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Dominican Republic:  Hispaniolan Specialties &
Endemic Caribbean Bird Families - Birding Tour

Tour Overview:

The Caribbean is full of endemic birds and unique bird families only found there, which is illustrated well on this tour. More than 30 bird species are only found on the island of Hispaniola and there are no less than five bird families endemic to the Caribbean (Todies, Spindalises, Hispaniolan Tanagers, Chat-Tanagers, and Palmchat). The latter three of these are only found on this Caribbean island. Among the specialties we will be seeking are Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Todies (Hispaniola is the only island with more than one tody species), Ashy-faced Owl, Least Pauraque, Hispaniolan Parrot, Palmchat, Golden Swallow, La Selle Thrush, Hispaniolan Crossbill, and the critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. Aside from the island endemics, we will also be on the lookout for more widespread Caribbean birds, like West Indian Whistling-Duck, Caribbean Martin, the handsome black-and-red Greater Antillean Bullfinch, and one of the world’s smallest birds, the tiny Vervain Hummingbird that is only marginally larger than Cuba’s Bee Hummingbird; (that holds the title of world’s smallest bird). We will also take a boat ride on a flamingo-studded lagoon, where Magnificent Frigatebirds will be nesting too, visit a nesting cliff for White-tailed Tropicbirds, and scour saltpans for a variety of wetland birds like Reddish Egrets and a host of wintering shorebirds. We will also be birding in dry deciduous forests, native pine forests, and high elevation cloud forests in order to track down the varied list of endemic birds. There is clearly a lot to love about the Dominican Republic away from their internationally famous beaches and the fascinating historical district of Santo Domingo.

Tour Details:


26 April - 4 May

Price: TBA

Length: 9 Days

Starting City: Santo Domingo

Ending City: Santo Domingo

Pace: Moderate to Intense

Physical Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Focus: Birding

Group size: 8 + 1 TB leader + 1 local leader

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Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Santo Domingo

After arrival in the capital of the Dominican Republic, you will be transferred to our lovely hotel in the colonial district of the city. For those who have more time and wish to arrive early, there is plenty to do and see in this area (in terms of historical sites), and so we are happy to book you any extra nights you need before the tour. A single night will be spent in Santo Domingo.


Day 2: National Botanical Gardens to Cano Hondo

In the morning, we will travel just a short distance from our Santo Domingo hotel to the National Botanical Gardens, where we will start seeing endemic birds right away. One of the first of these is likely to be Palmchat, which abound within the palms in the park, and represent an endemic, monotypic, bird family to the island of Hispaniola. We will arrive first thing in the morning, when the local Hispaniolan Parakeets are at their most vocal and conspicuous often sitting atop the palms near the park entrance. This is a great place to catch up with some other Hispaniolan endemics and Caribbean specialties, like Hispaniolan Woodpecker, which will be wonderfully common throughout the tour, in addition to West Indian Whistling-Duck, Antillean Palm-Swift, Stolid Flycatcher, and Vervain Hummingbird, one of the tiniest birds on Earth, measuring just a minute bit more than Cuba’s Bee Hummingbird, which is officially the world’s smallest bird.


After most of the morning in the park, we shall take off and drive towards the northeast coast and the city of Sabana del Mar. We will be heading for Cano Hondo, a hotel located within limestone hills inside Los Haitises National Park, where we shall spend one night.  In the afternoon, we will bird the local forest patches, where we might find Antillean Piculet, Broad-billed Tody, or Black-whiskered Vireo. In the evening, we shall check some local sites for the endemic Ashy-faced Owl too.


Day 3: Los Haitises to Santo Domingo

The morning will be spent scouring the forested hills close to our hotel (walking distance) for the ultra-rare Ridgway’s Hawk. Although the bird is critically endangered, and numbers only just over 320 birds, a concerted conservation effort, funded by the Peregrine Fund and assisted by local communities has been reaping great rewards, with the species now in better shape and on the increase both locally and elsewhere die to re-introduction programs. Los Haitises is the core site for the species, and we shall visit a traditional nesting area for them in order to try and locate this key endemic. After lunch in Cano Hondo, we will pack up and head back to Santo Domingo for another night in the Colonial District.


Day 4: Las Dunas and La Salinas de Bani

Most of the key species and endemic birds on this tour are best looked for in the southwest of the island, in and around Sierra de Bahoruco National Park. This will take us two days to reach there, however, and this day will be the first part of the journey there. On the way, we shall stop off at Las Dunas, an area of sand dunes and scrub, which can be good for the Hispaniolan Oriole, one of the scarcer endemics. We could also come across Black-crowned Palm-Tanager or the handsome Greater Antillean Bullfinch in this area, the former being from a bird family that is endemic to Hispaniola, the Hispaniolan Tanagers. The nearby salt pans may also yield Reddish Egret among some wintering shorebirds and wetland birds. Even though it may be only day 4, we may have already seen three of the key bird families that are endemic to the Caribbean by this stage (Hispaniolan Tanagers, Todies and Palmchat). The night will be spent in Pedernales, in the southwest corner of the Dominican Republic.


Day 5: El Aceitillar (Southern Sierra de Bahoruco) and Laguna Olviedo

When people think of the Caribbean, native pine forests are often not within their thoughts, and are far removed from the picturebook images and travel brochure pictures of the Caribbean. However, that is where we will be focused for this morning. Pine Warblers are conspicuous residents of this forest, although we will be on the lookout for some of the scarcer inhabitants, like the endemic Hispaniolan Parrot and Hispaniolan Crossbill. We may also find Hispaniolan Spindalis there, and sometimes, the endangered Golden Swallow can be seen hawking insects above the forest. In the afternoon, we will travel east to Juan Esteban for the night, stopping off for a relaxing boat trip on Olviedo Lagoon, within Jaragua National Park to break up the journey. The highlight of this trip may well be a large flock of vibrant pink American Flamingos, although nesting frigatebirds and ibises may also hold our attention too. On the fringes of the lake, we may also find Hispaniolan Palm Crows inhabiting the coconut palms. A single night will be spent in Juan Esteban.


Day 6: Cachote and Rabo de Gato (Sierra de Bahoruco)

We will depart very early within 4-wheel drives to reach Cachote, at higher elevations in the Southeastern part of the Sierra de Bahoruco. This is the only reliable site for the very local, and elusive Eastern Chat-Tanager, which will be our principal target species there. This is from a fourth Caribbean family of interest to us on the tour, the Chat-Tanagers, which is restricted to the island of Hispaniola. Nature’s soundtrack to these highland forests will be the local Rufous-throated Solitaires, which we will also have a good chance to find. We are likely to get our first looks at our second tody of the tour, as Narrow-billed Tody replaces Broad-billed Tody in these higher cloud forests. With fortune, we may also find White-fronted Quail-Dove in Cachote too. After lunch back in Juan Esteban, we will depart for Duverge on the northern side of the Sierra. On this evening, we will have our first try for some of the nightbirds in the area, when we will be listening and searching for Least Pauraque and Hispaniolan Nightjar. Two nights will be spent in some apartments in Duverge with a cracking restaurant nearby, which caters to the odd whims and demands of birding groups.

Day 7: Zapoten & Rabo de Gato (Northern Sierra de Bahoruco)

The earliest start of the tour beckons on this day, though perhaps also one of the most productive and rewarding days for birding too. We will be visiting the highest elevations of the Northern Sierra de Bahoruco, and a pre-dawn arrival is a must for one particular species, La Selle Thrush, which frequently feeds on the road at dawn, then promptly melts back into the forest and is nigh on impossible to find after then! Sometimes they are joined on the road by Bicknell’s Thrush too. The other key high elevation species include Green-tailed and White-winged Warblers, which are not warblers at all but sit within the endemic Hispaniolan Tanager family. The skies may also hold Golden Swallow for us there, while the understory is home to the Western Chat-Tanager, which we hope to compliment sightings of Eastern Chat-Tanager from earlier on the tour. After a morning in the area, we will return to Duverge for a late lunch. In the afternoon, we will check local sites near Rabo de Gato for the rare Bay-breasted Cuckoo or scarce Flat-billed Vireo, before undertaking another night foray for nightjars or owls, should we still be missing any of these.


Day 8: Puerto Escondido (Northern Sierra de Bahoruco) to Santo Domingo

In the morning, we will check the dry forest on some of the lower slopes of the Sierra, close to the town of Puerto Escondido, where we hope to find Flat-billed Vireo, or (with some very good fortune), the rare Bay-breasted Cuckoo, one of the most difficult of all the island endemics on Hispaniola. We might also come across White-necked Crows or Olive-throated Parakeets there too. In the afternoon, we shall make our way back east to Santo Domingo for the final night of the tour.


Day 9: Departures from Santo Domingo

You are free to leave whenever you wish with no birding planned on this day.

Trip Considerations

PACEModerate to Intense. There are some long drives, and some very early starts on this tour in order to reach places at the key time, before dawn. On the drive up to Zapoten (on one day), this necessitates a 3:30am departure, which is the only way to reach there in time to see the La Selle Thrushes feeding on the road right at dawn. There are also quite a few nightbirds to be looked for and so there will be optional nightbirding on at 3-4 nights of the tour. All the lunches and dinners will be cooked meals, although quite a few field breakfasts (boxed breakfasts provided by the hotels) are required. These will be taken on 5 mornings.


PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate. The walking on this trip is generally easy, with no particularly steep or difficult hikes. Most of the walks will be on roads, though these are often dirt roads on uneven ground, with some incline though not very steep. There may be a short time (a few hours), spent on a narrow forest trail to find the White-fronted Quail-Dove around Cachote. 4 days of the tour are spent in the mountains in the Sierra de Bahoruco, although the elevations are not especially high (the highest elevation site, Zapoten, visited for 1 morning only, only reaches about 5905ft/1800m). There are some long drives on this tour, the longest being on Days 2 & 3 (around 3 hours), Day 4 will take much of the day broken up with a few birding stops,  and Day 8 (around 3 hours). The two-hour drives up to Cachote and Zapoten (on Days 6 & 7 respectively) will be on very bumpy, unpaved roads, when we will need to use 4-wheel drive vehicles to get there.


ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All places have en-suite bathrooms, full time electricity, and Internet.


CLIMATE: Hot and humid in the lowlands (Days 1-4) with temperatures often reaching 90F (32C); significantly cooler in the mountains, when temperatures may even drop to into the 50sF (12C) in the very early morning at Zapoten, for example.


WHEN TO GO: The Dominican Republic is generally cooler and drier during the first 4 months of the year, hence the timing of this tour to coincide with that season. However, please be aware that in recent years the weather conditions have been highly unusual and unpredictable, with sometimes very wet weather in the height of the dry season.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For citizens of most countries an E-Ticket is required for both entry and departure from the Dominican Republic for tourist purposes. This can be done online and needs to be completed to either enter or exit the country. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from night of day 1 through night of day 8; meals from dinner on day 1 through to breakfast on day 9; Tropical Birding leader from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 8; one arrival airport and one departure airport transfer per person (these might be shared with some of the rest of the group or with other hotel guests, and might be a shared, official airport shuttle); tips for local guide and driver; ground transport to all the sites listed on the itinerary in a suitable modern vehicle with local driver; entrance fees to all sites on the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?Tips to Tropical Birding guide and hotel porters ONLY; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

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