Monday, November 24, 2014


Since in the last pelagic trip off Pedasí we did so well, a group of intrepid birders took to the sea on saturday, November 22nd ... and of course I could not miss this opportunity.  This time, George Angehr (also repeating), Karl & Rosabel Kaufmann, Howard Laidlaw and Darien Montañez joined me at the picturesque town of Pedasí (southern Azuero peninsula in central Panama) the day before.
Sunrise at El Arenal
As the previous trip, the starting point was El Arenal beach, which is less than 5 minutes from the hostal in town where we were staying.  A little "panga" took us to the 30 ft sport fishing boat commanded by Jeff, this time assisted by Elvis (aka Chombo) who took the group photo with my cel phone.  Everything was ready and we started the trip with relatively calm seas, leaving El Arenal and Iguana island behind and heading straight to the deep waters surrounding a seamount at 27 nautical milles SE of Punta Mala.
Howard, Karl, Darien, Jan, Rosabel and George
Apart of some common inshore species, like Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns, a group of dolphins welcomed us spinning in the air.  I don't know the species, but they don't seemed to be the typical Tursiops (Bottlenose Dolphins) to whom I'm used... they were smaller and with longer beaks... probably Spinner Dolphins?
Leaving the ID issues on marine mammals behind, lets back to the birds.  The first pelagic species to showed up was the Galapagos Shearwater... a pair of these flew right by the boat allowing great views.  They were of the pale-underwing form... it is important to mention it since some dark-underwing forms occur and the significance of this difference is unknown.
Galapagos Shearwater
Eventually, we started to detect more and more Wedge-tailed Shearwaters.  Although considered rare, the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters are regular in Panamanian waters.  In fact, this and the Galapagos Shearwaters were the most common encountered shearwaters in all my pelagic trips off Azuero.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Wedge-tailed Shearwater
As usual, most of the birds were pale morphs... and most of them were in heavy wing molt too.  We also saw an intermediate morph.  The slim shape accentuated by its long tail and the underwing pattern eliminates other possibilities... although we were looking for some rarer species that, in Panama, includes Sooty and Christmas Shearwaters!
Wedge-tailed Shearwater intermediate morph
But we were not disappointed at all!  A huge flock of feeding Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (and a lonely Pink-footed Shearwater too), gulls (including my life Sabine's Gull) and terns was patrolled by some feathered bandits specialized in kleptoparasitism... they were harassing smaller birds to stole their catches.  I'm talking about the jaegers... two species in fact.  We saw first a Pomarine Jaeger easily identified thanks to its twisted and elongated central tail feathers (plus other field marks, specially size).
Pomarine Jaeger
Then, we saw a jaeger harassing a Sooty Tern.  Our impression was that this particular jaeger was just slightly bigger than the tern, suspecting that it was a Parasitic Jaeger; however, it was too far away. Later, I photographed an adult jaeger that showed some interest in our boat.  The clean white underparts (with no mottling in the flanks at all), faint breast band and pointed, elongated central tail feathers indicates Parasitic Jaeger.
Parasitic Jaeger
But the surprise came later.  In the distance, another bandit was after a large tern.  This time, the supposed jaeger looked huge, considerably larger than the poor tern and than the Pomarine Jaeger seen before... but more important, this bird had VERY conspicuous and large white panels in the primaries... a South Polar Skua!
South Polar Skua flying away
Notice the large-bodied appearance and the short, squared tail.  The broad, long wings with those white flashes, the huge size and the powerful wingbeats reminded me a Crested Caracara... yes, a caracara!  Although a marginal photo, this is probably the only photographic evidence of its presence in Panamanian waters (there are several sight records).  I also photographed some other species for my personal collection... including the three regularly recorded storm-petrels in Panamanian waters: Least, Wedge-rumped and Black Storm-Petrels:
Least Storm-Petrel 
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel 
Black Storm-Petrel
We didn't see Tahiti Petrels nor Nazca Boobies in this trip... but in return we got several jaegers, skuas and my life Sabine's Gull... that's why I like so much these trips... you can expect the unexpected!  

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