Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Misty day in Cerro Azul

Last saturday's forecast was clear: cloudy and raining the very first hours of the morning, then sunny all the day... so Osvaldo Quintero, Itzel Fong and your blogger host took our cameras and binoculars and headed to the gated community of Cerro Azul, in the foothills to the east of Panama City, just one hour away at slow pace.  In fact, the site was pretty cloudy, with a light drizzle accompanying us all the way... we waited for the rain to stop... and waited... and waited.
Luckily for us, we were waiting at Birders' View and, in spite of the fog and the rain, the birds were quite active, including the hummingbirds visiting the feeders, like the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer pictured above.  This is just one of nine species that we saw that day, including beauties like Purple-crowned Fairies and rarities like Brown Violetear... but for me, the most special hummer was the Violet-capped Hummingbird.
The reason is simple: this bird is almost completely restricted to Panama, barely reaching northwestern Colombia (to add this species to your Colombian list would be an almost impossible task), and also the only member of the genus Goldmania.  Its green shine is special, the same as its chestnut tail.
The light was awful to photograph hummingbirds, so we used flash.  Depending of the angle, the final result can vary, as you can see in these photos... anyway, what a beautiful jewel this hummer is!
The Violet-capped Hummingbird is near-endemic to Panamá, but the Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker is a national endemic... and we saw a female close to (but not with) a mixed flock of tanagers.  First, obscure, distant views.
Minutes later, the bird appeared much closer to us, and with better light, so I got at least a decent shot showing most of the distinctive features: the pale stripe through the cheek, pale blue eyes, rufous primaries, and so on...
Hey, not every day you see a Panamá endemic!  However, the foggy day still had surprises to us.  In the way out we checked the Altos del Frente circuit, finding nothing more than Clay-colored Thrushes and Mealy Amazons under the drizzle.  Then Osvaldo spotted a raptor perched on a pine tree.  Evidently, the day was not good enough to have this Swallow-tailed Kite furrowing the skies!  To see one perched is quite unusual.
The last bird we enjoyed appeared like a ghost in the middle of a rushing stream.  A rare Fasciated Tiger-Heron barely stayed enough to get this marginal photo.
Curiously, this is only the second time I see this bird in Panama.  The first time was exactly in the same site and under similar weather conditions!  It seems that this bird likes the misty days... as I do now!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Why did the bobwhite cross the road?

It was the typical morning of a random weekend at our house in Penonomé (Coclé province, central Panamá).  The quiet neighborhood, the smell of coffee in the air, and the fresh breeze... everything was perfect.  My mother-in-law was in the kitchen, overlooking the neighborhood's main street when suddenly she said "look those fat ground-doves".  Gloriela went to the kitchen and, after a quick glimpse, she shouted "those aren't ground-doves, but bobwhites!  Jan, bring your camera!"
And there they were, a covey of nine Crested Bobwhites nicely walking in front of our house, using the sidewalk by the way!  These birds (our typical "codornices") are common residents in the savannas of central and western Panamá, including the fields around our neighborhood in Penonomé.  In fact, I already posted a photo of a bobwhite calling from the live fence surrounding the neighborhood.
After a while, they simply decided to get to the other side of the street.  They can run quite fast!
We watched them for 10 minutes or so, they were doing bobwhite stuff, like if they were in the middle of a field... they did't seem to be distressed... they simply were there!
That's all what I need to start well a day, a cup of coffee and a covey of bobwhites!

Friday, June 7, 2013

A beautiful Owl

Sometime ago, I went with my family to El Valle de Anton to show them some of the local attractions, including the zoo.  Personally, I don't like zoos... but someone told Gloriela that they were exhibiting owls, and both Gloriela and Gabrielle love owls!  I have to admit that I enjoyed the visit... until we found the owl... simply a sad sight, locked in a tiny cage, evidently depressed if I can use this term in this case.  You can see the poor Striped Owl in the next photo if you enlarge it.
Slightly frustrated, I proposed to myself to show them a wild Striped Owl in all its brilliance, free in the nature.  Thanks God, Osvaldo Quintero facilitated my task yesterday when he texted to me that a pair of these beauties was resting on a tree in Parque Omar, right in the middle of the city.  I went right away with Gloriela and Gabrielle... but it was already dark when I managed to crossed the city in the peak hours of traffic jam... and the birds were not there.  We returned this afternoon... and the birds were there!
They are by the tennis court.  You can't enter there, but the owls can be perfectly photographed from the fence, as we did.  The place keeper told Osvaldo that the birds appeared more or less ten days ago.  My photos has nothing to do with Osvaldo's pieces of art... the birds were in backlit and the day quite cloudy.  However I was glad to see my two girls watching an owl as it should be!
I didn't see any cavity in the tree, nor any courtship display or anything alike... probably they were only resting... simple like that!
Thanks Osvaldo for sharing this with us!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mata Ahogado's tanagers and more

Our trips to El Valle de Anton almost alway include a short visit to the tiny town of Mata Ahogado, seeking for species typical of open habitats or dry forests... and our last trip was not the exception.  With Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael and Montse Luck, Itzel Fong, Domiciano Alveo and José Alberto Pérez, we drove through Mata Ahogado using the new road to Altos del María, reaching a nice border of a montane forest.  A soon as we started to search the trees, we noticed a flock of very active birds, skulking low but sometimes perching fully exposed.
As you can see, these Dusky-faced Tanagers were quite showy, allowing nice sightings and photos.  They were lifer for some of the group.  It was evident that the action was about to start.  A huge mixed flock was about to pass very close to us.  Mostly tanagers, including Plain-colored, Flame-rumped, Common Bush and Silver-throated Tanagers.
I only managed to got silhouettes shots of the Tawny-crested Tanagers accompanying the mixed flock. At least the tawny crest is the main attraction in an otherwise all-black bird.  They liked to stay in the dark.
Among the non-tanagers species accompanying the flock were White-ruffed Manakin, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Scarlet-thighed and Blue Dacnis and a pair of Tawny-capped Euphonias.
After seeing a distant pair of Blue-throated (Emerald) Toucanets, we left the place in order to have lunch in El Valle, but first, we saw some White-lined Tanagers right in Mata Ahogado, along with more common species like Blue-gray and Flame-rumped Tanagers.
Only the tanager-like bill distinguishes this bird, since the white is not evident when perched.  By the end of the day, in El Valle, we saw more White-lined Tanagers, including this male feeding a young bird in a huge garden in The Millionaires Street.
Can't wait to visit this area again.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Birding El Valle de Anton with friends

El Valle de Anton is a picturesque town located in the crater of an extinct volcano in Cocle province of central Panama.  A couple of weekends ago, Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael and Montse Luck, Itzel Fong and your blogger host went to this lovely town to bird the surrounding forests.  We usually bird the Cerro Gaital Natural Monument, but this time we were accompanied by two local experts: Domiciano (Domi) Alveo and José Alberto Pérez.
First, we followed them to Las Minas trail, crossing some patches of forest, then pasture land and then forest again (plus breathtaking landscapes).  It was roughly a two hours walk, full of a mix of lowlands and foothills, forest and open land species.  For example, this singing Thick-billed Seed-Finch was side-by-side with some Eastern Meadowlarks and Black-striped Sparrows.
While a little farther we found a flock of noisy Black-chested Jays, singing Pale-vented Thrushes and White-breasted Wood-Wrens.
We followed the trail through another patch of forest, and then to second growths were the activity became better, with Yellow-olive Flycatcher, both Black-headed and Buff-throated Saltators, a colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas with a pair of Piratic Flycatchers, Yellow-billed Cacique and the first of many White-lined Tanagers.  We moved to the entrance of the road to Rio Indio, where the general lack of birds was compensated with amazing close views of a pair of Orange-bellied Trogon.  We saw first the female with her catch in the bill (I posted the photos of the male here).
After birding the forest above Mata Ahogado (that's the theme of another post), we had a typical lunch in town.  By then, it was cloudy and raining already, but we decided to visit the Cara Iguana trail anyway.  In spite the we just drove for 5 to 10 minutes, the forest was completely different, just like the birds.  This is a drier area, and we saw or heard Lance-tailed Manakins, both Rufous-and-white and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Long-billed Gnatwren, Scrub Greenlet, Rufous-capped Warbler and many more.  Then I saw a weird figure high in a tree... with my naked eyes I thought it was a termite nest, but with my binoculars it was evident that the figure was a wet Spectacled Owl drying out!
We saw this majestic beast for a while only to realize that this bird was guarding a young one perched very close to us.
How different they are!  That was an excellent way to end this trip, and I'm pretty sure is not the last time we visit El Valle de Anton!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bird of the Month: Orange-bellied Trogon

The Orange-bellied Trogon (Trogon aurantiiventris) has one of the most restricted ranges among the trogons, found in foothills and highlands forest from Costa Rica to central Panamá.
Like others members of this family, these birds spend most of their time perched quietly, and are frequently overlooked due to this habit, except if they are vocalizing.  These birds have characteristic calls that are one of their most important field mark actually.
Important field marks are also the color of the orbital ring and the undertail pattern.  They exhibit sexual dimorphism, as you can see here.  Usually the females are duller overall, sometimes exhibiting different undertail patterns as in this case.
We can't talk about the Orange-bellied Trogon without talking about a close relative: the Collared Trogon.  Both species are sympatric (except in central Panama where the Collareds are absent) and share similar niches. Beside the color of the underparts (red in the Collared Trogon) and minor differences in tail pattern, these two species are very similar, including their voices.  Some authorities consider the Orange-bellied as a localized color form of the Collared, but until now they are both considered full species.
For these, and many other reasons is why we chose the Orange-bellied Trogon as our bird of the month!
Literature consulted:
1.  Angehr G, Dean R.  The Birds of Panama.  A Field Guide.  2010.
2.  Ridgely R, Gwynne J.  A Guide to the Birds of Panama. 1993.
3.  Remsen JV, et al.  A classification of the birds of South America. AOU. Version 20-may-2013.