By Jake Kheel - Director of the PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation
Cornell students observing birds in the PC Resort
The new year of 2012 has been an especially busy one for the previously reintroduced Ridgeway’s Hawks to Punta Cana. Immediately after Christmas through the New Year an unprecedented number of birding tourists came to the PuntaCana Resort & Club to partake in free birding tours with renowned tropical ornithologist Dr. Andre Dhondt and his wife Keila. During these tours several lucky birders had the opportunity to observe one of the world’s rarest hawks in the comfortable resort setting around the PC Ecological Foundation. Besides helping to push a nascent but growing birding tourism industry in the area these amateur observations also help employees of the Hispaniola Ornithological Society and the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation keep tabs on the birds.
After the holidays Dr. Andre Dhondt stayed in the area to teach his annual tropical ornithology course to visiting students from Cornell University. In addition to providing a great learning experience for Cornell students of all academic disciplines, their daily logs of birds seen help provide valuable information regarding species diversity and density in the area. Over the past several years we have been able to observe important trends in the increase of some species and the relative decrease of others.
Since mid-January, Virginia Tech students studying abroad for the 2012 Spring Semester at the PC Ecological Foundation have been volunteering their time to track the previously reintroduced hawks and are now pairing this experience with their Tropical Ornithology course. This week the VT students also had the opportunity to observe and assist visiting researchers from the Peregrine Fund and the Hispaniola Ornithological Society to trap and re-outfit previously introduced females with new back packs for continued radio tracking.
The next reintroduction is programed to begin in April, 2012, for which we will be renovating the hack site complete with a new spotting scope and tripod to make viewing the hawks more accessible for visiting researchers and birders alike. The PuntaCana Ecological Foundation has recruited a birding tourism guide, supported in part by the PuntaCana Resort & Club, who in addition to offering general birding tours will also offer tours specifically focusing on the Ridgeway’s program. As we enter the fourth year of the reintroduction program raising awareness about the hawk and the combined efforts of the Hispaniola Ornithological Society, the Peregrine Fund, and the Punta Cana Ecological Foundation to ensure the survival of the species continues to be one of the primary focuses of the program.
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