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.