Birding before the “lockdown” – by Pete Asher

My wife Mary and I recently had a 10 day holiday in the Dominican Republic staying at the Hilton resort at Bayahibe on the south coast.
We were very lucky as we returned just before the Coronavirus restrictions.

Mary is not a birdwatcher so we try to choose a destination to please us both and the Hilton ticked all the boxes, lovely rooms, great beach, 7 top restaurants and the promise of some excellent birding.

All my birdwatching was done in the extensive Gardens and around the perimeter road plus visits to the resorts hidden Sewage Works, sorry I should say Settling Pool about 500m down a woodland track and 2 small Bays accessible by walking along a rocky shore (both found by looking on Google Earth), morning and late afternoon birding kept both me and Mary happy.

The first morning I was out for 7am not long after dawn and straight away I was seeing lifers, it appeared that on every Palm tree there was a Hispaniolan Woodpecker.

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The Palm trees also held the large nests of the numerous Palm Chats and around any bush in blossom you could see feeding Antillean Mango (Hummingbird).

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Antillean Palm Swifts were everywhere swooping down then disappearing into their nests in the large Palm thatched sun shades. Northern Mockingbirds were singing, noisy Greater Antillean Grackles chasing each other round the Gardens and a pair of raucous White Necked Crows were busy collecting nesting material, the other common bird was House Sparrow brought to the Island no doubt by early settlers, interestingly quite tame and less aggressive than our own birds. Also by a small man made pool were 6 wing clipped Greater Flamingos a star attraction for many guests.
After 2 hours birding it was back to the room to change for the beach.

By early afternoon I was desperate to get to the sewage works, sorry Settling Pool and was disappointed that Mary didn’t want to join me, after a quick change I was off – going out of the hotel’s main entrance and down a long Palm tree lined drive with Hispaniolan Woodpecker and Palm Chat nests on nearly every tree, just amazing!
Towards the end of the drive and hidden behind trees was a small pool and in the centre of the pool was a vegetated island full of the hanging nests of Village Weavers introduced to the Island many years ago perhaps from the slave ships, also seen here was a Pearly-eyed Thrasher but this new coloniser to the Island may have been blown in by Hurricanes.
Gray Kingbirds were also abundant busily catching insects, but I had to push on and find the settling pool but again got side tracked, going down a promising looking side path I found Northern Parula (Warbler), Prairie Warbler, a male Antillean Piculet (very small Woodpecker) and Black-crowned Palm -Tanager

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I finally got to the Settling pool and was surprised that it didn’t smell too bad after all,
I found that you could stand on the main side track and see all but the near edge of the Pool and around the edge were some nice birds, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, a dozen Black-necked Stilts and overhead soaring Turkey vultures. Mary was missing a treat.
A mornings walk round the perimeter road added new birds to the list, Bananaquit, Greater Antillean Elaenia, Yellow-faced Grassquit and a flock of Nutmeg Manikin (another introduced species).
An afternoon visit to the lagoons gave me some new waders… Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plover and a Ruddy Turnstone.
The following afternoon I was back at the Settling Pool, joining the birds seen previous days was a Lesser Yellowlegs plus 4 overflying Hispaniolan Parrots.
The next morning was spent round the hotel grounds seeing all the regular birds with the addition of a flock of Hispaniolan Palm Crows.
New species for the afternoon were Common Ground-Dove and a nesting pair of American Kestrel (Hispaniola race).
One of the best things about birding is that you can even birdwatch from your beachside sun bed and tick off birds like Snowy and Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Royal Tern and have a winter plumage Spotted Sandpiper beach combing just 1m away.

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The following days birding was still fascinating if not adding new birds – the Woodpeckers, Palm Chats, Swifts and Grackles keeping me happy.

One lunchtime at the beachside restaurant we were having a pre-lunch drink and I nearly spilt my Rum Punch, feeding around the flowers just in front of us were a pair of Vervain Hummingbirds (the second smallest bird in the world!!). Another bird at lunch was a Belted Kingfisher hunting from tree branches overhanging some rock pools, perhaps after small crabs as well as fish.
After a well earned nap, well it was an excellent lunch, I was off again to my favourite birding site the sewage works, sorry Settling Pool and this time I took along a beer for the old boy who worked there, he was most appreciative but still gave me funny looks when I picked my bins up to birdwatch, new for today was a Solitary Sandpiper a family party of Smooth-billed Ani and an overflying White-crowned Pigeon.
I was just about to leave when all the Palm Swifts started calling and a Merlin shot through the tight flock but missed his supper!

No early walk today because after breakfast I planned to visit a small clearing I had found in the perimeter woodland, once in the clearing I started to attract the birds by Phishing (Phishing is when you put your lips together and make a phish-phish sound) after a few minutes I was seeing some really good birds the best being a Greater Antillean Bullfinch.
I was just about to leave when a flash of green caught my eye, perched on a branch not 3m away was a Broad-Billed Tody, this little green gem was top of the holiday wish list so I was well pleased.

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Earlier in the week I had been chatting with an American couple who said that they were birdwatchers back home and they commented on the lack of birds at the resort, as they walked away I looked around and counted about 70 Palm Swifts, 20 Palm Chats and a dozen Woodpeckers and Grackles!! Obviously no Specsavers in the US then.

On the last morning I again Phished out the Broad-Billed Tody along with a Stolid Flycatcher and on an afternoon visit to the Lagoons I found a small freshwater pool that finished the holiday off with some nice birds, Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, Palm Warbler and my all time favourite bird Black and White Warbler.
The very last bird was Cattle Egret seen from the bus going back to the Airport.

I had a total of 55 species with 13 lifers all but one seen in and around the holiday resort,
If you’re a birder and your wife’s not this could be the holiday for you.

Pete and Mary Asher.

PS.
I was coming out of the sea after a swim and said to my wife “I bet I look just like James Bond walking out of the surf in Casino Royale”
Mary replied “Sorry Peter more Daniel Lambert than Daniel Craig!”

Well what do you expect with 7 fabulous restaurants.

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