Monday, December 27, 2010

2010's Central Christmas Bird Count

Yesterday, earlier than usual, I woke still at dark in order to drive to the sleepy town of Gamboa (central Panama) to participate in the Central Christmas Bird Count organized by the Panama Audubon Society (PAS). Under a light drizzle, and in complete darkness, I joined Bill & Claudia Ahrens and Karl & Rosabel Kaufmann at the entrance gate of the famous Pipeline Road. A pouring rain struck the town all night long, and the weather forecast was not promising. As expected, our owling outing ended with just a Pauraque and a Mottled Owl due to the rain. The road was very damaged, so we only reached the area just beyond the former Limbo hunt camp, from where I started to walk (umbrella in hand) towards my own birding area around the Mendoza river, at the 8.8 km mark, hearing no dawn chorus due to the rain, a very bad sign. After a while, the team formed by Rafael Luck, Osvaldo Quintero and Venicio "Beny" Wilson (destined to explore the depths of Pipeline road) passed me swiftly aboard the tough FJ Cruiser without a problem, but it was a huge fallen tree (and not the muddy, potholed road) that stopped them... so I joined them in their quest after birds. We walked a lot on hilly terrain, passing the Syristes river and reaching the 11.0 km mark (photo courtesy of Beny, more at his Picasa Web Album)... and we were rewarded with special birds for this count, like Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner, Russet Antshrike, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Speckled Mourner, Olive Tanager and even a rare (for that area) White-throated Thrush attending an antswarm. Of course, the antswarm attracted more regular ant-follower birds too, like Bicolored, Spotted and Ocellated Antbirds, Plain-brown and Northern Barred Woodcreepers and a Rufous Motmot. It is always nice to see the Ocellated Antbirds, with their intrincated pattern and bright blue bare-skin around the eye (file photo). Well, despite this list, the activity was desperately low between the mixed flocks, and we covered large tracks of road without seeing or hearing any bird. It was getting late and we started to return, finding a nicely perched nightjar in the open (I will discuss its ID in another post) close to the Mendoza river. Out of Pipeline road, we headed to the town of Gamboa, stopping first at the Ammo Dump's marshes and finding several waterbirds, including at least two adult Rufescent Tiger-Herons and a Muscovy Duck (another heard). We checked our lists at Guido Berguido's place, finding that we saw a good number of birds despite the weather, The house is at the edge of a nice forest and it has bird feeders scattered in the backyard, attracting hordes of colourful Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers (sometimes Shiny Honeycreeper as well, but not that day), Blue Dacnis, Blue-gray, Palm, Flame-rumped and Crimson-backed Tanagers, a stunning Baltimore Oriole just like the one of the baseball caps, Gray-headed Chachalacas, Variegated Squirrels, Central American Agouti, etc, etc, etc.... the backyard list is impressive. For the afternoon, I went with Darien Montañez and Jose Luciani around Gamboa, looking for some missing birds, and we saw many of them... with Great Antshrike, Golden-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cacique and Northern Rough-winged Swallows as my personal highlights. Probably not the best count in terms of quantity, but it is quality what matters after all!

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