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.
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.
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.
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