Sunday, February 20, 2011

A day in the foothills

Yesterday, I went to Cerro Azul with Osvaldo Quintero and Rafel Luck looking for colourful birds to photograph. The foothills of Cerro Azul are less than a hour-drive from Panama City, and it holds a completely different arrange of birds to what we are used here in the lowlands. Camera in hand, we visited first the section known as Altos del Frente, where we eventually found some activity in a now-usual spot where you can also have a great view of the city in the distance. There, two pairs of Crimson-crested Woodpeckers were displaying, making a lot of noise and flying from one trunk to another chasing each other. We also saw tons of Scaled Pigeos flying all over the place, with some of them calling and others perched atop bare branches, but never allowing us to approach enough to get good pictures. These are spectacular pigeons, with a very conspicuous red to the base of the bill and showy scales to the underparts. A flock of Keel-billed Toucans appeared, announcing their presence with their croacking calls. All these birds were a little far away, but Rafael found a male Masked Tityra close enough to see all the details of its plumage, and for some to take very good photos (not my case as you can see). A little farther in the road, we found a mixed flock with lots of tanagers, euphonias, flycatchers, woodcreepers, among others. The place is very good for tanagers... in that flock we saw Plain-colored, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers. Another tanager was accompanying the flock, at first glance it was dull gray, but then it perched in a Cecropia tree where I saw the white tufts at the sides of the chest: a Sulphur-rumped Tanager! This species is quite local and seldom reported for Cerro Azul, and the most recent reports come from that place precisely. My distant shots (two of them) show the white tufts... and barely part of the sulphur-yellow rump. Those marks are unique in this part of Panama. The flock also included a Black-cheeked Woodpecker and an endemic for Panama, a Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker that we heard first and then saw it briefly. The place became quiet when the flock left, so we moved on, this time to Birders' View, also a hot spot in these foothills. The property keeper, Nando, already told us about a Rufous-crested Coquette he saw the day before, so we waited there for it, watching closely the flowered bushes in the backyard. In the meanwhile, many others species showed up, including a migrant Black-and-white Warbler creeping a trunk close to us. It was an adult male, as you can see by its black cheeks. We also saw many more tanagers, and former tanagers in the form of Summer and Hepatic Tanagers. The former is migratory, the latter is a resident species. Both male and female were working the trees surrounding the backyard. It is hard to imagine these birds as cardinals, but I have to accept that the Piranga tanagers share many characteristics with their now-close relatives (overall coloration, beautiful voices, sexual dimorphism, etc...)... they are simply cardinals with specialized beaks! The first photo is a male, still with some yellow feathers in the body. You can separate them from the similar Summer Tanager by its darker red overall and dark lores. The females of both species are yellow, the head close-up of this female Hepatic Tanager shows well its dark lores, and also its dark bill. After all, we saw no less than 13 tanagers and former-tanagers, even more if we include the species of honeycreepers that we also saw. The coquette did not show up... so we tried another spot, this time the feeders at the Ahrens' place... but that is another story.

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