Birds, Birds and Humpback Whales
12 – Day Birding & Natural History Trip: January 14 – January 25, 2011
Day 1 – Friday, January 14: Raleigh/Durham to our US Gateway City and on to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Our adventure begins at Raleigh/Durham International airport with our flight to Miami. Please arrive at RDU no later than two hours prior to our scheduled departure time. Dave Davenport and John Gerwin will be there to meet you and help you get checked in. Upon arrival at Miami’s International Airport we will transfer to our departure gate for our flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Once we arrive in the Dominican Republic we will clear customs and immigration before we meet Kate Wallace, our guide/driver, and transfer to the Hotel Palacio. The rest of the afternoon will be free to relax prior to dinner. After dinner we will return to our rooms at the hotel for a night of much needed rest. The Hotel Palacio occupies a 17th century mansion complete with stone-walled walkways and an interior courtyard. The rooms are comfortable and the service is excellent. (D)
Day 2 – Saturday, January 15: Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens and Depart for Puerto Escondido and Sierra de Bahoruco National Park
After an early breakfast we will visit Santo Domingo’s National Botanical Gardens. These lush tropical gardens provide a variety of suitable habitats for birds including some species which are not easily seen elsewhere like least grebe, limpkin and the endemic Hispaniolan parakeet (all Hispaniolan endemics will be italicized). We should readily see the Dominican Republic’s national bird, the palmchat and other commonly encountered birds could include Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoo, mangrove cuckoo, Hispaniolan woodpecker, Antillean palm-swift, vervain hummingbird, Antillean mango, gray kingbird, black-whiskered vireo and black-crowned palm-tanager. We will have the entire morning to bird the gardens before breaking for lunch. After lunch we travel west toward Puerto Escondido – the gateway to the incredibly bird-rich forests of Sierra de Bahoruco National Park. The drive to Sierra de Bahoruco will take about four hours and once we leave the main roads we will wind our way to Puerto Escondido on the north slope of the park. Just outside Puerto Escondido is a birding camp called Villa Barrancoli that is operated by our guide. This rustic camp will be our home for the next three nights as we access this truly remote and wild area. Most of us will be staying in tents set up underneath shelters, but there are also two cabins with beds available that will be used by those participants for whom camping in a tent may be difficult. Everything we need will be provided for us in camp including bathrooms and delicious authentic Dominican meals prepared for us by members of the local community. It is important to keep in mind that this part of the island is very remote and this camp is really our only option for visiting this area and seeing some of the rarer endemics like bay-breasted cuckoo, La Selle thrush and western chat-tanager. This national park is home to over 100 species of birds including 28 out of 30 Hispaniolan endemics which will more than make up for the rusticity of camp. After settling into camp we will have dinner and retire early in preparation of our very early start tomorrow morning. (B,L,D)
Day 3 – Sunday, January 16: Sierra de Bahoruco – the Highlands of Zapoten
Today we will depart very early to drive further into the park and higher in elevation. Our goal is to reach an area of cloud forest called Zapoten just before dawn. We need to depart early because the road is very rough and because we want to increase our chances of seeing two high altitude endemics, La Selle thrush and western chat-tanager. Both of these birds are easier to see at dawn as they forage along the road. Later in the day they both become very skulking and keep to the forest making them much more difficult to find. Even though the early morning will be focused on finding the two specialized species there will be plenty of other high altitude species we will look for including scaly-naped pigeon, white-fronted quail-dove, Hispaniolan emerald, Hispaniolan trogon, narrow-billed tody, rufous-throated solitaire, green-tailed ground-tanager, Hispaniolan highland-tanager, Hispaniolan spindalis, Antillean euphonia and Antillean siskin. Once we begin to bird our way back down slope other species we could encounter include broad-billed tody, Hispaniolan lizard-cuckoo, Antillean piculet, white-necked crow, Hispaniolan oriole and hopefully the rare and beautiful bay-breasted cuckoo. We will concentrate our efforts to find the bay-breasted cuckoo in an area known as La Placa which is also good for flat-billed vireo. After a full day of birding we will return to camp for dinner and overnight. After dinner, if we are not too tired, we can drive some areas of the road after dark to look for the two endemic nightjars, least pauraque and Hispaniolan nightjar. (B,L,D)
Day 4 – Monday, January 17: Sierra de Bahoruco National Park
We will have another full day to explore this region of Sierra de Bahoruco. This day was added to make sure we have adequate time to find this area’s endemics. If we haven’t yet seen the bay-breasted cuckoo that will be the main target of the day. We also will concentrate on other highland species we may have missed yesterday and tonight will give us another opportunity to try for the least pauraque and the Hispaniolan nightjar. After another full day of birding we will return to Villa Barrancoli for dinner and our final night in camp. (B,L,D)
Day 5 – Tuesday, January 18: Puerto Escondido Thorn Forest, Lago Enriquillo and Jimani
After breakfast we will pack up and wind our way out of Sierra de Bahoruco to the dry thorn forests of the lowlands and the shoreline of Lake Enriquillo. The main focus of our efforts in this area will be one of the two endemic corvids, the palm crow, which is fairly common along the lakeshore. This Manhattan-sized saline lake, located 145 feet below sea level, could also produce shorebirds, egrets, terns, herons and greater flamingos. If we are lucky we could also spy an American crocodile sunning itself on the banks. We will also visit an area near the dusty border town of Jimani to look for Caribbean coot. After a full day we will travel southeast to the town of Barahona and then a further 10 kilometers south along the coastal road to the Hotel Club El Quemaito – our accommodations for the next three nights. This hotel is located on a cliff overlooking the ocean and has basic, but comfortable rooms, good food, a swimming pool and a small beach just down the road. (B,L,D)
Day 6 – Wednesday, January 19: Alcoa Road
This morning we will be up early as we journey to the south slope of Sierra de Bahoruco. Our destination is the paved Alcoa Road that was originally built to maintain a former bauxite mining operation by Alcoa. This road reaches a unique habitat – the high elevation pine forests which are home to today’s primary targets, the Hispaniolan crossbill, Hispaniolan siskin and golden swallow (note: the golden swallow is likely now an endemic as it hasn’t been recorded in Jamaica for quite a long time now). We will also be on the lookout for Hispaniolan emerald, Antillean piculet, plain pigeon, Hispaniolan parrot, loggerhead kingbird, Caribbean martin and both olive-throated and Hispaniolan parakeets. This area, indeed the entire Sierra de Bahoruco, is great for wintering warblers and we could see as many as nineteen species. Once we have finished birding the Alcoa Road we will make a brief stop at the wetlands near Cabo Rojo, where we may see shorebirds and ducks, depending on the water level. After another exciting day we will return to the Hotel Club El Quemaito for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Day 7 – Thursday, January 20: Oviedo Lagoon
Today we will be up and out early as we drive an hour and a half south of the hotel to Oviedo Lagoon. Once at Oveido we will board our boats for a trip on the brackish lagoon. The lagoon is shallow and we should be able to get very close to Greater flamingos, roseate spoonbills, white ibis and a host of other waders, shorebirds, gulls, terns and pelicans. By cutting the motor we should be able to approach the birds to within easy photographic range. We could also see some ducks and will be especially on the lookout for resident West Indian whistling-duck and white-cheeked pintail among the migratory species like blue-winged teal, American widgeon and lesser scaup. We will also stop at an island within the lagoon to look for two giant iguana species – the massive rhinoceros iguana and the endemic Ricord’s iguana. After our early morning boat trip we will return to the hotel and should have some free time in the afternoon to relax or go beachcombing. Dinner and overnight will once again be at the Hotel Club El Quemaito. (B,L,D)
Day 8 – Friday, January 21: Cachote and Depart for Sabana de la Mar
This morning we will depart early for Cachote which is the best site to see another rare and skulking endemic, the eastern chat-tanager. After looking for, and hopefully finding, the eastern chat-tanager we will return to the hotel for breakfast, pack up and begin the long drive to Sabana de la Mar on the north coast of the island. We will stop in Santo Domingo for lunch before continuing north to the small town of Sabana de la Mar. Sabana de la Mar is the gateway to Los Haitises National Park and Samana Bay where large numbers of humpback whales migrate each winter to mate and give birth. Today will be a long day of travel, but once we reach Sabana de la Mar we will settle into our accommodations for the next four nights at the Paraiso Cano Hondo Hotel. This is a very unique hotel with excellent food and extremely comfortable rooms! The Jivales River runs through the property and has been channeled into ten magical waterfall-fed pools that will provide the perfect soak after a long day of travel on hot bumpy roads! After settling into our rooms and soaking in the pools we will have dinner. After dinner we will look for a very special endemic, the ashy-faced owl, before retiring for a welcome night’s sleep. (B,L,D)
Day 9 – Saturday, January 22: Los Haitises National Park
Los Haitises National Park consists of dense tropical lowland vegetation and broadleaf forests blanketed over karst limestone hills and valleys. It is also full of rivers, mangrove swamps and includes a few karst islands jutting up out of the bay. This park is home to 110 species of birds including many endemic species. Most importantly, Los Haitises is the last stronghold for the endemic and critically endangered Ridgway’s hawk. With only about 50 pairs left this handsome hawk is one of the rarest raptors in the world. This morning our focus will be on finding the hawk. We will depart early for the park and will follow one of the park guards into a valley where the hawks are monitored. Despite how rare they are we stand a good chance of seeing them today. While searching for the hawk we could also see plain pigeon, white-necked crow, broad-billed tody, Hispaniolan Pewee, Stolid Flycatcher, black-crowned palm-tanager, Hispaniolan parrot and Hispaniolan oriole. After our early morning hawk walk we will return to Paraiso Cano Hondo. We should have some free time this afternoon to relax, find the hammocks, catch up on our bird lists and/or swim in the pools. Dinner and overnight will once again be at the Paraiso Cano Hondo Hotel. If we missed the ashy-faced owl last night we could try again tonight. (B,L,D)
Day 10 – Sunday, January 23: Los Haitises National Park
Today we will have another full day to explore Los Haitises. We will hike through the humid tropical forest on a different trail than the one we used to find the hawk. The Park is known for its incredible scenery, but we will also be on the lookout for any bird species that we haven’t seen yet. After our hike we will take a boat trip to visit the mangroves and bay islands looking for yellow warbler, white-crowned pigeons, magnificent frigatebirds and brown boobies. During the trip we will also stop to visit three limestone caves to see the ancient Taino pictographs drawn on the cave walls. After a full day we will return to the Paraiso Cano Hondo Hotel and enjoy another great dinner. (B,L,D)
Day 11 – Monday, January 24: Bahia de Samana for Humpback Whales
After breakfast this morning we will depart the hotel for our whale watching trip out in Samana Bay. The waters off the north shore of the Dominican Republic are home to the majority of wintering humpback whales in the Atlantic. During the moths of January through March there may be as many as 10,000 whales near the DR including an estimated 200 to 300 in Samana Bay. These whales depart their North Atlantic feeding grounds to breed and give birth in these warm tropical waters. We will spend the morning plying the bay looking for whales. Humpbacks are among the most acrobatic whales and with luck we could see them breaching – leaping out of the water and crashing back in. It will truly be a privilege to spend time with these fantastic animals. After a full morning out on the ocean with the whales we will have lunch on the small island of Cayo Levantado. After lunch we can enjoy some beach time on the white sands of Cayo Levantado and take a swim in the turquoise waters before we return to our hotel. Tonight we will have our farewell dinner before packing for tomorrow’s journey home. (B,L,D)
Day 12 – Tuesday, January 25: Departure for the US
This morning we will depart early to travel from Sabana de la Mar back toward Santo Domingo and the airport. We should reach the airport in plenty of time to catch our late afternoon flight back to Miami. Once in Miami we will clear immigration and customs before transferring to our departure gate for Raleigh/Durham. (B,L)
* Please note that EcoQuest Travel, Inc. will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.
$3,093.00/person all-inclusive tour package
$ 600.00/person estimated international airfare*
*Note: It is EcoQuest Travel’s philosophy to provide an all-inclusive price, but due to the volatile nature of the airline industry, we are only able to provide an estimated airfare at this time. The actual date of ticketing will determine the price. Typically, we are accurate in our estimates, but please note that there may be a slight difference in pricing at the time of ticketing. If ticket prices at the time of booking are lower than our estimate the savings will be passed on to you. If they are higher you will be invoiced for the difference.
· Round-trip airfare from Raleigh/Durham to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
· All ground and boat transportation within the Dominican Republic
· All accommodations – based upon double occupancy (single occupancy is available at an additional cost)
· All tours within the scheduled itinerary
· Meals are included throughout the trip (except while in transit)
· Permits, entrance fees and guides
· The leadership services of EcoQuest Travel professionals
What’s Not Included:
· Gifts and items of a personal nature
· Gratuities (for local guides)
· Fees associated with obtaining a passport
· Travel insurance (please see the Travel Insurance Section below)
· Costs associated with pre-trip medical planning (such as vaccines)
A passport valid for at least 6 months after our arrival is required for travel in the Dominican Republic. No visa is required for US citizens.
The trip cost is based on a specific number of participants – 12 people.
The Dominican Government does not require any vaccinations; however, there are several vaccines that would be prudent to consider prior to traveling to the Dominican Republic. These include Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Hepatitis B. One should also check to make sure that vaccines against Tetanus/Diphtheria and Polio are up to date. Malaria is present in the Dominican Republic and anti-malarial medications are highly recommended. Information on travel- related diseases and vaccines to prevent them can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website at: www.cdc.gov/travel
We highly recommend discussing all medical issues related to travel with your doctor well in advance of the proposed travel date.
Payments and Reservations:
A deposit of $1,000.00 per person is required along with your reservation form in order to reserve space on the trip. This ensures airline seating space and necessary early deposits. We encourage you to send the deposit well in advance of the date the first payment is due, as paying the deposit is the only way to secure your spot. Personal checks, money orders and credit cards are accepted. If paying by personal check it should be made payable to EcoQuest Travel, Inc. and on the memo line please indicate: For Dominican Republic Trip 2011. If paying by credit card you can include your credit card number and expiration date on your reservation form. This form is available on our website: www.ecoquesttravel.net and can be filled out online and submitted via email, or downloaded and mailed. Alternatively, you can phone your credit card information in to EcoQuest Travel at: (919) 963-3038. EcoQuest Travel accepts Visa, MasterCard and most bank debit cards.
· A payment of at least $1,346.00 is required no later than July 2, 2010
· The remainder of the trip expense ($1,347.00) will be due on or before October 1, 2010
The initial deposit, as well as subsequent payments, will be used to purchase airline tickets and pay deposits for accommodations, travel arrangements, etc. in the Dominican Republic. Therefore, if you must withdraw from the trip, irrespective of reason, a refund will not be possible. We strongly suggest that you protect yourself with the purchase of trip cancellation insurance. We will try to retain a wait list for this trip and it is possible that if you end up not being able to participate we will attempt to find a replacement for you; however, it is your responsibility to find a replacement or to have insurance.
· Please note that in the event EcoQuest Travel, Inc. does not have enough participants for this trip a refund of the initial deposit of $1,000.00, and any subsequent payments, will be issued.
EcoQuest Travel, Inc. partners with Access America and CSA to provide the best possible travel insurance for our clients. They offer trip cancellation and worldwide emergency services (such as emergency evacuation and emergency medical services) as well as a host of other benefits. You can find more information on EcoQuest Travel’s website (www.ecoquesttravel.net) including how to get quotes and sign up. You do not have to use Access America or CSA and may choose to use another company. Either way, EcoQuest Travel, Inc. strongly suggests the purchase of trip cancellation/medical insurance.
Note: Pre-existing conditions will be waived by Access America if you purchase travel insurance within 14 calendar days of your initial trip deposit. For more information please see our website. To locate the travel insurance section of our website look on the destination page in the “click to go to” section on the right hand side of the screen under “purchase insurance”.
Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form you will be sent an information packet containing flight information, baggage requirements, hints on what to bring and other useful information. The climate will vary from potentially hot and humid in the rainforest to hot and dry in lowland areas. It may be cooler at night –especially at elevation. You will want to bring a camera, film and binoculars. Again, a more exhaustive list will be provided after you are registered for the trip.
Dave Davenport: Zoologist and President – EcoQuest Travel, Inc.
John Gerwin: Curator of Birds – North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences