The Ultimate In Birding Tours

North America & The Caribbean

SWIFT DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Palmchat and many other Caribbean endemic species and families

Friday 23rd April – Thursday 29th April 2021

Leaders: Mark Van Beirs and a local bird guide

7 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Swift Dominican Republic birding tours explore one of the richest islands for endemic birds in the Caribbean region. As we explore one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, Hispaniola (which is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic), we will enjoy some excellent birding, including many endemics and Caribbean specialities, as well as migrant species from North America. Our Swift Dominican Republic tour is also a magnet for family collectors as it features Palmchat, the sole member of its family, and two out of the five species of tody. Some authorities now recognize two 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 was a series of mountain peaks, connected to what is present-day central America, but nowadays the island’s very special fauna and flora reflects its 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), and the Calyptophilidae, which holds the two chat-tanagers (also endemic to Hispaniola).

With the richest concentration of endemic bird species in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is 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, 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 available 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.

The Dominican Republic 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.

Birdquest has operated Dominican Republic birding tours since 1998.

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.

Walking: The walking effort during our Swift Dominican Republic tour 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 Swift Dominican Republic tour 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.

Deposit: £280, $360, €310.

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


2021: provisional £1960, $2590, €2290. Santo Domingo/Santo Domingo.

Single Supplement: 2021: £150, $200, €170.

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.

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.

SWIFT DOMINICAN REPUBLIC BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Swift Dominican Republic: 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.

Swift Dominican Republic: 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.

Swift Dominican Republic: 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.

Swift Dominican Republic: 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).

Swift Dominican Republic: 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.

Swift Dominican Republic: Day 7  After some final birding in the Barahona region we will return to Santo Domingo airport, where our tour ends this 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

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JAMAICA & BAHAMAS

Brown

North America & The Caribbean

LESSER ANTILLES & TRINIDAD