Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Pearl Islands experience! Part I

Originally a Panama Audubon Society's (PAS) trip, it was cancelled due to lack of quorum; however, there is something about the Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama (yes, where one season of Survivors was filmed)... sun, white sands in beautiful beaches, tasty food and plenty of wildlife to enjoy.  So, instead of changing my ferry ticket to Contadora island, I decided to embark and enjoy a weekend in the archipelago.  Surprisingly, Joris and his wife Francis (two PAS members as well) were in the ferry with the same thought.     It is a 2-hours journey to the islands from Panama City, and we saw the first species from the ferry's deck.
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
All the storm-petrel that we managed to ID were Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrels as you can see in my marginal photo.  Of course some other more common species were noticed; however, the storm-petrels were the most interesting!  Once in Contadora, I contacted our captain (thanks to Venicio "Beny" Wilson for the contacts).  After checking at our hotels, we departed to Pedro Gonzalez Island to the south of Contadora (more or less 50 minutes away).  In the way, we saw huge flocks of Black Terns, with most of them wearing patches of alternate plumage.
Black Tern.  Notice the black patches in the underparts
Black Terns
But the most impressive beasts were two Humpback Whales (mom and calf) close enough to see every detail!  Notice in the photo how close we were to Pedro Gonzalez Island (in the background).  These whales gives birth in these waters... the calf increases rapidly in size and weight by taking the fat-rich milk from his mother while she fasts throughout the season.
Humpback Whale (and Pedro Gonzalez island in the background)
Once in Pedro Gonzalez, we checked at the naval station (as usual) and crossed the town quickly.  Pedro Gonzalez is the third largest island of the archipelago, and home of our main target: White-fringed Antwren.  There are other endemic subspecies in this archipelago, but none of this is as distinctive as the alticincta form of White-fringed Antwren.  First of all, there are no White-fringed Antwrens in continental Panama.  Second, the closest population in South America is distinctively different.
We went directly to a little creek just out of town and soon were seeing our first pair of White-fringed Antwrens, lifer for both Joris and Francis.  Just like my last time, the place was too dark for photos.  The male allowed some great views, but didn't stay long enough for photos.  The female was more cooperative.
White-fringed Antwren, female
White-fringed Antwren, female
Yes, I think these photos are better than my previous ones.  A whitish throat and yellow underparts with orangish breast is evident.  More important, she had no streaks at all in the underparts.  Many authorities place this form within the "Northern White-fringed Antwren" group, geographically logical considering its proximity; however, the lack of streaks in the underparts of the female is inconsistent.  More work is needed in this complex for sure.  We don't stayed long.  We only saw few other species in the island, but highlights were Pale-bellied Hermit and a Blackpoll Warbler working close to some antwrens in the way to the soccer field.
Central American Agouti
It was a nice first day in the Pearl Islands.  Back in Contadora I enjoyed the beautiful Playa Larga beach and saw some Central American Agouties in the hostal's backyard.  We planned with our captain to visit some sea birds colonies in nearby islands the next morning, so check it later!

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