The mountains of the Tabasará range, in western Panamá, are physically (and ecologically) separated of the main Talamanca range by the Fortuna depression, making this an area of subespecific and especific endemism. Most of the intact forest is restricted to the higher altitudes and to the Caribbean slope of the range, with very few, if any, good roads accessing it; and all the area is included within the indigenous reserve of the Ngöbe-Buglé people, making this area quite difficult to visit. That's why, when I received the kind invitation of William Adsett for visiting this region for the weekend, I said "YES!" immediately!
After joining Charles Davies in Panamá City, and Dan Wade in the town of San Félix in Chiriquí province, we drove the improved road up to the mountains, passing the Ngöbe town of Hato Chami and exploring partially the new road to Llano Tugri, finding some low elevations birds and then returning to the main road. This paved, well-maintened road reach its highest elevation (little more than 1700 meters above sea level) in the western slope of the Cerro Santiago massif, to then run along the Continental Divide between the former provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro (now the Ngöbe regions of Nedri and Ñucribo, respectively) for a couple of kilometers.
|Road over the Continental Divide|
Leaving the paved road, we followed the dirt, pot-holed road to the Ngöbe town of Ratón, passing by the infamous Cerro Colorado and through very nice patches of forest, home of most of the endemics species and forms of the region. Our home for the next three nights was a rustic cabin right in the Continental Divide, in a site known as Buena Vista (well-named, it means good look).
Our hosts were the Pineda Montezuma family, owners of the cabin and the land surrounding it, and interested in conservation issues. One of its member, Jorge, accompanied us during the birding outings... and the birding was good! That night, we had great views of a calling Bare-shanked Screech-Owl right by the cabin!
Now you can see why this bird is named that way (shank is the lower part of the leg). This bird was quite rufous, a color not appreciable in my shots due to the low light conditions. The first day, we birded a trail going to the Caribbean side, finding some interesting species... like this beautiful male Orange-bellied Trogon.
In the forest, we crossed a nice mixed flock with Spangle-cheeked Tanagers, Slate-throated Whitestart, Barred Becard (range extension), Brown-capped Vireo (range extension) and Three-striped Warblers.
We followed a river through degraded habitat, finding some other birds, but we were surprised by the lack of life in the river itself... until we reached the highest part, with furious rapids and many fallen trees and logs. Charles found two American Dippers and a Torrent Tyrannulet, rivers dwellers typical of the highlands creeks and rivers. I watched them for some minutes... and I can state that it is always amusing to watch American Dippers. It is incredible how comfortable they are in the water!
A light drizzle accompanied us during our return journey to the cabin. Of course we saw endemics... but that is theme of other post!