The Ultimate In Birding Tours

North America & The Caribbean

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC & PUERTO RICO

Friday 9th April – Thursday 22nd April 2021

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

14 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico birding tours are a superb combination of two of the richest islands for endemic birds in the Caribbean region. As we explore two 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 birding tour is also a magnet for family collectors as it features Palmchat, the sole member of its family, and no fewer than three out of five species of tody. Some authorities now recognize three further endemic Caribbean families that feature on this tour!

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. Eons ago, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico were a seies 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.

By the end of our journey through these two 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 birding tours and Puerto Rico birding tours since 1998.

In 2021 this tour can be taken together with: JAMAICA & BAHAMAS

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good standard almost throughout the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. 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 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 birding tours are quite good.


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 this flight: Santo Domingo-San Juan.

Deposit: £480, $630, €550.

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


2021: provisional £4380, $5690, €5060. Santo Domingo/San Juan.

Single Supplement: 2021: £520, $680, €600.

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 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 toi 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 partt 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 to 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, eartuft-less 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 before travelling to the far southwest of the island to San German for a two nights stay. 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.

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.

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:

Cuban

North America & The Caribbean

CUBA

Red-billed

North America & The Caribbean

JAMAICA & BAHAMAS

Brown

North America & The Caribbean

LESSER ANTILLES & TRINIDAD