Thursday, April 26, 2012

Around Penonome

Every time I go to Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama), I try to wander around, taking photos not only of birds, but of every interesting stuff I can find... however, this is a bird-photos post from Penonome.  I traveled with Gloriela, Gabrielle and some relatives, starting around the "finca", in the outskirts of the town, where Gloriela's dad have a cabin surrounded by fruiting trees, including many papayas trees with mature fruits.  It turned out to be a natural feeder for a big bunch of Red-legged Honeycreepers, including several males in alternate plumage (very colorful).
Around the cabin, a little creek surrounded by a not-so-tall gallery forest holds several pairs of Blue-crowned Motmots.  I already posted a rationale about calling these birds Whooping Motmots... they have a distinctive voice; however, the AOU do not recognizes the split, neither the Panama Audubon Society.
We then visited a stretch of the mighty Zaratí river, in a place called Barrigon.  The rapid-flowing river in this part is bordered by huge barrigon trees (Pseudobombax sp.),  with some understore... a perfect habitat for this Cocoa Woodcreeper, despite we usually think on this bird as a forest inhabitant.
Back to our house, even the live fence have its own birds.  The only antbird present in this part of town is the Barred Antshrike.  This species exhibit a strong sexual dimorphism, the male is totally barred white and black, while the female (pictured here) is rufescent.
The White-tipped Dove is very common (but quite shy)... its voice is a familiar sound of the coclesian savanna... reminiscent of blowing through a bottle.
Well, it is always nice to wander around Penonome!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Memories of a great trip

Click here to enlarge into an interactive map
In retrospective, the experiences during my last birding trip to northern South America were simply overwhelming! It is not everyday that you have the chance to visit THREE different birds-rich countries... and with friends! My great friend and birding companion for ALL the trip was Rafael Cortes, who organized most of it. Above is a map with some of the sites that I visited in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador during my three-weeks trip... click on it in order to open an interactive map with Google Earth, where each site have one or more links to a specific post in this blog. Lets talk about some numbers: 18 days of pure birding, nine flights in total (including the 15-minutes flight connecting Maturín and Puerto Ordaz in Venezuela), many different type of habitats, ranging from savanna to paramos, wetlands to lush cloud forests, llanos to amazonia... and more than 500 birds species!
Scarlet Ibis in the colombian llanos
We saw such emblematic birds like Bogotá Rail, Harpy Eagle, both Guianan and Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks, both White and Bearded Bellbirds, Andean Condor, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, Toucan-Barbet, Cream-colored Woodpecker and many more!
Harpy Eagle
But one group of birds deserves a special mention... we saw in total 63 different hummingbirds species! Some of the gems included in our lists were Racket-tailed and Festive Coquettes, Black-bellied and Green Thorntails, Crimson Topaz, Rufous-breasted Sabrewing, Purple-throated, White-bellied and Gorgeted Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird, mind-blowing Velvet-purple Coronet and Giant Hummingbird.
Velvet-Purple Coronet
Not only birds... the trip was also rich in mammals, including four monkeys species, two agoutis, Boto (Amazonian River Dolphin), Prehensile-tailed Porcupine, Tayras, Báquiros (Peccaries), many tracks of big cats, and so on...
Common Squirrel Monkey
(Playa Guio, Guaviare, Colombia)
And all sort of critters, ranging from poison dart-frogs, to tarantulas and even giant earthworms!
Do Giant Antpittas eat giant earthworms?
(BellaVista, Ecuador)
I'm pretty sure that time will pass before I have the opportunity to make such a big trip again... what a memorable experience!

Rafael and Jan Axel with the Antisana Volcano as background

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A bonus life bird!!!

The very same day that I left Panama in order to begin my birding trip to northern South America, I received a phone call from my friend Osvaldo Quintero (I was already in Colombia).  During a routine visit to Costa del Este (Panama City), he watched at least four American Avocets at the mouth of the Matías Hernández river.  Can you imagine?  The target bird of ALL those field trips to the Aguadulce saltponds (Cocle province) and now it was merely 10 minutes from my apartment in Panama... but I was in Colombia!!  OK, after my arrival to Panama (18 days later), I took a day to catch up with Gloriela and my daughter Gabrielle... but the next day I took all my family to a quick visit to Costa del Este.  I tried first the river itself, watching a big flock of Black-necked Stilts, but alas, no avocets (bonus Lesser Yellowlegs in the photo).
Most of the previous records for Panama describe one bird accompanying a flock of stilts... but it seems that this was not the case in Costa del Este (more than one bird and definitively NOT with the stilts).  I moved to the mouth of the river... watching first a group of Southern Lapwings yelling at me.
By the bridge, I saw two foreign birders inspecting the beach.  I introduced myself and started the search of the avocets with my binoculars.  With surprise, I found a group of seven American Avocets resting quite far away... so I called Gloriela (with Gabrielle) to see the birds as well.  Steve and Jackson (the foreign birders) already saw the avocets... but they were more interested in the Southern Lapwings (they don't have these plovers in New Jersey), completely unaware of the genuine rarity of this bird in Panama.
They kindly left Gloriela and me to use their scope... the views were excellent and the excitement very hard to describe.  Well, after a mega trip with so many lifers, an extra lifer at your front yard is more than welcomed!
Daddy, I want to see too!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Birding Laguna La Maria

It was our last day in Guaviare department (Colombia), and already spend half-morning admiring the fantastic rocky formations at Sendero Puentes Naturales.  For the rest of the morning, our guides Luis Fernando ("Lucho") Galindez and Derly Blandon suggested to visit a trail known as Sendero Laguna La Maria, starting at San José del Guaviare, which passes through several habitats, including the shores of the mighty Guaviare river, and eventually reaching a tall forest.  We (Rafael Cortes, Mauricio Rueda and me) agreed, despite it was still an eight-hours drive back to Bogotá.
The crossed the first part of the trail with the car, inspecting the sand bars of the Guaviare river, seeing both Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, many herons, Yellow-hooded Blackbirds and a target bird for Rafael, a nicely patterned Pied Lapwing.  My photo is only for record purposes because the bird was quite distant.
We began to walk, watching several new birds for our lists (including my life list of course): Slate-headed and Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatchers, Turquoise Tanagers, Yellow-bellied Dacnis, many Great-crested Flycatchers, Red-stained Woodpecker, Gray Hawk and many more.  One of the birds we saw was a species that have eluded me so far in Panama (and elsewhere): a Little Cuckoo.  We saw at least two individuals of this smaller version of the common and widespread Squirrel Cuckoo (thought not so closely related).  In the photos you can see its red eyering.
Once in the forest, the activity was low... but the forest was very impressive and we only regret about not having enough time to explore it adequately.  
Mauricio and Rafael entering the forest
Anyway, we found a mixed flock with White-flanked Antwrens, Gray-headed Tanagers, a Chestnut-winged Foliage-Gleaner and a beautiful male Pink-throated Becard... however, it was the impressive Long-billed Woodcreeper who stole the show!  An individual stayed more than 15 minutes, allowing many photos.  This species is half-way between the scythebills and the more "normal" woodcreepers.
We got a nice surprise during the return journey along the same trail.  At a bridge, we stopped to watch some mixed activity, when Lucho noticed that something was watching us... a sleepy Prehensile-tailed Porcupine was no more than three meters above our heads!  It is unusual to find one of these during a birding trip (actually, during ANY trip).
We still had a date in downtown San José del Guaviare: Lucho's wife invited us to have lunch in their house... and it was simply excellent.  After a wonderful extended weekend in Guaviare, we had to say good-bye to our new friends, with the promise that we will return... and I'm looking forward to it!  In the long way back to Bogota, I kept inspecting the fields (we were crossing the llanos after all), resulting in my last lifer of the trip: a magnificent Buff-necked Ibis standing right next to the road (compare with the Black-faced Ibis we saw in Ecuador).  What a great bird to close my huge list... and what a GREAT TRIP!!!  

Geological curiosities of the Serranía de la Lindosa

After an exciting second day in Playa Guio (Guaviare department, Colombia), for our last day we visited a nearby place known as Sendero Puentes Naturales (natural bridges trail), part of the Serranía de la Lindosa.  We entered the trails passing a bridge over a very nice creek.  
The area is of Precambric origin, similar to some areas that we visited in Venezuela (specially the "mirador"); however, this place exhibited some VERY curious rocky formations, with funny names as well.
Jan Axel in the chair
Jan Axel in the bed
Just like the sign indicated, the habitat transition was quite evident, from bushes and scattered trees, to a secondary, more dense forest and finally a high canopy forest.
We walked through a dense forest, with rocky soil... and thanks God our guide Luis Fernando never told us the moment when we were crossing the "Puentes Naturales"... it was only when we started to descend that we realized that the "Puentes Naturales" are narrow rock corridors (bridges) formed thanks to the erosion produced by the river over millions of years... easily these formations (three bridges actually) are suspended over 30 meters or more!
Puentes Naturales
Under the Puentes Naturales
Over the Puentes Naturales
As you can see, there are many things to see and experience in this world!  And the day was not over yet!
From left to right: Luis Fernando Galindez, Rafael Cortes, Jan Axel Cubilla and Mauricio Rueda

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Finding "El Payaso"

The group of birders conformed by Rafael Cortes, Mauricio Rueda and your blogger host were already taking a well deserved rest at our cabin in Playa Guio (Guaviare department, Colombia), after an intense walk through a variety of habitats in the morning.  I decided to spent the rest of the afternoon birding close to the cabins, along with Mauricio and our guide Luis Fernando ("Lucho") Galindez.  The strategy was to take some chairs of the dinning hall and to wait in a nearby patch of forest.  This turned out to be a good choice since we spied many species of birds just standing quiet and waiting.  Again, a two Black-fronted Nunbirds appeared from nowhere, very close to our feet... I think they had a nest close... but we didn't look for it.
While seeing a flock with antwrens and woodcreepers passing by, we started to hear soft blows against a trunk... surely some kind of woodpecker.  Mauricio moved slowly, trying to find the source of the sound, while Lucho and me stayed watching the flock.  Then, Mauricio desperately tried to gain our attention, whispering our names as loud as a whisper can let you (surely he didn't want to scare whatever he was trying to show us) while taking photos.  We hurried to reach him... and there it was: a glorious Cream-colored Woodpecker above our heads!  First we saw its back... but then the bird turned its head almost 180º, showing its conspicuous red cheeks!
This bird was the main reason why Rafael wanted to visit this place... our main target, the créme de la créme... but wait a second... Rafael was not with us... he was taking a nap at the cabin, some 50 mts away!  I ran to the cabin, crossing a field while yelling his name (certainly I looked like a mad man).  Rafael hurried to dress up and ran to the site I was pointing to him... however, once there, the bird was gone (as usual).  A pair of Purple-throated Fruitcrow was a consolation prize... but you know that feeling of frustration when you see a MEGA bird and your friends do not?
We returned to the cabin, while Lucho returned to San José del Guaviare.  We were seated in the balcony of the cabin when two birds landed on the tree right in front of us... two Cream-colored Woodpeckers!!!  And this time, Rafael was with us... watching, enjoying, photographing the birds!  Both male and female were feeding with fruits... the female (without red in the head) was more confiding, letting us to approach quite close in order to take more photos.
The excitement was so that nobody cared about the Spot-breasted Woodpecker, nor about the male Scarlet-crowned Barbet that were feeding close to the woodpeckers tree.
The male Cream-colored Woodpecker was a little more shy than the female, always staying high, always in the move and in the shade... however, I managed a couple of good shots.  Those red cheeks are the reason why the locals call him "payaso", meaning clown.
I can't imagine a better way to call a day... not only we saw a spectacular bird, but also my frustration became joy because Rafael saw his dreamed bird! 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

More habitats, more birds

Canoeing along the Caño Negro creek is not the only way to reach the Laguna Negra... you can drive to some touristic cabins at the shores of the lagoon, passing through more degraded habitat, cultivated fields and gallery forests.  That's why we decided to walk that route during our second day of birding in the department of Guaviare (Colombia), with Rafael Cortes, Mauricio Rueda and our guides Derly Blandon and Luis Fernando Galindez.   The cultivated fields were full of birds, including many Bare-faced Ibis, Little Blue, Cocoi and Capped Herons, Great Egrets a Limpkin and a very attractive Whistling Heron.
The road we followed runs along a gallery forest bordering the Caño Negro creek, and we saw some interesting species like Amazonian Streaked-Antwren, our third species of jacamar for the site (a pair of White-chinned Jacamar), many Cobalt-winged Parakeets and a noisy Black Caracara.  Its cries reminded me those of the Yellow-headed Caracara in Panamá.
The combination of habitats was so extraordinaire that we saw five vultures species during the walk (that also happened the day we saw Harpy Eagles in eastern Venezuela), including these Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures (adult on top, immature below in the first picture) and Turkey Vulture of, perhaps, the resident subspecies considering its pale nape (of course, the others birds seen were Greater Yellow-headed, King and Black Vultures).
An interesting fact: we didn't only saw both Black-tailed and Black-crowned Tityras... we saw both of them excavating nests in different sites along the trek!  Also saw Cinnamon Attila, Bare-necked Fruitcrow and a pair of Gilded Barbets.
Once at the touristic cabins, we had some cokes and rest a little... the heat was barely bearable.  While comfortable seated, we enjoyed some birds around: both Ruddy and Blue Ground-Doves, more White-winged Swallows, Black-capped Donacobius, Shiny Cowbirds, and a familiar bird for me in the form of of a Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet calling constantly.
We returned to Playa Guio, watching mostly the same birds we had in the morning, plus hearing the call of a Green-backed Trogon.  To be honest, it sounded to me exactly like our White-tailed Trogons back in Panama, despite the differences in voice were part of the arguments to separate these two species (we saw later a pair close to our cabins).
As soon as we crossed the Caño Negro creek, a flock of Maroon-tailed Parakeets landed over a palm tree and stayed for a couple of minutes, allowing great views and photographic opportunities.  Notice the flash of color in the closed wing... very evident at flight.
Great way to spend most part of the day... after a late lunch we decided to stay around our cabin in a wait-and-see fashion... and it worked