Once, most of the lowlands in the western Pacific of Panama was covered in lush humid forest, with characteristic flora and fauna shared only with Costa Rica. Today, it is gone... except for some scattered patches, most of them not large enough to accommodate its original biodiversity. That's why, the Panama Audubon Society (PAS), and some of its members, started to buy the last remaining patches of considerable extension in the Burica Peninsula, along the border with Costa Rica, a place known as El Chorogo.
I joined Bill Adsett and Antonio Dominguez in a trip to those forests, looking for those specialties not found away of the Burica Peninsula in Panama and taking advantage of the carnival free days. Getting there is not easy. You have to drive all the way to the town of Puerto Armuelles (at least seven hours from Panama City), and from there, to the towns of San Bartolo Linea and San Bartolo Limite. This first part of the trip is through a considerable flat terrain and very degraded habitat, pasture lands, riverine bushes and tiny gallery forest along the 15+ river crossings.
|White Ibis and Snowy Egret|
This is a bird rich area, with many waders and waterbirds along the shallow rivers, and raptors and flycatchers elsewhere. Notice for example the flock of White Ibis and the Snowy Egret feeding along the San Bartolo river (above), or the very attractive Northern Jacanas that were pretty common.
Among the waders we found several flocks of Least Sandpipers, scattered Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers, some Greater Yellowlegs and, surprisingly, a pair of Killdeers too.
|One (of two) Killdeer along the San Bartolo river|
Eventually the road becomes hilly, away of the river. There are plenty of flowering and fruiting trees and patches of secondary forests... and many birds too! The species are different from those seen previously along the road, and includes some western specialties... those species that survive in these degraded habitats. In a random stop, I heard a thrilling call similar to that of the common Red-crowned Woodpecker. A quick search resulted in a pair of the rare (for Panama) Golden-naped Woodpecker. My distant shots don't make them justice... I promise better photos in my next post!
There are only few records of this species from the western foothills (none recently) away of the Burica Peninsula. Eventually, we saw several pairs in this habitat before reaching the forests of El Chorogo, and only one pair in the forest itself. Other species that is doing well in these patches is the Fiery-billed Aracari. They are still common both in lowlands and foothills of western Panama, but they are so beautiful that you never get tired of seeing them!
Bill left the car in a ranch at San Bartolo Limite. From there, we took the horses. While waiting for the horses and for our local guide Armando, I started to explore the surroundings. The first trogon species (Gartered) was calling from the woods, while many migrants also said present: Tennessee, Yellow, Chestnut-sided and Blackburnian Warblers, Philadelphia and Yellow-throated Vireos and several Ruby-throated Hummingbird!
The activity was furious, and more and more birds started to appear: Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, Orange-chinned, Brown-throated and Crimson-fronted Parakeets, hordes of Red-legged Honeycreepers and Thick-billed Euphonias. Then, I saw a small bird flying atop a nearby tree. Bright red underparts and throat, blue head and green back: a male Painted Bunting! This was a life bird for me, certainly not in my radar because is very rare in Panama. Great way to start! Then, we rode the horses uphill (2.5 hours to the forest), stopping at some patches of flowered Inga trees attracting tons of hummers: more Ruby-throateds, many Blue-throated Goldentails, some Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, a lonely Charming Hummingbird and the first White-crested Coquette for the trip (a female). In one of these patches, Bill found a pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars.
In that patch of secondary forest, the last before a huge pastureland bordering El Chorogo, Bill mentioned that they used to see the localized Costa Rican Swift. The Costa Rican Swift, a recent split from the Band-rumped Swift, was one of my main targets for the trip (with Tawny-winged Woodcreeper) and I was about to have my first chance to find it. So, before getting to the open, I started to search the sky through the canopy... finding some swifts flying above our heads!
I hurried to the open, where a flock of eight Costa Rican Swifts were flying and chasing each other, sometimes against the dark background of the forests of El Chorogo allowing great views. I have to admit that it was not until I saw the whitish, large contrasting rump patch when I declared them my long-desired lifer!
Notice the body and wing shape. This species is larger than the Band-rumped Swift (of central and eastern Panama), with a more contrasting pale throat and a distinctively shaped pale rump as you can see in the pictures. Notice that in the area the common swift is Vaux's Swift, which we found previously and later. Notice the cigar-shaped body and the wing shape of the Vaux's Swift.
Of course, none of the above birds had the contrasting pale rump of the Costa Rican! Three days later, we were unable to find the Costa Rican Swifts again in our way back from El Chorogo, so I feel extremely lucky of having the opportunity to see (and photograph) this species in Panama. Two lifers in the bag, and we had not even reached El Chorogo!
|Golden-naped Woodpecker (male)|
|Golden-naped Woodpecker (female)|
|Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male)|
|Rufous-tailed Jacamar (male)|
|Costa Rican Swift|
|Costa Rican Swift|
|Costa Rican Swift|
|Costa Rican Swift|