As usual, I was up before Doran on Thursday and went out to check the wildlife on the resort. My efforts to find the cuckoo remained fruitless, and the Antillean Mango was not feeding on the flowers near the souvenir shops. However, I got a surprise as I wandered up the shaded western boundary of the resort and saw a Red-legged Thrush on the lawn next to one of the resort buildings! It was actively foraging for food and disappeared into a dense garden bed near the staff entrance. Still, I was thrilled to see it out in the open as I hadn’t gotten a photo of the one that I saw with Manny at the National Park of the East.
I took a new detour behind the shops and found myself in a new area of the resort, one that was adjacent to the natural area in the northeast. It smelled quite bad, like a sewage lagoon in the summer, making me wonder if this was where the resort’s sewage was processed.
The flowers blooming in the manicured shrubs immediately before the natural area were quite beautiful, and a sight to behold for winter-weary eyes that haven’t seen any blossoms since October.
As usual the Antillean Palm-Swifts, Palmchats, Greater Antillean Grackles and Bananaquits were plentiful – I even saw a Bananaquit carrying nesting material. A few Eurasian Collared-Doves and Gray Kingbirds were around, their calls and songs adding to the tropical soundscape. I found a pair of Hispaniolan Woodpeckers working on the palm trees and got a couple of photos – in the shade this endemic species looks quite yellow. I’m still hoping to get a nice photo of one in the sun!
Once I reached the swamp I immediately noticed the egrets – as usual individuals and groups were flying east, while several others were hidden in behind the screen of vegetation. I identified five Great Egrets and four Snowy Egrets, but more were flying over and I stopped trying to identify them. An Osprey was perching in a dead tree out in the open; this is the first one I’ve seen on the resort.
A little further along I found this magnificent Green Heron hunting out in the open. I thought I had heard one calling from the swamp before, but wasn’t sure; now I could count it for my Dominican list!
I also heard two Common Gallinules calling from the same side of the road, and found a third one walking in a watery area behind a screen of vegetation. It’s sights like this – in the middle of winter! – that epitomize what birding in the tropics is all about, although I couldn’t help but wish it was a Purple Gallinule instead!
A little further along I saw the Tricolored Heron stalking the shallow water about five or six feet from the sidewalk. I slowly crept up to it until its head was clear of vegetation and took this shot. I think it might be my favourite one from the trip!
Eventually I was clear of the tangles of shrubs and vines and saw the full bird out in the open. The white belly contrasting with the dark neck and the white stripe down the center are distinctive. It is medium in size, smaller than a Great Blue Heron but larger than a Snowy Egret. Tricolored Herons tend to feed alone or at the edge of groups of other herons, which would explain why I’ve seen it at the water’s edge two days in a row now, instead of the center of the swamp with the other egrets. I think this might be my favourite heron species so far!
While watching the heron I heard two noisy birds approaching. The calls reminded me of the parrots we had heard immediately upon arriving at the beach at the National Park of the East, where I had been disappointed not to see either the Hispaniolan Parrot or the Hispaniolan Parakeet, both of which are endemic to the island. To my delight, two large green birds flew in and landed at the top of a dead tree! I rushed over to grab a few shots, but they stayed long enough for me to grab more than just a documentary shot. I could tell by the short tails that they were parrots rather than parakeets, and when I checked my iPhone I confirmed that was indeed the Hispaniolan Parrot I’d been hoping to see!
This parrot is identified by the white forehead, blue cheek patch, blue flight feathers, maroon belly-patch and red patches in the tail. This species is considered vulnerable by BirdLife International due to habitat destruction and illegal trade, and it is now chiefly found in the Dominican Republic where it lives in lowland palm savannas and montane forest. Due to the decline in numbers on its native Hispaniola, additional populations have been introduced to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Its population is increasing in Puerto Rico, which is considered good news by conservationists. It was lifer no. 20 on my trip, and at no. 10 of my list of target species, one I was counting on seeing.
I was thrilled with the find. The two birds didn’t stay in the tree for very long; they flew across the road, landed in a palm tree, then flew off again after a few moments.
It was getting late in the morning and I knew I should go and see whether Doran was ready for breakfast, so instead of returning to the Tricolored Heron I reluctantly turned and headed back to our room. Along the way I found four White-cheeked Pintails in the pool area; two were swimming in the water and two were on the island. Unlike Northern Pintails, male and female White-cheeked Pintails appear identical.
The pintail stopped to preen, and I took this photo showing its wing pattern.
The palm trees outside our building were alive with activity when I returned. I hurried up to the third-floor opening off the staircase in order to grab some photos. A Northern Mockingbird was perching on the spear-like growth emerging from the top of the palm tree; this is the first time I’ve seen one in the resort instead of at the fringes near the entrance.
The Palmchats were also perching on these “spears”. They were closer than the mockingbird, and I was thrilled to get some photos of them out in the sun. The red eyes and greenish rump are visible in this image.
There were three Palmchats lined up one of of the spears. I got a picture of two of them together, with their feet touching. I don’t think the bottom bird is very happy with the top bird’s foot placement!
Palmchats are not only endemic to the island of Hispaniola; they are also monotypic, which means there are no other species in the same genus (Dulus) or family (Dulidae). Their closest relatives are the waxwings (Bombycillidae) and silky-flycatchers (Ptiliogonatidae), as confirmed by DNA analysis of both mitochondrial and nuclear genes. They are common in most lowland habitats, preferring areas with Royal Palms. However, Palmchats can be found in nearly every habitat type in Hispaniola, excluding dense rainforest and higher elevations. Their diet consists mainly of fruit and flowers, although some insects are consumed.
Like waxwings, Palmchats are social creatures, foraging in groups of 16-20 individuals. Unlike waxwings, Palmchats build large communal stick nests in the crown of a palm tree; these sticks may approach two feet in length! Palmchats have been observed struggling to carry sticks too large for them to manage, and I saw a couple of Palmchats flying with long sticks in their beaks, wondering how common it was. It takes several pairs to build a nest, which often reaches more than one metre in diameter. Several pairs occupy the nest, with each pair having its own chamber within the structure. The Palmchats are noisy birds, frequently calling and whistling as they foraged and moved around the resort, although they do not appear to have a song.
By the time I finished photographing the Palmchats and returned to our room, Doran was up and ready for breakfast. It was a great start to another day on the resort!