Dominican Republic – May 2015

dominican-republic-flag

Wed 6th May 2015

Bridgette, Michael and I were Gatwick bound after work, flying on the 7th for 10 days in the Dominican Republic. We had a really good trip down with the only birds of note three Ring-necked Parakeets beside the M4 at junction 4B.

We were staying at the Hilton at the airport, which is connected to the South terminal. We had a really good deal including parking and it was great to practically roll out of bed straight into the terminal the next morning. My sister and family were later joining us as they got caught up on the M25. We were flying British Airways to Punta Cana.

Thu 7th May 2015

We caught a lunchtime flight to Punta Cana and arrived in the Dominican Republic late afternoon. After a longish wait for luggage, a cheery transfer bus driver found us and ushered us aboard an air-conditioned minibus for the 40 minute journey to the Tropical Princess Beach Resort at Bavaro, which would be our home for the next 10 days.

At the airport I had six ANTILLEAN PALM SWIFTS, my first lifer of the holiday. When we arrived at the resort 20 more Swifts were swirling around the entrance where they were nesting in the thatched roof. We were given a welcome drink and were quite speedily allocated a two-bed apartment flat, wristbands (we were fully inclusive), Wi-Fi code and a resort map. The transfer to the room was by road train, which we tended to avoid during the stay, and rather unkindly labelled it the “Fat Bus” based on usual passenger size. On the ride down through the mangrove swamp to our rooms we saw two Mourning Doves, six GREAT ANTILLEAN GRACKLES, two adult Common Gallinules (split from our Common Moorhen by IOC) with three small chicks and a Tricoloured Heron.

Great Antillean Grackledr-great-antillean-grackles

In the fading light from our balcony Michael and I added three GREY KINGBIRDS, five PALMCHATS, the national bird, the only species in its family and a pair of endemic HISPANIOLAN WOODPECKERS on a palm very close to where we stood, to the holiday list.

Grey Kingbirddr-grey-kingbird
Palmchatdr-palmchat
Hispaniolan Woodpeckerdr-hispaniolan-woodpecker

As body clock time was around midnight we went and ate a light supper before all turning in for the night. Not a bad start, five lifers before bedtime.

Fri 8th May 2015

I was raring to go at the first chink of daylight at around 6:15am, as I was keen to explore the area before breakfast as this would be my daily patch. We had chosen a hotel with good-sized grounds for this very reason, and I managed at least one new bird every day bar one.

Palmchats were always very much in evidence and I saw 11 on this first walk. The first new bird for the list was a Bananaquit, the first of six seen. In the undergrowth near one of the security lodges I saw a couple of feral RED JUNGLEFOWLS, on the DR list as an introduced species, a much leggier bird than domestic chickens. I always introduce myself to the security guards early on so they know what I am doing prowling around every dawn. They were always cheerful and helpful as a result.

Red Junglefowldr-red-jungle-fowl

It was common every morning to see a selection of herons fly into the mangrove swamp on site, although I never really worked out where they were coming from. This morning I had a flyover of seven Cattle Egrets, a Tricoloured Heron and three Great Egrets. The Hispaniolan Woodpeckers were very common and I had seen five before breakfast. Next I walked one of the driveways through the mangroves. A Green Heron was fishing and an adult Black-crowned Night Heron was stood in pool which it monopolised for the whole 10 days, only once did it go missing for a couple of hours.

Green Herondr-green-heron

In the mangroves I had an immediate rush of lifers, a spectacular pair of HISPANIOLAN LIZARD CUCKOOS showed really well, a bird I was very pleased to get. The next lifer I almost fell over as they rushed around my feet hoping for food, two adult WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS with broods of two and three well grown ducklings.

White-cheeked Pintaildr-white-cheeked-pintail

Then I sat on a stone bench to make some notes and was serenaded by a Northern Mockingbird and the first Turkey Vulture of the day flopped lazily into the sky.

Northern Mockingbirddr-northern-mockingbird

Behind me a rustle in the leaves drew my attention to a beautiful pearl-grey RED-LEGGED THRUSH, very well-named. Further along the path a CARIBBEAN COOT (now lumped with American Coot by IOC) appeared at the edge of the mangroves and then just as quickly disappeared, a most elusive bird. A sharp call drew my attention to a curve-billed ANTILLEAN MANGO, my first hummer and one of only two regular hummers in DR.

Red-legged Thrushdr-red-legged-thrush

Then I walked down to the sea, which was very disappointing all week, any hope of seabirds was very quickly put to bed as the skies were usually empty. I did see three Magnificent Frigatebirds and two Brown Pelicans but these were the only regular species. Returning through the mangroves my next lifers were a lovely pair of WEST INDIAN WHISTLING DUCKS, not bad a two-duck-lifer day.  Then I found an adult Pied-billed Grebe and a juvenile, not even a year tick after the recent one at Berkeley. I also saw a few butterflies but the only ones I knew were Cloudless Sulphur, Banded Peacock and Julia.

West Indian Whistling Duckdr-wi-whistling-duck

Then it was back for breakfast and a day of R&R recovering from yesterday’s journey, so swimming, sunbathing, eating and Pina Colada time.

Sat 9th May 2015

I was up and out at first light as usual and headed out into the gardens. Many of the same species were seen but I managed to add new species to the holiday list daily. The first of these today were three feral Helmeted Guineafowls, on the DR list as an introduced species. I found a lake in the middle of the resort where there were 50+ White-cheeked Pintails. Next I found the first of three White-crowned Pigeons. I had only seen one before in Belize and the views then weren’t great, however they were fairly common here and seen well. Next up were two lifers along the path through the mangroves, the first a pair of SMOOTH-BILLED ANIS and then a pair of HISPANIOLAN AMAZONS (Parrots), the first of eight. Then I found a new hummer, a VERVAIN HUMMINGBIRD, a lifer and the world’s second smallest after Bee Hummingbird.

Smooth-billed Anidr-smooth-billed-ani
Hispaniolan Amazondr-hispaniolan-amazon
Vervain Hummingbirddr-vervain-hummingbird
 White-crowned Pigeondr-white-crowned-pigeon

Also here was an Antillean Mango for comparison. In the same area I found a White-winged Dove, new for the holiday and in an unused overgrown car park a Killdeer gave really close views. Zebra Longwing butterfly was also added to the holiday list.

Killdeerdr-killdeer

As it was so hot my day soon fell into the routine of early morning birding, then lazy holiday mode occasionally followed by a bash at early evening birding before dinner.

Sun 10th May 2015

A lazy Sunday on site today but I still did the early morning grounds round. I had nice views of a Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo in the mangroves and even managed a picture.

Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoodr-hispaniolan-lizard-cuckoo

At the overgrown car park a Black-necked Stilt flew over, new for the holiday list, and the Killdeer remained as it did for the whole holiday. Four large CARIBBEAN MARTINS were lifers and showed well flying low around the car park.

Caribbean Martindr-caribbean-martin

Walking back through the mangroves I was pleased to find a pair of the endemic HISPANIOLAN PARAKEETS. I didn’t expect them on this part of the island and they were the only ones I saw so a real bonus bird.

Hispaniolan Parakeetsdr-hispaniolan-parakeets

After breakfast we all went for a bike ride out past a local golf club and then to the mall in Bavaro, where unsurprisingly our cycle guide seemed to be related to all the shopkeepers. However we didn’t get a hard sell and we were given samples of the local Mama Juana, a drink concocted by allowing rum, red wine and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs, and was supposedly a cure-all and also a natural stimulant. Suitably stimulated we rode back faster to the resort. On the ride a couple of American Kestrels were seen, one with a large lizard kill, many Grey Kingbirds and a Common Ground Dove at the mall. The kestrel and dove were holiday tick.

In the afternoon I walked up the beach to a dive shop with Bridgette and we saw seven Royal Terns sat on a floating platform. They were also new for the list.

Mon 11th May 2015

At last we were getting out to see some of the island for the day in a Monster Truck Safari. I’m not absolutely certain where we went as away from the main roads road signs seemed to be academic. We left at 8:30am after breakfast and our first stop was another resort where we seemed to wait ages whilst various groups of passengers from several buses were combined into the same nationalities, which although time consuming made sense as the guide only had to cover a couple of languages each. We were lucky enough to remain on our bus and gained more English and German people whilst the French and Spanish speaking people were ousted. The tour proper got underway then and we drove along the main highway towards Higüey for several miles. We counted 75+ Cattle Egrets and eight Turkey Vultures along this stretch. Our first stop was a local school, which was a brief insight into local education, and a chance for the children to interact with their visitors mainly in the hope of getting a donation for the school, which we gladly gave. Next stop was a small cigar making business, which I wasn’t interested in and because we weren’t smokers we didn’t want to try the samples, so we spent our time watching Turkey Vultures and photographing bright green lizards.

Then it was back on the bus and on towards Higüey via a massive sugar cane plantation. We arrived into the hustle and bustle of the city and found it to be slow progress for any kind of traffic at this time of the morning. Eventually we arrived at the spectacular Basílica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, the cathedral being the focal point of the city. We had about 40 minutes to look around. The only birds around here were the Antillean Palm Swifts, which seemed to be abundant.

Then it was back on the bus and off of the main roads onto some fairly bumpy tracks until we arrived at a typical local house, where they also made chocolate and associated products. We got a chocolate-making demo from our guide and then the inevitable Mama Juana. Carol called me because she had found a dove out on the track. It was a ZENAIDA DOVE, bird of the day, as it was a lifer. Also here was a crazy snake guy who had many snakes and large spiders. Michael and Sian had their pictures taken whilst draped with snakes, but Bridgette and many others made a speedy retreat for the bus. A short distance further and we arrived at our lunch stop where we spent about an hour.

Zenaida Dovedr-zenaida-dove

After lunch we drove to a ranch and despite my initial reservations I got on a horse for the first time in at least 10 years for a very short trek. It was enjoyable and in the end a little too short. At the ranch I saw a Killdeer and a Common Ground Dove.

Common Ground Dovedr-common-ground-dove

The final stop was a white sandy beach where there was an opportunity to swim for those who wanted to. I didn’t and went for a short walk to attempt some birding but I didn’t really see anything other than a new white butterfly.

We arrived back at the grounds late afternoon and walking back to the room through the mangroves I added Yellow-crowned Night Heron to the holiday list.

Yellow-crowned Night Herondr-yellow-crowned-night-heron

Tue 12th May 2015

I did the early morning rounds and saw all the usual suspects; the Pied-billed Grebe was now with two juveniles and showed well fishing underwater in a clear mangrove pool.

We had negotiated with a local taxi after initial difficulties to take us to Ojos Indígenas Ecological Park (Indigenous Eyes), who stopped on the way out at a money-changing facility with an armed guard, where he suggested we got money to pay him. However using my bad Spanish I explained we had money and would pay him half now and the rest when (and if) he picked us up. This satisfied him and he was all smiles after that and did indeed return at the agreed time for the return.

This was a super little park in Punta Cana set in beachside forest where you could swim in natural pools, or not if you were like me; I just went birding. The endangered endemic Ridgway’s Hawks are being reintroduced here but I didn’t get a sniff of one. We walked through the forest trail to the first big natural pool where people were swimming. Carol and I saw a Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo in the undergrowth on the way. At the pool was a pair of vivid green BROAD-BILLED TODIES showing well in overhanging branches, a much wanted lifer by me.

Broad-billed Tody dr-broad-billed-tody

Everyone except me decided to swim, I went birding. I found a small Hermit Crab on the path. A little further on after much struggling I got decent views of a FLAT-BILLED VIREO. Forest birding was as always difficult and I heard much more than I actually saw. On the way back to the car park I found a pair of GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCHES, my third lifer of the day. Also a brilliantly camouflaged CARIBBEAN CRACKER butterfly (Hamadryas amphichloe diasia). A Vervain Hummingbird and some spectacular bright Green Anoles showed well in the car park.

Caribbean Crackerdr-caribbean-cracker-hamadryas-amphichloe-diasia
Green Anoledr-green-anole

We returned to Bavaro wishing we had had longer at this interesting site, there was much more to see and we could easily have spent a day there.

Wed 13th May 2015

Today was a quiet day spent on site for most of us, I did my usually early morning round up and found a STOLID FLYCATCHER in the Killdeer’s car park. This was the only new bird of the day and also a lifer. It is one of the difficult Tyrant flycatchers made easier here as there aren’t many to choose from. I also had another Flat-billed Vireo in the mangroves.

Stolid Flycatcherdr-stolid-flycatcher

Thu 14th May 2015

This morning we were all up early to get the bus to La Romana where we would be catching a boat to Catalina Island. Bridgette was scuba diving, the rest were snorkelling and I was mainly drinking the free booze and birding. The island itself was sectioned by various holiday companies so you were a little restricted where you could go. The boat crossing was very disappointing with a total lack of seabirds except a Royal Tern on the way out and a Laughing Gull on the return trip, a new trip bird.  Bridgette did two dives, the others had a snorkelling session and I did one paddle. It was blisteringly hot, so for most of the time we tried to stay in the shade of the palms, once on the island.

Birds included 10+ Village Weavers, which were new for the trip and introduced to DR. I had seen them previously in Gambia. Also notable were four Greater Antillean Bullfinches, five Black-necked Stilts on a salt pan and three Magnificent Frigatebirds. Two or three Raccoons were hiding in the bushes beyond where our lunch was served, emerging occasionally to steal scraps. It was a very pleasant nicely lazy day, which was as much as we wanted in the heat.

Greater Antillean Bullfinchdr-greater-antillean-bullfinch

dr-raccoon

Fri 15th to Sun 17th May 2015

The last two and a bit days were spent locally, Bridgette did some more dives, but generally we just switched to holiday mode. I still birded around the site each morning. Michael joined me and whilst trying to find a way into a hidden pond he disturbed a fairly large snake, but didn’t stick around to identify it. The only two new trip birds were a Collared Dove on the Friday, a very recent colonist on DR and 40 Snowy Egrets on the final morning which arrived in one of the mangrove pools together; I don’t know where they’d been hiding all week. Some of the better birds seen over these last days were Smooth-billed Ani, Red-legged Thrush, Caribbean Martins, Vervain Hummingbirds and Hispaniolan Amazons.

© Mike & Bridgette King 2015

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