Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Still looking for THE heron

It seems that the only thing we did last month was to look for the vagrant Whistling Heron reported elsewhere by Kevin Easley et al.  And last weekend was not the exception!  However, this time accompanied by Rafael Luck, Osvaldo Quintero and his son-in-law Joaquín, we stopped first at some marshes just east of Panamá City, the former Tocumen marshes.  Like other days, we found the typical avifauna of these habitats, but dip on the heron again.  Well, nothing to sorry about because we knew it was very unlikely to find the bird so far away of the original spot, but we did have a nice day photographing all sort of birds species, including HUGE numbers of Wood Storks, Neotropic Cormorants all over the place (see the photo above), and many Cocoi Herons, like the one pictured below.
These marshes are also very good for raptors, and we saw or heard Roadside, Common Black and Gay-lined Hawks, plus Pearl and White-tailed Kites too.  This one was perched close to the road allowing some photos.
The site is the only reliable one for Yellow-headed Vulture close to the city, and we found at least three individuals resting close to the road.
We found no less than six Ringed Kingfishers in one stretch of a creek... soon we realized that they were nesting in the sandy banks.  This image remind me the photos of bee-eaters at their colonies... after all they are related.
We went to the spot near Chepo, but the day was hot and we only found more birders trying, unsuccessfully, to relocate the heron... so we called it a day.  The next day, I joined Karl and Rosabel Kaufmann and, very early, went to the spot near Chepo.  Though we had a good day, we were not able to relocate the Whistling Heron.  We checked miles of dirty roads, finding more Wood Storks and a beautiful Capped Heron sharing the pond with one of the storks.
Again, we saw many raptors, like Roadside and Great Black Hawk, White-tailed Kites, and several pairs of American Kestrels.  Again, notice the absence of spots in the underparts... probably the same individual we photographed some weeks ago in the same spot.
New for our list of the site was this Bat Falcon perched in some wires.  It allowed us to approach closely, a very cooperative bird.
Well, I don't know if the Whistling Heron will be found again... but that area surely will reveal many surprises in the future!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In search of THE heron. Part II

As I wrote before, a Whistling Heron, the first for Panamá and North America, was reported from the outskirst of the town of Chepo a little more than a week before.  After a first attempt last saturday, I decided to stay in home for the rest of the weekend.  However, Venicio "Beny" Wilson called me the morning of last sunday to see if I was interested in joining him and Christian Gernez in a new search for the heron... my answer: of course!
We saw a nice collection of birds of prey again, including the Roadside Hawk pictured above.  They are simply well-named!  This time, we drove directly to the site of the first sighting... passing first by a this beauty:
WOW!  What you think?  It is not the most gorgeous heron ever?  The Capped Heron is restricted to eastern Panamá, and is quite uncommon.  Also, is kind of related to the Whistling Heron that we were looking for... good sign, eh?
Sorry, I simple had to post another photo of this heron.  In fact, this is another individual.  Notice the slightly duller color of the bare parts of this particular individual.  In spite of that, it is still gorgeous.
In fact, we saw three different birds, including one in the very same place where the Whistling Heron was found.  That bird came flying and landed close to the site, disappearing instantaneously due to the overgrown vegetation.  Might it be possible that the Whistling Heron was still in the site and not to notice it?
While waiting, we saw another interesting heron in the site, a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron working in a ditch.  Depending of the angle, also it was disappearing in the tall grass.  Although not completely unexpected, this was also a nice find for the site!
The same was for this Pearl Kite.  Quite common in the area, we saw a pair vocalizing close to us.  This species also came from South America and now is well established in Panamá... the same as the next species.
Yes, the Cattle Egrets aren't native of Panamá, not even of America!  But, as you can see, they are doing extremely well... this individual is showing the bright bare parts indicative of its breeding season.  The heronry is very close the site of the sighting, surely this individual has its nest there (photos of the heronry here).
Did I mention that we saw all three species of anis, including this Smooth-billed Ani?
Again, we spend a terrific day out in the field looking for THE heron... the total list for the two days ascends to 109 species... not bad for pasture lands and marshes!      

Monday, July 22, 2013

In search of THE heron. Part I

There were some clues in the air... something really important was happening to the east of Panamá City.  But in spite of all my suppositions, I never thought that it would be a NEW species for the country and North America!  The news were published in various social media and in Xenornis a week ago.  A Whistling Heron was photographed and videotaped in the outskirts of the town of Chepo, 30 minutes east of Panamá City by Kevin Easley and others.  This is an extraordinaire record, since there are no known populations of this beautiful heron close to the Panamá border in Colombia.  Two distinct populations exists, one in the llanos of Venezuela and eastern Colombia (where I took the next photo, that I published elsewhere); the other, in the open lands of Bolivia to northeastern Brazil and Argentina.
So far, some resident birders visited the place after the first report, but the heron could not have been relocated.  So, accompanied by Rafael Luck, Venicio "Beny" Wilson and Itzel Wong, I went last saturday in search of it.   After checking maps of the area, Beny chose the route, following the old road to Chepo from the town of Palo Blanco, crossing pastures and degraded habitat, but also many gallery forests along creeks and rivers supporting species typical of wetter habitats.  That is so, that in our first stop we found a Rufous-breasted Hermit... essentially unexpected for us.
Others unexpected finds were Brown-hooded Parrots, Gray-headed Kite and this Gray-lined Hawk, nicely perched atop a dead tree.
However, the most common birds were those typical of open lands and marshy areas.  In fact, we checked many marshes in the middle of huge pasture lands, and we were glad to see again some species restricted to this type of habitat.  For example, this Pale-breasted Spinetail was very cooperative, calling from exposed perches and even showing the reason of its name.
And who can't be glad of finding Pied Water-Tyrants?  This elegant bird is restricted to the eastern part of the country, and always is a great bird to see.
And what about the heron?  Well, eventually we found the very same perch where the Whistling Heron was photographed.  The tree was a preferred perch for many species in the surroundings, including  Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Little Blue Heron and Great Egrets.  We waited and searched all around, but the heron was not there.
To be honest, we were quite optimistic, considering that the area is huge, full of adequate habitat... it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.  However, we kept searching... only stopping for a quick meal in town.  That habitat was also excellent for birds of prey.  Besides those already mentioned, we saw other seven hawks and kites species, including this majestic Savanna Hawk.
We also saw (or heard) four falconids, including three pairs of American Kestrels.  Formerly only a winter visitor from northern latitudes; now, South American subspecies have been established in our fields.
Notice the completely lack of spots in the underparts of this beautiful male, characteristic of southern subspecies.  Well, we didn't find the heron... but have a lot of fun looking for it!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The heronry close to Chepo

Chepo is an agricultural town located 30 miles to the east of Panamá City, and is the capital of the district bearing the same name.  It is surrounded by pastures, rice fields and marshes, making this site attractive to a great variety birds.  For many years now, an heronry exists just outside of town, mostly with nesting pairs of Cattle Egrets, but also some other species.  We usually don't stop at this spot; however, today was different.  Accompanied by Rafael Luck, Venicio "Beny" Wilson and Itzel Fong, and at the end of our birding day (more on it in another post), we notice the intense activity at the heronry when leaving Chepo.
It doesn't matter how many Cattle Egrets you have seen... you MUST stop if you see something like this!  Those bright colors of the bare parts were simply beautiful!
Well, only a minority exhibited those bright bare parts, but all the birds had the orangish tones typical of breeding birds (completely white outside breeding season).  At least one hundred nests were visible, many with chicks begging for food.  Look at those chicks... any doubt these beast were once dinosaurs?
The second most common species was the Anhinga.  We saw at least ten nest, each with a male or female on it, some with chicks.
The males also exhibited bright bare parts around the eyes... simply beautiful!
We also saw three nests of Great Egrets, but there were probably more species nesting in the site, since the heronry extend beyond our field of view, but we stayed only for a while.  We did another stop at a nearby pond after noticing an Amazon Kingfisher by the road.
The kingfisher was only the appetizer... the pond was full of life, with Green Herons, Snowy and Great Egrets, many Black-billed Whistling-Ducks and Southern Lapwings, Wattled Jacana, Black-necked Stilt and a flock of resting Wood Storks.
Common species?  Right... but interesting anyway! 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Starting a new balcony list

I don't know if I invented this, but a balcony list includes all the birds species you're able to see or hear from your balcony.  It's different to a backyard list because is not limited by the size of your garden; instead, it depends of how good your field of view is from your balcony.  My former balcony list reached 53 species... amazing considering that this was my former balcony view:
I say "former", because since two weeks ago, this is our new balcony view:
Yes, after more than five years, we moved to a new apartment in a newer and safer area of Panamá City, with many parks and recreative areas, wide avenues and many facilities... also it is larger than our former apartment... and did I mention that we also have a closer view of the Metropolitan Natural Park?
So far, I have recorded 36 species (plus an unidentified hummingbird... probably Sapphire-throated, but not sure).  Curiously, the last bird we saw in our former apartment was the first we saw in our new apartment: Gray-breasted Martins.
I don't know how many years are we going to live at our new place, but something is for sure... I'll try to exceed my former balcony list!