Friday, April 26, 2013

Western highlands' endemic empids and pewees

The highlands of Costa Rica and western Panamá are a high endemism area for birds (and other wildlife), as we verified in our last trip to the Chiriquí highlands of western Panamá.  As you may guess, I'm going to write only about a though group of flycatchers, often hard to identify: empids (Empidonax ssp) and pewees (Contopus ssp).  Curiously, the next highlands endemics are very distinctive, easily recognizable... nothing to do with the northern species of impossible look-alikes!
See what I mean?  This handsome flycatcher is the Black-capped Flycatcher, found usually very high in the mountains.  Not the best photo, but the bird is gorgeous anyway.  Usually, you get more distant looks, like the one I got in my last trip above El Respingo of a bird perched and vocalizing high on bamboo.
The next species is distinctive in range.  The Dark Pewee is, certainly, very similar to other species both to the north and the south, but you can id it only by range.  No other pewee species in Panama (or Costa Rica) is as uniformly dark and large as this one.
A very typical pewee species, it always is found perched on an exposed high branch, waiting for the insects to pass... then catching them with a short fly and returning to the same branch.  This is a common sight in Chiriquí highlands... not like our next species:
Right!  The Ochraceous Pewee is a genuine rarity in the panamanian part of its range, found only in some very specific sites... absent in most of the apparently perfect suitable habitat up there.  Our guide, Ito Santamaría, heard and then attracted this couple to mere 3 meters from us at Los Quetzales cabins inside La Amistad International Park.
They were lifers for me and for Osvaldo Quintero (who first saw the birds just above our heads), a lifer that I will never forget!

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