Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bulletin 209 - Dominican Republic #2 - warblers, and parrots

I am interested all all aspects of the areas and countries I visit, history, geography, geology, birds, mammals, plants, reptiles etc and I try to read up before I go, so I can get the most out of the visit. In the last bulletin I talked briefly about the geography and geology of Hispaniola.

I found the early history to be fascinating as well. Columbus found Hispaniola on his first voyage in December 1492. He landed, met the Taino Indian inhabitants and on leaving on Dec 25, his flagship, the Santa Maria, struck a reef and was ruined. They salvaged much of the timber from the ship and built the first European shelters on what is now the north coast of Haiti. As he couldn't get all the men on the remaining two ships, 39 Spaniards were left at that place, which he called La Navidad.

The Taino Indians called the island Haiti (Mountainous Land). Columbus called it Spanish Island (La Isla Espanola). Peter Martyr of Angleria was an Italian historian in the Spanish court who produced detailed chronicles (1511 - 1526) of the Spanish exploration from letters and interviews with the explorers. The works were written in Latin and he translated the name as Hispaniola. His works were soon translated into English and French, and the name 'Hispaniola' became the term for the island in English-speaking countries.

When Columbus returned the next year with 17 ships and 1500 people, he found the shelters burned down and all 39 had been killed by the Indians, or succumbed to disease. Several more settlements were established along the coast and Hispaniola was to be the Spanish base in the New World with Columbus as governor as in his contract with the king.

His brother, Bartholomew Columbus, founded Neuva Isabela (named for Queen Isabella of Spain) on the south coast on the east bank at the mouth of the Ozama River in 1496. The settlement was destroyed by a hurricane 2 years later and he moved across to the west bank and founded Santo Domingo on August 5, 1498. It is the oldest permanent European settlement in the New World. It became known as the 'Gateway to the Caribbean'. Ponce de Leon's colonization of Puerto Rico, Velaquez's colonization of Cuba, Cortes' conquest of Mexico and Balboa's expedition across Panama and the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean were all launched from Santo Domingo.

In a letter dated March 20, 1503, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed the building of the first hospital in the new world in Santo Domingo to look after the 'Christian poor and Indians'. This hospital was called Saint Nicholas. As a physician, I found this history of the hospital fascinating and looking further on the Internet found an article of the whole history of this hospital. Later in this bulletin you will see why I mentioned the hospital.

A number of other New World firsts occurred in Santo Domingo. In 1505, due to raiding by pirates, the first military fort was begun (Fortelaza Ozama). In 1510 a palace was constructed by Diego Columbus, Christopher's eldest son who was appointed as the Governor of the Indies in 1509. The first cathedral was begun in 1523 and the first university in 1538.

Unfortunately as elsewhere subsequently in the New World, the native population was decimated by European diseases for which they had no natural resistance. It was estimated that in 1492, there were 400,000 Taino Indians on Hispaniola. By 1512, the native population had shrunk to 60,000 primarly due to smallpox and measles. By 1542, it was just a remnant of 5,000.

There was some gold found and the natives were enslaved to mine it for the Spanish. As the local population collapsed, the first African slaves were brought to the New World in 1502, launching the Atlantic slave trade.

Eventually, Santo Domingo was surpassed in importance by San Juan, Puerto Rico (founded 1509) and Havana, Cuba (founded 1514)

In 1586, Sir Francis Drake raided and burned Santo Domingo and an earthquake 5 years later left the city ruined. The gold had been exhausted and with Cortez conquering the Aztecs in  Mexico (1521) and all their silver, and Pisarro conquering the Incas in Peru (1535) with their gold, Hispaniola became just became of minor importance. By the late 1600's Hispaniola was unprofitable for Spain, and a treaty allowed the French to settle in the western region which they named Saint-Dominge (now Haiti).

I saw a number of wintering warblers in the Dominican Republic. Not surprisingly, they were the ones from eastern North America that migrate through Florida to the Caribbean Islands.

The first was the Northern Parula (Setophaga americana). The gray with green back, white eye arcs, wing bars and yellow breast are the ID marks.

Northern Parula
I saw the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) on several occasions. He has a large worm in his mouth

Black-and-white Warbler
The Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) is a wintering resident in Hispaniola. As you know, he is IDed by the brown streaky coloration and reddish cap. He has yellow on his rump and undertail. He bobs his tail continuously.

Palm Warbler
The Mangrove Warbler (Setophaga petechia) is a split from Yellow Warbler. These birds are non-migratory residents of South Florida, Central America, Caribbean Islands and northern South America. This is the Hispaniloan endemic subspecies albicollis. The head is redder and the crown yellower than the Yellow Warblers of North America. Some of the birds even have completely reddish-brown heads in Central America. This of course is a male with the reddish streaking on the breast.

Mangrove Warbler - Hispaniola subspecies
The next 3 birds are very uncommon in Texas as they migrate almost exclusively through Florida to the Caribbean.

The male Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) is beautiful and looks just the same, summer or winter. He has a blue back, white wing patch and black throat. I have seen the bird about 4-5 times in 25 years in Texas. I had to go to Michigan last summer to get a photo. I saw at least half a dozen on this trip.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - male

The female is drab olive and beige with a grayish face. The large white wing spot helps the ID. I think this was only my second time to see a female, and my first photo.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - female
The Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) is another eastern bird, but it is a little more commonly found in Texas. I have seen it about 10 times in 25 years. I have not seen it since starting photography in 2006 and again had to get a photo on the Michigan trip. The male is bright yellow with streaking on the breast and reddish cheek patches.

Cape May Warbler - male

The female is very drab, but the streaky breast helps the ID. I think this may be the first female I have ever seen, and we saw several on the trip.

Cape May Warbler - female
The Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) is olive above, yellow below with black streaking along the flanks and 2 black lines across the face. The sexes are similar with female duller. I have seen this bird only 3 times in 25 years before the trip, but did photo him on 2 of the 3 occasions. On this trip I saw it almost every day.

Prairie Warbler
There is a resident endemic subspecies of the Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) on Hispaniola. It inhabits the pine forests in the mountains. These pines are also endemic, the Hispaniolan Pine.

Pine Warbler - Hispaniola subspecies
These next two birds are both Hispaniola endemics. They were initially thought to be warblers, but recent studies suggest that they may be more related to tanagers. Consequently, they have been removed from the Parulidae family and are in the uncertain class along with 2 warblers from Cuba and the Yellow-breasted Chat, until they can figure out where they belong.

The Green-tailed Warbler (Microligea palustris) is olive above, and gray below. The adult has a red eye, but the juvenile here has a dark eye.

Green-tailed Warbler - juvenile
The White-winged Warbler (Xenoligea montana) has an olive back, dark gray head and tail, light gray underparts and a white wing line.

White-winged Warbler
Other warblers seen were Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart.

There are 3 parrots on Hispaniola, 2 of which are endemic and the other introduced. The Hispaniolan Parakeet (Psittacara chloroptera) is endangered. There is a population of the birds breeding in the ruins of the Saint Nicholas Hospital in colonial Santo Domingo. That is where I got these photos. The birds nest in holes in the between the bricks where the second floor timbers had been. I think that it is fitting that an old hospital is still working to save the lives of an endangered bird species. The red shoulders are the ID mark as well as the long parakeet tail.

Hispaniolan Parakeet
And here is a pair at the nest.

Hispaniolan Parakeet
I saw fly overs of the endemic Hispanolan Parrot, and one time a pair landed in a nearby tree. However, they are devilish to find in the leaves and despite 3 of us looking, we never located them to photograph, before they flew away 5 minutes later.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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