Monday, July 13, 2009

Going to the West

In spite of being a small country, Panama possesses five Endemic Bird Areas (EBA's) according to BirdLife International. That means more endemics birds in a little container. That's why I drove almost 2000 km in an extendend weekend (since thursday) with Gloriela to visit the western part of the country (Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro), passing through three different EBA's. Though the Panamerican highway runs along the historical limits of the South Central American Pacific Slope EBA, now what's left is only very degraded habitat in the lowlands, except for some isolated sites. However, is good for raptors. Only along the stretch of highway between Chame and Santiago we saw three different vultures species; Pearl and White-tailed Kites; Savanna, Roadside, Short-tailed and Common Black Hawks; Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras; Bat and Aplomado Falcons and even two American Kestrels (hard to see details of the crown and chest at 80 km/hr). After a few stops in the way, we arrived to Paso Canoa, in the border with Costa Rica, and headed south to Puerto Armuelles to check the Progreso and Esperanza marshes described in the book Where to Find Birds in Panama (Angher, Engleman & Engleman 2006), finding only Cattle Egrets. We headed back to Concepcion and, eventually, Volcan and Cerro Punta, but the heavy rain and the fog prevented us to do any birding that afternoon. We stayed at the modest Cerro Punta hotel. Friday's morning was sunny, allowing us to bird the road to El Respingo above Cerro Punta, and to visit Finca Dracula in the morning. The first birds of the day were the familiar Rufous-collared Sparrow and the Mourning Doves (we started very early as you can see in the photo). A pair of Black Phoebes were working at the hotel's garden, and flocks of Band-tailed Pigeons flew over us. Then, at the entrance of the Respingo road, a female Resplendent Quetzal welcomed us with a group of Black Guans. More or less at the middle of the road, we found a big mixed flock with Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers, Ruddy Treerunner, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Yellow-thighed Finches, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush and Collared Whitestart that delighted us for an hour or so, allowing me to take some pictures. Back to Guadalupe, we had brunch in a little restaurant with Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds and Slaty Flowerpiercer out in the garden. We decided to spent the rest of the morning at the Finca Dracula. They have an incredible orchid collection, making them 7th in the world! We took the orchid tour and learned a lot about these marvelous flowers, saw the world's smallest orchid and all the different Dracula sp. that grow in their grounds, among others (hundreds of them, the finca houses 2200 species from all over the world!!). The orchids aren't the only reason to visit Finca Dracula. Being adjacent to La Amistad International Park, and the several bird feeders in their ground (fruit, seed and hummingbird feeders) make this place excellent for birding. In fact, we saw or heard many birds there, including the regular Slaty Finches, Silver-throated & Flame-colored Tanagers, many hummingbirds, and even a Red-tailed Squirrel on a banana feeder. We spent several hours in this place, crossing the sidewalks, taking pictures and watching birds. For the evening, we descended to Volcan and took the road to Santa Clara. It was devoid from birds, maybe because of the time of the day (it was hot). We reached the frontier town of Rio Sereno where we don't last much. Back in Bambito we had our dinner in an argentine grill and called it a day. Time to sleep because next day's plan included to drive over the Continental Divide to Bocas del Toro!

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