Saturday, August 7, 2010

Breeding shorebirds in Aguadulce

OK, it is not that there were breeding shorebirds in the Aguadulce Salinas (saltponds) during my last visit two days ago with Osvaldo Quintero, Euclides "Kilo" Campos and my nephew Michael (except for one species); but we did found many species still wearing part of its alternate (or breeding plumage). Panama is a very important stop for those holartic breeders in its way to the southern hemisphere, and the saltponds in Aguadulce have been historically one of the best sites in Panama to look for them. It is still too early for most of the species, but we found a nice collection of them scattered in the ponds. The first species we saw were the almost present Black-necked Stilts. These elegant birds were noisier than usual, and soon we noticed why: we found at least three different downy fledglings at the ponds, close to screaming adults. They are known to breed in this place since 14 years ago, but this is the first time that I actually see a chick. It was great to watch the little birds trying to look like the sandy soil where they were resting. I suppose that the stilts are still doing fine. Not many shorebirds species breed in Panama. Apart of the stilts, only some plovers breed in Panama... so it is not easy to find nests or chicks in our coast, despite they are full of birds. As you guess, the stilts where not the only shorebirds we found. The most common shorebirds were the Semipalmated and the Western Sandpipers. Several hundred were feeding in scattered flocks, sometimes together. Notice that the Western Sandpiper that I'm picturing here still had part of its rusty crown and scapulars. Apart of these, the spotting along sides and the dropped tip of the bill separate this bird of the similar Semipalmated Sandpiper. We also found a flock of Short-billed Dowitchers, with its distinctive feeding technique. Again, some of them were in alternate plumage. Taking into account the amount of ruddy on its underparts, these dowitchers seemed to be of the hendersoni subspecies, which breeds in central and western Canada. This is the subspecies listed by Ridgely, in the Guide to the Birds of Panama, as the one that earlier arrives to Panama (a group of 25 birds seen by the end of july precisely in Aguadulce, back in 1975). We found smaller numbers of Least Sandpipers, usually close to flocks of the more abundant peeps. They were easily recognized by their smaller size and distinctive darker back. With good light, and close enough we even saw the yellow legs. And talking about yellow legs, the only species we saw was the Lesser Yellowlegs. Despite we didn't have Greater Yellowlegs to compare with (and the fact that the birds didn't call), we were able to id them by noticing its straight and all-black bill. In the photo appears one individual, accompanied by a Western Sandpiper. About the plovers, the only species that we found was precisely one of those that does not breeds in Panama, but anyway is one of the most common, the Semipalmated Plover. We usually see drab brown birds with its winter plumage, so it is always nice to watch a bright individual like the one pictured here. Great collection of shorebirds... I can't wait to visit this place again at the peak of the migration season (in October).

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