Friday, February 19, 2010

Birding the savanna

The day after my visit to the Aguadulce Salinas, I woke early in order to visit the open fields and the savanna that surrounds Penonome (central Panama). This habitat was altered mostly by human activities, but it still holds many of the species typical of it, except for some that are harder to find now (Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellowish Pipit), including one probably extirpated (Grasshopper Sparrow). I headed to the south, in the way to El Coco, and then I took the turn to El Gago, which passes through some cattle and agricultural land, with rice fields and some scattered bushes. Soon I was watching my first specialty of the area: a flock of Plain-breasted Ground-Doves (mostly females) that looked like a covey of tiny quails. Only the male stayed enough time to get a picture.. the females ran (yes, ran) away. Not to much after that, I got my second columbiforme of the day: a pair of Mourning Doves. We have two populations of this dove in Panama, one in the western highlands and other in the lowlands of the dry pacific slope. In the lowlands, this dove is locally common... but it seems that nobody has heard them singing here. Both of them (the dove and the ground-dove) were new year-birds for me. Other doves species for the day were the Ruddy Ground-Dove (widespread), the White-tipped Dove (quite shy here) and four Pale-vented Pigeons at a fruiting tree. Of course, by that moment I already had recorded more widespread species like Blue-black Grassquit, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and so on... At a dump next to the road I got three species of Vultures (Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed) plus many Yellow-headed Caracaras in all sort of ages and two adult Crested Caracaras. I realized that I was getting luckier with the raptors when I saw an Aplomado Falcon followed few minutes later by an American Kestrel and a White-tailed Kite, while, perched in the ground, a Savanna Hawk was inspecting its territory. In my cropped picture is very hard to see the rich cinnamon color that makes this bird so beautiful, specially when flying. Eventually I reached a flooded rice field that was full with egrets and, curiously, Greater Yellowlegs. The yellowlegs were chasing each other, vocalizing. They should have been around 12 or more. I wonder if they were congregating in order to begin its northward migration. Well, it was getting very hot, so I started to return, finding both Eastern Meadowlarks and Red-breasted Blackbirds in the same field, and a flock of Brown-throated Parakeets that perched very close as saying good-bye. Many new year-birds in this short trip!

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