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A Report from

Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico,

Jan Vermeulen



-            Introduction  
-            Flight and Visa
-            Money
-            Accommodation
-            Food and Drink
-            Entrance Fees National Parks
-            Safety
-            Health
-            Language
-            Weather
-            Roads and Transport
-            Military and Police Checkpoints
-            Equipment
-            Maps and Sketch Maps
-            Common Birdspecies
-            Acknowledgements
-            Useful Addresses
-            References



-            Santo Domingo Botanical Garden
-            Barahona
-            Laguna de Rincon
-            Lago Enriquillo
-            Sierra de Baoruco National Park
-            Fajardo
-            Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque)
-            Hacienda Juanita
-            Maricao National Resource Area
-            Guánica Forest Reserve
-            La Parguera
-            Laguna Cartagena



-            Systematic list of birds



This report covers a visit to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico from 1st June to 13th June 1998. I was accompanied by Vital & Riet van Gorp and my girlfriend Willemien van Ginneken.

Having neglected the West Indies despite the availability of such inexpensive holidays a long time, Vital and I decided, after five trips to Africa, to travel to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The aim of our trip to the West Indies was to get an introduction to the Caribbean birdlife and to see a good variety of the single island endemics.

39 species of birds occur nowhere else but on the Caribbean isles of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, the most easily travelled of the Greater Antilles.

The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, second largest of the Greater Antilles.

Dominated by the highest mountains in the Caribbean and ringed by a startling beautiful coastline, the Dominican Republic is home to 25 endemic bird species including an endemic family, the Palmchat.

The highest diversity of habitats is concentrated within the south‑west. All 25 endemics can be found in the south‑western part. Santo Domingo, therefore, is the most appropriate entry site for a visit to south‑western Dominican Republic (we didn't).

An hour's flight to the east lies Puerto Rico, easternmost and smallest of the Greater Antilles. Once a Spanish colony, Puerto Rico is now a US territory and a popular vacation destination.

With an excellent highway system giving easy access to its forest reserves, including the only tropical forest in the US National Forest system, Puerto Rico offers some of the easiest tropical birdwatching anywhere.

14 endemic species (16 according to Herbert Raffaele et al in "Birds of the West Indies") inhabit a diverse array of habitats. Our trip covered as wide a variety of habitats as was possible in a 13 days period.

We felt that the time available for the trip was more than enough and Vital and I would certainly have visited Jamaica when the two of us had been alone on this trip. Birding on both islands was very easy, most of the endemics are widespread in good numbers, the more difficult ones are staked out in several reports available.


We travelled to Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic) via Amsterdam. Our return-ticket (Martinair) for the air journey cost us about ¦ 1400,--. The flights were almost punctual and troublefree. The internal flight in the West Indies (American Airlines) from Puerto Plata to San Juan cost about $100,--. When you're leaving the Dominican Republic, you have to pay departure tax ($10,--).

There appeared to be no VISA requirements for Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic for Belgian and Dutch residents, though this may change.


The Dominican Republic currency is the peso. The peso fluctuated between 6.25 - 6.38 to the Guilder at the time.

Puerto Rico is US territory and the currency is of course the American dollar.

All major credit cards and traveller cheques are accepted at banks and in the larger hotels.


All sites have convenient hotel facilities fairly close by. Normally Vital and I would have stayed in cheaper hotels, but the wives were accompanying us, so we stayed at some VERY luxurious hotels.

Some prices:

Dominican Republic:

Casa Redonda, Sosua                                                  $25 for a double room
Dominican Fiesta Hotel, Santo Domingo                       $90 for a double room
Riviera Beach Hotel, Barahona                                     $170 for a double room (incl. meals and drinks)
Hotel Cervantes, Santo Domingo                                  $56 for a double room

Puerto Rico:

Fajardo Inn, Fajardo                                                     $95 for a double room
Hacienda Juanita, Maricao                                            $90 for a double room
Copamarina Beach Resort, Guánica                              $135 for a double room


In the Dominican Republic reasonable meals were available almost everywhere. Drinks can also be found anywhere.

In Puerto Rico life is very much American and 'fast food' restaurants can be found everywhere.


We only had to pay at the entrance of the Sierra de Baoruco NP at Puerto Escondido (the first day) and the fee was 10 pesos per person.


People in rural areas seemed quite helpful, but Santo Domingo, like every big city in the world, has a tougher reputation. Unless you like nightlife, it is best to get out of the capital as soon as you can. Lock your car at all times, never leave valuables in open sight.

Mugging is potentially a problem, but we encountered no hostility. In fact in over 50 countries Vital and I have visited, we have never experienced any kind of security problem.


Check with your physician for the latest news on the need for malaria prophylaxis and recommended vaccinations before leaving home. Probably the main health concern in the Dominican Republic is malaria. Be sure to get enough malaria tablets for your trip, and do take them! Take the nivaquine/chloroquine combination. On Puerto Rico there are no problems.

Finally, beware of the sun. Hats and long‑sleeved shirts are essential kit.


Birders in the Dominican Republic clearly need a good travel Spanish vocabulary to get along and some resilience to deal with logistics problems in rural areas. If you aren't thus prepared, it is maybe better to go with a tour group.

In Puerto Rico Spanish is also the main language, but most people do speak English.


For birdwatchers April and May might be the best months to find the endemic species, and of course most migrants from North America have left by May.

During the time we spent in the West Indies it was mostly dry and warm with the exception of the day at El Yunque in Puerto Rico, where we had a few heavy showers.


Both countries are very easy to travel round, the only VERY rough road being to Zapotan (Sierra de Baoruco) in the Dominican Republic. The 'road' from Puerto Escondido to El Aguacate (Zapotan) is diabolical and with a standard saloon car you will never make it. We tried, but we had to come back the next day with a high clearance 4WD vehicle.

In the Dominican Republic we hired a minibus and also a 4WD vehicle with driver at Barahona for $100 a day.

Barahona, R.D.
Telephone        524-3003

The driver's name was Bolivar Ramírez, a very capable and trustworthy man (telephone 223-8403).

In Puerto Rico we hired a Toyota Tercel from Avis and had to pay $298 for the whole period (6 days).


In the south‑west of the Dominican Republic near the border with Haiti are many police and military checkpoints, manned by armed policemen and soldiers.

Police roadblocks are occasionally the site of shakedowns, but probably not a problem for tourists. A basic knowledge of Spanish is helpful when communicating with the army at the checkpoints. Stay calm and keep smiling.


Considerable work with the tape recorder may be necessary in order to get grips with a few tricky species in the Dominican Republic. Available are "Bird Songs in the Dominican Republic" by George B. Reynard (Cornell, 1981), and several ARA tapes for Puerto Rico species. Without the tapes we would not have seen Bay‑breasted Cuckoo, Ashy‑faced Owl, Puerto Rican Screech-Owl, Northern Potoo, Antillean Piculet, Flat‑billed Vireo and La Selle Thrush.

Even with the tape we did not see the Chat Tanager, although the birds responded and did come very close.

A good torch is a must. A telescope is useful at coastal sites and lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides.


A road map for the Dominican Republic is essential. A good map is the B & B Road Map. In Puerto Rico you can find road maps anywhere. Nearly all sketch maps in this trip report are orientated so that north is at the top. Although I have tried to make all the maps as accurate as possible, please allow for the vagaries of memory. The sketch maps are NOT to scale!


The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:

Cattle Egret, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Common Ground‑Dove, Antillean Palm-Swift, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Gray Kingbird, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Palmchat, Northern Mockingbird, Pearly‑eyed Thrasher, Bananaquit, Greater Antillean Grackle.


Many thanks to Mark van Beirs for his great help and valuable advice in planning this trip. Also many thanks to Vital's wife Riet and my girlfriend Willemien for accompanying us during almost all our day trips. They are birders too now.


Julio E. Féliz (birdguide)
Calle B# 3
Baitoita Barahona
Dominican Republic
Telephone: 5244111

Julio is available to lead birders in the Barahona area in the Dominican Republic. He taught himself the local bird calls, speaks English and has preferred stakeout areas. He knows the endemic birds well, but don't believe everything he says.

For instance he was wrong with the identification of Plain Pigeon and the Shorebirds are all Plovers according to him.

Very colourful is his story about the new species of Dipper he has seen near El Aguacate. It is hard to imagine enough water to support a Dipper species seen there. I don't believe one word about it.



-              James Bond. Birds of the West Indies.

-              James F. Clements. Birds of the World. A Check List.

-              Herbert A. Raffaele. A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.


-              Roland H. Wauer. A Birder's West Indies.


-              Craig A. Faanes. Puerto Rico November 26 to December 1, 1986.

-              Hugh Currie & Bob Yukich. Dominican Republic Birding, January 8-15, 1988.

-              Jon Hornbuckle. Birding in Puerto Rico, autumn 1988.

-              Mr.& Mrs. P.W. Smith. Birds seen in Puerto Rico, 27-30 January 1989.

-              Jon Hornbuckle. Birding in the Dominican Republic - May 1990.

-              Craig A. Faanes. Field Notes from the Dominican Republic September 25-27, 1990.

-              Gerald Broddelez. Birding in Dominican Republic - Puerto Rico & Jamaica, 13/11 - 18/11/1990.

-              Peter Boesman. Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, 24-3-91 to 31-3-91.

-              Mark Oberle and Giff Beaton. Trip Summary: Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, May 1-6, 1995.

-              Mark Oberle and Giff Beaton. Trip Report: Puerto Rico, November 10-11 & December 9-10, 1995.

-              Barry Wright/Alan Lewis. Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, 16 - 31 March 1997.



June 1            Chaam * Amsterdam (Martinair) * Puerto Plata
June 2            Puerto Plata * Santo Domingo - Botanical Garden
June 3            Santo Domingo * Barahona - Laguna de Rincon
June 4            Barahona - Sierra de Baoruco National Park (Puerto Escondido) * Lago Enriquillo
June 5            Barahona - Sierra de Baoruco National Park (El Aguacate & Zapotan)
June 6            Barahona - Sierra de Baoruco National Park (Pedernales) - Laguna Oviedo
June 7            Barahona - Laguna de Rincon * Santo Domingo


June 8            Santo Domingo * Puerto Plata * San Juan (American Airlines) * Fajardo
June 9            Playa de Fajardo * Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque) * Maricao - Hacienda Juanita
June 10          Maricao - Hacienda Juanita - Maricao National Resource Area
June 11          Maricao - Hacienda Juanita - Maricao National Resource Area * Guánica - Guánica Forest Reserve
June 12          Guánica - Guánica Forest Reserve * La Parguera * Guánica
June 13/14    Guánica * Laguna Cartagena * San Juan (Martinair) * Amsterdam * Chaam


For a detailed report of species and numbers please refer to the systematic list at the end of this report.



Accommodation: The city of Santo Domingo has many hotels, so finding accommodation there is never a problem.

Santo Domingo has an extensive and beautiful maintained botanical garden, centred on a densely forested canyon. It is a good place to visit, when you have a free afternoon after arriving etc. A walk here provides a good introduction to the island's more widespread birds.

Birds seen during our trip:

Green Heron, Turkey Vulture, American Kestrel, Mourning Dove, Zenaida Dove, White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Canary‑winged Parakeet, Hispaniolan Parrot, Antillean Palm-Swift, Antillean Mango, Vervain Hummingbird, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Gray Kingbird, Palmchat, Red‑legged Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Bananaquit, Black‑crowned Palm‑Tanager.

Other possibilities: Broad‑billed Tody, Hispaniolan Lizard‑Cuckoo.


Accommodation: a hotel in Barahona. The only town with adequate accommodations within the entire south‑west is Barahona. Located on the Bahía de Neiba, Barahona provides access to the coastal beaches and lush foothills, as well as the arid Enriquillo Valley and adjacent mountains.

Barahona is a beach resort, but also a good site for Ruddy & Key West Quail‑Dove, Ashy‑faced Owl and Northern Potoo. The site for these birds is as described on the map.


Accommodation: a hotel in Barahona.

This reserve is situated en route from Barahona - Duvergé. There is an information centre here and a guide can take you out to the lake where there are lots of waterbirds. We did not visit the centre.

Birds seen during our trip:

White‑cheeked Pintail, Greater Flamingo, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, American Kestrel, Common Moorhen, American & Caribbean Coot, Ruddy Turnstone, Black‑necked Stilt, Wilson's Plover, Killdeer, Snowy Plover, Laughing Gull, Mourning Dove, Zenaida Dove, Common Ground‑Dove, Smooth‑billed Ani, Gray Kingbird, Northern Mockingbird, Greater Antillean Grackle.


Accommodation: a hotel in Barahona.

Lago Enriquillo is very close to Duvergé and accessed along the main road out of Duvergé.

Lying more than 40 metres below sea level, this intensely saline lake is the remnant of a channel that once divided Hispaniola into two islands. When we were at the lake it was blisteringly hot! The lake is an important site for the two endemic crow species on Hispaniola, Palm Crow and White‑necked Crow.

Palm Crows are fairly common around the lake, which is found by heading on an appropriate track off to the right and can be found in the palms. Palm Crows are common on the roadside early morning if you are the first vehicle on the road that morning. White‑necked Crows can be found, 8,2 kms from the plaza at Duvergé, in an area of tall palms, the only suitable piece of habitat along this road, as elsewhere the vegetation is very low and mostly arid scrub.

There are other good areas for the White‑necked Crow near the lake, just ask Julio Féliz. The only other birds along the lake are a few shorebirds and herons, but nothing that is critical to see in the Dominican Republic.

Birds seen during our trip:

Tricolored Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Common Moorhen, Black‑necked Stilt, Killdeer, Laughing Gull, Hispaniolan Lizard‑Cuckoo, Burrowing Owl, Palm Crow, White‑necked Crow, Village Weaver.

Other possibilities: Greater Flamingo, Stygian Owl, Least Poorwill.


Accommodation: a hotel in Barahona.

THE ESSENTIAL SITE to visit in the Dominican Republic, to find nearly all the endemics!

Sierra de Baoruco National Park is situated approximately 60 kilometres west of Barahona.

1) Sierra de Baoruco near El Aguacate & Zapotan

To get to the reserve you turn south in Duvergé at the first street west of the tiny telecommunications office (a few blocks west of the Shell service station). The road climbs along a stream and gets particularly steep beyond a hydroelectric plant. The road is unmettaled and fairly good till you reach the village of Puerto Escondido (8 km).

At the entrance of the national park you have to pay an entrance fee.

The dry scrub in the foothills before you reach Puerto Escondido and after you leave this village (8 km) are worthwhile an investigation, because it is here where Antillean Nighthawk, Hispaniolan Trogon (also higher), Broad‑billed Tody, Antillean Piculet, Stolid Flycatcher, Flat‑billed Vireo and Green‑tailed Ground‑Warbler (also higher) can be found.

6 - 7 kilometres further you climb out of the rain‑shadow valley into the wetter forest of the foothills. The rocky road here becomes horrendous and was at the time we were there, impossible to drive on with a salooncar. The next day we barely made it with a 4WD-vehicle.

A few kilometres before the military checkpoint at El Aguacate near the Haitian border the road was good again.

Beyond the thorn forest is El Aguacate, situated at the head of a long canyon, that near the top, is crowded with deciduous forest vegetation. El Aguacate is an army camp and the Haitian border is nearby. The camp serves as a control point for emigration into Dominican Republic.

The pine forest a few kilometres (4.5km) after El Aguacate at Zapotan is the best place for finding three of the least known and most sought‑after Hispaniolan birds: La Selle Thrush, White‑winged Warbler and Chat Tanager.

The key landmark is a flat grassy campsite on the right just before the rusty remains of an old bulldozer (?), the only means of ascertaining your arrival at the key site.

2) Sierra de Baoruco near Pedernales

This area can be visited by following the route south of Barahona along the coast till you reach Laguna Oviedo.

Beyond Oviedo the roadway gradually begins to climb into the mountains till you reach the end of the tarmac road. From there it is a few kilometres on a gravel road to the entrance of the park. We did not visit the reserve, but explored the last twenty kilometres before you reach the park.

The key landmark here is a small pond (Golden Swallow!) north of the road and an excellent place to camp, as a group of English birders did while we were there (see map). Most of the endemic birds can be seen here, but La Selle Thrush and Rufous‑throated Solitaire are absent here.

It is here that we did see our only Ridgway's Hawk of the trip. En route we did see quite a few Hispaniolan Parakeets. In the lower Sierra de Baoruco we saw our only Least Poorwill of the trip.

Birds seen during our trip:

Ridgway's Hawk, Red‑tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Northern Bobwhite, White‑crowned Pigeon, Scaly‑naped Pigeon, Plain Pigeon, White‑winged Dove, Common Ground‑Dove, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Hispaniolan Parrot, Yellow‑billed Cuckoo, Mangrove Cuckoo, Bay‑breasted Cuckoo, Hispaniolan Lizard‑Cuckoo, Burrowing Owl, Antillean Nighthawk, Least Poorwill, White‑collared Swift, Antillean Palm‑Swift, Antillean Mango, Hispaniolan Emerald, Vervain Hummingbird, Hispaniolan Trogon, Narrow‑billed Tody, Broad‑billed Tody, Antillean Piculet, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Hispaniolan Pewee, Stolid Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, Loggerhead Kingbird, White‑necked Crow, Flat‑billed Vireo, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Palmchat, Rufous‑throated Solitaire, Red‑legged Thrush, La Selle Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Golden Swallow, Caribbean Martin, Antillean Siskin, White‑winged Crossbill, Pine Warbler, Green‑tailed Ground‑Warbler, White‑winged Warbler, Bananaquit, Black‑crowned Palm‑Tanager, Chat Tanager, Stripe‑headed Tanager, Antillean Euphonia, Yellow‑faced Grassquit, Black‑faced Grassquit, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Black‑cowled Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle.



Accommodation: a hotel in Fajardo

The only reason for visiting Fajardo is to find two species of hummingbirds, that only can be found in the eastern part of Puerto Rico. Check the flowering trees along the beach and you will find Green‑throated Carib and Antillean Crested Hummingbird. We did find the birds in the vicinity of the Fajardo Inn.

Birds seen during our brief visit:

Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Red‑tailed Hawk, Semipalmated Plover, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, White‑winged Dove, Common Ground‑Dove, Orange‑fronted Parakeet, Antillean Mango, Green‑throated Carib, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Gray Kingbird, Red‑legged Thrush, Scaly‑breasted Munia, Bananaquit, Yellow‑faced & Black‑faced Grassquit, Greater Antillean Grackle.


Accommodation: a hotel in Luquillo or Fajardo

Situated east of San Juan and south of Highway 3, look for the sign "El Yunque" a few kilometres west of Luquillo and follow Highway 191 till you reach the gate located at km 8.3 near La Coca Falls.

Highway 191 passes through four distinct habitat types (lower montane rain forest, upper montane rain forest, palm forest, and elfin woodland), each providing its own special variety of flora and fauna and generally divided by altitude and exposure.

11 of Puerto Rico's 14 endemic birds are found here, including Puerto Rican Parrot, Puerto Rican Lizard‑Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Screech‑Owl (at the gate), Puerto Rican Tody and Elfin Woods Warbler.

The El Toro Trail, which starts at km 13.3, provides access to the upper ridges en route to El Toro Peak, and is the best place to find Elfin Woods Warbler.

With only about 40 Puerto Rican Parrots left in the wild, your chances of an encounter are not very good, however you may be lucky, as I was!

Birds seen during our trip:

Broad‑winged Hawk, Scaly‑naped Pigeon, Puerto Rican Parrot, Green Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Pearly‑eyed Thrasher.


Accommodation: La Hacienda Juanita. Maricao's Hacienda Juanita is situated along Highway 105 at km 23.5 only 1km from Maricao. La Hacienda Juanita provides comfortable accommodations, good food, and accessible wildlife. It is an excellent place to stay in the western mountains and Puerto Rican Screech‑Owl is one of the many yard birds of the hotel.

Birds seen in the 'yard':

Scaly‑naped Pigeon, Common Ground-Dove, White‑winged Dove, Puerto Rican Lizard‑Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Screech‑Owl, Green Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, Loggerhead Kingbird, Puerto Rican Vireo, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Northern Mockingbird, Scaly‑breasted Munia, Red‑legged Thrush, Bananaquit, Puerto Rican Tanager, Stripe‑headed Tanager, Antillean Euphonia, Black‑faced Grassquit, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Black‑cowled Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle, Shiny Cowbird.

Other possibilities: Ruddy Quail‑Dove, Elfin Woods Warbler and of course in other months the North American migrants.


Accommodation: La Hacienda Juanita

The entrance of the reserve is at km 16.2 along Highway 120. This scenic highway can be extremely slow driving because of the abundant turns and grades and passes through the 'real' Puerto Rico, where the rural lifestyle and landscapes have not kept pace with Puerto Rico's urban development. The sketch map shows a readily accessible spot.

The rain forest habitat at this site provides an easily accessible place for finding several of the same bird species that occur in the Luquillo Mountains. Most important, the Elfin Woods Warbler (we failed miserably) is far easier to find here than it is in the elfin woodlands of the Luquillo Mountains.

Birds seen during our trip:

White‑winged Dove, Puerto Rican Lizard‑Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Screech‑Owl, Green Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, Loggerhead Kingbird, Puerto Rican Vireo, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Northern Mockingbird, Scaly‑breasted Munia, Red‑legged Thrush, Bananaquit, Puerto Rican Tanager, Stripe‑headed Tanager, Antillean Euphonia, Black‑faced Grassquit, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Black‑cowled Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle, Shiny Cowbird.

Other possibilities: Elfin Woods Warbler.


Accommodation: Copamarina Beach Resort at Guánica (Highway 333) or Hotel Villa Parador de La Parguera at La Parguera.

South‑western Puerto Rico is much drier than the eastern portion of the island. The best place to experience the more arid habitats is to visit the bird-rich thorn scrub of the Guánica Forest Reserve. Access into the Guánica Preserve is limited to two dead-end driving routes.

The northern access route (Highway 334) to the Headquarters of the park transects the semi-evergreen and upland deciduous forests. Here is a barrier on 334 which is shut from 17.00 p.m. to 8.30 a.m. at the edge of the reserve. However the road between the barrier is well worth walking at dusk and dawn for Puerto Rican Nightjar (very easy to see here, although we did see one at the other access and did not bother to make a walk here). The best birding area are the trails around the HQ. A network of trails radiates from here, that can be taken as loop routes.

The other access, the lowland route (Highway 333), follows the coastline beyond the town of Guánica, providing access to the scrub forest. The bush around the lagoon, which is situated 200 metres beyond the end of Highway 333 is worthwhile a check. The trail at the end of the tarmac of Highway 333 into the scrub forest of the reserve is very good. Here we had good views of Puerto Rican Nightjar.

The bird diversity and populations at Guánica are more than three times greater than in the Luquillo Forest (El Yunque). Twenty-two Guánica Forest birds do not occur at El Yunque, while only six El Yunque birds are not found at Guánica!

Birds seen during our trip:

White-cheeked Pintail (lagoon), Black‑necked Stilt (lagoon), Wilson's Plover (lagoon), Turkey Vulture, Red‑tailed Hawk, Zenaida Dove, White‑winged Dove, Common Ground‑Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Lizard‑Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Nightjar, Antillean Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Caribbean Elaenia, Lesser Antillean Pewee, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Northern Mockingbird, Pearly‑eyed Thrasher, Caribbean Martin (lagoon), Cave Swallow (lagoon), Adelaide's Warbler, Bananaquit, Puerto Rican Bullfinch, Troupial, Greater Antillean Grackle.

Other possibilities: Bridled Quail‑Dove.


Accommodation: Copamarina Beach Resort at Guánica (Highway 333) or Hotel Villa Parador de La Parguera at La Parguera.

Not far from Guánica is a place where one can watch endangered Yellow‑shouldered Blackbirds as they return to their roosting sites in the coastal mangroves. In the palms and mangroves behind the Hotel Villa Parador de La Parguera is a roost of Yellow‑shouldered Blackbirds, of which only about 500 or so remain in the world.

The decline of these birds has largely contributed to increased populations of Shiny Cowbirds, which parasitize blackbird nests, although we did not see any cowbirds at La Parguera.


Accommodation: Copamarina Beach Resort at Guánica (Highway 333) or Hotel Villa Parador de La Parguera at La Parguera.

Cartagena Lagoon is located in a rather remote portion of Puerto's Rico's south‑west coast near the town of Lajas. We entered the reserve via Route 306 a rough road, but we made it easily. Laguna Cartagena is the finest freshwater swamp in Puerto Rico, but at the time of our visit there was hardly any water in the swamp and almost impossible to see. Normally it is the best locality in Puerto Rico for observing waterbirds.

Birds that can be seen here:

West Indian Whistling-Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Great Egret, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, Yellow‑breasted Crake, Black-necked Stilt, Yellow‑billed Cuckoo, Short‑eared Owl, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Black‑faced Grassquit, Greater Antillean Grackle.


Monday, June 1

The trip started with a Martinair flight from Amsterdam to the Dominican Republic. The flight touched down at Puerto Plata at 19.00 p.m. local time (6 hours time difference with The Netherlands). Following the punctual arrival of Martinair, a minibus transferred us to Hotel Casa Redonda in Sosua and to a long bug‑infested night that ranks as one of my worst experiences ever.

Tuesday, June 2

The following morning we noted our first lifers in the hotel garden, the ubiquitous endemic Palmchat and the beautiful Red‑legged Thrush. Hereafter we hired a taxi and travelled to Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. We made a few stops on the way to look at some small flocks of Cave Swallows, a species Vital and I had missed on our Texas trip, so many years ago (1987). Other birds we encountered along the way were Turkey Vulture, Hispaniolan Woodpecker and Greater Antillean Grackle.

We booked a room in the Dominican Fiesta Hotel and after a leisurely lunch we drove out to the Botanic Gardens on the outskirts of the town.

A stroll in the beautiful maintained garden provided us with some of the island's more widespread birds such as Zenaida Dove, Hispaniolan Parrot, Antillean Palm‑Swift, Antillean Mango, Vervain Hummingbird, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Red‑legged Thrush, Bananaquit and Black‑crowned Palm‑Tanager.

Wednesday, June 3

The next day we were up early and set off for the long drive to Barahona on the south‑western coast. The highway west of Santo Domingo passed through a countryside that changed fairly rapidly from agricultural to a lush thorn forest and by Azua the landscape had become true desert. We made a few stops, but did not see anything interesting.

At midday we arrived at Barahona and booked a room in the luxurious Riviera Beach Hotel. Once settled into our hotel and fully rested, we could sit at the bar and enjoy Antillean Palm‑Swifts whistling past at eye level. Then we made a phonecall to Bolivar Ramírez and hired a minibus with Bolivar as driver.

Hereafter we picked up Julio Féliz and made a trip to Laguna de Rincon. It was blisteringly hot when Vital and I made a stroll to the edge of the lake. Thousands of Coots were present on the lake, but they were too far away to identify. At a nearby pool we could identify a few Caribbean Coots, a bird Vital and I had dipped a few years ago at "Embalse Las Clavellinas" in north-eastern Venezuela. For some reason I will never forget a bird I dip on my birdtrips. Amongst the other birds we saw were White‑cheeked Pintail, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Killdeer, Snowy Plover, Smooth‑billed Ani and Greater Antillean Grackle.

Thursday, June 4

At 5.00 a.m. we headed westwards to Duvergé, the small town where we took the side road into de Sierra de Baoruco. On the first plateau we made a stop and added Burrowing Owl, Antillean Nighthawk, Broad‑billed Tody and Stolid Flycatcher to our fast growing birdlist. In the few kilometres before arriving at the farming village of Puerto Escondido we taped out Antillean Piculet and Flat‑billed Vireo and had good views of Greater Antillean Bullfinch.

At Puerto Escondido we paid the entrance fee of the national park. Just beyond the village in the vicinity of the rows of tall palms that line the irrigation ditches at Puerto Escondido we had our first views of White‑necked Crow, Black‑cowled Oriole and Caribbean Martin. We spent a few hours exploring the thorn forest before arriving at the lower canyon. Other speciality birds found in the arid scrub that day included Plain Pigeon, Hispaniolan Parrot, Mangrove & Yellow‑billed Cuckoo, Hispaniolan Trogon, Hispaniolan Pewee, Black‑whiskered Vireo, Green‑tailed Ground-Warbler and Antillean Euphonia.

After entering the wet forest, unfortunately, it soon became apparent that our minibus was not suitable for the very rough mountain 'road' to El Aguacate and we had to settle for some gentle birding along Lago Enriquillo, but first we needed a couple of "El Presidente" beers at Duvergé.

We made a complete circle along the lake and visited the town of Jimaní at the westernmost end of the lake at the border with Haiti, one of the hottest places on earth. Despite the heat we did find several birds of interest near the lake amongst them Hispaniolan Lizard‑Cuckoo, Palm Crow and White‑necked Crow.

Eventually a refreshing dive into the swimming pool at the hotel did cool us off.

Friday, June 5

At the unearthly hour of 3.30 the hotel clerk called and woke us up and at 4.00 a.m. we were at the stake-out for the Ashy‑faced Owl, just south of Barahona. Two owls immediately responded to the tape, but it took quite a while before we had views of this close relative of the Barn Owl. Hereafter we headed with our 4WD vehicle to the Sierra de Baoruco.

In the hamlet of Puerto Escondido the road continues straight and then takes a right at a military check station, where we made a stop and then drove on to the wet forest. At the start of the climb we taped in our only Bay‑breasted Cuckoo of the trip. We continued on to El Aguacate with just a few brief stops. At El Aguacate the soldiers chatted briefly with us and only a short distance above the village we had good views of Antillean Siskin.

We continued up the roadway and found ourselves in the pine forest.

Some 5 km beyond the village we found the old rusty bulldozer. The next hours we spent in this area and amongst the first things we heard were the flutelike songs of Rufous‑throated Solitaries. Within minutes we saw Narrow‑billed Tody, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Hispaniolan Pewee and White‑winged Warbler.

High overhead were Golden Swallows and it wasn't until we were well past El Aguacate by about 6 km that we heard our first La Selle Thrush. We used the tape and a La Selle Thrush suddenly flew across the roadway from one clump of dense vegetation to another.

Another Hispaniolan speciality found here was the Chat Tanager. Even with the tape we did not manage to see this shy and elusive bird, although one bird responded well and did come very close.

The way back to Duvergé was a nightmare. Descending from El Aguacate suddenly our car had no brakes anymore and  it took us more than three hours before we eventually reached Puerto Escondido. Bolivar stopped at the village and 'repaired' the brakes. At 20.00 hours we were back at Barahona.

Saturday, June 6

At 5.00 a.m. we again were at the Ashy‑faced Owl stake‑out and now we used the tape for the Northern Potoo. It did not take not long before two Northern Potoos were sitting in a tree just above our heads.

Further exploration of the forest a few kilometres more south revealed the very obliging Ruddy Quail‑Dove, Key West Quail‑Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo and Hispaniolan Cuckoo‑Dove.

Next it was off to the south‑west to Sierra de Baoruco NP near Pedernales. The long drive along the coast was boring, but eventually we reached the Sierra de Baoruco. En route to the upper Sierra we made many stops and we flushed a Least Poorwill from an open area next to the road. We played the Chat Tanager tape at several places, but unfortunately did have only a tantalising brief glimpse of the bird. En route Willemien discovered the nest (2 very small white eggs) of the Hispaniolan Emerald.

Not far from a small pond (see map) we had our only views of a soaring Ridgway's Hawk, a rare bird in the Dominican Republic nowadays.

We then proceeded to the pond and met a group of 8 English birders camping there. We birded the area around the pond until mid‑afternoon and got excellent views of Antillean Nighthawk, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Vervain Hummingbird, Hispaniolan Pewee, Loggerhead Kingbird, Red‑legged Thrush, Golden Swallow, Caribbean Martin, Antillean Siskin and White‑winged Crossbill.

A few kilometres further we drove to the entrance of the park, but except for a few singing Pine Warblers and two White‑winged Warbler we did not see much. In the late afternoon we headed back to Barahona and made a stop at Laguna Oviedo, and amongst the birds we noted here were Willet and Wilson's Plover.

Sunday, June 7

Next morning found us at Laguna de Rincon again. We spent a few hours in that area, but we did not add any new species to our birdlist. At noon we headed to Santo Domingo and in the mid-afternoon we arrived at the capital. After settling into the rooms of the Cervantes Hotel the rest of the day was spent shopping and sightseeing.

Monday, June 8

We left Santo Domingo at 9.00 a.m. for Puerto Plata and at 14.00 p.m. a short flight with American Airlines took us to San Juan in Puerto Rico. We spent more than one hour at the airport to clear customs.

We rented a car at the Avis office and from the airport we drove straight to Fajardo. We checked into the Fajardo Inn and while the women were waiting in the car they had great views of a Green‑throated Carib, a lifer for Vital and me of course. Would a nightmare become true and would Willemien and Riet see lifers we would miss?

Tuesday, June 9

After a comfortable night at the Inn we had a pre‑breakfast stroll along the beach and in the vicinity of the Fajardo Inn, checking the flowering trees for our two target hummingbirds. Eventually we found both species, Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green‑throated Carib (!). Other noteworthy observations were Brown Booby, Semipalmated Plover, Green Mango and Orange‑fronted Parakeet.

Following a breakfast at Burger King we drove in very bad weather to nearby El Yunque and began our search for the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot. En route to the top we made a few stops and amongst the birds we encountered were Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Tody and Pearly‑eyed Thrasher.

At the end of the road Vital and I made a stroll when we heard a few squawking parrots, not realising that there was a captive breeding facility in the park. I quickly walked around the curve in the road and was very lucky. Behind the cages of the captive breeding program was a wild Puerto Rican Parrot sitting in the top of a tree! I called Vital, but then of course the parrot immediately flew away...

Unfortunately the rest of the day at the Luquillo mountains was marred with rain, offering a complete soaking in a very short space of time. We did wait quite a while, but at 15.00 hours we drove to the Maricao highlands on the western side of the island. It took us more than 4 hours before we arrived at Hacienda Juanita at Maricao, due to a big traffic jam in the suburbs of the metropolis San Juan. Luckily while driving westwards we had left the troublesome weather behind us.

We checked into the hotel and when it was dark we tried to find the Puerto Rican Screech‑Owl in the garden of the hotel. When I played the tape briefly, eventually we could see the silhouetted bird fly over the road to another tree, but never saw it in the flashlight.

Wednesday, June 10

Our pre-breakfast birding at Hacienda Juanita added some nice quality sightings, such as Puerto Rican Lizard‑Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Tanager and Puerto Rican Bullfinch, all endemics of course.

After breakfast we drove to the nearby Maricao National Resource Area at km 16.2 of route 120. The rest of the day we spent at this rain forest habitat near the antennae. Amongst the birds we saw were most of the birds we had already seen at the hacienda but also Green Mango, Loggerhead Kingbird, Puerto Rican Vireo and (Puerto Rican) Stripe‑headed Tanager, but not our target bird, the Elfin Woods Warbler, the last bird species being discovered in all the West Indies (1971). Disappointed we returned to La Hacienda Juanita.

At dark we heard the Puerto Rican Screech-Owl calling near our rooms, but could not lure it in with the tape.

Thursday, June 11

The break of dawn found us standing at the overlook at Maricao State Forest. Vital and I spent most of the morning here in an effort to find our target bird, but to no avail. It seems that we are getting old, because we failed miserably. Not having achieved our objectives at Maricao we set off for Guánica. During our drive to Guánica Willemien complained that I was very moody, but I can't imagine why.

We arrived at 13.00 o'clock at the Copamarina Beach Resort and booked two double‑rooms.

Then we drove to the headquarters of the Guánica State Forest and made a stroll on the trails in the HQ area. Zenaida Dove and White‑winged Dove were very common here and one of the first birds we noted was Adelaide's Warbler.

At 17.00 hours we had to leave the forest and drove back to highway 333, followed the shore and parked our car at a large parking area at the end of the road. We then walked on the trail into the dry forests of Guánica. Amongst the birds we noted in this prickly pear, cholla and pipe‑organ area were Green & Antillean Mango, Puerto Rican Emerald, Caribbean Elaenia, Adelaide's Warbler and Troupial. On our way back to the coast we had excellent views of an early Puerto Rican Nightjar and saw thousands of very small bats leaving their caves.

Friday, June 12

In the early morning we visited the small lagoon at the end of highway 333. Amongst the birds seen here were White‑cheeked Pintail, Wilson's Plover and Cave Swallow.

Hereafter we spent a few hours at Guánica State Forest on the trails near the HQ. A Puerto Rican Tody, seemingly indifferent to our presence, posed for my camera. Amongst the other birds we encountered were Mangrove Cuckoo, Caribbean Elaenia, Lesser Antillean Pewee, Puerto Rican Vireo, Adelaide's Warbler and Troupial.

During the hot hours of the day we stayed along the swimming pool and the ubiquitous Pearly‑eyed Thrasher was all over the place, it was even drinking from my coke.

Then it was time for our last target bird. Vital and I headed to La Parguera leaving the women at the swimming pool.

Although Mark had told us that the Yellow‑shouldered Blackbird could be found at feeders near houses in the town itself, we eventually had to go to Hotel Villa Parador de La Parguera. In the palms behind the hotel we found our target bird, the Yellow‑shouldered Blackbird, our last endemic, of which only 500 or so remain in the world.

Saturday/Sunday, June 13/14

We began our last day in the field by driving to Laguna Cartagena. Our morning trip was very disappointing due to the fact that the Laguna was nearly dried‑up and almost impossible to see. We spent some time near the lake and most noteworthy of the birds we saw were Pied‑billed Grebe, Yellow‑billed Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Lizard‑Cuckoo and Black‑faced Grassquit and a Mongoose. And then all too soon, the trip was over. We then headed back to Guánica and we had to leave Guánica to return to San Juan for our flight home.

As soon as we had cleared the customs we boarded the Martinair Boeing and were on our way back to Europe.

The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico has meant being knee‑deep in endemic birds (38 species). The final total for the two weeks trip was 127 species of birds. I finished the trip with 68 lifers. The one big miss on our June trip to both Islands was Elfin Woods Warbler. Due to the fact that we failed miserably in finding this bird, a target bird on every new visitor's list, I don't consider this a very successful trip.

Chaam, 14 July 1998,                                                                                                                                                                                      

If you need any help (except with finding the Elfin Woods Warbler) or further information, contact me at the following address and I'll try and help if I can!

Jan Vermeulen
Bredaseweg 14
4861 AH Chaam
The Netherlands
Telephone:   (031) - 161 - 491327


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