Sunday, May 19, 2013

PAS Fieldtrip to Altos del María

Last month, the Panamá Audubon Society (PAS) organized the annual fieldtrip to the foothills of Altos del María.  This gated community, located in the foothills of western Panama province, gained relevance few years ago when the birders started to report western species not readily found in the mountains just to the east (Altos de Campana) or to the west (El Valle for example).  Surely it has something to do with the great accessibility to higher and well preserved cloud forests.  Alfred Raab, an Altos' resident, guided a group of 14 PAS members through these forests during this two-days trip.  However, Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck, Itzel Fong and your blogger host only participated the first day.
After meeting in the town of Sora, we followed the group to our first destination, a spot close to the Valle Bonito's gate where we saw/heard some common species.
The Common Bush-Tanagers were, indeed, common.  We crossed several flocks, sometimes mixed with others foothill tanagers, like Silver-throated and Black-and-yellow Tanagers.  The form present there is of the distinctive subspecies punctulatus, recognized by its dark head and brighter orangish breast.  Also notice the distinctive shape of the post-ocular dot.
This Lineated Woodpecker was very cooperative and entertained us while we were waiting for the main attraction.
After some minutes, we found the specialty of the area: at least two males Snowcaps were around, stoping often in some skinny branches too far away for photos, but enough for terrific views through my binoculars.  The white crown is an special feature, readily evident in my poor photo.
We moved to higher forests, around 1000 meters above sea level.  It is obligatory to take a photo with the Picacho peak in the background, as Itzel did with my phone camera.
It was a little cloudy but fresh... and we found lots of activity.  More tanagers flocks, both Thick-billed and Elegant Euphonias, Olive-sided Flycatchers, and one (or more?) Rufous Mourner that seemed to be following us.
Notice how foggy it was in the above photo... however, the weather proved to be quite unpredictable up there.  Two seconds after the above photo the sun showed up (an also the butterflies and moths).
We followed Alfred through some roads and trails.  We crossed a Canopy Lodge birding group and found many others beauties like White-ruffed Manakin, Black-faced Grosbeaks, and even a male Green Thorntail seeking for insects under the leaves of a tree.  Itzel was lucky enough to get some photos that she posted in her blog.  A highlight was a paved trail all the way to the continental divide, where we saw more typical birds... including the local subspecies vividus of Tufted Flycatcher, which is less brightly colored than the subspecies in western Panama (but brighter than the birds of eastern Darien).
This trail runs along a mountain creek and offers the ideal habitat for my nemesis: the Dull-mantled Antbird.  In fact, its spanish name say it so: Hormiguero Guardarribera, with guardarribera meaning something like the one that guards the bank.  A lovely trail for sure!
Guess what!... it is still my nemesis bird in spite of Alfred attempts to lure out one of them. It was a great trip anyway, full of MANY others special birds (including that Orange-bellied Trogon that I missed), but I'll return for my Guardarribera! 

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