Caño Hondo is one of the main entry points to Los Haitises National Park (see also Site D34: Los Limones, Los Haitises National Park). This 63,416 ha protected area is characterized by steep-sided karst limestone hills (or mogotes) with small valleys in between. Karst limestone supports moist broadleaf forests, but at Los Haitises there is also a very extensive area of mangroves where the park fronts the bay.
Among birdwatchers, Los Haitises National Park is known because it is the last stronghold of the endemic and critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. Deforestation and shooting have reduced this species to at most 200 individuals, all of which are found in Los Haitises. Even in the park, however, the bird is threatened by loss of habitat as people continue to encroach on park boundaries for agricultural purposes. The hawk’s greatest problem though stems from local people who shoot it as a chicken-thief because they mistakenly confuse it with the Red-tailed Hawk which does occasionally prey on domestic chickens. Local environmental education campaigns have been launched by the Hispaniolan Ornithological Society and The Peregrine Fund.
Although much of the area has been previously deforested for agriculture, the extremely steep mogotes were often left untouched, forming small islands of intact habitat. Typical forest birds include White-crowned Pigeon, Plain Pigeon, Hispaniolan Parrot, White-necked Crow, Broad-billed Tody, Greater Antillean Pewee, Stolid Flycatcher, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, and Hispaniolan Oriole. Off the coast the mogotes form islands in the bay and are nesting sites for egrets, pelicans, frigatebirds, and boobies.
To visit Los Haitises we recommend making the Hotel Paraiso Caño Hondo your base (see Logistics below). About 8 km (5.0 miles) east of the town of Sabana de la Mar, Caño Hondo is a wonderful place to relax, and is ideally situated for boat tours through the mangroves and across the bay, and hiking trips into the park’s interior in search of the hawk and other landbirds. A stay here will provide nice opportunities to see a wide variety of coastal and oceanic birds as well as forest species.
Los Haitises should be birded with a local tour guide who knows the area. There are several tour options for the birdwatcher. The first, and most easily accomplished, is to hire a boat and guide for a tour of the mangroves and Samaná Bay. This is by far the most common activity of visitors to the park. The most popular and a pleasant route is to explore the margins of Los Haitises park by boat from Caño Hondo, proceeding down a river through mangroves to the Bahía de Samaná and then stopping at various points to explore caves and trails through lowland broadleaf forest. In the bay look for perched birds on the mogotes which form islands here. This is likely to result in a good list of herons, egrets, gulls and terns. Guided boat tours can be arranged at the Hotel Paraiso Caño Hondo for about $US 50 per person. Boats and guides can also be had at the boat dock or the park office, but you are less likely to get a guide sensitive to the needs of birdwatchers.
Serious birdwatchers will inevitably be interested in seeing the critically endangered Ridgway’s Hawk. Here again we highly recommend guides that can be arranged through the Hotel Paraiso Caño Hondo. The hike to look for the hawk begins at the hotel, and after an initial walk through fields and farmlands, you will begin to climb a mogote. The walk usually takes about an hour; the walk there and back, with viewing time, is about 3 hours. With a good guide you will have a strong possibility of seeing this bird, as the hawk has been faithful to a couple of valleys for at least 5 years.
Other hikes to the more interior regions of the park are available. One excursion on the Sendero del Bosque Humedo (Moist Forest Trail) involves walking thru the forest from Caño Hondo to Caño Salado to take a short boat ride back to the dock. The trail is 3.8 km (2.4 miles) long and takes approximately 2 hr. Another option is a difficult overland trail from Trepada Alta; this often produces Ridgway’s Hawk sightings but it requires the use of a local guide because of the difficulty of finding the trail. Another attraction is the possibility of seeing the Ashy-faced Owl. Although this endemic bird may be found throughout the country, it is nowhere common, and there are not many dependable places to find them. Juan Céspedes (tel. 809-863-7946, Spanish) keeps track of where this species may be found. An after-dinner drive of a few kilometers from the hotel, along with some time spent calling the bird and spotlighting the tall trees, may be successful. Some of the other hotel guides have been identifying locations as well.
Brown Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Black- crowned Night- Heron, Ridgway’s Hawk, Ashy- faced Owl, Antillean Piculet, Hispaniolan Pewee, White- necked Crow, Worm- eating Warbler
Access to Los Haitises National Park is not particularly easy. From Santo Domingo, drive the main coastal highway east towards San Pedro de Marcorís, where you will take the ring road around the city and cross the new highway bridge. Then take the road to the left to Hato Mayor. In Hato Mayor follow signs for Sabana de la Mar. After you pass El Valle you will go through an African oil palm plantation that is known to have Ashy-faced Owls as well as the more common Barn Owls (see Site D33: Monte Plata). As you begin to enter the village of Sabana de la Mar, look for signs on the left for the National Park and Cueva de Arena. Turning left, follow this dirt road for about 8 km (5.0 miles) to a fork in the road; to the left is the Hotel Paraiso Caño Hondo, while to the right is the park’s boat dock.
Alternatively, instead of turning left on the dirt road to the Hotel Paraiso Caño Hondo and the boat dock, you may continue straight on the main road into Sabana de la Mar. Here the main park office is located at the north end of town near the pier where the larger ferry boats leave to cross the bay to Samaná. Here you can contact the park authorities and hire a guide who is familiar with the park.