Friday, June 11, 2010

Black Terns in the Coastal Beltway

Taking advantage of yesterday's high tide, I decided to walk along Panama City's oceanfront in the Coastal Beltway. It is just a 5 minutes walk from my apartment and is a very popular place for jogging or for bicycling while admiring the city skyline or the Panama Bay and all the ships waiting to enter the Panama Canal. Of course, I brought with me my camera and binoculars... just in case. There were not so many people in the beltway, surely because it was around noon in a very sunny (and hot) day and many municipal workers were doing some gardening and maintenance of the installations, which is a good thing. I started in front of the Balboa monument. It is an icon of the city, appearing in many postal cards. Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovered the Pacific ocean (the "South Sea") back in 1513 (september 25th) after a 24-days journey through the wilderness of what is now the Darien province. Many things in Panama are named after him, including our currency and the avenue that runs along the beltway. Despite the hour, almost all of the common urban birds were immediately evident along the beltway, including an absurd number of Ruddy Ground-Doves accompanied by a pair of females Saffron Finches and a pair of Tropical Mockingbirds close to the monument. The Gray-breasted Martins patrolled the air while the House Sparrows sang from the light poles. I started to pay attention to the ocean. Many Sandwich Terns were flying around, accompanied by an occassional Laughing Gull or two. Usually is the only gull species present during the summer (our wet season). Then, I saw a graceful little tern flying very close to the huge boulders that limit the beltway: a Black Tern in winter plumage. Soon, another individual joined the first one in what I think was a kind of circuit, flying from one side to another always to the west of the Yatch Club. I know that some birds stayed during the summer in Panama, but this is the first time that I saw this species away of its ususal migration dates. They were so regular (that is, completing the circuit every each 15 minutes or so) that I was able to sit at the second best spot to photograph them (the first spot was already occupied by a busy couple!). No matter that, they were too fast, so my pics are a little blurry. Anyway, I'm happy because they were my first Black Terns of the year! Since we are in "winter" here in Panama, most of the waterbirds were resident species, including the Neotropic Cormorants resting at the Yatch Club and in the boats, but also Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds and many herons. It is a nice contrast to see all these birds against the modern skyscrapers and the luxurious yatchs. One that was over-wintering was an Osprey, resting atop the main mast of a sailboat. They do not breed in Panama, but you can always find some individuals year-round. Well, nice walk in the beltway, even getting a new bird for my year list!

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