Butterflies of the Dominican

Tropical Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus oileus)

This was the hardest post of my Dominican series to write, though I really didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was; this is because it took a long time to find some good internet resources for identifying butterflies of the island of Hispaniola.

When travelling to a new place, the first thing I do is look for field guides or online checklists of species found in that area. This is easy for birds, but not so easy for types of wildlife, such as reptiles and amphibians, dragonflies, and of course butterflies. Once I get home with all my hundreds of photos, it’s easier to narrow down the species I’m interested in. Fortunately, finding online guides to the odonates of the Dominican Republic wasn’t difficult, even though there are fewer people studying odes than there are people studying butterflies; I was surprised that it was much more difficult to find similar websites or articles dedicated to the butterflies of the Dominican Republic, even when I widened my search to the island of Hispaniola. The best checklist I could find was the one on the BAMONA website (Butterflies and Moths of North America). Still, I wasn’t sure how accurate the list was, or if it encompassed all the species of the Dominican Republic or just those that have been recently reported by members of the BAMONA website. I ended up with a lot of photographs of skippers (one of the most difficult groups of butterflies to identify), and clicking on each species link to view the photos quickly became a tedious chore.

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Last Day in Paradise

Hispaniolan Parakeet

Our last day had finally arrived, and as our flight wasn’t until 8:45 pm, I got up early and went out birding before breakfast. I started at the beach, then walked the eastern-most path along the edge of the resort. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, and my only goal was to catch up with the cuckoo-like bird Doran and I had seen on our second day.

I didn’t see the cuckoo, but the Northern Parula was in the same tree where I’d seen it before. There was a second warbler in the same tree – brownish overall, with a necklace of dark streaks and a noticeable white wing patch. I thought it might be a Cape May Warbler, but wasn’t able to confirm it until I saw the photos showing the greenish rump and yellow patch behind the auriculars.
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In the Dominican: Around the Resort

Snowy Egret

Friday was our last full day on the resort, and it was another beautiful, sunny day. We enjoyed a relaxing day in the sun, taking a dip in the ocean when it got too hot. The Atlantic Ocean was rougher than the Pacific Ocean at our resort in Costa Rica, which made for a much different experience. Once we got tired of being smacked around by the waves we spent some time on a lounge chair drying off in the warm Caribbean sun. Normally the lounge chairs are all taken by the afternoon, but we had timed it so that most people were getting lunch when we arrived. We didn’t see any birds again – no terns or pelicans or frigatebirds, and after lunch I headed out to photograph some birds and features of the resort.

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Dragonflies of the Dominican

Tawny Pennant

The Dominican Republic is home to 19 damselfly species and 48 dragonfly species. Of these species, four damselflies and three dragonflies are endemic to the island of Hispaniola – that is, they are found nowhere else on the planet. I did not know this when I went on my trip, however, as an amateur odonate enthusiast I certainly hoped to see a few colourful tropical species! I was a bit worried that there wouldn’t be very many odes within the resort itself, as I had heard that the resorts of Punta Cana regularly spray to keep mosquito populations down, and this would of course have an effect on all insect life breeding in the ponds and natural waterways where the chemicals are introduced. On our first two days at the resort I saw very few dragonflies – only two flying by without stopping to perch. On our third day I discovered the swamp at the top end of the resort when Manny Jimenes picked us up outside the security gate for our excursion to the National Park of the East. As our fourth day was spent entirely outside the resort (and I didn’t see any odonates on either excursion, although I’m sure there must have been some along the Chavon River), it wasn’t until our fifth day that I was able to spend more time walking up and down the road cutting through the swamp to look for odes.

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A new life bird on the resort

Hispaniolan Parrot

Doran and I didn’t have any excursions planned for the rest of the week, so we took it easy on the last three days – swimming at the beach, dining at the restaurants, and even doing a couples massage. I went for my usual walks in the morning and afternoons, and although I had already gotten 19 new life birds on the trip, I kept hoping to find something new, or at least get photos of ones I had missed. I kept checking the western edge of the resort to see if I could find the Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo again, as well as the flowers near the souvenir shops for the Antillean Mango. I also hoped to find some dragonflies to photograph near the swamp, although I had heard that they sprayed the resorts for mosquitoes and wasn’t expecting much ode life if this was true.

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Catalina Island

Brown Pelican

On Wednesday Doran and I took part in an excursion to Catalina Island. Our pick-up time wasn’t until 8:20 am so we had some time to kill after breakfast, and I immediately suggested walking up to the security gate again to check out the swamp. We saw the usual White-cheeked Pintails in the pool again, as well as three more in the swamp. Antillean Palm-swifts were flitting through the air, and large flocks of white egrets were flying toward the coast – I couldn’t tell if they were Snowy Egrets or Great Egrets, but it was amazing to see so many. There were probably between 15 and 30 in each flock, with at least four or five flocks flying over.

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Birding with Explora! Ecotour in the National Park of the East

Vervain Hummingbird

Our third day in the Dominican Republic was spent birding with Explora! Ecotours. I was excited to book them as they are a small, sustainable ecotourism company operating tours from many cities in the Dominican Republic, including Punta Cana. By the time I contacted them to arrange a tour, they only had one tour available – a trip to Parque Nacional Del Este (the National Park of the East, aka National Park Cotubanama). Their website claims that this is the best birding site in the eastern Dominican Republic, as the park is a vast nature preserve that provides habitat for endemic, native, and migratory birds. Their goal on this excursion is to find as many of the Dominican’s 32 endemic species as possible. This sounded wonderful to me, for the key to finding different species is to visit as many different habitats as possible. While the birds at the resort were great, I knew I could see a lot more on a guided tour.

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Second day in the Dominican

White-cheeked Pintail

We spent the first day on our vacation catching up on sleep and getting acquainted with the services the resort has to offer. We booked reservations at each of the specialty restaurants (Mexican, Italian, seafood, Oriental, and steakhouse) and arranged a non-birding excursion to Catalina Island. On our second day we spent more time exploring the resort. My goal was to get up early and hit the beach at sunrise to see if I could find some beach birds (gulls, terns, shorebirds, pelicans, frigatebirds) before the beach crowd arrived. Doran decided to come with me, and we did get to see the sunrise. Unfortunately there were still no birds present, and enough people up and walking around to make getting a clear photo of the beach difficult.
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Dominican Holiday Part 1: Arrival in Punta Cana

Skipper sp.

After the worst two weeks of winter including frigid temperatures, enough snow to break the record for January (97 cm total as of January 29th) and enough OC Transpo delays and missing buses to induce a severe case of transit rage, my fiancé and I were lucky to have planned to spend the first week of February at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Our plane was supposed to leave on Saturday at 2:35 pm direct to Punta Cana, but heavy snow that morning meant a delay of almost five hours. We didn’t arrive in Punta Cana until 12:30 Sunday morning, and it was almost another hour before our heads hit the pillow despite an easy time at Customs and no traffic to slow us down. There were, however, lots of speed bumps en route, making me wonder about the drivers in the city.
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