8 - 11 August 1998
by Joseph Brooks and Garry George
Guide- Dr. Francis Riva with Kate Wallace
References: Herbert Rafaelle, A Guide to the Birds of
West Indies, 1998
Roland H. Wauer, A Birder's West Indies
Trip reports and shared information (THANK YOU) from Martin Reid, Mark Oberle, Greg Lasley and Terry Witt, among others
Dominican Republic turned out to be more of a challenge than Puerto Rico even though we had been warned through the trip reports we had read. Delays and disorganization were constant. Our 5:30 PM flight from San Juan to Santo Domingo was over an hour late in taking off, and we had planned a four-hour drive to Barahona upon landing. We cleared imigration and collected our bags (offering a prayer of thanks to the bag gods), changed money and walked out into the hot, humid night air beseiged by taxi drivers and rental car compaies. Francisco found us with his sign with a W. Indian Whistling-Duck. National did not have the Chevey Blazer that had been reconfirmed three times by myself and Kate Wallace. They wanted us to wait for 24 hours. We yelled and demanded, me in English and Spanish and Francisco in Spanish. Finally the employee offered us a 4WD two-cabin new truck at a lower rate. Where had it been? We inspected it in the gated, barricaded off-airport National site. We weren't too excited about driving through Santo Domingo late on a Saturday night with our luggage in the back of a pickup truck but what choice did we have?
We set off for the long drive to Barahona, the closest city to Sierra de Baoruco on the Haitian border and the highest concentration of endemic species in DR. The drive through Santo Domingo highlighted the economic devastation of the country as we passed abandoned highway projects, roads with unmarked hazards, roadside fires, motor cycles with two or more people all carrying alcohol, unmarked intersections and ignored traffic signs, two way traffic on one-way highways, diesel trucks with no emission standards - a mess. We stopped for a Coke at a highway rest stop and two armed guards stood outside. We finally found the Guarocuya Hotel ($58/nt) around midnight and settled in for a 5 a.m. departure.
In the dark of the morning we drove through Barahona and then the town of Duverge, then past the military checkpoint at Puerto Escondido. We passed sandy cliffs inhabited by Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) that flew from the road as we passed. We drove down a long stretch of sandy dirt road until we came to a sign 7.5 km past the military checkpoint. We parked here under acacia trees. Joseph and I donned our mosquito proof jackets with head and face hood, grabbed the spotlight and headed for the road. We could hear Antillean Nighthawk (Chordeiles gundlachii) and then Francisco heard Least Poorwill (Siphonorhis brewsteri). We played the tape and in came the poorwill, which I spotlighted right into Joseph's face. Blinded, he missed the poorwill and I saw it. We tried the tape more and heard the response but only saw huge, gray bats, no more poorwill.
While looking into the forest we found a small pond with many bats flying above hawking insects. There looked to be two or three species of bats. The dawn chorus started as the sun rose above the desert habitat of acacia, gumbo-limbo and agave - much like SE Arizona. We walked into the forest and saw our first of many Black-crowned Palm-Tanager (Phaenicophilus palmarum) and called in Flat-billed Vireo (Vireo nanus). Flycatchers soon showed themselves and we saw Gray Kingbird (Tyranus dominicensis), heard Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus) and saw Stolid Flycatcher (Myiarchus stolidus), the Hispaniolan version of the split. We heard then saw Hispaniolan Pewee (Contopus hispaniolensis). A stunning Key West Quail-Dove (Geogrygon chrysia) crossed the trail and we were convinced that what we had seen in PR had been a Ruddy. The colors stood out so well on this bird. Expected Zenaida Dove and Common Groud-Dove flew off the road as we walked. A pair of Hispaniolan Parrots (Amazona ventralis) flew overhead. We scoped a perched Antillean Mango (Anthracothorax dominicus), followed a Black-Whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus) and saw our first of many Palmchat (Dulus dominicus), interesting taxonomically as the only member of its own family. We couldn't take our binoculars off of a hummingbird-sized Broad- billed Tody (Todus subulatus). A male Greater Antillean Bullfinch (Loxigilla violacea) crept through the gumbo-limbo with our eyes on it. Joseph heard a Bay-breasted Cuckoo (Hyetornis rufigularis), the bird we most watned to see, but we played the tape while walking around and never heard a response. We wondered if the bird had tired of this 1972 recording or whether it just didn't care.
When we returned to the truck, Kate had prepared an amazing breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, whole grain cereal, and fresh brewed coffee from the hotel. Back in the truck, we began our ascent into the mountains toward the border of Haiti. We stopped for walks along the way on the road from Aguacate where there is a military checkpoint and where we searched for the Gray-crowned Palm-Tanager (Paenicophilus poliocephalus) that sometimes wanders over from Haiti to Zapoten, a former campsite with a broken down bulldozer and the featured location of many sightings from trip reports past. We saw a light American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) and got our hopes up when we saw a soaring Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), as wanted to see a rare Ridgway's Hawk (Buteo ridgwayi).
I scoped a faraway Scaly-naped Pigeon (Columba squamosa) thinking it was a perched Buteo and we saw the threatened Plain Pigeon (Columba inornata) twice. A pair of Olive-throated Parakeet (Aratinga nana) were seen and set off a discussion of how they got there. A bird guide from Baharona insists that this population of a common parakeet in Jamaica is an endemic species of Hispaniola. Francisco believes that the birds were introduced by Jamaican workers at an Alcoa plant in the area. It continues to be a topic of discussion among Caribbean ornithologists. While we walked, Hispaniolan Woodpecker (Melanerpes striatus) flew through and we were entertained by a Narrow-billed Tody (Todus angustirostris) and studied the call difference. We were told that Antillean Piculet (Nesoctites micromegas) would be difficult but we saw them several times on this road and were even afforded good looks in the scope of the orange crown on the male's head. We noticed a Hispaniolan Trogon (Priotelus roseigaster) down the mountain and watched it fly leisurely across the road and perch above us for great looks in the scope. We found a Greater Antillean Elaenia (Elaenia fallax).
Closer to Zapoten we found a pair of Green-tailed Ground Warbler (Microligea palustris) moving through the bushes and gove very lucky when endangered White-winged Warbler (Ixenoligea montana) gave us great views in the scope. Hispaniolan Stripe-headed Tanager (Spindalis domnicensis) and Antillean Euphonia (Euphonia musica) with dark throats (in contrast to the orange throats on Puerto Rico) rounded out our productive morning on the mountain. We drove past the Haitian camp at Zapoten where trucks of vegetables from Haitit are processed for illegal shipment to the markets of the Dominican Republic. Huge trucks full of vegetables and Haitian workers now roar up and down the fragile mountain roads of the national park. Cabbage leaves, onion tops are discarded in the camps along with hman waste, and the breeding areas of the endangered La Selle Thrush (Turdus swalesi) and White-winged Warbler at Zapoten have been virtually levelled. The Haitians gather firewood from the nearby forest and the trails are degraded in that area. Dengue fever has been introduced into the area.
We drove about three kilometers past Zapoten to get away from the camp and search for La Selle Thrush and Eastern Chat Tanager. We did. No luck. We did, however, have an opportunity to watch a male Hispaniolan Emerald (Chlorostilbon swainsonii) repatedly defend his territory just above the trail. We lunched on the road within earshot of the noisy camp now singing, and a black American Robin-sized bird hopped out onto the road then back into the forest for a brief second. That would be our only look at the La Selle Thrush (Turdus swalesi). The melodious song of Rufus-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis) was everywhere but they were impossible to see until we found a fruiting tree near the truck and enjoyed three species of birds feeding at the end of the day.
We walked the road for another better look at the thrush but no luck.. We drove back down the road and stopped again to play the Bay-breasted Cuckoo tape. No luck. Birding in Dominican Republic seemed much more difficult than Puerto Rico. Back in Barahona we dined at the hotel on fried fish and French fries, then took our spotlight and tape and drove to Los Cacaos, 7.5 km west of the Hotel Caribe and up into the hills where we spotlighted an endemic Ashy-faced Owl (Tyto glaucops), a barn with a gray face. Happy, we slept until 5 a.m.
Francisco thought we would take the route through La Cienega and Pedernales, where we would meet Kate at her house there, and come up the back side of the mountain to see the Chat Tanager and Siskin which we could never quite get on the day before. We were stopped by a roadblock about ten miles outside of Barahona. There was an active rebellion (which they called a "strike") in a village near La Cienega and the riot police were not letting anyone through. We turned around, went back to Barahona, then turned toward Duverge and took the back road to the other side of the mountain between Enriquillo and Pedernales - 5 hours.
We went through Polo Magnetico where a magnetic pole mysteriously causes automobiles to move involuntarily uphill (!) which I kept referring to as "Pollo Magnetico" (Magnetic Chicken). We passed through a wooded area nestled between large expanses of agriculture and noticed a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) fly across the road. We all looked at each other at the same time. "If there's one cuckoo there's probably another," we said practically in unison. It seems the cuckoo species seem to share territory without any problems, or perhaps it is because there is so little left that they are forced to, but we played the Hispaniolan Lizard- Cuckoo (Saurothera longirostris) and in it came in all it's glory. Five hours for a new bird, but we drove on for another few hours passing a lagoon near the coast with a breeding plumage Spotted Sandpiper (Tringa macularia) reminding us that migration had started, and White-cheeked Pintails.
As we descended through the agricultural fields we saw little besides Kingbirds but after a few hours came to a transition zone where pine trees began and spotted Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawk, still hoping they might be Ridgway's. It was known as Aceitillar where an old bauxite mine had been abandoned, about 1200 meters (3768 ft) altitude on the South slope of Baoruco. We drove to a water hole and ate lunch while watching Antillean Palm-Swift (Tachornis phoenicobia), Caribbean Martin (Progne dominicensis), Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva) and one lone Golden Swallow (Tachycineta euchrysea) in juvenile plumage fly low over the water.
We hiked up into the hills to get closer to a feeding flock with Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica), Pine Warbler (Dendroica pinus), endemic Antillean Siskin (Carduelis dominicensis), and White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera), a male of which we got in the scope. We wondered how the population of crossbills got there. Did Hispaniola split off from a mainland? There is a lot of striated rock outcroppings so it looks like it pushed up out of the ocean but wasn't volcanic. Did the remnant population split from a mainland population or end up there during a migration during a severe weather disturbance and not be able to disperse? What will happen to this remnant population? Why would the only population of this species outside of a continental mainland be on Hispaniola? Very curious.
We drove further up by the mine and searched for Palm Crow (Corvus palmarum). We played a tape and heard a flock further up the hill. We drove around and eventually a flock surrounded us and we got good looks at three of the individuals. We drove to Pedernales for some lunch and met Kate there. She has established a Committee of local people in Pedernales to educate the community on bird species and the benefits of ecotourism. We admired the mural of endemic species she painted in the local town square, and her enthusiasm in her work in three locations in the Dominican Republic to conserve as well as teach the endemic species. She walks her talk. Back up into the mountains on a road between Mencia and Los Arroyos we stopped for another look at Antillean Siskin and then stopped at a trail at the 2050 marker.
We entered the trail of lush ferns and finally saw the endemic Eastern Chat-Tanager (Calyptophilus frugivorus) just off the trail. Sightings of endemics were running about one every five hours now, very slow and very long drives. We also managed to watch a singing Rufus- throated Solitaire at close range, a major treat. We drove up over the crest of the mountain near where Black-capped Petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) nests high in the mountains, but they are not there in August and even if they were the disturbance would be too great even for a tick of a rare species, I think.
Down the other side of the mountain another La Selle Thrush flew over the road. We got out and walked down to Zapoten but no Thrush. Drove back down stopping for a pair of Antillean Euphonia three feet from the car feeding on mistletoe and excreting a clear, sticky dropping with a seed visible in the viscuous liquid that attached to the mistletoe. Very interesting. Back to the road to Puerto Escondido and more attempts for Bay-breasted Cuckoo and Least Poorwill but again, no luck. Discouraged, we returned to the hotel. We were stopped at the military checkpoint and searched but three or four huge trucks filled with Haitians and contraband roared past without stopping. It didn't take much for us to figure out what was happening in the Sierra de Baoruco and we knew it wouldn't be long before it too, like the Haitian mountainside we could see from the forest, would be gone just so some Domican Republic fatcats could pretend like they were somebody important and impress some hookers in Las Vegas. We were exhausted, disappointed and mildly disgusted.
The long drive back to Santo Domingo began at 5 a.m. and was pretty smooth sailing except for copious diesel exhaust. When we hit Santo Domingo we went straight to the Botanical Gardens where we walked in and found Antillean Palm-Swift nesting in the palm trees at the entrance. Further into the gardens we found another Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo panting from the heat, this one with a white throat more like a Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo. What was up with that? We found a male Vervain Hummingbird (Mellisuga minima) perched at the tip of a top frond of a Royal Palm and put him right in the scope. We wondered how the Bee Hummingbird in Cuba could be smaller. We hoped and hoped for Hispaniolan Parakeet (Aratinga chloroptera) and had driven through two parks during the day looking for it, but no luck.
We walked back along the river where Francisco has seen W. Indian Whistling-Duck. The river is heavily polluted with human waste and garbage but we stopped to scope Least Grebe, Green Heron, Solitary Sandpiper, N. Waterthrush, and Louisiana Waterthrush. Palmchat were numerous and we watched one swallow a huge palm fruit that looked bigger than his mouth. Hispaniolan Woodpecker was common. We picked up our gear at Francisco's house where we looked at his amazing photos of Bay-breasted Cuckoo and lamented that this was as close as we were going to get to that bird. We headed for the airport and Miami. It had been rough going on an island more than twice the size of Puerto Rico but we had seen 22 of the 26 endemic species. The other four are killer species and someday we might see them, but not soon.
August 8-11, 1998
Trip List E=Endemic, F=Lifer
Least Grebe Tachybaptus
Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
White-cheeked Pintail Anas bahamensis
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron Butorides virescens
White Ibis Eudocimus albus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria
Spotted Sandpiper Tringa macularia
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla
Rock Dove Columba livia
Scaly-naped Pigeon Columba squamosa
Plain Pigeon Columba inornata
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita
White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
F Key West Quail-Dove Geotrygon chrysia
F Olive-throated Parakeet Aratinga nana
EF Hispaniolan Parrot Amazona ventralis
Yellow-billed Cuckoo Coccyzus americanus
EF Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo Saurothera longirostris
Smooth-billed Ani Crotophaga ani
EF Ashy-faced Owl Tyto glaucops
Burrowing Owl Athene cunicularia
Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii
EF Least Poorwill Siphonorhis brewsteri
F Antillean Palm-Swift Tachornis phoenicobia
Antillean Mango Anthracothorax dominicus
EF Hispaniolian Emerald Chlorostilbon swainsonii
EF Vervain Hummingbird Mellisuga minima
EF Hispaniolan Trogon Priotelus roseigaster
EF Narrow-billed Tody Todus angustirostris
EF Broad-billed Tody Todus subulatus
EF Antillean Piculet Nesoctites micromegas
EF Hispaniolan Woodpecker Melanerpes striatus
F Greater Antillean Elaenia Elaenia fallax
EF Hispaniolan Pewee Contopus hispaniolensis
F Stolid Flycatcher Myiarchus stolidus
Gray Kingbird Tyrannus dominicensis
Loggerhead Kingbird Tyrannus caudifasciatus
EF Palm Crow Corvus palmarum
EF Flat-billed Vireo Vireo nanus
Black-whiskered Vireo Vireo altiloquus
EF Palmchat Dulus dominicus
F Rufous-throated Solitaire Myadestes genibarbis
EF La Selle Thrush Turdus swalesi
Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos
F Golden Swallow Tachycineta euchrysea
Caribbean Martin Progne dominicensis
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
EF Antillean Siskin Carduelis dominicensis
F White-winged Crossbill Loxia leucoptera
Yellow-throated Warbler Dendroica dominica
Pine Warbler Dendroica pinus
Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis
Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus motacilla
EF Green-tailed Ground Warbler Microligea palustris
EF White-winged Warbler Xenoligea montana
Bananaquit Coereba flaveola
EF Black-crowned Palm-Tanager Phaenicophilus palmarum
EF Eastern Chat Tanager Calyptophilus frugivorus
EF Hispaniolan Stripe-headed Tanager Spindalis dominicensis
Antillean Euphonia Euphonia musica
Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolor
F Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea