Monday, June 28, 2010

Birding Bocas: Part I

Almost a week ago, I had the pleasure to visit Panama's western Caribbean lowlands of the Bocas del Toro province. This part of the country holds its own array of habitats and wildlife, including a great variety of birds found nowhere else in Panama. This is not a well-known birding destination, specially when talking about the mainland (the Bocas islands are a well-known touristic attraction at the other hand), so I joined two "bocatoreños" in our quest of those Bocas' specialties. After saying good bye to Gloriela, I took the 8:00 PM night-bus to the coastal town of Almirante, arriving 10 hours later. With the first lights I started to identify birds by my own while walking through the streets towards the main avenue. I quickly found a pair of singing White-collared Seedeaters and several flocks of noisy Crimson-fronted Parakeets along the main streets. I met Rafael Luck (who overnighted in town) and soon were heading west, to the town of Changuinola where we joined Venicio "Beny" Wilson. If the bananas were money, then Changuinola would be the richest town on earth! The town is almost entirely surrounded by banana plantations and most of the commercial activity still turns around it. Of course we were not there because of the bananas, but because of the special birds that lives around the town, where good habitat still remains. I got my first life bird in a marshy area very close to the bridge over the San San river in route to the frontier town of Guabito: a pair of Olive-crowned Yellowthroats. A bird that escaped my searches in previous occasions, now was conspicuous and singing everywhere, as it proved later. The same marshy area also had Thick-billed Seed-Finch, White-collared and Variable Seedeaters, Blue-black Grassquits and the Bocas' race of Plain Wren (zeledoni). Some authorities call this form the Canebrake Wren. I must admit that the bird's call was distinctively different from that of the Plain Wren in central Panama and it looked different too... more grayer. I only managed to obtain poor photos of it. We first tried a spot known by Beny good for aquatic birds, the port at the channels in "Las 60". These channels eventually join the Soropta channel that connects to the Caribbean sea, but now are navigable only for little boats ("pangas"). We found some common aquatic birds like Green Heron, Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Mangrove and Souther Rough-winged Swallows, and even a female Pygmy Kingfisher. In the park we found a female Green-breasted Mango and a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. After this, we drove to the other side of Changuinola, to a trail that heads to the beach ("Sendero Ecológico"). Despite the hour and the heat, the place proved to be very good, with mostly regenerative vegetation and some gallery forest along wet meadows that were full of birds, including some interesting species. The Passerinii's Tanagers were numerous in all sort of habitats (including the banana plantations), the same for the attractive Black-cowled Oriloles that were all around. A cooperative Striped Cuckoo responded to playback while we heard the call of a Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher that we barely saw later. Then, Beny recognized the characteristic call of a Grayish Saltator (a quite recent addition to the Panama's bird list) and soon we saw one of them working some nearby bushes. Other birds found were tons of Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Pale-vented Pigeons, a family group of Olive-backed Euphonias, more Green Herons including one in black phase, the Bocas ssp. of Plain-colored Tanager (with buffy underparts instead of white) and so on... We returned to town in order to have a well deserved lunch just to keep birding! The last spot we visited that day were the rice fields west of town and surroundings. The rice fields were dry so we did not find all those specialties we were looking for (Nicaraguan Seed-Finch for example), but anyway we got good species. In the same field we saw both Bronzed and Shiny Cowbirds and a Crested Caracara which is still rare in Bocas. The Grayish Saltators were calling from everywhere and we heard the characterictic call of several Gray-breasted Crakes while a noisy flock of Aratinga parakeets turned out to be Olive-throated Parakeets (only found in Bocas del Toro) and only the second time ever that I see this bird. It was a very long first day so we stayed in town, planning the journey for the next day.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking us with you, these are some very beautiful sightings. That Black-cowled oriloles is a particularly exciting find!