Sunday, March 20, 2011

More migrants and skulkers in Metro Park

The Ovenbird was not the only bird we found and photographed during our last visit to the Metropolitan Natural Park in Panama City yesterday. In fact, despite we did not walk a lot, we found many species taking advantage of the fruiting trees in the first part of the Mono Titi trail. In a single tree, hordes of migrant tanagers, warblers and vireos were taking the fruits desperately, in preparation for the upcoming flight to their breeding grounds in the north. A cooperative Yellow-throated Vireo stayed enough for photos. It was singing, something rarely heard for this species in Panama. Others migrants at the same tree were the vocal Summer Tanagers, Yellow, Bay-breasted and Chestnut-sided Warblers. Also, some residents were in the same tree, with Yellow-green Vireos, Scrub Greenlets, Northern Scrub-Flycatchers and White-shouldered Tanagers being the most numerous. We walked a little uphill along the Mono Titi trail, hearing the distrinctive scolding calls of the Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, the only birds that really pay attention to my insistent "pishing". You can see in the photo the contrasting red throat of the male of this species. However, the Red-crowned Ant-Tanager is also found in the park (probably the most reliable site for this species in central Panama), and coincidentally, we managed to find a group of three of these birds. My photo shows a young adult, still with some yellowish feathers, but already showing the more uniform red color to the body, without a contrasting throat (the males of both species have red crowns). These furtive tanagers have little, if any, to do with ants. More often are found in small groups or with mixed flocks, but rarely following army ants or alikes. Also confusingly, these birds are not exactly tanagers, they are more related to the grosbeaks, buntings and allies than to the tanagers, and some authorities consider them part of that family (Cardinalidae). Not too far, a mixed flock with more warblers included a rare, but regular, Blackpoll Warbler, a Canada Warbler and a Worm-eating Warbler only heard. Despite my photo of the Canada Warbler is out of focus, it is evident the diagnostic collar and the spectacles of this attractive warbler. Back to the entrance, we took El Roble trail, heading directly to the Ovenbird's spot, finding not only the Ovenbird, but also a male Kentucky Warbler exactly in the same place, very active and constantly chipping. My poor photo in the dark interior of the forest shows the facial pattern with the distinctive black mask (and I'm posting the photo here to continue the bad-photos-of-good-warblers festival). After a while, after loosing the warblers in the dense undergrowth, we detected more movement in the fallen leaves of the forest floor: a mixed flock of skulkers was passing by, including Rufous-and-white and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbirds and a male White-bellied Antbird that was inspecting the area looking for something to eat. This antbird is handsome, with its black throat and chest contrasting with the white belly and the chestnut-rufous back. At least that individual allowed good pictures, a great end to a day full of skulkers and never-resting birds in the city!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A faithful Ovenbird

Last weekend, the participants of the Panama Audubon Society (PAS) beginners' walk in the Metropolitan Natural Park (Panama City) were lucky enough to find an Ovenbird, a scarce migrant to central Panama (specially in the Pacific side). The information appeared in the PAS' facebook page with detailed instructions to find it along El Roble trail. So, I got my binoculars and my camera and went to the park, after work hours, last tuesday... but the day was clouded, dark and it was raining. Anyway, I entered the trail and in the way back I found the Ovenbird right where I was expecting it! Too dark for photos, so I delighted myself watching the little creature walking deliberately in the forest floor without making any noise. The park was about to close so I left the trail after 10 minutes watching the bird.
Two days ago, the afternoon was sunny and warm, perfect for another visit to the park in order to relocate the Ovenbird and, who knows, maybe get some pictures. For my surprise (I have to admit it), the bird was EXACTLY where I left it two days before! The site was dark anyway, despite the bright sun, so my efforts to photograph it resulted in poor pictures that, at least, show the essential field marks to recognize the bird (first photo).
Then, I went this morning for another try. This time, Osvaldo Quintero was waiting for me at the Ovenbird's spot. When I reached him, the bird was standing in the ground right in front of him... and he still had not noticed it! I pointed the bird to him and, eventually, we both got better pictures.
The bird simply continued doing its things practically ignoring us, faithful to its patch of forest floor but never totally exposed or in the open. Sometimes it was frustating trying to get a picture of the bird because it seldom stopped and was always behind a tangle, a leaf or a stick; but at least we managed to capture decent pics. Another warbler for this season's collection!
This post was submitted to Bird Photography Weekly # 134. Make sure to visit all the links!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Visiting an old friend

Do you remember the Cape May Warblers that took residence at the Panama Audubon Society's office in Panama City? For several weeks now, nobody have reported them, so I went this afternoon to the office to try it. The neighborhood where the office is located have many common and tame birds, easily photographed, so the warblers are not the only attraction. The presence of gaudy tropical birds like toucans, parrots and trogons surely is due to its proximity to forested areas. For example, the first thing I noticed was a group of Gray-headed Chachalacas crossing the street and perching on a palm tree. These birds look like Spielberg's Velociraptors when they run in the ground! In others places, where they are still hunted, they can be shy... but is not the case there. After saying hello to Rosabel (the only one in the office), I waited in front of the warblers' preferred tree. A pair of Social Flycatchers were the only ones in that place, calling and flying to one side to another. I did not hesitate because it was still early in the afternoon, the Cape May Warbler usually appears around 6:00 PM. Despite I was completely focused on the preferred tree, a movement in a nearby mango tree caught my attention: two Blue-headed Parrots were feeding on the mangos. These parrots are quite common in the city, but you usually gets them flying. Not too far, a multicolored Keel-billed Toucan was doing its croacking call. They are simply beautiful, and I'm glad that we can call them as common "city birds" here in Panama. At the expected hour, the adult male Cape May Warbler showed up in the expected tree! Come on, how can you get tired of such an impressive warbler! The bird checked the middle and upper levels of the tree and then flew to the mango tree where I took my last photo. It was nice to see this old friend again, and if you are in the city and still need this rare warbler for your Panama list, you still have time!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Post-carnival trip to the highlands. Part III

After an excellent birding in La Amistad International Park the previous day, for our last day in the Chiriqui highlands (western Panama's Pacific slope), we planned a visit to the Volcan Lakes (Lagunas de Volcan, as in the colorful sign) in the morning before engaging in the 7-hours-drive back to Panama City. These lakes are at 1200 meters above the sea level and are surrounded by a nice forest. The entrance road was alive with tons of birds, most of them Rufous-collared Sparrows and Mountain Elaenias, but also the very vocal Pale-breasted Spinetail (and my photo shows it exactly how you usually find it in the field), at least one Slaty Spinetail, and a nice male Masked (Chiriqui) Yellowthroat for just two seconds. At the forest surrounding the lakes, a huge mixed flock contained Wilson's, Blackburnian, Tenessee, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Rufous-capped and Golden-crowned Warblers plus two Slate-throated Whitestarts, which were not as photogenic as their relatives (the Collareds), always staying in the shade. Others species in the flock were Streak-headed Woodcreepers (a pair), Slaty Antwren, one Slaty-capped Flycatcher and a Plain Antvireo. However, this time the lakes were full of acquatic birds too.
As you can see in the pictures, we saw Northern Jacanas, hordes of American Coots, several Common (Moorhens) Gallinules and a group of very shy males and females Blue-winged Teals that dissappeared as soon as they detected our presence (I only managed very distant, poor photos for recording purposes only). Also in the lakes (but not in the photos) were several Purple Gallinules, a Great Blue Heron, Great Egrets, and both Least and Pied-billed Grebes. We recorded a good number of different species in just two hours. By the end, we stopped at a nearby coffee store where we enjoyed some hot beverages while admiring the magnificent view of the Baru volcano before heading home. This was an excellent swift trip to the highlands as always!
P.D.: just in case you are asking, it is in fact a House Wren using toilet paper as nesting material (at the coffee store).

Post-carnival trip to the highlands. Part II

After spending the morning travelling and birding in the foothills, Gloriela and I took a deserved nap at our hotel room in Volcan before heading to the town of Las Nubes for an afternoon walk. We visited La Amistad International Park , famed by its biodiversity and for being the only of our parks shared with Costa Rica. We first had lunch at the excellent restaurant in the entrance of the park, accompanied by Violet Sabrewings, Magnificent Hummingbirds and White-throated Mountain-Gems attending the feeders. Then, we moved to the administrative installations were we paid the entrance fee. From there, we took El Retoño trail, a 3-km loop trail that reaches 2305 meters above sea level. The forest is exhuberant and the journey is very entertaining through beautiful landscapes, several creeks and bambu patches... and the birding is excellent too. Because of the time of the day, the forest was quiet... but we found scattered species, most of them quite common inhabitants of the cloud forests. Eventually, we found a nice mixed flock, first noticed by the presence of two (probably more) Collared Whitestarts. These curious little guys are confident enough to stay close to you while you are taking pictures, making them really good photogenic birds! A group of four Black-cheeked Warblers accompanied them, as well as two Flame-throated Warblers, or I should say Parulas? Yes, this warbler is a Parula, a striking one as you can see in the photo, endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama. Others members of this flock were the finches. We first noticed three or four Yellow-thighed Finches following the flock, but then two Large-footed Finches jumped in front of us... a lifer for Gloriela! As the parula, both species are also endemic to Costa Rica and Panama. A good highland mixed flock is not complete without furnariids, and another endemic made our day on that regard: a Streak-breasted Treehunter was a little less skulkier than usual, allowing great pictures. WOW, I never expected to have a good photo of such a secretive species, and Gloriela simply added another lifer to her list! Some Red-faced Spinetails and two Spot-crowned Woodcreepers also accompanied the flock, the same as both Yellow-winged and Brown-capped Vireos, the resident species of vireos in these forests. Reluctantly, we left the site in order to complete the loop, hearing Silvery-fronted Tapaculos and Black-faced Solitaires... but the best bird of the day was about to come. Suddenly, a red and green figure appeared right in front of us to perch in a nearby mossy branch, a male Collared Trogon! That was only my second sight of this bird (the first one more than 12 years ago) and a beautiful lifer for Gloriela! This trogon is not rare... but somehow have eluded me all these years. The red belly was specially contrasting and bright, and the bird stayed for a while inspecting us before flying away into the forest. Curiosly, we saw later an Orange-bellied Trogon (distant views of a male), but failed to locate a quetzal this time. Anyway, that Collared Trogon was gorgeous! It was a long day, and after 18 hours in the field, we finally arrived to our room in Volcan in order to rest for our next (and last) day in the highlands.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Post-carnival trip to the highlands. Part I

At last, the end of the first day of our swift trip to the Chiriqui highlands. I left Penonome (central Panama) with Gloriela around 3:00 AM today, in order for be birding early in the morning in several spots along the Concepcion-Volcan-Santa Clara road (Chiriqui province, western Panama's Pacific slope). Our first stop was at the entrance road to the town of San Vicente, where a small patch of forest survives along the junction of two creeks. A flock of Golden-hooded Tanagers was inspecting the bushes while a female Purple-crowned Fairy showed up for our delight. Despite it is not a rarity there, it is always nice to see this elegant hummingbird. But more interesting, an adult male Spot-crowned Euphonia perched in a bare branch for five seconds, enough to check its limited yellow crown. This species is scarce due to habitat loss in its former panamanian distribution. You will have to trust me on this one, since my photo only shows the complete yellow undertail coverts and the black throat, field marks that this species shares with the more common Yellow-crowned Euphonia, which have a more extensive yellow crown as its name suggests. Our next stop was the Macho de Monte river, entering through the town of Cuesta de Piedra. By the time we reached the place, it was quite hot, and the activity was low. However, we got a great collection of cool birds common of this habitat, including a male Golden-olive Woodpecker (photo), an Eye-ringed Flatbill (lifer for Gloriela), Buff-rumped, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee and Blackburnian Warblers and a Torrent Tyrannulet. The only hummer attending the flowered Inga tree turned out to be a Blue-throated Goldentail, a bird not seldom seen by any of us. We then passed the town of Volcan in our way to the town of Santa Clara. This part of the road crosses several patches of foothills forest and coffee plantations that sometimes are alive with birds. We stopped at a now-usual site with lots of Cecropia trees with fruits... and birds. One of the first to appear was a smart Tropical Parula. This delicate and beautiful creature checked actively every single fruit, surely looking for tiny insects to eat. There were also tons of Clay-colored Thrushes and at least one White-throated Thrush... but the main characters of that scene were the tanagers: Cherrie's, White-lined, Blue-gray, Palm, Golden-hooded and Silver-throated Tanagers were all feeding on the fruits in a kind of frenesi (my photo of the Silver-throated Tanager is of an individual on a banana feeder that we saw later in the day above Cerro Punta). It was around noon when we decided to return to Volcan, were we rest for a while (well-deserved) before heading to our next stop in the highlands: La Amistad International Park above the town of Las Nubes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Flycatchers, wrens and warblers in Metro Park

I went this afternoon to the Metropolitan Natural Park (Panama City) trying to find the Worm-eating Warbler reported by Osvaldo Quintero some days ago. I reached the place by noon, and in spite of the time, the activity was great. I didn't find my target (this time), but I still had a great time. The first thing I noticed was the noise: almost all the resident species were vocalizing and calling, many of them were with nesting materials in their beaks. Surely this is a busy season for them. I had the opportunity to have side-by-side views of two flycatchers species that are hard to identify: a Yellow-olive Flycatcher and a Greenish Elaenia. Both are superficially similar and share similar habitats, but you can notice the broad bill of the flycatcher and its pale iris. Also, both were calling, making easier for me the ID. Notice that both are carrying nesting material too. It was impressive the number of flycatcher species present in the Mono Tití trail (were I took all the photos): Southern Bentbill, Brown-capped, Southern Beardless, Yellow-crowned and Paltry Tyrannulets, Black-tailed, Ochre-bellied and Ruddy-tailed Flycatchers, just to mention a few! The Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher deserves a special mention... it must be the most handsome and cute of all the flycatchers in the park... just look at its face! It stayed still, curiously looking at me while I was taking the photos. Of course, I saw more than flycatchers. The forest by this time of the year is very dry, and many trees have lost most the leaves, making easier to watch the birds, including the skulkiers. I saw easily three wren species, but of course they were not easy to photograph. The Rufous-breasted Wren was the most active, but the beautiful Rufous-and-white Wren was the most vocal... you have to heard its loud and musical song to believe it! The Black-bellied Wren almost passed unnoticed, it was very quiet. It certainly have a black belly, but its white throat is very conspicuous in the dark interior of the undergrowth. Others skulkiers like antwrens, antbirds and antshrikes were also easy to see. And about the warblers, well... the site was excellent. In a same tree were Tennessee, Yellow, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted and Black-and-white Warblers... but then, a flash of colour caught my attention: a male Golden-winged Warbler joined the flock, showing its bright golden wing panel... sweet!
Not only that. After a while, I detected movement in some tangles away from the main flock. A quick look with my binoculars confirmed my initial ID, a Magnolia Warbler, my second individual for this season! My poor photos are at least better than nothing, and they show at least the gray breast band over the yellow underparts and the grayish face with a white eye-ring. I also noticed in the field the two white wing bars and prominent black streaks to the flanks.
Well, very good walk in the park... and I still have an excuse to keep visiting it (still need my Worm-eating Warbler for this season).

Photo safari in the savannah

Like many thousands of panamanians, I went with Gloriela, some relatives and friends to Penonome (central Panama) in order to relax and to enjoy the carnival, which is a serious celebration for most of Panama's population! Our house in the outskirts of the town was full and the responsability of being the host was heavy... but anyway we both manage to reserve a couple of hours in the morning to visit the savannah to the south of the town. Gloriela took most of the photos that appear in this post because I was driving, and I have to admit that she did a very good job (you will see). As usual, the place was excellent for raptors, with Roadside and Savannah Hawks, White-tailed Kite, a Bat Falcon and both caracaras in several sites of the road. The Crested Caracara is a fierce-looking bird with powerful flight, this individual was in the ground checking a bunch of dry leaves. Not too far, a Common Opossum, with its little cub on the back, was running away... probably the presence of the caracara had something to do with its hurry. The doves were well-represented there, with lots of Ruddy and Plain-breasted Ground-Doves all over the place, many White-tipped Doves and some Pale-vented Pigeons around... but the award for the most pretty dove is for the Mourning Dove. You only need to see its soft tones and subtle iridiscence to the neck, and that cute facial expresion to know what I mean.
They are quite shy, but we managed to approach one of them that was vocalizing... it was the first time that I heard this dove vocalizing in Panama, a soft call with three hollow notes, very low, almost unaudible.
Ridgely & Gwynne stated that this call have not been heard in Panama, but the new field guide by Angehr & Dean simply describes the call... doesn't mention nothing about how often it is heard. For a dove locally so common, I have to admit that it is weird that this is the first time that I heard it... probably the low volume plus its shy habits have something to do with this. We found most of the common inhabitants of this habitat, including many Fork-tailed Flycatchers eating a lot a fruit (and nop, none of these were Scissor-taileds... we checked them all). These masters of flight have a very distinctive trilling call that is a common sound in these fields. We also crossed several coveys of Crested Bobwhites, with one short-crested individual staying enough for a photo after crossing the road and a pair of Southern Lapwings inspecting a recently burned field. Very entertaining for a short photo safari through the savannah!