This was my second birding foray to the Dominican Republic. I was intent upon seeing seven endemic species I had missed ten years ago. The itinerary my guide Miguel Landestoy devised and our allocation of time were tightly focused upon my target birds. We made no special efforts to see other species. We birded from Pedernales on the Haitian border in the west to the western edge of Los Haitises National Park in the northeast.
Day One (May 22): Miguel met my afternoon flight to Santo Domingo, and we drove west in his high-clearance 4WD SUV to Kate Wallace's camp “Villa Barrancoli” near Puerto Escondido village at the foot of the northern slope of Sierra de Baoruco. After a tasty and ample dinner of chicken "Dominican" style, we trolled for an Ashy-faced Owl, but none would appear. The large lightning bugs among the trees and bushes around us, blinking for mates and wafting diaphanous light trails behind them, made for a sublime experience nonetheless.
My simple cabin was furnished with twin beds, both of which had mosquito netting. The only lighting was a votive candle that lit little. (Don't plan to reorganize your luggage here after nightfall, as I needed to do because I had packed to meet airline weight limits rather than convenience while birding.)
Day Two: Up early and away from camp by 4:30 a.m., we headed up the north slope of Sierra de Baoruco on one of the roughest roads I have ever encountered while birding or, for that matter, during any of my travels on all seven continents. It is really more of a severely eroded streambed, so a HIGH-clearance 4WD vehicle is an absolute must.
We stopped when we reached the higher altitude habitat of two of my target species, Hispaniolan Highland-Tanager (a/k/a White-Winged Warbler in Clements and, I believe, in some other taxonomies) and White-fronted Quail-Dove. Miguel promptly heard the warbler, and soon we saw a male displaying for a female. The courting continued, mostly at our eye level, in bushes next to the road, so we thrilled to great looks. Miguel recorded the display vocalizations that have been captured on tape only a few times, so far as he knows. Miguel has excellent recordings, most of which he has made, of almost all Dominican bird species.
We had been hearing two of the quail-doves calling softly in the woods above us, then we saw one foraging out in the open on the road just below us. Another marvellous, and rare, open view. A Western Chat-Tanager then put in an appearance. In 2002 I had seen a Chat-Tanager in this area, before that species was split into Eastern and Western, so it felt good to see one now. Miguel pointed out the differences between Eastern and Western, so I could be sure I was looking at a Western.
Very happy with our start to the day, we drove higher, through the cloud forest and into the high altitude pine forest, in search of another of my targets,Hispaniolan Crossbill. Quite quickly we heard, and then saw, many of them flying among the tops of the tall pines, but it took an hour or so, and several stops, before I finally could spot one munching on pine nuts in the top branches of a somewhat smaller pine.
Finished with my north slope targets, we drove to the hotel that Miguel had booked for us in Barahona. Late that afternoon we drove west to a small coastal village where Miguel recently had found an Ashy-faced Owl roosting in a palm grove. As daylight faded Miguel played a tape of this owl's call and squawking (my term for these noises I had never heard before). An owl responded by wheeling low overhead, calling as it flew, but then it left, to be heard by us once more but not to be seen again. A marginal look, certainly a BVD (better view desired). Four seen out of my four target birds in today's habitats, a very good day, indeed.
Day Three: We started before dawn to ascend the southern slope of Sierra de Baoruco on another rough and, initially, very eroded road toward a high mountain settlement of coffee plantation workers. At our second stop in the habitat of Eastern Chat-Tanager, this morning's target, we heard one singing lustily in a bush beside the road. He was on a rather open perch at our waist height (early in the misty morning), as birds establishing their territories are wont to do. Another Sterling view!
That was my only target species for this habitat, so we descended to the coastal road and drove west to Pedernales, birding but little on the way. We paused briefly in Jaragua National Park, but the birds already had gone quiet for the morning. We paused again at a small wetland near Pedernales and saw a few birds, but migrants had all passed through by this time of year.
After checking in at our hotel, we drove up into the foothill dry forest. We found several forest birds in the late afternoon and, as dusk faded into night, a Greater Antillian Nightjar, my target for this habitat.
Day Four: This was a travel day. From Pedernales we drove east through Santo Domingo and then north on the Carretera Juan Pablo II to Bayaguana for the night. At dusk we sought another Ashy-faced Owl in nearby palm oil plantations. One responded to Miguel's recordings and perched obligingly upon a tall palm stump beside the road.
Day Five: We set out early to rendezvous with a researcher friend of Miguel's near the nest of a pair of Ridgway's Hawks. When we arrived a female hawk was calling, but we could not spot her. When she flew to another tree, we had an open, albeit distant, view. When she flew back to a nearer tree, we enjoyed an open view and a fine photo opportunity. Afterward we found in a field alongside the Juan Pablo II highway a singing and responsive Grasshopper Sparrow of the endemic subspecies.
Having seen all seven of my target endemic species and several endemic subspecies I had not seen before, this ended my D.R. birding for this trip. Miguel dropped me at my hotel in Santo Domingo.
Thanks in large measure to Miguel Landestoy, I saw all the Hispaniolan Endemic species, and most of its endemic subspecies, that I had missed ten years ago. I commend him most highly to anyone considering birding in the Dominican Republic. He knows its birds, their habitats, their songs, and Territories of many of them. In a nutshell, he knows where to find the birds.(For someone birding in the Dominican Republic for the first time, I am sure Miguel knows where to find all the birds and can provide a realistic estimate of the time needed to do so.) He has all the requisite birding gear, including a comprehensive set of recordings, good recording-playback equipment, and night-vision binoculars that work well. He also knows appropriate places to overnight and has several favourite restaurants I found quite satisfactory. Beyond all that, Miguel is a good driver and a fine travelling companion.
Sightings List (keep in mind that this was a tightly focused trip, and little time was spent looking for birds not on my short target list): Taxonomy follows The Clements Checklist of the Birds of the World, 6th Ed. (updated through 2011)
White-cheeked Pintail, Anas bahamensis bahamensis, in wetland near Pedernales
Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata magnificens, alongshore east of Santo Domingo
Tricolored Heron, Egretta tricolor ruficollis, in wetland near Pedernales
Reddish Egret, Egretta rufescens rufescens, in wetland near Pedernales
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis ibis, daily in pastures
Green Heron, Butorides virescens viriescens, in wetland near Pedernales
Black-crowned Night-Heron, Nycticoras nycticoraxhoactli, in wetland near Pedernales
Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura aura, daily
Sharp-shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus striatus (Hispaniolan endemic subspecies (“ssp.”)), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Ridgway’s Hawk, Buteo ridgwayi (Hispaniolan endemic), at nest near western edge of Los Haitises National Park
American Kestrel, Falco sparverius dominicensis(Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), almost daily in open areas
Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata cerceris, in wetland near Pedernales
Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous ternominatus, along road east of Barahona
Black-necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus, in wetland near Pedernales
Northern Jacana, Jacana spinosa violacea, in field by road between Barahona and Pedernales
Least Tern, Sterna antillarum antillarum, in wetland near Pedernales
Rock Pigeon, Columba livia, daily in towns
Scaly-naped Pigeon, Patagioenas squamosa, in foothills above Pedernales, flying to roosts
White-crowned Pigeon, Patagioenas leucocephala, in foothills above Pedernales, flying to roosts
Plain Pigeon, Patagioenas inornata inornata, in foothills above Pedernales, flying to roosts
White-winged Dove, Zenaida asiatica asiatica, in foothills above Pedernales, flying to roosts
Zenaida Dove, Zenaida aurita zenaida, in foothills above Pedernales, flying to roosts
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura macroura, along road east of Barahona and almost daily
Common Ground-Dove, Columbina passerine insularis, north and south slopes of Sierra de Baoruco
White-fronted Quail-Dove, Geotrygon leucometopia (endemic),north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Hispaniolan Parakeet, Aratinga chloroptera chloroptera (Hispaniolan endemic), northslope of Sierra de Baoruco
Hispaniolan Parrot, Amazona ventralis, north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Mangrove Cuckoo, Coccyzus minor, Jaragua National Park
Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo, Coccyzus longirostris longirostris (Hispaniolan endemic), Jaragua National Park
Smooth-billed Ani, Crotophaga ani, by road east of Barahona
Ashy-faced Owl, Tyto glaucops glaucops (endemic ssp.), near village west of Barahona, again perched in oil palm plantation near Bayaguana
Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia troglodytes (endemics sp.), along road to Kate Wallace’s camp
Antillean Nighthawk, Chordeiles gundlachii gundlachii, in foothills above Pedernales
Greater Antillean Nightjar, Caprimulgus cubanensis ekmani;
Hispaniolan Nightjar, C. ekmani; in foothills above Pedernales
Antillean Palm-Swift, Tachornis phoenicobiaphoenicobia, almost daily in areas with palm trees
Antillean Mango, Anthracothorax dominicus dominicus(endemic ssp.), near Ridgway’s Hawk site
Vervain Hummingbird, Mellisuga minima vieilloti(endemic ssp.), near Ridgway’s Hawk site
Hispaniolan Emerald, Chlorostilbon swainsonii(Hispaniolan endemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco in high pine forest
Hispaniolan Trogon, Priotelus roseigaster (Hispaniolanendemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Broad-billed Tody, Todus subulatus (Hispaniolan endemic), Villa Barrancoli; also near Pedernales
Narrow-billed Tody, Todus angustirostris (Hispaniolan endemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, on wire over river between Pedernales and Barahona
Antillean Piculet, Nesoctites micromegas micromegas, in foothills above Pedernales
Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Melanerpes striatus, on north slope Sierra de Baoruco, again near Ridgway’s Hawk site
Greater Antillean Elaenia, Elaenia fallax cherriei(Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Stolid Flycatcher, Myiarchus stolidus dominicensis, in foothills above Pedernales
Gray Kingbird, Tyrannus dominicensis dominicensis, almost daily in open areas
Flat-billed Vireo, Vireo nanus (endemic), in foothills above Pedernales
Black-whiskered Vireo, Vireo altiloquus altiloquus(breeding population), Villa Barrancoli, asleep on branch over trail; also heard daily
White-necked Crow, Corvus leucognaphalus (Hispaniolanendemic), at Ridgway’s Hawk site
Caribbean Martin, Progne dominicensis, Santo Domingo airport and along road west of Santo Domingo
Golden Swallow, Tachycineta euchrysea sclateri (Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco, at Haitian border station (seen also over Haiti)
Cave Swallow, Petrochelidon fulva fulva (Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), in fields by Juan PabloII highway
La Selle Thrush, Turdus swalesi swalesi (Hispaniolan endemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Red-legged Thrush, Turdus plumbeus ardosiaceus (Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco; (seen also in Haiti at border station)
Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos orpheus, north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Palmchat, Dulus dominicus (Hispaniolan endemic),Pedernales, Bayaguana and Santo Domingo
White-winged Warbler, Xenoligea Montana (endemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco, male displaying for female
Green-tailed Warbler, Micoligea palustris vasta(Hispaniolan endemic), in low xeric foothills above Pedernales
Bananaquit, Coereba flaveola bananivora (Hispaniolanendemic ssp.),in field by Juan Pablo II highway
Western Chat-Tanager, Calyptophilus tertiustertius (Hispaniolan endemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco, male displaying to female; also south slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Eastern Chat-Tanager, Calyptophilus frugivorusneibae (endemic), south slope of Sierra de Baoruco, singing on territory
Yellow-faced Grassquit, Tiaris olivaceus olivaceus, north slope of Sierra de Baoruco; elsewhere in fields almost daily
Black-faced Grassquit, Tiaris bicolor marchii, in foothills above Pedernales
Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Loxigilla violacea affinis (Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), in foothills above Pedernales
Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum intricatus (Hispaniolan endemic subspecies), in field by Juan Pablo II highway
Greater Antillean Grackle, Quiscalus niger niger (Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco
Shiny Cowbird, Molothrus bonariensis minimus, in open cattle country
Hispaniolan Oriole, Icterus dominicensis (Hispaniolan endemic), from road between Pedernales and Barahona
Antillean Euphonia, Euphonia musica musica (Hispaniolan endemic ssp.), in foothills above Pedernales
Hispaniolan Crossbill, Loxia megaplaga (endemic), north slope of Sierra de Baoruco in high pine forest
Antillean Siskin, Spinus dominicensis (endemic),north slope of Sierra de Baoruco in high pine forest
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, daily in towns
Village Weaver, Ploceus cucullatus (introduced), infield by Juan Pablo II highway
Nutmeg Mannikin, Lonchura punctulata (introduced), by road east of Barahona