Day 1   Arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico - 24th Feb/15th March/11th April
Plan on arriving today in San Juan (SJU). Upon arrival you will be transferred to a nearby hotel where you will meet up with the rest of the group at dinner and can discuss the exciting adventure that awaits. Night in Arecibo.

Day 2     Rio Abajo - Cambalache State Forest - Guajataca Cliffs

Today we’ll bird the Northern Karst region, in search of our first Puerto Rican endemics and some Caribbean specialties. The Karst landscape covers more than one third of the island and we will be exploring the subtropical moist forest zone and  due to its rugged topography this area holds the most extensive forest cover on the island.

Cambalache State Forest offers one of the largest lowland tracts of forest on the northern shore of the island, and we’ll start the day on some very productive trails.  The dawn chorus here is usually good and just past the parking lot we should hear a host of endemic birds greeting the morning.  Along the trails we’ll look for the beautiful Puerto Rican Bullfinch.  Here too will be the exquisite Puerto Rican Tody and the entertaining Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo.  Further up the trail we’ll look for Puerto Rican Spindalis, sprightly Adelaide’s Warblers and Puerto Rican Vireo.  It’s also worth checking the trail edges, as Key West Quail-Dove often forage along the cleared path early in the morning.

Endemics we are targetting today include Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Emerald, Puerto Rican Green Mango, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, Adelaide’s Warbler, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Bullfinch and Puerto Rican Oriole. Other species possible include Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, White-crowned Pigeon, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Antillean Mango, Mangrove Cuckoo, Loggerhead Kingbird (Nearly Endemic), Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Red-legged Thrush, Antillean Euphonia (Nearly Endemic), Puerto Rican Pewee (Nearly Endemic) and Black-whiskered Vireo.

An early departure will see us driving. Night at Arecibo.   

Day 3   Rio Abajo - Guajataca Cliffs

After an early breakfast we will set out to Rio Abajo State Forest.

Rio Abajo State Forest is the THE place to see the extremely endangered Puerto Rican Parrot.

. On the walk in Rio Abajo we’ll be looking for quail doves along the road plus as many endemics if still needed after our first day.

After Rio Abajo we’ll visit hummingbird feeders to have looks of our 2 endemic hummers: Puerto Rican Emerald and Green Mango, plus the Antillean Mango.

 Then we will drive along the northwestern coast on the way to the subtropical dry forest in the southwestern side of the Island. We will call into a known site for White-tailed Tropicbird. This area might be the driest part but is one of the greatest areas for birding and beautiful landscapes in Puerto Rico..

Endemics today include Puerto Rican Parrot, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Emerald, Green Mango, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, Adelaide’s Warbler, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Bullfinch and Puerto Rican Oriole. Other targets that are possible: Antillean Mango, Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Scaly-naped Pigeon, Puerto Rican Pewee (Nearly Endemic), Pearly-eyed Thrasher, Loggerhead Kingbird (Nearly Endemic), Black-whiskered Vireo, Antillean Euphonia (Nearly Endemic) and Red-legged Thrush.

Night at Hacienda Juanita.

Day 4   Maricao State Forest  - Guanica State Forest
This morning we will explore the Maricao State Forest looking for our main two targets - Elfin-Woods Warbler and Puerto Rican Tanager.
The Warbler was first observed in 1968 by Cameron and Angela Kepler while they were conducting observations on two Puerto Rican endemic birds, Puerto Rican Parrot and Puerto Rican Tody. On May 18, 1971, a specimen was captured in El Yunque National Forest. A year later Kepler and Parkes described and named the species making it the most recent warbler of the large and familiar genus Setophaga to be discovered. Also, it is the first species described in the Caribbean since 1927 and the first Puerto Rican species described in the 20th century. The species name, angelae, is a tribute to Angela Kepler. Elfin-woods warbler is an alternative spelling, and Reinita de Bosque Enano is the Spanish name.

The Puerto Rican Tanager—which is not really a tanager—now an endemic family, Nesospingidae, of which it is the sole member, making it a unique endemic bird indeed!

After a leisurely start at our forest hotel, where we’ll likely enjoy some fine birding, we’ll spend most of today in the lush montane forest of Maricao State Forest and other protected areas along the mountainous central road. Two endemic hummingbirds occur here; the Puerto Rican Emerald and impressive Green Mango.  In addition, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Tanager, Loggerhead Kingbird (endemic and distinctive subspecies), Puerto Rican Oriole, and Antillean Euphonia are all likely. The star attraction in the mountain region, however, is Elfin Woods Warbler, which was only discovered in 1971.  This species can be hard to see well as it is very active and tends to remain partially hidden by the dense vegetation, but with some perseverance it generally reveals its secrets.

This reserve offers us the best chance to observe the rare Elfin Woods Warbler, a species that was only discovered in 1971 in elfin forest in the Luquillo Mountains.

Endemics we expect to see Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Emerald, Green Mango, Puerto Rican Woodpecker, Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo, Adelaide’s Warbler, Puerto Rican Spindalis, Puerto Rican Bullfinch and Puerto Rican Oriole. This is also a good day for Venezuelan Troupial. 

 

Night at Guanica

Day 5   Laguna Cartagena - Cabo Rojo Salt Flats - Parguera - Guanica State Forest

We will explore Cartagena Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge looking for West Indian Whistling-Duck and other species. Once you enter the dirt road that signals the way to the refuge you enter a mosaic of habitats, you get a feeling of going someplace special. First there are some hay and cattle farms, where we can find a myriad of open land bird species like doves, swallows, grassquits and some established exotic finches. Amongst a wide variety of other possibilities we coud see White-cheeked Pintail, Masked Duck, Plain Pigeon, Mangrove Cuckoo, Caribbean Elaenia, Grasshopper Sparrow, Black-faced Grassquit, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Orange Bishop, Bronze Mannikin, Scaly-breasted Munia

Many of Puerto Rico’s endemics are to be found in the Guanica Dry Forest, and we hope to find the attractive Adelaide’s Warbler here as well as the non-endemic Caribbean Elaenia.  In the evening we’ll make a nighttime excursion to search for the local Puerto Rican Nightjar and Puerto Rican Screech-Owl. 

We will spend some time in the International Biosphere Reserve of Guanica, which is situated on the hilly south coast of the island and protects an extensive area of subtropical dry, near-xerophytic forest. Many of the Puerto Rican endemics and Caribbean specialities are found here, but the handsome endemic Adelaide’s Warbler will certainly steal the show. Other species here should include the rather dull Caribbean Elaenia and the endemic Puerto Rican Flycatcher. Mangrove-fringed pools often harbour Clapper Rails as well as a variety of egrets, herons and migrant waders. At dusk, we will hope to hear the whistled ‘whip’ notes of the Puerto Rican Nightjar, a species that, until 1961, when a surviving population was discovered in Guanica forest, was only known from a skin collected in 1888!

We plan to arrive back at our hotel in the afternoon, hopefully after finding the very local and endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird.

We will also search the arid scrubland and mangrove areas of the southwest of the island for the localized and declining endemic Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. This once-common species has been plagued by the arrival of the Shiny Cowbird, a fairly recent colonizer from South America. This nest parasite has chosen the Yellow-shouldered Blackbird as its principal host and now the total population numbers only about 650, in spite of continuous efforts to control the Shiny Cowbird population.

Night at Guanica. 

Day 6    Humacao Reserve - Las Croabas 
After breakfast we will head out and depending on which species we still need.... 

Visit Humacao Reserve

After breakfast, we will look for Antillean Crested Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib in a hotel garden in the northeastern corner of the island. Here, amongst flowering trees and lush gardens, we should encounter the beautiful Green-throated Carib, and the very charismatic Antillean Crested Hummingbird.  We’ll then head south, stopping briefly along the coast, to look for Brown Boobies, gulls, terns and Magnificent Frigatebirds.  

Night near San Juan. 

Day 7   San Juan - Punta Cana, Dominican Republic 
This morning we will fly from San Juan to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Upon arrival we will drive up into Los Haitises National Park to a lovely hotel. The grounds are home to 
This is one of the better sites for Ashy-faced Owl and we will
Overnight at Altos de Cano Hondo. 

Day 8   Los Haitises
This scenic, low-lying park is home to the country’s rarest endemic, and arguably one of the world’s rarest raptors, Ridgway’s Hawk. This species was on the brink of extinction, and although the fight is not won yet, hard work by the Peregrine Fund has seen this species’ numbers start to increase in the region – which is the last stronghold for this endemic species. We will meet up with a local guide who keeps tabs on the birds and attempt to see this incredibly prized target. Our time spent birding the area is likely to produce many other species, including Limpkin, White-crowned and Plain Pigeons, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean Mango, Vervain Hummingbird, Broad-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Woodpecker,Antillean Piculet, Stolid Flycatcher, Black-whiskered Vireo, White-necked Crow, Palmchat, Hispaniolan Oriole, Antillean Euphonia, Black-crowned Tanager, Greater Antillean Grackle, and a variety of wintering warblers including Northern Waterthrush, Northern Parula, and American Redstart among others.

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. 

Ridgway’s Hawk used to be a widespread raptor on Hispaniola, but habitat loss through large-scale clearance for livestock farming and coffee plantations, together with direct persecution, led to a disastrous decline. This once-common endemic is now virtually confined to Los Haitises National Park, which is situated at the head of Samana bay, due north of the Dominican Republic’s capital. We stand a very good chance of encountering this interesting species, which is now considered to be the rarest Buteo on earth, with a surviving population of only 200-250 individuals. It favours the subcanopy and only relatively rarely takes to the sky and rides the thermals as so many other Buteo species do. While we track down this enigmatic species, we will also encounter many other Dominican/Hispaniolan specialities in the process. We also have another good chance for Ashy-faced Owl here

Night at Altos de Cano..

Day 9   Los Haitses - Salinas de Bani - Zapoten
We will begin the day with an early start as we undertake the long transfer to get to our rustic lodge in the foothills of the northern Sierra de Bahoruco at Puerto Escondido. Our first dedicated birding stop for the morning will be at the Salinas de Baní, which we will reach after roughly two hours. This small coastal village hosts an array of salt pans along with tidal mudflats and mangrove stands. We will spend a few hours birding this area, focusing on species such as American Flamingo (if we’re lucky!), Reddish Egret, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Clapper Rail, Grey,Snowy, Wilson’s, and Semipalmated Plovers, Black-necked Stilt, Least,Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs,Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Least, Royal, and Cabot’s Terns, and Mangrove Warbler. A dedicated sea watch may produce the rare Black-capped Petrel, Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Brown Pelican. Following our time here we will undertake the rest of the drive to Puerto Escondido (which will likely take around four hours without stops), where we’ll arrive in the late afternoon and check into Villa Barrancolí Eco-lodge. Located in the remote western Dominican Republic, this rustic lodge is run by birder Kate Wallace and caters for birders who seek out the many endemics largely restricted to the mountains in this part of the country. Should we have time available in the late afternoon for birding we will explore the nearby Rabo de Gato trail. This trail, largely following the contour of a stream, is flanked by large riverine trees and the forested foothills of the Sierra de Bahoruco range. Many species occur along this trail, but chief among our targets will be the uncommon White-fronted Quail-Dove, which normally requires stealth and patience to see. We will also keep an eye out for Limpkin along the stream and Scaly-naped and Plain Pigeons perching on exposed snags above the canopy and search the leaf litter for the similar Key West and Ruddy Quail-Doves. Noisy flocks of Hispaniolan Amazons fly overhead, occasionally with Hispaniolan and Olive-throated Parakeets among them, and the palm-studded areas will be searched for White-necked Crow and Palmchat. The wooded areas host the majority of birds here, and many species are possible, including Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo, Vervain Hummingbird, Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Todies, Hispaniolan Trogon,Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Stolid Flycatcher, the colorful Antillean Euphonia, and many wood warblers. After dark we will search for Least Poorwill. Following a long day we will settle in for a wonderful dinner before getting ready for an early start.

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 in Villa Barrancoli Eco-Lodge

 

Day 10  Zapoten
Today will require an early start, and we will need to be up and going at predawn, as we ascend the Sierra de Bahoruco on a very rough and slow-going track to allow us to be in the Zapotén sector, towards the top of the mountain, at dawn. This is a prime birding area and easily allows some of the finest birding in the country, with the montane forest playing host to many of the island’s sought-after endemics. Our travel up to Zapotén at predawn will give us a good chance for the difficult Hispaniolan Nightjar. After arriving in the Zapotén sector at first light our first key species is La Selle Thrush, and we will need to keep a beady eye on the road as it forages along it in the very early morning – presenting us with our only chance for this species. We will spend the morning birding in the Zapotén sector, having a picnic breakfast, before gradually working our way back down the rough track. The forest rings with the calls of Rufous-throated Solitaire, and this skulker usually takes a bit of effort to find, while Narrow-billed Tody is normally easy to see. We will keep an eye out for Hispaniolan Emerald as it rapidly moves through the forest, while Greater Antillean Elaenia and Hispaniolan Pewee are normally more sedate. The difficult and skulking Western Chat-Tanager is another key species here, as are the rather puzzling Green-tailed and White-winged Warblers. While the former requires lots of effort to see, the latter two are normally more confiding. Other species present include Hispaniolan Trogon, Antillean Piculet, Hispaniolan Woodpecker, Stolid Flycatcher, Antillean Siskin, Bicknell’s Thrush (with some luck), Black-crowned Tanager, Hispaniolan Spindalis, Antillean Euphonia, and Greater Antillean Bullfinch. The pine forests are home to the scarce Hispaniolan Crossbill and Pine Warbler. As we begin descending from the Zapotén sector we will keep an eye out for the rare Golden Swallow, now sadly almost certainly extinct in Jamaica, along with LoggerheadKingbird. There is a Northern Potoo stakeout along the road, and we are occasionally treated to day views of this bird. Lower down the road, in the foothills, the habitat changes to drier, broad-leaved forest, and here we will search for arguably the country’s most difficult endemic, Bay-breasted Cuckoo. This rare and sadly declining species is notoriously difficult to find, and we would count ourselves lucky to see it. Flat-billed Vireo also occurs in this area and is normally a bit easier to find. The agricultural lands on the outskirts of Puerto Escondido are good to search for Hispaniolan Oriole, Greater Antillean Grackle, and occasional flocks of Antillean Siskins, while they also play host to other widespread species such as Common Ground Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Burrowing Owl, American Kestrel,Olive-throated Parakeet, Northern Mockingbird, and Yellow-faced Grassquit. Our afternoon will be spent birding locally, such as on the Rabo de Gato trail or on the outskirts of Puerto Escondido, or at leisure for those who want a break.

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 in Villa Barrancoli.

Day 11  Rabo de Gato - Laguna del Rincon - Pedernales
We have the morning available in the area to search for any outstanding targets, and similar to yesterday afternoon we may find ourselves birding along the Rabo de Gato trail or in the dry woodlands outside Puerto Escondido should we still need Bay-breasted Cuckoo. Following breakfast we will depart for our next main destination along the south Caribbean coast, with a dedicated birding stop at Laguna Rincón. This freshwater body is incredibly birdy, and we will spend some time here and undertake a boat trip, investigating primarily the marshy areas on the edge of this large waterbody. Possible waterbirds here include Pied-billed Grebe, White-cheeked Pintail, Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, and American Coot, while the marshy areas play host to many exciting species. It is here where we will try for the rare and poorly known Spotted Rail. Yellow-breasted Crake, an equally rare and poorly known bird, has also been found here, and we will be on the lookout for this bird as well. Sora, Purple Gallinule, and various egrets and herons, including Least Bittern, also occur here. In the late afternoon we will transfer to our comfortable hotel near the Haitian border and enjoy the sunset over the coastline. Night at Pedernales

Day 12  Alcoa Road  - Cabo Rojo
The Alcoa Road along with Cabo Rojo are our two primary birding stops today, and we will spend the day exploring these two areas. The Alcoa Road will see us birding a variety of habitats ranging from dry shrublands to pine forests to some montane forest higher up. This is a great site for Hispaniolan Palm Crow, which, together with Golden Swallow and Hispaniolan Crossbill, form our primary targets for the area. A variety of other species occur here, and we will be on the lookout for Plain, Scaly-naped, and White-crowned Pigeons, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Hispaniolan Amazon, Burrowing Owl, Hispaniolan Trogon, Broad-billed Tody, Hispaniolan Pewee, and Green-tailed Warbler among others. We will then transfer to the coast at Cabo Rojo, where we will enjoy our lunch on the beach before setting out birding the surrounding area. Open bodies of water will be searched for various ducks, such as Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal, and American Wigeon, along with American Flamingo, American White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, various herons and egrets including Great, Reddish, and Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Heron,Western Osprey, American Coot, and Belted Kingfisher. In the shallower reaches we will search for a variety of waders, including Black-necked Stilt, Grey Plover,Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, and Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, along with the secretive Sora. Numbers of Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds frequent the ocean, and we will also search here for the prized White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, and Royal Tern, while an eye skyward should hopefully reveal Caribbean Martin and Cave Swallow. Sea-watching in the afternoon might produce Audubon’s Shearwater and, if we’re lucky, Black-capped Petrel. We can try for the rare Ashy-faced Owl after dark near our lodge. Night at Barahona.

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.

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.

Day 13   Alcoa Road - Barahona

Day 14  Cachote - Santo Domingo
We will have an exciting morning in store for us, as we transfer into the far eastern hills of the Sierra de Bahoruco, birding in the montane forests and thickets near Cachote, a stunning protected cloud forest area not too far from where we’re staying. This will be our only attempt at Eastern Chat-Tanager on the tour, which forms our primary target. Like its cousin, Western Chat-Tanage, this is an equally shy and difficult-to-see species, despite being reasonably common in the area. We will also have our last attempt for other highland species such as Hispaniolan Emerald,Hispaniolan Trogon, Narrow-billed Tody, Rufous-throated Solitaire, Green-tailed and White-winged Warblers, the rare Bicknell’s Thrush, and Hispaniolan Spindalis. Following our morning in the hill we will transfer back to the coastline and to the capital, Santo Domingo, where we’ll arrive in the afternoon. We might be able to include some birding stops on the way, depending on time and if any target species still remain unseen. We will settle in for our final dinner together in the historic colonial district.

We will also follow a track into the higher reaches of the eastern part of the Sierra de Bahoruco in search of the hard-to-find endemic Eastern Chat-Tanager. It differs only subtly in plumage from Western Chat-Tanager, but has a different song. It favours evergreen shrubbery at the edge of montane forest. Some seawatching along the south coast of the Dominican Republic may produce sightings of the elegant White-tailed Tropicbird and distant Black-capped Petrels and Audubon’s Shearwaters. Cave Swallow may also be seen.

Day 15  End of tour - 10th March/29th March/25th April   

 

 

All photos copyright Zoothera Birding