Sunday, May 30, 2010

Introduced species

They DO count... only if they are well-established. OK, it may sound simple, but it can get complicated. Who determines when an introduced species is well-established depends on the local or regional birding or ornithologists associations based on sightings, historical records, population studies and so on... but sometimes, it can be obvious. Think about the Rock Pigeons. Most of the cities that I have visited until now holds a well-established population of this species. You may say that they are all around because of us and our food sources... but if suddenly all the people that deliberately feed them disappear, they will survive anyway. It was not included in the first edition of the Panama Birds fieldguide (back in the 70's) but now it is part of our official bird list. The populations of these birds are dynamic. There are many factors influencing the establishment of an introduced species to a region: number of individuals, habitat, adaptability, nest sites availability, competence with native or other introduced species. For instance, when I started birding (more than 15 years ago), the Saffron Finch was known only from an introduced population in the charming town of Gatun, in the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Back then, it was one of the main targets during the Atlantic CBC, because it was valid for the count, despite its tiny population. Since then, this species have spread along the isthmus and now is a very common resident in Panama City as well (also in some other localities, for example in Vacamonte, at the west side of the Canal). And what about the Tropical Mockingbird? First recorded in Panama City during the 30's, probably brought from Colombia as a popular cage bird due to its song, now is very hard to imagine a park or a neighborhood within Panama's main cities without them. Not only that, they have spread themselves all the way to Central America, being now not uncommon in some sites in Costa Rica. Sometimes, it is about chances of adaptability. In Panama, the urban niche was, more or less, available in order to be occupied by the House Sparrows when they arrived following its incredible expansion from North America. A pair or flocks of these birds is now a common sight at our streets, where they do not compete with any other sparrow species (contrary to what happened in other countries in South America where it competes with the Rufous-collared Sparrow). Many times, those introduced species are seen as invasor alliens that destroy the natural avifauna... but take into consideration that they simply are trying to survive and that usually we are responsible of their first occurrence after all. The ethical dilemmas abound in the literature about erradication methods, with tons of examples along the decades. Well, I think is better to let them alone with their lives... trying not to make worse the situation by introducing MORE species. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yesterday, BirdLife International announced that the Alaotra Grebe, endemic to Madagascar, is officially extinct. What a tragic loss for the world! The wetlands aliens did not cause it... we did it! What else do we want to realize that we need all those creatures with us in this planet and that they depend on us for its conservation? It is too late for the Alaotra Grebe, but there are still many Critical Endangered birds that need our protection. Express yourself, tell the world why you care.
Ayer, BirdLife International anunció que el Zambullidor de Alaotra, endémico de Madagascar, está oficialmente extinto. ¡Qué pérdida tan trágica para el mundo! Las especies introducidas a los humedales no causaron esto... ¡fuimos nosotros! ¿Qué más queremos para entender que necesitamos todas esas criaturas con nosotros en este planeta y que dependen de nosotros para su conservación? Es muy tarde para el Zambullidor de Alaotra, pero aún quedan muchas aves Críticamente En Peligro que necesitan nuestra protección. Exprésate, cuéntale al mundo por que SÍ te importa.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Las Macanas marsh

After checking the ponds and mudflats in El Agallito beach, I decided to pay a visit to Las Macanas marsh in my way back to Penonomé last saturday. Las Macanas marsh, located in the Herrera province of the Azuero Peninsula, is a protected area with an observation tower overlooking a shallow lake very good for aquatic species. It holds also some typical species of very dry habitats, as you will see here. It was very hot by the time I arrived the marsh, but anyways I managed to hear and locate some species. Both the Great Kiskadees and the Rufous-browed Peppershrikes were very vocal, with one or two almost always within "hearing" distance. There was a group of locals maintaining the trails and a public area, preparing it for an Ecological Fair next month. It is always good to see the local people taking care of their reserves and protected areas, understanding the importance of the conservation of our nature marvels for the next generations. Above the lake, there were tons of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flying from one side to another, but I did not saw any Fulvous Whistling-Ducks that also nest in the area. From the tower, while inspecting the surroundings with my binoculars, I found a distant Roseate Spoonbill, two or three Limpkins, many Southern Lapwings and some Glossy Ibises. Once in the base of the tower, I heard the characteristic guffaw-like call of a Mouse-colored Tyrannulet and soon was watching it. The call and the ochraceous wing bars (plus habitat) are diagnostic. I planned to spent only one hour or so in the place, so I decided to return when suddenly a flushed bird took off almost from my feet. It was a female Common Pauraque that landed a few meters ahead in the trail. It is a rare sight to find a caprimulgid during daylight, so I took advantage of the opportunity to take photos. In my way out, a found MANY raptors, including a White-tailed and Snail Kites, Roadside and Common Black Hawks (formerly Mangrove Hawk), both Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, both Bat and Aplomado Falcons and a very cooperative and huge Savanna Hawk, peched on a fence.
Great birds for only a one-hour visit!

Waders and more in El Agallito

A quick visit to El Agallito beach in coastal Chitré (Azuero Peninsula in central Panamá) last saturday produced some sleepy, overwintering Whimbrels at the mudflats, and Willets in the shallow ponds by the mangroves. Other birds at the ponds were the elegant Black-necked Stilts, five or more White Ibises, a Greater Yellowlegs and a breeding Tricolored Heron that left the place as soon as it detected me. I simply love the reflection of the birds in the water or, in the case of the first Stilt pictured in this post, the reflection of the water in the birds!
The waders were not the only birds seen during my visit. I heard, and then saw, a flying-by White-winged Dove (then, I saw an individual perched in the telephone wires by the Carretera Nacional at the town of La Arena). The Yellow "Mangrove" Warblers were singing in the mangroves, allowing some pictures. It is always difficult to photograph a warbler. Note that it not only differ in its head color from its northern (and migratory) cousins, but also in its brighter back and wings. Well, it is always nice to photograph birds!

Río Blanco´s Hummingbirds Gallery

Just a minimal sample of the hummingbirds found at Casa Viveros in Río Blanco Hydrological Reserve above the city of Manizales (Caldas), Colombia, during the couple of hours that we stayed in the reserve.

A Speckled Hummingbird welcomed us. Usually they spent most of its time in the surrounding flowers, often visiting the feeders.The Tourmaline Sunangels were common in the garden. With a suitable light, this hummer is spectacular! We only saw males.

A bad photo of a great bird. This male Collared Inca was, indeed, spectacular.

Both males and females White-bellied Woodstars avoided the more crowded feeders, perhaps because of its tiny size. The males produce an audible hmmmm... just like a big bee.

The Green Violetears reminded me western Panama. We also saw Sparkling Violetears, allowing great side-by-side comparisons.

The Fawn-breasted Brilliant only often showed its pink breast feathers. It should not be confused with the next species.

The Buff-tailed Coronets were the most common hummers in the feeders.
We saw at least three males Long-tailed Sylphs, really awesome birds! Its incredible irridiscent tail is only comparable to that of the Violet-tailed Sylph, which we saw the two previous days.

P.D.: if you want to know the full story of my first birding trip to Colombia, read Birding in Colombia and then just follow the linked text at the end of each post. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

More life birds in Colombia!

After two terrific days birding Cerro Montezuma in Tatama NP, Colombia; Rafael, Luis Francisco, Jaime, Sergio and me were deciding the plans for our last morning. Taken into account that we wiped out ALL our targets in Cerro Montezuma, Sergio kindly proposed to bird the next morning in his workplace, four hours away. For most of you, it doesn't sound like an attractive alternative but trust me... most of you don't work in the Río Blanco Hydrological Reserve, above the city of Manizales. Sergio is a researcher for the company Aguas de Manizales S.A. E.S.P. which administers the reserve through the Fundación Ecológica Gabriel Arango Restrepo (FUNDEGAR). This is one of the best places in Colombia for birdwatching, due to its impressive list of birds (over 360), pristine and varied habitats, its feeding stations and great installations with hummingbird feeders (Casa Viveros) attracting more than twenty species. Of course we all agreed to visit that magical place. After an early 4:00 AM start, we left Finca Montezuma been grateful by all the given attentions. We headed to the east, passing by the city of Pereira. We had a tasty breakfast by the road and then we arrived to the busy city of Manizales. When we got there, it was hot and sunny, maybe too sunny for the birds. Before even entering the reserve we found a mixed flock with Oleaginous and Black-eared Hemispingus, Montane Woodcreeper, Rufous Wren, Barred Becard and the only Bronzy Inca of the day. We passed the entrance and drive all the way to the 2600 meters above sea level, having a spectacular view of the city below. Despite the sun, we were able to find some birds, including my life Blue-and-black Tanager, plus Golden-faced Tyrannulets, tons of Great Thrushes, Brown-bellied and Blue-and-white Swallows and a soaring Broad-winged Hawk. Sergio took us to one of the Grallaria (Antpitta) feeding stations where, confortable seated, we waited for the Grallarias to show up while he started to whistle one of their calls. An Stripe-headed Brush-Finch gave us a false alarm but then, one absolutely magnificent Chestnut-crowned Antpitta appeared, allowing great, close and prolonged views. What a glorious bird! It hopped around for a while, occasionally feeding with an insect that it catched from the leaves. Then, a second individual appeared... incredibly. In the meanwhile, we heard others antpittas in the surroundings, including the very rare Brown-banded Antpitta. It is a range-restricted ENDEMIC for Colombia, one so rare and little known that even Steven Hilty, the author of the Birds of Colombia fieldguide, was startled when he saw it in that same place some time ago. We saw an Emerald Toucanet feeding on some fruits while seated in the station (I'm not sure about the specific sub-species found there). We were about to leave the station when Sergio noted that other antpitta species was showing up: a Brown-banded Antpitta!!! The rare bird hopped in the open and catched an earthworm in front of us... wordless!! It maybe is not as colourful like others antpittas (including the Chestnut-crowned), but it ranks high among all the birds watched during those days in Colombia because of its genuine rarity. We left the station still impressed just to find more birds. An Azara's Spinetail was working the bushes along the road and a mixed flock contained several Golden-fronted Whitestarts, a Superciliared Hemispingus and a very nice Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager. The whitestarts were of the chrysops sub-species, with all yellow (not white) faces. It was getting late for our lunch in the Casa Viveros where, apart of the nine hummingbirds species recorded (and theme of other post), we saw such beauties like Masked Flowerpiercer, Rufous-crowned Tody-Flycatcher and Blue-capped Tanagers. The last surprise was a flock of twenty+ Golden-plumed Parakeets that stopped by the fruiting trees close to us. A great final for our birding trip. It was great to share all these experiences with such keen birders. The only treasure of Colombia aren't its birds... but its people too!! I hope to return soon.

Birding the higher slopes of Cerro Montezuma. Part II

The second day of our trip to Cerro Montezuma in Tatamá NP in Colombia began succesfully! We (Rafael, Luis Francisco, Sergio, Jaime and your blogger host) were at the half of the way down and we already had recorded most of the targets we were looking for. We continue the descend, finding new birds with each step, and I'm not exaggerating. We began to see species more typical of lower altitudes, starting with a Buffy Tuftedcheek. Some time ago, the SACC proposal to split this form (johnsoni) from the nominate of Panama and Costa Rica didn't pass because published data are insufficient. Now that I have seen all the three forms (that is, including the Streaked Tuftedcheek that I saw several times in central Perú) I agree with Schulenberg in that our lawrenceii looks more like the Streaked Tuftedcheek than does johnsoni. A pair of Powerful Woodpeckers showed well, while we crossed another mixed flock, this time with Blue-winged and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers, more Beryl-spangled Tanagers and Slate-throated Whitestarts. We still were seeing Gold-ringed Tanagers, but we were entering the domains of other range-restricted ENDEMIC Bangsia, the Black-and-gold Tanager, other one of our main targets for that part of the trip. The forest was changing in the measure that we were getting down. It looked taller and wetter than in Los Chorros. The birds also changed. We found in one stretch of forest a female Yellow-vented Woodpecker, Glossy-black Thrush, Chestnut-breasted Wren (only heard), Sickle-winged Guan and a pair of beautiful Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonias. Both male and female were cute, the male with its contrasting yellow belly with chestnut central stripe and the female with its blue crown and chestnut eyebrow. Then, Luis Francisco heard and correctly recognized the calls of a Club-winged Manakin. We already saw a male within the first hours of our walk, but only for few seconds. We wanted to see a displaying male in a lek, and it seemed to be our opportunity to do so. We followed the noise, getting closer and closer, when suddenly we were surrounded by several individuals. What a nice bird, and what a great show! The male does its London police whistle-like call while inclining in its perch towards ahead and below, simultaneously raising both wings over its back, showing the pure white inner wings from behind. The only photo I got of this display have a branch in front of it, but anyways you can get the idea. Shortly after seeing the manakins, a mixed flock appeared, with a male Uniform Antshrike, Saffron-crowned and Flame-faced Tanagers, two females Yellow-collared Cholorophonias, a Bluish Flowerpiercer, many Dusky Bush-Tanagers and a well-named Glistening-green Tanager. Its green was as bright as Sergio's green laser-pointer! Then, Sergio shouted Bangsia! and there it was, a Black-and-gold Tanager accompanying the mixed flock. It perched nicely in a Cecropia tree, allowing great views. It reminded me our own Bangsia tanager (yes, we have a Bangsia tanager in Panama and Costa Rica). The Blue-and-gold Tanager (Bangsia arcaei) share a similar plumage, except by its mostly blue (not black) back and contrasting red eyes. They even have similar names! It was time for our last target: Toucan-Barbet. We played a tape-recording in one of its favorite spot (close to a creek), without answer. Then, a little farther, we got a responsive individual hidden in the canopy. After playing again the tape, the bird threw itself (accompanied with other two individuals) towards a deep precipice, not returning to answer us. I was the only one of the group that have not seen the bird before and the only thing I managed to see was a little red dot quickly disappearing in the foliage. A little dissapointed for missing the mega target of the trip, a long desired life bird, I started to descend while the rest of the group waited for the horses there. Realizing how much I drifted apart from the group, I decided to wait them in a totally random spot where, after five minutes, I detected a light movement in a Cecropia at the hillside. I proved to be incredulous when I found with my bins the culprit of such activity: a TOUCAN-BARBET!!! Imagine the scene. I, completely alone, seeing THE bird for which I had expressly showed my resignation for missing it just some minutes before! With my tremolous hands, I grabbed my camera and started shooting despite the distance while shouting TOUCAN-BARBET, TOUCAN-BARBET! with no response. When they finally arrived, I was able to show them a photographic evidence of its ocurrence (and also the evidence that I was not hallucinating or turning a madman). If you enlarge the photo pictured here, you will recognize the multicoloured bird nicely perched in the Cecropia! A great final for the day, we got ALL the proposed targets!!! Back in Finca Montezuma we celebrated with cold beers and decided the plans for the next day while having dinner. What a great day!
My hosts, Rafael and Luis Francisco Cortés.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Birding the higher slopes of Cerro Montezuma. Part I

After our excellent first day in Cerro Montezuma within Tatamá NP in Colombia, the plan for the second day included to bird the higher slopes of the hill, home of so many specialties and rare birds. We planned to reach the 2240 meters above sea level, a place known as "Los Chorros" (a waterfall) where some of our main targets have been reported. In order to accomplish that, we started very early that day, at 3:30 AM riding the horses in complete darkness along the road to the hill. I'm used to ride horses in Panama... but in complete darkness?, well that was new. The night was very quiet and a drizzle accompanied us while the horses slowly found their way up along the forested road. Two and a half hours later it started to clear, and we started to hear, and see, the first birds. Everything was new for me and I was getting anxious because I was unable to identify all those songs. The first birds I saw enough to identify was a pair of Dull-colored Grassquits feeding in the road, followed by a Yellow-breasted Antpitta and a Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch... two life birds in less than 30 seconds. Then, Rafael, Jaime and Sergio started to call me and Luis Francisco (we were at the back of the line of horses) because they were seeing the first Gold-ringed Tanager of the day. Wait a second... GOLD-RINGED TANAGER!!! I hurried up and soon was watching this range-restricted ENDEMIC and endangered bird. An individual was quietly perched atop a bare trunck, inspecting us and its environs. According to Sergio, it is an usual habit of this and others Bangsia tanagers. My camera was still in its bag, so I miss the opportunity to photograph it in that moment... but anyway, it was a great sighting, a magnificent and little-known bird. Later in the day I got many photographic opportunities due to its peculiar behavior, as you can see by the pics that I'm showing here. Its spanish name reflects its true rarity: Bangsia de Tatamá. Just few meters above that site, we saw our first Black Solitaire, another of our main targets. It is a shy bird... I only saw it with my bins for three seconds before it flied away, a situation that was about to repeat several times during the day! It is also an striking black bird with contrasting white cheeks and a tail that flashes when the bird flies. It is also restricted to the Choco bioregion (just like all our targets). The birds were showing fast and furious, one behind another, including two individuals of other colombian ENDEMIC, the Munchique Wood-Wren feeding in the road. They looked like the Gray-breasted Wood-Wren but darker and, of course, with a different song that we were fortunate to hear. All this before reaching Los Chorros and with the very first lights of the day! Close to Los Chorros, a female Lyre-tailed Nightjar welcomed us allowing great shots while nicely perched in the open close to a landslide. Then, we heard Sergio calling us desperately... he was seeing THE bird: Tanager-Finch. Again, I hurried to reach the place (I was getting used to that) from where he was seeing the bird and there it was... not one, but two Tanager-Finches feeding in front of us in the ground, hopping like oversized Brush-Finches very close to Los Chorros. What a great pair of birds, with a very restricted range too (only scattered sites in Colombia and Ecuador). I managed to get a couple of photos while the rest of the group had breakfast by the waterfalls (yeap, all this before breakfast!). While trying to photograph the Tanager-Finches, I heard a trilling song in my back. I turned my head and then saw a little black mouse-like bird singing atop a bush, but it immediately covered when I located it. A Tapaculo! I ask about the identity of the bird to the rest of the member of the group (who also heard the bird) and I was surprised with their answer: it is a bird without a name... a new species of Scytalopus Tapaculo only find in this little mountain range (thus an ENDEMIC to Colombia) that is about to be described, probably with the name of "Altos de Pisones" Tapaculo or something like this. Wow, it is my first bird without a name! In the meanwhile, a Green-and-black Fruiteater started to call and soon we were admiring two males and a female of this stunning bird. The birds barely left us to start descending our way to the lower slopes of the hill... we were frequently interrupted by mixed flocks! One of them contained Beryl-spangled, Black-crowned and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, Black Solitaire, an absolutely awesome pair of Purplish-mantled Tanagers (come on!, that blue is unreal), Fulvous-dotted Treerunners and a gaudy male Orange-breasted Fruiteater. Even a male Club-winged Manakin appeared for few seconds, just to disappear high in the canopy of a fruiting tree (yes, in the canopy!). The list of hummingbird was also impressive, with such gems like Violet-tailed Sylph (an immature male pictured above), Brown Inca, Purple-throated Woodstar (female in a nest), Greenish Puffleg, a female Empress Brilliant and Velvet-purple Coronets. The coronets were common, usually a dark hummer with flashy white tail, but often they perched and then, with a suitable light they showed their absolutely incredible colors! We also saw some members of the Tyrannidae family, just to add variety to our bird list. Species included were Golden-faced Tyrannulet, Black-throated Tody-Tyrant, Flavescent, Cinnamon and Handsome Flycatchers, plus several Smoke-colored Pewees heard and one seen. We found a group of three active and cooperative Handsome Flycactchers. I admit that they doesn't exhibit the showy colors that appear in the plate of the Birds of Colombia fieldguide, but anyway they were in fact handsome. An impressive list of birds, and we were only at the half of the way down. We planned to descend to the point that we reached the day before, about 1500 meters above sea level in order to find others specialties not found higher, nor lower in the hill. More about them in the second part of this post!