24 - 30 January 2001
by Vaughn Morrison & Frank Murphy
and Danilo Mejia, our extraordinary local guide, in cooperation with Eladio Fernandez, of drbirds.com
Birding Highlights: 23 Hispaniolan endemics including Bay-breasted Cuckoo, La Selle Thrush, White-winged Warbler, Western Chat Tanager. 16 Caribbean endemics including West Indian Whistling-Duck, Loggerhead Kingbird, Golden Swallow, Rufous-throated Solitaire. 18 shorebird species including Snowy Plover. 18 warbler species including Cape May, Yellow-throated, Ovenbird. White-winged Crossbill nest found.
24 January (Wednesday) -
USAirways flight arrived in Santo Domingo (SD) at 3:15 PM. First bird of the trip was Antillean Palm-Swift at the airport. Customs officials were very pleased and most accommodating when we kindly asked them to stamp our bird books on the page showing the endemic birds of Hispaniola (A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by Raffaele et al). We were greeted by Eladio Fernandez (drbirds.com) who took us to the Hotel Plaza in the northeastern part of SD. Later that evening a Señor Garcia took us to the grounds of the Hotel Embajador in SD to witness the spectacle of approximately 500 Hispaniolan Parakeets coming in to roost. Also our first of many Palmchats, the national bird of the DR; Hispaniolan Woodpeckers, and a single Hispaniolan Parrot. We were off to a good start, and the people seemed very friendly. Dinner at a nearby Cuban café. Night at Hotel Plaza in SD.
25 January (Thursday) -
We spent the morning birding the Botanical Gardens in SD with Eladio. We headed for the river, or creek as it were, and spotted at least six Least Grebes, one of which was on a nest with a young on its back. Also a nice close look at a Limpkin; Green Heron, Common Moorhen, Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, and Northern Waterthrush. Throughout the park were Common Ground Dove; Hispaniolan Parrot, Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo, Antillean Mango, Vervain Hummingbird (second smallest bird in the world), Broad-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Woodpecker; Stolid Flycatcher, Black-whiskered Vireo. All of these birds were common, so we were able to get good looks.
We decided to take a second walk down along the river and it was a
thing we did because this time we finally got to see the rare West
Whistling-Duck perched close by 20 ft up in a tree, and it was even
We headed back to the hotel at noon and after an exceedingly long and
wait we got to meet our guide, Danilo Mejia. We first went
for food to last us the next four days, and then took the long 4-hour
to Barahona, arriving in darkness. The next four nights we had dinner
Barahona at Gran Restaurante - El Curro Steak House, which was very
and stayed at the Hotel Guarocuya, which we never did get to see in
26 January (Friday) -
We left the hotel at 4:30 AM and drove past Duverge, where at least ten individual Burrowing Owls flew out over the road along the way, then we continued on past Aguacate to Zapoten. We were up in the mountains now, listening to the morning chorus of mostly Rufous-throated Solitaires. We walked into a forest path and were treated to a close look at a pair of Solitaires - so close we could see down the throat of one of the birds as it sang. Hispaniolan Parrots were fairly common as well and it was a delight to see them in the wild perched against the backdrop of forested mountains. The path we took was right smack on the border with Haiti, so a step or two over the line and we were able to tick off new country birds!
There were a lot of birds here including Hispaniolan Trogon; Stripe-headed Tanager, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, Antillean Elania, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Green-tailed Ground Warbler, Antillean Euphonia, and higher elevation birds like the Narrow-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Emerald, and Scaly-naped Pigeon, all of which were fairly common. On our way back down the road we stopped the car and a Western Chat Tanager popped up right beside us - only briefly, but enough for one of us to get a good look at it from the car. Heading back past Aguacate we saw our first pair of Antillean Siskins.
Then we hit the jackpot when the incredibly beautiful Bay-breasted
- one of the most spectacular and most sought after birds of the DR -
across the road and landed, affording all great looks. Raffaele's book
devotes an entire full-page plate to this endangered beauty. Next we
six Olive-throated Parakeets perched alongside the road. Then at the
stop we were watching a Flat-billed Vireo when Danilo called our
to an Antillean Piculet showing its yellow crown. Seemed like every
yielded another great sighting. We then stopped at a small reservoir
we first heard then saw our first White-necked Crows among the palms in
the farm fields. Later that evening near La Placa we had a
look at a Zenaida Dove and a Hispaniolan Pewee, and we watched a Ruddy
Quail Dove walking quietly through the woods. Then we waited until dark
to hear Greater Antillean Nightjar and the Least Poorwill but alas we
get to see them.
27 January (Saturday) -
We left the hotel at 4:30 AM again for a long rugged 4-5-hour drive to a special area in the southwest near the border with Haiti. There's a saying that if you look out and see no trees, it's Haiti; if you see forests and trees, it's Dominican Republic. In other words, see it before they saw it! A short walk into this remote patch of forest rewarded us with a great look at the rare and endangered La Selle Thrush, which seemed huge - much larger than the American Robin. Our luck continued as we got a brief but close look at a pair of Western Chat Tanagers on the trail before they flitted low into the woods.
Birding in this precariously threatened patch of forest also yielded
many warblers, including at least two White-winged Warblers, another
bird of the DR. Returning down the road, which was more like a ditch,
stopped at a field where Danilo heard a Loggerhead Kingbird and we were
treated to a nice look at a pair, one of which displayed its yellow
Plain Pigeons were fairly common as we drove along the lowlands. Later
that afternoon we drove up Alcoa Road to the pine forests of
We stopped to watch a flock of Golden Swallows, making sure we saw
golden backs in the sunlight. On the way back, at the bottom of Alcoa
we stopped at the ponds at Caba Rojo where there were Northern
Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, White Ibis, and many shorebirds
Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Willet, and Wilson's Plover.
It was also a good spot to find the Yellow Warblers that breed there
is sometimes considered a distinct species from those of mainland North
America. The nearby coast had Royal Terns and Brown Pelicans and a
Frigatebird flying over.
28 January (Sunday) -
We got a later start today and at 6 AM headed for the pine forests in Aceitillar again. While driving up Alcoa Road toward Aceitillar, a Key West Quail Dove flew across the road in front of us. After an hour of looking and listening for the rare race of White-winged Crossbill, we finally spotted a female in a small tree alongside the road, and then we watched as another female came in with a beak full of moss and brought it to its nest! Many North American breeding warblers were found here as well, including Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, Cape May, Prairie, Palm, Black-throated Blue, and American Redstart.
Later that day we were lucky to have a raucous flock of about 10
Palm Crows fly in close and land next to us so we could enjoy a good
and listen. Birding in the quiet of the pine forest was very peaceful
was a sharp contrast to the nearly constant roar of the ATVs so
at home. Continuing back downhill at the other end of Alcoa Road we
at the ponds in Caba Rojo where we saw many of the same shorebirds as
plus a Ruddy Turnstone and our only Osprey for the trip. Later, thanks
again to Danilo, we were allowed access to Laguna de Oveido where we
six gorgeous Greater Flamingos, and several shorebirds including
Plover, Willet, and Ruddy Turnstone.
29 January (Monday) -
We departed Barahona for the last time and birded the early morning at nearby Lago de Rincon. Evidently we were supposed to be escorted by an armed guard, but our guide politely declined, maintaining that the guard was smoking, and on top of that was drunk. After a brief diplomatic exchange we were on our own to see some new birds. There were ponds on either side of the path leading out to the lake where we saw about 20 Glossy Ibis and at least 50 White-cheeked Pintail, several Northern Jacana, and many shorebirds, most of which were Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Stilt Sandpipers, and Black-necked Stilts.
We didn't see much at the lake itself other than a few Pied-billed Grebes in the distance. The tree-lined path to the lake was good for Greater Antillean Grackles and some common warblers. As we started to head back to the car, two men in casual dress appeared, the older man brandishing a shotgun, and we were given a cordial escort out, during which time we stopped to see two Black-cowled Orioles. No problema - we were just glad we had a good guide and were able to see the birds.
We then headed back east toward SD and stopped at Las Salinas - just south of Bani. As the name implies, the area was basically salt flats leading to the white sandy beach and the beautiful southern coastline looking out to the Caribbean. This would be our last good chance to see some new birds and we weren't disappointed. The area was great for shorebirds, and we saw many, including Snowy Plover, Semipalmated Plover, and Sanderling. Also two white Reddish Egrets, several Sandwich Terns mixed in with the Royal Terns, and a Magnificent Frigatebird.
As we headed into the capital, Danilo drove us along a scenic
route past many fancy hotels and shops and then he gave us a brief tour
of the historic Old City, the Zona Colonial, with some buildings that
500 years old. Dinner at El Conuco provided an excellent buffet
a wide variety of typical Dominican dishes, merengue music and a
of dancing by talented wait staff. A fun evening and an
way to end our stay in DR. Night at Hotel Plaza in SD.
30 January (Tuesday) -
Non-birding day. We took an early taxi back to the historic Zona Colonial and had breakfast outdoors adjacent to the Parque Colon and then went shopping
for some jewelry made from larimar (a semiprecious gemstone
turquoise and known only from Hispaniola). Departed Santo Domingo at
Endemics are in Upper Case letters
Caribbean specialties are underscored
c = common
H = heard only
West Indian Whistling-Duck
Little Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
White-winged Dove (H)
Key West Quail-Dove
Mangrove Cuckoo (H)
LEAST POORWILL (H)
Greater Antillean Nightjar (H)
Greater Antillean Elaenia
LA SELLE THRUSH
Cape May Warbler(c)
Black-throated Blue Warbler(c)
Black-throated Green Warbler
GREEN-TAILED GROUND WARBLER(c)
WESTERN CHAT TANAGER
Greater Antillean Bullfinch(c)
Greater Antillean Grackle.
Total species = 126.
Misses: We tried several nights for the Ashy-faced Owl but were unsuccessful. The owls have not been seen in their previously consistent places for over a year. The only other endemics that we didn't see were Ridgway's Hawk, Eastern Chat Tanager and Gray-crowned Palm-Tanager (Haiti only).
Other interesting animals: A large endemic iguana on Alcoa Road. No wild mammals seen; perhaps that's why we didn't see any vulture culture?
Epicurean Highlights: Cervesa Presidente; Pescado; Café Grande con Leche; Flan majarete.
Exchange rate varied from 16 to 16.85 pesos per dollar.
Sunrise was about 7 AM; sunset 6:30 PM.
Special thanks to our guide, Danilo Mejia, who worked tirelessly to show us all the birds of his country. We were out well before daybreak each day, hardly ever stopped for lunch, and then went out at night after a late dinner to look for owls. His rapport with the people was priceless, and his love for the birds was sincere and heartfelt. He knew all the songs of the birds and even the chip notes of the warblers. We were privileged to have met him and we are all fortunate to have him working to protect his country's birds, many of which breed in our forests back home.