Wednesday, December 28, 2011

La Rep├║blica Dominicana

Dominican Cloud Forest
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Yet, another late post from Chad. To not be late would be a post by someone other than myself.

Hispaniolan Woodpecker and Antillian Palm Swift... this is one my favorite pictures!

Narrow-billed Tody (endemic)... Ebano Verde Reserve
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This past September, my best friend John and I went to the Dominican Republic for our annual birding trip. More specifically, we went to the Santo Domingo and Boca Chica area. As with all of our trips, we were excited to go and could not wait for the plane to land! I mean, we were heading to hot weather and sunshine in the tropics! Not to mention an island that has 31 endemic species. Yeap, 31! I wonder how come you don't hear much about the Dominican Republic or the island as a whole - Hispaniola? Not a clue.

Nutmeg Manikan... a common bird but always fun to stop and watch.

Boca de Nigua... gorgeous grounds of trash.
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John and I, along with a very willing and anxious Dominican resident, Steve Brauning birded three primary areas: Santo Domingo National Botanical Gardens, Ebano Verde (Science Reserve), and Boca de Nigua. All three places, full of great birds! The botanical gardens (as with most botanical gardens) was easy to bird and in addition, provided some great scenery of a very well kept garden. Highlights were Red-legged Thrush, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Antillian Mango, and Black-whiskered Vireo.

Our next stop was Boca de Nigua, a wetland area that hugs the coastline just outside of Santo Domingo. This place is nothing short of a success story that will continue to improve and flourish so long as the restoration continues. Prior to the restoration, the area served as a garbage dump. Finding this large reserve was no easy task as nobody in the very nearby vicinity seemed to know anything about it. We finally found one local taxi driver that knew exactly where we needed to go.

As we approached I became quickly in awe at the beauty of the large marshland which included a pristine blue ocean acting as the backdrop. Instantly, we saw Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, and Green Herons all birds that signify the beauty of a wetland. I knew right away we were in a great place. As we left the car and started to bird the marsh edge, it was obvious that the area used to be a garbage dump. Everywhere we went, we walked on trash - none of which you could see unless you looked straight down. The plant growth covered most of the unsightliness. But, the birds didn't seem to care what the area used to be, they seemed to be very content with what it now was. Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Smooth-billed Anis, Black-necked Stilts, and Lesser Yellowlegs all seemed to forage in harmony. One very cool highlight for us was the White-cheeked Pintail. The area is apparently a very reliable spot to find this species of duck. Actually, we thought we were skunked until the very end. And then, they appeared - seven I think.

West Indian Whistling Duck... Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens. Gorgeous!
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Our last destination was Ebano Verde. A mountain reserve west of Santo Domingo about 2 hours away. We left at about 4:30a and arrived just before light. At our arrival, we were welcomed by the tiny sound of multiple Black-faced Grassquits. The original plan was to walk down the mountain about two miles and have a car bring us back up. This plan changed when the gate was locked at the top of the trail. Guess what this means? Yeap, you guessed it, we had to start at the bottom. Now, I am not complaining but, walking up a mountain is tough for anyone, especially if you are 60 pounds overweight. The strenuous journey up began, complete with an armed security guard (a first).

The reserve was gorgeous. Lush and green, just as you would expect it to be in the tropics. The exception to this would have been about another 3 hours west in the land of Haiti where (from what I am told) the tree line ends. Very sad. Anyway, we weren't in Haiti, we were in the DR so I'll keep it lush. One of our first birds was the Hispaniolan Trogan and endemic Trogan that like most others is as gorgeous as any parrot or parakeet. It would seem all down hill after starting with this bird but thankfully it was just the opposite. Like magic, birds such as the Narrow-billed Tody (endemic), Hispaniolan Spindalis (endemic), Antillian Piculet (endemic), and Hispaniolan Pewee (endemic) all appeared to ensure excitement throughout the hike and to make this big man forget all about the strain of walking uphill.

Black-crowned Palm Tanager (endemic)
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The everyday birding location was our hotel grounds. We stayed at the Bellvue Dominican Bay in Boca Chica. All I can say is it was a good thing that we were there for the birds because the hotel itself was NASTY! The two most abundant birds that were almost everywhere you looked were the Antillian Palm Swift and Hispaniolan Woodpecker. I could have watched either species for hours. The Antillian Palm Swifts were very active around the hotel and were most likely feasting on the bugs flying in and around the luxury hotel grounds. Other highlights on the hotel grounds inlcuded: Palmchat (endemic), Gray Kingbird, and the very awesome Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo!

Hispaniolan Emerald (endemic)... Boca de Nigua Reserve

Hispaniolan Trogan (endemic)... Ebano Verde Reserve. Beautiful!!!

Hispaniolan Parakeet (endemic)... Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens

Bananaquit... very common but always cool!

Boca Chica Beach... as sad as it looks!
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Probably the worst part of the trip was the cleanliness of the Santo Domingo and Boca Chica area. To the locals, trash either goes on the street or on the beach - yes, I said the beach. I was so upset at the conditions of the beach that I had to drink just to make the trash disappear! The area is also a haven for prostitution which is legal in the area. Everywhere you look you will see men and women in their 50's and 60's with young men and women who are probably no older than 21. So, while most visitors in the area were focused on their prostitution needs, John and I remained focused on the birds. The safe, moral, and much cleaner alternative.

In all, I ended the trip with 27 new birds. Only 11 of which were of the endemics. And, although I would have loved to have gotten more of endemics, I left the island mostly perturbed that I did not get the Vervain Hummingbird. This hummingbird, the second smallest in the world, is allegedly very common. John saw it and Steve could not believe I hadn't seen it. He assured me if I sat next to some flowers long enough that it would show. But for me, it never did.

In the end, I left the island Vervainless and with 20 endemics to go so I guess I will have to put on my prostitute repellent and go back someday very soon!

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal