Dave Pitman, Jon Hornbuckle, Neil Bostock, Steve Webb, Kerry Harrison, Rob Cockbain, Mike Whiteside, Ken Hardy
From January 24th to February 3rd, 2004 I birded the Dominican Republic with 8 Brits and a local guide. It was a combination of a tour organized by Dave Pitman and a few independents. The trip was successful, seeing all the endemics but 2, including flight views of Ridgway's Hawk.
Weather generally was good, with low humidity, and I only experienced rain on the last day, other than a brief drizzle one day. Sharing the costs among the group significantly lowered the per person costs. Thanks to Jon Hornbuckle for informing me about the trip, and to Dave Pitman who graciously and cheerfully (mostly) allowed me to join his group for some good birding. Most of the endemics are found in the southwestern mountains, which can be reached by a 2 hour drive on rough roads from Barahona. There doesn't seem to be anyplace closer to stay, although there is supposed to be a basic hotel in Duverge, which would lessen the drive by 45 minutes. Our local guide had no contact information or phone number for it, but it would be worthwhile to investigate on a return trip from the high mountains. DR suffers from major infrastructure issues, and power outages were a frequent event. Most hotels have their own generators to compensate. The gas stations ran out of gas for a couple of days, either due to a 2 day national strike, or more likely because they anticipated a drop in gas prices and let their stocks run out. Gas up whenever you can. Our drivers had to drive 45 minutes from Barahona to Duverge to get gas, as Barahona ran out on our 2nd day there.
Articles & Trip Reports taken from
Allan Sander & Mike Flieg - A Photographic Guide to the West Indies - also assistance through personal communications - Thanks for the tape, Mike.
Lonely Planet Dominican Republic & Haiti, 2nd Edition, July 2002 - also has good high level maps of the various regions and Santo Domingo.
A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies - Raffaele, Wiley, etc - the best around but very weak on subspecies, alternate plumages, and specific distributions. For the relatively small number of specialties they should have provided much more information.
Some of the group had the latest field guide version of this book, which is recommended as it has greater detail in the range maps and is more portable, although it has even less text than the original. I believe some of the plates were new also.
Names and Contacts
Miguel Angel Landestoy - 809-634-7566 mobile, 809-522-3897 home. Miguel speaks English, but if you phone his house his father's name is also Miguel, and he does not speak English. Miguel charges $50 / day plus expenses and knows the Sierra de Bahoruco well. The group enjoyed his company and felt he was more than merely a bird guide, as he helped with logistics and generally provided good company. Highly recommended. Night birding was probably his weakest area, but he knows the locations, and we saw 4 species of nightjars. Miguel is also a nature photographer who has won some local contests. He's a good guy with current information, as he has friends in the local birding groups. In particular we might not have tried looking for and finding Least Poorwill without his information.
E mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Wallace of Tody Tours. Kate had provided both me and Dave Pitman with some useful information, but was unavailable for a portion of our visit. I believe she charges $100 / day plus expenses, and can supply a vehicle with her as a driver for an extra fee. She is used by many groups and knows the sites.
809-686-0882 todytours.com and email@example.com
. I think she can recommend other local guides.
Dave Pitman is an independent tour leader in the UK, formerly a bird guide with BirdQuest. Dave does low cost trips all over the world. This was my first trip with him but not my last. Contact is: PITMANDv@aol.com
Dave Pitman had arranged vehicles, an SUV and 4 wheel drive pickup, but had to wait over 2 hours to get them, which is typical. On my last day I rented a 4 wheel drive Suzuki Jimmy, fairly gutless with no trunk or storage space, but adequate for one person at $56 a day from Budget. I waited 45 minutes for it even though I was told it was ready when I called. Subaru Forester can be had for $100 a day from them or Avis. You will need at least high clearance for some areas, and probably 4 wheel drive. Local buses are cheap, but you will need a vehicle to get to the birding sites.
The unit of currency is the peso, averaging about 46 -50 to the US dollar, a big decline from 16 a few years earlier. Beware much lower rates when using credit cards. I brought traveler's checks, American Express, US dollars, and some cash. The checks can be difficult to change outside major cities or tourist areas. Many places accepted US dollars cash at about 50 to the dollar. The Lonely Planet guide says to use Casa de Cambios to change money, but the banks gave me a better rate, and many money changers would either not take traveler's cheques or offered significantly lower rates than the bank. One bank in Barahona accepted dollars and euros but not UK pounds. Brits beware.
Accommodation and Food
Santo Domingo is a bit pricey for hotels, but we found rates quite reasonable in most places, ranging from about $6 to $25. Food was fairly cheap everywhere, and good meals could often be had for $5 or less. Water is apparently not safe to drink and even the locals drink bottled water, sold in small half liters and 5 gallon jugs. Local beer is good and cheap and El Presidente is the main brand, supplies of which were significantly reduced by Dave Pitman (most of us managed to give him a hand as well).
Telephone cards are the best way to make phone calls, sold in 100 and 300 peso amounts, and probably higher. The two times I tried to use an 800 number for my MCI calling card were unsuccessful, as the phone companies wanted me to use their system.
Most endemics can be found in the southwest, in the Sierra de Bahoruco near Haiti, and a few are exclusively found there. The Eastern Chat-Tanager
is in the central mountains - Ebano Verde is one site - and Ridgway's Hawk
is only found in the northeast, at Los Haitises National Park. The local birders feel that reports of the hawk in the southwest are probably in error, "strung" in Brit bird speak. Hispaniolan Quail-Dove
is supposedly found more easily in the central mountains (La Cienaga?).
We saw 136 species, and heard four more, with 29 lifers for me. Highlights were many, including 4 nightjars
, Bay-breasted Cuckoo
, and Ridgway's Hawk
. Most endemics were seen well by everyone in the group. Several of the mountain birds were tougher than I had expected, including La Selle's Thrush, Western Chat-Tanager, Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Antillean Piculet
, and Flat-billed Vireo.
Allow time for multiple visits. Biggest misses were Ashy-faced Owl (heard only), Eastern Chat-Tanager (heard only), and (Hispaniolan) Gray-headed Quail-Dove (not seen by most based on trip reports I've read). Inquiries about specific species will gladly be answered at: firstname.lastname@example.org
January 24, Saturday - travel day
I caught a direct flight from Newark to Santo Domingo, arriving at 2 PM. Customs were the easiest I have experienced for years, with nobody on line. I did not change money at the airport bank (a mistake) based on the Lonely Planet's advice. I took a cab for $27 US to the Zona Colonial in the city center to Bettye's Guest House for $35 a night single, $40 double. This place is hard to find, as there is no sign for it, reception is on the third floor, and the outer gate is padlocked. It is on Luperon, correctly indicated on the Lonely Planet map, just off Avenue Merino. The caretakers, Philippe and his brother, are always there watching from the 3rd floor balcony. The place is nice, but the upper parts of the walls have latticework holes which give little privacy, sound-wise. Fortunately there was only 1 other quiet person there. Breakfast was quite good, with cereal, crepes, fresh fruit, fruit juice and eggs, included in the price. The e mail address in Lonely Planet didn't work, and I made the reservation by phone - 809-688-7649. Her current e mail address is: email@example.com
. Betty is an American ex-pat who also runs the Galeria Toledo art gallery one block up the road. I wasted time trying to change money, seeing a Cape May Warbler in a tree en route, finally opting for an ATM that only allowed 3,000 pesos at a time, although I could and did make multiple withdrawals of 3,000. Go figure. Bettye gave me a lift with her cab driver to the Hotel Embajadora at 5 PM, about 150 pesos cab ride on the return trip, where I saw the Hispaniolan Parakeets
that come in to roost in the late afternoon. It was the best look I had for the whole trip. I also saw a Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Bananaquit, Black & White Warbler
, and Antillean Palm-Swift
. Dinner at the very nice Meson D' Bari, around the corner from Bettye's, and a slightly upscale hangout with a packed bar.
January 25, Sunday - Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens supposedly open at 9 AM, but I found out later that they will let birders in at 7 AM. After breakfast I arranged a cab with Diomedes, the cab driver used by Bettye and a nice guy (phone: cell-761-1827, home-686-4405, not sure if he speaks English). We left at 8:15, arriving at 8:30 to find the gates open. Immediately I saw several Palmchats
by the gate. They are abundant throughout the park, the most common endemic. Black-Whiskered Vireos
were heard and seen throughout the morning. This park is excellent for birding, with forested areas, streams, ponds, and open areas. I ran into some local birders and spent the morning here. Birds seen included Hispaniolan Woodpecker
, a common endemic, Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo, Antillean Palm-Swift, Limpkin, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager
(only 1), Solitary Sandpipers, Vervain Hummingbird, Antillean Mango, Cape May Warbler
, and others. I had arranged to meet the others at Miguel's town of Bani, an hour west of Santo Domingo, so I returned to Bettye's and stayed until 4 PM, when Diomedes took me to the bus station for the 1 hour ride to Bani. Bettye allowed me to stay late since no other guests were arriving. I met Miguel at 6 in Bani, and we waited for the others to arrive. Rental car and logistical delays resulted in a late arrival from Punta Cana at 10:30. They had pizza dinner, and we left for Barahona after 11, arriving around 1 AM at the Hotel Caribe, on the outskirts of the town by the beach. We stayed there for 5 nights. Double rooms are 800 pesos; rooms have AC, fan, and hot water, and were large. Breakfast is included and the hotel packed us a breakfast of hard boiled eggs and toast when requested. The on site restaurant is good with reasonably quick service.
January 26, Monday - Sierra de Bahoruco, El Aguacate, & environs
Early departure at 4 AM, the first of several. After Puerto Escondido we flushed a few Burrowing Owls on the way up. We stopped at the military checkpoint (Zapoten?), then climbed further to the best forested areas. Trip reports mention a rusted bulldozer site. There are 2 small bits of rusted metal left, not recognizable as being part of anything, never mind a bulldozer, in a cleared area that some Haitian families use for a small market, not the best for finding wary forest birds. We parked a bit further up the road, next to a no fire sign (fogata? inside the international 'no' symbol, a circle with a slash), where there is a path off to the right into the forest. I believe this general area is referred to as El Aguacate, the avocado. We walked a few feet to one clearing, then a bit further to another. We saw a large bird jumping up into some hanging brush. Dave identified it as the Western Chat-Tanager
, but most of us only saw a silhouette. We thought we heard La Selle's Thrush sing once. We did not see either bird that day, although we heard the Chat-Tanager singing at close range. This is a tough bird that stays low in dense undergrowth. We spent a few hours in this general area, walking some trails and the main road. Many endemics were seen, including distant parrots, Hispaniolan Emerald, Trogon, Woodpecker, Pewee, Spindalis, Narrow-billed Tody, Antillean Siskin, Green-tailed and White-winged Warblers
(American warblers #100 & 101 for me). Mid-morning we slowly descended the trail, making various stops for other species, seeing perched Olive-throated Parakeets
along the road, the Lizard-Cuckoo, Stolid Flycatcher
, partial views of Antillean Piculet
(not easy to see well) and Flat-billed Vireo
in the drier scrub. By afternoon we tried the shady Rabo de Gato trail, where we flushed a nightjar, probably a Chuck-Will's Widow,
saw Lizard-Cuckoos again, and only heard the Bay-breasted Cuckoo
, another tough bird. A late afternoon stop outside Puerto Escondido finally gave us a few White-Necked Crows
. In the evening we went to the usual nightjar location at La Placa, which is the lower section of the Zapoten road. We stopped along the road where there was a sign and side road indicating bird observation or something similar. There were only a couple Hispaniolan Nightjars
calling, none very close to the road. I think we arrived back in Barahona after 9, where we ate a good meal at the hotel. Turned in sometime after 11.
January 27, Tuesday - Sierra de Barohuco, etc
Up to the Sierra again, with another unsuccessful attempt for the nightjar and the poorwill en route. Poorwills were not heard at all in this area on any of the stops. We arrived at Aguacate at the same spot at 7 AM, at first light. We walked up the main road a little and saw 2 thrushes
in the road. One was Red-legged
, and the other probably a Bicknell's
, actively flitting like a Redstart. No LaSelle Thrush, and the Chat-Tanager was heard again at close range but not seen. At 9 we slowly worked our way down the road again until noon, getting better looks at the Piculet. A few of us saw the Bay-breasted Cuckoo
fly across the road, but it was not relocated. A walk down a side path gave good looks at a perched Key West Quail-Dove
to all but me, who was indisposed in the bushes. Another shot at the Rabo de Gato trail from 12 - 3 was more productive. We finally had an excellent look at the Bay-breasted Cuckoo
high in a tree, along with more Lizard-Cuckoos.
We searched for the nightjar that had flushed the previous day and flushed it again. I saw it land on a branch where it allowed excellent views by all. After some discussion we decided it was a Chuck-Will's Widow
(which Miguel had said based on its size). Later we stopped by a small dam (Damas Dam) in an open area not far from Puerto Escondido, seeing a few new birds like Least Grebe
. We went near the Lago Enriquillo by some fields and thorn forest to find a small flock of the local Palm Crow
after some searching and mosquito feeding. I can't remember when we returned to Barahona, but it wasn't too late. Dinner at the restaurant next door. The grilled lobster was OK, but we waited over an hour for dinner in spite of the empty restaurant. We found out Barahona was out of gas, so the drivers had to drive back to Duverge to fill up, over 90 minutes round trip - even less sleep for them.
January 28, Wednesday - Sierra loop through Pedernales, Alcoa Road
This was a last attempt for the Thrush & Chat-Tanager. Miguel said he knew a spot on the other side of the mountain. We set off early, before 4, and over the ridge we passed a pine forest where the nightjar was calling. We stopped and had a good look at a bird perched in a tree that responded to our tape. There is one very steep deeply rutted spot that was tricky. Trying to cross the ridge from Pedernales would be difficult, as it was tough enough doing this short stretch downhill. We arrived at dawn, about 7 AM, and tried for the birds. We heard a Chat-Tanager, but no luck. Dave walked up the road and found a LaSelle Thrush
along the road. We saw a darker thrush partly hidden in tall grass which hopped out of view. Tickable, but not a great look for most. I walked down the hill a bit with my cheapo tape player about 8:30 and a large bird flew into some bare branches. It was LaSelle Thrush, giving me an excellent look. The others ran to see it, and it flew across the road. Most people finally got a good look as the bird worked its way through the dense shrubs. Rufous-throated Solitaire
at last gave us all excellent looks along the road. I walked down ahead about 10 minutes later and tried the Western Chat-Tanager
tape. A few minutes later one came out of the undergrowth working its way silently towards me. I got an excellent look, and motioned the approaching vehicles to stop. After patiently waiting, the group saw the bird. It's amazing how such a large bird disappears into the low undergrowth with 8 people watching to reappear 30 feet away. Another walk down the road found a tree at the edge of a field with White-Winged Warbler
and Antillean Siskins.
At the far side of the field was the local race of Kestrel
at a nest hole. This race is very white and is a striking bird. We had lunch at the edge of the field and watched Caribbean Martins
and Golden Swallows
flying in the distance. While I walked ahead to the edge of the field the others had good scope views of the swallow. The tail does not look as forked as indicated in the book. The next few kilometers were mostly farm fields. We managed to run over the only rock in the road, instantly blowing out the tire. This stop gave us Mangrove Cuckoo
and a brief look at White-winged Dove
, surprisingly scarce on the trip. In Pedernales we found a tire repair place next to a small refreshment stand that made excellent Papaya milk shakes for 20 pesos. Bottles of rum were only 70 pesos. Thanks, Miguel! We took the paved Alcoa Road towards Aceitillar, pulling off at the signed La Charca, a man-made pond with concrete walls. This is the spot for the Hispaniolan Crossbill
, which drinks here in the late morning. It was already about 2 PM and we waited patiently. In the pine forest behind the pond was Yellow-throated Warbler
and the endemic race of Pine Warbler
. Neil finally located a calling Crossbill, either a female or young male yellow bird, perched in a tree. We waited awhile but never saw a male. We stopped on a path on the way down for quail-doves, but didn't see anything. There was a guard who charged us 50 pesos each to go up this road. Miguel says entrance fees are random, but the guard had paperwork so it looked legitimate. We went back for the repaired tire and another round of papaya milk shakes, then drove toward Barahona, with a brief stop at the Oviedo lagoon, just past the town of Oviedo. Flamingoes
were in the distance and a few shorebirds for the trip. A fairly dirty looking guard approached us and said we had to pay admission, something Miguel had never encountered before. We returned to Barahona, and checked out the nearby site for Ashy-faced Owl. This is towards Pedernales, only a 5 minute drive from the Hotel Caribe, right before a police checkpoint. I think the sign says Santa Elena, but I'm not sure. A dirt road goes uphill. At 2 km there is a short steep stretch with loose gravel that gave the pickup trouble every time, and might be hard for a regular car. The owl spot is 5 - 7 km up the road, I think (didn't clock it exactly), where a footpath can be seen on the left leading to a large dead tree, visible from the road. We tried the tape without luck this night and 2 other times. Several stops along the road also received no response. We did spotlight a Hispaniolan Nightjar
high up in a tree. Another late return to the hotel with Presidente beer for consolation.
January 29, Thursday - Around Barahona & Lago Enriquillo
This was Neil and Jon's last chance for the owl. We tried the same spot again to no avail, including several other stops. One of the best surprises of the trip was a calling Least Poorwill
along the road, about 2.5 km from the highway turnoff, after the steep hill but a bit before a fork in the road. We taped it in and all but Jon saw it perched on a branch. As dawn broke it became silent. Back to the hotel for a rare sit down breakfast, and Neil & Jon drove back to Punta Cana for a Lesser Antilles trip. We had seen most of the key daytime endemics in the area, and decided to try Laguna Cabral, a group of marshes and ponds about 30 minutes from Barahona. Another guard mysteriously appeared requesting 50 pesos per person. There is no sign or official entrance, but he did have paperwork that seemed official. We spent an hour or so here walking along embankments, then returned to Barahona for lunch and a bank stop for me. In the afternoon we drove to 2 points along Lago Enriquillo, the largest lake in the Caribbean, for shorebirds and Caribbean Coot
. We had American Wigeon
, a lifer for Miguel, and some other ducks and shorebirds. We drove to the run down border town of Jumani, and walked through a gate into no-man's land between the countries. A group of Haitian kids, some very annoying, followed us towards the lakeshore, one kid blocking a scope with his hand. A very large flock of 200+ Caribbean Coot
was on the far side of the lake. We left this area and drove back towards Barahona, stopping at a hot springs area to see Plain Pigeon
and get bitten by lots of hungry mosquitoes. Other than this and the Palm Crow area we were fairly lucky with biting insects. We returned to the Poorwill site past Barahona at dusk and were treated to excellent looks at the Poorwill, including 2 birds that briefly fought. The Potoo
tape was played and a huge silhouette flew overhead into the hills. I had never seen one flying, and the silhouette of this huge bird was a highpoint of the trip, all the more striking as we had just seen the Poorwill and the Nightjar flying in this area. The group met a local by the owl spot who said he knew a spot for the owl further up the road. We walked into the woods to a large tree where he said the bird sometimes roosted, but we had no luck here either. Back to the hotel and dinner at an outdoor restaurant up the road.
January 30, Friday - drive to Sabana de la Mar
Another early morning fruitless search for the owl, although two in the group heard it call in the distance at the spot recommended by the local. Breakfast at the hotel, then an all-day drive across the country to the northeast to try for Ridgway's Hawk. Miguel had made arrangements, and we checked in with the park headquarters in Sabana de Mar to finalize arrangements and pay. Behind the park HQ is the bay, and we had a variety of gulls, not common in the Caribbean, including a couple of Herring Gulls
, a Ring-billed
, and at least 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Double-crested Cormorant
was another lifer for Miguel, and a good variety of shorebirds was present. We drove the 12 km to one of the biggest surprises of the trip, an 'eco-lodge' type hotel with swimming pool and a lovely setting for 1200 pesos a night plus tax. The food was quite good as well. The owner's wife speaks excellent English and they were very helpful. I believe the name was Paradise Hotel.
January 31, Saturday - Los Haitises National Park - Ridgway's Hawk!
We drove the 1 km to the boat ramp by 7, and waited 15 minutes until our guide Juan arrived. It took another 15 minutes to get ready and gas up the boat, and we were on our way. We went up a mangrove channel then across the bay and along the coast. Many Frigatebirds
and Brown Pelicans
were seen perched on the small rock-islands, and one contained 4 Brown Boobies
. Black-crowned Night-Herons
, Cave Swallows, Royal Terns
roosting on pilings, a couple of flyby White-crowned Pigeons
and 1 perched Peregrine
were also seen. We arrived around 9AM at a loading dock where there is a park building and picnic benches. This may be called Los Naranjos. Juan has worked here for 25 years and sees the hawk regularly, occasionally as many as 4 at a time. We waited a bit, then walked a short rocky trail to the adjacent beach with fishermen's grass huts. This was the preferred spot and we spent a couple of hours here. Just after 10 Steve Webb spotted a distant small Buteo that was an immature Ridgway's Hawk
. Twice we were able to see the translucent windows in the outer wings, very similar to Red-shouldered Hawk. We saw the bird for a total of about a minute or two. We never did another, although a couple of Red-tailed Hawks
gave some false alarms. Other birds in the area included the Lizard-Cuckoo, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, Stolid Flycatcher, Greater Antillean Oriole, White-necked Crow
(I finally saw the white feather base on a preening bird), Palmchat
, and a couple of warblers. We left at 1:15 but a bit of wind and some chop slowed our return, so we didn't get back to 3 PM. Back to the hotel to pay and drive towards Monte Plata through a bad dirt road that took 3 hours. We had arranged to visit private property where others have seen Barn & Ashy-faced Owls. This was an area of palm trees. We saw at least 7 Barn Owls
well, and a couple of darker candidates for Ashy-faced, but no definite identifications as far as I know. At the edge of a field Thick-Knees
could be heard calling in the distance. It was now 9:30 and the original plan had been to drive to Bonao to try for the Eastern Chat-Tanager. Many of us were exhausted and hadn't eaten, so we opted to stay in Monte Plata to try for the owl again. We stayed at the Hotel Toro for only 250 pesos a night. AC and fan with cold water and a cheap but good restaurant. We ate and collapsed.
Note that Kate Wallace advertises the Ridgway's Hawk trip for $500, including car rental. Our hotel cost 1200 pesos a night plus tax (about $25), the boat and guide were 6000 pesos ($120), and the park fee is 50 pesos ($1) per person, and Miguel for $50 / day, so it can be done more cheaply.
February 1, Sunday - Monte Plata
5am start for the owl. We heard at least 2 different Ashy-faced Owls call, but couldn't get them to come in to the tape. More Barn Owls were seen, and the Thick-knees were heard again. Missing the owl was a big surprise and disappointment, as we had put in a lot of time in the right spots. We briefly checked a field for the Thick-knees without success, and returned to the hotel for breakfast. A 20 minute stop at the Santo Domingo zoo took us to a pond with introduced waterfowl and 4 West Indian Whistling Ducks
, which Miguel says are not the captive ones found in other parts of the zoo. Maybe. Outside Santo Domingo we separated, with half returning to Punta Cana, and Dave and 2 others going to the Santo Domingo airport for a 6 day jaunt to Puerto Rico. I arranged a rental car for the next day and took a cab to Bettye's Guest House, where I washed some clothes, took a siesta, and had dinner. My visit to an internet café was cut short when the power went out in the city. For ice cream lovers note there is a Baskin & Robbins on the pedestrian street near Bettye's a few blocks west.
February 2, Monday - Ebano Verde
I had arranged for a Suzuki Jimmy 4 wheel drive with the Budget office in the city. I called at 7:30 and they said the car would be ready at 9am. I had to call the reserve office at 9, and got through to the secretary. The phone number is 565-1422; I don't know if they speak English as I spoke to them in Spanish. The Ebano Verde reserve is private and gated, and arrangements must be made to have a guard open the gate. The guards live in a cabin about a mile up the hill, so just showing up won't work. This is a good spot for Eastern Chat-Tanager, and the Hispaniolan Quail-Dove occurs here, although it's rarely seen. I took a cab to the Budget office, arriving at 9:30. I was told the vehicle was ready, but it didn't arrive until 10:15. I set off at 10:30 and arrived at the Hotel Jacaranda an hour later. It's on the main highway on the left side a few kilometers past the Bonao exit. Another pleasant surprise, as the room was large and comfortable, with cable TV, hot water, and AC. Unfortunately it had been raining there a lot in recent days, and there quite a few mosquitoes in the room. This is a truckstop, and there is a cafeteria as well as a fancier restaurant on site. The room price of 600 pesos was one of the better bargains of the trip. At 12:30 I set off for Ebano Verde to check things out. The Costanza turnoff is only about 6 km north of the hotel. The paved road then winds uphill and west where it reaches the peak at about 15km. There is a sign for the Ebano Verde reserve, and the entrance road and gate is set back a bit to the right. It was closed, so I continued another 6 km downhill to a small town and another entrance to the reserve. This was not gated and went 3 km along a badly rutted road to the headquarters. I spoke with a guard who was aware of my visit the next day. He said the best birds were at the upper entrance road. Note the final 50 feet here is very steep and rutted. I returned out and passed another park vehicle. I stopped and spoke with Ramon Elias Castillo, who was arranging my visit. He was pleasant and arranged for them to open the gate that afternoon so I could do some birding. I drove back to the upper gate and waited a little while until Miguel the guard arrived. Another guy asked me questions and finally opened the gate a few minutes before Miguel arrived. I have no idea who he was, but he had the keys. This was about 2:30, and I slowly walked up the hill, which was mostly covered by dense ferns. It was cloudy and windy, and I saw almost no birdlife, except 1 Pewee
and Green-tailed Warbler
. At the top is a generator and communications tower, with a path that goes back a few minutes to the house where the guards live. This is good forest, quite different from what's along the road. Past the guard's house is a signed path that goes downhill several kilometers. The first kilometer or so is through dense cloud forest, which looked good for Quail-Dove. I saw nothing here but an Emerald. I only walked to where the path opened up into a large clearing, then walked back uphill, spending 90 minutes in the area. The only small flock was by the communications tower, but had no new birds. I walked downhill and left, eating in the restaurant at the Jacaranda, watching my first TV of the trip, with the news in English.
February 3, Tuesday - last day
My last unsuccessful try for another lifer. It was raining lightly in Bonao and all the way to the reserve, with some patches of fog. I arrived at 6:30, but Miguel the guard didn't arrive until after 7. I drove the 5 minutes to the top, probably not do-able without 4-wheel drive. As we walked past the tower along the path to the guard's house I heard 2 Chat-Tanagers
sing. I decided to make straight for the forested path going downhill. It was raining lightly, but with little wind. I tried the tape several times, with no response. One bird flew away behind me, but I didn't see it. After an hour I walked back to the guard's path, but it was raining harder here, with some fog. I found a small group of birds by the tower - Spindalis, Green-tailed Warbler, Palm-Tanager, Pewee
, but no Chat-Tanager. I gave up after 9 and drove back to Bonao through rain. I left the hotel at 10:30 and drove to the airport. The rain stopped not long after Bonao, and it was warm and sunny the rest of the way. Maybe there's a micro-climate in this area, as it had rained at Bonao a lot in the last week, but not in the west, east, or Santo Domingo. Allow time to get through Santo Domingo, as the main highway stopped abruptly with no clearly signed detours. I followed traffic until it fragmented and wandered for a while before finding the correct road to the airport. A flyby Barn Swallow
was my last new bird. To return rental cars, follow signs at the airport through the arrivals section, then park in a parking lot that is not segregated or indicated in any way for the various rental car companies.
ENDEMICS or near endemics are in capitals and underlined. Taxonomic order seems to change every few years, so I'm using an old AOU system, per the checklist. L = lifer for me H = heard only
- Botanical gardens and Damas Dam by Puerto Escondido
- 1 or 2 on Lago Enriquillo near Haiti
- 4 perched in a tree offshore Los Haitises park
- Sabana de Mar & Los Haitises boat trip
- 1 immature at Sabana de Mar; rare here and a lifer for our guide Miguel
- as above, also 2 seen near S.D. airport. Some on Los Haitises islands had extended throat pouches, always an impressive sight
Great Blue Heron
- seen daily Jan 28 - 31
- seen daily Jan 28 - 31
- Botanical Gardens, Oviedo Lagoon, Laguna Cabral
- Laguna Cabral; also Los Haitises
Little Blue Heron
- Laguna Enriquillo near Haiti; also Sabana de Mar & Los Haitises
- all over in fields
- Botanical Gardens and Laguna Cabral
American / Caribbean Flamingo
- Oviedo lagoon; a couple were a striking bright pink
- 1 flyby seen, I forget where
- Laguna Cabral and Los Haitises
WEST INDIAN WHISTLING DUCK
- 4 at Santo Domingo zoo. Local birders in the Botanical Gardens told me there was a small group of wild birds that frequented the zoo. We saw 4 at a lake with imported waterfowl. Miguel said the captive population is kept in a different section. Judgment call, not a lifer for me anyway. They can sometimes be found in the Botanical Gardens.
- locally rare; medium sized flock at Lago Enriquillo, a lifer for Miguel
- Lago Enriquillo
- 1 or 2 at Lago Enriquillo
- 4 at Lago Enriquillo before Haiti
- absent from the west; only seen north and east of Santo Domingo
- 1 seen by Pedernales, another seen on Jan 29, maybe Laguna Cabral
- Sierra de Bahoruco, Los Haitises, Ebano Verde
(L) - 1 immature seen soaring at Los Haitses stop, a great find
- common throughout; a very pale subspecies with white underwings and underparts
- 1 perched on tree on Los Haitises boat trip
- 1 flyby on lower parts of Zapoten road in drier scrub
(H) - 1 heard at White-necked Crow site near Puerto Escondido
- Botanical Gardens and Laguna Cabral
CARIBBEAN COOT -
very large flock (200+) on the far shore by no man's land at Jimani
- 2 seen and I heard at Botanical Gardens
(H) - heard only at ranch near Monte Plata; an endemic subspecies
- seen on 4 days along shorelines, fresh and salt water
- small groups at Lago Enriquillo
- Sabana de Mar
- Damas Dam and Oviedo Lagoon
- either Lago Enriquillo or Laguna Cabral
- 1 or 2 at Laguna Cabral
- seen Jan 28 - 30
- Oviedo Lagoon & Sabana de Mar
- Botanical Gardens (4) and Lago Enriquillo
- Lago Enriquillo
- Oviedo Lagoon and Sabana de Mar
- Sabana de Mar
- Sabana de Mar
- not seen by me, possibly scoped by others at Sabana de Mar
- Oviedo Lagoon and Sabana de Mar
- 3 or 4 at Oviedo Lagoon
- couple of flybys at Sabana de Mar
- 1 at Sabana de Mar with other gulls
- a couple at Sabana de Mar with other gulls
Lesser Black-backed Gull
- surprisingly 3 or 4 immatures and at least 1 adult at Sabana de Mar, with other gulls. An unusually large number for the Caribbean, I think.
- S.D. airport road, Lago de Enriquillo, Sabana de Mar, Los Haitises
- Oviedo Lagoon and Lago Enriquillo before Haiti
- Sabana de Mar
- flybys every day in the Sierra de Bahoruco
- one or two flybys during boat trip in Los Haitises
- only seen at hot springs stop on road to Jimani
- 1 on lower part of southern slope of Sierra de Bahoruco; another seen along the road driving from Monte Plata to Santo Domingo
- a few seen daily in the Sierra Jan 27 -29
- common, seen most days
- fairly common
Key West Quail-Dove
- seen perched by all but me along trail into dry scrub in lower Sierra
(L) - many at Hotel Embajadora in Santo Domingo, otherwise only a few distant flybys in Sierra and Alcoa Road
- 7 birds seen well perched in a bare tree along lower slopes of Sierra
(L) - flybys daily in the Sierra; 1 bird seen well perched along the road descending one morning
- 1 seen well while repairing flat tire on lower slopes of southern side of Sierra
(L) - seen in the Sierra, Los Haitises, & Botanical Gardens
(L) - one seen flying across lower part of Sierra road; another finally seen well high in a tree on Rabo de Gato trail. A trip highlight for me, a real beauty
- common in appropriate habitat
- at least 7 seen in palms on private ranch near Monte Plata; probably more
(H) - heard only at same ranch; a few of us saw darker looking owls briefly, but I couldn't put a positive ID on any. One or two in the group did see a bird or two that they positively identified, but not me. THE big miss of the trip for me, despite extensive searching & sleep deprivation
- several flew up from dirt cliff areas along road past Puerto Escondido en route to Sierra at night
LEAST POORWILL (PAURAQUE)
(L) - Hopes were low on seeing this bird, as we heard none and other trip reports had limited success. Miguel said friends had heard them by the owl site outside Barahona, although he hadn't. We had good looks both pre-dawn and at dusk of 1, then 2 birds allowing excellent looks. Another trip highlight for me.
- another surprise. One was flushed near the Rabo de Gato trail in the afternoon. A search the next day flushed it again, and the bird perched on a branch allowing long looks and considerable debate, as it had white spots along a blackish bib that resembled the white spots of Hispaniolan Nightjar
HISPANIOLAN (GREATER ANTILLEAN) NIGHTJAR
(L)- at first heard only at La Placa. Another treat was when we heard them calling in pine forest over the ridge as we traversed the Sierra. Taping brought one in close where we all had a good look at it. Also seen along the "owl road" outside Barahona
- a truly impressive sight was the large silhouette in the moonlight of the Potoo flying overhead by the Poorwill site into the opposite hillside after dusk
ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFT
- common in lower areas, Botanical Gardens, & Santo Domingo
- more common than the Emerald; seen daily in the Sierra
(L) - uncommon in the upper Sierra; also at Ebano Verde
- Botanical Gardens & along lower portions of Sierra road; tiny, the second smallest hummingbird in the world. The short bill and tail exaggerates the small size.
(L) - seen on 2 visits in the upper Sierra, El Aguacate
(L) - lower parts of Sierra and Rabo de Gato trail
(L) - upper elevations: Sierra & Ebano Verde
- 1 at Laguna Cabral; another at hot springs path, Jimani Road; also Los Haitises
(L) - lower parts of Sierra trail; very difficult to see well; also Alcoa Road in pines behind pond
(L) - the most widely distributed endemic, found in all habitats
GREATER ANTILLEAN ELAENIA
- seen on two visits to the Sierra
(L) - seen daily in the Sierra, also Ebano Verde
(L) - lower parts of Sierra in drier habitat, also Los Haitises
- only 1 seen perched in a tree descending Sierra on Jan 26
(L) - only seen one day in drier forest on lower parts of Sierra. Seemingly not very common, as it took several stops before we finally found one very responsive bird
- very common in Botanical Gardens; several called in Los Haitises but several group members never got to see one
HISPANIOLAN PALM CROW
(L) - apparently very local; 1 small flock of 4 taped in near eastern part of Lago Enriquillo in arid scrub
(L) - another local bird. A few seen near the Damas Dam outside Puerto Escondido, and more seen at the hawk site at Los Haitises
(L) - endemic family as well as species. Abundant in Botanical Gardens, and seen in most habitats except the Sierra. They have huge communal nests like Monk Parakeets
- a few seen each day in the Sierra, both sides
- Los Haitises boat trip, and SD airport road
- 1 flyby on my last day near the SD airport
(L) - a few seen on the southern slope of the Sierra, by the edge of the first field as we descended. Possibly a few on Alcoa Road.
- hard to see though often heard. Excellent views by all on our last day in the Sierra. A beautifully plumaged sleek looking bird.
- in pre-dawn light a Gray-cheeked type was seen in the road with a Red-legged Thrush at El Aguacate. Supposedly Bicknell's is the wintering species here rather than Gray-cheeked.
(L) - much tougher than expected. Finally on the last morning in the Sierra one was seen along the road, then later perched in a tree. A large striking thrush, noticeably bigger than Red-legged. We only heard it sing once briefly on our first morning.
- at least 1 seen on all trips to the Sierra
- 1 seen and 2 more heard in mangroves near boat dock Los Haitises departure point
Northern Parula Warbler
- Botanical Gardens and lower Sierra
Cape May Warbler
- I was pleased to find one of my favorite warblers fairly common, including one seen naked eye in a tree along a Santo Domingo street. Most were in drab plumage, immature females?
Black-throated Blue Warbler
- seen daily on Sierra trips, upper & lower parts
Black-throated Green Warbler
- one seen along Sierra road; uncommon here
- 1 in pines at Crossbill site
- a couple seen and heard at Crossbill site; endemic subspecies
- one or two seen in lower parts of Sierra road
- seen on 2 occasions, one being the Crossbill site
- fairly common in low numbers
- a few seen on 2 separate Sierra trips
- seen on 2 separate days in lower portions and near Damas Dam
- Laguna Cabral & Los Haitises
- by Damas Dam
- 1 or 2 in mid-Sierra, common at Laguna Cabral
(L) - American warbler #100 for me; one of the first endemics seen in the Sierra. A few seen in low numbers in Sierra and Ebano Verde
(L) - scarcer than Green-tailed; seen on first & third visits to Sierra only
- seen or heard daily in low numbers
(L) - not nearly as common as I had read. 1 seen at Hotel Embajadora, 1 at Botanical Gardens, and 1 or 2 seen daily in Sierra; also Los Haitises
(L) - one of the toughest birds. Heard on first 2 visits to El Aguacate singing at close range, but remained hidden other than 1 bird when we first arrived that quickly disappeared before most could ID it. It sings only during the first hour around first light. I was lucky to lure out a quiet bird about 8:45 on the south side of the Sierra, a bit before the road reaches a series of fields
(H) - another tough one. I heard 2 birds singing past the tower at Ebano Verde, but couldn't get any to respond to the tape. Another miss.
(L) - fairly common in upper Sierra & Ebano Verde forests
- only seen by me on our first Sierra visit. Another stunner with bright orange underparts. Also heard the other 2 days
- found in grassy areas along roads and fields
GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH
- uncommon; seen on first and third days in Sierra
GREATER ANTILLEAN GRACKLE
- less common than expected, seen on 4 days
- only 1 flyby at Laguna Cabral
GREATER ANTILLEAN ORIOLE
- seen by Damas Dam road, also Los Haitises
(L) - seen in Sierra and Alcoa Road
HISPANIOLAN (WHITE-WINGED) CROSSBILL
(L) - only 1 perched female seen by most at La Charca. Dave and Ken also saw a couple of others along the road. We arrived early afternoon, and late morning is supposed to be when they come in to drink
- in towns and cities
(L) - an established introduction. I saw 1 female in the Botanical Gardens, and Dave saw 1 at the Damas Dam.
(Nutmeg Mannikin) - 1 or 2 small flocks by the Damas Dam road
An all black rat ran across the trail at night in the upper Sierra. Another brown rat was seen before dawn at Ebano Verde. Dave saw a mongoose near the airport. Bats - several species, but I have no idea which.
Many butterflies and lizards, and a couple of turtles in the Botanical Gardens