Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dominican Republic - Botanic Gardens, Santo Domingo

The second stage of our Helen's big birthday tour was to the Dominican Republic.  The original idea had been to journey around the Caribbean but from the UK we couldn't work out how to connect.   Cuba for example would have required us flying back to the UK and out again and potentially created complications at US immigration in the future.  With that in mind we'd switched to Panama as the main location and then booked a flight direcly with their national airline, Copa Airlines, to the Dominican Republic.

We had in parallel contacted a birding company, Tody Tours, who had outlined a tour and booked a guide, etc.   We should have known what was coming as the emails we got were quite incoherent, hard to understand and generally took a lot of pushing to make progress.

The hotel they recommended in Santo Domingo was fine and the guide arrived early the next morning with the rental car, which he then proceeded to drive like a nutter.  In the city that was ok because everyone was driving like a nutter, out on the main roads though at much higher speeds, it was uncomfortable.

Anyway our first stop early on the first morning was the Botanical Gardens in the city:

The morning sun was rising, highlighting this Great (White) Egret:

Another familiar species was this American Kestrel:

Then we saw lots of new species, starting with an Eastern Chat-Tanager:

Gray Kingbird:

Hispaniolan Lizard Cuckoo:

Greater Antillean Grackle:

Hispaniolan Parakeets:

Hispaniolan Woodpeckers:

Walking around the gardens there's a river and there we added West-Indian Whistling-Duck:

Least Grebe:

Palm Chat:

Prarie Warbler:

White-winged Dove:

Red-legged Thrush:

While we were walking behind our agitated guide, trying to keep up while spotting new species Helen saw this Chuck-wills-Widow, a real cracker of a species to see in daylight:

Once we'd completed our hurried walk around the gardens we got in the car to drive to Villa Barrancola, the home base of the tour company.  It wasn't what we expected.  The rooms are very basic with no privacy.   There is a shower and toilet block centrally on the site but these weren't cleaned while we were there and we saw staff using the showers as toilets.  The water wasn't working properly so not hot water, the power was on and off.  The promised wifi was only via the host's phone, and the phone wasn't charging.   They provide only breakfast and dinner, which is odd given how far it is from anywhere else.   They did have cold beer though, so that was relief!

Sleep however was hard to come by.   The following morning was the 'big one', driving up to the border with Haiti to a national park to see La Selle's thrush, up a road that is only passable with care on a 4x4 and involves wearing a neck pillow to mitigate the continuous bumping apparently.   Helen decided to sit out the 3:30am alarm....


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