Monday, June 23, 2014

Quick trip to the highlands. Part II

After a relaxing day in the western highlands of Chiriqui province, I was about to start a new birding day very early in the morning.  I left my family in the hotel room and joined Ito Santamaría who is a knowledgeable local guide and friend of mine.  He kindly accepted to show me two long desired additions to my life list right in the town of Volcan.  For the first species, we drove a little further towards the outskirts of the town. He emphasized that we needed to be very early in the site to locate the bird while it was vocalizing.  The place was just by the road, bordering some lush gardens.  He recognized a weird call... after some moderate use of playback a little flycatcher flew towards us and started to respond with the same rattling call.
White-throated Flycatcher
I got some shots of the little, and rather drab, creature: a White-throated Flycatcher!  You may say why this bird is so special... look at it, a LBJ (little brown job) that looks identical to many other common flyactchers.  In fact, I have confused this species but for its call, which is quite distinctive for an Empidonax flycatcher.  Notice that this bird looks nothing like the illustrations of the field guides plates... it looks disturbingly similar to the Lesser Elaenia, that was pretty common in the area.  However, notice the smaller size and chunky shape, proportionally shorter tail, discrete eye ring and the obvious white throat (I think this bird was molting).
White-throated Flycatcher
Also, this bird behaved very different to the elaenias, actively feeding by making short flights and flutterings and returning to the same perch or close to it.  Ito thinks they breed near this site, but so far he still need to confirm this by finding an active nest of young birds (that look more like the illustrations in the plates, with warmer brown upperparts and ochraceous wing bars).  The White-throated Flycatcher is rare and localized in the western highlands of Panama.  Actually, it seems to be quite uncommon and localized along its wide range.  There were only two previous records in eBird for this species in Panama, so I was more than happy when Ito showed me this individual only 5 minutes after our arrival!  However, Ito had another surprise for me.  We drove less than 5 minutes to the center of the town, to a particular garden bordered with tall trees and a wet meadow (although tiny).  We waited and listen... nothing happened, but he was optimistic.  He played a tape once and listen again... suddenly, an elaborate call was heard in the distance... and we hurried to the source.
Melodious Blackbird
I know, I know... another drab bird!  This is a very special bird... a recent colonizer to this part of the country: a Melodious Blackbird.  Originally endemic to northern Central American, the impressive range extension is probably due to deforestation.  It was first reported in Costa Rica in the 80's, and the first confirmed report for Panama was in the western Caribbean slope almost exactly three years ago (report in Xenornis).  According to Ito, a small population established in the town of Volcan two years ago, at least... but it is very localized... actually found in only two sites.  WOW!  Two life birds in less than 20 minutes... wordless!  It was still very early, so we decided to go to the Volcan lakes; however, the activity around the access road and the nearby coffee farm prevented us for reaching the lakes.  The highlight was a cooperative Masked Yellowthroat.
Masked -Chiriqui- Yellowthroat
Now you are talking Jan (you may say)... this bird is an eye-popper.  The Masked Yellowthroat is a widespread species in South America, with a isolated population in this part of Panama and adjacent Costa Rica.  In fact, this form is known as the Chiriqui Yellowthroat, and sometimes is considered a valid species.  Compare the extension of black in the face of this male with that of other subspecies in South America.
Masked -Chiriqui- Yellowthroat
Certainly is more extensive.  There are some differences in songs and calls as well, and the idea of having an endemic yellowthroat is simply great, so I hope to call this bird Chiriqui Yellowthroat in the near future.  That was only my third sighting of this species in 19 years of birding the highlands... not bad at all.  In the way out, an obliging Olivaceous Piculet sang to call our attention.
Olivaceous Piculet 
A common species, and a nice one.  After it, we had breakfast... a well deserved one!  Two life birds the same day two times the same month (do you remember those rare swifts?).  Thanks Ito for showing me these special birds!


  1. Congratulations on those lifers, Jan Axel, and on a great blog entry!

  2. Even drab birds are special! Great post :-)