The fifth year of the Ridgeway’s Hawk Conservation Project marks a significant milestone for the Puntacana Ecological Foundation (PCEF) and The Peregrine Fund. Having begun the process of establishinged a concentrated and stable population of Ridgeway’s in the Punta Cana area with year round monitoring carried out by the Peregrinevolunteers, the Ecological Foundation and The Peregrine Fund will delay this year’s reintroductions to better document the previously reintroduced hawks’ adaptation to the Punta Cana area. Also, a new education campaign will be commencing soon with the help of Fundación Propagas. Education is a vital component of wildlife conservation and we hope to realize greater results in the upcoming years with this new partner.
Most importantly, we will be making daily observations of the first pair of Ridgway’s Hawks to form in thePunta Cana area. Male “AN” and female “ND” from the 2012 introductions have been seen together off and on throughout the fall and are now a confirmed pair. They have begun the process of building a nest and have also been observed copulating and making food transfers which are sure signs these two birds are attempting to reproduce. Ridgway’s Hawk females have never been recorded to reproduce at one year of age, but it has been recorded in other raptor species, so we are anxious to see what happens with this pair. Some of the other released hawks have established territories immediately bordering each other. We are monitoring these birds closely as well with the hope that they may pair up in the near future.
In other news, The Peregrine Fund, the PCEF, and Grupo Puntacana’s architecture department have worked together to compile the previous four years’ of observational and GPS data into a digital map outlining the hawk’s’ territoriesy and identifying exactly which electrical poles present the largest danger to the hawks. While there are several options available for retrofitting the poles to make them safer for the birds, the most economicaland immediately actionable option for The Peregrine Fund and the Ecological Foundation is to install the wooden perches pictured below. Continued observations of the initial pilot implementation of the original 10 wooden perches back in August 2012, has shown that the Ridgeway’s and other raptors much prefer the wooden perches to sitting on the lines or on the poles. Over the next few months the PCEF and the Peregrine Fund will install perches throughout the 30 square mile property of Grupo Puntacana and perhaps beyond that in accordance with the birds’ territories.
While all of the this work isgoing on in Punta Cana The Peregrine Fund will be directing much of its attention and efforts to working with the last remaining wild population of Ridgeways Hawks in Los Haitises National Park. Their efforts will focus on community education, better documenting the largest threats to the remaining population and realizing in situ interventions to protect the hawks in their natural habitats.
Finally, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation along with its ecotourism partner, E-Way Group, has developed a walking tour dedicated to exhibiting and explaining the Foundation’s various projects and programs. The Ridgeway Hawk Conservation Program will have its own display in this tour and this will hopefully be a center piece in raising greater awareness with visiting tourists about the plight of one of the rarest species of hawks in the world.
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.
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.
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