Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009's Remembrances

This year is (almost) gone, and all our hopes are centred in the next year 2010 to fully overcome all the experiences and good moments during this one. It is time to remember those moments that, one way or another, marked our lives during the 2009.
I think 2009 was a very good year if we talk about trips. The most memorables were my trip to El Real, Darien; all those trips to the western highlands in Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro provinces; the mini-pelagic from El Ciruelo, Los Santos; the journey to Cobachon, Veraguas; visiting the wettest and driest sites of the Herrera province in the same day; and Gloriela's international trip to Nicaragua attending a congress (and visiting many touristic sites, including the Masaya volcano).

And how to forget those sightings that made us jump of joy (Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Large-billed Seed-Finch, Donacobius, Azuero Parakeet, Great Green Macaw, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Bare-necked Umbrellabird and many more) and to our friends... including a new bird for Panama (Black-legged Kittiwake).

This year brought us our new house in Penonome and we started the construction of a cabin at the finca.

Some personal achievements, like being named Chief Resident at my hospital and winning a free birding trip to central Peru! were highlights.

But the most important of all, this year offered us enough time to spent with our birders and non-birders friends!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Waders assembly

This was a quite busy extended weekend, spending my B-day and waiting for Christmas at my sister's place, grill with our neighbors in Penonome the next day (finding out that I won a free birding trip to Peru!!!) and attending a wedding yesterday in Chitre, central Panama. Anyway, we still manage to have a quick visit to El Agallito beach in Chitre today in the morning, in order to check the mudflats and surroundings. The tide was very low, so we found only distant, scattered shorebirds in the mudflats... but in the mangroves close to the coast the story was different: we found an amusing flock of waders feeding very close to the road. We recorded three herons species (Great & Little Blue and Tricolored), three egrets (Great, Snowy and Cattle), a Wood Stork, lots of White Ibis and two Lesser Yellowlegs. Enjoy!

Destination next year: Central Peru

You read it right! Thanks to Gunnar Engblom and Kolibri Expeditions, I'll be hosting the Carpish and Satipo road trip (the fund raising special) in Central Peru on march 20, 2010. This area is one of the least known birding sites in Peru, with an incredible potential to compete with Manu road for both species and biodiversity. More important, these areas are the targets of some community-based projects on conservation, and part of the fee of the tour is directly invested in infraestructure in Carpish and Satipo road. After all, the idea of promoting these areas, inviting a host (usually a blogger, like me) to a fixed departure each month, will eventually secures a stream of birders to these communities that would leave aside their unsustainable practices to adopt the eco-tourism as an important source of incomes, thus they would protect the habitats by own need. Despite this is a short trip (8 days), it offers a great array of habitats and species, with a high density of endemics... those birds not found anywhere else on Earth (sounds good ah?). You can check out the itinerary (and book your space) here. Notice that the tour is cheaper than the regular tour offered to the same general area ($1090.00, minimun 5 participants)... this tour is for the birder that do not expect luxuries, but an intimate contact with nature because of the lack of infraestructure (improving). Interested? Make some space in your schedule next march and book your space for this amazing trip, while supporting a good cause. I'll see you there... in Peru!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

30 years not every day

Thanks to all for your best wishes. Merry Christmas !

Sunday, December 20, 2009

PAS Pacific Christmas Bird Count

After almost 12 hours of intense non-stop birding (hmmm counting), we finally are at home, trying to compile our day list. Not yet a preliminary result but we had a great day (along with Rafael Luck), with some goodies. But what most impressed us was the number of birders that participated in this count (most of them Auduboners, of course). It seems that this will be a good year eh? The site assigned to my group was the coastal area to the west of the Panama Canal (Farfan, Palo Seco and Veracruz) in the morning, plus Amador and the Causeway (including Punta Culebra) in the evening. The owling hour produced at least two Tropical Screech-Owls, a Common Pauraque and a pre-dawn Laughing Falcon. We waited for the sunrise at Farfan and started to count birds by ear... then, we got enough light for traditional birding, walking a trail through mangroves and a saltwater-filled lagoon, finding lots of water birds and species more related to the mangroves (Straight-billed Woodcreeper for example). We also found a cooperative White-necked Puffbird. I take very seriously my compiler "status", so usually I only stop for enough time in order to get a positive id and move on to the next bird during the Birds Counts... but wow, that Puffbird was almost begging for a photo. I digiscoped it with Gloriela's point-and-shoot (I did not carry my camera during the count... to record rare sights was Rafael's job jeje). Back to the rocky shore, we spotted a distant group of birds resting. A closer look with the scope revealed two American Oystercatchers, a rare sight in this part of Panama (photo only for record purposes). We drove then to Palo Seco, finding a nice mixed flock of flycatchers and warblers along with Gray-headed Tanagers, and lots of Lance-tailed Manakins. In Veracruz (close to the limit of the counting circle), despite the low tide, we managed to found four species of plovers (with Wilson's and Collared being highlights), 500+ Neotropic Cormorants and lots of the expected gulls and terns (but alas, no Elegant Terns). After meeting with the others participants (and after annotating those birds still missing), we headed to Punta Culebra not before picking-up the Mouse-colored Tyrannulet at Diablo Heights. Once there, it just took few minutes to locate our target bird there: Northern Scrub-Flycatcher. We also recorded Mangrove Warbler, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Garden Emerald, Streaked Saltator, and a group of raccoons (I need some help... are them Crab-eating Raccoons?). Along the Causeway, we saw both species of Boobies (Brown and Blue-footed) flying to the limit of the count circle, Saffron Finches with Tropical Mockingbirds feeding at the gardens (but no Cattle Tyrants) and finally we saw a Wood Stork in a little section of mangroves when exiting Amador. Well, after all we got good birds... having a great time!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Ground-Cuckoos Gallery

Have you felt jealous ever? I mean, in a good way. Well, right now I'm feeling that way thanks to a very good friend of mine. I received an e-mail from Rafael Cortes, an enthusiastic and full-of-energy mexican birder now resident in Colombia, telling me on his last birding trip to Anchicaya, in the colombian Choco bioregion, along with his son Luis Francisco and two other birders. Back in Panama few years ago, we were birding buddies practising what we liked to call target birding: to list the most rare or beautiful birds and then to organize trips to find each one of the targets. By this method we found great life birds (Agami Heron, Three-wattled Bellbird, Bare-necked Umbrellabird, Yellow-billed Cotinga, Great Jacamar, Harpy Eagle and many more), but somehow we failed to locate our target bird # 1 (Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo) despite all our efforts. Some years after he left Panama, I got a glimpse of a Ground-Cuckoo during a Christmas Bird Count in Pipeline road, and more recently, I delighted myself with a cooperative individual, again in Pipeline road (and this was after Rafael's quick visit to Panama last year... we dipped on the bird in Pipeline road during the only chance he got for birding). At this point, maybe you already guessed that Rafael finally achieved his life Ground-Cuckoo, and you are right... then, you may ask why I'm so jealous (in the good way) if I already have seen Ground-Cuckoos twice? Well, because he and his son not only saw, but also photographed and even videotaped a BANDED GROUND-CUCKOO attending an antswarm... one of the rarest birds in the world!!! Compared with it, the Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo would look like a rock star, considering all the lucky birders that have seen and photographed it in central Panama (probably the best place of the world to find it). A quick search in Google only produced a trip report and few pics of the bird from northern Ecuador (some are of a netted bird), demonstrating partly its genuine rarity, since it does not cross often with birders or photographers. OK, enough of so many chat and lets go directly to the photos, nicely shared by Rafael and Luis Francisco.
The full account of the trip is so vivid (thanks to Rafael's narrative skills) that I almost felt the excitement of the moment as if I had been with them! The place was so magical that the Ground-Cuckoo was not the only highlight (hard to believe ah?), with Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Sapphire (perhaps Indigo-capped) Quail-Dove and Long-wattled Umbrellabird also recorded!
CONGRATULATIONS to both of you and thanks for sharing that experience. Rafael, we also miss you here in Panama, I hope to see you soon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Birding in Peru for free!

Birding in Peru sounds great (I can tell after three different visits to that beautiful country)... but for free? Wow man, that sounds amazing! Gunnar has made it possible by giving away four trips to Manu and ten trips to Carpish/Satipo road in Central Peru in 2010. More than a bold advertising estrategy for his own tour company, the idea has a more conservationist real aim: to give local communities true and immediate benefits with the ecotourism. It is known that the best way to preserve a natural resource is involving the persons who use it, qualifying them for its sustainable use. I know by personal experience in Panama, Costa Rica and other places that ecotourism make more of tourist than logging and ranching, reason for which some land owners are converting theirs pastures to early growth forests... but, in the words of the former PAS Fieldnessship Dodge Engleman, wouldn't it be better to not convert the forest to cattle pasture in the first place rather than try to reestablish the forest? You need to show them the actual benefits of preserving their lands with tangible profits and, for that, you need a constant influx of tourists to support fixed scheduled trips to those areas where the local communities are involved and what better way of advertising these trips that offering some for free through the huge social media network available now? By following and sharing this link you will be running for the great prizes (remember to sign-up to the opt-in newsletter first). Well, good luck to all and start sharing and to spread the word. If you still are not convinced about this "social media experiment", these pics of my last trip to Central Peru should be enough to encourage you (notice my extremely happy expression in those in which I appear).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Punta Culebra Nature Center

Culebra point is a little peninsula in Naos island, at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, that holds the Smithsonian's Punta Culebra Nature Center. The general area has experienced a great economic development in the last years, and now you can find there convention centers, restaurants, malls, marinas, resorts, discotheques, and so on... but somehow, this piece of nature still remains. To reach Naos (and the other two islands Perico and Flamenco), you have to drive the six kilometer long "Causeway", a two-lane road over a 1,250,000-cubic yard strip of rocks that were extracted from the Gaillard cut (Panama Canal's narrowest pass). At its entrance is being constructed The Bridge of Life project, the first building in Latin America designed by the world famous Frank Gehry, celebrating the emergence of the isthmus of Panama and its biodiversity. It is an impressive piece of art and I'm pretty sure that soon it will become one of the Panama's hallmarks, just like the others designs by Gehry (the Guggenheim Museum, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Weisman Art Museum, and so on...).

I went with Gloriela and a couple of friends yesterday evening to visit this lovely place. It is popular among the locals and visitors during the weekends, and we found lots of people jogging, bycicling, fishing or simple enjoying the marine breeze along the Causeway. After paying the symbolic entrance fee, we started to visit the several marine exhibitions all over the place. There are many interactive signs and legends about the history and importance of the site, about the marine resources and, of course, about the ecosystem and its inhabitants. Most part of the history of this site is concerning its former military importance, being a harbor, a quarantine station, camping site, a military base for defending the Canal and now, a Marine Exhibition and Research Center. The site is frequented by school kids that have the opportunity of experience touching sea stars, sea cucumbers, stingrays and sea urchins and the different habitats through all over the place, from coastal areas (mangroves, a sandy beach and rocky shores) and even a patch of tropical dry forest crossed by trails where you can find mammals, iguanas and birds (of course). Our own experience yesterday consisted in admiring the three curious sea turtles plus the sharks at the first pool and touching the sea cucumbers in the second one. At the extreme end of the peninsula are the sea life exhibitions, with wide acquariums showing the difference between the Pacific ocean and the Caribbean sea (trust me... they are VERY different). I'm not an scuba diver, so I have had few opportunities to appreciate the diversity of the marine creatures (only by snorkeling in Coral Key during our honeymoon at Bocas del Toro, and in Galeta Island in Colon). That is why I love this place: for giving me, and many others, the opportunity to appreciate the colourful fishes, the coral reefs, the lobsters and the morays without wetting a hair! In addition, the veranda behind the enclosure offers a magnificent sight of the Panama Canal entrance and of the Perico and Flamenco islands (with occasional Brown and Blue-footed Boobies flying by). We did not take the trails through the dry forest because we were short of time, but we have found in previous occasions Hoffman Two-toed Sloths, Racoons and Green Iguanas along with impressive hanging cacti. The place is the most reliable spot for Northern Scrub-Flycatcher (which I saw) close to the city, and also for Mangrove "Yellow" Warbler, Garden Emerald and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird (near-endemic to Panama). Well, a nice december evening away of the shopping madness in a very nice and quiet piece of paradise, learning about our marine ecosystems and seeing absolutely cool creatures.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Long-billed Curlew and more along the coast

Gloriela picked me up yesterday evening at work to head towards Panama Viejo and Costa del Este, taking advantage of the 16-feet high tide. The heavy traffic (typical of december days) slowed us down, but somehow we managed to reach Panama Viejo's mudflats just in time to watch a huge group of gulls and terns. Most of them were Franklin's Gulls (somewhat weird... usually they are outnumbered by the Laughings), with Gull-billed and Royal Terns also common. Then, a Whimbrel-like bird catched our attention. It was preening at the edge of the flock. We walked towards the bird, reaching the shore, but it remained too far away for my lens, but not for my binoculars. The long and downcurved bill was evident... confirming our initial suspicion: a Long-billed Curlew. For some years, a lone individual (maybe the same) have been wintering this part of the mudflats. In fact, my life curlew was some years ago in that precise site during a Christmas Bird Count... this time, it was a lifer for Gloriela. My poor pics at least show it most important field mark. After few minutes, it flew to the mangroves, showing then other important field mark: the cinnamon underwing coverts (similar to that of the Marbled Godwit). The flock flew too, so we decided to drive to Costa del Este, stopping at the mouth of the Matías Hernández river. From the sidewalk, we saw a group of birders at the beach so we joined them. The huge number of shorebirds and gulls was extraordinary though we did not find anything really rare. The flock was composed mainly by gulls (Franklins' and Laughings). with some tern and skimmers; but also lots of shorebirds (Godwits, Whimbrels, Willets, Lapwings, and so on...), cormorants and pelicans. We were not prepared for the sand and the sun (without hats, long sleeves or sunscreen, Gloriela dressing with high heels shoes!) so we started to return when the birders pointed us to the sky. A group of Wood Storks was circling high over us against the sky, contrasting with the modern skycrapers of the place. It was a nice way of saying goodbye to the place.