Friday, June 13, 2014

My first wish list

Seeing the Least Bittern in Gamboa earlier this week after all these years birding in Panama (19 years so far) with my wife was a great experience.  As I mentioned in the previous post, this was not a lifer.  I saw my first Least Bittern maaany years ago in coastal Lima (Peru) and since then, I had seen many spectacular heron species, including Least and other bitterns... so, what's the big deal?
Pinnated Bittern in Guaviare (Colombia), where I also saw a Least Bittern
This bird was so important to me because it is part of my very first wish list of birds to see in Panama!  You make a wish list with those species (of birds, in this case) that you want to see in the near or far future in a specific geographical area (state, country, world).  And I did my first formal wish list 18 years ago, in 1996.  In fact, I still have that list with me... handwritten in spanish (back then I did not have my physician handwriting) and with a yellowish hue due to the years, I found it deep buried under some old notes and bird lists.
The second bird in this list is Least Bittern (Mirasol Menudo)
Reading it brought back fond memories.  I can swear I remember each of those observations.  If you read it carefully, you can infer that I was just beginning to see birds.  My wish list have some birds not considered rare at all (Mourning Dove for example) and some broad groups (like any macaw or any quail-dove for example) as well.  Each of those records is an anecdote... I have some to share with you.  When I wrote that list, I considered that the most difficult species to see in Panama would be the Grasshopper Sparrow.  In fact, I thought it would be impossible, since the endemic subspecies beatriceae had probably been eradicated from our territory by habitat destruction in the Coclesian savannah of central Panama.
Grasshopper Sparrow.  January 2012.
Then, two years ago, in a random field close to our house in Penonome, while birding alone I found a Grasshopper Sparrow that allowed great photos!  The news of the re-discovery of the once-thought-exctinct bird in Panama spread like wildfire and the bird was relocated by at least two different birding groups in the next week.  Want to hear another story?  Look at my list... there are still two spaces left blank.  One is Bobolink, the other is Little Cuckoo.  Back in April 1998, while participating in the Young Ornithologist Program by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Panama Audubon Society, I had a chance to see this bird.  The field trips for the program included a visit to Costa del Este, then a marshy area surrounded by a mangrove forest in the outskirts of Panama City.  At one point, one of the instructors (Dr. Robert Ridgely!) pointed a rare Spot-breasted Woodpecker to the group while, in the opposite direction, someone else (I don't remember who, sorry) pointed a Little Cuckoo.  In matter of seconds I weighted both options.  Both were in my wish list... the cuckoo was considered uncommon in the right habitat (including some areas in the Canal Area close to the city); in the other hand, the woodpecker was considered rare even in its usual range and only few reports for those mangroves (and none since then).
My life Little Cuckoo in Guaviare (Colombia)
Well, you know what was my choice.  After seeing the Spot-breasted Woodpecker, I ran in the opposite direction to see if I can catch the cuckoo... the bird was gone.  Since then, I've seen the woodpecker on six occasions in Panama, and I have not even had a chance to see the cuckoo!
I have done many other lists since then, but the first will always be special ... and from what I see, I have two targets for my upcoming birding trips!

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