Sunday, September 20, 2009

More than birds

What I like about birdwatching is that it allows you to know many sites, cultures and nature marvels while you are seeking the birds. That´s why I was so excited by my last trip. With Gloriela, Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck, I visited yesterday El Montuoso Forest Reserve, in Herrera province. Although the list of birds recorded there isn´t spectacular, the simple idea of visiting a new site for me in Panama was fascinating. Not only that, the journey was also interesting, crossing some very traditional towns, like Pesé (home of the locally popular Seco Herrerano), Las Minas de Ocú, and so on... After an overnight stay in Chitre (Herrera's capital city), we headed to El Montuoso early in the morning. That is a picturesque road, through pastures and grasslands, little towns with clay houses, and charming people with their "machetes" in hand. After Pesé, the road becomes hilly, specially after Las Minas de Ocú, with great views of the surrounding lowlands (check the photo). Around 8:00 am we reached the ANAM's Tres Picos ranger station where we met the rangers who had an special guest, professor Victor Martínez, a renowned herpetologist in Panama. He was collecting snakes with a group of students of the University of Panama. After a short introduction (and after paying the entrance fee), we walked the loop trail behind the station. It runs along a creek, crossing it several times. It is amazing that a humid forest like that one still survives in the Herrera province. Our main target was the Brown-backed Dove, a national and enigmatic endemic that would have been a life bird for Osvaldo and Rafael. Although we dipped on it, we found many others birds. In the beginning of the trail we found a lek of Lance-tailed Manakins close to a pair of Orange-collared Manakins, our other target for the day. They were not easy to photograph, as you can guess by my photo, but a regional endemic anyway! Other birds recorded were Chestnut-backed Antbird, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Black-and-white, Yellow and Rufous-capped Warblers, Blue-throated Goldentail and the third species of manakin for the day: a beautiful male White-ruffed Manakin with contrasting white vent. During the return we found another mixed flock, this time with Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers and Golden-crowned Warblers, plus one or two Orange-billed Sparrows. I saw a flycatcher accompanying the group with olive-green back and two ochraceous wing bars. When it turned around I was able to see the dusky markings in its face: a Sepia-capped Flycatcher! an unexpected life bird for me. Happy with the finding, we headed to the station where the professor ask us if we were lucky with snakes (while chasing a really BIG tarantula). He thinks that we find many snakes while birding. I didn't agree, until we find a long and thin green snake (maybe a Green Vine Snake) right in the entrance of the loop trail only ten minutes later! After watching the snake for several minutes, we continue our way, looking for the dove, which never appeared. This didn't discourage us since we were astonished by that charming forest. It is like an island in the middle of a sea of devastation, the last remaining oasis for those spectacular birds and animals in the Herrera province... at least it is protected. It was getting hot so we left the place, heading to Las Minas de Ocú where we had our tasty meal: rice, lentils and meat. The owner of the fonda where we ate offered us a "pesada"; a nance dessert prepared with the addition of sugar, flour, milk and a piece of white cheese... delicious! It is a quite common dessert in rural Panama. We took some pictures of the little town, its central plaza and its church before heading to the coast (1.5 hour away) to the El Agallito beach, near Chitre, where we had a cold beer while watching some waders and Mangrove Warblers. From pastures to forests, hills to beaches, tarantulas and snakes to life birds, that's why I like birdwatching!

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