Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mud, rain and endemics!

The mountains of central and eastern Chiriqui province (western Panama) are home to many endemics bird species and sub-species. After the pelagic trip off Punta Mala, I went with Rafael Luck to the town of San Felix (by the Pan-American highway) where Euclides "Kilo" Campos was already waiting for us (the rest of the T.P. Gang went to the coclesian foothills of El Cope after the Umbrellabird). After a long day in the sea, we were so tired that we fell asleep after a couple of minutes. Still dark, very early the next morning (sunday, september 12th), we started our way to Cerro Santiago, entering the Ngöbe-Buglé reservation and passing first by the town of Hato Chamí. This 30 km-long road is famed because its toughness, only passable with strong 4WD vehicles with really high clearance... not a problem for the FJ Cruiser! After passing Hato Chamí, it was clear enough to see the spectacular landscapes with the subtle morning light... simply impressive. After two hard hours in the road, we reached a muddy part impassable for the cruiser! Can you imagine, we needed to push it to a less-muddy spot and then we began to hike along the very-muddy road (did I already mention that it was muddy?). We soon found the first birds along it: Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, Magnificent Hummingbird (a female) and Violet Sabrewings, Golden-crowned Warblers, Spotted Wood-Quail (only heard), Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Mountain Thrush and several Silvery-fronted Tapaculos heard in the understore. We were more or less at 1700 meters above sea level and I was feeling the effect of the reduced oxigen plus the steepy and muddy road. Anyway, I managed to follow Rafael and Kilo, finding more interesting species. Soon a female Selasphorus hummingbird showed up. It is supposed that the female Glow-throated Hummingbird is indistinguishable from that of the Scintillant Hummingbird, the former a panamanian endemic, the latter not expected there except during migration (photo courtesy of Rafael Luck). Then, Kilo found the other panamanian endemic, a flock of noisy Yellow-green Finches. These birds were shy, and were foraging higher in the trees than its relatives, the Yellow-thighed Finch of Costa Rica and western Panama. They were too far away, usually in dark spots, so I got only a marginal photo (but at least you can see that it is a Pselliphorus finch). We reached the antenna, supposedly the best place to find the Glow-throated Hummingbirds, but its favored bush were not flowered, and we only found more females! However, the last female that we saw, both perched and flying while feeding in some tubular flowers, showed conspicuous white tips to the tail (not buffy nor rufous as in the female Scintillant Hummingbird). It is significative? (WARNING: the next two photos are probably the worst photos of any bird ever published in the web; prepare yourself).Anyway, the spot was excellent for swifts, because they were flying at eye-level. We got two species there: the huge White-collared Swifts, and the less numerous Chestnut-colored Swifts. It was very hard to photograph them, but somehow I managed to get some pics. We also found around there Yellow-winged Vireo, Collared Whitestart, Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher, Black-faced Solitaire, Sooty-capped and Common Bush-Tanagers and a singing Brown-billed Scythebill. In the way down, the sunny day quickly turned into a foggy and rainy one, but despite it we found a male White-tailed Emerald, many Western Wood-Pewees and a Mountain Elaenia. Under the rain, and laying on the muddy road, Kilo was able to remove from under the car a part that got stuck into the mud, and we descended the road very carefully because that part protected the axis of the vehicle. Sane and save, we were glad when we reached the lowlands in one piece (trust me, that road is scaring)... but also because we saw many special birds!Rafael and Kilo among the fog and the mud.
P.D.: I need some moral support in order to keep (or not?) my decision of not including the Glow-throated Hummingbird in my Life List. Let me know what you think in the comments.


  1. Hi Jan, Bill Adsett and I went there in April 2008 and the hummer situation is indeed confusing (and the roads really bad!). When I returned to New York I visited the Museum of Natural History to look at skins, which did not clarify things much. From what we researched at the time, I believe that there is no definitive information that exists to separate the females. I believe that there probably are some key field marks, but they have not been described. The references to buffy and white tail tips is not conclusive, as far as I know,ditto the rufous in the tail, and it seems that both species are there. Migration patterns of Glow-throated (altitudinal migrant maybe?) are not known. What is definitive is that the male's gorget color is distinctive - very obvious in the skins and in the field-, and any spots on a young male that have color can PROBABLY be used to separate them. Dave Klauber

  2. @Dave: thank you very much... I have to admit that was not exactly what I wanted to hear, but now I'm convinced that I have to return (despite the road!), maybe in april (Kilo told me that he saw males in april and that the flowers were everywhere). Who knows and maybe I'll showing next time a photo of a gorgeous male!