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!

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