Merilyn, David and I arrived in the capital of Santo Domingo to meet Tony early in the morning after flying from Australia via Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Jose in Puerto Rica, where we spent the night of September 28. We drove three hours to Villa Barrancoli, a camp established by leading Dominican birder Kate Wallace in the country’s south-west, after negotiating our way through the suburbs of Santo Domingo.
We left Villa Barrancoli at 5am to drive the atrocious road which in part follows a creek bed up the northern slopes of Serra de Baharocu, the key birding site in the Dominican Republic. We looked for nocturnal birds in the vicinity of the low-elevation site of La Placa before ascending the mountain range to the Army post of El Aquacate, later reaching the high-elevation site (1600m) of Zapotan on the Haitian border.
An earlier departure (4.30am) from Villa Barrancoli for a two-hour drive to reach Zapotan shortly after sunrise. We birded the wet, mossy forests and stands of pine in Serra de Baharocu National Park, and drier forest at mid-elevation below El Aquacate. We encountered several groups of Haitians along the road and walked across the border into Haiti. Later in the afternoon, we birded nice forest around Villa Barrancoli.
We birded low-elevation subtropical dry forest around La Placa in the morning before leaving Villa Barrancoli and driving west of Duverge to xeric thorn scrub near Lago Enriquillo. We then checked palm-studded pastures below La Zurza before driving to the southern coastal city of Barahona, staying at the homely Hotel Caribe.
We left the hotel at 4am for the 2.5-hour drive via Oviedo to the Alcoa Road on the southern slopes of Serra de Baharocu. Earlier in the morning we birded mid-to-high elevations along the road before reaching the concrete pond at La Charca (1050m), where numbers of birds were disappointingly low.
We drove from Barahona to Cachote, a relatively new site for Eastern Chat-Tanager on the eastern slopes of the Serra de Baharocu. We birded the Sender La Jilguero track and along the road.
We checked out dry scrub along a side road 5km south of Barahona in the morning before driving to Santo Domingo, where negotiating the city’s streets again proved challenging. We stayed at the delightful Hotel Residencia Venezia and visited the grounds of the Hotel Embajador to see 20+ Hispaniolan Parakeets coming to roost before sunset.
Given the difficult traffic conditions, we wisely hired Carlos, an employee at our hotel, to direct us to the Botanic Gardens and then to the Zoological Park before leaving Santo Domingo in the late afternoon.
Although we were handicapped by the fact that the breeding season generally was over - playback was of limited value and often there were few birds calling - we did well with the birds, missing just a few endemics. We scored both chat-tanagers, for instance, but there was no sign of Golden Swallow or Hispaniolan Crossbill, perhaps because of the very wet conditions during our visit. A big hurdle for birders in the Dominican Republic is the long distances required to reach key birding sites from available accommodation. Staying at the rustic Villa Barrancoli instead of Barahona to get to the northern slopes saves a couple of hours of travelling a day and is recommended, although the camp could do with a makeover.
*denotes lifer. Common names only follow, following Birds of the West Indies (Raffaele et al, 2003) with taxonomy in line with the latest changes in The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. The term “elevations’’ refers to the northern, southern and eastern slopes of Serra de Baharocu, the only mountain range visited.
MAMMALS - *Hispaniolan Hutia (Plagiodontia aedium) – 1 near Zapotan.
Red-footed Booby (a few along the coast south of Barahona),
Clapper Rail (calling commonly around Villa Barrancoli – 1 seen),
*West Indian Whistling-Duck (a few mingling with ringed captive birds at Zoological Park),
*Zenaida Dove (fairly common in dry scrub in lowlands),
Mourning Dove (widespread),
Common Ground-Dove (widespread),
Ruddy Quail-Dove (1 low elevations on Alcoa Road),
*Plain Pigeon (small numbers near Villa Barrancoli, west of Duverge and low elevations on Alcoa Road),
*Scaly-naped Pigeon (common on the Alcoa Road; 2 below El Aquacate),
*Hispaniolan Parrot (fairly common at mid-to-high elevations),
*Hispaniolan Parakeet (common around Santo Domingo – Hotel Embajador, Botanic Gardens and near our hotel),
Olive-throated Parakeet (small numbers on Alcoa Road),
*Hispaniolan Woodpecker (common and widespread),
*Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo (fairly common from lowlands to mid-elevations),
*Bay-breasted Cuckoo (1 seen briefly and calling at mid-elevation below El Aquacate),
Burrowing Owl (common in lowlands),
*Ashy-faced Owl (one bird called soon after dusk on our first evening at Villa Barrancolli, and excellent views were had of a pair on the second evening),
*Least Poorwill [Least Pauraque] (1 seen as it responded to playback, others heard La Placa),
[Hispaniolan Nightjar (heard only near La Placa and south of Barahona)],
*Antillean Nighthawk (1 roadside south of Barahona),
Northern Potoo (1 seen near La Placa and 1 flying over road south of Barahona),
*Antillean Palm Swift (common and widespread in lowlands),
*Hispaniolan Trogon (small numbers around Zapotan and Cachote),
*Palm Chat (common and widespread in lowlands),
*Broad-billed Tody (common at low-to-mid elevations),
*Narrow-billed Tody (common at mid-to-high elevations),
*Hispaniolan Emerald (small numbers around Zapotan and on the Alcoa Road),
*Antillean Mango (small numbers in lowlands),
*Vervain Hummingbird (small numbers south of Barahona and in the Botanic Gardens),
*Flat-billed Vireo (2 seen and 1 other heard at La Placa),
*Black-whiskered Vireo (small numbers south of Barahona),
*Stolid Flycatcher (common in the lowlands),
*Greater Antillean Elaenia (small numbers at high elevations),
*Hispaniolan Pewee (fairly common at mid-to-high elevations),
Grey Kingbird (common),
Northern Mockingbird (common),
*Rufous-throated Solitaire (fairy common by voice and a few seen around Zapotan),
*Red-legged Thrush (common at mid-to-high elevations),
*La Selle Thrush (1 bird near Zapotan feeding in a fruiting tree),
*Bicknell’s Thrush (1 near Zapotan and 1 south of Barahona),
*White-winged Warbler [Hispaniolan Highland-Tanager] (small numbers around Zapotan and Cachote),
*Green-tailed Warbler [Green-tailed Ground-Tanager] (common in all forest types),
Magnolia Warbler (a few near Zapotan), Cape May Warbler,
Black-throated Blue Warbler (common), Black-throated Green Warbler,
Pine Warbler (a few on Alcoa Road), Prairie Warbler (fairly common at high elevations),
Palm Warbler (1 south of Barahona), Blackpoll Warbler,
Black-and-white Warbler (common), American Redstart,
Northern Waterthrush (common),
Lousiana Waterthrush (1 near Villa Barrancoli),
*Hispaniolan Spindalis [Stripe-headed Tanager] (common at high elevations),
*Western Chat-Tanager (1 showed well on the Alcoa Road),
*Eastern Chat-Tanager (a pair showed well at Cachote),
*Black-crowned Palm-Tanager (common and widespread),
*Greater Antillian [Hispaniolan] Oriole (1 near Villa Barrancoli),
*Antillian Siskin (small numbers around Zapotan and on the Alcoa Road),
Tricoloured (Black-headed) Mannikin (a few south-westof Santo Domingo,
Village Weaver (roadside south-west of Santo Domingo),
*Greater Antillean Bullfinch (2 near Zapotan),
*Antillian Euphonia (small numbers near Zapotan and on the Alcoa Road),
Black-faced Grassquit (common),
*White-necked Crow (1 at Villa Barrancoli and 1 at La Zurza),
*Hispaniolan Palm Crow (a small roadside flock 13km west of Durverge),
*Greater Antillean Grackle (common in Botanic Gardens),
Total 104 species (42 lifers).