It´s September 25th of 2019 and Ridgway’s Hawk nesting season is now over. After almost seven months of intense nest monitoring, we are starting to catch our breath. We are beyond happy to announce that we monitored a total of 17 breeding pairs of hawks in Puntacana alone. Twelve successful pairs were able to produce 17 nestlings. Additionally, two nestlings brought from a fallen nest at Los Haitises National Park were fostered in Puntacana for a total of 19 new individual hawks recruited into the population.
In Los Haitises National Park (LHNP) we monitored a total of 144 pairs of hawks this past season and observed 126 nestlings fledge. Many of these nestlings likely wouldn’t have made it to fledging if it were not for the care provided by our Dominican field team.
A very important step in achieving our goals has taken place this past season. As mentioned in the last report, a new release site was established in Aniana Vargas National Park (AVNP). A total of 25 hawks were successfully released and to date nearly all of them have become independent, which means they are no longer depending on the food that we provide at the release site. The work we are conducting in AVNP isn’t just about releasing hawks. We have been working very closely with the communities in the area, especially the community of Los Brazos which is the closest to our release site. A total of 8 community members directly worked or volunteered on the project this past season. Many of these amazing individuals are even doing education work in local communities and even in their own schools.
Our education program is stronger than ever! Program coordinator Marta Curti has been conducting numerous activities with our partners. Ridgway’s Hawk Day, teacher training workshops, door to door visits and coming soon – a new campaign in the Puntacana area. This campaign is going to focus on educating the general public using mass media such as radio, newspapers, and billboards. Prior to the campaign we conducted surveys in the area to evaluate residents’ knowledge of Ridgway’s Hawks and the protection of the environment in general. Once the education campaign has ended we will again conduct similar surveys and see if our efforts worked. This will be very important information for the next task, a “Nation-wide Campaign”.
Until the next nesting season begins we will focus our efforts on monitoring the existing populations and continuing the quest to educate the public about protecting Ridgway’s Hawks and the environment in general. There are many preparations underway to make next Ridgway’s Hawk nesting season the best yet!
It´s June 5th of 2019 and Ridgway’s Hawk nesting season is almost over. After a few busy months monitoring these hawks, we´re beyond happy to see the progress they have made in the first half of 2019. In Punta Cana alone we have a total of 18 pairs of hawks - including a brand-new pair we found this year. We also have observed several juveniles (hawks that hatched during last year’s nesting season), which gives us great hope for the future of the species. Though some pairs are still incubating eggs and others are caring for nestlings, the pairs at Punta Cana have fledged 10 young so far this year.
The population in Los Haitises National Park is also doing very well. Our local teams continue to work hard to find nesting pairs, treat young for parasite infestations, and educate locals about the importance of the hawks. Because of their amazing efforts, we expect nest productivity rates to be the same or even better than last year. We will have a better idea of final numbers at the end of breeding season.
One of the main threats to Ridgway’s Hawk survival is the infestation of nestlings by botflies (Philornis sp). The botfly larvae burrow under the nestlings’ skin and feed on their tissue, muscle and blood. In order to better understand the prevalence of Philornis in Punta Cana, we conducted a planned experiment, wherein we left the first five hawk nests untreated for Philornis, to see if nestlings would remain unaffected. After closely monitoring those nests we noted that the majority of the nests were parasitized and just a few chicks survived. As expected in Ridgway’s Hawks, which often lay replacement clutches, most of the pairs that had failed in their first nesting attempt are now incubating for a second time. We have treated those nests and so far, they´re doing very well. Also we continued developing less invasive techniques to treat nests and continued working to identify natural repellents for this parasitic fly. So far, tobacco has shown promising results and we will be conducting further experiments under semi-controlled conditions in the next few months.
Another important threat to Ridgway’s Hawks is human persecution. So, a large part of our program involves environmental education efforts. This year, we visited several communities around Punta Cana and Los Haitises National Park - including a few new ones. It is always exciting to see how interested people are in learning more about Ridgway’s hawks and their importance. As usual, during the last week of May, we celebrated “Ridgway’s Hawk Day” with a number of activities and presentations in several different communities close to Punta Cana and Los Haitises National Park. Most notably, we worked with over 220 students at Escuela Basica de Juanillo. During the event, the kids had the chance to play some conservation-oriented games and paint nature-themed portraits of Ridgway’s Hawks and other amazing birds. We were also joined by artist Nathalie Ramirez, who painted a beautiful mural at the entrance to the school, highlighting the beauty of Ridgway’s Hawks and the school’s pledge to protect them.
Since one of the main goals of our project is to create 3 additional populations of Ridgway’s Hawks outside of Los Haitises National Park, we are happy to announce that we have begun releasing hawks in a new area - Aniana Vargas National Park. To get ready for the releases, we first met with local community members to share information with them about the hawks, as well as to listen to any concerns or questions they might have had about the project. We couldn’t begin a reintroduction program without the full support of the nearby communities. Happily, we received overwhelming support and enthusiasm! So, our next step was to build two hack towers where we would house young hawks prior to their release. We began reintroducing young hawks to the area in late April and to date have released close to 25 hawks. So far, they are doing great. It is beyond exciting to be able to watch as these young birds quickly get used to their new home. Another remarkable aspect of this new site is that we have hired and are in the process of training five local young men and women who are working on the project. It is amazing to see how eager they are to learn, to protect this amazing bird, and to pass on what they have learned to other members of their communities.
It’s January 10th 2019. I arrived in the Dominican Republic late the night before with a terrible headache from traveling. Fortunately, I was able to get a good night’s sleep and managed to wake up rather early this morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day. My plans didn’t really include making observations of hawks that morning due to an immediate trip pending to Santo Domingo, but as I sat in the project office at the Grupo Puntacana Foundation, I could hear hawks calling just right out front. Not really a big surprise as there has been a pair of hawks who claimed their territory in front of the foundation for over three years now. I continued to hear the birds call off and on then a very specific call rang in my ear. A call that you only hear when the birds are copulating or mating. The 2019 Ridgway’s Hawk nesting season has begun!
Times are changing fast on the Ridgway’s Hawk project. As many of you know, we did not release any hawks in Puntacana during 2018. After finding a total of 19 pairs of hawks during the 2018 nesting season, we have decided to stick to the same plan. Instead, we’ll focus our attention on monitoring these pairs so we can ensure that they are as successful at nesting as possible. With 19 pairs of hawks to monitor that will take a lot of time and dedication.
In other news, we have been looking at the future goals of the project and taking steps towards meeting those goals. One of The Ridgway’s Hawk Projects goals is to establish three self-sustaining and geographically distinct populations of hawks, apart from the original population in Los Haitises National Park. During the last two years we have been surveying sites in the Dominican Republic in search of the next release site. Surveyed sites have included national parks, scientific reserves and private property. Out of more than 15 sites surveyed, we chose Aniana Vargas National Park as the next Ridgway’s Hawk release site. Aniana Vargas is a relatively small national park encompassing about 130 km2. Like many parks in the Dominican Republic there are still people living within the park boundaries. This is really no surprise since the park was just created in 2009. The great thing is that the main cash crop is organic-bird friendly cacao or chocolate. Conacado, the cooperative that purchases cacao from local farmers, has a strict code of conduct which locals abide by in order to have the privilege of selling their products at higher prices. Some of these by laws include not littering, not killing wildlife, not polluting waterways, not cutting trees, and not using toxic chemicals or poisons. These helpful practices will go a long way towards protecting the newly released hawks.
As the Ridgway’s Hawk releases expand, so must our efforts in environmental education. In Puntacana we learned that one of the best ways to multiply our efforts is by training people to educate others in their communities. In preparation for the upcoming releases in Aniana Vargas National Park, we hosted a 2-day workshop, in conjunction with Fundacion Cooperativa Vega Real, for 15 youth, teachers and park guards living and working in communities surrounding this protected area. Through dynamic activities including creating art using a raptor silhouette, constructing life-sized Ridgway’s Hawks out of recycled materials, putting on a play, and participating in “raptor Olympics”, participants learned how to identify some birds of prey found in Dominican Republic - including the Ridgway’s Hawk. They also learned about the key role these birds play in maintaining a balance in the ecosystems in which they live, and what we can all do to aid in their conservation.
Our hope is that everyone who came to this workshop will return to their respective communities and share their new-found knowledge with friends, family, and neighbors, to help us further spread the conservation message and help ensure the protection of Ridgway’s Hawks far into the future.
Breeding season has not yet arrived for the Ridgway’s Hawks – there are still a few months to go before they begin courtship and nest-building in preparation for raising a new generation of young hawks. As we wait for breeding season to begin, we continue to carry out monthly surveys in Punta Cana and Los Haitises National Park in order to assess where most of the hawks are and their health status. We spend a lot of time in each pair’s territory, documenting their presence or absence and recording any interesting behavior we are lucky enough to observe. So far, all hawks are present and accounted for, which is great news!
At the Grupo Puntacana Foundation we held a 3-day workshop for 16 teachers and locals from different areas of the Dominican Republic. Over these three days, participants learned about Ridgway’s Hawks, their importance as birds of prey and role they play in ecosystems, as well as different techniques they can use to transmit the conservation message and information in their local communities.
During the last three months, we have been rearing Philornis flies (a parasite fly that affects the population of Ridgway Hawks and other types of birds) in the lab to learn more about their life cycle. We have been able to keep them alive for over 3 months and those flies were used for in-lab experiments intended to find mid-term control methods.
We are testing different organic repellents in a choice arena, where adult flies choose between two entry points baited with food: with or without a repellent. We have been conducting trials with Tobacco and Neem. We are also testing the effectiveness of an entomopathogenic fungus, Beauveria bassiana, against Philornis larvae.
Finally, we are placing traps with papaya juice to trap wild Philornis adults in the field and to have a better idea of the population’s abundance.
Once again we are catching our breath after a busy nesting season for the critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. Conserving endangered species is hard work, but it can also be very rewarding. One thing I have learned from working on the Ridgway’s Hawk Project for 8 years is that species conservation is a struggle. There will be ups and downs, but this is an inherent part of the process. This past nesting season was a good example of this. In general it was an amazing season, with many records, and for sure an overall success. On the other hand we were reminded how important it is for us to keep a watchful eye on what is happening in nature, especially how our actions as humans can affect a critically endangered species.
A sure sign of success for a conservation project might be measured in many ways. For the Ridgway’s Hawk project, this success has been fairly easy to see. A steady increase in individuals, pairs formed, and wild nestlings fledged have been the project norm year after year. Like each year since the first wild pair was discovered in Punta Cana in 2013, this year we monitored a record number of pairs in the Punta Cana area. We observed 19 pairs with 17 of these pairs attempting to nest this season. We expected this increase and made the decision not to release more hawks in Punta Cana during 2018 so that we could focus on monitoring this ever-growing population. We also saw a record number of hatched nestlings from this population. Unfortunately, of the 21 nestlings which hatched, only 10 nestlings reached fledging (flying from the nest). In late April we began to find some nestlings dead below their nests. After investigating the cause, we feel that the most likely culprit of these mortalities may be secondary poisoning. Secondary poisoning occurs when a pest species such as rats are poisoned, but before the poison can kill the rats, a predator such as a hawk catches and eats them. We are still awaiting conclusive laboratory results as to the cause of this unfortunate loss. Regardless of the final results, we have already begun working with local institutions and residents to raise awareness about this topic. Our goal is to encourage local resorts and residents to search for environmentally safe methods to control rats and other unwanted pests.
Our work in LHNP (Los Haitises National Park) exceeded all expectations with a total of 134 pairs of Ridgway’s Hawks being monitored and a total of 141 new Ridgway’s Hawks fledging into LHNP. The most remarkable part of this achievement is that nearly 100% of the monitoring and hands on management of these pairs was done by locals in the communities where we work. Training and hiring locals is having a huge impact on how these communities view the Ridgway’s Hawk. Prior to our conservation work, many locals viewed the hawks as pests and would often shoot them. Now, locals see these hawks as a benefit to their community. These are the kinds of changes that have long lasting conservation impact.
A conservation project can only truly be successful by ensuring that the attitudes of people change. The best way to do this is through environmental education. The Peregrine Fund and our partners place a heavy emphasis on this aspect of our project. Each year we dedicate a significant portion of our time and budget to make sure that future generations grow to appreciate the natural world around them. A big part of this is understanding how nature can benefit us and that we must make compromises to ensure that we can live in balance with nature into the future. This year we hosted our 5th annual Ridgway's Hawk Day Celebration. We hosted 2 days of field trips to Punta Cana for roughly 97 local students and made a visit to one school where we hosted around 120 students. We conducted art activities focused on the Ridgway's Hawk and its habitat- students painted their individual creations on driftwood and other discarded/recyclable wood, while others worked in groups to create "murals" on plywood. We also played a dart game and a "bowling" game focused on the importance of habitat and the threats that hawks might face, as well as actions we can all take to help improve Ridgway's Hawk habitat. Another activity included birdwatching, where students birded in both forest and lagoon habitat, comparing both. Using field guides, students worked to identify several local bird species. We visited the area of Domingo Maiz where we worked with a student club of approximately 23 students. Participants created "Ridgway's Hawk" masks using recycled paper, felt, crayons and other art materials. We also played the "habitat dart game" with them. Finally, we hosted a Ridgway's Hawk Day Fair in conjunction with the local Farmer's Market hosted by Puntacana. We had a live hawk present, as well as art activities and games. In total, approximately 300 people were reached during the week-long celebration.
All in all it has been another extremely successful year for the Ridgway’s Hawk Project. Even though the nesting season is over there is still tons of work to do. We are currently planning several more education activities to be held in Puntacana as well as searching for the next release site for Ridgway’s Hawks. Next season is shaping up to be one of the busiest yet!
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