Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Record-breaking day!

And for a second year in a row, a world birder visits our isthmus in his quest to record the largest number of birds species in a year.  Arjan Dwarshius' attempt to break the world's big year record of 6042 species recorded in a year, set by Noah Strycker just 11 months ago, was about to make history!  After spending his first day in Panama last November 3rd, Arjan was just 11 birds away of the record!  This was not coincidence... Arjan and, his uncle Fred, chose the local advantage to make the most of their time in our country... they were guided by Guido Berguido who runs Advantage Tours and who is the head of the local NGO ADOPTA Panama Rainforest... and also an old, good friend of mine!  Also joining them was another friend of mine, birder extraordinaire and, since recently, an excellent, independent birding guide Ismael "Nando" Quiroz.
Elfin forest at Cerro Jefe, above Cerro Azul (file photo)
I took the late night bus from Penonome town (about two hours from Panama City), where I was resting with my family during the holidays (yes, the first days of November are holidays in Panama), in order to join the group in the record-breaking day!  Very early the next day, we headed to the gated community of Cerro Azul in the foothills to the east of Panama City, and headed directly to the upper slopes of Cerro Jefe and its stunning elfin forest, home of many range-restricted birds.  The day started quite low, but with some new year-birds for Arjan.  At the Vistamares trail we crossed a mixed flock with Shining and Green Honeycreepers, Rufous-winged, Emerald, Speckled and Black-and-yellow Tanagers, migrant Red-eyed Vireos, Tawny-capped, Fulvous-vented and White-vented Euphonias, Paltry Tyrannulets and White-ruffed Manakins, among others.
Black-and-Yellow Tanager (male)
After a while, Guido managed to attract an endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker allowing scoped views... but the desired Black-crowned Pittasoma refused to show up...  but a pair of handsome Yellow-eared Toucanets were a nice consolation price instead.  Eventually, we managed to find 10 new birds for Arjan's list.  Year-bird 6042 was the Black-eared Wood-Quail that we actually managed to see thanks to Nando's advice (it was a life bird for me; although I have heard it several times previously).  After that, the activity dropped sharply... and we decided to have lunch before heading to Calle Maipo trail.
Yellow-eared Toucanet (male)
At Maipo, the record-breaking bird arrived quite unexpectedly when a Tody Motmot (very rare in the area) responded to a recorded call played by Guido... we tried hard to see the bird but it turned out to be very shy... but we saw a pair of Crimson-bellied Woodpecker that were Panama lifers for me as well (not a new year-bird for Arjan of course).  After realizing that we were not going to see the bird, we accepted that the record-breaking species was a heard-only record... of course, lots of high-fives, big smiles and congratulations continued!  Uncle Fred surprised all of us (including Arjan) when he opened a Champaign bottle and a nice banner to celebrate the moment... I'm impressed of his organization!
He did it!
We ended the day at the-now-famous Finca Bayano, were we managed to find the Long-billed Dowitchers reported earlier in the season... they were new year-birds for him, as well as three other species in spite of the short time we spent there.  And in spite of the short time I shared with Arjan, I can tell that he is passionate about birds and birding... he really seemed to be enjoying each little brown job that, desperately, we were pointing to him hoping it to be a new year-bird for him... but what can you show to a man that already has seen more than 60% of the extant birds of the world! I recommend you to track his progress HERE... the numbers are just amazing!  Not only that, remember that he is birding as a fundraiser for the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme , so enter the webpage and make a donation!  I had to said good bye after leaving Finca Bayano... a long journey back with my family was awaiting me.  He spent five more days in Panama, watching amazing birds in Chucanti, Nusagandi, Yaviza, Aligandi and even right here in Panama City before taking his flight to Costa Rica.  Check this POST and you'll see that he is VERY lucky as well! 
FAREWELL, MY FRIEND.... I know 7000 birds for this year is plausible!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

ID of Dowitchers in Panama

Until some time ago, identifying wintering dowitchers in Panama was pretty straight forward... only Short-billed Dowitchers were expected in this country at any habitat since Long-billed Dowitcher is very rare and expected to winter south only to northern Central America; however, some records exist from Panama.  The problem is precisely our assumption that any dowitcher seen in Panama is a Short-billed Dowitcher, and so far the most important publications on birds of Panama have a cautionary note that both status and distribution of Long-billed Dowitcher in Panama are uncertain due to difficulty of identification.  Nonetheless, more and more Long-billed Dowitchers have been recorded in Panama, specially this fall with great numbers recorded already.  How good are you identifying dowitchers?  Try with this bird:
Dowitcher sp. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 13th, 2016
Dowitcher sp. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 13th, 2016
I took the above pictures in the coastal mudflats of Panama Viejo, in Panama City.  As usual, I assumed it was a silent Short-billed Dowitcher in almost complete basic plumage (some retained alternate feathers in the back and scapulars).  The best way to separate both species is by voice... but if your bird is silent (as it usually happens in Panama), what field marks are you going to look for? The first thing to do when you try to ID these birds is aging them, because it is easier to separate juveniles of both species than adults in basic (non-breeding) plumage.  With our country well into the usual winter range of Short-billed Dowitchers (and way to the south of that of Long-billed Dowitchers), we will certainly find juvenile birds molting into basic plumage.  It doesn't matter how advanced in molt they could be, since most of them retain at least some juvenile feathers until January (including the characteristics tertials feathers).  In general, juvenile Short-billed Dowitchers have dark-brown upperparts feathers with broad golden-buff fringes and variable internal markings, particularly in the tertials (given them the typical "tiger-striped" look), and dark brown crowns that contrast with the white superciliums.   Underparts whitish with buff-brown wash, slightly brown-streaked upper breast, sparse spotting and barring on flanks and undertail coverts.
Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher. Juan Diaz, Panama. November 4th, 2010.  Dark crown, retained juvenile greater coverts, diagnostic retained "tiger-striped" tertial feather.
Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 12th, 2016.  Dark crown, retained juvenile greater coverts and scapulars, diagnostic retained "tiger-striped" tertial feather.  Also notice shape and structural differences (see text).
Juvenile Long-billed Dowitchers are darker above, with only thinner and duller buff fringes to scapular and tertial feathers, the latter almost lacking any internal mark.  Juvenal greater coverts are uniform gray.  Compared to Short-billed Dowitchers, Long-billeds' crown is grayer with slightly less contrast with the rest of the plumage.  The underparts are very similar to those of juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher.
Juvenile Long-billed Dowitchers. Finca Bayano, Panama. November 10th, 2016.  Gray crown, retained scapular feathers with just buff fringes (almost no internal markings) and retained tertial feathers with just thin buffy fringe.
Our mystery bird lack any retained juvenile-patterned feather, making it an adult bird.  Separating basic plumaged birds of these two species used to be considered an impossible task... a task that we have to deal with in Panama on a daily basis, specially now that we know that Long-billed Dowitcher can occur in great numbers as well.  Several papers on identification can be found on-line.  Most of them describe plumage differences, but differences in structure, shape and habitat are useful too, although structure and shape differences varies among populations, age and sex, even within a same species.   I'll illustrate some of these differences with the next two photos of an adult Long-billed Dowitcher and a juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher (same photo posted above):
Adult Long-billed Dowitchers. Finca Bayano, Panama. November 10th, 2016.  Straight, thin-based bill, slight indentation at the back, big-chested look with attenuated rear, wingtips doesn't reach the tail tip
Juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 12th, 2016.  Notice bill shape, more oval-shaped bodywith no indentation at the back, rotund rear and wingtips reaching tip of the tail.
The length of the bill (as their name suggests) is useful to differentiate females Long-billeds and males Short-billeds.  But more important, notice the difference in shape, with Long-billed Dowitchers having very straight bills while Short-billed Dowitcher shows a slightly downcurved tip, that looks kinked, as if the bird had left the tip of the beak trapped when a door was closed.  Also, bill of Short-billed Dowitcher tend to be more wide-based and blunt-tipped than the thin-based and pointed bill of Long-billed Dowitcher.  Body shape also differ, with Long-billed Dowitcher having a deep-chested look and shorter wings, thus attenuating the rear of the bird that often look with cocked tail; different to the more oval-shaped and horizontally oriented body shape of Short-billed Dowitcher that have longer wings, with wingtips usually reaching the tail tip or beyond (thus looking with more rotund rear).  Long-billed Dowitchers are also longer legged, an useful field mark to detect lonely birds among a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers.  Again, all of these structural differences varies depending on sex, age and population, and not only on species, but can be useful when inspecting a distant flock of dowitchers or under bad light conditions to see plumage field marks.
Adult Long-billed Dowitchers (ID by voice). Las Macanas marsh, Herrera. January 28th, 2011.  Notice bill length and shape
One field mark that is proving to be quite reliable is the loral angle given a direct profile view.  This is the angle between an imaginary extension of the gape of the bill toward the back of the head and the line connecting the gape of the bill with the center of the bird's iris.  A diagram probably explains it better:
Close-ups of previously posted photos.  Long-billed Dowitcher, above, showing a more acute (smaller) loral angle than Short-billed Dowitcher (below)
This angle reflects differences in facial expression, forehead shape and relative position of the eye between these two species.  As you c an see, Long-billed Dowitchers have more acute (smaller) loral angles than Short-billed Dowitcher.  Ok.  I have to admit that all the differences mentioned so far are quite difficult to asses in the field, but take into consideration that you need several field marks, instead of an unique and definitive feature, to ID correctly basic-plumaged dowitchers in Panama.  Once you are used to these differences, then you can compare the plumages of these both species.  Starting with the most common, basic adult Short-billed Dowitcher tend to be paler than Long-billeds, with patched gray breast that doesn't contrast strongly with the white belly and setting a more conspicuous white throat, and spotted and chevroned (instead of barred) flanks that are paler than in Long-billed Dowitcher.
Adult Short-billed Dowitchers. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 4th, 2010.  Pale and patched gray breast making little contrast with belly, pale and plain backs, chevroned (not evidently barred) flanks.  Notice also body and bill shapes.
Adult Long-billed Dowitcher. Finca Bayano, Panama. November 10th, 2016. Dark and solid gray breast contrasting with belly, barred and contrasting dark flanks, inconspicuous white on throat.
Notice that the back feathers in Long-billed Dowitcher have dark centers explaining the uniformly scaled and darker look than in Short-billed Dowitchers (with plainer, paler backs).  Also notice the white-fringed coverts feathers in Short-billed Dowitcher (vs brown-fringed in Long-billed Dowitcher).  At flight, the lesser coverts in the underwing of Long-billed Dowitchers are white with no bars (barred in Short-billeds), a field mark seldom noticed.  The tail pattern is partially useful in Panama where the three subspecies of Short-billed Dowitcher occur... both caurinus and hendersoni show variability in tail feather patterns.   Now, back to our mystery bird:
 
Dowitcher sp. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 13th, 2016
Dowitcher sp. Panama Viejo, Panama. November 13th, 2016
When I reviewed the photos, it was the tail feathers pattern that caught my attention.  It seemed that this bird had wider black bars than white ones, consistent with Long-billed Dowitcher; however, as I mentioned earlier, it doesn't seem to be useful in Panama as a unique field mark to ID this bird.  Other field marks are covert feathers fringed in white, patched gray breast, pale flanks and back (although it looks faintly scaled), white throat and open loral angle... all of them suggestive of Short-billed Dowitcher.  Other structural differences are not evident in these photos (except long wingtips).  Last clue is habitat.  This bird was recorded in coastal mudflats, an habitat where Long-billed Dowitchers have never been recorded in Panama; however, take into consideration that the fresh water/salt water habitat preferences described for Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitcher is vague... Short-billed is fairly common in fresh water habitats inland in Panama, while there is at least one record of Long-billed Dowitchers in coastal saltflats (as in Aguadulce, central Panama).
Adults Short-billed Dowitchers. Juan Diaz, Panama. October 8th, 2010
I'm not discussing differences in alternate plumage because it is seen for a short period of time in Panama, but I encourage you to study about them in order to adequately document the different populations that winters in Panama.  Take these alternate plumaged hendersoni Short-billed Dowitchers for example:
Alternate adults Short-billed Dowitchers (ssp. hendersoni). Aguadulce salinas, Cocle. August 5th, 2016.
Well, there is a lot to study and to reveal about these two species in Panama... is time to grab your bins and to get some dowitchers to ID!
Literature consulted:
1. Ridgely R, Gwynne J. A guide to the birds of Panama. Princeton University Press; 1989.
2. Chandler RJ. Dowitcher identification and ageing. A photographic review. Brit Birds 1998; 91: 93-106.
3. Lee C, Birch A. Advances in the field identification of North American dowitchers. Birding 2006; sept/oct: 34-42.
4. Angehr G, Dean R. The birds of Panama. A field guide. Zona Tropical; 2010.
4. Karlson K. kevin's id tips: Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers. Available at http://www.kevintkarlson.com/dowitchers 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bird of the Month: Hudsonian Godwit

The Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica) is an elegant wader of long legs and upturned long bill that breeds locally in subarctic Alaska and Canada (east to Hudson Bay) and winters in southern South America on both coast, but mainly along the Atlantic coast.  Their migration routes not usually include Central America nor Panama; that is why they are extremely rare here.
Hudsonian Godwit
So far, there are only two published records: a basic-plumaged bird at the Caribbean side of former Canal Area in October, 1983 (photographed) and three birds seen at flight (from an airplane) on the coast 20 km east of Panama City in September, 1997.  A more recent unconfirmed report (January 2010) of a basic-plumaged individual appears in Xenornis by my friend Venicio Wilson.  This season, two juveniles were found by Euclides Campos on October 25th, 2016 in Finca Bayano, a rice farm 40 km east of Panama City.  So far, they have been re-located on October 29th and today, November 1st, at the same site (and where I took all the photos shown in this post).
Hudsonian Godwit showing tail pattern
These birds were actively feeding by probing the mud with their long bills in typical habitat.  In other parts, these birds are found in mudflats and coastal areas as well.  The scaled back and warm tones of these birds make them juveniles; adults in basic plumage are grayer overall.  However, at all ages these birds exhibit black tails with white rumps (as seen in the preening bird above) and dark wing linings and narrow white wing stripe in flight, as seen in the blurry bird below.
Hudsonian Godwits (notice under wing pattern)
Despite its delicate appearance, these birds are powerful creatures that make nonstop flights over the open sea for several days in order to reach their wintering grounds.  Having a pair refueling in Panama to continue its journey is a special event... one that nobody knows when it will repeat.  For these, and many other reasons is why we chose the Hudsonian Godwit as our Bird of the Month!
Hudsonian Godwits
Literature consulted:
1.  Ridgely R, Gwynne J. A Guide to the Birds of Panama. Princeton University Press: 1989.
2.  Angehr G, Engleman D, Engleman L. Where to find birds in Panama. Editora Novo Art, 2006.
3.  Angehr G, Dean R. The Birds of Panama. A Field Guide. Zona Tropical: 2010.
4. Van Gils J, Wiersma P, Kirwan GM. Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica). In: Del Hoyo J, Elliot A, Sargatal J, et al (editors). Handbook of the birds of the world alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cartagena: Wildlife and Nature

As I mentioned in a previous post, Cartagena de Indias (Colombia) was the center of the Gastroenterology and Digestive System Endoscopy of the Americas last month, gathering health professionals, professors and Nobel Prize winners as well.  Despite the intense academic schedule, I was able to escape for a couple of hours to enjoy the nature and wildlife offered by the Colombian Caribbean coast.
I hired a taxi and went to the Guillermo Piñeres Botanical Garden, less than a hour to the south of the city, in Turbaco.  The nine hectares property protect part of the native vegetation and wildlife of the region.  I did some search in advance because, as you know, I was interested in birds, and the site didn't disappoint... I saw and/or heard 45 different species, including three lifers (Glaucous Tanager, Stripe-backed Wren and the endemic Chestnut-winged Chachalaca.
Stripe-backed Wren
Chestnut-winged Chachalaca (Endemic to Colombia)
I published more photos in my eBird checklist and invite you to check them.  Besides the birds, the place was really good for herps.  I know nothing about reptiles, but at least some common ones are easy to ID.  The place was moist enough to sustain a healthy population of iguanas, frogs and other reptiles.
Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
Common Basilisk (Basiliscus basiliscus 
Rainbow Whiptail (Cnemidophorus lemniscatus)
Yellow-striped Poison Frog (Dendrobates truncatus)
The mammals were well represented too, with agoutis and Northern Amazon Red Squirrels as common sights in the forest, but more impressive, I was fortunate enough to cross a troop of Red Howler Monkeys that were quite curious.
Northern Amazon Red Squirrel (Sciurus igniventris)
Red Howler Monkey (Alouatta seniculus)
The taxonomy of the Red Howler Monkey is vexed.  Some authorities split the different populations into different species and call this form the Colombian (or Venezuelan) Red Howler Monkey (ssp. seniculus).  Full species or not, it was nice to find this peaceful inhabitant of the forest and to have a little taste of the rich wildlife and biodiversity that Colombia has to offer!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Shorebirds all around!

When Osvaldo Quintero and I arrived to days ago to the entrance gate of Finca Bayano, to the east of Panama City, the picture was not good... storm clouds were covering the entire place and the overcast day was cold and windy.  It didn't take long before we had to shelter inside the car and wait for the rain to stop.  By that time we only had seen some herons and Wattled Jacanas, but not a single shorebird... and we were after a special one, the Buff-breasted Sandpipers reported twice at the site earlier this season.
Finca Bayano
Eventually, the rain stopped enough to start to watch birds.  The place was flooded and wet... but it was just perfect for shorebirds... they started to appear all over the place: on the road, at the fields, flying overhead... everywhere!  The most common were the peeps, with Least and Western Sandpipers as the most conspicuous, but also with some Semipalmated Sandpipers as well.
Least and Western Sandpipers
While watching them, we started to notice larger shorebirds mixed in.  Most of them were Pectoral Sandpipers but, eventually, we noticed one bird with yellow-buffy tones and yellow legs... it only stayed enough for a couple of shots, but it proved to be the only Buff-breasted Sandpiper of the day!
Pectoral Sandpipers
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
The Buff-breasted Sandpiper is a rare passage migrant in Panama, with only few reports each fall (almost none in spring).  This was just the second time I see this species, and was a life bird for Osvaldo!  However, it was not the main highlight of the day.  Soon we realized that it was about to be a unique trip... other rare passage migrants showed up as well: several Stilt and White-rumped Sandpipers were around allowing photos.
Stilt Sandpipers
White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpiper
Other not-so-rare-but-pretty-uncommon species showed up well too, including a pair of confident American Golden-Plovers and, as a photographic highlight, I have to mention the Wilson's Snipes.  They are common winter visitors but you not often see them so close!
American Golden-Plover
Wilson's Snipe
Nice collection of birds eh?  Oh yes, and there was also the first-record-for-Panama thing... well, YEAH!  A bird ever recorded in Panama... about the same size of the Pectoral Sandpipers, but with contrasting chestnut crown and white eye-brow... but most important, buffy breast with almost no streaks... here is the photo that I added to my eBird checklist:
SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER... WOW!  An Asian breeder way out of route!  It is still pending review, but if accepted by the local Birds Records Committee, it could be the first documented one for Central America!  Now that is what I call a terrific day!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pewees and Empids of Panama City

If there is a group more difficult to identify than the pewees and Empidonax flycatchers (Empids) in the New World, then I don't know it... these members of the Tyrant Flycatchers family are extremely similar, specially here in Panama where most of them occur as long-distance migrants (so often with faded plumages and silent).  The "difficult-to-ID" label doesn't apply to all of them... some are quite distinctive, as those residents of Panama's western highlands (check this).  In Panama City (central Panama), there is only one resident pewee... the Tropical Pewee.
Tropical Pewee
This species is extremely similar to other migrant pewees... but this one vocalizes frequently (that's how I identified the above individual), thus making it easy to ID.  Also notice the pale loreal area (the area between the eye and the base of the bill) and the relatively short primary projection (the length of the wing/primaries beyond the tertials on a resting bird).  Compare it with the next species:
Eastern Wood-Pewee
VERY similar!  Silent birds during migration season are hard to ID, but I also heard this bird, it is an Eastern Wood-Pewee.  They become very common in Panama City as passage migrants, where they frequently vocalize as well.  Now compare this bird with the next one (that I saw in the same site that this Eastern Wood-Pewee):
Western Wood-Pewee
First of all, its darker overall color is evident at first glance.  However, notice also its straight back.  In comparison, the Eastern Wood-Pewee looks hunchbacked.  This is a Western Wood-Pewee, which is not that common at all in Panama City during migration.  This one didn't vocalize, but with careful observation it can be ID properly.  Other field marks to notice are the different wing bars, with a dull upper wing bar and a bright lower wing bar.  In Eastern Wood-Pewee, both wing bars are equally bright.  Other differences are better appreciated in the next photo of the same individual:
Western Wood-Pewee
It has a mostly dark lower mandible and a more extensive vest compared to Eastern Wood-Pewee.  Other differences in posture, primary projection / tail length ratio and tail angle are not evident in these photos... but at least you can see that it is not absolutely necessary to listen these birds to positive ID them.  It is a shame that we can't say the same about identifying Empids... check for example this one, I took the next photo the same day I saw both pewees above:
Traill's Flycatcher
Traill's Flycatcher
Prominent wing bars, eye-ring, coloration, behavior and short primary projection identify it as an Empidonax flycatcher (not a pewee)... considering the not-very-prominent eye-ring and size it can only be identified as a member of the former Traill's Flycatcher complex (Alder and Willow Flycatchers).  I took the photo last weekend, so both species are expected.  Anyone want to try?  The only other regularly found Empid in Panama City is the Acadian Flycatcher, which usually favors a different habitat (forest), is smaller and has a more prominent eye-ring... but several other very-similar species have been recorded as vagrants around and close to the city.
Acadian Flycatcher
The last pewee found in Panama is one relatively easy to identify due to its larger size, large-head look and prominent vest in the underparts, the Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Olive-sided Flycatcher
So, are you ready to ID our pewees and Empids?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cartagena: Cultural and Academic

Last month, thousands of health professionals related to the Gastroenterology and the digestive system Endoscopy met at one of the most interesting and lovely cities of the world: Cartagena de Indias in the northern coast of Colombia.  The PanAmerican Digestive Disease Week took place on September 10th to 13th with a high academic level.  Essentially, all you need to know as a Gastroenterologist and/or Endoscopist was updated at several sessions, courses, talks, workshops and hands-on trainings held in the modern Cartagena Convention Center "Julio Cesar Turbay Ayala".
Cartagena de Indias was a great setting for this event.  There is always something to do in the city... walk within the walled town with its plazas, or above the impressive wall itself, enjoying the colonial architecture, or taking a journey to the past to pirates tales at the Castillo de San Felipe (and its impressive tunnel system -- recommended), drink a coffee at the historic Getsemani neighborhood, or eat a traditional fried fish with coconut rice and avocado salad in Boca Chica beach... you name it!
Many of my colleagues from Panama and all over America attended this great event... it was nice to see some old friends again and to listen my professors, textbooks' authors and worldwide authorities in the matter at their lectures.  Certainly, my major highlight was to meet a personal hero... a person who changed the world's gastroenterology for ever by establishing the relationship of the germ Helibacter pylori and the peptic ulcer disease (and winning a Nobel Prize by the way): Barry J. Marshall.  Hearing the story of how he did that (with co-author J. Robin Warren) was sublime! C'mon, that's the story I tell each semester to my young Medicine students... but charismatically told by the protagonist himself!
Barry J. Marshall
From Marshall B. Helicobacter connections. ChemMedChem 2006; 1: 783-802
OK, saying "to meet" is not exactly accurate... once he finished his lecture, most of the audience gathered around him to speak with him and get some photos; it was crowded!  However, I ran across him the night before at the welcome cocktail and got a nice photo with a legend. Not only that, I found out that he is a blogger too (check his blog: What I know and what I think I know).  He has not posted for a while, but to have something in common with a Nobel Prize winner is something special.... just another reason to keep blogging!