As you may know by now, the Aguadulce Salinas (saltponds) are just 30 minutes away of our house in Penonomé (central Panamá). I took advantage of this proximity and visited the saltponds very early last sunday hoping to find interesting species closer to the road due to the low traffic at that time... and it worked.
As you can see, the diversity and numbers were awesome... and this is only a fraction of the flock! Can you see how many species were together in that pond? The Roseate Spoonbill was, by far, the most attractive bird... the pink shade comes from the food it eats: tiny crustaceans rich in carotenoids produced by the algae they eat as well. The Wood Stork is not exactly a beauty...but is extremely elegant when flying. I saw no less than 500 storks along the ponds... and amazing number at any season.
Most egrets and herons were fairly numerous as well, but not as the storks. The most common was the Great Egret as you can see in the first photo. Also recorded were Snowy and Cattle Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons. The Black-necked Stilts were abundant too... but they like to congregate in little, sparse groups all over the ponds. They are resident there (the only known breeding site in Panama), but the numbers increase with the arrival of northern migrants.
Despite migration has just started, the ponds were covered in migrant shorebirds and plovers. Thousands of peeps (including Western, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers), Semipalmated Plovers and both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs were feeding at the ponds. This Greater Yellowlegs shows the typical bicolored (paler to the base), slightly upturned bill, separating it of the Lesser Yellowlegs.
However, it was another migrant that surprised me. I found a resting group of Black Skimmers in a sand bar in the middle of a pond... not an unusual sight for the site, nor for the time of the year. Then, more and more flocks started to arrive directly from the sea... I counted 238 birds (at least)... all seemed to belong to the race breeding in North America.
Some other species were simply more conspicuous than in other visits... that was the case of the White-winged Doves. Restricted to the drier areas along the Parita Peninsula of central Panamá, this species is readily found along the street running parallel to the beach heading to the fishing town of El Salado. I found many individuals, some in groups of three to four birds, some vocalizing.
The last bird I found in the ponds was also the less expected. A basic-plumaged Red-necked Phalarope was swimming and feeding, bobbing its head nervously and allowing some shots. This species is mainly pelagic... that is, usually found away of the coast in the sea; but Aguadulce is a quite regular site to see this migrant. Well, what a great day at the saltponds!
P.D.: I count eight (8) different species in the first photo. How many do you?