Sunday, November 29, 2009

Independence weekend

Yesterday, november 28th, Panama celebrated its independence of Spain, back in 1821. We spent the weekend at Penonome, celebrating the independence too... but away of the parades. Despite the fact that this was mostly a kind of relaxing trip, somehow I convinced Gloriela to join me on a short trip to the Aguadulce Salinas (saltflats), 30 minutes away from Penonome. It was around noon, very hot, and with a not very high tide, but anyway she accepted. As expected, the saltflats were devoid of birds... but we still managed to get some species. In the road, on a wire, a lonely Pearl Kite was inspecting its territory, while a distant flock of peeps flew forming a dark cloud over the saltflats, moving from one side to another. A distant group of white dots in the horizon resulted to be Wood Storks resting... later on the day we saw them soaring in a thermal current. No spoonbills, nor stilts this time... maybe it was to hot for them. Only few sandpipers where at the edge of the ponds close to the road, with Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers getting closer... but also recording a flock of Western Sandpipers that quickly flew away. Well, not a great diversity, but entertaining anyway!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Still around... thorntails and others

On november 24 I went back to Cerro Azul, east of Panama city, this time with Osvaldo Quintero and Osvaldo Quintero Jr, in order to relocate the Green Thorntails that have been around since last saturday, first noticed by Rosabel Miró. Again, we arrived in the afternoon, around 4:00 pm. The activity around the tree with the white flowers at the parking lot was low, but soon we found the first hummingbirds but no thorntails. After five long minutes I saw it again (well, I saw its tail again), elegantly flying around the flowers and even perching in order to suck the nectar. This time, it was not so showy, nor so agressive, and was keeping a low profile, with long periods of time without seeing it at all. The female (only one this time) was shy also. Again, its preference for the canopy of the tree, and the poor light conditions (plus the fog) made difficult to photograph it... so this time I concentrate in the others species attending the same tree. Perhaps, the most interesting hummingbird of the group (apart of the thorntails, of course) was the Violet-capped Hummingbird. The female that I picture here may look extremely ordinary at first glance (please note the hint of dull reddish chestnut in the rectrices)... but this species is near-endemic to Panama, barely reaching extreme NW Colombia. The beautiful males are less often spotted than the females, specially around Rosabel's house in Cerro Azul, but are somewhat commoner at higher elevations (Cerro Jefe, Cerro Chucanti). If you don't see the deep reddish-chestnut tail, you can still recognize this beauty by its particular green irridiscence at the back, quite different from that of any other hummingbird in range. Even the history of this little friend is quite interesting, being described by E. W. Nelson as a monotypic species (Goldmania violiceps) and named in honor of Mr. Edward A. Goldman, who collected the type specimen from the higher slopes of Cerro Azul nearly a hundred years ago during one of his Smithsonian Biological Surveys in the Canal Zone and adjacent parts of Panama. By far, this is the easiest place to see this species in the world!! They are adaptable birds, and they do visit hummingbird feeders, unlike the next species that was also haunting around the thorntails' tree: the Violet-headed Hummingbird. It is readily identified by its small size and prominent white, tear-like post-ocular dot (its genus, Klais, literally means tears, referring to this particular mark) and usually they are kept visiting the flowers at low and medium-sized shrubs, avoiding the canopy of tall trees. A male was working at the lower flowers while a female appeared for few seconds behind us, visiting the Verbenas (Stachytarpheta) and being furiously banished by a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. By the end of the evening we recorded nine hummingbirds species (we missed the Fairy), plus tons of tanager, honeycreepers and dacnises. I will not get tired of saying it... if all the backyard birding were like this!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thorntails at Cerro Azul

I received an e-mail from my friend and former PAS president Rosabel Miró. While leaving her house in Cerro Azul yesterday's evening, she saw a male and two females Thorntails at a flowering tree in her parking lot. What surprised her was that they were not leaving the place, defending themselves from the others hummingbirds attending the banquet. The Green Thorntail is a beautiful hummingbird, but kind of erratic and unpredictable in Panama. It has been a target bird for me since many years ago, actively searching for it in such places like El Valle (Cocle province), El Montuoso (Herrera province), the western highlands, and so on. In one occasion, I was seeing an American Dipper in Fortuna (central Chiriqui province) while the guy just behind me was seeing a male Thorntail... I didn't saw it of course. I was pretty sure that my luck was about to change when I read the e-mail this morning. I picked up Gloriela in the airport (she was arriving from Nicaragua after a week attending a congress), have lunch and then we headed to the foothills of Cerro Azul. After an one-hour drive, we reached Rosabel's house at 4:15 pm, finding almost immediately the tree, when suddenly I saw a longish tail appearing among the flowers. It was raining, so we took our umbrellas and start searching. We didn't wait too much before finding a male Green Thorntail graciously flying around with its long tail elegantly cocked up!!!, a lifer for both of us. It was not alone, the tree was attracting many little and medium-sized hummingbirds, all of them fighting for the right to be there...but as Rosabel noted, the Thorntail was not getting scared easily, always coming back to the flowers, or to a distant perch (that's why my rather poor pics) despite the almost constant assaults of the Snowy-bellied, Violet-headed and Violet-capped Hummingbirds (specially the aggresives Snowy-bellieds). What a show, but it was not over. Then, a second and third bird appeared, this time an adult female and a female-plumaged individual with longish tail. They were not so aggresive as the male, visiting the flowers for few seconds and then perching on a very distant skinny stick against the sky, in backlight (again, sorry for the rather poor pic, but an awesome bird anyway... only for the record). Occasionally they made a kind of ritual display, facing eye-to-eye while elevating on the air, sometimes joined by the male. By this time the rain stopped, and we started to hear and see many others birds. Just behind us, a bush was covered in tanagers!, with Golden-hooded, Bay-headed and Blue-and-grays, but it was a Green Honeycreeper that stole the show. Its ultramarine green body contrasting with the black mask, and its photo-friendly behaviour was all what we needed to admire it for many minutes, while a pair of Fulvous-vented Euphonias tried to pass unnoticed... they were feeding low and in silence, but very close. We decided to visit the hummingbird feeders at the backyard, welcomed by an agressive Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. The action was intense, with lots of hummingbirds trying to suck the last sip of nectar for the night. Besides the Plumeleteer, there were also White-necked Jacobins, Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Green Hermit and, occasionally, a female Violet-capped Hummingbird. In the way to the parking lot, I pointed a female Purple-crowned Fairy to Gloriela... realizing that it was a lifer for her according to the big WOW that she expressed. The bird is worth admiring, with its immaculate white underparts and the long tail (longer in females). It was our 10th species of hummingbird for the evening. Back in the parking lot, we were still amazed with the Thorntails, we watched them until it was too dark to see anything. Well, nice collection of birds, plus several lifers for both of us, in only 1.5 hours of backyard birding in Cerro Azul (I need a backyard like that one). Thanks Rosabel!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gulling after work in Costa del Este

And who can resist to stop after having this sight? I passed by Costa del Este this evening in order to check the flock of gulls (and shorebirds) that rest at the mouth of the Matías Hernández river with the high tide. I wanted to have a closer look despite my completely inappropriate office shoes and the clouds of chiggers in the beach. As usual, it was mostly composed by hundreds of Laughing Gulls, but a more careful scrutiny revealed a few Franklin's Gulls of different ages and at least two Black Skimmers . A decidedly smaller and slimmer gull catched my attention. It was easy to find among the hundreds of Laughings by size alone. It was browner above and whiter below than any juvenile plumaged bird around, with a thinner bill and a general more delicate shape. Unfortunately, it didn't show the wings or the tail. I'm still guessing its identity (maybe a juvenile Franklin's or simply a little aberrant Laughing?). Take a look and share your thoughts.

There were also a good number of shorebirds, in the form of Marbled Godwits, Willets, Short-billed Dowitchers, Whimbrels and few Black-necked Stilts. It was notable the abscence of sandpipers, like it has seen during all the season, with only Spotted Sandpipers along the shore. A group of noisy Southern Lapwings distracted me for a while, whereas a dark cloud in the distance turned out to be a flock of Black-bellied Plovers in synchronized flight that settled too far away for my camera. And thus the sun started to fall down over the horizon, indicating in that way that it was time to go away... away of the chiggers.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back to the highlands. Part II

The morning of sunday, november 15th, was cold but clear, excellent to photograph the small feathered creatures that already were visiting the flowers and feeders in the surroundings of the hotel Los Quetzales in Guadalupe. Before breakfast, I enjoyed walking the grounds, feeling the fresh and chilly air, admiring the great variety of flowers and, of course, its tiny visitors in the form of hummingbirds, warblers, tanagers and flowerpiercers. A group of Violet Sabrewings, both males and females, got hold of one of the feeders, leaving to the other hummers few opportunities to approach, except for a male Magnificent Hummingbird that was imposing itself for its size. Each time the White-throated Mountain-Gem tried to approach to the feeder was chased away, the same for the Green Violetear. A female Scintillant Hummingbird was feeding shyly in the flowers, far from the feeders and its troubled users. When Gloriela joined me to have breakfast, a confirmed-by-the-experts female Ruby-throated Hummingbird appeared in the same flowers, a nice addition to my year list (and a kind of a lifer because I only had seen males Ruby-throateds before -lucky me!). We ate our tasty breakfast in the hotel´s restaurant (fresh fruits, toasted bread with homemade jelly and cereal), with a very appreciated hot coffee. Soon we were ready for the long walk through a rocky road to the cabins inside the La Amistad International Park. It first passes through agricultural land, but then enters into the forest, while ascending. We found nobody in the trails, nor in the cabins (it was sunday anyway), so we had it for ourselves. We took the "Quebrada Las Minas" trail, looking for bamboo, which we found along the muddy trail in several occasions, but the birds remained elusive... except for a scared Black Guan that provided us prolonged views. We reached the waterfall marking the end of the trail having seen only a couple of hummers and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes, but the site was amazing, appropriate for a couple of photos (using the timer). In the way back, and close to the cabins, we found a mixed flock with Black-cheeked & Flame-throated Warblers, Collared Whitestar, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Tufted Flycatcher and Black-faced Solitaires. We also heard a Golden-browed Chlorophonia that stayed in the canopy. The hummingbird feeders at the cabins were in full action, with tons of the same hummers attending at the hotel. Quite reluctant, we left the place to pack our things in the hotel and to say bye to the western highlands. A 7 hours-drive was separating us from the city, stopping only to have dinner and in Penonome to pick up Gloriela's parents.

P.D.: if you missed the first part of "Back to the highlands", you can read it here. Happy birding!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Back to the highlands

Yeap, we did it again this weekend, all the way directly to the western highlands in Chiriqui province. The area is so picturesque and has so many special (and near-endemic) birds that deserves many visits. We reached the Concepcion-Volcan road quite early, so we got an opportunity to birdwatch some areas on the way up, including the Macho de Monte river in Cuesta de Piedra. We found a nice assortment of tanagers (Blue-gray, Cherrie's, Silver-throated, Bay-headed and Golden-hooded) mixed with Thick-billed Euphonias and Variable Seedeater. A ruddy bird working on a mussy branch was a Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner, our first (but not last) surprise for the site. An active Buff-rumped Warbler was inspecting the creek, while a sudden movement inside a bunch of dead leaves on a tree (yes, on a tree) resulted in a Riverside Wren, a lifer for me!!! It was more dark than I expected, but beautiful anyway. It stayed for five seconds, sang a little bit and then flew away to be seen nevermore, in spite of our efforts to relocate it. We kept going and by noon we were resting at our hotel room in Los Quetzales Lodge & Spa, in the lovely town of Guadalupe, beyond Cerro Punta. The lodge is surrounded in flowers, located close to a stream, and with hummingbird and fruit feeders in its grounds, so it is a very good place for birders despite is right in town. Before lunch I already had photographed some Flowerpiercers and hummingbirds chasing each other. Seeing an entrusted male Tennessee Warbler eating bananas in the tropics reminds me that all these birds belongs to the world, not to a single contry or a region. I wanted to visit the cabins, inside the La Amistad International Park, but Gloriela pointed out to me the cloudy slopes over the town, indicative of heavy rain in the area. During the lunch, we decided to visit the cabins next day and to pass by the Volcan lakes (Lagunas de Volcán) instead. Few minutes later, we were at the airstrip, walking the road to the lakes. Somehow, we forgot that in Panama usually rains during the evening, and this day was not the exception. A cool drizzle covered us, refreshing our spirits (we left the umbrellas in Panama city!) but chasing away the birds according to a local guide, Charlie, that was birding in the area. Anyway, we found a mixed flock with Silver-throated & Cherrie's Tanagers, Red-faced Spinetail, Mountain Elaenia, Slate-throated Whitestarts and a female American Redstart. We missed the Collared Trogon and Fiery-billed Aracaris watched by Charlie a couple of minutes before, but found four American Coots at the lakes. All wet, but happy, we enjoyed a chicken dinner in a restaurant at Volcan with live band... then, a well deserved dream in our hotel room preparing ourselves for the next day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Inspecting the finca, and its birds

Despite we still have a lot of work in hand, taking care of some details at our new house in Penonome, we decided to rest a little and to visit the environs, passing by the finca. Gloriela's relatives were already there, having a picnic day. We joined her father, sister and nephews in a tour through the property, inspecting the conditions of the plants sowed during the past dry season and the advances in the construction of the cabin under a refreshing drizzle. I grabbed my camera and bins, noticing activity around the shrubbes and the wild flowers. Eventually, I left the group while following the calls and whistles of the birds in the surroundings. By the way, I added some new species to the growing bird list for the finca. The migrants were represented by Yellow Warblers and Northern Waterthushes, while the residents honeycreepers and euphonias (Bim-bim) were all around the place. A covey of Crested Bobwhites scared me when suddenly took off few feet from me; then, an angry individual was yelling Bob-Bobwhite from its perch on a tree, but still invisible to my eyes. In the wettest and most entangled area of the land, close to the creek, several males Lance-tailed Manakins were lekking incessantly, but I only got glimpses of them. An emerald-green flash over some flowers plus a quick shot with my camera produced the blurry (but nicely irridiscent) male Garden Emerald that I pictured here, looking like a flying jewel; while some Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds chased each other all over the place. The list is not complete without the flycatchers, with Lesser and Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Social and Streaked Flycatcher and Tropical Kingbirds being the commonest; but also recording Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet and, for the first time there, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet (small size, dull brown upperparts with buffy wingbars, eyering + eyebrow instead of only eyering as in Lesser Elaenia, etc...).
Also, we wanted to know the surrounding, including other fincas and communities. A short drive took us to three different rural communities in less than 60 minutes: Santa María, Cañaveral and Cerro Gordo. The last one was specially charming, a little town with traditional clay houses. There is located the beautifully arranged Finca La Peregüeta, owned by a former Panama Audubon Society president and an old friend: Norita. She transformed her land in a private natural reserve that holds a good number of birds (check out the section Birds to see at La Peregüeta on her webpage). By the way, peregüeta is a common tree in the area that produces little black fruits. Is good to know that some people care about preserving the environment for the next generations. With that in mind, we are back in the big city, hoping to return next weekend to that piece of land in Penonome.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Western Hummingbirds Gallery II

What can I say about hummingbirds?.. I just love them. In order to complement my previous western hummingbirds gallery, I'm posting some photos captured during my last trip to the western highlands. Despite the fact that not all the hummingbirds pictured are restricted to the western highlands, they are for sure more easily seen there than in any other place (though some of them are not so easy to find). Enjoy!
UPDATE: new pics added (male Magnificent, female Sabrewing, female Ruby-throated). Another replaced (male Mountain-Gem).

And the party continues...

After spending the morning birdwatching in the western highlands yesterday, we decided to make a short visit to the Aguadulce Salinas taking advantage of the fading light and the 6:00 pm high tide. Like the last time there, we saw many aquatic birds... mainly Black-necked Stilts and Whimbrels, but also Roseate Spoonbills in three different opportunities, including the distant individual pictured below.Back in Penonome, during the night, we enjoyed (with our new neighbors, but old friends, Edwin and Lurkys) how the panamanian Mariano Rivera finished the good job done by the NY Yankees (specially Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui) obtaining in that way theirs 27th World Series' Championship. Congratulations Yankees!!

Birding in PILA (birding a lot)

PILA are the initials for Parque Internacional La Amistad; but, in our panamanian spanish, to say "en pila" means "a lot"... an appropiate title for this entry since Gloriela, Darien Montañez (of the Xenornis) and your host blogger watched many birds yesterday in that huge park, which Panama shares with Costa Rica. As I told you, we were seeking bamboo specialist... so we met at the small restaurant close to the hotel where Darien was staying, ate our breakfast (accompanied by a Stripe-tailed Hummingbird) and headed towards the settlement of Las Nubes, where the park's headquarters are located. It is a picturesque road across farmlands, streaming rivers and a small agricultural community. The entrance to the park gives you an idea of the impressive forest that this park protects. Tall moss-covered trees and giant tree ferns hold tons of birds and other animals. The humid and foggy environment is ideal for the survival of the epiphytes, which in turn are ideal for the furnariids. There is something about the furnariids... they aren't the most colourful nor beautiful birds, but they are so scarce in the lowlands (where I do most of my birding) that the opportunity of finding any of them thrills me. Of course, we found many furnariids in tne form of Buffy Tuftedcheek, Ruddy Treerunner and Streaked Woodhaunter. We also got many Spot-crowned Woodcreepers, but deep inside me I still feel uncomfortable by including the woodcreepers (which are very common in the lowlands) into the furnariids. We took the "El Retoño" trail, finding Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Black-faced Solitaire, Wrenthrush, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, among others before reaching the large tracks of bamboo (Chusquea sp.). Once there, we didn't see any bamboo specialist, but we were entertained by a mixed flock composed mainly by Black-cheeked Warblers and Yellow-thighed Finches, but including also Wilson's & Black-and-white Warblers, Collared Whitestart and even a Hairy Woodpecker. We got also a nice selection of hummers, including Green Violetears, Magnificent & Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds, White-throated Mountain-Gems, Violet Sabrewing and the bird of the day: a cute Green-fronted Lancebill flycatching over the stream. It was getting late for our return journey to Penonome, so we lunched at the small restaurant in the park's entrance and said goodbye to Darien, who stayed in the area... looking for more birds (and hearing a flock of Barred Parakeets later). On the way, we found the parade celebrating the national day of our flag... a particular way to end a birding morning in the highlands.