Some bird species are so rare and seldom reported that you usually don't think on them... even when you visit the adequate habitat, they aren't in your radar and, in fact, you think of them as myths... until you find them! Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck and I had that experience today in Altos del María, an exclusive development in the foothills of Panamá Oeste province, above the town of Sorá. The truth is that we were seeking for some rare sparrows reported elsewhere and started checking some open habitats near a park at the valley. Soon we found common species, like Tropical Kingbirds, Streaked and Social Flycatchers, Palm, Blue-gray, Crimson-backed, Plain-colored, Summer and Hepatic Tanagers, Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds (and a Long-billed Starthroat), Black-throated Green, Rufous-capped and Tennessee Warblers.
|female Hepatic Tanager|
|African Tulipan Tree flower (and a Tennessee Warbler too)|
Soon we realized that our search was in vain and decided to move to a better area close to the Valle Bonito lake. One of the best trails in Panama starts there, running along a rushing stream (crossing it several times) and then climbing all the way up to the Continental Divide.
|Valle Bonito lake (notice the sidewalk entering the forest)|
My friend Alfred Raab, an Altos resident, told me that he had seen one of my nemesis bird along this trail (Dull-mantled Antbird)... my expectations were low... after all, it is my nemesis... and if you think I finally found my nemesis based on the title of this post... then you are wrong. No, I didn't find the Dull-mantled Antbird... the trail was very quiet and we only found a little mixed flock at the beginning of the trail with some wintering warblers (Blackburnian and Canada), Carmiol's Tanagers, Slate-colored Grosbeaks and a Plain Xenops.
|a young Slate-colored Grosbeak|
After the 1 km mark on the trail, we flushed from the ground a medium-sized bird that perched at eye-level merely 2 meters from us. It was in a dark spot, but close enough to see every detail with my binoculars... I could barely believe my eyes: a long-legged, tailless little forest elf... a Scaled Antpitta. After a few seconds (after recovering from my shock) I was able to show it to Osvaldo and Rafael. Then, I remembered that I had my camera in hand ... adjusted the setting and took a single photo:
Hey, I know it is an awful photo, heavily edited to at least show the pale moustache and postocular spot, but the general jizz is evident (it looks better if you move away a few steps from the screen). After all it is my life Scaled Antpitta! This is a VERY rare species in Panama, and I do not know if it had been recorded before in that area (although the most recent records come from nearby El Valle and Cerro Gaital -you can check the Xenornis reports here-). Osvaldo managed some shots too, and after editing them, he kindly let me show you one here... so stop hurting your eyes and check this:
Now that's much better. This photo shows something we noticed in the field... the clay in its bill. Was it probably looking for earthworms? Notice the scaled crown and the tawny underparts. This is a GREAT lifer, specially considering that I did not see it in places where it is supposedly easier (as in Mindo, Ecuador). What a great day eh?