The new year of 2012 has been an especially busy onefor the previously reintroduced Ridgeway’s Hawks to Punta Cana. Immediatelyafter Christmas through the New Year an unprecedented number of birdingtourists came to the PuntaCana Resort & Club to partake in free birdingtours with renowned tropical ornithologist Dr. Andre Dhondt and his wife Keila.During these tours several lucky birders had the opportunity to observe one ofthe world’s rarest hawks in the comfortable resort setting around the PC EcologicalFoundation. Besides helping to push a nascent but growing birding tourismindustry in the area these amateur observations also help employees of theHispaniola Ornithological Society and the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation keeptabs on the birds. After the holidays Dr. Andre Dhondt stayed in the area to teach his annualtropical ornithology course to visiting students from Cornell University. Inaddition to providing a great learning experience for Cornell students of allacademic disciplines, their daily logs of birds seen help provide valuableinformation regarding species diversity and density in the area. Over the pastseveral years we have been able to observe important trends in the increase ofsome species and the relative decrease of others.
Since mid-January, Virginia Tech students studying abroad for the 2012 SpringSemester at the PC Ecological Foundation have been volunteering their time totrack the previously reintroduced hawks and are now pairing this experiencewith their Tropical Ornithology course. This week the VT students also had theopportunity to observe and assist visiting researchers from the Peregrine Fundand the Hispaniola Ornithological Society to trap and re-outfit previouslyintroduced females with new back packs for continued radio tracking. The next reintroduction is programed to begin in April, 2012, for which we willbe renovating the hack site complete with a new spotting scope and tripod to make viewing the hawks more accessible for visiting researchers and birders alike. The PuntaCana Ecological Foundation has recruited a birdingtourism guide, supported in part by the PuntaCana Resort & Club, who inaddition to offering general birding tours will also offer tours specificallyfocusing on the Ridgeway’s program. As we enter the fourth year of thereintroduction program raising awareness about the hawk and the combinedefforts of the Hispaniola Ornithological Society, the Peregrine Fund, and thePunta Cana Ecological Foundation to ensure the survival of the speciescontinues to be one of the primary focuses of the program.
The third reintroduction of the Ridgeways Hawk has successfully moved on from the intensive periods of constant observation and intervention. The two biologists from the Hispaniola Ornithological Society assigned to the 2011 program have returned to the United States and now the responsibilities of observation and data collection has passed to visiting conservationists associated with the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Peregrine Fund. By participating in this program visiting conservationists provide not just observational data but also an invaluable exchange of best practices and experiences with similar programs with other species in other countries.
Participation in the reintroduction program has also begun to spread outside of the scientific community. Tourists, local residents and hotel employees alike have recently become active participants in the program by volunteering their time to help track, observe and record basic observational behavior. One of the cornerstones of each reintroduction programs is a comprehensive educational outreach campaign to local schools, hotel employees and interested individuals; volunteers are proving to be a very effective vehicle for spreading knowledge based off of first hand experience with plight of this critically endangered species. Moving forward we hope to continually increase the involvement and support of a diverse array of international volunteers and experts alike in the Ridgeways Hawk program in order to foster a tourism industry that is more aware of the importance and involved in the conservation island biodiversity.
In 2011, the Ridgway’s Hawk Project continued to monitor nests and collect nestlings for release sites in Punta Cana and Pedro Sanchez. In all, biologists monitored 37 nests in Los Haitises National Park and chicks were chosen from a total of eight nests. In addition to monitoring the nests, our team also actively treated birds with botfly infestations and reconstructed several falling nests. Parasitic infections early on in life are a serious threat to the existing population of Ridgway’s Hawks in Los Haitises; had these parasites not been removed many of the chicks would have died. These conservation efforts were made for nestlings taken for the release programs and also to increase the numbers of birds that would ultimately fledge in Los Haitises National Park.
This year Punta Cana released a total of six new Ridgway’s Hawks. These six birds were released in pairs several weeks apart. The first release was in mid-April and the last on the 13th of June. Without the diligent work of our team four of these birds would have certainly died due to parasitism by botflies. Young birds were treated in the field approximately a week before being removed from the nests to come to the hacksite and again once they arrived in Punta Cana. The hawks responded well to this treatment and all were able to be successfully released.
In addition to releasing Ridgway’s Hawks, the project continues to educate locals and foreigners alike as well as training interested volunteers. In the past two months volunteers from the Hispaniola Ornithological Society have visited from other release sites to compare notes and learn from each other’s experiences. This year a student from Columbia University used the Ridgway’s Hawk releases as the subject of a six week long research project. Students from other universities, such as Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology and San Diego State, also became involved. By involving these outside parties we are both drawing attention to this conservation effort and opening up the program to further dialogue about how to improve the program in the future.