Monday, November 10, 2014

Ducks at the Marina

After the exciting news of rare migrant ducks in the Chagres river posted by my friend Jose Tejada in the media networks, I went with my friend Rafael Luck to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort's Marina to check them out.  Early in the morning, we inspected the river close to the docks and quickly found some of the species plus two resident ones (Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and Muscovy Ducks); however, the restaurant, with its balcony overviewing the river (supposedly the best site for spotting the birds), was closed. This young American Crocodile right at the ramp was a nice surprise.
American Crocodile
After recording some common species, we met Rafael Lau and José Soto.  I know José from a while now, he is a chief guide at the resort, and he was planning to see to ducks as well.  He kindly invited us aboard a small boat to explore the shores of the river, in a mini birding-by-boat tour (recommended).  These Mangrove Swallows greeted us while we were leaving.
Mangrove Swallows
And soon we relocate some of the species we already had seen earlier.  Close to the dock, three Blue-winged Teals were accompanied by a Northern Shoveler.  The teals are very common in Panama during the winter (in fact, we saw many more later); however, the shoveler is a rarity down here.
Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teals
Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teals 
After some photographs, we navigated upriver, dodging the islands of floating vegetation and seeing some common inhabitants of this habitat.  Some aquatic species are specially adapted to walk in this vegetation without sinking.  They have specialized long toes to better distribute their weights.
Wattled Jacana
Purple Gallinule
The Wattled Jacana and the Purple Gallinule are very common there.  Notice the long toes of the gallinule... those of the jacana are even longer!  Notice also de frontal shield these birds exhibit protruding from the base to the upper bill.  Since these birds forage through dense vegetation, this shields may protect their heads and eyes; however, the shape, size and color of these shields are hormone-dependent, so involved in courtship display and territorial defense.  These were not the only birds with frontal shields in the river.  The most common aquatic bird was the Common Gallinule, but we also found some migrant American Coots as well, both species exhibiting frontal shields.
Common Gallinules and an American Coot
American Coots
The American Coot is regular in these waters, sometimes in amazing numbers.  In the rest of Panama is an uncommon winter resident.  However, we were looking for some rarer migrants.  José headed back to the dock, this time we checked the area in front of the restaurant's balcony, which was open and full of birders as well... and for a good reason... three American Wigeons (two hens and a drake) were swimming in front of them!
American Wigeons
Eventually, they flew away.  I managed some flight shots showing the wing pattern, important for the identification of members of this family.
American Wigeon
American Wigeon
Although rare, the American Wigeon has proven to be regular in some sites (usually in small numbers) in recent winters.  However, the next species is both a rare and irregular winter visitor to our country.
Ring-necked Ducks
Ring-necked Duck
Yes, three Ring-necked Ducks were also present, allowing great views and some nice photos.  In these birds notice the peaked head, dark crown, white eye-ring (with faint pale line behind it), pale neck collar and pale ring to the bill.  Other shots showed the pale vertical mark on side of chest.  All these features separate this species from the similar Lesser Scaup hen (we saw a drake Lesser Scaup earlier).  What a nice day!  Seven (7) duck species in a single spot in Panama.  Even though I did not break my personal record of eight species in a single spot for one day (check this post), it remains an extraordinary number for Panama
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
I want to thank José and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort staff for their kindness and availability to show these species in a comfortable way.   In just a couple of hours, we saw and hear 60 species of birds (eBird list here).  Do not miss the opportunity to see these rare species in Panama!   


  1. gracias por la info, trataré de ir a ver si aún están

  2. Fantastic birding at a fantastic location!
    I visited Panama for the first time last spring and I'm going again in March. This time I'll be better prepared, by following your blog for example. We stayed at the rainforest resort for a couple of days – the marina truly is a great spot – and then mostly at Barro Colorado Island. Next time will be more of the same, but we'll also spend some time in Panama City, looking for shorebirds and hopefully some boobies and other seabirds as well. Metropolitan park is another one on the list. Any recommendation is greatly appreciated! Thanks again for informing and inspiring pics and stories. /josef

    ps. regarding your first name, you wouldn't happen to be of swedish origin?