I just came from Altos del María, a gated community in the foothills of western Panama province that have proved to be a good birding spot. Along with Osvaldo Quintero and Alfred Raab, an Altos' resident who kindly guided us through the area, we explored some nice areas with good access roads and good birds. Alfred was constantly saying that we were lucky because we found a sunny day without fog in the upper part of the housing development (La Rioca), where we walked La Coruña street finding a nice mixed flock right in the entrance, with Silver-throated Tanager and Common (very common) Bush-Tanagers, along with Rufous-capped Warblers (feeding youngs), Tufted Flycatcher, Thick-billed and White-vented Euphonias, at least two Yellow-billed Caciques and an Ochraceous Wren that Alfred immediately recognized by its Winter Wren-like call. A little farther we took a trail that leads to an observation tower, attracted by the frog-like call of two Purplish-backed Quail-Doves that eluded us despite our efforts... but bonus birds were the male Purple-throated Mountain-Gem and a shy Black Guan plus a spectacular view of the Cerro Trinidad in the distance. At the tower, we had a terrific view of the pacific lowlands, and of the forest at the foothills. It is possible to see both oceans in a clear day. We decided to visit some other sites before the fog covered everything. Among other species recorded were White Hawk, Pale-vented Thrush, a bright female Shiny Honeycreeper, Paltry and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Golden-hooded and Bay-headed Tanagers.
We start to return, stopping at the Styria gate (the "pyramid") from where you can see all the lower valley of El Maria, where the main community is. We found a big group of American Swallow-tailed Kites plus a Short-tailed Hawk soaring in a thermal. You don't very often see these birds at eye level, nor from above, so we enjoyed the sight for a few minutes. Then, we descended to the valley, to Alfred's place. Alfred have done a good job in his property, hanging feeders and making trails that hold many birds. Only in few minutes around noon we saw or heard Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow, Plain, Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, a nesting Streaked Saltator and Lance-tailed Manakins... all of them typical of drier forest (like the Metropolitan Natural Park here in the city) than the humid mossy-covered forest that we found in La Rioca (which lies over the 1100 meters above sea level and on the Continental Divide). After a quick lunch, we headed to El Valle road (that connects Altos del Maria with El Valle de Anton), but as soon we got to the forest, the rain and the fog showed up. This part of the valley was full of flowering Inga trees that are very good for small hummingbirds (we only saw Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds) Despite our waiting, the rain didn't stop, so we decided to head back to Panama City after a great day in the foothills. Alfred: thank you for everything, I hope to see you soon!