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.
In April 2011, the Ecological Foundation and project partners Peregrine Fund and the Hispaniola Ornithological Society began their third reintroduction of Ridgeway Hawks in Punta Cana. As is with every year, the Hawks and their nesting sites were carefully monitored for months before several chicks were carefully selected as potential candidates for reintroduction. Scientists from the Peregrine Fund and the Hispaniola Ornithological Society safely removed, transported, and outfitted the Hawks with their radio transmitters before introducing them into the hacking box.
The hacking box has since been opened and all four of the juveniles are currently exploring their new surroundings and returning to the hacking box to feed. Within the next two weeks our project partners will return with two final juvenile hawks to complete this year’s goal of reintroducing six hawks. At present the four recently reintroduced hawks are being monitored throughout the day (though often from a distance so as not to scare them while they are still familiarizing themselves with the area) and monitoring of the older, established, hawks continues as always as well.
The most recently reintroduced five Hawks are fast approaching their one year anniversary in their new home here in Punta Cana (and the original group is almost at their 2 year anniversary!) and all seem to be fully adjusted to their new surroundings. In mid-Novemeber an employee of the Hispaniola Ornithological Society came to evaluate the well being of each of the hawks, after just two short days of observation he was able to ascertain that all of the hawks were healthily adjusting to their new habitat and no intervention was needed for any of the individuals.
Since that time, the reintroduction program has therefore been able to switch gears and focus more on community involvement in the program. Various members of the community now act in a volunteer capacity helping the staff of the Ecological Foundation locate and document the activities of the hawks. Students groups visiting the Ecological Foundation are also getting involved and volunteering their time to look for the hawks. The photos attached with this report show two employees of the Ecological Foundation out looking for one of the male Hawks, designated AX, which was resting a tree near a clearing.
At this time both the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation are preparing for the new nesting season and a new batch of chicks to reintroduce to the area.
Over the past three months the Reintroduction of the Ridgeway’s Hawk has continued to make significant strides in reestablishing a sustainable population in Punta Cana. The first year of their life is naturally the most critical for the hawks because during this time they have to fully adjust to their new setting, find suitable food sources and struggle through their most vulnerable year of life. Fortunately, the recently reintroduced hawks are now fully independent and are defining their territory. Juvenile Ridgeway’s Hawks spend their first few years investigating territories to mark as their own. Once they have found a suitable location they will settle in a single area, roughly 3 kilometers in diameter, defend that area, and ideally mate there.
Having successfully cared for the hawks and carefully monitored them for the most delicate six months of the operation the Hispaniola Ornithological Society’s onsite conservationist returned home to England, leaving the continued monitoring efforts in the capable hands of trained local volunteers. Thus far the hawks have begun to localize themselves to particular sites throughout Punta Cana including the areas surrounding: the construction of the Hacienda Golf Course, Playa Blanca beach and restaurant, the meteorological station, the water treatment plant and the undeveloped, forested land behind the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation.
The Hispaniola Ornithological Society’s volunteers serve not only as scouts to monitor and report on the well being of the Hawks but they also help to raise awareness about the critically endangered species. The volunteer’s excursions places them in contact with the local community and workers of Punta Cana (after all, people walking around with a radio antenna and GPS are not common sites around Punta Cana). These interactions make for invaluable educational components of our program and many of these informed residents of the local community have become invaluable in helping us locate the hawks.
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