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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

For the Birds

Los Haitises National Park

We inadvertently went on a 3 hour guided birding tour two days ago.  Inadvertently? How could that happen you ask.  Excellent question. I shall attempt a believable explanation. 

Taino face carving. Nose has broken off.
We had spent several days at the Puerto Bahía Marina waiting for the right weather window to make our next jump north. Sailing to the Turks and Caicos would be a passage of some 200 miles. 

In the meantime, only 10 miles away on the opposite side of the bay from Puerto Bahía lay the Haitises National Parque. (pro ah-EE-tee-sase). Sailboats are allowed only two nights of anchorage at the national park, and we were looking forward to being at anchor again. We would have to use our time wisely to see as much as possible in only two days at the park.
Taino cave petroglyphs, Los Haitises
National Park

We were especially interested in the caves containing petroglyphs and carvings made by the Taino Indians. The Taino people occupied many of the Caribbean islands, preceding Columbus’ “discovery” by ~1000 years.  These people became extinct shortly after Columbus’ arrival, by means of being worked to death in slavery and the remainder dying of diseases brought by the Europeans. We took the dinghy to shore and visited the two caves our first day there. 
Enormous cave containing Taino petroglyphs, Los Haitises National Park

The Caño Chiquito River runs into the national park through a dense, old growth mangrove forest. We wanted to explore the river, and we had also heard about an inland eco resort of sorts upriver, with small pools around it. That sounded good. 

Bird that builds nests inside cave. We
think it is the Cave Swallow.
Early the next morming, we prepared appropriately—we put on swimsuits and shirts, sturdy sandals, and in our backpacks carried sunglasses, sunscreen and water bottles. Both of my cameras came along—the “good” camera for the zoom as needed, and the other, a waterproof camera. (I rarely go anywhere without a camera and when I do, I often regret it.) We got in the dinghy and headed off. We planned to be gone until lunch time. 
Caño Chiquito River, Los Haitises National Park

As we motored I commented that perhaps we should have brought binoculars along so that we could examine the nearby rock island that several species of birds were using. Magnificent frigate birds, which are one of my favorite species, soared around the island, landing and flying off again. Oh well. We would have time to come back later with binoculars.
Possibly, a Little Blue Heron?

The first part of our journey was approximately two miles over open water and then up the Caño Chiquito River. We have seen many mangrove wetlands but none to compare with this one. Enormous mature mangrove trees cover many, many miles of coastline and is at least a mile deep throughout. Fascinating! 
May be a TriColored Heron?
The next portion of the journey was on foot, an easy mile hike.  A dirt and rocky road took us between lush rice fields and pasture land with cows and horses.  A pleasant walk. A barbed wire fence allowed us to view the resort before steering us to an entry gate. We were looking forward to a cool dip in one of those pools we’d been told about.
Eco-tourism resort surrounded by pools

Two pleasant men in uniform greeted us at the gate with the customary, “Hola. ¿Como está?¨ ¨Bien. ¿Y usted?¨ We paid 200 pesos each to enter the park. The conversation continued in Spanish. “Do you have reservations?” We looked at each other and said we did not. Without delay, one of the gentlemen began showing us pictures of birds, some of them endemic to the Dominican Republic, “endemic” being a word that translated well for us English speakers.
We think this is a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.

We didn’t understand everything he was telling us but we like birds so we nodded our heads a lot and responded with “Ahhhh” several times. I was coming to the conclusion that maybe we wouldn’t be allowed to use the building and facilities without reservations, but it was looking like we could take hikes within the national park and look for these birds. That would be cool. Fortunately, we had our own water with us. So we started into the park.
Wild turkeys, not found in the bird books

Now here is where things became fuzzy. The gentleman put away the bird book and began walking ahead of us into the park. I stopped him and asked (in poor Spanish, no doubt) if we couldn’t walk the park by ourselves and look for the birds. And was it far? He told us it wasn’t far and resumed walking. 
One of several hummingbirds seen. Poor
photography without my zoom camera

Now, with my husband and I both trying to work out what was happening, I stopped him again. I explained that we were worried because if he was intending to act as our guide, we had brought very little money with us for a tip. Again, this nice gentleman, Juan smiled and said gently, “No problema. El dinero es no problema.”

Juan leading us through park
So we followed him.  He led us past the resort building and pools which were beautiful and well designed at various elevations and depths. We continued on down a path, crossing a pasture and into woods. Well, wasn’t it nice of him to show us where the paths began. 
Note the cattle egret that hangs around
cows and horses

When we came to a clearing, I heard an incredibly loud whistle-like sound. Looking around I realized the sound came from this nice gentleman. He was calling the birds, the endemic hawk to be precise. And these are the exact words that passed through my mind next. “Oh, shit, we are on a birding tour.” 
No idea what this greenish bird is called
in English, or Spanish either for that matter.

Now as I said, we like birds.  A birding tour would have been a great idea if we had known it was going to be an option that day. I would have worn my hiking boots, shorts and a hat.  I would have studied more Spanish words relating to the topic of birds. Most importantly, we would have both brought binoculars. Again, “shit.” 
Don't know English name of this plant
but it is very poisonous.
 In addition to that, the screen on my good camera had turned black during the dinghy ride. I could not figure out what I had done wrong, and I was really worried about my camera. But, no time for that now. We were on a birding tour.
Another type of hummingbird; wish I
knew the English name.

We went across various landscapes, dense woods, grassland with animals, opened and closed gates, up hills covered with forest, through a cave-like pass on top of a steep incline (the purpose of which was never clear to me), around a stream, and a spring fed pool, getting farther and farther away from the resort. All the while, our unassuming guide, Juan, made various bird calls and pointed out several birds to us. 
Very poor photo, but it may be Juan's
endemic hawk

Juan particularly is fond of those endemic hawks and called them several times to his own amusement. He said he had been working in the park for 42 years! We believed he was very good at his job and had a lot to tell us about each of the birds. It was truly disappointing to only be able to guess at the bulk of his monologue in Spanish.
Wish I knew the name of this chubby
little bird. Wish I'd had my good camera.

I don’t like to complain but it was really hard to see many of the birds without binoculars. Juan used his all the time. And I was without my camera to zoom in on the birds too. That fact alone was quite distressing to me. My feet were scratched up. I was hungry and really tired. Furthermore, I was just plain embarrassed to be on a hike wearing a swimsuit. Dumb American.
Two and 1/2 hours into the birding tour
and no idea how much longer it will go.

How long would this birding tour go on? It clearly was important to Juan that we saw the birds he was pointing out, so sometimes I just pointed the camera in the direction he indicated and nodded. I’m a little ashamed about that.
An example of aiming camera in general
direction of where Juan pointed. Note
orange tail feathers.
Fat little neon green bird with creamy
breast. Name anyone?

Three hours later, we had circled around and returned to the resort by a different path. We all sat down, and Juan, seated on my right was quiet for the first time. Carl pulled out his wallet and thanking him, gave Juan 1000 pesos. (That’s $20 US.) I’ve rarely used the word “crestfallen” but it was appropriate for Juan. “¿No mas?” he said softly to me. Carl found another 400 pesos, leaving us with only a few. 
Returning to the Eco-Tourism resort

I explained to Juan, we were so surprised but very pleased to find a birding tour and had not prepared well for it. We thanked him heartily and told him we had very much enjoyed our morning together. He appeared mildly pleased about that. We parted feeling like cheap schmucks, for disappointing Juan, who gave us a long, thorough tour that we would have been willing to pay more for, if we had only been prepared.
After our lunch buffet

As it turned out, we were allowed to use the facilities at the resort. We had a buffet lunch (thank goodness they took Visa) and decided we were too exhausted to even drag ourselves into the pools, which by that time had become quite popular with people of all ages. Something to be expected I suppose on Easter Sunday. We just wanted to return to the boat and to sleep. So, we walked a mile back to the dinghy, motored another two miles, and climbed back aboard Northern Star where I poured myself into bed. 
Different hummingbird species
 from the ones pictured above.
*Heartfelt apologies for the quality of these photos. Sadly, taken without zoom feature.

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