DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens
Day 1/ Feb 5 – The Dominican Republic side of Hispaniola hosts a high number of avian endemics amidst a variety of habitats, making it an appealing birding destination. With this in mind, Gabriel Lugo, a fellow Wildside Tour Leader, and myself journeyed there to scout the island and organize an itinerary for a future Wildside Tours trip.
We met at the airport in Santo Domingo, noting that the lack of signs, both directional and stop signs, as well as the anything-goes-me-first attitude of drivers, made for a most memorable first drive in the country! We managed to find our way without incident, to our first destination, the National Botanical Gardens, and began looking for some of the 32 endemic bird species of the Dominican Republic. This 400-acre park, an oasis inside an urban jungle, was well maintained with lush plantings and wonderful landscaping. While many people were out enjoying their daily walk, we spent 3 outstanding hours exploring the grounds.
We enjoyed great views of 5 endemic species. The ubiquitous Palmchats, the national bird, greeted us upon arrival, flying between their favorite Royal Palm trees and lower shrubs to feed. Our attention was drawn to the noisy calls of Hispaniolan Parakeets; we found two pairs occupying woodpecker holes. While those 4 stayed at their nest site, we saw several more small flocks flying over another section of the gardens.
Stunning Hispaniolan Woodpeckers were readily seen in some open areas; we found one pair at their nest hole feeding begging young. A pair of Black-crowned Palm-Tanagers crossed our path and landed in a small open tree long enough to study the birds. The last endemic we encountered was the beautiful Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo with its rich buff throat and bright red eye-ring.
Two very common species were Northern Mockingbirds and Antillean Palm Swifts who made frequent flights into the palms where they would have had nests. Antillean Mangos (hummingbirds, not fruits) frequented the orchid flower trees for sweet nectar. The Vervain Hummingbird, just 3″, is the second smallest hummingbird in the world, and makes a surprisingly insistent call for it’s diminutive size!
We walked the eastern edge, outer loop of the garden, finding a dozen West Indian Whistling Ducks feeding in the shallows of a small stream that ran through a narrow gallery forest. We heard the piping notes of a Solitary Sandpiper before seeing it. The stream banks were densely vegetated, but we saw a Green Heron and a Snowy Egret feeding in open areas. In wider, calmer spots of the water channel we watched Least Grebes and Common Gallinules with very young chicks. Walking away from the stream, we heard a rustling of leaves in the woods. To our surprise, it was a Limpkin stalking up a bank in the woods. We learned that here on Hispaniola, Limpkins are more likely to be encountered within the forests!
There are a number of stunning thrushes in the turdus family, but for me, the spiffy Red-legged Thrush is among the finest. I watched two birds interacting near some trees, one behaving like a guard, while the other moved around boldly.
The Dominican Republic is a popular winter ground for some eastern wood-warblers. Our 2-mile walk along a lovely paved outer loop road featured American Redstart, Ovenbird, Prairie, Black-and-white, Cape May, Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Parula.
We spent the evening in the capital city, grateful for fresh fruit and cold drinks after a long, humid day of travel and birding. We would be up early to explore more of the island tomorrow.
all photos © adrian binns
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