Monday, June 11, 2018

My Global Big Day 2018

Last Cornell's Global Big Day on May 5th was certainly the most memorable for me... not only I got a life bird that day (something that is becoming more and more difficult for me in Panama), but I also was involved a lot in the organization and promotion of it before the event and in the data analysis and review after it.  That's right my friends, this was the best GBD for Panama so far, and I like to think that my effort contributed a little bit to the success!
People attending my first talk on GBD and eBird.  Metropolitan Natural Park.  March 28th, 2018. Photo courtesy Audubon Panamá 
The work started several weeks before (as I already explained here).  Personally, I spent several hours reviewing eBird data and other sources to create target lists per provinces and sites and also gave talks about the GBD and the use of eBird in Panama and Cocle provinces (central Panama).  It was fun, but also hard work.  Being in such position helped me to realize that most of the important habitats would be covered for that day, except pelagic waters.  Last year, I participated in a pelagic trip from western Azuero (the report here) and most of the species seen were absent for the GBD that was held just the day before.  There is a problem with pelagics trips in Panama... there are no scheduled trips, the best areas are far away from Panama City (my home), we don't have many pelagic enthusiasts or experienced birders on pelagic avifauna, and those trips are expensive... but I was decided to do it anyway! All the planets aligned because I managed to book a space in the world-renowned Tropic Star Lodge of Bahía Piñas, in Darién province.  They offer pelagic trips for big game fishing on almost a daily basis to one of the richest pelagic zone within the country, and the place is well-known for the tons of fishing world records set there.  I found only few birding trips reports from there, but the quality of the records convinced me that there was not a better place that combines facilities, expertise and pelagic bird diversity in Panama.  Also, being situated in the middle of Darien jungle, it also offers a chance to register some rare eastern Panama species for the count too.
Exchanging airplanes in Garachiné, Darién.  May 4th, 2018
So, as many other birders in Panama, my journey started on May 4th, by boarding the smallest plane I ever had the chance to fly in.  Due to a mechanical issue, we had to land on a forgotten track in the town of Garachiné (Darién), where almost two hours later, another plane (this time a little larger) picked us up and we continued our way to Bahía Piñas.  I spent my time in Garachine watching birds of course, although I saw only common stuff there.  At Piñas, personnel of the lodge was waiting for me and, after a quick boat ride, they were showing my room.  In spite of being tucked in the middle of the jungle in the less developed province of the country, the lodge counts with all the modern facilities you need.  My comfortable room with air conditioning and wi fi was facing directly to the dock, and the property  is completely surrounded by forests.
Tropic Star Lodge dock
The managers of the lodge welcomed me and soon I was birding the gardens before dinner by the pool.  The most common species quickly became evident, but soon I got my first life bird of the journey.  In the way to "The Palace", I noticed a small greenish bird working the Hibiscus along the stairs.  A close look with my binocular revealed a female Viridian Dacnis!  This range-restricted species is only present in eastern Darien province and adjacent Colombia, and is quite rare.  Among the common birds were hordes of Palm, Blue-gray, Plain-colored, Crimson-backed and Flame-rumped -Lemon-rumped- Tanagers, nesting Chestnut-headed Oropendolas and Masked Tityras, Crowned Woodnymphs, Rufous-tailed and Blue-chested Hummingbirds (but no Sapphires) and the Darien race of Bay Wren that was frequently heard (and often seen).
Bay Wren. Tropic Star Lodge, May 5th, 2018
At dinner, we discussed the details of my pelagic trip the next day.  That night, only two other guests joined me and the managers for dinner... the resident chef simply showed off by offering us a gourmet dinner, presenting personally his exquisite creations one by one... what a dinner!  That night, I barely sleep thinking on all those pelagics birds out there.  The Continental Shelf ends abruptly very close to the coast in this part of Panama, so getting to depths of more than 1000 meters takes only one hour from the lodge.  Less time traveling, more enjoying shearwaters, storm-petrels and petrels!  The eight-hours trip would start around 6:30 am after breakfast... we planned to be back at the lodge around 3:00 pm, with time enough to record the birds of the grounds and surroundings.

After a tasty breakfast, I met my crew.  The captain of "Miss Alaska", Gustavo (aka Punto com), and his mate, Levi, were a quite-experienced crew.  They knew about my intentions (birding, not fishing) and as soon as we left the dock, it became evident that these guys know what they are doing.  Instead of navigating directly to deep waters, Gustavo took me north along the shores, watching coastal species like Brown Pelicans, Brown and Blue-footed Boobies, among others.  Seeing the forested coast emerging from the water is simply amazing in that part of Panama.  Gustvo knew that I was looking for pelagics species, but still took us along the shore for a while... but it was for a good reason... there was a rainstorm system over the ocean directly west of the lodge.  He was simply surrounding the storm. Suddenly he said "enough is enough" and turned 90 degrees west towards the Continental Shelf break, a place known as "La Caída"  ("The Fall Out").
Stunning forests and coastal in-shore species
Brown Pelicans. Piñas Bay, May 5th, 2018
On the way to the deeper waters, we kept finding more inshore species and started to see the first flocks of migrant Red-necked Phalaropes.  Even before getting to "La Caída", we started to find some tubenoses in the form of storm-petrels.  The three regular species started to show up, with Least and Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels as the most common, and only few Black Storm-Petrels.  All of them are quite difficult to photograph under normal sea conditions... so I'm very happy with these photos!
Least Storm-Petrel.  Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel.  Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
At waters 300-feet deep, interesting things started to appear.  The first Galapagos Shearwaters showed up.  First a few, then some loose flocks around the boat, some times trying to land on the deck, something that Gustavo commented that was not unusual.  There have even been records of couples copulating in the bow of the boats!  Soon, one of the -many- highlights of the trip appeared suddenly.  A dark, large procellarid with powerful flight passed by the boat... the uniform dark-coloration and dark-tipped pale bill confirmed my suspicion: a Parkinson's Petrel!  Why so excited?  Well, it was a life bird for me, and the first photographic record for Panama!  This species returned from the brink of extinction thanks to the efforts of environmental authorities on the few islands where it breeds in New Zealand.  My record that day in Panamanian waters was the only one Worldwide!
Galapagos Shearwater. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
Parkinson's Petrel.  Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018

Few seconds after the petrel, a second all-dark, but smaller procellarid flew by the boat, with contrasting pale underwing... a Sooty Shearwater.  Older literature describe this species as the most common shearwater in Panamá; however, we now know that this species is irregular at best. This is only my second Sooty Shearwater for Panamanian waters in several pelagic trips.  I had some experience with it, however, in waters off Peru, where it is pretty common, and from where is supposed the individual of Central America comes (birds moving north in food-poor years at the Humboldt Current according to Howell 2012).  In fact, I have seen more dark-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwaters that are superficially similar, but general shape and underwing pattern all differs.  I saw only one of those dark-morphs during this pelagic trip; the pale-morphs were more common.
Dark-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater.  Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
Pale-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
The tubenoses are always the highlights of any pelagic trip, and many more Galapagos and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters accompanying us during the trip.  We even saw another Parkinson's Petrel in deeper waters, but I'm not sure if it was the same individual.  The only other tubenose that I managed to identify was a Pink-footed Shearwater, an species that proved to be regular in our waters.  Apart of the tubenoses, the lariformes (gulls, terns and skuas) were well-represented as well.  Some true pelagic species started to appear, like Sabine's Gull, Bridled and Sooty Terns and Brown Noddy.
Sooty Tern. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
Brown Noddy and Sabine's Gull. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
The tactic of Gustavo was simple... he kept an eye to the tuna schools and the dolphins out there.  They were always followed by flocks of birds.  One of those feeding groups included Short-beaked Common Dolphins, the first time ever I see that species in Panama!  Then, while checking the flock with dozens of Black and Common Terns, I focused on an elegant-flying tern with long streamers.  It is not easy to separate some similar-looking species, so good photographs are needed.  This particular bird was difficult to photograph, and I got only some blurry photos until the bird flew directly over us.  I already had an idea of what was seeing... but the photographs confirmed the identification.  Arctic Tern!
Arctic Tern. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
Short-beak Common Dolphin. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
This bird was in alternate plumage, showing the characteristic gray body (more extensive than in Common Tern), steep forehead, all-red bill (without black tip as in Common Tern) and longer streamers than in Common Tern, but more important, the thin and well-delimited black trailing edge to the primaries, very different to the broader line exhibit by Common Terns.  This is just the fifth report for Panama of Arctic Tern., with the first one being in those very same waters in 1995.  Check the field marks listed above with this photo of Common Tern taken just seconds apart of the Arctic Tern:
Common Tern. Off Piñas, May 5th, 2018
I have to admit that it was strenuous... a little more than eight hours at sea, under a bright sun (yes, Gustavo managed to avoid the rainstorm all day long), little time to rest due to bird activity, carrying my heavy camera and trying to point it to small, flying birds... but it was fun after all.  But my job was not done.  We arrived at the lodge short after 3:00 pm, with time and light enough to watch birds for the GBD in the gardens.  To my surprise, I managed to relocate the Viridian Dacnis in the same general area; except that, this time, it was an adult male.
Viridian Dacnis. Tropic Star Lodge, May 5th, 2018
I just managed some bad photos as you can see.  It turned out that this particular guy was also the only individual reported Worldwide of this species during the GBD!  Two unique species worldwide for the Global Big Day!  In fact, by the end of the day, I managed to find ten (10) species unique for Panama's Global Big Day... more than any other team or individual. Back in my room, taking advantage of the wi fi, I followed closely the results of the count, and started to submit my lists.  That night I barely sleep... and only made a pause for dinner.  After all, the managers had organized a 5 de Mayo party, with Mexican food and allegories, and even a piñata with a Cubera Snapper motive.
Working at my room
Cubera Snapper Piñata
Due to the flight schedule, I spent one and a half day more at the lodge... and to be honest, I spent most of that time reviewing my checklists and the reports send by all the other birders from all over Panama, work that I continued in Panama City with other members of the coordinating committee.  After all, this was my most memorable Global Big Day!  I saw 57 different species of birds that day (less than previous years), but contributed with ten unique species for Panamá and two for the WORLD!!!  And you?  How was your GBD?

Monday, June 4, 2018

... and what a Global Big Day it was! Panama's 2018 GBD

After all the organization and enthusiasm raised during the weeks previous to this year Cornell's Global Big Day (you can read about it here), it was clear that Panama's participation would be no less than spectacular!  And what a Global Big Day it was!  Clearly, the participation was way higher than previous years... just notice how filled was the participation map for that day!
The Global Big Day started, for some, at the very first second of May 5th... by spying  feral Rock Pigeons at their roosting site in Panama City for example (yes Rolando, I'm talking about you) or starting to calling out owls in the darkness.  Soon, more and more teams started to join the event, and the list of species for Panama started to grow .  There were people counting birds almost everywhere! Towns, gardens, forests, beaches, marshes, mountaintops, deserts (not actual deserts in Panama, but anyway) and pelagic waters were all covered! To make the tale short, we achieved all our main targets for the day:  we beated our previous record by finding 750 species for a single day in Panama, we are number one for the region (and for North America!) and 6th place worldwide... W O W ! ! !
But most important, we definitively destroyed our previous participation numbers!  We sent six times more checklists than the previous years, and more than 700 volunteers travelled the country looking for birds!
Cornell's 2018 GBD Top 10 (screenshot).  May 9th, 2018
Most of the "Macro Teams" recorded unique species for the national total and, in fact, 106 species (14% of the total) were reported by only one team or individual, showing the impact that single birders had in this event.  Of course there were many highlights... some due to the species rarity, other by the circumstances under which these birds were recorded... I will list some of them here... but it is impossible to list all of them or the people involved in the effort to find such species in this space.  If you read Spanish, a great compilation of participant organizations, photos and interesting facts for Panama's GBD can be seen in this online document prepared by Sociedad Audubon Panama
Oilbird by the Ocean-to-Ocean Team.  Willie Mazu, Ngöbe-Buglé. May 5th 2018.  Photo courtesy Raúl Velásquez
We received interesting reports from every corner of the country, some of the rarest one included an Oilbird (!), seen by my friends of the Ocean-to-Ocean Team (Raúl Velásquez, César González and Alexander Ortega) in the foothills of Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, the first report for western Panama; Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, Ochraceous Pewee and Silvery-throated Jay by "Los Maroons" Team leaded by Ito Santamamaría in the western highlands around Cerro Punta town in Chiriqui province.
Baird's Trogon (female) by the ADOPTA - Baird's Team (Elida Valdés, Yasmín Cerrud and Eisser García). Petroterminales Panamá, Burica Península. May 5th 2018. Photo courtesy Yasmín Cerrud
Also in Chiriqui province, but in the lowlands of the Burica Peninsula, the "Baird's Team" recorded its namesake Baird's Trogon and Golden-naped Woodpecker; while Boris Sanjur and company of the BioCRECOBIAN - UNACHI Team, photographed the third record for Panama of Eurasian Collared-Dove, close to David City; at Cerro Algodon in the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca, Pedro Jiménez recorded the only Yellowish Pipit of the day, the first record in more than 20 years for western Panama, also for the BioCRECOBIAN - UNACHI Team.  In central Panama, Team Heliconia recorded Coiba Spinetail in, where else, Coiba Island (the only World record); Josue Ortega and company of The Naturalist Guide Panama reported Lanceolated Monklet and White-crowned Manakin in Santa Fe National Park, Veraguas province; while Ariel Aguirre et al found the Yellow-throated Chlorospingus at the forests above El Cope town, represented here by an endemic form considered by BirdLife as a distinct species (Orange-throated Chlorospingus) and Daniel Gonzáles, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Bird Collection (STRIBC) Team, contributed with the only record of Rose-throated Becard... the first confirmed nesting record for the Azuero Peninsula as you can see in this video.
American White Pelican (file photo from Panama City, Panama)
At least four different American White Pelicans were recorded, a pair seen by two teams in Las Macanas marsh in Herrera province (the team leaded by Edgardo Márquez of The Naturalist Guide Panama and the team leaded by Hector Escudero of Grupo Ecoturístico Las Macanas) and  another pair by the team leaded by Karla Aparicio of Fundación Naturaleza y Ciencia 507 in Punta Chame, Panama Oeste province; also at Las Macanas marsh, and also of the Fundación Naturaleza y Ciencia 507, Gumercindo Pimentel photographed two (of five) Fulvous Whistling-Ducks.  The team leaded by Fernando Guardia and Arianne Magallón photographed the resident Inca Doves in Agua Fría town, close to Penonomé in Coclé province.  At the foothills of Panama Oeste province, Faustino Sánchez, of the Canopy Family Team, recorded the only Snowcap of the day.
Herring Gull, First cycle. (file photo from Panama City, Panama)
From the former Canal Area to the east, we had great participation, including several groups along the shores of the Panama Canal and around Panama City, with the Playeros PTY Team of the Sociedad Audubon de Panama recording six unique species along the coast (including Herring Gull), leaded by Rosabel Miró and Esther Carty who also managed to accept volunteers with no experience to promote the event, as well as local authorities, including the vice-major of the city!  They even had time to educate on birds and to check identifications with personnel of the city council and the Biomuseo.  Other teams that accepted non-experienced volunteers to promote the event were the ANCON Team in Panama City, the ADOPTA - Cruz Roja Team in Altos de Campana National Park, the BioCRECOBIAN - UNACHI in David City, among others.  To the east of the city, the APAVE Team reported a late Sora, that responded to playback in former La Jagua marsh.  Two ADOPTA Teams recorded unique species not only for Panama, but for the World!  Ivan Hoyos saw a Spiny-faced Antshrike in Cerro Azul while the team leaded by Jorge Garzón found the Tacarcuna Chlorospingus at the higher slopes of Cerro Chucantí.  Wilson Félix, of Fundación Naturaleza y Ciencia 507 reported the juvenile Harpy Eagle in Chagres National Park, one of the study birds of the foundation.  For the first time, José Pérez recorded the species of the Pearl Islands for the GBD, managing to get the best photo I had seen of a male White-fringed Antwren from there!
White-fringed Antwren, male, by José Pérez.  Isla Viveros, Pearl Islands, Panama. May 5th, 2018. Photo courtesy José Pérez
The Darién province was full of specialties.  The lowlands produced stunning species like Crested Eagle and Slender-billed Kite near Pijibasal, by the team leaded by Hayro Cunampio; a recent addition to the Panama list, the Bare-faced Ibis, was relocated by the Ecotour Darién Team near the discovery area. This species was reported for the first time during one of the scouting trips for this GBD!  Several teams birded the Darien highlands: Mario Ocaña, Ismael "Nando" Quiroz and Isaac Pizarro worked from Rancho Frío to Pirre ridge, while two ADOPTA Teams (with Euclides "Kilo" Campos, Alexis Guevara and Mauricio Hoyos) birded at the mythical Cana airstrip and the Alturas de Nique range.  They reported a myriad of rare and range-restricted species, including Choco Tinamou, Pirre and Tooth-billed Hummingbirds, Greenish Puffleg, Wing-banded Antbird, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Sharpbill, Golden-crowned Flycatcher, Varied Solitaire, Green-naped Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Pirre Chlorospingus and Yellow-green Grosbeak to name a few.
"Situation Rooms". Above: At the Ecological Police in Gamboa, May 6th, 2018.  Below: At Metropolitan Natural Park, May 7th, 2018.  Photos courtesy Guido Berguido
After the day of the count, the work for the members of the coordinating committee started seriously, and several "situation rooms" were set up where sightings were verified, recorded bird songs were identified and photographs of birds that were not identified in the field were reviewed. As an ebird reviewer, I also spent many hours requesting documentation of dubious records and verifying the provenance and quality of the lists that were sent... and as member of the Sociedad Audubon de Panamá, I joined others members at our own "situation room" gathering data of the count and also listening to recorded calls sent by the general public through a WhatsApp number specifically enabled for that purpose (and to receive information about the status of the habitats visited... more about that later).   The efforts paid off! At least four species were added to the national total after identifying them in photos (Pectoral Sandpiper, Gray Hawk) or audios (Canebrake Wren, Melodious Blackbird) provided by observers in the field that were unable to identify them at site.
Sociedad Audubon de Panama's "situation room". Panama City, May7th, 2018 (that is my eBird reviewer-face for the I-don't-think-so records). Photo courtesy Rosabel Miró
The logistic for the Global Big Day was no less impressive... just look at the transportation means that were used to arrive or leave the counting sites and during the Global Big Day.  By all means the Panamanian birders reached every corner of the country... invaluable volunteer hours and kilometers traveled on foot and other means were not in vain!
From upper left corner and clockwise: Canopy Family's "HawkEagle Truck" in Pipeline Road, Gamboa. May 5th, 2018 (photo courtesy Carlos Bethancourt); Volunteer-filled truck on route to Pirre, Darién. May 4th, 2018 (photo courtesy Hayro Cunampio); Biking and birding in Garnaderita, Atalaya. May 5th, 2018 (photo courtesy Lesley Sánchez); Adopta Team's horseback riding back from Cerro Chucantí. May 6th, 2018 (photo courtesy Zabdy Samudio)
From upper left corner and clockwise: Heliconia Team at open sea on route from Coiba Island.  May 5th, 2018 (photo courtesy Team Heliconia). Exchanging airplanes on route to Piñas Bay. Garachiné, May 4th, 2018 (photo by Jan Cubilla).  Fundación Naturalez y Ciencia 507 at Punta Chame. May 5th, 2018 (photo courtesy Karla Aparicio).  ADOPTA Team at Cana airstrip. May 6th, 2018 (photo courtesy Guido Berguido).
The birds were amazing, but the participation was great too! About 1300 checklists submitted placed us # 5 worldwide in participation. The vast majority of the birders sent their data through the eBird accounts of their teams instead of opening their own accounts, something we plan to improve for the next event. All the participants count; however, I would like to highlight that groups of high school students, who benefited from Cornell's "Detectives de Aves Internacional" curriculum which Katherine Araúz has been with in Panama for a while, also participated. Children are the hope of the future!  And about the habitat status data, well... we are still collecting it; however, it was clear that many participants did not want to be mere passive observers and some decided to leave their counting areas better than they found them!
Left: Team of university students of UNACHI and UTP with thrash collected after birding. La Barqueta. Photo courtesy Luis Saldaña.  Right: Team IAN Consulting-GEMAS picking up thrash in Volcano Lakes.  Photo courtesy IAN Consulting. Both photos on May 5th, 2018 
As you can see, this was a GREAT Global Big Day for Panama!  We still have to do better and with more time next year, need to solve some minor differences and polish some details, but the experience gained in these seven weeks of preparation is priceless!  I also gained tons of experience during this GBD... if you want to know how it was for me, keep tuned and follow this link: ... my Global Big Day!
Press conference announcing the Panama's 2018 GBD results (with pizza!), simultaneously transmitted to several provinces in Panama.  From left to right: Karen Ávila (Fundación Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann), Guido Berguido (Asociación Adopta el Bosque Panamá), Rolando Jordan (Asociación Panameña de Aventura y Excursionismo), Karla Aparicio (Fundación Naturaleza y Ciencia 507), Rosabel Miró (Sociedad Audubon de Panamá).  Panama City, May 11th, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

2018 Panama's Global Big Day: the previous days

Past May 5th, the world engaged in the search and recording of most of the extant birds species... thousands of participants and volunteers-hours resulted in the record set of 6899 world's birds species in a single day during Cornell's Global Big Day (GBD)!  Of course, Panama was part of this global effort... but this year it was different.... waaaaaay different!
The previous years, the Global Big Day was seen, in Panama, as an opportunity to get out, watch some birds and load that information into Cornell's database using eBird. Some of us, taking advantage of the event, intented to register the largest number of bird species in a single day, honoring the name "big day", by traveling routes that were sometimes extensive and that, sometimes, overlapped the routes of other birders.  The route I followed with my wife Gloriela for three consecutive years started in the beautiful forests above the town of El Cope, descending all the way to the Pacific lowlands of the Cocle province, ending at the coastal areas of the eastern Azuero Peninsula, all in central Panamá, visiting locations in four different provinces (more than any other "team" during the GBD) and traveling more than 250 kms (you can read about it here).  There was no national effort to get as many species we can... and that surely was reflected in the results of last year GBD: we did not break our historical record, we were not the first country in Central America, and did not reached the world's top 10!
Gloriela and me during 2017 GBD.  Aguadulce salt ponds, Coclé. May 13th, 2017
Since then, some of us were convinced that some kind of national coordination was necessary to achieve better results... and, in that aspect, my friend and fellow birder Guido Berguido, Executive Director of Asociación Adopta el Bosque Panamá, started it in the simplest manner... creating a Whatsapp group on March 17th, mere  seven (7) weeks before the GBD!  He included not only some of the most active birders in the country, most of them already using eBird, but also representatives of NGOs, Gubernamental agencies and volunteers groups that happen to be birders as well.  The first meeting of this un-official national coordination committee was held at the offices of Sociedad Audubon de Panamá in Panama City on March 21st.
Panama's birding and conservation personalities gathering together at the first national coordinating committee for the GBD (and yes, that's my daughter Gabrielle celebrating inclusion during the World Down Syndrome Day by wearing crazy socks). Panama City, March 21st.  Photo courtesy Audubon Panama 
From there, a lot of work started... work that included recruiting volunteers and birders, giving talks and trainings on the use of ebird and identification of birds in all the provinces of the country, compilation of recent and historical records of birds by area to make lists of targets, creating a participation map available to all the interested parties in order to cover as many areas possible, designing checklists forms for those not using eBird -yet- and illustrated plates with the most common birds, scouting trips to counting areas before the event, publicizing the GBD in national and social media with press conferences, Facebook page and inviting authorities of the ornithological world to our country, including the general public, schools and university students, local communities representatives, park rangers, ecologic, frontier and aeronaval police in the effort and so on... so much done in such a short period of time was simply amazing, all under the motto "Unidos por las aves" (united for the birds).
Few of the trainings and talks offered before the GBD in Panama 2018
It was evident that the enthusiasm was at its highest level, and the group grew considerably.  Many teams showed interest in covering important areas, while experienced birdwatchers volunteered to travel to key areas that would not be covered. Private companies, NGOs, Gubernamental agencies and some individuals sponsored logistical and monetary support to cover these areas, which included ancient Meccas of bird watching such as the Darién highlands or pelagic waters off the coast of Piñas Bay (also in Darién), among others.
Promotional items for the GBD Panama 2018. Photo courtesy Isaac Pizarro
With all the enthusiasm, we set ourselves several objectives: to break our historical record of more birds observed in a single day (which was of 609 species obtained during the first GBD in 2015), to be the first place in our region of Central America and to return to the top 10 worldwide. Other objectives were to register the largest number of national and regional endemic species and to collect information on the conservation status of the habitats that would be visited during the event, both inside and outside protected areas.
Press conference announcing our objectives for 2018 GBD. From left to right: Thomas Schulenberg (Cornell's Lab of Ornithology), Jan Axel Cubilla (Sociedad Audubon de Panamá), Guido Berguido (Asociación Adopta el Bosque Panamá), Edgar Araúz (Universidad de Panamá), José Soto (Gamboa Rainforest Resort), Marcial Caisamo (local communities representative).  Panama City, May 3rd, 2018.  Photo courtesy Rosabel Miró
With high expectatives and learning during the process, the Global Big Day was all set and prepared to be simply spectacular in Panama for the first time.  Want to know what happened that day, keep reading in the next post following this link: ... and what a Global Big Day we had!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017's Top 10 Birds!

And here we are again!  This year is about to end, and everyone is looking forward to have a new beginning, with new goals and resolutions.  I'm glad to say that my last year's wish came true, to have  more life birds... and some of them, plus other goodies, are now part of this new Top 10 Birds for Panama in 2017.
Large-billed Tern
10. Large-billed Tern: extremely rare and erratic in Panama, this impressive species showed up at the Charges river in Gamboa (central Panama), where I was able to twitch it successfully.... several times!  Curiously, later in the year, a pair appeared in Finca Bayano, where I was able to photograph and audio-record them!
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove
09. Buff-fronted Quail-Dove: this secretive species was a long expected lifer for me.  I include it in this top 10 not because of its rarity or beauty, but for the story surrounding it... a long twitch with my wife Gloriela, a scary drive in the dark through an extremely rough road, and finding it quietly walking the trail in the chilly morning... simply a sublime experience!
Hermit Warbler
08. Hermit Warbler: also a long twitch to the western highlands with my family.  This rare migrant warbler decided to spent some days in Bambito (Chiriqui province).  Thanks for the alert of fellow birders, I was able to catch it during the most important festivity for the Panamanians: the carnival.
Dusky-backed Jacamar
07. Dusky-backed Jacamar: this range-restricted species, found only in eastern Panama and Colombia, used to need a complete expedition to find.  My good friend Nando Quiroz showed it to me, with many more eastern Panama specialties, aboard a little canoe and whistling it in!
Nop, there are no birds in the picture!
06. Gray-capped Cuckoo: another extremely rare and erratic species.  A Gray-capped Cuckoo appeared in Finca Bayano and stayed for three more days (at least).  No photo of this one.  It was probably taking advantage of the caterpillars feeding on the mangroves, as pictured above by my friend Rosabel Miró.  The mangroves suffered... but at least it made some lucky birders very happy!
Little Cuckoo
05. Little Cuckoo: this one appeared while trying to relocate a Dwarf Cuckoo reported in Rio Torti.  I dipped on the Dwarf Cuckoo, but this localized species made my day.  Why?  Because that was the last species missing in my very first "Wish List", which I wrote down more than 20 years ago!  Follow the link and you will see the blank space after the "Cuco Enano" entry!
Maguari Stork
04. Maguari Stork: this huge and elegant vagrant from South America was found by my friend Rolando Jordan in Finca Bayano... just the second sighting for the country.  One day later, short of time and in a hurry, I was able to relocate the bird with some friends.  I was unable to find it the first time it appeared in Panama, and curiously, it was a species that eluded me in South America as well... so it was a huge lifer for me!
Volcano Junco
03. Volcano Junco: this is the only species that was not a Panama-lifer for me in this list.  But seeing it after more than 15 years (and just for the second time) at the highest point of the country (at the summit of the Baru volcano, in the western highlands) with my wife and the fading light of the sunset... priceless!
Carib Grackle
02. Carib Grackle: this smart and adaptable species colonized Panama unnoticed!  The first records for the country are so close to Panama City that it is almost shameful.  After seeing it with a group of fine birders and friends (including Beny Wilson, Rolando Jordan and Natalia Decastro), I realized that this was the species that I saw and photograph some weeks before in Finca Bayano as well!
Russet-throated Puffbird
01. Russet-throated Puffbird: I know you already figured it out... a new species for Panama and North America!  Found yesterday by an organized birding group, I twitched it immediately with my friend Rolando Jordan, sorting traffic jams, pot-holed roads, torrential downpours and bad light conditions... well, that's probably the recipe to success!
OK, I hope you enjoyed this list as much as I did... and now, take your binoculars, go out, sort some obstacles, and lets find some new life birds in the new year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Northern Central America Endemics birds!

Earlier this year, I visited Antigua, Guatemala, attending a medical congress.  It was not my first time in the picturesque city, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its cobbled streets, colonial buildings and dozens of churches... it doesn't matters how many times you visit it, it is always charming and full of culture and history.  However, this time I had a spare day to spent birding.
I arranged a day trip with Cayaya Birding and was not disappointed!  They already knew my target list of species due to the constant communication I had the weeks before with Claudia Avendaño (one of the owners and bird guide), so they planned my day carefully in order to get as many lifers as I can.  Knut Eisermann was my guide for the day.  He picked me up before dawn at my hotel and, after a brief introduction, we headed to our first destination: Cerro Tecpán.  The day started with a tasty breakfast at a restaurant by the entrance of the trails (one of them called "Sendero del Chipe" and featuring a Pink-headed Warbler!), watching White-eared and  -recently split- Rivoli's Hummingbirds at feeders by the windows.  Right by the parking lot we started to watch some goodies: Black-capped Swallows, Hooded Grosbeak and Mountain Trogon.
Mountain Trogon
Once at the trail, the pine-cypress-oak-alder forest was alive with chirps, calls and songs completely unknown to me... I was not in Panama anymore for sure!  Even shared species, like Paltry Tyrannulet, looked and sounded completely different to what I am used... Knut immediately started to point lifers to me: Crescent-chested and Golden-browed Warblers, Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Hutton's Vireo, Rufous-browed Wren, Steller's Jay and noisy Blue-throated Motmots that were quite difficult to photograph.
Blue-throated Motmot
Cerro Tecpán wat not a random choice... Claudia and Knut both decided to try this site first since it was the only one within the range of a day-trip where we could have a chance for my main target: Pink-headed Warbler.  Soon, Knut told me to follow him, since he was hearing the warbler further ahead the trail.  We started to search the nearby trees, finding Bushtits, Olive Warblers, Slate-throated Whitestarts (with red bellies) and Tufted Flycatchers... then, I managed to see a flash of crimson and silver... a tireless Pink-headed Warbler was hoping from leave to leave looking gorgeous in the morning light!  What a special little creature.  This species is restricted to Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas, and was very high in my wish list!  We kept birding, reaching the upper part of the trail.  More specialties were to come in the form of Rose-throated Becard, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern -Guatemalan- Flicker, Greater Pewee and Blue-and-White Mockingbird (probably an immature, due to the dark patches in the underparts).
Blue-and-White Mockingbird
Soon it was time to leave.  In order to take advantage of the full day, we went back to Antigua to have lunch, and then, to well-known Finca El Pilar.  I visited the hummingbird feeders and the first part of the trails in my previous visit last year; however, this time Knut took me to the upper ridges of the finca, with several stops along the way that produced several lifers for me (like Cabani's Wren, Red-billed Pigeon, Black-vented Oriole and White-eared Ground-Sparrow) plus some widespread species that we also have in Panama, like Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Orange-billed Nightingale-Wren and White-winged Tanager.  He also found a Mexican Porcupine (also a lifer) sleeping in a high branch partially hidden by some bromeliads.
Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Rivoli's Hummingbird and White-winged Tanager (seconds before, there were also Greater Pewee and Cabani's Wren)
Mexican Porcupine
We reached an open camp with some cabins when it started to rain.   We stayed under a shelter, scanning the surroundings and the forest border around.  The place was alive with several Gray Silky-Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Black-headed Siskins and beautiful Rufous-collared Thrushes.  The view was amazing, with the majestic Agua Volcano, Antigua and the old city at the horizon.  It reminded me a place in Panama (El Respingo)... although the birds were quite different (of course).
Finca El Pilar - cabins
Eastern Bluebird
Black-headed Siskin
In the forest above the cabins we were lucky enough to watch an elusive Scaled Antpitta crossing the trail, plus Northern Emerald Toucanets, Collared Trogons, Bar-winged Oriole (lifer), Collared Forest-Falcon and Highland Guan (both heard in the distance), a family group of Band-backed Wrens and several resident warblers.  It was getting dark, but Knut still had a last surprise for me.  He knew a spot for a special species that wanted to show me.  He played a recorded call few a times and waited. Then, he pointed towards an exposed branch... silently, an owl landed there, inspecting us curiously... a Fulvous Owl!
Fulvous Owl
The Fulvous Owl is restricted to the humid evergreen forests of the highlands of northern Central America and southern Mexico, and certainly I was not expecting it on this trip!  Thanks Knut and Claudia for the excellent day, the lifers and the great company!