Sunday, October 16, 2011

One-day expedition to Darien

Darien is the easternmost, largest and less developed province of Panama, with a rich biodiversity, including hundreds of birds species. And now it is not indispensable to organize a huge expedition to remote areas to enjoy it... as you will read, it is enough with one day! The last weekend of september, I left Panama City the friday's afternoon with Rafael Luck and Osvaldo Quintero toward the town of Meteti, in central Darien. We only did few stops along the way, including some spots around the Bayano bridge, finding a female Cerulean Warbler with a mixed flock and a nice Crimson-crested Woodpecker drilling a hole in a dead trunk. In Meteti, we contacted our local guide, Daniel Santos by recommendation of Venicio "Beny" Wilson who told us about the several new birding spots along the Panamerican highway and the highlights he found recently (you can read it on his report to Xenornis). A very early breakfast the next day in town (with tons of House Sparrows waiting for the breadcrumbs) and we were ready for action. We picked up Daniel along the way and immediately he showed us the first birding spot: a marshy area beyond the town of Betzaida. The place was alive with birds, with both Smooth-billed and Greater Anis inspecting the bushes, Cattle Egrets following -you guessed it- the cattle, adult and juvenile Purple Gallinules inspecting the rushes and a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks flying over the marsh. We also heard the first, of many, Gray-breasted Crakes, but they were hidden in the thick vegetation. We drove a little farther to the east and took a side road with the entrance marked by a cow's skull. Immediately, in the dirt road we saw several Red-breasted Blackbirds very low, the males exhibiting the rather dull non-reproductive plumage, and a Cattle Tyrant walking in the open. There are few reports of Cattle Tyrants from Darien, including the very first one for Panama in Cana many years ago, so it was a delightful find. Each time we approached the bird, it flew to a low tree by the side of the road, where it looked like a kingbird. We visited exactly the same site at least four more times and we found the bird each time in the same place. The tyrant was not the only highlight of that road. We also saw several Pied Water-Tyrants, one (probably more) Spectacled Parrotlet and a White-tailed Kite eating a lizard, but the best was about to come. Close to the entrance, we heard the characteristic tinkling song of several Gray-breasted Crakes. Osvaldo started to play the call with his i-phone and then an adult Gray-breasted Crake came to the open for five seconds to inspect us!!! A HUGE lifer for me and for Rafael, who managed to took the photo I'm showing here. You can't imagine how many times I have been close to singing individuals without having a glimpse of the bird! Very happy with the encounter, we drove back to the first marsh, when suddenly, I spotted a bird atop some bare branches next to the road... a male Yellow-hooded Blackbird!!! Osvaldo took a quick blurry shot of the bird from inside the car, but the blackbird didn't wait for the rest of us, and flew very high in the distance. This species is a recent addition to Panama's list, but it was Beny who first reported it in that part of the province. It was not a lifer for me, since I saw a male a couple of years ago in El Real (farther east), but it was for Rafael and Osvaldo. It was around 10:00 A.M. and the sun was very high and hot already. We drove back towards Meteti, picking up along the way some interesting species like Spot-crowned Barbet, Orange-crowned Oriole, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and a nice Striped Cuckoo singing its heart out. We stopped at a little marsh outside the town of Nuevo Bijao. It was tiny, VERY close to the highway and the place was so hot that we had little expectatives. But then Daniel saw a male Yellow-hooded Blackbird flying just over the marsh just to drop into it suddenly! Only Daniel saw it... but it was enough for us to spent a couple of more minutes inspecting it. Despite the heat, we started to see and hear nice birds eventually. Inspecting the distant trees at the edge of the marsh, we discovered a lonely Limpkin perched quietly quite low while an adult Pearl Kite was trying to escape of the trio of Tropical Kingbirds harassing him. We heard both Gray-breasted and White-throated Crakes side-by-side and saw a bunch of migrant Orchard Oriole and Yellow Warbler. But the real surprise came later. At the edge of the marsh, we got a pair of Black-capped Donacobius preening! Despite the distance, the amount of white, both in the tail and wings, was pretty obvious. After asking for permission to the owners of the adjacent ranch house, all of us climbed up (OK, some crawled) the barbed wire fence to have closer looks. With the aid of Osvaldo's i-phone, the birds approached enough to have excellent views (but not excellent photos as you can see). These birds are unique, and the show they perform while duetting is amazing! However, while enjoying the Donacobius, we did saw several males Yellow-hooded Blackbirds flying over the place... I even saw one perched among the tall grass for few seconds after it landed. We left Nuevo Bijao and visited the Fundación Vida Nueva at the entrance road to El Salto. The foundation keeps an extensive forest which harbors many Darien specialties... but it was almost noon when we reached the place, and the only birds we saw were Collared Aracaris, Black-chested Jays and a pair of Black-cheeked Woodpeckers (the "USE BOOTS" sign is justified, the trails were VERY muddy). We left Daniel at his home and left Darien after an excellent birding, with a huge list full of eastern Panama specialties and after spending only one morning!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jan -
    Excellent blog - thanks for sharing all your photos and adventures. Wondering if you have a suggestion - going birding the Darien in December with Ancon Expeditions. I have the day before in Panama City and would like bird in Metropolitan Park. I need a guide for the morning, that knows the birds in English and can help me get on them.
    Know anyone interested in some guiding?
    I could meet them at the park early a.m.
    Thanks and Good Birding.
    Evelyn (near St. Louis, Missouri)