Thursday, August 23, 2012

In search of Darien's specialties

The Darien province, in eastern Panama, holds a myriad of south american birds not found in any other site in North America (OK, that is using the boundaries of the AOU's North American Classification Committee).  And... it is not necessary to mount an expedition to see some of these birds, as we prove it last month.  The group of birders including me, Euclides Campos, Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck, were ready to obtain some lifers in spite of the short time available.
We stayed at Meteti, from where we headed very early in the morning (having breakfast on route) to the wet pastures east to the town of Betzaida.  At a marshy patch with long reeds, we found one of the targets of our trip: the Yellow-hooded Blackbird... and not only one, but many singing males, displaying in a courtship behavior.
The female is duller (considerably), but distinctive as well.  We saw both males and females flying outside the reeds to a nearby farm and vice versa.  The resident status of this species was confirmed some years ago in Darien (and North America), and is expanding westward.
At the same patch, we saw a singing adult male Large-billed Seed-Finch.  Also a south american "invader", this male was feeding a young partially hidden inside the reeds.  The young had a normal-sized bill.
This bird has been found westward into Panama province (once), but the Darien is still the only regular region for it in North America, the same as the next species: the Spot-breated Woodpecker, that we found next to the road.  The lack of red malar make this a female.
We moved to the east, closer to the town of Yaviza, to a patch of tall forest remaining along the mighty Chucunaque river.  The avifauna changed rapidly, with many species typical of humid forests present, like Barred and Black-breasted Puffbirds, Black-bellied Wren, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, both Crested and Black Oropendolas and even a noisy Red-throated Caracara that perched high above a fig tree.
After a while, we started our way to the road of El Salto, which crosses a nice forest, part of it protected by the Vida Nueva Foundation... however, we stopped on route in order to watch a Limpkin atop a tree.  They are not uncommon in this part of the country, but it is always great to have sights like this!
At the road to El Salto, we crossed several mixed flocks.  The biggest one included Yellow-margined and Yellow-breasted Flycatchers, White-flanked and Moustached Antwrens, White-shouldered and Plain-colored Tanagers, Tropical Gnatcatchers and more.  Then Euclides heard the call of one of my main targets: the Double-banded Graytail.  Soon, we were seeing three individuals (including one immature) of this Darien specialty... a life bird for me!!!
What a great trip... and we only spend half-day birding!  In the return journey, we made a short stop at the Elementary School in the town of Torti (eastern Panama province) where Euclides identified a group of 30+ Brown-chested Martins perched on a wire.  This austral migrant is seldom reported despite it is quite regular in this part of Panama.  Great way to end the trip!

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