Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

The Dominican Republic

2018 Narrative

In Brief: Our Dominican Republic tour was a real pleasure this year, combining many wonderful birds with sometimes adventurous, always beautiful and interesting travel in this rugged and well-forested country, which shares the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antilles, with Haiti.  The tour began in the capital, Santo Domingo, and headed south and west, off the beaten tourist paths to explore the richly varied habitats of the southwest and the Haitian border regions, while returning each afternoon to our seaside hotel south of Barahona, where the Caribbean breeze made for pleasant meals and good sleeping.  From here we ventured up the rough forest road to Zapoten and its lush highland cloud forest; we spent a day in mid-elevation forest, and another in the arid cactus forest of the southwest, and up into higher elevation pine forest on the southern slopes of Bahoruco National Park.  We explored the coastline and we visited Lago Enriquillo, a hyper-saline inland lake, as well as Laguna de Cabral, a marshy freshwater lake teeming with wildlife.  Leaving the southwest towards the close of our tour, we crossed the island, to the remote northern park known as Los Haitises, staying a night at a spectacular forest lodge, and birding the nearby mangrove swamps, shallow bays, islets and even sea caves from our little chartered boat.  We then returned to Santo Domingo, where the tour concluded.

In Detail: We met at the wonderful Hotel Palacio, located in the old colonial district of Santo Domingo, just before dinner on our first evening.  Dinner was a short stroll around the block, which took us past the hospital ruins of Nicolas de Bari, where Hispaniola Parakeets come into roost in the crevices of the old walls.  We spotted a few additional species, birds we’d be getting accustomed to, like Antillean Palm-Swifts and Bananaquits, and met with our second leader, the incomparable Miguel Landestoy, a native Dominican ornithologist as well as a top herpetologist.

The next morning we visited the city’s botanical gardens as a primer.  There was birdlife practically everywhere and we were soon introduced to the endemic Hispaniolan Woodpecker, the odd Palmchat (in its own monotypic family), Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo, two species of hummingbirds including the tiny Vervain, as well as West Indian Whistling-duck, and a number of wintering songbirds including Louisiana Waterthrush.  As the heat increased, we departed the town for the southwest, breaking up the exciting three hour drive with lunch and refreshments, arriving in the afternoon to Hotel Quemaito, overlooking the Caribbean Sea, south of Barahona.  We settled in before dinner, some of us discovering new bird species on the hotel’s attractive grounds, like Hispaniolan Oriole and Black-crowned Palm-tanagers.

On our first full day in the southwest we took an early drive to Puerto Escondido, counting sleeping kestrels on the wires along the way, and to the bird-rich track known as Rabo de Gato.  Here we took a long leisurely walk through lots of good habitat, and were lucky enough to spot a Bay-breasted Cuckoo, spectacular bird.  Three species of the beautifully curved Patagioenas pigeons; a sighting of the endemic White-fronted Quail Dove; two kinds of todies; our first of many Stolid Flycatchers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and other common forest birds; and quite a lot more!  After our long morning immersed in the forest birdlife, we had lunch of rice and various stewed and grilled meats in a typically Dominican open-air restaurant, then went to take a gander at Lago Enriquillo, a highly saline, crocodile-filled lake, a remnant of an ocean channel that once divided the island.  Apart from the odd Osprey, a few wading birds, our first Royal Terns, and pelicans, it was the beautiful ancient coral shoreline, the strange stands of dead trees, and the general landscape that made the visit noteworthy, before returning to our shimmering Caribbean home.

The next day, our fourth day, we attempted the incredibly rough (but not perilous) road to Zapoten, but was forced back by troubles with one of our vehicles.  So we simply wound up poking about all day at mid-elevation, taking our breakfast while listening to Hispaniolan Nightjars and Least Pauraques, serenaded by lovely Rufous-throated Solitaires as the day commenced, walking at Bahoruco National Park rangers’ station (seeing another Bay-breasted Cuckoo!), finding our first Green-tailed Ground Warblers, Antillean Siskins, and others.  Zapoten would have to be put on hold.  We returned back to the Caribbean for lunch and a chance to try some of the country’s staples, like octopus, conch, and other local seafoods, and spent the afternoon by the sea, with some time to rest up after a very early and eventful morning.  

We then set out in the morning for the dry southern slopes of Bahoruco National Park, passing through strange cactus forests where Rhinoceros Iguanas basked on the sun-baked rocks.  Climbing up into the park from this new approach, we entered an altogether different habitat of montane pine forest, an encountered an endemic subspecies of Pine Warbler, a pair of Loggerhead Kingbirds, and the beautiful Golden Swallow, in the almost chill air.  We then descended to the stunning coral coastline of the Cabo Rojo, lunching beneath palm fronds on the beach, seeing lots of Gray Kingbirds.

The following day, now with our vehicles in order, we successfully navigated the outrageous road up to Zapoten in the early hours of the morning, arriving at daybreak in a stunning world of impenetrable slopes of lush forest, enormous trees and everywhere dangling, flowing, bursting vegetation.  Here we found the gorgeous La Selle Thrush, whose rich blackish-grays seemed to mirror the moist richness of its home.  Also amid all the morning activity, as the sun reached the great branches of the trees, were Hispaniolan Trogon, HIspaniolan Spindalis, White-winged Warbler, Western Chat-tanager, and the fascinating and endemic Hispaniolan Crossbill.  Our very early start allowed us to experience the morning to the fullest, and by lunch, back out in the town of Duverge, we felt we’d spent a long day in the field.  After lunch we just took the time to see another spot farther along the shore of Lago Enriquillo, where we hoped to find Hispaniolan Crow, which we did, enjoying close encounters with Burrowing Owls to boot.

We decided to forgo another early morning forest road excursion in search of one species, the Eastern Chat-tanager, in favor of a visit to a freshwater wetland area called Laguna de Cabral.  Although we had arranged a boat ride, it seems one of the local fishermen had “borrowed” the boat early in the morning, and his location wasn’t presently known.  So we had to make do with investigating the birdlife from shore, which proved quite productive.  Many wintering warblers here including a Yellow-throated, many Cape Mays, and the like, a number of shorebirds, Least Bitterns, waders, limpkins, and a spectacular show of White-collared Swifts descended from the highlands.  We then made the long trek across the country towards Los Haitises National Park in the north, approaching our hotel after dinner at the right time to search for Ashy-faced Owl, and with great success.  Arriving at our magnificent lodgings, Cano Hondo, in the dark, we were impressed by what we saw hinted at by the lights on the grounds, a spectacular forest lodge intricately woven into the landscape, with flowing water all around, creating a soundscape of gurgling, splashing water, perhaps the ideal situation for an excellent night of sleep.

Cano Hondo proved also a most excellent place to wake up.  We took a morning walk up into the semi-forested hills in search of Ridgeway’s Hawk, and were very happy to have a great sighting of this scarce endemic hawk just in the nick of time.  Then, after a leisurely breakfast, we hired a boatman to take us out through the mangroves to the sea, disembarking to explore sea caves with walls of early pictographs and petroglyphs, and Cave Swallow!  Golden Yellow Warblers sang from the mangroves and frigatebirds were out over the bay.  After lunch at the lodge we headed back for Santo Domingo, had a final meal together, and departed our separate ways in the morning.  It was a great group to share the week with in this thrilling country, thank you!

Created: 16 August 2018