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DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

3–12 March 2018

This exciting new tour will be targeting the 30 of the 31 endemic birds of the island of Hispaniola (with the other found only in Haiti) plus Golden Swallow following it’s disappearance from Jamaica; the highest number of any Caribbean island. Some species such as Ridgeway’s Hawk are rare and endangered, whilst Ashy-faced Owl and Least Pauraque require nocturnal excursions so we will be using top local guides.

Day 1 Early-morning flight from London via Madrid to Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic and transfer to our hotel. Night in the Colonial District of Santo Domingo.

Day 2 We’ll begin our first full day at the extensive and beautifully-maintained botanical garden, centred on a densely-forested canyon. A morning walk here provides an excellent introduction to the island’s birds. In addition to the very common Hispaniolan Woodpecker, we should find Vervain Hummingbird (the world’s second-smallest bird), Antillean Palm-swift, Red-legged Thrush, Black-crowned Palm-tanager, and Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo. We can also expect to see the bizarre Palmchat, in a family unto itself, which builds enormous communal nests in palm trees. With some luck we may happen upon West Indian Whistling-duck, which can often be found along a small stream in the gardens. After lunch and some shopping for picnic supplies we’ll make the four-hour drive to Puerto Escondido for a two-night stay.

Day 3 Today we make our first foray into the Sierra. We’ll have a very early start after coffee and depart at 04.30, ascending the rough mountain road to visit the northern slopes of Sierra de Bahoruco National Park taking a picnic breakfast and lunch with us. We’ll make a few stops in the darkness looking and listening for Hispaniolan Nightjar, Least Pauraque and Northern Potoo. Our main target just after dawn will be the very local La Selle Thrush, which lives in a beautiful but restricted patch of cloud forest. Other highlights may include Hispaniolan Emerald, Hispaniolan Parrot, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Antillean Piculet, Hispaniolan Trogon, Narrow-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Pewee, Green-tailed Warbler, White-winged Warbler, Western Chat-tanager, Hispaniolan Spindalis and Greater Antillean Bullfinch. After birding the broadleafed forest we will head uphill into the pines to look for Hispaniolan Crossbill, Antillean Siskin and the insular subspecies of Pine Warbler. We’ll then gradually work our way back downhill into drier forest, with a stop along the Haitian border to witness the destruction caused by charcoal production and the subsistence potato farmers on the adjacent deforested slopes and maybe add a few birds to our Haitian birdlist! We will return to the Rabo de Gato trail by the camp next for a quiet streamside walk through an excellent patch of humid forest. We should see quite a few endemics and a nice array of migrants here and with patient searching both Key West and White-fronted Quail-doves can be found walking on the forest floor upslope from the trail and White-necked Crows should be heard and seen here. We may also see our first Stolid Flycatchers whilst Least Grebes are regular breeders in the pools of the creek and some of the truly-rare birds, such as Bay-breasted Cuckoo, occasionally put in an appearance here as well.

Day 4 We’ll have an early breakfast again and depart at 06.30. The dry thorn/transitional forest by in an area called La Place or Loma de Charco Azul, offers another chance to seethe Bay-breasted Cuckoo and the Flat-billed Vireo. We will return to Puerto Escondido for a late lunch and to pack our luggage into the vehicles before driving down to Lago Enriquillo. Lying more than 120 feet below sea level, this intensely saline lake is the remnant of a channel that once divided Hispaniola into two islands. Our primary goal is the Hispaniolan race of Palm Crow, but we may also see Plain and Scaly-naped Pigeons and White-winged Doves together with an interesting assortment of migrant warblers in the very bizarre cactus forest. Night near Barahona.

Day 5 Today we’ll visit the south side of the Sierra de Bahoruco. Driving south our first stop will be at the Oviedo Lagoon where we might encounter American Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, Mangrove Cuckoos and “Golden” Yellow Warblers singing in the mangroves and a nice selection of migrant waders. From the lagoon we’ll head further west and head uphill on the paved Alcoa Road to access an extensive upland pine forest. This forest is reminiscent of the longleaf pine forests of the southeastern United States, but here we’ll have another chance to look for Hispaniolan Crossbill and Antillean Siskin whilst Golden Swallow (now a Hispaniolan endemic as the population in Jamaica has disappeared), can also be found. In the afternoon we go south to the shoreline at Cabo Rojo, where a small marsh often holds wading birds, and the local subspecies of Clapper Rail. The cliffs around the cape provide nesting habitat for White-tailed Tropicbird, Cave Swallows and Caribbean Martins whilst Black-capped Petrel, Audubon’s Shearwater and Brown Booby can sometimes be seen offshore. After Cabo Rojo we will continue on west to the Haitian border where we will spend the night in Pedernales.

Day 6 As we will be heading back east today, we can be flexible and revisit any of yesterday’s sites to look for any species we may still need. Additionally, we will have the chance to look for Eastern Chat-tanager before we check into our hotel near Barahona again. After dinner we’ll check out some local areas for nightbirds, with the possibility of Least Pauraque, Ashy-faced Owl, Northern Potoo, and Chuck-will’s Widow. Night near Barahona.

Day 7 Today is mostly a travel day, although we will make a pre-breakfast trip to look for Eastern Chat-tanager again if we missed it yesterday. We’ll then head east, stopping in Santo Domingo for lunch, before continuing through Sabana de la Mar (on the Bay of Samaná) to Cano Hondo. In the evening we’ll have a good chance of encountering Ashy-faced Owl near our hotel in case we failed to locate it during our time in the southwest. Night Cano Hondo.

Day 8 Today we will search for the critically-endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. This formerly widespread species is now extremely local and infrequently seen. By this time of year, adults are usually nest-building, and we hope to have a nest site ‘staked out’ by our local contacts. Getting there will likely involve a relatively short but steep walk but it is well worth it for the chance of seeing this wonderful raptor at its nest! In the flowering trees we should see Hispaniolan Oriole and Hispaniolan Spindalis whilst on the forest floor Ruddy Quail-doves can be found. In the afternoon we’ll drive back to Santo Domingo. Night in Santo Domingo.

Day 9 We have a final morning to return to the Botanical Gardens to enjoy our last views of some of the common endemic birds before returning to the airport for a late afternoon/early evening overnight flight back to the UK.

Day 10 Arrival back in London at the end of the tour.

General Information The climate can be highly-variable at this time of year, from very warm to cold and wet. There will be a moderate amount of walking over easy terrain. There are no special medical requirements and insects are not a problem. Visas (Tourist Cards) are required and can be obtained online at a cost of around £11.50. Driving distances are quite long, but the roads between sites are good. Accommodation is based on twin rooms, all with en-suite facilities except for the two nights in Puerto Escondido where we will be staying in cabin-type accommodation with the six bedrooms separated by partitions and with shared facilities. It is essential to stay here however, to gain the best chance of seeing all of the endemic birds.

Group Size Maximum group size: 8 with 2 leaders.

Palmchat

Palmchat

Recommended books available from NHBS