Saturday, October 29, 2011

One mile from the coast

The news of a male Painted Bunting close to the beach of Juan Hombron in the coast of Cocle province (central Panama, Pacific side) took of us for surprise... it is a very rare migrant in Panama, with just a handful of reports in the last years. It was a potential lifer for Rafael Luck, Osvaldo Quintero and for me, so we left very early Panama City this morning, reaching the entrance to Juan Hombron around 8:00 AM. Close to the entrance, we found one of the discoverer, Danilo Rodriguez, guiding a birding group. He gave us some hope, we knew that it was going to be a hard task. The road to the beach runs through rice fields, pasture land, residential areas and few patches of dry forests... each with a different set of birds. The rice fields and adjacent areas were flooded... both with water and birds! The sight of hundreds of herons of several species and, more important, a big flock of 30 or more Glossy Ibis, among lapwings and jacanas was pretty amazing. A Great Egret stayed very close to the road... probably it was wounded, but we didn't see any sign of lesions. We also saw several Solitary Sandpipers... not so solitary. At least three of them were sharing the same spot in a patch of rice. Most of the birds we saw were common species, but anyway, it was very entertaining. As usual, the birds of open habitats are easier to photograph, and sometimes you have very close encounters, like the one we had with this Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture inspecting us curiously from his fence post. We passed the sleepy town of Juan Hombron and, eventually, reached the beach. Only a distant fishing boat was passing by, followed by many Magnificent Frigatebirds and some Brown Pelicans. We checked very well every small flying dot because you never know what to expect there (a Peruvian Booby was seen last year in that place). We did not stay so long at the beach, we drove the road back to the entrance, but not for long. Just as we were told, at one mile from the coast, we found the patch of dry forest where the Painted Bunting was first seen. We did not find the bunting... but the place was full of migrants! Sometimes, it was hard to point out a single bird among the hordes passing by. The warblers were well represented, with Tennessee and Yellow Warblers as the more common, but also finding at least two male Prothonotary Warblers (not together) and two Blackburnian Warblers to add some color to the scene. By far, the most weird of the migrants we found was a Gray Catbird. The catbird is not uncommon in general, but in this part of the country is almost unknown! It stayed just enough for a couple of photos... not the best photos ever, I have to recognize, but at least the characterstic slim silhouette and the general gray color is quite evident. Perhaps, if you enlarge the photo, even the chestnut crissum is aparent. Well, we failed in finding the bunting... but it was an excellent day of birding anyway!

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