Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Weekend at the highlands. Part I

Yeap! We saw the chance, and we took it. After attending an appointment in Penonome last friday, we decided to drive farther west to the Chiriqui highlands (western Panama) to see what we can get. After a very early start, and after a quick breakfast at Santiago, we reached the Concepcion - Volcan road around 8:00 am. As usual, I decided to stop at Cuesta de Piedra to have a look at the Macho de Monte river. The day was very cloudy and the light awful for photography, but anyway Gloriela and I managed to find some interesting species, including a new year-bird for me and some lifers for her. Probably the most interesting sight was the ocurrence of all the four resident river-dwellers in the same general area: a Black Phoebe (photo of a previous trip), two Buff-rumped Warblers, four (two pairs) Torrent Tyrannulets and an American Dipper. Not only that, we also found a Northern Waterthrush and a Spotted Sandpiper working at the same rivers... making the place very productive. We saw other species as well, including my year Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (lifer for Gloriela) and a Blue-crowned Motmot of the ssp lessoni. This is the first time I see this form since its recognition as a valid species by the AOU's South America Classification Committee (SACC) under the name of Blue-diademed Motmot... a change not yet recognized by the North America Committee (neither by the Panama Audubon Society -PAS). Anyway, this motmot was very shy. We checked all the distinctive field marks (including its general greener coloration, specially to the underparts) except its vocalization. When I fot closer in order to take a picture, the motmot concealed itself behind the leaves! Well, we left the place and headed to Volcan, where we got a room in town. For the afternoon, we decided to walk the road to El Respingo, above Cerro Punta. The weather did not improve, so we were accompanied by a light rain almost all the way up. By the entrance we found a mixed flock with Sooty-capped Bush-Tanagers, Black-cheecked Warblers and my year Philadelphia Vireo (plus Yellow-winged and Brown-capped Vireos too). Next to them, a Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher was eating some berries, not paying attention to us. Higher on the road, another mixed flock brought to us a cooperative pair of Collared Whitestarts, a Slate-throated Whitestart as well, two Ruddy Treerunners, an Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, a Yellowish Flycatcher, more Black-cheeked Warblers and a beautiful Flame-throated Warbler. Not far from us, at the edge of a big clearing, a handsome Black-capped Flycatcher was quietly perched on some bushes. It was a lifer for Gloriela and only my second time ever (so, it was a year-bird for me). For an Empidonax flycatcher, it is very distinctive! After 1.5 hours climbing, we finally reached the Respingo rangers' station, at 2500 meters above sea level. The smiley park ranger welcomed us and showed us the place, which have all the facilities for staying during a night or more. After paying the entrance fee, we walked a little around the station finding Yellow-thighed Finches, Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatchers, tons of Band-tailed Pigeons, a flock of Sulphur-winged Parakeets perched (lifer for Gloriela) and a pair of Volcano Hummingbirds doing exhibition flights... amazing how fast and high these little birds get during these flights! After enjoying the magnificent view of the Cerro Punta valley from El Respingo, we went down to Volcan to enjoy a well deserved dinner at the hotel. We scheduled a visit to the Volcan lakes for the next morning, so stay tuned!

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