This column continues the account of a recent birding trip to the Dominican Republic. The excursion I describe here was one of the most memorable birding days of my life.

We departed at 4 a.m. from Villa Barancoli in Puerto Escondido to visit the mountainous region of Sierra de Bahoruco National Park at Zapoten, just east of the Haitian border. We departed in three four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicles for the eight-mile ride to the field site. The last six miles of the trip were over a boulder-strewn road with frequent washouts. It took us nearly two hours to drive those six miles.

It was still pitch-dark when we arrived, and our first quarry of the day, a Hispaniolan nightjar, would not begin to vocalize until closer to dawn. Attracted by a recording, one male perched briefly over a branch spanning the road, and we got short but satisfying looks at this island endemic.

Our next target was a La Selle’s thrush, a dead ringer for an American robin in silhouette but strikingly colored and furtive. The birds come out on the road to forage at dawn but are difficult to see at other times of the day. This species became our nemesis. Several whizzed across the track, affording no views. Our leader walked farther up the track and found one foraging on the road. By the time our party had gotten to the scope, a zenaida dove had landed on the road and scared the thrush away. But a white-fronted quail-dove, an endemic even more secretive than La Selle’s thrush, walked onto the road.

As the sun rose, we gave up on the La Selle’s thrush for the morning and concentrated on other birds. Where to start? Hispaniolan emeralds, an endemic hummingbird, flitted about as we had our picnic breakfasts.

Different species kept popping up, each as wonderful as the one before. We had Hispaniolan trogons, an Antillean piculet (a woodpecker relative), Hispaniolan pewees, golden swallows and rufous-sided solitaires.


We saw several delightful narrow-billed todies. These are small but feisty green birds with long, thin bills. The four species of todies are all endemic to the Greater Antilles, and two of them are only found on Hispaniola.

I was most eager to see several species whose taxonomic position has only recently been clarified. We saw some western chat-tanagers, one of the two members of the endemic family Calyptophilidae. These are skulking birds, difficult to see well.

We found white-winged warblers and green-tailed warblers, both now classified in the Phaenicophilidae family, along with the black-crowned palm-tanager. Common names can be confusing!

We also found the stripe-headed endemic Hispaniolan spindalis, one of the four species in the family Spindalidae, found only in the Greater Antilles and Bahamas.

We drove around midday to a stand of pines in hopes of finding Hispaniolan crossbill (a dead ringer for our white-winged crossbill). We heard lots of pine warblers and finally spotted a couple crossbills at the top of a large pine.

All of these endemic birds were joined by familiar friends: northern parulas, black-and-white warblers, Cape May warblers and black-throated blue warblers.


Later in the afternoon, a few of us were walking on the track and heard a call that seemed identical to one I have heard at the tree line on Mt. Katahdin. Patience rewarded us with views of a Bicknell’s thrush. Nearly all of these birds winter on Hispaniola and nest mainly in northern New England.

Determined to see La Selle’s thrush, we decided to pile into a single pickup and drive the track, hoping a thrush would be found foraging on the road at dusk. We got to hear several singing and had brief views. A Hispaniolan parrot was a nice addition.

Departing in darkness, we arrived at Villa Barancoli for a late supper after an exhausting but exhilarating day.

Herb Wilson teaches ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at

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