Thursday, April 29, 2010

Birding Toronto's High Park

Toronto's High Park is located a little to the west of downtown Toronto and is a very nice and reachable place to have a walk while watching birds. I found this place, last april 23th (one day after my first day in Toronto), thanks to all the advices I received last week (specially from you Alfred!). It consists of 400 acres of partially manicured parkland with a variety of habitats ranging from wetlands to black oak savannah. I reached it by subway, stopping by the station in front of the park and walking a little to the west to start my journey counter-clockwise at Wendigo Ravine. Despite the hour (around 7:00 AM), there were a lot of people jogging and walking in the trails. Of course, the first birds I saw were common ones, including my life Black-capped Chickadee and an American Robin (also life bird!). The chickadee was a very smart and tame little bird... I really liked it. The robin reminded me the Clay-colored Thrush (Robin) back at home... including its persistent song. Of course, its northern cousin is much prettier and handsome with those bright colors. Soon I reached the northern end of the Grenadier Pond, finding lots of waterfowls. The waterfowls are not well represented in Panama, so I was very excited by the chances of seeing many new species during this trip... and I was not dissapointed. The first birds I saw was a group of colourful Wood Ducks. Several males and females, along with a drake Mallard, were resting very close to shore, allowing close approaching. I guess they are used to the visitors. The liquid song everywhere was produced by the Red-winged Blackbirds, VERY common all over the place. Once in the Grenadier Ponds, things got better. The open waters were patroled by a beautiful Mute Swan, guarding his female on the nest. Some of the waterfowls being mobbed by the swan were the Canada Geese, that were abundant in the pond... and all over Toronto I guess. Then, a more familiar duck (for me) appeared: a male Northern Shoveler with its bright yellow eyes over the blue-green head and chestnut sides. A pair of Gadwalls were feeding alone, just like the pair of Buffleheads a little farther. No gulls nor terns at the pond. I crossed a birder in the way who told me that he saw nothing of interest... I think he was talking about the migrants because we were a little early for them. In any case I thought his words were curious considering that for me even the Mallard and the balckbirds were a life birds! I kept walking to the south (passing by the enormous maple leaf), and then, after crossing a little hill, I found the Coulborne Lodge. There I found an Hermit Thrush readily identified by its contrasting rufous tail. Also, my first Downy Woodpecker of the day appeared, along with a more cooperative Black-capped Chickadee. Eventually, I found the Duck Ponds by the southern and eastern end of the park. Again, more of the waterfowls already recorded were present. A little activity by the surrounding trees resulted on a pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, both males, displaying its colourful crests and chasing each other. I decided to walk towards the Allocated Gardens, through the Spring Street. Once there, I found the only warbler I saw in Toronto: a beautiful male Yellow-rumped Warbler. Despite it is not a life bird, it was nice to see it with its breeding plumage... a first one for me. Then, a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers showed up, reminding me the Tropical Gnatcatchers back in Panama (of course, I was not in the tropics any more). Soon, I was at the Grenadier restaurant (where I ordered one of its famous $2.99 breakfast). Some birds around where a pair of noisy Northern Flickers and a not-less-noisy Chipping Sparrow. A Cooper's Hawk fly by slowly while a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was attending a branch. The starlings were everywhere. Despite its commoness, they really are striking with its irridiscense and yellow feet and bill. Walking to the entrance I found apair of Northern Cardinals close to the ground, feeding in some bushes and a male American Goldfinch singing loud at the top of a tree. The last bird (life bird) I saw before leaving the place was a smart White-breasted Nuthatch working the main trunk of a nearby tree. It was my best day in Toronto regarding birds watched... I ended the day with a list of 32 birds, including 20 life birds. A great place for birdwatching! The plan for the next day included a visit to the world-famous Niagara falls.

First day in Toronto

Our first full day in Toronto, april 22th (not counting our arrival day), started very early picking the 6:15 AM free shuttle to the Toronto Metro Convention Center. Once there, we registered for the Meeting and started to plan our day. Tons of simultaneous expositions in the severals rooms and halls of this huge two-building Convention Center kept us busy most part of the day. Trust me, it was the biggest meeting I ever assisted. There was an special area for the Medical students, residents and associates were we reported ourselves for the Doctor's Dilemma contest, taking place in the evening. So, during our free time by noon we decided to visit the impressive CN Tower, right by the Convention Center. A high-speed elevator lift you 342 meters (two floors per second) to the observation deck, giving you an amazing view of the city and surrounding areas, like the Toronto Island for example. I even saw some common birds from there: Canada Geese, Double-crested Cormorants and the abundant Ring-billed Gulls were all identificable from that height. Then, we passed by the world-famous Glass Floor, from where we could see the Convention Center entrance and the gigantic Roger Stadium. We couldn't resist to have a picture over the Glass Floor, a temptation that comes out cultures since all the present tourists did exactly the same. The ride down was a terrific experience, and then we bought some gifts at the gift store at the base of the tower. On route to the Convention Center I saw a group of irridiscents Common Grackles feeding close to us and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker by the ornamental trees, another addition to my growing Life List (the grackles, not the sapsucker... I have seen it in Panama). Curious fact: I saw the sapsucker very close to the pole by the Convention Center which have a giant Sapsucker and a Pileated Woodpecker on it! In any case, those where the only birds I saw during my first day in Toronto since we spent most part of the day at the Convention Center. In the afternoon we participated in the Doctor's Dilemma contest against the teams of Massachussets, Maryland and Northern California... not winning but having a great time! Then, we have dinner at one of the numerous restaurants close to the Center. The variety of menus in the city is amazing... we found italian, chinese, japanese and mexican food very close to the Center. We were a little confused because of the light. Here in Panama we are used to be in darkness by 7:00 PM, but in Toronto it was 9:00 PM and we still had some natural light. That's why it wasn't dark yet when we assited to the Fairmount Hotel in order to attend the International Reception offered by the ACP. It was a long day, full of new experiencies and life birds! Lets see what await me for next day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jan Axel's Blog becomes international

For the first time since I started this blog, I have the opportunity to travel out of Panama. My destination was Toronto, Canada; along with two other Internnal Medicine residents (Erika Barrera and Carlos Tuñón) to attend the American College of Physicians' Annual Scientific Meeting. We left Panama very early the morning of april 21th heading to Miami, United States of America; for our connecting flight. After almost a 3-hours flight, we arrived to the sunny Miami, when we had to wait 4 hours for our next flight. After a quick meal at the food court, we decided to walk around the airport in order to take some pictures. Of course, I did some birding during the time we stayed at Miami, despite we never left the airport. No matter that, the first birds I saw when we exited the airport were the House Sparrows. They were so tame, allowing great photos while approaching very close looking for food. Then, a big dove perched on a pole. A quick glimpse with my bins prove it to be a Eurasian Collared-Dove, a well-stablished allien in this part of the world. I'm not worried about including this introduced species in my Life List because I already saw tons of them in their native range (many years ago in Taiwan). Then, my first life bird for the journey appeared: a female Boat-tailed Grackle was working some palm trees by the entrance of the terminal. In comparison with the Great-tailed Grackles (with which I'm familiar), she was warmer brown with a big-headed shape due to her less flattened crown. Soon after that, I found several adult males with their dull yellow eyes confirming the i.d. (by the way, the Great-taileds' are not supposed to occur in Florida). Not bad at all for just a couple of hours at an airport. Soon we boarded our connecting flight to Toronto, arriving three hours later. By then, it was getting dark so I didn't saw any bird (except for an European Starling by the airport), but we were impressed by Toronto's downtown skyline, dominated by the CN Tower. A 45-minutes ride from the airport in the airport express (free WiFi in the bus!) and we were at the Delta Chelsea Hotel, getting to our rooms. Others members of the panamanian delegation were staying in the same hotel so we had dinner together and, after a long traveling day we took a deserved rest waiting for the next day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Birding the San Francisco Reserve

After reading the excellent report by Guido Berguido of Advantage Tours; Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck, Roberto Medina and your host decided to visit the San Francisco Reserve in eastern Panama province, close to the town of Tortí. This private reserve protects one of the few remaining lowland forest patch of eatern Panama province apart of the Bayano region, and it connects with the forests at the Maje range (which part can be seen at the background of the picture). It holds many of the Darien birds specialties, which were our targets of course. It was the first time birding this reserve for most members of the group. I used to visit it frequently, accompanying Guido in his trips to Chucantí (Maje range) some years ago. A very early start and a non-stop drive to our first destination, the Río Mono bridge after the Bayano bridge, permited us to watch the first birds of the trip taking advantage of the first lights of the day. The first bird I saw was a male White-eared Conebill feeding close to the road. This is one of the most reliable sites to find this species in Panama (and North America!). There were many Cocoi Herons flying around and in the river. Soon we found a pair of One-colored Becards making its nest. The male seemed to be an immature, since it only have patches of slaty feathers in its body (specially in the head). The female was very busy bringing nesting material to the nest, while trying to banish the pair of Thick-billed Euphonias that was spying in the surroundings. She was vocalizing... something strange in this particular species. The always-present-there Streaked Flycatcher was vocalizing too... something nothing strange at all in this species. Curiously, in the other side of the bridge was a pair of Cinnammon Becards making its nest too... and vocalizing too. They allowed great pictures from very close. Since I show photos of both females becards here, might you guess which is which? We leave the place in order to continue our trip to the reserve. Once there, we found that the Franciscan priest who runs the reserve was out in Tortí buying some supplies and we needed his permission in order to get in. The option was to enter the reserve with a local guide, my old friend Arquimedes, and pay later. We found him at his home close to the entrance of the reserve and he agreed to went with us. We started to bird a section of the reserve with an access dirt road through an small creek. The activity was low maybe because of the heat. Slowly, we started to find some birds while climbing the road. The noisiest were the Golden-collared Manakins, with their petard-like sounds made with the wings. A cooperative Broad-billed Motmot spied us quietly from one side of the road while we were hearing a Whooping Motmot in the background. It started to make its deep call when we approached him too close. A patch of Heliconia flowers was attended by several species of hummingbirds, including Blue-chested, Snowy and Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds plus Long-billed and Stripe-throated Hermits and a White-vented Plumeleteer. Behind the flowers, a female Golden-headed Manakin was picking some nesting material from a spiderweb. We heard the characteristic cacophony of a Red-throated Caracara, but we were unable to find it. We reached a second creek and immediately found a pair of Royal Flycatchers that responded to playback (moderately used), allowing great pics. We saw a bit of color at the crest in their otherwise hammer-shaped head, but they never displayed it (as usual). Despite that, they offered an excellent show. In the way back we heard, and then saw, a pair of Black-headed Tody-Flycatchers making a nest. I managed to get some belly pics of the birds. Notice the bill shape and the white throat of this species. Is because of that bill that the members of the genus Todirostrum are named in spanish as espatulillas (tiny spatula), at least in Panama. The three species found in Panama share their tiny sizes and yellow bellies, but differ in their habitats and habits. This one is mostly a canopy dweller, where is hard to detect until you recognize its distinctive call, which we did. Later in the road, we found a mixed flock with more Cinnammon Becards, Red-capped and Golden-collared Manakins, Cocoa Woodcreeper and a pair of Black Antshrikes. The male is mostly black as its name suggest, but the female is marked in black and rusty with fine streaks in the head and underparts... simply beautiful. She escaped from me very soon... only the male stayed for photos. I include my poor photos here because it is a specialty of eastern Panama, only shared with Colombia. By the entrance, we hit other mixed flock... this time with Gray-headed, Golden-hooded, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Bananaquits and one (maybe two) Canada Warbler. Someone saw a Band-tailed Barbthroat (which I missed) and a female Violaceous Trogon spied us from a safe perch. We headed to a road that was bordering the forest, but it was too hot and we don't stay too much. During the short walk we found both Pied and Black-breasted Puffbirds flycatching. Others birds sighted were Long-tailed Tyrant, Thick-billed and Yellow-crowned Euphonias, Marbled Wood-Quails (OK, we heard them only when they flew away.... I'm not including them in my Year List), Red-eyed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher and a contrasting White Hawk against the forest. We left the place, finding the priest and paying the entrance fee at the main offices of the reserve. We dropped Arquimedes at his home (where we dipped on the Spot-breasted Woodpecker that he always find there) and drove back to the Bayano region, entering one of the several side roads used for selective logging. We were looking for Golden-green Woodpeckers, but finding instead a Cinnammon Woodpecker and a female Black-tailed Trogon. Once again at the Rio Mono bridge we found the becards, plus two Blackburnian Warblers and a Rufous-winged Antwren... both species were new year birds for me. The return journey was under a heavy rainfall (maybe the dry season is coming to an end?) and the only I have to report are approximately 2000+ Laughing Gulls in a huge flock flying to the west over the Pacora river. Great day in eastern Panama province!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Advices for birding in Toronto needed

That is right, I'm going to Toronto next april 21 in order to attend the Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Physicians. It is part of the prize for winning the Doctor's Dilemma contest (with the other two members of the Hospital Santo Tomas' team: Doctors Erika Barrera and Carlos Tuñon) in Panama City last february during the Central American Chapter meeting. It is going to be a short visit, and I will have little, if any, time for birding (except if owling)... so I need some advice about a good city park or any other habitat in the city. Consider that everything is going to be NEW for me!!! If you can help me, please let me know at Of course, some other attractions are in our itinerary, including a visit to the Niagara Falls (I hope), to the CN Tower, etc, etc... I can barely sleep!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Easter Holidays in Darien. Part III

After seeing two life birds the previous day, my expectatives were high for the last day (march 4) of the PAS fieldtrip to El Real, eastern Darien province. We were suppose to leave the place at 10:00 am, so we decided to have a short walk to the airstrip and surroundings before breakfast. Our guide (Isaac Pizarro) knew a place where Dusky-backed Jacamars have been reported, so we headed first in that way, finding a Ringed Kingfisher by the bridge close to town. We started birding the trail with a gallery forest, finding common species like Crimson-backed Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonias, Buff-throated Saltator and a Black-tailed Flycatcher. No signs of the jacamar, so Rosabel decided to play a recording of a long desired life bird for her (and for me): Gray-cheeked Nunlet. After few minutes, we heard an answer quite close to us. A little searching revealed a nunlet perched and singing very close to us, inside the vegetation, allowing great looks. I managed to get a poor photo, but anyway it was a very cute little bird (smaller than I though). Stil it was early, so we moved to the Mercadeo road finding part of the group by the airstrip and finding a Pied Water-Tyrant there too (not mentioned for Darien province in the birdguide). In the Mercadeo road, we first saw a pair of Gray-capped Flycatchers and Cinnamon Becards attending their nests, plus a Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher in the same tree. Then, we heard the characteristic call of the Yellow-breasted Flycatcher (a bird not even listed in the book) and soon we were having great views of this new addition to the Panama's bird list. My photo of the bird resulted overexposed, so I edited it... the bird is recognizable anyway. Now it was getting late, so we headed to the hotel after seeing a group of Spectacled Parrotlet and a very cooperative pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars that responded to the playback. The trip through the river was uneventful (again), seeing lots of herons and ibises, but no Black-collared Hawks. Once again, a great trip to a great place... excellent birds and terrific companions... all what a birder needs!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Holidays in Darien. Part II

After a great Good Friday birding at the Pirre ranger station in the Darien National Park, the morning of march 3rd was filled with a festive air. The plans for that day included a visit to a nearby forest, known as Uroseca in the morning, and to visit the town of Pinogana and environs during the evening. Again, the bushes in front of Doña Lola's produced a Pale-bellied Hermit in town, while the Black-throated Mangos worked the Inga flowers. We waited for the car to pick up us and eventually we where on route to Uroseca. We dropped from the car close to a water reservoir and started to walk through pastures, finding many open land birds including a noisy flock of Dickcissels, two Gray Hawks, Blue-and-black Grassquits, Red-breasted Blackbirds and flocks of Eastern Kingbirds all over the place. Once in the forest, the things changed: the birding became slower, with scattered birds around. A single Gray-headed Kite soared over our heads while a Rufous-breasted Hermit and a Blue-chested Hummingbird feed in a bunch of Heliconias. A pair of Mealy Amazon were taking advantage of some palm fruits and hundreds of Turkey Vultures plus Broad-winged and Swainson's Hawks were heading north in their migration. We were not seeing any eastern Panama specialty until we reached a clearing in the forest, surrounded by fruiting Cecropias and Melastomas. There, our luck changed. We saw both Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, Long-tailed Tyrants and a Sirystes singing (all of them really nice black and white birds). Then, a big mixed flock appeared with Plain-colored, Golden-hooded, Scarlet, Yellow-backed and Scarlet-browed Tanagers, the last one being a life bird for me. The beautiful black males with those fancy eyebrows and the contrasting yellow rump were simply amazing! We saw also Thick-billed and Yellow-crowned Euphonias, a group of at least 15 Blue Ground-Doves, Streak-crowned Woodcreeper and Black-chested Jays among others. It was hard to leave the place, but we already arranged with the driver to pick up us around noon to have lunch. Back in El Real, almost we all had a well-deserved deserved nap until the time scheduled for our visit to the town of Pinogana (20 minutes away). The town of Pinogana, at the shores of the Tuira river, looked very like El Real, with its narrow street and happy people. We walked a trail beyond the town, to a forest border, finding common birds plus a Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, first noted by its call and then, checking its field marks confirmed the id. Again, the Eastern Kingbirds were everywhere, feeding in some red berries along with Scarlet Tanagers and other migrants. Once in the border, we found a pair of Black-chested Jays attending a nest, an Orange-crowned Oriole and a Red-rumped Woodpecker, which was new for the trip. It was getting late and we started to walk back, along the road to El Real, finding a Laughing Falcon and hearing a Black Antshrike, both new for the trip list. Great birding day, including two life birds for me! I was just wondering what was waiting for us next day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Explosion of life in Darien

These are only few pics of all sort of creatures found during my last trip to El Real, in the Darien province (eastern Panama). I'm not attempting to name all of them, since I have little experience or references to do that. Enjoy the pictures and if you know the identity of any of the following animals please let me know by the comments. Enjoy!Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) Spiny or Tree Rat? Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) South American Common Toad (Rhinella margaritifera) ? adult male Yellow-headed Gecko (Gonatodes albogularis) Anole (Anolis -or Norops- sp.)Hmmm... not a single idea! (may be another anole?). The same for the next spineless friends, first some army ants, followed by a dragonfly (the only one that allowed photos) and finally, two great pics of a scorpion in the Pirre station.