Thursday, July 10, 2014

Code 5: Whistling Heron!

Almost exactly one year ago, a new bird for Panama (and North America), a Whistling Heron, was found in the pastures close to the town of Chepo, in eastern Panama (45 minutes from Panama City).  Intensive search at and around the site were unsuccessful.  Personally, I visited the site several times (chronicles here).  A previous record (from february 2010) was validated in eBird only after photographic evidence was sent to the regional reviewer (me).  Then, my friend and professional birder Guido Berguido (from Advantage Tours, found another Whistling Heron yesterday close to the original site while guiding a birding group late in the afternoon!  In a show of camaraderie, he sent a report almost immediately through social networks, with specific details of the site.
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks
Although I considered going there early today, my job duties prevented me of doing so... but then Rafael Lau photographed the bird this morning almost exactly in the same site.  I took advantage of a gap in my agenda, waited for Gloriela and Gabrielle and went to the site.  It took me one and a half hour to reach the site due to the traffic jams in the city, leaving me only one hour to search the area and find the bird before returning to my clinic with the patients!  Coincidentally, we joined our friend Justo Camargo in the road.  He spent four hours searching for the heron with no luck, so he decided to join us for another try.  He showed me the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks pictured above, and both saw some nice species, like Pied Water-Tyrant and this Striated Heron.
Striated Heron
After a while, we decided to walk into the pasture where the bird was seen in the morning.  It was around 4:00 pm and the sun was high, so Gloriela and Gabrielle stayed in the car.  I walked with Justo to some artificial ponds... a quick search with my binoculars and PAM!!!  A Whistling Heron was standing some 30 meters away.  It was shy (similar to my previous observations in Venezuela and Colombia last year), and soon took flight to some nearby pastures.  I managed a couple of flight shots.
Whistling Heron 
Whistling Heron
I decided to approach carefully, almost crawling, to not disturb the bird.  It was feeding by craning its neck and taking something in the straws with the beak (I hope it were not ticks because I was surrounded by these straws).  I got some distant shots... good for documenting the sighting.
Whistling Heron
Cattle Egret and Whistling Heron
It was larger and stockier than the Cattle Egret as you can see in the picture above.  Not a lifer for me (it was for Justo), but a HUGE Panama life bird instead!  This is just the third record of this species in Panama.  Original from the wet plains of northern and south-east South America, its range and habiat is similar to another recent vagrant to Panama and North America: the Maguari Stork.  Are they only accidental vagrants or we have to wait for a horde of south american new species in the future?  Who knows... I only know that both Justo and I will remember this forever!
JC & JC.  Photo by Gloriela

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