Tuesday, November 19, 2013

At the Caribbean side

For the last weekend, I joined my pals Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck and visited the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal, specifically the former Fort Sherman and the forests of the San Lorenzo National Park.  These area is quite varied in habitats, and rich in migrant species.  Our hope was to find some of these migrants, specially the rare or vagrants.
We started around the former Fort Sherman, and area with forest, mangroves, coast and grasslands... making it good for raptors.  The most common was (as its name suggest) the Common Black-Hawk, like the one pictured above.  We saw many of these hawks, most of them perched atop telephone poles.  We also saw Broad-winged Hawks, Yellow-headed Caracara, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel and a hovering Short-tailed Hawk in front of the marina.  This was a dark morph adult which, in Panama, seems to be as common like its white phase counterpart.
We decided to check a patch of forest behind the old church.  In previous visits, this site proved to be very good for migrants passerines; however, this time only the calls of the White-tailed Trogons were evident.  Eventually, we managed to see four trogons... some of them allowed great photos, like this female showing the undertail pattern.
Of course, the undertail of the adult male is completely white.  My photo shows this field mark... although the bird was a little bit far away.
Then, we visited an historic point of this former US base: the Toro Point Lighthouse.  Notice the structure resembling vaguely the Eiffel Tower... that is because this lighthouse, built by the French in 1893, was designed by Gustav Eiffel!
Shortly after I took the above photo with my phone, it started to rain.  We decided to wait at the marina restaurant, where we had our breakfast with a deserved cup of coffee.  After a while, we left the restaurant and decided to leave Fort Sherman because the activity, in general, was very low.  We drove through the Gatun spillway and dam, entering the forests of the San Lorenzo National Park and, eventually, into the road to the town of Achiote.  This road is famous in the birding world... but we arrived late in the day.  We only heard some Blue-black Grosbeaks and Chestnut-mandibled Toucans in the distance.  Some movements in the shrubs by the bridge turned out to be some kind of snake.
I have to admit that I know nothing about snakes identification... and after lot of searching in internet, I'm still confused with this one.  Perhaps a Yellow-bellied Racer?  It recalled me a Salmon-bellied Racer that I saw some years ago in this area too.  It was more or less 6 feet-long and very quick!
We entered the town of Achiote, birding the forest borders and the pasturelands surrounding it.  The only highlight was the above Rufescent Tiger-Heron.  It is unusual to find this species in the open in Panama; although in South America is commonly found in similar habitats.  However, my favorite bird was the lonely Killdeer that we found in the baseball field.
This uncommon migrant is unmistakable, and the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal seems to be a regular wintering site.  Well, probably not the day with the highest number of birds recorded or with the rare or vagrant migrants we were expecting... but very entertaining anyway!

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