Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Very short visit to Metro Park

The Metropolitan Natural Park of Panama City is absurdly close to my home, ideal for rapid visits, which I did last saturday, february 25th, in company of Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck (who was celebrating his birthday). My idea was to stay only a couple of hours, checking the trees at the entrance of the Mono Titi and La Cieneguita trails, and the bushes and trees close to the "vivero", both areas reported by Osvaldo as being quite good recently for mixed flocks visiting the fruiting "indio desnudo" trees. In fact, the trees were attracting tons of resident and migrant birds, but not as many as the previous days according to Osvaldo. However, we were delighted by the visitors. Most of them were flycatchers, the most dominant were the Streaked, Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers (file photo from another place in Panama City), but also we saw (or heard) Bright-rumped Attilas, Tropical Kingbirds, Common Tody-Flycatchers, Southern Beardless and Paltry Tyrannulets and so on...
We also got many migrants, specially in a mixed flock passing at the opposite site of the trees, containing Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, Yellow, Protonothary, Golden-winged and Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Waterthrush and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Close to them, a pair of Blue-crowned Motmots and a Squirrel Cuckoo gave some colors to the picture.
Walking towards the "vivero", the fruit feeders (actually bananas fixed in the fence) attracted Palm, Blue-gray, Plain-colored and Crimson-backed Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreepers and many Clay-colored Robins, but we focused on the pair of Masked Tityras that was working the "indio desnudo" tree right above our heads.
It was a very nice ultra-short visit to the park, but my visit could not be complete without seeing the resident Yellow-backed Oriole singing as loud as it is possible and remembering me why the Metro Park is one of my favorites.
Happy birding!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back to the coclesian lowlands!

After spending most of the morning at the chilly foothills of Cocle province (central Panama) and having a refreshing bath at Las Yayas (both above El Cope), Rafael Luck, Luis Isaza and your host decided to have lunch in the lowlands around Aguadulce, and that was how we change from misty cloud forest to very hot scrubs, savannas, saltponds and the Pacific ocean in less than one hour!
We crossed the Aguadulce Salinas (saltponds), that were essentially devoid of birds, directly to El Salado beach and town, where we did saw some interesting species despite the midday's heat. Interesting in fact was the Bananaquit that we found in the garden of a house, because we also saw two of them earlier in the morning accompanying a mixed flock in the cloud forests above El Cope, and now it was alone in a desert-like habitat... how amazing is that!
We enjoyed a delicious fried fish with smashed green plantains in a restaurant close to the beach, a most for every visit to this part of Panama, and now a tradition for me and Rafael. In the way back, we saw some shorebirds and waders in a little pond, so we decided to took a side road to have a better look.
The number of Black-necked Stilts was amazing, these elegant birds are always welcomed to our day lists. The ponds proved to be like an oasis in the middle of a desert for many birds, including several heron species, Greater Yellowlegs, several groups of migrants Blue-winged Teals, Wattled Jacanas, and so on...
Others species typical of this habitat were both Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras, distant White-winged Doves, Plain-breasted and Ruddy Ground-Doves, Groove-billed Anis, Pearl Kite, and a Common Black-Hawk that left me take this series of photographies showing him perched on a telephone pole, taking off and then landing on the wires.

You can see the rufous-colored flight feathers that supposedly separates this form (known as the Mangrove Hawk) of the Pacific coast from the "real" Common Black-Hawk of the Caribbean coast (in Panama I mean). Nice way to end a day full of contrasts and birds!

Las Yayas

After visiting the General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park (El Cope National Park for some) last monday, february 20th; Rafael Luck, Luis Isaza and your host decided to visit a popular place in the town of Barrigon: Las Yayas falls. It is only 20 minutes above El Cope (where the asphalt road ends) in a quite good gravel road. Here, members of the community, in association with government agencies, have adapted the place for visitors, both natives and foreigners.
The entrance fee is derisory, enough to pay the maintenance of the place. You start to walk down the slope through some steep stairs while hearing the running water in the bottom of the forested canyon and reading the interpretative signs.
At least two different legends explain the name Las Yayas, both include mysterious, beautiful young ladies who were occasionally seen bathing in the crystalline waters by the natives... and "yaya" is a local name for young lady. We soon reached the first group of falls, in the bottom of the canyon. We couldn't resist to have a cool dive and to experience the strength of the falling water over us.
However, the main falls were some steps up away. The families that decided to spent their carnival's monday in that place were bathing under the big falls (please don't let the sculptural model distract you of seeing the falls).
Time to know Panama don't you think?

High above El Cope

The General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park is located at the central foothills and highlands of Cocle province (central Panama), above the towns of El Cope and Barrigon, that's why it is simply known as El Cope NP sometimes. After having fun in Penonome during the first two carnival days, I went to this park with my friend Rafael Luck, and his guest Luis Isaza, last monday, february 20th (third carnival day). It is roughly one-hour away from Penonome, with good asphalt road all the way to El Cope and then a quite good gravel road to Barrigon. It is in Barrigon, after the elementary school, when the road becomes steep and deteriorates, making to have a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle a need.
The contrast between the dry, hot lowlands and the fresh, greener hills of El Cope is evident, but when you actually enters the national park, it is like entering a different world: exuberant cloud forest covered in mist and a very chilly temperature with the occasional rain shower. From behind the park rangers' cabin, both towns down in the valley look so distant.
There are many trails to walk within the park. We chose La Rana trail, which is a 2 km long, narrow trail which eventually joins the trail to La Rica, making a loop. It is quite steepy in places, but crosses several creeks and is quite good for forest interior birds, but the day was so misty and chilly that we almost saw anything at all. A pair of Slate-colored Grosbeaks, some Spotted Woodcreepers and a Gray-breasted Wood-Wren were the only ones that did showed up (though we heard many others).
It was gratifying to see the exit sign; however, it only marks the middle of the journey... you still have a long way up until you reach again the main road close to the park facilities. At the Visitors Center, we took a rest before entering another loop trail, Los Helechos. It was a good idea, because a mixed flock was working the trees next to the Center. We enjoyed the sight of Hepatic, Silver-throated, Speckled, Emerald and Bay-headed Tanagers along with Shining and Green Honeycreepers, Bananaquits and a Pale-vented Thrush.
Los Helechos trail is much shorter than La Rana, and it also crosses a beautiful creek in its lower part (around 600 meters above sea level). There, we found the bird of the trip: bathing in a tiny pool, a gorgeous male Snowcap showed us why it is so sought after in this place. The little beauty perched close to the bridge and started preening itself... in the darkness of the trail its snowy white cap and tail flashed like reflectors! It was too dark for photos, but somehow Rafael managed to took these pics which show the bird (first without flash... shows a small dark hummer with white cap; the second was with flash, revealing the amazing purple color of its body... both images are copyright Rafael Luck).

We decided to follow the main road in the car,. all the way to El Calvario, the highest point of that road. That part of the road is only for the brave ones, with huge boulders and slippery mud all over, but the view of the distant Caribbean lowlands and the magnificent forest-covered mountains is worth the bumpy ride. The ride back down slope is scarier than the way up, but Rafael managed to brought us healthy and save back to the civilization.
A very nice trip for a carnival day, and a very special site, with the most beautiful forests of Panama!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

South of town

I just want to share with you some pics from the savanna south of Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama). It is a special habitat, and it is always amusing to crossed it. I started at the airstrip and took a dirt road running all the way along the fence, each post of it was tipped with a Red-breasted Blackbird, an Eastern Meadowlark or a Fork-tailed Flycatcher!
The dry landscape soon became more wet when I reached the shores of a huge artificial lake in the middle of the savanna. I know the lake was part of a huge development that did not progress.
The open areas with short grass had Cattle and Great Egrets, hundreds of Barn Swallows (both flying and perched), Southern Lapwings and at least two Killdeers.
A marshy area was the home of a group of Purple Gallinules, both shiny adults and duller immatures; however, only the immature stayed enough for photos. In the open waters I only saw a Least Grebe... no ducks in the lake, which is weird considering the big group present in a nearby, much smaller lake which I saw some weeks ago (here the entry).
Only a short trip to a wonderful area, but the trip can not be completed without seeing the icon of this habitat: a magnificent Savanna Hawk posing for photos (this time an immature).