Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Birding Boquete: Part I

After spending the night at Olmedo Miró's house in Boquete, the group conformed by me, Gloriela, Osvaldo Quintero & Osvaldo Quintero Jr, Rafael Luck, Olmedo Miró and Milagros Sánchez departed to the Volcan Baru National Park searching for the Three-wattled Bellbird. We left the picturesque town of Boquete and headed to Bajo Mono. Despite the fact that Boquete has grown considerably during the last years, there are still some farmers that use traditional methods in their field. We crossed one of them working on his field with a "yunta" (a tool powered by bulls), a rare sight anywhere else in Panama, and I didn't resist to take a photo of him. We took the windy road all the way up to Alto Chiquero, where the ranger station is, and where we parked the cars. The park ranger told us that the Bellbirds are heard daily, but not often close. Following the instructions of Dan Wade, a resident in the Boquete area, we decided to walk the road towards the entrance of Los Quetzales trail, which eventually leads to Cerro Punta, to El Respingo area. This road crosses patches of very good montane humid forest. We scared a pair of Black Guans and found a flock of Spangle-cheeked Tanagers while hearing a bellbird very close. Then, Osvaldo Jr. spotted a big "red" bird perched in a bare tree. Rapidly all got around and through a little window in the canopy all enjoyed the sight of an adult male Three-wattled Bellbird in full exhibition, making its loud and far-carrying call with its beak all wide open. It was amazing, and I managed to capture some photos (Rafael and Osvaldo's photos are better). More impressive was that we accomplished our goal within our first hour in the place! This is the only Bellbird species in Central America, where it inhabits highland wet forest but then move to lower elevations (even sea level) out of the breeding season. The distintive call of the bird is heard everywhere, but to see one is another tale, considering that these are canopy dwellers. Happy with the finding, we decided to walk a little farther on the road, finding both Whitestarts (Collared & Slate-throated), Mountain Elaenia, White-naped Brush-Finch, Black-faced Solitaire and a nesting pair of Tufted Flycatchers that allowed close photos. We reached the upper part of the "Hill of Lamentations" and decided to turn back because we didn't want to complain about anything in the way back. We spotted a Red-tailed Hawk and some Vaux's Swifts around the trout farm, but once again in the forest, the things changed... for good. We found some activity in the same stretch of forest where we found the Bellbird earlier. Some of the birds there were Dark Pewee, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Mountain Thrush and a beautiful pair of Golden-browed Chlorophonias. Farther in the road, and closer to the ranger station, we found a big mixed flock with Ruddy Treerunners, Black-cheeked Warblers, Black-throated Green Warbler, Brown-capped Vireos, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo (only heard), Yellow-thighed Finches and a Red-faced Spinetail who responded well to the recordings (being a "life photo" for Rafael). Once again in the station, a gaudy male Flame-colored Tanager was around, plus lots of Blue-and-White Swallows that nest in the roof. The morning was not over, so we decided to descend to the Pipa de Agua trail, looking this time for Quetzals. The first part of the trail is through pastures, and we found White-throated Thrushes and more Flame-colored Tanagers feeding next to the trail. Then, we found a family group of Blue-hooded Euphonias, conformed by several adult and immature males plus a single female. They stayed around for a while, jumping from one perch to another and vocalizing a lot. It was a great show. We kept walking the trail, listen for any signal of quetzals, and crossed a couple who told us that they just saw a female farther in the trail. It was getting hot, but we kept searching all the fruiting trees, finding a Black-thighed Grosbeak having a banquet with the fruits of an unidentified tree. It was not close, but stayed still, allowing us to take some photos of it. Curiously, this was just my second sight of this bird in my life; the first was in the area of Fortuna (central Chiriqui province) many years ago. Just when we were thinking that we would not achieve our aim, a female Resplendant Quetzal flew and perched on a distant tree. I got some poor photos, but at least you can identify the bird. We searched and searched, but were not able to find an adult male in the surroundings, so we headed back to the cars, finding an Hoffman Two-toed Sloth in the way. It was around 3:00 pm, and we were hungry, so we descended to the Boquete area to have a well deserved late lunch after a great morning birding in the highlands.

P.D.: if you want to know what fate had in store for us the evening of that same day, you must read Birding Boquete: Part II.

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