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.
In May 2010, the Ecological Foundation and project partners Peregrine Fund and Hispaniolan Ornithological Society conducted the second reintroduction of Ridgway's Hawks in Punta Cana. After months of monitoring nest sites in Los Haitises National Park, an additional five juvenile hawks were transported to Punta Cana. Rigorous examinations were conducted to insure the health of the juvenile hawks and then they were introduced to a hacking box in the PUNTACANA Ecological Reserve. Scientists from SOH regularly brought food to the hawks and they were monitored constantly. After a week, the hacking box was opened and the hawks began to adapt to the area. After another week, the hawks began taking test flights and familiarizing themselves with their new surroundings. One male hawk left the hacking box completely and became established in a tree nearby. The scientists continued to bring him food separately. The other five hawks remained near the hacking box for several months, until they too dispersed to look for new habitat.
To date, all five hawks are healthy and have become established in the area. All five hawks are fitted with radio collars and tags so they can be monitored using radio telemetry. Two scientists are still on site monitoring the hawks daily. The Ecological Foundation has built an observation deck for the scientists to monitor the hawks and eventually visiting guests and tourists will be able visit the site as well.
The project gas attracted attention internationally and was recently featured in the program "Birding Adventures with James Currie" on Fox Sports. The videos can be seen in the news section of the Ecological Foundation website www.puntacana.org or at http://www.puntacana.org/news58a.html.
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