Dominican Republic 2024

February 15, 2024 to February 23, 2024
Guided by Jesse Fagan

This is a typical scene when birding the southwest coast of the Dominican Republic. It was also our lunch spot where we dined on fresh fish and coconut rice. Photo by guide Jesse Fagan.

This was a very solid tour to the Dominican Republic.  The Dominican Republic is home to roughly 31 endemics, possibly more depending on your taxonomy (one or two subspecies seem likely candidates for full species status, e.g., Loggerhead Kingbird [T. c. gabbii]).  In the endemic column, you might also throw in Golden Swallow, which has been extirpated from Jamaica (last sightings were in the 1980’s and none since despite extensive island-wide surveys).  The swallow is locally common in the Sierra de Barahuco in the Dominican Republic.  Further, the Dominican Republic now has three endemic families (Dulidae, Calyptophilidae, and Phaenicophilidae), which means you’ve got to work a little harder for your family ticks.  It was relatively easy when it was just Dulidae!  

Our tour started in the colonial city of Santo Domingo, also the capital of the DR, which offers participants a chance to experience one of the most historically important landmarks in the New World.  Santo Domingo was the jumping off point for many (in)famous European explorers including Christopher Colombus, Ponce de Leon, Hernando Cortes, and Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.  Indeed, Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the New World, officially founded on August 5, 1498.  It also boasts the first cathedral in the New World, first hospital, and first street, among others.   Santo Domingo has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. However, we didn’t spend too much time here, instead leaving Santo Domingo for the southwest corner, but not before a stop at the Salinas de Bani.  This location has the largest sand dunes in the Caribbean and is also populated by the endemic (to Hispaniola) Rhinoceros Iguana (Cyclura cornuta).  The birding here was good, with many species only seen here on the tour, including American Flamingo, Clapper Rail, and Snowy Plover.   Our next stop was in the bustling coastal town of Barahona, where we lunched and met our local guide, Efrain.  We eventually worked our way west to the town of Duverge, our lodging for the next two nights, and the jumping off spot for our visit to the higher elevations of the Sierra de Barahuco.  

We left early something like 3:30 am, in the dark, where we drove to the dusty border town of Puerto Escondido.  It was here we loaded into three 4x4 vehicles along with Efrain and our guide for the mountains, Rafael.   We bounced our way up for 2 hours, passing the border checkpoint of El Aguacate, briefly stopping for a calling Barn Owl, before arriving at our destination, “La Curva,” also known as Zapoten.  Zapoten is famous for being the spot for many DR endemics.  We had a productive morning up here, quickly finding Bicknell’s Thrush, Western Chat-Tanager, Hispaniolan Trogon, Hispaniolan Piculet, Golden Swallow, and a difficult one, White-winged Warbler.  However, before we left, we were treated with a rare sighting when a Bay-breasted Cuckoo flew in and landed just over our heads!  We returned to the lower portions of the park, near “La Placa,” in the evening to bird the dry forest and stay until dark for nightbirds.  Flat-billed Vireo showed incredibly well, and at dusk we listened to the calls of Hispaniolan Nightjars and Least Pauraque.  The pauraque showed in flight (this species is always difficult to see), as well as a flyover Ashy-faced Owl.  Not too bad as nightbirds go.   After Duverge, we spent the following two nights south of Barahona along the coast famous for Larimar.  Larimar is a rare blue pectolite found only in the DR.  The next morning, we birded the pine forest at El Aceitillar or the “Alcoa Road” which was originally a large bauxite strip mine, but now is part of the protected area of the Sierra de Barahuco.  This is the best spot for Hispaniolan Crossbills in the DR, which we saw very well at a small reservoir, among other endemics.  Hispaniolan Palm-Crows were visiting the drip, and snacking on our leftover breakfast, and we had better looks at Hispaniolan Emerald and Hispaniolan Mango.  We made a brief stop at Cabo Rojo on our way back which helped to pad the list with a few shorebirds and Roseate Spoonbill.  We left early (again) the next morning for the cloud forest destination of El Cachote.  This was another 4x4 adventure to one of the wettest parts of the island, but we lucked out with the weather on this trip.  We had a dry day up at El Cachote and quickly found an Eastern Chat-Tanager singing in the understory.  We had to work our way back off the road a little bit, but Efrain was able to get the bird in the scope and we returned multiple times for looks.  Later that morning we met Ramone who led us off-trail into the forest in search of quail-doves.  He didn’t let us down. White-fronted Quail-Dove has always been one of the hardest, if not the hardest, of the DR endemics to see, but Ramone has this all figured out!  We also had wonderful looks at Ruddy Quail-Dove, another bonus bird for the group.   

After birding all around the southwest, we made our way to the northeast for a night with a visit to Los Haitises National Park along the edge of the Samana Bay.  We still had one target bird to look for here, the Critically Endangered Ridgway’s Hawk.  Fortunately for this group, we didn’t have to wait long.  An afternoon siesta was cut short when we heard a hawk calling right outside our hotel windows!  We scrambled down to the driveway where we found an adult calling in a Cecropia tree just below the parking area.  The most recent estimates put this species population at around 700 individuals, and they have begun to successfully reintroduce them into other sites in the eastern part of the country (like Punta Cana).  A small population on the island of Grand and Petite Cayemite (Haiti) was only recently discovered in 2019.

I would like to thank this group for traveling with Field Guides.  I would also like to thank all of our local guides and drivers including Manny (Explora Nature Tours), Bienvenido, Efrain, Rafael, and Ramone.  It was an enjoyable tour and I look forward to seeing you again on a future trip. 

All the best birding in 2024 and beyond.

You can see my complete trip report on eBird at this link: https://ebird.org/tripreport/238445

—Jesse Fagan aka Motmot from Lima, Peru