Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013's Top Ten

Well my friends, the year is about to end, and it is time to reflect and give thanks for all the good things that brought us this year.  For me, 2013 was full of great birding and non-birding moments... trying to list them all is impossible, so I chose the ten best moments to share with you.  

10.  Finishing my specialty in Gastroenterology and Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, after six years if I include those years studying Internal Medicine... it is said that physicians never finish studying.
09.  Moving to our new apartment, in a newer and safer area of Panama City with more green areas.  I already beat my previous balcony list... so far I have recorded 89 bird species from our new apartment!
08.  Finding my long desired Silver-throated Jay above El Respingo, thanks to my friend Ito.  Getting a  life bird in Panama is harder each time!
07.  The exceptional birding day at the former Tocumen marshes with my pal Osvaldo Quintero, finding eight duck species (including my life Northern Pintail) plus two vagrant Long-winged Harriers, among others.  Here a link to my eBird checklist with photos.
06.  Meeting and sharing with young gastroenterologists of the Americas in Cordoba (central Argentina) during the Course of Gastroenterology and Digestive Endoscopy for Young Gastroenterologists (september 6th).
05.  Celebrating our 5th anniversary... 5 years full of joy and happiness... I'm a very lucky man!
04.  My strenuous trip to Cerro Pirre (eastern Panama), full of endemics and range-restricted birds, but also extremely physically-demanding given the short time available.
03.  Finding recently a Bonaparte's Gull in Panama City's waterfront.  Not a life bird, but an extremely rare vagrant to Panama and a great addition to my country list!
02.  Finding the Argentina's endemic Salinas Monjita thanks to my friend Jorge Martín Spinuzza (avespampa.com).  Certainly the most memorable trip for the year, full with life birds and endemics... and possible only thanks to Jorge's kindness.  I'll be eternally grateful and hope to one day give back the kindness.
01.  Seeing my little Gabrielle excited after finding her gifts under the Christmas tree in the morning of December 25th.  PRICELESS!
HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014!  These were my best moments for 2013... what were yours?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bird Alert: Bonaparte's Gull!

Do you remember the Bonaparte's Gull that appeared last month in Costa del Este (Panama City)?  Well, it is back!  While returning home after Gabrielle's birthday party, I received a phone call of Osvaldo... he was seeing THE gull, this time in Panama Viejo.  He went after the gull with Rafael Luck thanks to the advice of Itzel Fong de Tejeira, who found the bird yesterday (her photos here).  After organizing some things in home, I volunteered to take home my nephew Michael, who lives passing Panama Viejo, conveniently!
The place was full with gulls.  Among them, some Franklin's Gulls were resting among the most numerous Laughing Gulls.  This species is an uncommon winter resident for Panama.
Following Osvaldo's directions, I found the bird after few minutes searching.  It was standing alone in the mud, away of other gulls.  The size difference was quite evident.
This is a beautiful, delicate gull.  I'm not an expert ageing gulls... considering the dark brown carpal bar, the dark band on secondaries and the black tail band (as you can see in Itzel's photos), I suppose this is a first-winter bird.
The Bonaparte's Gull is a vagrant to Panama, with only six previous records (including Rosabel's) around Panama City and the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal area.  It is not a life bird for me, since I got some at the Niagara Falls some years ago, but is an absolutely GREAT addition to my Panama list!
Thanks guys for sharing the information!

Happy B-day Gabrielle!

Our little angel, Gabrielle, turned two last friday, december 27th, and to celebrate we had a small family reunion to wish her a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Now, the official party was today in a busy mall close to home.  Gloriela did her best to make everything look perfect!
Everyone had a great time... by the way, the place was beautiful Gloriela!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We wish you a Merry Xmas!

May the peace and blessings of Christmas be yours; and may the coming year be filled with happiness!
Are the sincere wishes of the Cubilla - Archbold family.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Shorebirding for the CBC

It is December and, as usual, I'm participating in the Panama Audubon Society's CBC (Christmas Birds Count), starting with the Pacific side of central Panama.  For a good number of years in a row now, my counting area consists of riverine habitats, coast, lagoons, open fields and patches of secondary forests around the localities of Farfan and Veracruz in the west side of the Panama Canal.  Both Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck accompanied me this year.  After many years participating in the counts now, I know that most of the targets birds for my area are raptors, waterbirds and shorebirds, specially those found primarily in rocky and sandy beaches (not in mudflats, as in Panama Viejo).
At our first stop, in the dike area of Farfan, we checked all the ducks swimming in the lagoon looking for the vagrant Cinnamon Teals reported some weeks ago, but all seemed to be Blue-winged Teals due to their contrasting pattern in the flanks and small bills.  There were huge flocks of waders in the lagoon as well, mostly Black-necked Stilts and, specially, Semipalmated Plovers, but also many Least Sandpipers.  We saw again the Least Sandpipers in an unexpected habitat in Veracruz beach, in rocks.
Notice the small size and the diagnostic yellow legs.  We checked this habitat through Rafael's scope, finding our targets.  In the next picture you will see at least three Surfbirds and some Ruddy Turnstones, plus others shorebirds like Willets, a Whimbrel and even a resting Sanderling.
We searched the sandy part of the beach looking for more Sanderlings.  Instead, we found a flock of 18  Collared Plovers running from one side to another, looking so similar to the sand that they were actually hard to pick up.  These plovers are delicate and beautiful!
We dipped on two targets: Wison's Plover and American Oystercatcher.  However, we ended with a very nice list of 120 species, 1926 individual, 35 kms and 7 eBird checklists for the morning!  We found our last shorebird away of the coast, a Solitary Sandpiper nervously inspecting a rain pool by the side of a road leading to a patch of forest.
See you in the next CBC!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Birding the Volcan Lakes

After a successful day in the lush montane forest above Cerro Punta with my friend Ito Santamaría, he and his father accompanied me to lunch in the town.  It was around midday and, surprisingly, the day was clear and hot... like a summer day in the lowlands!  Only the abundant Tío Chicho (Rufous-collared Sparrow) was heard behind the restaurant windows.  Just the previous day (as well like the entire week), the highlands were being hit by a cold front and heavy rain!
After lunch we drove to the town of Volcan, in the slopes of the Baru volcano.  This potentially active volcano is the highest peak in Panama, and bears its own national park.  From a lookout close to our destination (the Volcan Lakes) you can recognize the ancient lava flow where the town is located.
Baru volcano and the town of Volcan
By the time we reached the Volcan Lakes, it was hot and quiet.  The birding was pretty slow... however, we found an interesting mixed flock with many of the most common inhabitants of these forests: Slaty Antwrens, Plain Antvireos, Silver-throated, Bay-headed and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Smoky-brown Woodpecker and a pair of Red-faced Spinetails.
However, the most conspicuous members of the flock were the warblers, with the migrants Black-and-white, Golden-winged, Blackburnian and Black-throated Green Warblers along with the residents Golden-crowned and Rufous-capped Warblers... also with the smart Slate-throated Whitestart.
The lake itself had less birds than in previous occasions, but we saw most of the usual species, including three Lesser Scaups.  We followed a road in the car, stopping after noticing some activity in the shrubs.  For the first time I experienced the phenomena of an antswarm in these foothills.  The ants swiftly covered the road... and behind them we saw a familiar ant-follower for me (in the lowlands): Gray-headed Tanagers (file photo).
Other birds were following the ants, like Rufous-capped Warbler, White-naped Brush-Finch and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  It was a great day in the western highlands... and I'll look forward to come back!  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Target Birding: Silvery-throated Jay

Some years ago, a good friend of mine, Rafael Cortés, introduced me to the "target birding".  The concept, that he learned from the late Jesús Estudillo López, consists in selecting a list of interesting bird species, either by their beaty or rarity, and then organize specific field trips in order to find those species.  In this way, many other unexpected species will show up while you're looking for the desired one!
Why this introduction?  Well, because the bigger your life list, the harder it is to get new lifers... and my Panama life list is quite long by now!  So I made my wish-list and, in order to find the first species, I organized a quick trip to the western highlands of the Chiriqui province... specifically, to the agricultural town of Cerro Punta (pictured above).
There, my objective was the Silvery-throated Jay.  This species is endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and Panama.  In Panama, is very local... restricted to real primary forest above the town and so far only recorded (at least recently) along the famed Los Quetzales trail... entering through El Respingo rangers station.
El Respingo
A local guide and friend of mine, Ito Santamaría, helped me in my quest.  He knew exactly the right place where we could see our goal: a site known as Respinguito, about 2500 meters above sea level and two hours away of El Respingo.
Oh yeah!  There is the "Respinguito"
We saw some common species along the trail... but we were focused in the jays.  After more or less two hours climbing up and down through a lush montane forest, we finally reached the Respinguito.  Almost immediately, Ito heard the characteristic calls of a group of these jays.  The birds were working above the tall canopy, allowing only few glimpses... eventually, I got one individual in full light showing its conspicuous silvery throat and eyebrow and the metallic blue shine to the body... simply spectacular!
Eureka!,  Silvery-throated Jay!!!
The place was pretty dark for photos... and I only managed some record shots.  Actually, the two photos I'm  presenting here are the best ones.  Notice how slaty this species looks according to light conditions.  The birds turned out to be very curious... they (at least 10 noisy individuals) came closer to inspect Ito's pishing!
We stayed in the site for some 30 minutes, completely surrounded by the jays.  In one occasion, we were seeing one individual inspecting a little twig when a worm fell out to the ground.  The jay immediately followed it, landing just three feet from me!  What a great way to get a lifer!  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bird of the Month: Black-capped Flycatcher

The Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps) is an attractive and smart bird endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama, where I took all the next photos.  For an empid, this species is quite distinctive, with its dark cap and prominent eye-ring.
This is a high altitude species, breeding above 2000 meters in shrubby areas.  Also is quite vocal; in fact, sometimes is the first clue of the presence of the species in an area... specially when is perched atop towering trees at the borders of highlands clearings.
For these, and many other reasons is why we chose the Black-capped Flycatcher as our Bird of the Month!
Literature consulted:
1.  Angehr G, Dean R.  The birds of Panama. A field guide. Zona Tropical 1st edition. 2010.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

Well... after all in Panama we do not celebrate Thanksgiving Day... coincidentally, today is our Independence Day!  One day like today, but 192 years ago, Panama won its independence without shedding a drop of blood, putting an end to 320 years of Spanish rule.
Declaration of Independence.  Source: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independencia_de_Panamá_de_España
We celebrate this day with patriotism and pride, remembering our roots and customs, hearing "Marcha Panamá" (here played by the firefighters' band)... 
or wearing our typical dresses (here, Gloriela is using a "Sombrero Pinta'o" -Painted Hat- and Gabrielle is wearing a "montuno").
Gabrielle with a typical dress (and a drum) 
However, since we have many foreign friends that call Panama their second home, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!  Well, there are no native turkeys in Panama... but this close relative was found by Gloriela in her trip to Guatemala...
Ocellated Turkey
... and this Panamanian species looks pretty similar... only less fancy!
Great Tinamou

Monday, November 25, 2013

In search of THE gull

Two days ago, a Bonaparte's Gull was found in Costa del Este (Panama City).  Some birders were lucky enough to attend the alert and managed to watch the little gull standing in the exposed mudflats at the mouth of the Matias Hernandez river.  I was in Cerro Azul and was not able to reach the site in time, so I went yesterday to Costa del Este hoping to find the vagrant (only a handful of records for Panama).
The view of Panama City from Costa del Este is overwhelming.  By the time I arrived, some birders were leaving the place (including the same pals that accompanied me the previous day in Cerro Azul)... so I joined Rosabel Miro (who first found the gull) and George Angehr along the coast in order to approach a group of waders and gulls resting in the distance.  In spite of our search, we didn't localize the Bonaparte's Gull.  However, Rosabel found a Lesser Black-backed Gull among the abundant Laughings (digiscoped with Gloriela's point-and-shoot and Rosabel's scope).
The Lesser Black-backed Gull is a rare winter visitor to our coasts... always in low numbers (usually one), so we were happy anyway.  However, keep an eye for the Bonaparte's Gull, who knows where it will show up!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Great day at the feeders!

Yesterday, I joined Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck and Itzel Fong in a day-trip to Cerro Azul, the gated community in the foothills to the east of Panama City.  Our destination was Birder's View, known by its well-kept hummingbird feeders and lush garden attracting many species of birds.  At our arrival, we were attracted to the feeders... just like the tons of hummingbirds swarming around!
What a great spectacle!  Both White-necked Jacobin and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer (like the one above) were the most common species.  Those red feet are so distinctive among the Panamanian hummingbirds.  Other common species was the Snowy-bellied Hummingbird.  Notice the sharp contrast between the iridescent green breast and the snowy white belly.  They have an easily recognizable call, quite metallic in quality.
As I said before, Cerro Azul is the most reliable site (in the world) to find the near-endemic for Panama Violet-capped Hummingbird.  This bird is very special... and beautiful... the only member of the genus Goldmania.  With the right angle, these birds literally glow!
The same for this Crowned (Violet-crowned) Woodnymph.  Usually, it looks pretty dark... almost black, but then... PAM!  Shock of color!
Other common species at the feeders were the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Green Hermits.  In fact, one of these hermits was trapped inside the house.  Luckily, Carlos (the house keeper) rescued him and released it smoothly.
Some other regular species were present in lower numbers, like the Violet-headed Hummingbird (one of my favorites) and the stunning Purple-crowned Fairy.  This one looked like a stuffed bird!
The Long-billed Starthroat and the Green-crowned Brilliant made a single appearance, not enough for photos.  However, we did not lack subjects to photograph.  Not only hummingbirds were attending the feeders: Bananaquits, Green, Red-legged and Shining Honeycreepers were trying to slurp a bit of sugar water.  We even saw a male Yellow-faced Grassquit drinking at the feeder.
What a great day in the foothills!