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Sunbird – Itinerary

The Dominican Republic

March 2022
with Raymond VanBuskirk as leader

Maximum group size: 8 with 2 leaders.

2020 Tour Price : £2,870

  • Single Room Supplement : £130
  • Plus flights estimated at : £900

Colourful Hispaniolan Parakeets frequent the grounds of our hotel in Santo Domingo. Photo: Chris Wood

Site of the oldest European city in the New World, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Greater Antilles. Dominated by the highest mountains in the Caribbean and ringed by a startlingly beautiful coastline, this varied landscape is home to no less than thirty-two endemic bird species, including Palmchat, the single representative of the monotypic family Dulidae. Our search for the endemics and regional specialities will take us to the cloud forest and thorn scrub of the rugged Sierra de Bahoruco, as well as to the bizarre cactus forest of the Lago Enriquillo basin, which is home to Palm and White-necked Crows,  American Flamingos, and various species of herons, waders, and waterfowl. A side trip to the very different north shore of the island will allow us to try for the extremely rare Ridgway’s Hawk.  Our visit to the Dominican Republic will be enriched by the gracious hospitality of its people and their excellent Spanish-style cuisine.

In 2021 this tour can be taken in conjunction with our tour to Puerto Rico.

Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm in Santo Domingo. Our hotel is situated close to the centre of colonial Santo Domingo, and those who arrive early may wish to explore the many historic buildings and museums close by. We’ll start the first evening with a visit to a nearby roost of Hispaniolan Parakeets. Night in Santo Domingo.

Day 2: We’ll begin our first full day at the extensive and beautifully-maintained botanical garden, centred on a densely-forested canyon. A morning walk here provides an excellent introduction to the island’s birds. In addition to the ubiquitous Hispaniolan Woodpecker, we should find Vervain Hummingbird (ostensibly the world’s second-smallest bird), Antillean Palm-Swift, Red-legged Thrush, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, and Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo. We can also expect to see the bizarre Palmchat, in a family unto itself, which builds enormous communal nests in palm trees. With some luck we may happen upon West Indian Whistling-Duck, which can often be found along a small stream in the gardens. After lunch and some shopping for picnic supplies we’ll make the three-hour drive to Barahona on the southwestern coast. Night near Barahona.

Day 3: Today we make our first foray into the Sierra, with some birding stops around the mid-elevation agricultural town of Puerto Escondido.  We’ll leave early and take a picnic breakfast along a picturesque stream, often accompanied by our first Stolid Flycatchers or Greater Antillean Bullfinches.  As we drive up to the town we cross through a large band of dry scrubby forest, where we should see our first gaudy and charismatic Broad-billed Todies, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Palm Warbler, and with some luck Flat-billed Vireo.  Once in Puerto Escondido we’ll head for a quiet streamside trail through an excellent patch of humid forest.  Birds abound here, and we should see quite a few endemics and a nice array of migrants.  With patient searching we often locate Key West (and sometimes White-fronted) Quail-Doves walking on the forest floor upslope from the trail.  Least Grebes are regular breeders in the pools of the creek, and some of the truly rare birds, such as Bay-breasted Cukoo, occasionally put in an appearance here as well.  In the afternoon we’ll drive down to Lago Enriquillo. Lying more than 120 feet below sea level, this intensely saline lake is the remnant of a channel that once divided Hispaniola into two islands. Our primary goal is Hispaniolan Palm Crow, but we may also see an interesting assortment of migrant warblers, lizards, and Plain Pigeon in the very bizarre cactus forest. Night near Barahona.

Day 4: We’ll make a very early start over a rough mountain road to visit the northern slopes of Sierra de Bahoruco National Park. As we ascend we’ll make a few stops in the night looking and listening for Hispaniolan Nightjar, Least Pauraque and Northern Potoo.  Our main target just after dawn will be the very local LaSelle Thrush, which lives in a beautiful but restricted patch of cloud forest. Other highlights may include Hispaniolan Emerald, Hispaniolan Parrot, Hispaniolan Trogon, Narrow-billed Tody, Green-tailed Warbler, White-winged Warbler, Western Chat-Tanager, Hispaniolan Spindalis, and Greater Antillean Bullfinch. After birding the broadleafed forest we will head uphill into the pines to look for Hispaniolan Crossbill and the insular subspecies of Pine Warbler.  We’ll then gradually work our way back downhill into drier forest, with a stop along the Haitian border to see the devastation wrought by the potato subsistence farmers on the adjacent slopes (and to work on our burgeoning Haiti bird lists).  Often we stop a few times on the way back downhill, to stretch and investigate the many colourful flowers and butterflies along the trail. Night near Barahona.

Day 5: Today we’ll focus on the south side of the Sierra de Bahoruco. Our morning will begin with a more leisurely breakfast at our hotel before we drive south stopping in at Oviedo Lagoon, where we will make arrangements for a boat trip later in the day.  Here we might encounter American Flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, or a nice array of shorebirds and waders. Also here we hope to find Mangrove Cuckoos and “Golden” Yellow Warblers lurking in the mangroves. From the lagoon we’ll head further south to the shoreline at Cabo Rojo, where a small marsh often holds wading birds, and the local subspecies of Clapper Rail.  The bluffs around the cape provide nesting habitat for White-tailed Tropicbird, and we often encounter Cave Swallows and Caribbean Martins above the cape, or a Brown Booby offshore.  After Cabo Rojo we’ll head uphill on the paved Alcoa Road to access an extensive upland pine forest. This forest is reminiscent of the longleaf pine forests of the southeastern United States, but here we’ll look for Hispaniolan Crossbill, Golden Swallow (now a Hispaniolan endemic as the population in Jamaica has disappeared), and Antillean Siskin. On the return trip to our hotel we’ll take an hour long boat trip out into the lagoon for close views of their resident American Flamingos, and a selection of breeding waterbirds and wintering waterfowl.  Night near Barahona.

Day 6: Since most birders will visit the Dominican Republic only once, and since not all the endemics perform on command, today’s itinerary will be flexible, allowing us to return to one of the areas visited over the last few days to search for any missed species. After dinner we’ll check out some local areas for nightbirds, with the possibility of Least Pauraque, Ashy-faced Owl, “Northern” Potoo, and Chuck-will’s Widow. Night near Barahona.

Day 7: Today is largely a travel day, although we will offer a pre-breakfast trip nearby to look for Eastern Chat-Tanager.  We’ll then head east to Santo Domingo for a beachside lunch, continuing on to Sabana de la Mar, on the Bay of Samaná. We’ll have a good chance of encountering Ashy-faced Owl near our hotel in case we failed to locate it during our time in the Southwest. The hotel here is a real treat, with rushing streams all around the grounds, dried leaves impressed into the stucco walls, and wonderful patios.  Night near Sabana de la Mar. 

Day 8: For our last morning we plan to search for the critically-endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. This formerly widespread species is now extremely local and infrequently seen. By this time of year, adults are usually engaged in nest building, and we hope to have a nest site pinned down. Getting there will likely involve a relatively short but sometimes steep walk - well worth it for the chance of seeing this wonderful raptor at its nest! In the flowering trees we should also see Hispaniolan Oriole, and we often encounter Ruddy Quail-Doves in the forest understory.  If time and conditions allow, we may also take a boat trip out into the bay and around the many limestone islets, stopping to look for White-crowned Pigeons, Hispaniolan Parrots, nesting Magnificent Frigatebirds and various waterbirds. In the afternoon we’ll drive back to Santo Domingo. Night in Santo Domingo.

Day 9: The tour ends this morning in Santo Domingo.

Updated: 17 November 2020