Thursday, November 14, 2013

Birding the dry lowlands

Last weekend, I went with Osvaldo Quintero in a quest along the dry lowlands of central Panama's Pacific slope searching for migrants and some resident specialties for the area.  We left Panama City at dark, very early in the morning, and drove directly to our first destination: El Chirú, some 1.25 hours away in Cocle province.
Quite recently, El Chirú figured in the map as the most reliable site in Panama to find the scarce Grassland Yellow-Finch, represented by an endemic subspecies.  In fact, the only time I've seen this species in Panama was in this place some years ago.  Since then, the habitat has deteriorated, but still is a good place to find common residents, like Crested Bobwhites right in the middle of the dirt road, or flocks of Brown-throated Parakeets atop the introduced Eucalyptus trees (file photo).
This is an isolated population of Brown-throated Parakeets, and well could be considered a full species in the future (Veraguan Parakeet).  After a while, we moved to Juan Hombron, birding along the road that crosses rice fields, dry forest patches, and riverine habitat.  These patches of forest are very good for migrants in the appropriate season, and so we found Yellow, Prothonotary and Tennessee Warblers, Northern Watertthrushes, tons of Eastern Wood-Pewees and two pairs of Gray Kingbirds.
We found these kingbirds exactly in the same spot where we saw them last year, they are always welcomed.  We had the opportunity to compare this species directly with the ubiquitious Tropical Kingbird... and the longer flights made by the Gray Kingbirds after flying insects became evident.  It was getting hot quickly, so we left Juan Hombron and started the return way, stopping for beverages on route, and shortly in the town of Gorgona to check an artificial pond where we saw many Least Grebes (some of them hiding in the grass like the one in the photo - looking for nesting sites?) and heard a Gray-breasted Crake, which was a surprise for us.
Our last stop was Punta Chame.  This 10 km-long sand bar extends into the Pacific Ocean away of the mainland, and its varied habitats are very good for migrants and resident birds.  However, it was late when we reached the place and the activity was low.  We had lunch in town and moved to the beach.
As you can see in the photo, it was about to rain.  We enjoyed the view of the islands of the Gulf of Panama (Otoque, Boná and Estivá... the same I visited with Gloriela and Gabrielle one year ago).  From Punta Chame, these islands look very close to shore.  In the way out, we found this American Kestrel on a wire.
Sincerely, I can't tell if this individual is a northern migrant or a resident bird, since south american races of this species are colonizing Panama and are quite common now in some sites.  Migrant or not, this was a nice bird to end the day!

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