Dominican Republic - Hispaniolan and Caribbean Endemics, 16-24 April 2011

Published by Latham Claflin (lathe.claflin AT gmail.com)

Participants: Bryn Martin, Lathe Claflin, Mike Sefton, Doug and Sandy Leffler, Don Brooks, and Larry Wicker

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This birding trip, focusing on the endemic species of the Dominican Republic, was organized by fellow Washtenaw Audubon Society member Bryn Martin. There were 7 of us on the trip. We used the services of Jean Jacques Gozard of Amazilia Tours (www.amaziliatours.com) who recruited an outstanding local guide, Miguel Landestoy. Jean Jacques was an excellent and skilled organizer who developed an itinerary designed to reach key habitats efficiently and effectively. Miguel, a photographer for the Department of Environment, has birded extensively throughout the DR and has a keen interest in biodiversity and conservation. His vocal talents for calling in birds are remarkable. He also used a digital recorder and feedback on numerous occasions, along with prerecorded bird songs, most of which he had personally recorded in the field.

The people:

Dominicans are friendly and outgoing and generally seem to be a happy people. They certainly sought out the Norte Americanos at every opportunity to make a sale, but their approach was never overly aggressive. We were there during holy week so there was no school, and people were out and about at all times during the day. Music filled the streets during most evenings, often from automobiles that had massive arrays of loudspeakers in the trunk area, with powerful amplifiers. Songs in the endemic bachata style by local hero Prince Royce (born in NYC, but of Dominican parents) were heard many times a day from cars and bars. There are more motorcycles than cars (they are used as taxis and for transport of all manner and size of goods), and we were very dependent on our drivers to negotiate the city and village streets without hitting them. Speed limit signs and traffic signals are few and far between – they rely on topases or “sleeping policeman” to control speed – but are often ignored, successfully so.

Accommodations, food, travel:

We stayed in the following places: Santo Domingo, Duke of Wellington Hotel; Los Haitises National Park which is near Sabana de la Mar in the northeastern part of DR, Hotel Paraiso Cano Hondo; and Barahona, Hotel Caribe. The accommodations were quite satisfactory and laundry service was available at both Hotel Caribe and the Duke of Wellington. The food at all locations was good – the local specialties are well worth experiencing. We especially liked the freshly prepared juices from papaya, mango, and a local red cherry, even with the added sugar (Dominicans add sugar to “everything”). We drank bottled water and used hotel water on occasions without incidence. The local brew, Presidente, is a good beer, and the local coffee was excellent. We traveled in two SUVs with 4-wheel drive capability, an absolute necessity for negotiating the mountain roads.

Birding references:

Raffaele et al., Birds of the West Indies, and Latta et al., Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, served us well.

Safety:

This was not an issue in any location. No doubt, Miguel had an impact. He is outgoing, seemed to know someone at each stop, and is well respected by his fellow countrymen and women. Also, there were military or police checkpoints about every 20 miles to prevent smuggling and illegal entry into the Dominican Republic.

E-Hispaniolan endemics, CE- Caribbean endemics, * other birds of interest to our group

Endemic birds that were common and widespread in most habitats included Palmchat (sole representative of an endemic family), Antillean Palm-swift, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Red-legged Thrush, and Antillean Mango. Species that were easily found in their habitat and fairly wide spread were Black-crowned Palm-tanager, Hispaniolan Parrot, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, Broad-billed Tody, Stolid Flycatcher, Hispaniolan Spindalis, and Hispaniolan Pewee. The following itinerary covers the first sightings by the group of Hispaniolan and Caribbean endemics plus some additional birds that most of us wanted to see. A complete list can be found at the end.

Saturday/Sunday, April 16/17:

The beautiful and well-kept Botanical Gardens of Santo Domingo was a perfect beginning for our trip. We saw many endemics there that were easy to find: Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Palmchat, Black-crowned Palm Tanager, Antillean Palm Swift, Antillean Mango, Vervain Hummingbird, Red-legged Thrush, Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Greater Antillean Grackle, and Mangrove Cuckoo. Because this was our first look at these birds we spent some time enjoying them, but the target species was West Indian Whistling-duck. We located this pretty duck in a stream about a third of the way into the gardens, and then exited for the long ride to Los Haitises National Park in the northeastern portion of the country. Once in the region we quickly located Hispaniolan Oriole. In the evening, we went to a wetland in search of the-hard-to-find, non-endemic Spotted Rail. This bird was a no-show but we did get outstanding views of an Ashy-faced Owl at dusk.

Monday, April 18

Early the next morning we hiked from our lodging to a known location for Ridgeway’s Hawk. During the one-km walk to the site, we encountered new trip birds including Antillean Piculet, Broad-billed Tody, Stolid Flycatcher, Mangrove Cuckoo, White-necked Crow, and Hispaniolan Parrot (we’d already seen this one in Santo Domingo—at the car rental place), all of which were seen well. The Ridgeway’s Hawk did not disappoint. We had great looks at a cooperatively perched bird that was still there when we left. Then off on the long, 5-hour drive to Barahona where we stayed for the next five nights. En route we saw Plain Pigeon feeding on agave flowers.

Tuesday, April 19:

First thing in the morning we drove to Cabo Rojo, a rocky point of land on the ocean where we could watch nesting White-tailed Tropicbirds flying near the cliffs. Then on through lowlands of arid thorn shrubs and various cacti to somewhere near Pedernales where we began a climb up the southern slopes of the Sierra de Baoruco. In the lowland scrub foothills we encountered Greater Antillean Bullfinch and Green-tailed Ground Tanager (Green-tailed Warbler). We climbed up into a pine forest to about 1300 m. and birded near a concrete-lined pond. Through the intermittent fog we located White-crowned Pigeon, Narrow-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Pewee, Rufous-throated Solitaire (heard only), Hispaniolan Palm Crow, Hispaniolan Crossbill (after a long search through the forest following its call), Golden Swallow, and Caribbean Martin. A little higher up we found Hispaniolan Euphonia, Hispaniolan Trogon, and Hispaniolan Spindalis. We did hear White-fronted and Key West Quail-doves but did not see them. After dark, Miguel took us to a place west of Barahona where we were able to see Least Poorwill. Unfortunately, Antillean Nightjars were not calling nor would they respond to a tape.

Wednesday, April 20:

We left at 3:30 AM the next morning to climb the northern slopes of the Sierra de Baoruco to, what turned out to be, a stellar birding location (about 1600m). We quickly located our first birds, at least four La Selle Thrush feeding along the road with a Bicknell’s Thrush. As the sun rose we located various members of the dawn chorus: Rufous-throated Solitaire (with its unique simple song that sounds like someone playing a glass harmonica), Greater Antillean Elaenia, Narrow-billed Tody, Antillean Siskin, Hispaniolan Highland Tanager (White-winged Warbler), numerous other birds that we had seen earlier, and with a little effort, Western Chat-Tanager. This was a great opportunity for long looks at many of these species, oftentimes through a scope. On the return trip we stopped at Rabo de Gato - translates to mean “tail of the cat”, a lower elevation park - for Zenaida Dove, Key West Quail-dove (fledgling), and Flat-billed Vireo, all of which were seen well. We heard but did not see a Bay-breasted Cuckoo.

Thursday, April 21:

Off early again the next morning for a high elevation cloud forest (in the eastern side of the Sierra de Baoruco), where after a great deal of cautious effort moving through the thick and sometimes thorny jungle, and with more noise than we wanted, we saw the elusive and skittish White-fronted Quail-dove. Miguel spent about an hour separated from us carefully searching for a dove we heard calling; he accidently flushed the bird and it landed in a relatively open area where we could see it. What a find! Other new birds seen here were their beautiful Sharp-shinned Hawk, which looks quite unlike our North American race, and Eastern Chat-tanager. We descended the Sierra and headed out along Lago Enriquillo (40 m below sea level) where we saw Caribbean Coot, White-cheeked Pintail, and other ducks. At an unknown location near La Descubierta we began a search for Bay-breasted Cuckoo, a bird that had eluded us at other locations. Almost immediately two cuckoos responded to Miguel’s call/tape. Fortunately, one of them eventually came in close and briefly perched where we all could see it. Another successful sighting of an elusive bird.

Friday/Saturday morning, April 22/23:

We spent the next two days around Laguna Rincon searching unsuccessfully for Yellow-breasted Crake and Black Rail in the marsh. We did spot 4 Roseate Spoonbills flying over open water and the occasional duck. In the evening of the 22nd we went to a couple of locations in search of Northern Potoo and Antillean Nightjar but had no luck with either.

Summary:

Total species for group:134, including all 30 Hispaniolan endemics found in the DR and an additional 20 species endemic to the Caribbean.

Submitted by, Lathe Claflin, Bryn Martin, and Mike Sefton, Washtenaw Audubon Society, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Species Lists

E=endemic to Hispaniola CE=endemic or near-endemic to Caribbean *other birds of interest

Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe (uncommon, local)
*White-tailed Tropicbird
Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Least Bittern
Glossy Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
West Indian Whistling Duck (CE)
White-cheeked Pintail (uncommon, local)
Blue-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Sharp-shinned Hawk (endemic race)
Ridgway’s Hawk (E)
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Helmeted Guineafowl (introduced)
Limpkin
Clapper Rail
Sora (locally common, not often seen)
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Caribbean Coot (CE)
Black-necked Stilt
Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Wilson’s Plover
Killdeer
Spotted Sandpiper
Solitary Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon (introduced)
White-crowned Pigeon (CE)
Scaly-naped Pigeon (CE)
Plain Pigeon (CE)
Zenaida Dove (CE)
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-dove
White-fronted Quail-dove (E)
Key West Quail-dove (CE)
*Ruddy Quail-dove
Mourning Dove
Hispaniolan Parakeet (E)
Olive-throated Parakeet (introduced)
Hispaniolan Parrot (E)
Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo (E)
Bay-breasted Cuckoo (E)
*Mangrove Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Ashy-faced Owl (E)
*Burrowing Owl
Antillean Nighthawk (CE)
Least Poorwill (E)
Black Swift
White-collared Swift
Antillean Palm Swift (CE)
Antillean Mango (CE)
Hispaniolan Emerald (E)
Vervain Hummingbird (CE)
Hispaniolan Trogon (E)
Belted Kingfisher
Broad-billed Tody (E)
Narrow-billed Tody (E)
Antillean Piculet (E)
Hispaniolan Woodpecker (E)
Greater Antillean Elaenia (CE)
Hispaniolan Pewee (E)
Gray Kingbird
Loggerhead Kingbird (CE)
Stolid Flycatcher (CE)
Golden Swallow (E)—formerly found in Jamaica, but most likely extinct there
Caribbean Martin (CE)
Barn Swallow
Cave Swallow
Palmchat (E)
Northern Mockingbird
Rufous-throated Solitaire (CE)
*Bicknell’s Thrush (uncommon migrant)
Red-legged Thrush (CE)
La Selle Thrush (E)
Hispaniolan Palm Crow (E)
White-necked Crow (E)
Village Weaver (introduced)
Nutmeg Mannikin (introduced)
Tricolored Munia (introduced)
Flat-billed Vireo (E)
Black-whiskered Vireo
Antillean Euphonia (CE)
Hispaniolan Crossbill (E)
Antillean Siskin (E)
Northern Parula
*Yellow Warbler (Mangrove)
Cape May Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
*Pine Warbler (endemic race)
Prairie Warbler
Palm Warbler
Black and White Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Ovenbird
Northern Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Green-tailed Ground-tanager (Green-tailed Warbler (E)
Hispaniolan Island Tanager (White-winged Warbler (E)
Bananaquit
Black-crowned Palm-Tanager (E)
Western Chat-Tanager (E)
Eastern Chat-Tanager (E)
Hispaniolan Spindalis (E)
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Black-faced Grassquit (CE)
Greater Antillean Bullfinch (CE)
Greater Antillean Grackle (CE)
Shiny Cowbird
Hispaniolan Oriole (E)
House Sparrow (introduced)