Monday, December 26, 2011

Brushing the mudflats

I visited the coast of Panama City, specifically around Panama Viejo, some days ago following some interesting reports including very rare shorebirds and gulls in the area. Essentially, I birded around the Visitors Center because you get there a piece of every type of habitat present in the place, like both rocky and sandy shores, grassland, mudflats, an estuary and mangroves... all within a short walk and under the security
of the Center facilities. The extensive mudflats were covered in shorebirds, specially Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Willets and tons of Black-bellied Plovers. However, it was a group of waders that caught my attention: no less than ten Wood Storks were standing in the mud, resting and preening. They reminded me my last experience with storks during the Pacific CBC and, considering the fact that these birds are good fliers, one should consider that they could be
the same beach-loving individuals we saw during the count! Closer to the mangroves, six herons species were wading, looking something to eat, except an elegant Cocoi Heron which was simply
preening in the sand, very close to several Great Blue Herons, a very similar species. Walking to the rocky part of the shore, looking for the Wandering Tattler reported elsewhere, I crossed the grassy section next to the parking lot of the Visitors Center, finding a young Green
Iguana having a sun bath. A close relative, a Spiny Iguana (Ctenosauria sp.) was inspecting me from the rocks. At the rocks, the closest bird to a Tattler that I found was a Spotted Sandpiper dressing its winter suit, which is not spotted at all!
By far, it is the most widely distributed sandpiper in Panama, easily identified by its stiff wing beats and the constant movement of its rear part... it should be named Bobbing Sandpiper! Among the hundreds of Laughing Gulls and dozens of Franklin's Gulls, I
found the Lesser Black-backed Gull that have been reported in Xenornis; however, when I was about to photograph it, the all flock left the place desperately. I turned my head and realized that the reason of the mess was a young Peregrine Falcon hunting low and actually grapping a Laughing Gull in front of my eyes! It was a kind of weird because I'm used to see the Peregrine Falcons hunting small peeps instead of gulls of almost its same size!

But it was not over... just seconds after the initial attack, a second Peregrine Falcon (an adult this time) appeared, and started to attack the first individual, which never gave up its prey. The attacks were marked with lot of noise by both birds, and it reminded me an attack that I witnessed almost exactly one year ago!


After a while, the adult Peregrine left the young one with its prey. The young Peregrine began to eat but after a while it left the place too. May be I didn't get my life tattler, but that was a show often seen in the wild, so I'm happy anyway!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas!

Many reasons make december my favourite month of the year: the fresh air, the bird counts, the holidays (specially Christmas), and of course, my birthday... yes, I just turned 32 yesterday in company of my family and friends with a "traditional" fruit cake. The only advantage of this date is that I can open my presents before everybody else! In a kind of Christmas tradition now, all my family spent the Christmas evening at my sister's home. We brought all the gifts and put them under the tree waiting for Christmas in order to deliver them. In Panama, as many other Latin American countries, we wait for Christmas, and the 00:00 hrs of december 25th is marked by a serious deployment of fireworks, music and joy... just have a look at the video (filmed by my brother with his i-phone) and you will see that it looks like a scene of the "Terminator" film!
video
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!! Now, you can open your presents!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Pacific CBC

December is month of bird counts! And the first Christmas Bird Count of this year, the Pacific CBC, ocurred last sunday, december 18th. Organized by the Panama Audubon Society, (PAS) this count included most of Panama City including Costa del Este to the east,Veracruz town to the west and Plantation Road and the Canopy Tower to the north. Historically, Panama counts have been always among the top 10 worldwide, and the Atlantic CBC used to be the highest count of birds for almost 20 years in a row until some years ago. Several factors influenced the decline of our counts, including habitat degradation, lack of resident birders in the Atlantic side of the Canal, new count circles in exceptionally amazing sites in Costa Rica and Ecuador and, most important of all, the low numbers of participants. In fact, the lack of counters have been a conspicuous aspect of the last counts, and the numbers are declining. If we take into consideration the number of
birds species recorded BY participant, the Panama counts occupy the first places. Of the three counts of central Panama, the Pacific CBC is the one with the greatest potential for becoming one of the best counts in the Americas, because it includes several habitats (humid and dry forests, grasslands, residential areas, coast, mudflats and so on), attracts more participants and have easier logistics than any other count in Panama. As usual, Rafael picked me up before dawn and we went to a meeting point where we were joined by Jennifer Wolcott, Rick and Donna Lee. Our group birded the west side of the canal, the areas of Farfan and Veracruz, during the morning. A persistent drizzle prevented us of doing some owling, but it stopped right before the sunrise.
The first birds recorded were not seen, but heard... Tropical Kingbirds. With the first lights, we started to identify the birds at the huge pond in Farfan, mainly white herons and others waders. In the dark, we thought that the hundreds of white dots in the dead trees of the ponds were Cattle Egrets... and in fact, the first three or four herons we saw well were Cattle Egrets... but then we realized that most of the herons in the ponds were Snowy Egrets. In total, we recorded eight species of herons, White Ibises, two Anhingas, several Brown Pelicans and Neotropic Cormorants, and eleven Wood Storks overflying, with one immature landing right in the beach. Despite our count area included dry forest, our main
objectives were coastal and grassland birds, so we headed to Veracruz beach before the high tide, just in time to see the only two American Oystercatchers for the count standing at the beach. We also saw the only Elegant Tern of the count (that is a regular site for this uncommon migrant for Panama), Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated, Collared, Wilson's and Black-bellied Plovers in good numbers. In several occasions we had to cover because of the rain, but it usually lasted only few minutes each time. The good thing about it was that the day stayed fresh and the activity was constant. In the grassy habitat and forest borders behind the beach we found excellent activity. By some unknown reason, the most common seedeater this year was the Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, but we recorded all the expected species, plus some goodies like Merlin,
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and many migrants. The road that we drove behind the former Howard Air Base eventually crossed a patch of mature forest with a very nice creek... but it was quite late in the morning and hot to find any forest bird in there. We decided to left the west bank and headed to Amador in order to get some key species for the area. We found our main objective, a Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, right at the parking lot of the Punta Culebra Natural Center, among with Garden Emeralds, Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds and Mangrove Warblers. In the way back, we spotted a Blue-footed Booby flying fast in the edge of the counting circle (there is a rock with a colony of these birds right outside the count circle!). Most of the participants met at the Chiva Chiva ponds
to compile our numbers and to figure out our plans for the afternoon depending on the species lacking to that moment. I decided to try the Metropolitan Natural Park along with Jennifer, Cora Herrera and Hildegar Mendoza, making some stops on route, finding Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal and Zone-tailed Hawk (all missed in the morning). The park held and amazing great activity by the entrance, with mixed flocks including Greenish Elaenias, Ruddy-tailed and Black-tailed Flycatchers, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, tons of White-shouldered Tanagers, and even a sleepy Common Potoo pointed out bythe park ranger. However, it was a tree with pink flowers the star of the show, attracting tons of hummingbirds and honeycreepers, including the male Rufous-crested Coquette reported during the week and earlier in the morning. I know we don't have to lose time during the counts with birds already counted... but I could not resist to
stop and take some photos of the beautiful creature quietly perched waiting its turn to visit the flowers... after all you don't see a male coquette every day!!! Soon, it was too dark to see anything, and the survivors met at the PAS office to finish to compile our numbers. Not the best count in terms of species was the prediction after revising our list. The most resistant (the Montañez, the Kaufmann, Ariel and me) even tried to do some owling, finding only a Common Potoo before receiving a phone call from Beny who already had listened most of our target owls comfortably from his house in Ancon, Panama City (thanks God!), making our journey only a 16+ hours of pure birding. Exhausting, but gratifying!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bird of the year!

The Panama Audubon Society's pot-luck dinner was the perfect scene for the announcement of this year winners of the "Bird of the year" photography contest. PAS members, directives, friends, and even members of The 600 Club shared a very nice evening. Darien Montañez, PAS president, talked about the Christmas Bird Counts and how we are going to organize ourselves for these events, the first of them will be this sunday, december 18th (Pacific CBC). As usual, the food and beverages were excellent, just like the photo stream presentation (both of birds and birders) of Jennifer. By the end, Rosabel Miró announced the winners. My friend Rafael Luck obtained the third place with its Royal Tern in Boca del Drago, Bocas del Toro province. The second place was for Ralph Dessau with its lovely photo of a female Scintillant Hummingbird on a nest. This year's bird is the male Cinnamon Woodpecker which I took last april in Metetí, Darien. I'm so grateful with the judges and with the PAS for this honor!
Finally, Rosabel also announced the winners of the dish of the night, with three winners by popular election, two curry chicken dishes and a traditional "arroz con pollo", so congratulations for all the chefs and see you at the counts!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Thousand Polleras Parade

For the second year in a row, last november 28th, the city of Las Tablas in Los Santos province (Azuero Peninsula, central Panama) held
one of the most beautiful shows regarding folklore and culture:the 1000 Polleras Parade. The pollera is our national typical feminine suit, considered probably the most beautiful of the world, and certainly one of the most elegant. Some polleras are valued for dozens of thousands of dollars because the process to make them is almost an art. The parade not only shows graceful women dressed with hand-made polleras (more than 5000 this year), but also our traditional music and dishes all over its route. It is a spectacle worth to see so here I'm posting some photos of the event.
Our president, Ricardo Martinelli, and his wife heading the parade
An allegoric car featuring a "dirty devil" mask, one of our traditional dance
A traditional "murga", playing popular tunes
Even the pets dressed polleras
Don't miss the parade next year!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More birds at the finca

The Blue-crowned Motmots were not the only birds I saw during my last visit to the "finca" in the outskirts of Penonome, Cocle province (central Panama). In fact, I saw many more species than in previous visits, probably because I birded earlier than in others occasions. Not only that, I managed to take some photos for the first time of some species at the site. Starting at the creek, where I saw the motmots, a little, greenish bird caught my attention. It was actively foraging at the external leaves for periods, making some pauses for a couple of seconds (enough to take photos) to then start again. Many times heard, but that was the first time I saw a Yellow-olive Flycatcher at the finca. It is not unexpected for this part of the country, but at least its indicates that the habitat is wooded enough to support a population of this species. I moved to more drier areas with scattered big trees and lots of understore plus some grassland. This kind of habitat is rich in species, including Lesser Goldfinches. I saw a flock of at least six females and two adult males feeding in the ground, very alert of my movements, always vocalizing... they have a kind of sweet voice, the reason why they are common as cage birds in some places. Here, they fly free all over the place. Inspecting them (or inspecting me?) were a pair of Great Kiskadees and a Boat-billed Flycatcher. These species are VERY similar, but they differ strikingly in voice and in some plumage characters. Can you say which one I'm showing here? Otherwise, both are agressive, big flycatchers of open habitats. The last birds I saw was a flock of Streaked Saltator. They look and act like tanagers, they even sound like them. The taxonomic position of the Saltators is not well defined yet... some thinks they are in fact tanagers, or probably cardinals. I don't think much on that... I'm simply happy with my first photos of that species in the finca... I think the photo is quite good, what you think?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Penonome Motmots revisited

Some months ago, I adressed the Blue-crowned Motmot of Cocle province (central Panama) because this could be a potential intergrade zone between two distinct forms that have been considered as separate species by the South America Classification Committee (posted here). The day after Gloriela's Baby Shower, all the family went to the finca at the outskirts of Penonome city to have a BBQ and to breathe fresh air. With my camera, I walked to the creek and, as soon as I got there, two dark silhouettes flew from the banks to a nearby tree and immediately I heard a whoo-hoop, typical of a Blue-crowned Motmot, answered by a single hoop! by the second bird. They were incredible shy, always hiding behind foliage and flying away whenever I tried to approach them. Nevertheless, I did saw some important field marks, all of them matching the description of the conexus form, which is the expected form of Blue-crowned Motmot in that part of the country (part of the Whooping Motmot complex). They had some mud in their bills, so I think they were probably excavating a nest in the banks of the creek. In spite that the first vocalization I heard had two notes, it lacked the pause between them, characteristic of the lessoni form from western Panama and Central America (the Blue-diademed Motmot). There are still many questions about these motmots... is there any area of contact between these two forms? Are the motmots of the coclesian foothills conexus like the lowlands birds? Is there any hybrid reported? And so on... I'm pretty sure this is not the last time we hear about these guys!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

House birds of Penonome

When we visit Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama), we usually spent most of the time at our house in a new development devoid of big trees but surrounded by savanna-like habitat with some gallery forest at the perimetric fence... or at Gloriela's relatives house in downtown, which is more wooded, and with a little creek running behind the house. Despite both places share many common, urban birds, there are some differences. At our house, the most common birds are Great-tailed Grackles and Gray-breasted Martins... however, I enjoy more the beautiful song of the resident pair of Tropical Mockingbird or the gang of House Wrens that search carefully every corner, every bush, everything they can... even the frontal tire of our Picanto. Sometimes, the Tropical Kingbirds surprise me because they take advantage of every perching site available, even our trash basket, despite how close to the house (or us) it is. The perimetric fence of the development is another thing. Big trees and bushes separates the houses from the surrounding savanna... and these habitat results very attractive to many species of birds. I have seen so far many migrants, like Summer Tanagers, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, among others, inspecting the trees at the fence. Last time, I heard the characteristic call of a Crested Bobwhite and soon found the singing male inside the trees, very close to one of the resident White-tipped Doves and the common Red-crowned Woodpecker. The savanna attracts raptors like Short-tailed, Zone-tailed and Roadside Hawks, plus Crested and Yellow-headed Caracara.. At night, the loud calls of the Pauraques remind me why they are called bujío by the panamanians... it sounds exactly the same (you have to say it in spanish of course). Downtown Penonome, which is more wooded, the birds change a little bit... the same common birds appear as well, but then you get some additions like Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Lineated Woodpeckers to complement. At Gloriela's relatives house, the bananas left in the open attracts Clay-colored Thrushes, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers ("Azulejo"). I will say this forever, but no matters how common the "Azulejo" is, it is gorgeous! A Common Basilisk resides at the creek behind the house, often showing its ability to run over the water, the reason why this reptile is also known as Jesus Christ Lizard. This particular one was changing its old skin. Well, I still need to make a list of all the birds I have seen so far in the urban area of Penonome... I'll try as soon as the birds lets me.... oh, oh, is that a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl singing across the street? I think I will left the list for another day again!