop and it is signed appropriately. If you get to San Pedro de Maroris, you have gone too far). Be aware, before San Pedro de Marcoris, there is one tricky area along highway 4 at the River Casui, where you have to navigate your way on/off highway 4 over the large bridge at an industrial site (it is not too difficult, but we initially missed the correct turn).
Once heading north on highway 4 from San Pedro de Macoris, you will eventually get to Hato Mayor. You will take highway 103 north out of Hato Mayor to Sabana de la Mar. There were adequate signs for highway 103 and Sabana de la Mar in Hato Mayor and we did not get lost, but you do have to wind your way through town. The road out of Hato Mayor goes through hills and becomes unpaved (thus slowing you down). Once you get down to the lowlands, the road becomes paved again. You will pass through El Valle and La Cruz before entering Sabana de la Mar. To get to Hotel Paraiso Cano Hondo, you will take a left off the main road just after entering Sabana de la Mar. This turn has a sign for Paraiso Cano Hondo and is located immediately after Highway 104 goes right from the main highway (highway 104 is well signed).
Also, there is a marsh area in Sabana de la Mar that is good for shorebirds. The area is just west of the cement pier that goes out into the bay. If you stay on the main road into Sabana de la Mar, once you reach the square, take a right to the coast. Park on the coast next to the cement pier that juts out into the bay and walk west along the coast to the marshy area.
Weather & Clothing:
We had no rain during our stay. It is warm in the lowlands. However, it can be cold in the high elevations. A jacket and long pants were needed at Ebano Verde.
There were some mosquitos at Los Haitses but none at Ebano Verde. I was told there was no malaria in the Sabana de la Mar area but I am not sure of that. Most malaria in the Dominican Republic is diagnosed in Haitians who have entered the country for work.
Essentially all birding trips to the Dominican Republic go to the southwest part of the island to get the majority of the endemics. The southwest part is well known as the best birding area. However, neither Ridgway’s Hawk nor Eastern Chat-Tanager is reliable. The hawk is reliable at Los Haitises when nesting. The Chat-Tanager is very difficult. Most commercial birding trips now go to Los Haitises for one or two nights to be assured of seeing the hawk. I would recommend several (3-4) days in the southwest part of the country and then going to Los Haitises for one or two nights for the hawk (you can do it with one night). One morning is sufficient at Ebano Verde (if you decide to try for the Chat-tanager). Most people start their trip with a stop at the Botanical Gardens in Santo Domingo to get West Indian Whistling Duck, Limpkin, and Least Grebe, but we never went.
White-tailed Tropicbird – four birds seen on the coast along the drive from Santo Domingo to the airport
Magnificent Frigatebird – multiple birds from the coast
Tricolored Heron - – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Green Heron – Los Haitises
Ridgway's Hawk – (critically endangered) we were taken by the guide to two different nests. One nest was close to the hotel (less than a 5 minute walk) but all we saw was a brief view of a bird soaring over the forest. We hiked to the next nest (about 30 minutes from the hotel) and had great views (and photos) of a bird near the nest. Los Haitises is now a reliable location for this species during the breeding season (when you can be taken to a nest). The species is also seen in the southwest part of the island but this is less reliable.
Red-tailed Hawk – Ebano Verde
Limpkin – at dusk near the Ashy-faced Owl site
Common Moorhen – in pond on drive to Sabana de la Mar
Black-necked Stilt - – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Black-bellied Plover - – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Short-billed Dowitcher – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Whimbrel – one at the marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Greater Yellowlegs – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Willet – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Lesser Yellowlegs – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Ruddy Turnstone – marsh area just west of the cement pier at Sabana de la Mar
Royal Tern – several off the coast
Scaly-naped Pigeon – common at Ebano Verde
Plain Pigeon – one at Ebano Verde
White-winged Dove – common at Los Haitises
Common Ground-Dove – multiple birds at Los Haitises
(White-fronted) Quail Dove – we flushed a quail dove off the trail at Ebano Verde.
Unfortunately, we did not get a good look and could not refind it.
Hispaniolan Parakeet – large numbers roosting at the Hotel Embajador in Santo Domingo
Mangrove Cuckoo – one at Los Haitises
Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo – Ebano Verde and Los Haitises
Smooth-billed Ani – Los Haitises
Ashy-faced Owl – we were taken to a stakeout on the road from Sabana de la Mar to Hotel (Paraiso
Cano Hondo). Shortly after dark, the bird came to an imitated call by our guide and we got to see and hear it.
Antillean Palm-Swift - common
Antillean Mango – a pair coming to the flowers at the hotel at Los Haitises
Hispaniolan Emerald – several at Ebano Verde
Vervain Hummingbird – several at Los Haitises
Belted Kingfisher – Los Haitises
Broad-billed Tody – four birds at Los Haitises (this is the low elevation Tody)
Narrow-billed Tody – two at Ebano Verde (this is the high elevation Tody)
Antillean Piculet – two at Los Haitises, responded to tape
Hispaniolan Woodpecker – abundant on the island
Greater Antillean Elaenia – Ebano Verde
Hispaniolan Pewee – Ebano Verde
Gray Kingbird - common
Stolid Flycatcher – three at Los Haitises
Caribbean Martin – at the airport
Palmchat - abundant
White-necked Crow – several at Los Haitises, this is an easy location for this species which is difficult at many other locations on the island
Village Weaver – one at the airport
Yellow-throated Vireo – Los Haitises
Black-whiskered Vireo – common at both Ebano Verde and Los Haitises
Black-throated Blue Warbler – female at Ebano Verde
Louisiana Waterthrush – one bird at Los Haitises (getting late for this species?)
Common Yellowthroat – Los Haitises
Green-tailed Warbler – several birds on Ebano Verde
Bananaquit – abundant
Black-crowned Palm-Tanager – several at Ebano Verde
Eastern Chat-Tanager – heard only at Ebano Verde. This is probably the most difficult Hispaniola endemic. Ebano Verde is a regular although unreliable location for the species (as the species is very, very secretive). A known pair lives near the top of Ebano Verde. As you start down the trail behind the viewing tower, there is a small sign and an overgrown foot trail that goes downhill to the right of the main trail. Traditionally, the species has been seen/heard from this less developed trail but it may also be heard from the main trail. We heard it from the main trail. I doubt if playing tape is helpful (the birds have probably been taped out).
Hispaniolan Spindalis – two at Ebano Verde
Yellow-faced Grassquit – Los Haitises
Black-faced Grassquit – several in Santo Domingo
Rufous-collared Sparrow – one at the top of Ebano Verde, the Central Cordillera is the only location for this species in the Caribbean
Greater Antillean Grackle – Los Haitises
Greater Antillean (Hispaniolan) Oriole – a couple at Los Haitises
Feel free to email me with any questions,
jfholmes AT ucdavis.edu