Once again it is Ridgway’s Hawk breeding season and we have spent the last several months monitoring the ever growing population of hawks in Punta Cana. We have also been preparing ourselves and the release area for another busy season. This has included making it a safer place for the birds by continuing with our environmental education program and retrofitting of power lines.
Retro fitting power lines has been one of our biggest efforts so far this year. Many power poles here in the Dominican Republic are made of cement with a metal cross-arm, making the entire pole conducive to electricity. If a bird touches any part of a cement power pole with a metal cross-arm while touching one of the power lines it can be electrocuted – especially in wet weather. With a wooden pole and wooden cross-arm a bird would have to touch two energized lines at the same time in order to be electrocuted. We initially installed wooden T-perches above the power poles in Punta Cana to prevent electrocutions, but sometimes the hawks perch below the T-perches and other smaller species of birds will perch on any horizontal surface of the pole. Even though we have worked very hard to make these poles safer we still had several Ridgway’s Hawk mortalities due to electrocutions in 2014. We immediately jumped back into action and last August (2014) we invited Rick Harness from EDM International to evaluate the distribution lines in the area. Rick is an expert in preventing raptor and other wildlife electrocutions. His job is to evaluate distribution lines and identify areas which are potentially dangerous. He then makes recommendations in order to correct the problem. Rick spent a week evaluating our situation in Punta Cana so he could advise us on how to proceed. Rick recommended a number of different products that we could use to retrofit the lines in Punta Cana and then we made the ultimate decision on which product to use based on price and functionality. Unfortunately, even though the local power company in Punta Cana has agreed to install the products for free and we can purchase the materials we need almost at production cost, it still requires about $150 total to retrofit a single power pole. As expensive as retrofitting is, we feel that this is the best option in order to make a safe environment for the hawks as well as for the other species of birds found in the area. After the lengthy process of ordering and getting these products shipped to the DR, we began retro-fitting power poles in January. With a $5000 grant from the Walt Disney Foundation and a $4000 donation from Grupo Puntacana, we were able to purchase enough materials to cover most of the poles immediately surrounding the release area. Power Line Sentry manufactured the parts we needed and the founder of the company, Ron Spencer, even flew down to the DR from the US on his own dime to make sure that all the products were installed correctly. With Rick’s and Ron’s help we have covered about 80 poles. We have estimated that it will cost upwards of $100,000 to completely retrofit all the poles in and around the Puntacana Resort and Club. Poco a poco (little by little) we move forward, for now all of the poles where we have seen mortalities have been retrofitted. As the population expands we will continue with this effort.
We are beginning to see signs that our efforts in education are proving effective. We have been receiving calls from locals in the communities close to PC. Rather than shooting raptors that show up near their houses, they are now calling us to come and identify the birds and also to provide them with chicken cages so that they can prevent having their small chickens eaten. The message that hawks are beneficial to have around is starting to take hold as locals talk about not wanting to shoot the hawks since they help to control rats and snakes which eat their crops and poultry.
Looking to the future, we plan to release 20+ Ridgway’s Hawks at the Punta Cana hack site during the 2015 season. We also expect to have more nestlings hatch right here in Punta Cana as we have identified two new pairs of hawks who are nest building, doubling the breeding population for a grand total of four breeding pairs this year! In addition to the actively nesting pairs, several juvenile Ridgway’s have paired off, spending time near each other, seeming to be forming pair bonds. These juveniles may not reproduce this year, but we know they are a sign of good things to come.
Phase 1 Inaugurated! On to Phase 2…
The Puntacana Ecological Foundation and the rest of the Fuentes de Vida (FDV) coalition are proud to announce that the constructed wetlands wastewater treatment system was officially inaugurated on Sunday, November 2nd. In attendance was the Neighborhood Association of Domingo Maiz, representatives of Peace Corps Dominican Republic, community leaders from other barrios throughout the municipality of Veron, local businesses and other organizations involved in the initiative, and of course, the community members of Domingo Maiz. The inauguration not only served to commemorate the completion of the region’s first public waste water treatment system but also to empower other communities in the area to take similar action towards improving their living conditions. During the inauguration the FDV coalition showcased a short documentary, called Fuentes de Vida: Desarrollo Comunitario Integral, which clearly describes the project’s history, mission, and execution in a concise and engaging narrative. The documentary was produced by the Dominican Consortium for Competitive Tourism and World Television with funding from the Partners of America Foundation and can be seen on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpHbz91nqf0
More recently, on December 5th, concertgoers and volunteers from the not-for-profit foundation, Positive Legacy (the largest independent backer of the FDV initiative), volunteered for a service day in Domingo Maíz. December’s service day continued the community works started during the March 2014 day of service including a community wide clean up, painting informative murals next to the constructed wetlands, and hosting a community celebration with local musicians playing typical meringue and bachata music. Community turn out was great with the youth of the community comprising the majority of the workforce. We look forward to hosting another service day with Positive Legacy at the end of January 2015.
Looking ahead to 2015, the Fuentes de Vida coalition will seek to continue working with the neighborhood association of Domingo Maiz to implement a potable water system (Phase 2 of the FDV initiative). In the rapidly developing municipality of Veron, change can often seem to be the only constant. In keeping with this sense of change and progress elections are to be held shortly to elect new members to the neighborhood association of Domingo Maiz and form a new water committee in charge of overseeing the maintenance and operation of the water systems – before beginning construction on the potable water system. The Puntacana Ecological Foundation will help consult and assist the neighborhood association throughout these organizational processes to better ensure a smooth operation and adoption once construction of the potable water system is complete.
In closing, on behalf of the Puntacana Ecological Foundation and the rest of the Fuentes de Vida Coalition we would like to thank all of you who have donated to the project to date. Moving forward we hope we can count on your continued support for this pioneering project and hope you share this GlobalGiving Page with anyone you think may be interested in learning about this project. We wish you the very best in 2015!
We are extremely excited to let all of you know what has happened since our last report. The last of the hawks that were returning to the release site to feed have become completely independent. For the last several months we have focused our energy on monitoring all of the hawks in Punta Cana. This has become an increasingly challenging task as the Punta Cana Ridgway’s Hawk population has more than quadrupled in the last year. Fortunately, we have several dedicated Dominicans who have made the hawks their priority and are following their movements on a daily basis.
The most exciting news is the formation of several new pairs. These new pairs come as a direct result of the last year’s releases and also the remaining unpaired males, one of which has been a bachelor since he was released in 2011. The first hawks to start acting as though they might pair up were Blue-44 and Red-22. Blue 44 was the first Ridgway’s Hawk to hatch in the wild in Punta Cana from our first pair to form back in 2013. Red-22 was released this past year and shortly after she became independent, we started seeing her and B-44 together. In the last few months these interactions have become stronger and we are most certain that they have formed a pair bond. We are hopeful that they will attempt to breed this upcoming season!!
Veteran male Black-AR and female Red-24 have also been seen consistently seen together for the last few months. Other potential pairs of hawks are starting to form and so far it looks like we may have as many as six pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in the Puntacana area for the 2015 breeding season. Something very important to point out is that many of these birds are favoring territories in Puntacana’s upscale residential areas. There is certainly plenty of undisturbed woodland habitat for Ridgway’s Hawks in Punta Cana, but it seems that they prefer the open forest edge habitat that the residential areas provide. The hawks certainly use the pristine forests of areas such as Ojos Indigenous for hunting and to escape the hot sun in the middle of the day, but so far all of our Ridgway’s Hawk nests have been in territories in residential areas of the area. This is great news as it is a testament to the adaptability of Ridgway’s Hawks and this kind of adaptability will only mean greater success for the birds’ future. It is also good news for residents of Puntacana, since these top predators will certainly help control some unwanted pests such as rats and mice.
In other news, our education program is stronger than ever. In just the last three months we have already reached more individuals than we did in all the rest of 2014. This is the result of all the hard work that our Education Coordinator Marta Curti has put in over the last several years and some great collaborations we have put together between The Peregrine Fund, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, Fundacion Propagas, and the Santo Domingo Zoo. Our ultimate goal is nationwide awareness and a cultural shift in the attitude towards raptors, but we are making this change one person at a time.
Finally, we have been working over the last few months to purchase and import retrofitting devices to help make power lines in Puntacana safe for birds. We have just received all of the parts we ordered and now have only to put them to work. This task will be accomplished by Grupo Puntacana over the next couple months and before the 2015 releases begin. This action will go a long way, not only to protect Ridgway’s Hawks, but also many other species who make Puntacana their home.
By the time we submitt our next report, I hope to be telling you more about the newly formed pairs of hawks and also a bit about the exciting field work we are conducting in Los Haitises National Park.