Thursday, July 1, 2010

Birding Bocas: Part II

A rainstorm struck Changuinola in the Bocas del Toro province (western Caribbean lowlands) during the night of our first day there, so the morning of our second day was clouded, but afortunately without rain. Our plan was to explore the road that follows the Sixaola river (which is the limit between Panama and Costa Rica) beyond the frontier town of Guabito. We passed the towns of La Mesa, Las Tablas and Tiger Hill on a very good road, reaching the tiny town of Sibube and then, Las Delicias and Boca de Yorkin. It was like an exploratory trip since none of us had reached that part of the road ever. Of course we saw some pristine forest at the hills close to the towns, but the road only passed by its borders in few places, more often around Las Delicias were we stopped several times just to see what can we get. This is a beautiful region of our country and the road is passable all the way to Yorkin, a town seldom visited by foreigners. We were able to see the town of Bribri in the Costa Rican side of the Sixaola river while visiting Las Delicias duty free shop (yeap, a duty free in that isolated part of Panama) and to talk with a member of that ethnic group (the Bri bris) at the road. And what about the birds? OK, we did not saw any new bird for Panama (you know, Red-billed Pigeons, Melodious Blackbirds), but got some interesting sightings. For example, we saw many Green-breasted Mangos, including a female feeding a young bird. We still need to know more about the relationships of the Mangos species in Panama... some years ago this form was unknown for Panama! We also saw a flock of Chestnut-collared Swifts, previously unrecorded for that region. Of course we saw others common birds like Crimson-fronted Parakeets, White-crowned Parrots, more Passerinii's Tanagers and Grayish Saltators and Olive-crowned Yellowthroats and several pairs of White-lined Tanagers. The females honor its latin name, Tachyphonus rufus, as you can see in the photo. Since they usually travel in pairs, it is easy to identify them by their companions. Again, we heard the Grayish Saltators almost everywhere... it is hard to imagine that this bird was unknown in Panama few years ago. This species is one of those that occur in northern Central America and reappear in South America, skipping Panama (others examples are Double-striped Thick-Knee, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Vermillion and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Green Jay and so on...). This is due to the relative recent origin of the isthmus (at least of the lowlands) and some habitat requirements that changed since then, isolating the populations of certain species in the north after its migration from the south through the isthmus. It is not strange that most of the examples are birds of clear forests, open or dry habitats, being isolated by the tropical rainforest that grew up in the isthmus. Now, some of these birds are gaining terrain again due to men activities (clearing the forests for example) in both directions... most of the new species of birds recorded for Panama in the last decade or so, both in the west and in the Darien province, are typical of open habitats, not of forests. OK, I'm glad that our country list is constantly growing, but it would be great to preserve our forest just to see if the forest denizens gain terrain too. Back to the story, in the way back we stopped in several places looking for more Bocas specialties. Two species were in our radar: White-collared Manakin and Black-throated Wren, both of them completely resctricted to western Bocas del Toro province. We heard them the previous day, but we wanted to actually see them (both were long-desired life birds for me). So, after a quick meal in Changuinola, we tried the road to El Silencio. This road is mostly lined with houses, but some patches of forest still remain in some places. We drove all the way to the new bridge over the Teribe river, from which you can see the confluence of the Changuinola and the Teribe rivers. You need a permit to drive through the bridge in the brand new road to Bonyic, a Naso community and the proposed site for an hydroelectrical proyect (hence the construction of the road and the bridge). Back to the birding, we inspected a little patch of forest where I heard the typical noise of a group of males Manacus manakins... I saw a movement through the understore with my binoculars but then a gorgeous Black-throated Wren appeared in front of me! The White-collared Manakins took us more time, they were difficult to spot in the entangled but eventually we got great views of the lekking males, with its contrasting snowy-white necks and lemon-yellow underparts. To photograph them went almost impossibly, I only got a (VERY) poor shot of its legs! In the same site we saw also a Bronzy Hermit and a pair of Bare-crowned Antbirds, all of them new year-birds for me. We said good-bye to Changuinola and headed towards the town of Punta Peña and Chiriqui Grande (70 km away), stopping in some places looking for Snowy Cotingas, but finding a pair of Masked Tityras in a Cecropia tree and a beautiful White Hawk perched in the distance. After a delicious sea-food dinner, we stayed at a comfortable cabin in the town of Punta Peña. The plans for the next day (our last day) were including a visit to the Chiriqui Grande's Two Tank road and the Bocas foothills in our way back to Panama City.

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