I spend the last Good Friday (april 6th) birding with my buddies Rafael Luck and Venicio "Beny" Wilson in extreme southwestern Azuero Peninsula of central Panamá, at the slopes of Cerro Hoya near the town of Flores. This was my second time in Flores, and I already blogged about it, because this spot is certainly the most accessible and easy site for seeing the endemic Azuero Parakeet!
Again, the Velasquez family received us, and Juan guided us through part of his property. This is not exactly parakeets' season, they spent this part of the year in the higher slopes, coming down by may and june, but we want to have a shot and, who knows, maybe see some others goodies for the area. The road going down Flores from the town of Mariato is simply spectacular, hilly, with great views of the rushing sea.
It is from close to Flores where you can see the forested slopes of Cerro Hoya... it is like a lost world in the middle of pasture lands... notice the fog and the rain covering the valley. The humid forest of Cerro Hoya holds some interesting species, some of them only present in this particular mountain range in the world!
Juan took us through a narrow trail that steeply started to raise over the flat terrain surrounding, entering humid forest after crossing a nice creek. The hike was a little bit exhausting for us, who were carrying photographic equipment. Eventually we reached a flat spot where Juan had seen before the endemic (for Panama) Brown-backed Dove eating of the fallen fruits of a palm tree... but again, this was not the right time of the year for seeing them.
However, the place was alive with the sounds of Orange-collared Manakins (only a record shot... shaking hands by the time we saw the manakins), we DID hear a pair of Azuero Parakeets flying-by upslope and heard (and saw) the characteristic double hoop of the local subspecies of Blue-crowned Motmot... which appeared to correspond vocally with lessoni, the Blue-diademed Motmot.
We walked more deeply inside the forest... the feeling of being in the middle of a tall, humid forest in Azuero is simply abstract! We even saw birds so typical of forest interiors that we barely believed it... as for example, a pair of White-whiskered Puffbirds (photo) and a Royal Flycatcher.
In the way down, we stopped for lunch at the watering place for the cattle, accompanied by a Slaty-tailed Trogon and a young Spectacled Caiman carefully watching at us. Circling above us were a pair of Short-tailed Hawks and, above them, a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle that we found later never has been reported for the Azuero Peninsula (I hope Rafael's photos are conclusive).
After the lunch, Juan guided us through the forest border at the lower slope of the hill. At one stop, we delighted ourselves with a mixed flock including Rufous-browed Peppershrike, two Tropical Gnatcatchers, a Yellow Warbler and a White-winged Becard. At the same time, a pair of impressive White Hawks were monitoring us, eventually getting tired of us and flying away majestically.
Then, Beny pointed towards some trees, evidently excited: a group of Critically Endangered "Azuero" Spider Monkey was passing by... I don't know how many, probably around 30 individuals, with many young ones, agile and gracefully were moving among the branches, sometimes stopping to have a look at us! What a great experience... this subspecies of the Central American Spider Monkey complex is severely affected by habitat destruction... and probably only two or three populations persists only in those forests!
In spite of the torrential downpour that struck us ultimately, we spend a VERY good time with Juan... and we hope to return back soon to Flores and Cerro Hoya!