This was a short trip focusing on the endemic species of the Dominican Republic---I decided to go during the breeding season to see if some of the endemics are easier to find than during the winter dry season, which is when most bird tours operate. I found the Dominican Republic to be extremely friendly, with good roads between major cities and good hotels. The trip was designed to focus on the SW endemics, and we did not attempt to chase down species which I had seen elsewhere (eg, West Indies Whistling-Duck, other waterfowl/shorebirds).
I utilized the services of a local guide, Miguel Angel Landestoy, who was recommended by Kate Wallace and was also recommended by local birding friends here in California and in Dave Klauber’s excellent Jan.-Feb. 2004 DR trip report. Miguel knew the birding sites extremely well, and has had plenty of experience in the birding areas such that he knows multiple sites for Bay-breasted Cuckoo, etc. He is quite knowledgeable about bird vocalizations and has a minidisc for playback, which he is adept at using. He also did a good job with logistical planning, and I could not have asked for a better guide. He’s currently charging $80/day plus expenses, and can be reached by cellphone: 809-634-7566 or by email: miguel_landestoy (at) hotmail.com. A secondary phone number at home is 809-522-3897, but as Dave Klauber mentions, his father’s name is also Miguel, and if Miguel the guide isn’t home, you’ll need to communicate in Spanish with his parents!
19 May: 1pm arrival in Santo Domingo, where customs and immigration were both pleasant and efficient. A $10 tourist card must be purchased at a booth before immigration, and the money is apparently well-spent, as the new airport is really quite nice. I had reserved a 4-WD with Avis, who had the car ready for me….Miguel met me as I left customs, and we were quickly on the road to Barahona, stopping near Duverge for views of Palm Crow. We checked into the Hotel Caribe and had a fresh grouper dinner with cold Presidente beer…
20 May: 4am departure for Sierra de Baoruco---as we ascended the Sierra, we flushed a Northern Potoo, which perched not 8 feet above the hood of our 4-WD. Sunrise comes early this time of year, and it was quite light by the time we arrived at Zapoten (1550m). The road was quite rough in places, and 4-WD with good clearance is a necessity…In comparison with other TR’s, an apparent advantage of May is that the ‘noisy Haitian Potato market’ was quiet and deserted, with only a few scattered pigs and chickens roaming about…LaSelle’s Thrushes were actively singing, and we had excellent views of one singing close to the road, and another which came very close in response to playback. Western Chat-Tanagers were vocal, and we had views of a couple of these skulkers. We had hoped for Hispaniolan Quail-Dove on the track or on trails, but illegal and uncontrolled Haitian immigration has wreaked havoc on much of this area, and Miguel mentioned that the Quail-Doves have not been as regular here as before…Besides bird guide, Miguel is a general naturalist and photographer, and at the La Selle Thrush site, he found and photographed 4 species of frogs---nice to see that the amphibians are holding on…We worked our way back down the Sierra, spending several hours playing hide and seek with Bay-breasted Cuckoos---we eventually got views of two, but May doesn’t seem to be any particular advantage in finding this species or getting it to respond to tape…At La Placa (400m), at the base of the Sierra, we walked through incredibly beautiful forest, where trees were festooned with dense Spanish Moss. The open understory provided nice views of Key West Quail-Dove. We drove back to Barahona in late afternoon, arriving in time to visit Miguel’s Least Poorwill site just west of town, where we had excellent views of a perched bird in the spotlight…We played tapes and drove around spotlighting a few trees, but had no luck at Miguel’s previous Ashy-faced Owl site….A very successful day, celebrated with more fresh fish and Presidente…
21 May: Another 4am departure, with another Potoo sighting, this time atop a fence post just before La Placa. At La Placa itself, numerous Antillean Nightjars were calling, but didn’t respond to playback, and we couldn’t manage to spotlight one as we trekked through the forest. We returned to Zapoten, where we chased and found White-winged Warbler, which we had missed on Day 1. We drove higher up the mountain, in hopes of finding Hispaniolan Quail-dove on the road, but never encountered one. A beautiful male Greater Antillean Bullfinch was a highlight at the vacant potato market, and as we descended the mountain, we played the Bay-breasted Cuckoo tape, just to see if the birds were any more tape-responsive on a different day…they weren’t…In the Puerto Escondido area, we had great views of perched Hispaniolan Parrots and Olive-throated Parrots. Our last major target bird in this area was White-necked Crow, and Miguel knew of a good place near Lago Enriquillo, where we had excellent close views of a pair that he was able to photograph…it began to rain at dusk, so that we abandoned another nightjar quest in favor of…more fresh fish and more Presidente…a nice pattern!
22 May: Yet another morning of beautiful weather, as we headed south and west along the scenic coastal road to the Alcoa road---an excellent wide road leading to a former bauxite mining area. At 1300m, a concrete lined pond called ‘La Charca’ is a well known site for Hispaniolan (White-winged) Crossbills, and we saw several females and a male. We obtained excellent views of Caribbean Martins and Antillean Palm-Swifts as they came to drink, but the highlight was repeated close views of Golden Swallows as small groups came by to drink and show off their metallic backs and wings…A long drive ensued, as we returned to Barahona, Santo Domingo, and then to Bonao in an increasingly heavy rainstorm. We arrived at the Hotel Jacaranda at 10:05 pm, and the bar had closed at 10:00….Severe Presidente withdrawal ensued…
23 May: As can be seen from various trip reports and anecdotal experiences, this area of the Dominican Republic gets a lot of rain, and I knew from the start that this would be a gamble to try to visit the nearby Ebano Verde Reserve in May. It was worth a chance, however---Miguel has had good luck with both Eastern Chat-Tanager and with Hispaniolan Quail-Dove here, including views in May, but this rainstorm was a fierce one, producing severe flooding, and we scurried back to Santo Domingo and planned a future DR trip that would concentrate on Ebano Verde, the Monte Plata ranch for Ashy-faced Owl, and Los Haitises for Ridgway’s Hawk…
24 May: A break in the weather, allowing a smooth flight back to Miami.
Transportation: The Avis Honda 4-WD cost $81/day base rate, and with insurance and taxes, came to $120/day. Gasoline was plentiful everywhere, and cost about $2.20 per gallon. Watch the meter on the gas pump, as we had one instance where they tried to rip us off…Roads between cities were good----gringo drivers have to watch out for the ‘sleeping policeman’ bumps in small towns. Scattered police stops and military stops usually waved us on, but the few times we were questioned, they were always polite.
Lodging: Good lodging is generally inexpensive, and we never had any problems with power outages that other TR’s have mentioned. In Barahona at the Hotel Caribe, 3 nights accomodations including breakfasts (to go, at 4am), dinners, and associated Presidentes cost $110 total for 2 persons---a real bargain at a quite comfortable hotel. In Bonao, the Hotel Jacaranda rooms were about $20.00, and I splurged in Santo Domingo at the Hostal Nader, dating from the 17th century, at $70, including breakfast (recommended on Kate Wallace’s Website).
Safety/Security: Seems to definitely be of less concern than in South America (or Hawaii, for that matter!) in terms of vehicular break-ins. We left the 4-WD for periods of time throughout the Southwest, and never had any problem.
Southwest DR: Species of Interest:
Limpkin: It was very interesting to see 2 of these birds walking in dry forest understory in the Puerto Escondido area
Plain Pigeon: One flying and one perched bird in the Puerto Escondido lowlands.
Key West Quail-Dove: One walking in understory at La Placa area
Ruddy Quail-Dove: the ‘mid-elevation’ quail-dove, flushed from the road at approx. 700m elevation on the Sierra Baoruco Rd.
Hispaniolan Parakeet: Scattered birds in Sierra Baoruco and at La Charca
Olive-throated Parakeet: Perched birds in Puerto Escondido area
Hispaniolan Parrots: quite common in the Sierra, with perched birds at Zapoten and in Puerto Escondido area.
Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo: at a variety of elevations
Bay-breasted Cuckoo: Calling birds were heard (elicited calls) at various stops along the road to Zapoten at elevations ranging from 400 to 800m. A few times the bird called soon after playback, while at other times several minutes elapsed before a response. With the exception of a pair of birds that came relatively close to us (and which we saw perched and in flight), the birds generally vocalized a couple of times and seemed to lose interest, sometimes calling from farther and farther away. I had hoped that in May, the birds would be a bit more responsive…Miguel knows quite a few good sites to try for this bird…
Least Poorwill: excellent views in the spotlight at Miguel’s site just west of Barahona----a couple of birds calling there in response to the minidisc…
Hispaniolan Nightjar: Numerous birds calling pre-dawn at La Placa, but they didn’t seem inclined to move in response to playback. Despite extensive driving along deserted roads in the dark, we never flushed a nightjar of any kind, which was a bit surprising to me…
Northern Potoo: Seen pre-dawn on 2 mornings on lower Sierra road.
Antillean Nighthawk: at dusk at Duverge, and I spotted a perched one in a pine tree by day at La Charca
Antillean Palm Swift: common
Antillean Mango: seen daily in the Sierra and in the lowlands on the way to La Charca (feeding on yellow agave flowers)
Hispaniolan Emerald: a few in the upper Sierra/Zapoten
Vervain Hummingbird: several in mid-elevations along Sierra road, including a displaying male flying relatively high.
Hispaniolan Trogon: frequently calling in upper Sierra, seen well at Zapoten
Narrow-billed Tody: mainly in lower elevations; common
Broad-billed Tody: mainly at higher elevations; common
Antillean Piculet: I found a perched bird in the open on a dead snag at 500m. Heard calling in several places, including just below La Charca
Hispaniolan Woodpecker: incredibly common!
Greater Antillean Elaenia: a few in the Sierra/Zapoten
Hispaniolan Pewee: a few in the Sierra
Stolid Flycatcher: fairly common in lower Sierra in arid areas.
Gray Kingbird: very common
Loggerhead Kingbird: a few seen in Sierra, mainly in mid-elevations
Flat-billed Vireo: this one took a while, but Miguel says he always sees it sooner or later! Once we found one, it was quite responsive to playback.
Black-whiskered Vireo: quite common, especially in mid to low elevations of the Sierra
Hispaniolan Palm Crow: 4 seen at Lago Enriquillo, with extremely close views in response to playback
White-necked Crow: A pair seen well at Miguel’s site near Lago Enriquillo----his imitation of the call is far better than the tape!
Caribbean Martin: scattered birds, but common and viewed well at La Charca
Cave Swallow: common along South Coast
Golden Swallow: excellent views of this bird were a highlight at La Charca
Rufous-throated Solitaire: Commonly calling at Zapoten, we had good looks at the La Selle Thrush site.
LaSelle’s Thrush: Calling for at least an hour after dawn, it was quite easy to see and was quite tape-responsive at Zapoten----perhaps the excellent views of this bird were the best reward of coming here in the rainy season…
Red-legged Thrush: common in the Sierra at various elevations.
Pine Warbler: common in pine forests, seen collecting nesting material
Green-tailed Warbler: scattered birds at various elevations in the Sierra
White-winged Warbler: one of the last endemics for us to find, Miguel states that they join mixed flocks for most of the year in the Zapoten area. Perhaps they don’t join flocks so readily during breeding season----we had excellent views of a relatively stationary bird.
Black-crowned Palm-Tanager: fairly common in the Sierra at various elevations
Western Chat-Tanager: calling for several hours in the morning, we saw a couple at Zapoten. Generally skulks…
Hispaniolan Spindalis: common at higher elevations
Antillean Euphonia: at 500m, we had a group of 3: a male, an immature male, and a female. Miguel got some good photos with the fanciest digital camera I have ever seen…
Greater Antillean Bullfinch: good looks of a male at Zapoten
Greater Antillean Grackle: scattered birds at low to mid elevations in the Sierra
Greater Antillean Oriole: scattered birds in the lower elevations
Antillean Siskin: a group of approx. 6 at 400m on the Sierra road. Also at La Charca
Hispaniolan/White-winged Crossbill: A male and a couple of females at La Charca.