Since the last report in August, 2012, the last hawk that occasionally returned to the hack site to feed has since become completely independent. Volunteer Carlos Cruz left in the beginning of September and in his absence interested local volunteers assumed responsibility for tracking the hawks as they disperse throughout the Punta Cana area and establish their home ranges. On November 15th, Chris Clark, a new volunteer with the Peregrine Fund arrived to assume full time responsibilities for observing the hawks and distributing the recently created educational brochures mentioned in the last report. Chris will be staying at the Puntacana Ecological Foundation until mid-January, when other members of the Peregrine Fund arrive to begin the 2013 reintroduction program.
On August 28th one of the hawks, AW was injured near one of the neighboring tourism developments, located south of Puntacana Resort & Club. Although the veterinarian was unable to determine exactly what injured the hawk the wound appeared to be the result of a small rock which struck the bird just under its right wing. This injury highlights the need for conservation programs to incorporate extensive and long term educational components as part of their goals. The silver lining of this story is that representatives from the adjacent resort recognized the bird and contacted the Ecological Foundation immediately. Carlos Cruz retrieved AW and took it to a local veterinarian, who was able to treat the wound and monitor the hawk’s progress as it healed. In less than two weeks AW made a full recovery and is once again completely independent. After this incident, the Ecological Foundation helped organize educational talks for supervisors and managers of the various departments that may come in contact with these birds including the engineering departments, grounds keepers, maintenance, etc. This talk was well received and regular educational initiatives continue throughout the area.
As the 2013 high tourist season approaches we have made efforts to further publicize this initiative as a unique bird watching opportunity. By marketing the opportunity to see the Ridgeway’s Hawk to interested tourists we will simultaneously raise awareness about the plight of this critically endangered species and thus incentivize its conservation. Visitors to the Ecological Foundation can speak with the staff and volunteers working on this project and potentially accompany them while they track the hawks. Recently, two visiting members of the Montana Audubon Society were able to join our volunteer to track the hawks. Finally, from December 21st – January 4th, tourists and interested persons will once again have the opportunity to take a bird watching tour and potentially see the Hawk with Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology professor Dr. Andre Dhondt as he makes his annual winter visit to Punta Cana.
The 2012 reintroduced hawks have passed the most delicate phase of their reintroduction and are beginning to define their territories in the Punta Cana area. Of the final two birds reintroduced on May 22nd only one of them still occasionally returns to the hack box for an afternoon meal. All of the rest are now independently hunting and dispersing throughout the area. Carlos Cruz, a conservationist from Mexico, is currently in charge of tracking the hawks daily to monitor their development and train interested volunteers how to track the hawks.
The Peregrine Fund, the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation have finalized the educational brochure and will be distributing them to local residents in both the Punta Cana release site as well as in the communities of Los Haitises. Educating the local population who live alongside this endemic species about its importance to the island’s ecosystem and engaging them as active participants in the program is of the utmost importance to the survival of the species and the sustainability of the program.
The Puntacana Ecological Foundation has also made a significant investment to outfit the power lines in select areas of the property with extra structures, called “perches”, which would prevent the hawks from being electrocuted. Electrocution has become a serious concern as the hawks and other raptors like to perch on top of the power line poles and stretch out their wings to dry themselves off. We are currently investigating various apparatuses that could be effectively implemented throughout the Punta Cana property to block the sources of electricity that could harm the hawks.
Finally, in order to better prepare for the 2013 tourism season we have posted signs to help guide interested birders to the hack site and observation deck so that they can potentially see the hawks and also engage with the scientists working on the reintroduction program.
Since the last report written in January 2012, significant improvement was made to the hacking site. Invasive overgrowth was cleared between the observation deck and the hack box, simultaneously allowing for better viewing and providing a safer habitat for the newly released birds. The viewing deck was also improved so visiting scientists and interested birding enthusiasts alike can be more comfortable and less conspicuous when observing the hawks.
The reintroductions officially began on April 26th when three young (two females and one male) birds were brought from Los Haitises National Park to the hack box in Punta Cana where they became accustomed to their new surroundings until they were released on May 2nd. On May 11th two more birds (one male and one female) were placed in the hack box and released on May 22nd. All birds successfully made their first flights and returned to the hack box to feed. This behavior of returning to the release site for food will continue for about three months after their release during which time they will slowly learn to hunt on their own, becoming more and more independent until their eventual dispersal.
Scientists from the Peregrine Fund continue to monitor late nesting hawks in Los Haitises National Park to possibly identify high-risk chicks that might be acceptable candidates for reintroduction. Simultaneously the Peregrine Fund, the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Puntacana Ecological Foundation are working on the text and design of an educational brochure, which will be available in English and Spanish. These brochures will highlight the importance of raptors, specifically the Ridgeway’s Hawk and our work to conserve them. Educational activities are planned for Los Haitises and the release sites in Punta Cana later in the year.