The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Dominican Republic Tours

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, PUERTO RICO & JAMAICA – A feast of Caribbean endemics

Friday 9th April – Thursday 22nd April 2021

Leader: Mark Van Beirs and a local bird guide in the Dominican Republic

14 Days Group Size Limit 7
Jamaica Pre-tour Extension

Saturday 3rd April – Friday 9th April 2021

7 Days Group Size Limit 7
Saturday 9th April – Friday 22nd April 2022

Leader: Mark Van Beirs and a local bird guide in the Dominican Republic

14 Days Group Size Limit 7
Jamaica Pre-Tour Extension

Sunday 3rd April – Saturday 9th April 2022

7 Days Group Size Limit 7

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, PUERTO RICO & JAMAICA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Dominican Republic birding tours, combined with Puerto Rico and Jamaica, are an exciting journey through three of the richest islands for endemic birds in the Caribbean region. As we explore three of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, Hispaniola (which is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and Puerto Rico, we will enjoy some excellent birding, including many endemics and Caribbean specialities, as well as migrant species from North America. Our Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico & Jamaica birding tour is also a magnet for family collectors as it features no fewer than 6 endemic Caribbean bird families! These six families include Palmchat, the sole member of its family, no fewer than three out of the five species of tody, chat-tanagers, Hispaniolan tanagers, Puerto Rico Tanager and spindalises. What an amazing collection in just two islands!

There is something magical about the Caribbean Sea and its scattering of beautiful islands. These tropical wonderlands with their palm-fringed, pearly beaches and ultramarine waters, their wealth of tropical fruits, their swinging reggae and calypso music, their famously relaxed way of life and their attractive mixture of races and cultures conjure up an idea of paradise. Of course, this happy vision is only part of what the islands are about, and an aspect of the Caribbean more available to wealthy locals and visitors from more developed lands: life is far from idyllic for many inhabitants of the Caribbean.

Columbus discovered these islands soon after his famous transatlantic crossing and in the early 1500s the Spanish, eager for slaves to work in the goldmines of Hispaniola, conquered the native Indians and colonized the whole region. Santo Domingo, the present-day capital of the Dominican Republic (which occupies roughly two-thirds of Hispaniola), became the centre of Spanish influence and was sacked by Francis Drake in 1586. Subsequently, buccaneers and pirates used the islands as bases for their pillaging forays. Later millions of slaves were imported from Africa and the resulting blend of different cultures has profoundly influenced the whole history of the West Indies.

Most of the Caribbean islands are rugged and mountainous, but encompass a breathtaking variety of terrain, fringed by white sandy beaches meeting the turquoise ocean. Aeons ago, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica were a series of mountain peaks, connected to what is present-day central America, but nowadays the islands’ very special fauna and flora reflects their longstanding isolation.

Ornithologically, the Caribbean islands are perhaps most notable for the occurrence of at least two endemic families, the gem-like Todies (Todidae), comprising five very similar species (one of which is restricted to Cuba, while the other four are distributed between Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica) and the strange Palmchat (monotypic family Dulidae), which is restricted to Hispaniola. Some authorities now recognize three or more further endemic Caribbean families, including the Phaenicophilidae, which contains both the White-winged and Green-tailed Warblers and the Black-crowned and Grey-crowned (Palm) Tanagers (all endemic to Hispaniola), the Calyptophilidae, which holds the two chat-tanagers (also endemic to Hispaniola) and the monotypic Nesospingidae, which consists of the endemic Puerto Rican Tanager.

With the richest concentration of endemic bird species in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are highly appealing to anyone with an interest in the avifauna of this beautiful part of the world. The island of Hispaniola boasts no fewer than 32 endemics (although one, Grey-crowned (Palm) Tanager, is virtually confined to Haiti and not possible on bird tours to the Dominican Republic part of the island) and Puerto Rico a further 18 (if one includes one species shared with the Virgin Islands), and there are also a host of more widespread endemic Caribbean specialities. Families that are especially well-represented amongst the endemics include pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, nightjars, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, tyrant flycatchers, vireos and wood warblers. With persistence, we should see the vast majority of the specialities. Apart from the endemic birds, the pleasant tropical climate encourages many North American passerines to winter on these islands and even more to rest while on spring migration.

We start our journey in the Dominican Republic, which comprises the eastern two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. Here we will spend most of our time in the forested valleys of the Sierra de Bahoruco. At lower altitudes in the Dominican Republic we will be looking for the famous Palmchat, as well as many other endemics including Ashy-faced Owl, Least Poorwill, the splendid Broad-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Amazon, the strange Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo, the rare Bay-breasted Cuckoo, Antillean Piculet, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Hispaniolan Pewee, White-necked Crow, Flat-billed Vireo, Black-crowned (Palm) Tanager, Hispaniolan Spindalis (or Hispaniolan Stripe-headed Tanager) and Hispaniolan Oriole.

At higher altitudes in the Dominican Republic we will be looking for Hispaniolan (or White-fronted) Quail-Dove, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Hispaniolan Nightjar, Hispaniolan Emerald, Narrow-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Trogon, the exquisite Golden Swallow, Hispaniolan Palm Crow, the rare La Selle Thrush, the attractive White-winged Warbler (formerly Hispaniolan Highland Tanager) and the skulking Green-tailed Warbler (formerly Green-tailed Ground Tanager), the skulking Western and Eastern Chat-Tanagers, Antillean Siskin and Hispaniolan Crossbill.

We will also explore the remote wilderness that is Los Haitises National Park, an area of the Dominican Republic that is the last stronghold of the increasingly rare endemic Ridgway’s Hawk.

From the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola, we will fly eastwards to the much smaller island of Puerto Rico, where we will visit the tropical rainforest of the Luquillo Mountains. Later we will work the trails of the humid reserve of Maricao, before travelling to the dry forests of Guanica. Here we will seek out such endemics as the critically-endangered Puerto Rican Amazon (now easier to see than in the past), the weird Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Screech Owl (which also occurs on the Virgin Islands), the rare Puerto Rican Nightjar, Puerto Rican Emerald, Green Mango, the lovely Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Pewee, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, the rare Elfin Woods Warbler, the lovely Adelaide’s Warbler, Puerto Rican Tanager, Puerto Rican Spindalis (or Puerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager), Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Puerto Rican Oriole and the declining Yellow-shouldered Blackbird.

During the optional pre-tour extension we will explore the island of Jamaica. With one of the richest concentrations of endemic bird species in the Caribbean, Jamaica is a highly appealing destination for anyone with an interest in the avifauna of this beautiful part of the world. The island of Jamaica boasts no fewer than 30 endemics (if one includes Jamaican Oriole, which is only shared with the remote island of San Andres), and there are also a host of more widespread endemic Caribbean specialities. Families that are especially well-represented amongst the endemics include pigeons, parrots, cuckoos, nightjars, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, tyrant flycatchers, vireos and wood warblers. With persistence, we should see all the endemics. Apart from the endemics and other resident specialities, the pleasant tropical climate encourages many North American passerines to winter on these islands and even more to rest while on spring migration.

The name Jamaica derives from the word Xaymaca, meaning ‘Land of Wood and Water’ or perhaps ‘Land of Springs’, used by its Arawakan-speaking original Taíno inhabitants. Columbus ‘discovered’ Jamaica in 1494 on his second voyage of exploration to the New World, and in the early 1500s, the Spanish conquered the Taíno amerindians and colonized the island, which they called Santiago. At times, buccaneers and pirates used the island as a base for their pillaging forays, and eventually, the island passed under British control and became known as Jamaica. Huge numbers of slaves were imported from Africa during its colonial past and the resulting blend of different cultures has profoundly influenced the subsequent history of the island, which has been an independent state since 1962. Ian Fleming, who lived on the island, repeatedly used Jamaica as a setting for his James Bond novels, but Jamaica’s most famous son is surely Bob Marley, who is still regarded with reverence by the locals.

We start our Jamaica birding tour at Kingston, the capital city, and from here we travel westwards to the climatically-perfect hill town of Mandeville. Here we shall explore the open gardens, pastures and woodland of a working cattle ranch where well over half of Jamaica’s endemics can be found, including the splendid Red-billed Streamertail (a supremely elegant hummingbird that is surely the island’s signature bird), Jamaican Parakeet, Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo, Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Mango, the lovely Jamaican Tody, Jamaican Woodpecker, Jamaican Elaenia, Jamaican Pewee, Sad and Rufous-tailed Flycatchers, Jamaican Becard, White-chinned Thrush, Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Spindalis (or Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanager), Yellow-shouldered Grassquit, the attractive Orangequit and Jamaican Oriole. We will also visit the Black River Morass, Jamaica’s largest wetland, where we should see Antillean Nighthawk and have a good chance of encountering the uncommon West Indian Whistling Duck.

We will also spend some time exploring the wild, hilly Cockpit Country in search of four more endemics: Ring-tailed Pigeon, Black-billed and Yellow-billed Amazons, and Jamaican Crow.

During the second part of our Jamaica birding tour, we concentrate on the dark evergreen forests of the Blue Mountains and the John Crow Mountains, which dominate the eastern part of this tropical paradise. These ranges are home to the rest of Jamaica’s endemics, including Black-billed Streamertail, the shy Crested Quail-Dove, White-eyed Thrush, Blue-Mountain Vireo, Arrowhead Warbler and Jamaican Blackbird. By the end of our Jamaica birding tour, there is a very good chance we will have seen all of the Jamaican endemics. We will also have enjoyed some lovely Caribbean scenery and soaked up the relaxed way of life of this unique island.

By the end of our journey through these fascinating islands, we should have seen the vast majority of their endemic birds, as well as many other Caribbean specialities, while enjoying some beautiful scenery and the special atmosphere of the Caribbean.

Birdquest has operated Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico & Jamaica birding tours since 1998.

Cayman Islands & Haiti Extension Option: If you are interested in visiting the Cayman Islands to see the endemic Vitelline Warbler and little-visited Haiti to observe the only Hispaniolan endemic that is not possible in the Dominican Republic, the Grey-crowned Palm Tanager, then please indicate this at the time of booking. If there are at least two participants interested in this unusual extension we can arrange one before the Jamaica section of the tour. Cost and duration will depend on both the number of participants and the necessary duration (which will depend on flight schedules).

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good standard almost throughout. Barrancoli Camp in the Sierra de Bahoruco of the Dominican Republic, where we spend two nights, is pleasantly situated but fairly basic and bathroom facilities are shared. Transport is by minibus/passenger van and 4×4 vehicles, and roads are mostly good or reasonable, except in the sierras in the Dominican Republic.

Walking: The walking effort during our Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico & Jamaica birding tours is easy throughout.

Climate: Mostly warm or hot, dry and sunny, but it is sometimes cool and overcast (especially at higher altitudes). It may rain at times.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico & Jamaica birding tours are quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Adding six endemic Caribbean bird families to the tally in just two islands (Hispaniola and Puerto Rico)! Four of which are found nowhere else!
  • Waiting patiently at dawn for a rare La Selle Thrush to hop on a track high in the Sierra de Baoruco
  • Scoping a gorgeous Hispaniolan Trogon in the hill forest
  • Observing quaint Hispaniolan Crossbills drinking at their favourite puddle
  • Finding White-winged and Green-tailed Warblers, which used to be considered tanagers, but which are now placed in their own family
  • Getting acquainted with three out of the five ever-so-cute Todies, a bird family which is endemic to the Caribbean
  • Connecting with the unusual Antillean Piculet, a tiny endemic of Hispaniola
  • Observing endemic Palmchats, a montypic family, at their huge communal sticknests in the beautiful Royal Palms of Hispaniola
  • Nocturnal forays for three endemic nightbirds: Ashy-faced Owl, Least Poorwill and Hispaniolan Nightjar
  • Checking the forest at night with a chance for the unusual Hispaniolan Solenodon or a Hutia
  • Spending time with mega-skulking endemic Western and Eastern Chat Tanagers
  • Walking into the cockpit country of the Los Haitises National Park to watch one of the rarest birds of prey of the world: Ridgway’s Hawk
  • Trying to locate the ever diminishing Puerto Rican Amazon, the rarest endemic of Puerto Rico
  • Admiring the modestly-attired Puerto Rican Tanager, which is now placed in its own endemic family
  • Getting to know the unusually coloured, attractive Puerto Rican Woodpecker
  • Night walking for the strangely-voiced Puerto Rican Screech-Owl and the localized Puerto Rican Nightjar
  • Checking flowering bushes in northeastern Puerto Rico for Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib
  • Seeing the very localized Yellow-shouldered Blackbird, which is highly threatened by the brood parasitic Shiny Cowbird
  • Finding the delightful Elfin Woods Warbler in its hill forest habitat
  • A fabulous first morning on Jamaica where within a hundred meters of the 'Great White House' we will observe two-thirds of Jamaica’s 28 endemic birds
  • Admiring feisty Red-billed Streamertails within hand's reach
  • Cuddly Jamaican Todies, Jamaican Woodpeckers and unique Orangequits giving point blank views
  • Great encounters with Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo and Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo
  • An evening walk with terrific Jamaican Owls and ghostly Northern Potoos
  • Scanning the Black River Morass for Least Bittern and the rare West Indian Whistling Duck
  • Strolling through the remote Cockpit Country with endemic squabbling Jamaican Crows and Yellow-billed and Black-billed Amazons about
  • Seeking out the localized Bahama Mockingbird in the sun-scorched Portland Peninsula
  • Finding the spectacular, restricted-range Black-billed Streamertail in the lofty John Crow Mountains
  • Watching in awe at a fabulous Crested Quail-Dove as it shows itself off in the higher reaches of the Blue Mountains
  • Listening to the haunting song of a smart Rufous-throated Solitaire and observing an unusual-patterned Arrowhead Warbler
  • Ending the trip with a full complement of Jamaica’s endemic birds

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • JAMAICA PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Afternoon tour start at Kingston, Jamaica. Drive to Mandeville.
  • Day 2: Days 2-3: Mandeville and Black River Morass.
  • Day 4: Cockpit Country, then drive via Portland peninsula to Port Antonio.
  • Day 5: John Crow Mountains, then drive to Silver Hill Gap above Kingston.
  • Day 6: Day 7: Blue Mountains. Overnight at Silver Hill Gap.
  • Day 7: Day 8: Blue Mountains, then drive to Kingston airport. Fly to Santo Domingo.
  • MAIN TOUR
  • Day 1: Afternoon tour start at Santo Domingo airport. Drive to Barahona.
  • Day 2: Barahona area, then drive to Barrancoli Camp in Sierra de Bahoruco.
  • Day 3: Barrancoli Camp/Sierra de Bahoruco.
  • Day 4: Barrancoli Camp in Sierra de Bahoruco, then return to Barahona.
  • Day 5: Barahona region, then drive to Pedernales.
  • Day 6: Pedernales, then return to Barahona.
  • Day 7: Barahona area, then drive via Santo Domingo to Los Haites.
  • Day 8: Los Haitises National Park.
  • Day 9: Drive to Santo Domingo airport. Flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, then drive to Luquillo.
  • Day 10: Luquillo Mountains. Overnight at Luquillo.
  • Day 11: Luquillo area, then drive to San German.
  • Day 12: Maricao State Forest and Guanica reseve. Overnight at San Germnan.
  • Day 13: San German area, then drive to Arecibo.
  • Day 14: Rio Abajo, then drive to San Juan airport for early afternoon tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: Santo Domingo-San Juan and (during the extension) Kingston-Santo Domingo.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2021: £4210, $5890, €4820, AUD7590. Santo Domingo/San Juan.
Jamaica Pre-Tour Extension: £1990, $2790, €2280, AUD3590. Kingston/Santo Domingo.
2022: provisional £4280, $5990, €4910, AUD7720. Santo Domingo/San Juan.
Jamaica Pre-Tour Extension: £2060, $2890, €2360, AUD3720. Kingston/Santo Domingo.

Single Supplement: 2021: £490, $690, €560, AUD890.
Jamaica Pre-Tour Extension: £270, $380, €310, AUD490.
Single Supplement: 2022: £490, $690, €560, AUD890.
Jamaica Pre-Tour Extension: £270, $390, €310, AUD500.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

In the Dominican Republic there are only a limited number of rooms at the lodge in the Sierra de Bahoruco where we spend two nights. There is no single supplement at this location, but singles are provided free of additional charge if available at the time (they often are, but not always for everyone who wants one).

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, PUERTO RICO & JAMAICA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 1  Our tour begins this afternoon at the airport of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic that occupies much of the island of Hispaniola. We will head westwards from Santo Domingo to Barahona for an overnight stay.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 2  We will spend much of the day birding in the region surrounding Barahona (see below for full details) and then climb into the western part of the Sierra de Bahoruco to Barrancoli Camp for a two nights stay.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 3  We will leave early this morning in order to reach the upper elevations of the rugged Sierra de Bahoruco by dawn. Here the forest is wetter than lower down and the evergreen broadleaf trees are covered with a heavy load of bromeliads, vines and other epiphytes. In this far western area of the Dominican Republic, we are close to the border with Haiti and the high mountains are often shrouded in clouds.

The ethereal song of the lovely Rufous-throated Solitaire fills the crisp morning air and resplendent endemic Hispaniolan Trogons perch quietly amidst the emerald foliage. Endemic Narrow-billed Todies replace their lowland cousins and the endemic Western Chat-Tanager, a large species that looks and behaves more like an Asian babbler than a tanager (and which is now treated as a member of a distinct bird family by some authorities), skulks in the dense undergrowth. The greatest prize here in these cool montane forests is Hispaniola’s most sought-after endemic bird, the secretive La Selle Thrush, which was unknown to science until Alexander Wetmore discovered the species in 1927 on Morne La Visite in Haiti. We stand the best chance of seeing this elusive bird at dawn (or dusk) when it tends to be less retiring and may be located by listening for its loud carolling song.

Other endemics that we will be wanting to find in these humid, high-elevation forests of the Dominican Republic include the shy and timid White-fronted (or Hispaniolan) Quail-Dove, Hispaniolan Emerald, the attractive White-winged Warbler and the unobtrusive Green-tailed Warbler. The latter two species were formerly placed in the parulid or American wood-warbler family, then considered tanagers and renamed Hispaniolan Highland Tanager and Green-tailed Ground Tanager respectively, and more recently often treated as two out of four members of their own family, Calyptophilidae.

We shall also explore the dry pine habitat on the south-facing slopes of the Sierra de Bahoruco. The most surprising and unexpected species here on this Caribbean island is surely the endemic Hispaniolan Crossbill. With a bit of luck, we should find this species cavorting in the pines or coming down to drink at a favourite pool, sometimes with the perky endemic Antillean Siskin. Handsome Golden Swallows (now extinct on Jamaica and so endemic to Hispaniola) often patrol the forested ridges while Hispaniolan Parakeets screech as they fly past and Hispaniolan Palm Crows utter their raucous calls from the treetops. Additional species in this part of the Dominican Republic may well include Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks, and Pine Warbler.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 4  After a final day in the Sierra de Bahoruco we will descend to the Barahona region of the Dominican Republic for a three nights stay (spending two nights in total at Barahona and one at Pedernales).

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Days 5-6  The dry woodland of the lower and middle altitudes of the Sierra de Bahoruco offers some exciting birding. Most of the trees are draped in black, moss-like bromeliads and the undergrowth consists of dense, thorny scrub. The stunning Broad-billed Tody, with its grass-green crown and upperparts, cherry-red throat patch, lemon belly and bubble-gum pink flanks must surely rank as one of the world’s most beautiful birds. It is one of just five members of the tody family, Todidae, which is restricted to the Greater Antilles. Other Hispaniolan endemics found here include Hispaniolan Amazon, the bizarre Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo, the rare and declining Bay-breasted Cuckoo (still used in traditional medicine by the local inhabitants), the attractive Antillean Piculet (belonging to the monotypic genus Nesoctites), the adaptable Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Hispaniolan Pewee, Flat-billed Vireo, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager and the beautiful Hispaniolan Spindalis (or Hispaniolan Stripe-headed Tanager).

We will also be on the lookout for more widespread Caribbean specialities such as Scaly-naped (or Red-necked) and White-crowned Pigeons, the smart Zenaida Dove, Antillean Mango, the tiny Vervain Hummingbird (found also in Jamaica), the smart Red-legged Thrush, Antillean Euphonia and Greater Antillean Bullfinch.

Birds of wider distribution may well include the retiring Ruddy Quail-Dove, the introduced Jamaican Parakeet, Bananaquit and an array of wintering wood-warblers including Black-and-white, Prairie, Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Cape May and Palm Warblers, Ovenbird and American Redstart.

In the lowlands, patches of Royal Palms provide nesting sites for Hispaniola’s most interesting endemic, and sole member of its family, the strange Palmchat. These noisy and garrulous birds, which are distant relatives of the waxwings and silky flycatchers, build large communal nests of dead twigs. The strange White-necked Crow also favours areas with Royal Palms. Now extinct in Puerto Rico, and so endemic to Hispaniola, the species is easily recognizable by its loud and liquid calls, its peculiar, leisurely flight and its bright red eye. Minute Antillean Palm-Swifts nest here as well, flying in and out of their saliva-cemented nest constructions, which are attached to the undersides of the palm fronds, while the localized and retiring Plain Pigeon (endemic to the Greater Antilles) is another devotee of palm groves and Caribbean Martins often hunt for insects in the vicinity.

In a large depression west of Barahona lies the saline Lago Enriquillo, the largest lake in the entire Caribbean, not just the Dominican Republic. Once an ocean bay, but later cut off by geological events, its surface lies now over 40m below sea-level. The brackish Lago Enriquillo and nearby Laguna Rincon often hold a small flock of colourful American Flamingoes, as well as the crepuscular West Indian Whistling-Duck, White-cheeked Pintail and American Coot.

Amongst the many other waterbirds are Pied-billed and Least Grebes, Brown Pelican, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, Black-necked Stilt, Grey (or Black-bellied), Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers, Killdeer, Spotted, Solitary, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Laughing Gull and Gull-billed, Caspian and Royal Terns. Additional species in this region of the Dominican Republic may well include Turkey Vulture, Western Osprey, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Mangrove Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher and Northern Waterthrush. Visiting Magnificent Frigatebirds forage over the lagoons.

Lago Enriquillo is surrounded by desert terrain reminiscent of Arizona, and partly cultivated area. In this interesting part of the Dominican Republic, the major speciality is the endemic Hispaniolan Oriole, while other species of interest include Stolid Flycatcher, Grey Kingbird, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Greater Antillean Grackle. Northern Mockingbirds perch atop roadside bushes and White-winged and Mourning Doves, Common Ground-Doves and Smooth-billed Anis abound.

In the nearby xerophytic scrub zone, we can expect to find Smooth-billed Ani, Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Kingbird and Black-whiskered Vireo. Small colonies of introduced Village Weavers occur near some of the small human settlements.

The area offers some exciting nightbirding as well and we shall be making a serious effort to obtain views of the inscrutable endemic Ashy-faced Owl, the diminutive endemic Least Poorwill, the very vocal endemic Hispaniolan Nightjar and the splendid Northern Potoo.

We will also follow a track into the higher reaches of the eastern part of the Sierra de Bahoruco in search of the hard-to-find endemic Eastern Chat-Tanager. It differs only subtly in plumage from Western Chat-Tanager, but has a different song. It favours evergreen shrubbery at the edge of montane forest.

Some seawatching along the south coast of the Dominican Republic may produce sightings of the elegant White-tailed Tropicbird and distant Black-capped Petrels and Audubon’s Shearwaters. Cave Swallow may also be seen.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 7  After a final morning in the Barahona region we will drive via Santo Domingo to Los Haitises National Park in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic for a two nights stay. Sea cliffs near Santo Domingo, which we will visit en route, hold colonies of Cave Swallow and sometimes a few elegant White-tailed Tropicbirds.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 8  Ridgway’s Hawk used to be a widespread raptor on Hispaniola, but habitat loss through large-scale clearance for livestock farming and coffee plantations, together with direct persecution, led to a disastrous decline. This once-common endemic is now virtually confined to Los Haitises National Park, which is situated at the head of Samana bay, due north of the Dominican Republic’s capital. We stand a very good chance of encountering this interesting species, which is now considered to be the rarest Buteo on earth, with a surviving population of only 200-250 individuals. It favours the subcanopy and only relatively rarely takes to the sky and rides the thermals as so many other Buteo species do. While we track down this enigmatic species, we will also encounter many other Dominican/Hispaniolan specialities in the process. We also have another good chance for Ashy-faced Owl here.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 9  This morning we will return to Santo Domingo airport and say farewell to the Dominican Republic and the bird-rich island of Hispaniola.

We will catch a late morning flight to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. After arrival, we will transfer to our hotel in Luquillo, situated at the northeastern end of the island for a two nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 10  The Caribbean National Forest covers about 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) in the Luquillo Mountains. This area receives more rainfall than any other locality in Puerto Rico, resulting in the occurrence of a dense rainforest on the lower slopes of El Yunque, a peak which rises to 1065m (3494ft). At higher altitude palm forest takes over and stunted, moss-draped dwarf forest huddles on the highest peaks and ridges. Giant ferns, bamboo thickets and tiny wild orchids are a feature of this reserve, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and again by Hurricane George in 1998.

The highly endangered Puerto Rican Amazon is now restricted to small and largely inaccessible parts of the eastern Luquillo Mountains and the Rio Abajo State Forest in north-central Puerto Rico. At the moment, there are only about 60 individuals surviving in the wild, as the population was almost wiped out by Hurricane Hugo (in 2000 and 2001 about 25 captive individuals were released in order to augment the surviving population). From our carefully-chosen viewpoint, we will have our first chance of observing this rarest of all the Puerto Rican endemics as the birds move between their roost sites and the fruiting trees in which they will spend much of the day.

Berry-bearing trees surrounding the open area at the viewpoint are often raided by families of smart endemic Puerto Rican Woodpeckers and drably-garbed endemic Puerto Rican Tanagers. The Green Mango is a large but rather unobtrusive endemic hummingbird which habitually resides near one of the waterfalls. We should also find such other endemics as Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody (the third tody of the tour), Puerto Rican Spindalis (or Puerto Rican Stripe-headed Tanager) and Puerto Rican Bullfinch.

We also plan to track down the near-endemic Puerto Rican Screech-Owl (which also occurs on some small islets near Puerto Rico and in the Virgin Islands). Tremulous trills and fear-inspiring maniacal laughs usually betray the whereabouts of this atypical, ear-tuftless member of the genus Megascops.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 11  After another visit to the Caribbean National Forest if need be, we shall explore some dry coastal scrub and the adjacent shoreline. Flowering bushes in the northeast of Puerto Rico are often visited by Antillean Crested Hummingbird (of the green-crested race) and Green-throated Carib, two smart hummingbirds that are otherwise restricted to the Lesser Antilles. Other species we could see here include the mean-looking Pearly-eyed Thrasher and Antillean Mango. Brown Boobies sometimes fish in the shallow bays.

Afterwards, we will travel to San German in the far southwest of the island for a two nights stay.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 12  Not far from San German is the Maricao State Forest, where we will explore the lush montane environment. This reserve offers us the best chance to observe the rare Elfin Woods Warbler, a species that was only discovered in 1971 in elfin forest in the Luquillo Mountains. It resembles a Black-and-white Warbler, but has a rather different head pattern and favours the sub-canopy of the montane forest.

From dense thickets, the emphatic and nasal call of the weird-looking endemic Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo emanates through the forest, and we will try to lure this lethargic and fearless bird into view. Mixed feeding flocks containing such endemics as Puerto Rican Pewee, Puerto Rican Vireo and Puerto Rican Oriole (part of the Greater Antillean Oriole complex) will provide additional entertainment.

We will also search the arid scrubland and mangrove areas of the southwest of the island for the localized and declining endemic Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. This once-common species has been plagued by the arrival of the Shiny Cowbird, a fairly recent colonizer from South America. This nest parasite has chosen the Yellow-shouldered Blackbird as its principal host and now the total population numbers only about 650, in spite of continuous efforts to control the Shiny Cowbird population.

In addition, we will spend some time in the International Biosphere Reserve of Guanica, which is situated on the hilly south coast of the island and protects an extensive area of subtropical dry, near-xerophytic forest. Many of the Puerto Rican endemics and Caribbean specialities are found here, but the handsome endemic Adelaide’s Warbler will certainly steal the show. Other species here should include the rather dull Caribbean Elaenia and the endemic Puerto Rican Flycatcher. Mangrove-fringed pools often harbour Clapper Rails as well as a variety of egrets, herons and migrant waders. At dusk, we will hope to hear the whistled ‘whip’ notes of the Puerto Rican Nightjar, a species that, until 1961, when a surviving population was discovered in Guanica forest, was only known from a skin collected in 1888! By carefully using the spotlight, we should be able to study this remarkable bird.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 13  After some final birding in the southwest of the island we will head for the north coast and the town of Arecibo where we will overnight.

Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico: Day 14  Early this morning we will visit the Rio Abajo State Forest where Puerto Rican Amazons have been re-introduced after being exterminated by Hurricane Hugo. We have an excellent chance of seeing this critically endangered species here.

Afterwards, we shall return to San Juan airport, where our tour ends in the early afternoon.

 

JAMAICA PRE-TOUR EXTENSION

Jamaica: Day 1  Our tour commences this afternoon at Kingston on the island of Jamaica, from where we will drive to Mandeville for a three nights stay.

Jamaica: Days 2-3  Situated at 2000ft (600m) on a high plateau of the Don Figuerero Mountains overlooking the south coast, Mandeville is a small hill town in the central area of Jamaica. Grand old mahogany trees and flowering yellow ‘poui’ and mango decorate the country lanes that lead us to a 300-acre (120-hectare) working cattle farm owned by the Sutton family at Marshall’s Pen. The centrepiece of the property is the Great White House, which must have been carved out of the wilderness in the early 1700s. It has amazingly survived at least four horrendous hurricanes and still maintains its old grandeur.

The spacious, colourful gardens and belts of pastureland, interrupted by thickly wooded copses, provide ideal nest sites for many of Jamaica’s common bird species and in fact well over half of the island’s endemics breed here. The following are all easily found: Jamaican Parakeet (sometimes split from the Olive-throated Parakeet of Central America), Jamaican Tody (an exquisite little critter, belonging to a family which is endemic to the Greater Antilles), Jamaican Woodpecker (which has become a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ filling several ecological niches), Sad Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Flycatcher, Jamaican Becard (easily located by its enormous nest high up in mature fruiting trees), Jamaican Vireo, Jamaican Euphonia, Jamaican Oriole (a virtual endemic, also occurring on the island of San Andres), Jamaican Spindalis (or Jamaican Stripe-headed Tanager) and the handsome Orangequit.

One of the major highlights at Marshall’s Pen is watching the endemic Red-billed Streamertails at the feeders. This amazing hummingbird shines emerald green in shafts of sunlight as it fiercely defends its sugar solution from duller and more normal-tailed females and from the larger endemic Jamaican Mangoes. Its tail streamers are elongated to three times its body length and are scalloped and fluted on the inside. Its wings create a high whining hum as the bird flies. Nicknamed ‘Doctorbird’ by local people, it is actually a status symbol for a family to attract streamertails to flowers in their garden. The name ‘Doctorbird’ comes from its practice of puncturing the base or sides of flowers with its bill to draw out the nectar, an act which resembles the 17th-century doctor poking around with his lancet.

Whilst creeping along the wide trails we will be listening for the raucous accelerating tones of a cuckoo. Both the elegant, endemic, yellow-bellied Jamaican Lizard-Cuckoo and the larger endemic Chestnut-bellied Cuckoo inhabit the shady thick understorey of this dense woodland. In the forest glades, endemic Jamaican Elaenias and Jamaican Pewees sit motionless on their perches and occasionally explode into action to pick insects off leaves or twigs or to acrobatically catch them in mid-air. The easiest birding is in the gardens where an endemic White-chinned Thrush may hop on the lawns or an endemic Yellow-shouldered Grassquit may be seen unsuccessfully looking for a camouflaged background amongst the multi-coloured array of flowers. Biologists have opted out of making a decision as to whether this delightful black and yellow, berry- and seed-eating bird is a grassquit or a finch and have pronounced it to be another endemic genus. Greater Antillean Bullfinch and the local race of Bananaquit also flit around the gardens.

As dusk approaches we will listen for the hoarse throaty ‘whow’ that signals the waking up of a Jamaican Owl and human ‘wows’ may be heard as we find him hiding under a bromeliad or amongst the tangled vines that envelop most of the trees here! Another nocturnal delight is the Northern Potoo.

Other interesting species that we should find here include such Caribbean specialities as White-crowned Pigeon, the smart Caribbean Dove (normally a shy forest floor species, but not here), the gorgeous Zenaida Dove, Antillean Palm Swift, Grey and Loggerhead Kingbirds, Black-whiskered Vireo, Black-faced Grassquit and Greater Antillean Grackle.

More widespread species include Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, White-winged Dove, Common Ground Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, the introduced Green-rumped Parrotlet, Mangrove Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Cave Swallow, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue and Prairie Warblers, American Redstart and Yellow-faced Grassquit.

During our sojourn at Marshall’s Pen, we will also visit the Black River Morass, the most extensive wetland in Jamaica. Here we will explore slow-moving, mangrove-fringed channels, enjoying the variety of waterbirds and raptors. Purple Gallinules and Northern Jacanas seem to be everywhere, and we will hope to find the diminutive Least Bittern crouched along a reedy edge. The uncommon West Indian Whistling Duck is mainly a nocturnal feeder, but small parties are regularly found here in the quieter stretches of marsh. Western Ospreys and Red-tailed Hawks perch on exposed boughs, while American Coots lurk near cover. As dusk approaches, Antillean Nighthawks float high over the open expanses.

Amongst the many other species, we may well see amongst the channels or at some saline lagoons are Least and Pied-billed Grebes, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Black-crowned and perhaps Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Green, Tricolored, Little Blue and Great Blue Herons, Great, Snowy, Reddish and Western Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibis, Blue-winged Teal (and possibly other lingering ducks), the dashing Merlin, Sora, Common Gallinule (now treated as distinct from Common Moorhen), Black-necked Stilt, Grey (or Black-bellied), Snowy, Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers, Killdeer, Solitary, Spotted, Semipalmated, Least and Stilt Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Laughing Gull, Royal and Cabot’s Terns, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Caribbean Martin, Barn Swallow (and perhaps other swallow species), Mangrove Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and Common Yellowthroat.

Jamaica: Day 4  This morning we will explore the only wilderness area left on Jamaica, the Cockpit Country. A karst limestone region of caves, sinkholes and ‘haystack’ terrain, the ‘Cockpit’ is basically a plateau that, over the aeons, has been eroded by rainfall whose carbonic acid content has gradually dissolved the rock and left behind a jumble of steep conical hills separated by deep depressions or ‘cockpits’. The tops and vertical hillsides have little or no soil to support vegetation, but the cockpits, in which the eroded minerals have been deposited, usually have very fertile soil and when undisturbed support thick vegetation and enormous trees. No fewer than a hundred plant species are endemic to the area.

Ramsgoat Cave in the heart of the Cockpit Country is the roosting haunt of Jamaica’s two endangered endemic parrots. In the early morning, small squawking flocks of both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Amazons noisily transfer from their roosting sites, situated on dead emergent branches of the highest trees, to the fruiting trees where they will gorge themselves all day. We will also be listening out for the jabbering and squabbling of endemic Jamaican Crows, which are still quite easily found in this area, and we will likely encounter the aptly-named Stolid Flycatcher. We should hear the soft cooing of the rare endemic Ring-tailed Pigeon which, although officially fully protected, is still shot by hungry locals and so one of Jamaica’s harder birds to see. With persistence, we have a good chance of locating one.

Later in the day, we will make a stop on the Portland peninsula to try and locate the shy Bahama Mockingbird. With a bit of luck we will see one displaying from a favourite bush. Migrant wood-warblers are usually about and may include Black-and-white, Palm, Magnolia and Black-throated Green Warblers, and Ovenbird, and possibly one or two of the scarcer species such as Worm-eating, Yellow-throated and Cape May Warblers. In the nearby mangroves, we may come across the skulking Clapper Rail or even a Prothonotary Warbler.

Afterwards, we will travel to Port Antonio for an overnight stay.

Jamaica: Day 5  This morning we will explore the ornithologically and touristically neglected John Crow Mountains at the eastern end of the island in search of the endemic Black-billed Streamertail. This isolated range, situated in the extreme northeast of the island, receives more rain than the rest of Jamaica and is covered in fertile plantations at the base and the lower slopes, while the upper reaches are clothed in virtually inaccessible lush forest. The two streamertails used to be treated as conspecific as earlier scientific investigations suggested that there was an overlap zone where some individuals had red and black bills, but these biologists failed to realize that it is the immature Red-billed Streamertails which show this two-tone bill colour! Black-billed Streamertails are, in fact, more blue-green in colour, have completely black bills and are only found in the humid eastern section of Jamaica. An excellent selection of other Jamaican endemics occur in the area.

Afterwards, we will head for the Blue Mountains above Kingston, where we will stay for two nights at Silver Hill Gap.

Jamaica: Day 6  Today we will explore the slopes of the lofty Blue Mountains, overlooking the city of Kingston. These scenic mountains frame Jamaica’s capital and dominate the eastern third of the island, rising up to around 2200m (roughly 7200ft). They are covered with forests and dotted with plantations of Caribbean Pine and the famous Blue Mountain Coffee, the most expensive in the world. Alas, its fame and price have reached such heights that precious soil-conserving woodlands are being cleared for plantations at an alarming rate. However, on the cool, steep and often cloudy slopes, some good evergreen montane forest remains. The highest point that we will reach is about 1220m (around 4000ft) at Hardwar Gap, a thickly wooded mountain pass, where clouds move through the forest daily, creating a cool and damp environment which will be a welcome change from the hot humid lowlands.

The woods are dense with tree ferns, mahogany and Blue Mahoe and luxuriant with huge bromeliads and epiphytes, whose flowers attract the tiny Vervain Hummingbird (endemic to Jamaica and Hispaniola). Blue Mahoe is Jamaica’s national tree and the blossoms gradually change colour from yellow to orange to red. Mixed feeding flocks forage tirelessly through the dark montane evergreen forest, and include specialities like Greater Antillean Elaenia, the endemic Blue-Mountain Vireo and the endemic Arrowhead (or Arrow-headed) Warbler, joined by migrant parulids. The retiring endemic White-eyed Thrush feeds unobtrusively under shady shrubs. Experienced Neotropical birders will recognize the flutelike whistles and trills emanating from the canopy as coming from a solitaire, but few will be prepared for the shock of seeing a positively gaudy Rufous-throated Solitaire in its grey, chestnut, rufous and white plumage. The bird is usually easy to find as it sings from leafless branches instead of from inside thick canopy. More time, however, will have to be spent on locating two much less conspicuous endemics. The scarce endemic Jamaican Blackbird is, unlike most other New World blackbirds, arboreal and does not flock. It forages silently for insects in bromeliads and moss or at the base of tree-fern fronds where it tosses out dead leaves. The most difficult Jamaican endemic, however, is the Crested Quail-Dove, which is no easier to see than any other quail-dove. Our best chance will be to spot one turning over the leaf litter at the side of the road soon after dawn, before the sun makes it retreat into the shady parts of the forest. We may also see White-collared Swift here and perhaps American Black Swift.

Jamaica: Day 7  Early this morning, we will have another chance to look for the sometimes tricky Crested Quail-Dove or anything else we still need.

Afterwards, we return to Kingston airport and take a flight to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, situated on the large island of Hispaniola, where we will meet up with those arriving for the main tour.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, PUERTO RICO, JAMAICA & BAHAMAS TOUR REPORT 2019

by Mark Van Beirs

View Report

HISPANIOLA, PUERTO RICO, JAMAICA & BAHAMAS TOUR REPORT 2017

by Mark Van Beirs

View Report

HISPANIOLA, PUERTO RICO, JAMAICA & BAHAMAS TOUR REPORT 2015

by Eustace Barnes

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Other Caribbean Islands birding tours by Birdquest include: