Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Birding the highlands

Today was an unusual day... I left Penonome in the morning with Gloriela, and now I'm blogging from an hotel's room in the town of Volcan, in the western highlands of Chiriqui, after seeing in Cerro Punta a completely new set of birds to which I'm used in central Panama. We are taking advantage of these days off, celebrating today our separation of Colombia and tomorrow, the day of our national flag. Panama, being so small and varied, offers the opportunity to watch dry lowland birds in the morning and then Quetzals in the evening, without any flight involved. Following directions of the Where to find birds in Panama book, we visited Cuesta de Piedra, before Volcan. It was 11:00 am so we do not find many birds, with Golden-hooded, Bay-headed and Cherries' Tanagers being highlights; but anyway, the place is awesome, with a quite deep but narrow canyon surrounded by lush vegetation. Then, we registered in our hotel and took a nap before heading to Cerro Punta, where we met with Darien Montañez (of the Xenornis). He was also taking advantage of these days to find new birds... specially those bamboo specialists. He arrived earlier and already had seen Peg-billed Finch and Green-fronted Lancebill, among others, in the trails of the "Los Quetzales" cabins, in Guadalupe. We decided to bird along the access road to El Respingo, into the boundaries of the Volcan Barú National Park. We got a nice bird activity, with common species quickly showing up: Rufous-collared Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Mountain Thrush and Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers. The ethereal song of the Black-faced Solitaires filled the air, while a group of Prong-billed Barbets quickly vanished among the bushes. We spied our first Magnificent Hummingbird (a female) flycatching... certainly it was not our last Magnificent. A little farther, a tree covered with big yellow flowers was holding many others Magnificents, plus some White-throated Mountain-Gems, Slaty Flowerpiercers, Yellow-thighed Finches and a couple of hungry squirrels. Higher, we saw a cute Volcano Hummingbird and smarts Collared Whitestars. We decided to initaite the retreat when realized the long and steep stretch of trail that still we were lacking. In the way back we found more warblers, both migrants (Black-throated Green, Black-and-white) and residents (Flame-throated, Black-cheeked), plus Ruddy Treerunner, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Dark Pewee, Yellow-winged Vireo, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, and so on... We also got some flying-too-fast-to-appreciate-well birds in the form of Band-tailed Pigeons and Sulphur-winged Parakeets. It was an amazing birding evening, with nice weather and cooperative birds (most of them). A well deserved dinner and a cup of hot chocolate were all we needed to call it a day. Tomorrow we are heading to La Amistad International Park, seeking those bamboo specialists.

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