We are extremely excited to let all of you know what has happened since our last report. The last of the hawks that were returning to the release site to feed have become completely independent. For the last several months we have focused our energy on monitoring all of the hawks in Punta Cana. This has become an increasingly challenging task as the Punta Cana Ridgway’s Hawk population has more than quadrupled in the last year. Fortunately, we have several dedicated Dominicans who have made the hawks their priority and are following their movements on a daily basis.
The most exciting news is the formation of several new pairs. These new pairs come as a direct result of the last year’s releases and also the remaining unpaired males, one of which has been a bachelor since he was released in 2011. The first hawks to start acting as though they might pair up were Blue-44 and Red-22. Blue 44 was the first Ridgway’s Hawk to hatch in the wild in Punta Cana from our first pair to form back in 2013. Red-22 was released this past year and shortly after she became independent, we started seeing her and B-44 together. In the last few months these interactions have become stronger and we are most certain that they have formed a pair bond. We are hopeful that they will attempt to breed this upcoming season!!
Veteran male Black-AR and female Red-24 have also been seen consistently seen together for the last few months. Other potential pairs of hawks are starting to form and so far it looks like we may have as many as six pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in the Puntacana area for the 2015 breeding season. Something very important to point out is that many of these birds are favoring territories in Puntacana’s upscale residential areas. There is certainly plenty of undisturbed woodland habitat for Ridgway’s Hawks in Punta Cana, but it seems that they prefer the open forest edge habitat that the residential areas provide. The hawks certainly use the pristine forests of areas such as Ojos Indigenous for hunting and to escape the hot sun in the middle of the day, but so far all of our Ridgway’s Hawk nests have been in territories in residential areas of the area. This is great news as it is a testament to the adaptability of Ridgway’s Hawks and this kind of adaptability will only mean greater success for the birds’ future. It is also good news for residents of Puntacana, since these top predators will certainly help control some unwanted pests such as rats and mice.
In other news, our education program is stronger than ever. In just the last three months we have already reached more individuals than we did in all the rest of 2014. This is the result of all the hard work that our Education Coordinator Marta Curti has put in over the last several years and some great collaborations we have put together between The Peregrine Fund, the Puntacana Ecological Foundation, Fundacion Propagas, and the Santo Domingo Zoo. Our ultimate goal is nationwide awareness and a cultural shift in the attitude towards raptors, but we are making this change one person at a time.
Finally, we have been working over the last few months to purchase and import retrofitting devices to help make power lines in Puntacana safe for birds. We have just received all of the parts we ordered and now have only to put them to work. This task will be accomplished by Grupo Puntacana over the next couple months and before the 2015 releases begin. This action will go a long way, not only to protect Ridgway’s Hawks, but also many other species who make Puntacana their home.
By the time we submitt our next report, I hope to be telling you more about the newly formed pairs of hawks and also a bit about the exciting field work we are conducting in Los Haitises National Park.
As we stated in our last report The Puntacana Ecological Foundation and the rest of the Fuentes de Vida coalition are proud to announce the successful execution of the wastewater treatment portion of the FDV project. This has solidified three years of planning and trust building with the community of Domingo Maíz. Having seen the ability of the FDV coalition to produce results, the residents are now eagerly pushing for an effective solution to another basic need: access to safe potable water.
Since applying for funding from last year the Fuentes de Vida (FDV) Coalition has successfully constructed the province’s first community-scale wastewater treatment system in the community of Domingo Maíz. Throughout the approximately six month construction of the wastewater treatment system, the community of Domingo Maíz exceeded expectations adapting to an intensive and disruptive public works project in the heart of their community. The residents of Domingo Maíz living in the treatment area report several immediately noticeable benefits of the constructed wetlands system, namely the absence of effluent water pooling in public areas and a significant reduction in foul odors.
Sustained education/awareness on the importance of wastewater treatment, a complex topic to discuss even in the most developed communities, will continue as the principal long term initiative of FDV. During a recent community wide meeting the vast majority of community members demonstrated that they fully grasp the method of FDV – first treat the sources of contamination and then deliver safe potable water – and continued to support the project’s methodology. The community meeting also produced a strong push from the residents to advance with the potable water phase of the project.
Currently there are approximately 12 private wells providing water to the residents of Domingo Maíz. Water is pumped up from the ground into large tanks on the roof of the well owner’s house. Many problems currently arise from this system not least of which are: a lack of consistent chlorination, preferential/non-transparent pricing and a lack of water if the owner is absent for any stretch of time and thus not able to fill the tanks. While well water is not typically used for drinking, the residents of Domingo Maíz depend on this water for a myriad of activities which can still result in water borne illnesses such as cleaning and preparing foods, washing dishes, washing clothes, and bathing.
The principal objective of the potable water phase of the Fuentes de Vida project is to implement a centralized aqueduct system which will allow for more consistent water supply, greater community oversight and more consistent/transparent chlorination procedures. In order to achieve these desired outcomes the community of Domingo Maíz is currently forming the Water Committee, whose principal function will be to implement and execute the monthly quota system in order to provide the necessary start up funding and cover the subsequent operational costs of both the potable and wastewater systems. In addition the committee will oversee the operation of the potable water system including: regular maintenance, chlorination, closing off connections for those residents who do not pay their quotas, etc. the committee consists of a president, secretary, treasurer and a plumber. The Neighborhood Association of Domingo Maíz will appoint each member of the Water Committee for a term of one year.
The potable water phase of the Fuentes de Vida project involves several ambitious objectives both in terms of community organization as well as system functionality. As for this Global Giving page we ask that any and all potential donors continue to consider this project for their donations as we still need your help in raising the necessary funds for the potable water.
2014 has been a great year for the Ridgway’s Hawk. In our last report we mentioned that we increased our release efforts and brought 29 new hawks to PuntaCana. All of these individuals were able to be released at the hacksite in PuntaCana and with a lot of hard work, all fledged successfully. The last of the released hawks (currently six individuals continue to eat at the hacksite) are still returning to the hacksite to eat, but as the remaining hawks become independent and begin to hunt for themselves, they will stop returning to eat the food we have been providing. This year we released our first group of hawks on April 9th and it wasn’t until the first week in June till we released the final group. The large group of individuals released has made this the longest hacking period that the project has ever had. In all, we have been at the release site every morning and every evening for close to 5 months and have purchased close to US $4000.00 in food (mostly laboratory raised rats) to feed the hawks.
A big part of our work is tracking and monitoring the birds when they are not at the release site. This is very important as it gives us the opportunity to further insure the success of each individual after they have become independent. These tracking expeditions often become educational excursions as we tell the story of the hawk and the conservation project to tourists, local farmers, security guards and anyone else we encounter. One of the biggest issues facing Ridgway’s Hawks in the Dominican Republic is persecution by humans. This is normally done by subsistence farmers who are accustomed to killing hawks to protect their chickens rather than protecting them with chicken coops. One person at a time, we are educating these farmers about the importance of the hawks and the work we are doing. We have even begun to provide chicken coops to some of these individuals and they really like to use them as it protects their valuable chickens from other predators as well. We also educate them about all the benefits that raptors provide to farmers in controlling agricultural pests such as mice and rats. The cooperation from these individuals is encouraging.
Another part of this monitoring is to learn what causes of mortality our released hawks may be facing. In nature it is normal for some individuals to parish in the process of reaching adult hood. In raptor populations in general, it is thought that between 70-80% of nestlings born in the wild will die during their first year. As mentioned before, persecution is one of the major causes of mortality for Ridgway’s Hawks and normally predation by other animals is also a big concern for nestling and fledgling raptors. In Ridgway’s, we have documented very low mortality rates due to predation, but have discovered a larger concern, electrocution on power lines. Fortunately for Ridgway’s Hawks in the PuntaCana area, Grupo PuntaCana continues to work on this issue. The PuntaCana Ecological Foundation and Grupo PuntaCana have already been working on these power lines for some time now since our first documented case of electrocution in 2011. In 2014, we brought in an expert in raptor electrocutions to review the power lines in the release area. During the 2014-2015 season, the power lines in PuntaCana will be undergoing a complete retrofitting. This will be done using specially designed products to insulate the energized wires on each pole. Retrofitting power lines is costly and the first phase of the project is expected to cost close to US $20,000.00.
While the 2014 release season is still going, preparations are underway for the following nesting season in LHNP and to release another group of approximately 25 hawks in Punta Cana. Dominican field technicians, Valentine Cespedez and Misael Calcano are tracking the hawks daily and bring encouraging reports that some of the newly released hawks have been consistently seen with B-44, the male hawk who hatched in the wild in PuntaCana in 2013. We have high expectations that we will be seeing more pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks in the Punta Cana area in 2015 and with this more hope for one of the most critically endangered raptors in the world.