From March 2 through March 9, 2019 I participated in the Wings Birding Tour of The Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern half of the Greater Antilles island of Hispaniola, and Haiti occupies the western half of Hispaniola. The Dominican Republic achieved independence from Haiti in 1844. Each country has about 10,000,000 inhabitants. At the end of the Dominican Republic tour, I flew the short distance east to Puerto Rico for a couple more days of birding.
The tour leader in the Dominican Republic was Evan Obercian (from Maine) and the local guide was Miguel Landestoy. I was one of 8 participants. The others were 2 women from Australia, and 5 men, respectively from Ontario, Oregon, California, Utah and Kansas. Our guides were excellent. In the Dominican Republic they dealt cooly with bad roads, unreliable suppliers of vehicles, and a breakdown of one of our 4-wheel drive vehicles in a remote mountain preserve. But we did not miss a beat notwithstanding our temporary setbacks. In Puerto Rico my guide, Julio Salgado, introduced me and his one other customer, John, to fish tacos for more of which I want to go back. The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria was not terribly apparent, but Julio and his family went without electricity for 7 months, ultimately buying a generator to end the nightmare. One practical result for me was that the loss of many, perhaps most, of the rare Puerto Rican Parrots has resulted in closing the preserves where they could formerly be seen. I hope they can recover.
In the past couple of years my main objective in birding has been to see at least one species of as many of the 250 bird families as is practical for me. Prior to the Dominican Republic trip I had seen at least one species in 212 of the 250 families. My goal was to add 5 families in the Dominican Republic, which I did. Three of those families exist only on Hispaniola: Palmchats, Hispaniolan Tanagers, and Chat-Tanagers; the other 2 families, found there and elsewhere in the Caribbean, are the Todies and Spindalises.
After leaving The Dominican Republic I birded in Puerto Rico with Julio and there I found my 6th new family for the trip, Puerto Rican Tanager, as well as another Spindalis (Puerto Rican Spindalis), and another Tody (Puerto Rican Tody). Todies are beautifully colored, tiny birds, found only in the Caribbean area, with 2 species in The Dominican Republic where I saw several of each of its 2 species, and added a third in Puerto Rico.
The Palmchat is the only species in its family, quite plain, and found only on Hispaniola, where they are numerous and easily viewed.
Palmchats and Todies have been families for years. The other 4 families I sought were recently created, by splitting them, primarily out of the large Tanager family, and assigning them, based on newly available DNA analysis, to much smaller family groups: (1) Spindalis with 4 species in the Caribbean, 1 of them being on Hispaniola and 1 in Puerto Rico (both of which I saw); (2) Hispaniolan Tanagers with 4 species (2 from the Tanager family and 2 from the Warbler family), all found only on Hispaniola, with 1 mostly in Haiti, which I did not see ; (3) Chat-Tanagers with 2 species only on Hispaniola (I saw the Western species only); and (4) Puerto Rican Tanager, 1 specie, found only in Puerto Rico. The net result of my birding in The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was the addition of 6 families to my life list, increasing the total from 212 to 218. Only Madagascar holds more potential new families for me (7), so this was an unmitigated success. Madagascar lies ahead.
At the species level I was able to add 44 new species in The Dominican Republic and 16 in Puerto Rico, to bring my World Life List to 3,704 species. Only about 7,000 more to go. But at the family level, I may get to the 90% level if all goes well in Madagascar.
I apologize for the absence of pictures with this blog. My faithful photographer, Barbara, did not accompany me on this trip, and the leaders in both areas were not photographers, so you have to go to the internet to see any of the birds mentioned.