On the morning of July 2nd, 2013, staff from The Peregrine Fund acompanied by Dominican biologists climed into the first Ridgway's Hawk nest in Puntacana history. They brought the recently hatched chick safely down to the ground where it was examined, weighed, and fitted with a transmitter and identification band. The chick was identified as a male and found to be in perfect health, weighing in at 320g (about the average weight of a male his age). A blue identification band, with alphanumeric code 44, was placed on his right leg. The placement on his right leg indicates he is a male and the color blue signifies that he was born naturally in the area and not released like the other birds before him in Punta Cana. Shortly after his examination, this young hawk, now known as B44, was carefully placed back in the nest. He immediately started hopping up and down throughout his nest, playing with twigs and becoming more and more rambunctious.
On the afternoon of July 10th, another milestone was reached: B44 took his first flight! As if he had been doing it his whole life he flew from his nest to a coconut palm just across the street. From this day on he became more and more curious about his surroundings and eventually began flying beyond the immediate supervision of his parents. As the days passed B44 began developing predictable flying habits, making it easy for conservations from The Peregrine Fund to locate him - often just by listening for his calls around the nest area. More recently the chick began flying down to the ground to pick up twigs or leaves, which he would then either drop there on the ground or fly off with them only to let go of them later. The chick has also begun to display other interesting habits in which he sits perfectly still on a branch and then all of a sudden snaps into action by flying off and sinking his talons into a nearby palm tree before flying off again. This behavior indicates that he is beginning to fine tune his hunting skills.
Since the last report posted on Global Giving, biologists also managed to capture three of the adult hawks and replace their transmitters. This typically needs to be done once a year and is quite difficult to accomplish. Two hawks managed to evade our trapping methods, one of whose transmitter continues to give off a weak signal. Ultimately it was decided to leave these individuals be until they pair up with another hawk, at which time they will be much easier to capture in order to replace their transmitters. This was the case with the parents of B44 (ND & AV) neither of which had a working transmitter upon being captured at the nest site.
In other news, The Peregrine Fund continued its extensive education campaign by reaching out to new rural communities in the area as well as local businesses that had not previously been contacted. This latest round of educational presentations reached an additional 307 individuals, teaching them about the importance of this magnificent species and our conservation efforts in Punta Cana. In total, The Peregrine Fund has reached out to over 856 individuals this year, by far the most successful educational campaign in the history of this project.
Thanks to the multitude of jobs created by the area's tourism industry, Veron has become one of the main points of migration in the Dominican Republic. While this has been a boom for the area economically, the transitory nature of much of Veron's population presents unique challenges for community development initiatives. This summer the Puntacana Ecological Foundation hosted two timely and in depth university studies in order to better understand these constantly changing communal dynamics in Domingo Maiz before the Fuentes de Vida project breaks ground. First, the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) with the help of the Peace Corps realized a detailed community health analysis from May 5 - 12. The survey was developed by Gallop Poll to investigate a broad range of key social and health indicators such as: education, family dynamics, employment history, recent health history as well as communal environmental issues. The survey built upon previous studies executed by Save the Children in different barrios throughout Veron in 2009. The results of the study are being compiled into a final report which will then be shared with the Neighborhood Association of Domingo Maiz by early Fall 2013. This study will serve as a "before" snapshot which will then be followed up with another study after the system has been completed to see if the newly implemented sanitation systems have a quantifiably positive impact on the residents' health - if so then Domingo Maiz could truly serve as a model community for the larger municipality.
The second university study was executed by Virginia Tech's Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE). The Fuentes de Vida project was originally inspired by a 2011 CEE ground water contamination study, which led CEE professors John Novak and Mark Widdowson to recommend the constructed wetland sewage treatment system as an effective vehicle for stemming the flow of effluent water into the community's water source. Since then CEE has continued to be a crucial partner, consulting on every aspect of the Fuentes de Vida project and returning every summer to continue their studies on well water contamination in Veron. Their annual work has produced the most complete database currently available to the community of Veron and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation by identifying contamination hotspots that pose health risks to the residents of Veron. This year's studies examined contaminant levels over time as water is pumped form the well to observe if contamination rates decreased as theoretically cleaner water is drawn from deeper in the aquifer. As with all of its community studies the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, along with the aid of Peace Corps volunteers, communicate the results of these studies back to the community members and well owners as soon as the reports are finalized. The final goal of these studies is not only to better inform the Fuentes de Vida project but to also better educate the community members about potential environmental/health risks in their communities.
In other news, the magazine Good Company recently wrote a piece about Fuentes de Vida and sent down two photographers to document the community and the project. The issue is available now in Barnes and Noble bookstores. Also in recent months, all members of the Fuentes de Vida project have put forward a great effort to raise funds for the construction of the constructed wetland treatment system through grants, fundraisers and awareness campaigns. The community of Domingo Maiz has made it their goal to raise enough money to begin construction before the end of the calendar year, which means your help and contributions via Global Giving could make a huge difference for 500 residents in Domingo Maiz.
This month the Ridgway’s Hawk project has exciting news to announce: We have a Ridgway’s Hawk nest right here in Punta Cana WITH A CHICK! ND, the female that had paired up with the male AN, laid a single egg in April that has just hatched this past week!
In a surprising plot twist that sounds like something straight out of a telenovela, ND is no longer with the male AN but has left him for AV, an older male. AV is a bird that was released in the 2011 hack season; AV did very well after his 2011 release and rapidly became independent, but one day that summer we found his transmitter, which appeared to have been cut off of his body, laying on the ground by the side of a road outside of Punta Cana! Because one of the major challenges we face with the Ridgway’s hawk is persecution from people, we thought that someone must have killed AV, removing his transmitter and taking the body; we wrote him off as dead. Thus when ND appeared one morning with this older male in tow, we were surprised and overjoyed to discover AV alive and in beautiful adult plumage!
AV and ND have since been very busy staking out their territory, constructing their nest on top of an active palmchat-colony nest in a cana palm, and laying eggs. After over a month of incubation, the nestling finally hatched this past Saturday, May 25, 2013. For the following several days we have been watching AV bringing prey to the nest and ND carefully tearing tiny bites to feed to the nestling. On Tuesday we saw the top of the chick’s head for a few brief seconds over the edge of the nest as it was being fed. Then on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 we climbed the nest palm to check that all was going well with the nestling. We are happy to report that the chick was in perfect health and was safely examined and weighed, then replaced in the nest. We will be closely monitoring the chick to ensure its health and safety as much as possible until it too is a flying member of the Punta Cana population of the Ridgway’s Hawk.
In other news, we have been focusing much of our attention on community education here in Punta Cana and in the surrounding communities. Many workers at the resorts and persons whose livelihoods depend on the tourism industry have come to know the Ridgway’s Hawk (Gavilán de la Hispaniola) by name. Thus far in 2013 the Ridgway’s Conservation Initiative has reached out to over 292 adults and 257 youths in various communities, schools and businesses that may come in contact with the hawks. We are continuing our efforts to nurture a feeling of ownership for the birds within the area with plans to spread out further in the future.
Meanwhile, The Peregrine Fund’s conservation efforts for the Ridgway’s Hawk population located in Los Haitises National Park, is also making record-breaking progress this year. So far The Peregrine Fund has banded 47 nestlings and 19 adults from over 50 nests that were closely monitored during the 2013 breeding season. This year a higher percentage of young birds have fledged than in years past, in part due to increased monitoring of nests. While this does not directly affect the population here in Punta Cana, it is good news for the species and we applaudthe efforts of The Peregrine Fund and their field crew
Finally, many thanks to all the wonderful donors who have helped to keep this project afloat, we could not have made this sort of progress without your generous and continuing support!
This update was written for the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation by Christine Deegear Hayes, Seasonal Field Biologist, The Peregrine Fund.