Yes, it is time for Christmas Bird Counts in Panama and around the world. This year, we started with the Central CBC last weekend, organized as usual by the Panama Audubon Society (PAS). Eleven groups explored the Gamboa and Pipeline road areas, with some of them using boats along the Chagres river and the Gatun lake and with one group birding in Barro Colorado island as well. I started very early, walking Pipeline road in the dark from the Juan Grande bridge. Walking alone in the forest give you excellent chances to appreciate wildlife, and I saw many species of birds and mammals in the first hour. I heard first most of the birds during the dawn chorus, including a pair of Band-tailed Barbthroats perched at eye-level.
I used flash with this bird... it was still quite dark inside the forest. The diagnostic tail-pattern is barely visible in this photo. The truth is that this bird is nearly unmistakable in Panama if seen well. Its voice, however, is easy to left unidentified, contrary to what happens with the White-throated Wood-Wren.
During my walk, I crossed several territories of this species. Its fluid and rich song repeats a phrase several time... then it (or they... usually a pair sings antiphonally) change the phrase and start all over again. Seeing them is difficult... and I barely manage a photo of one of these vigorous singers. After a while, I joined the group of Carlos Bethancourt. Carlos, and old friend of mine and senior bird guide for the world famous Canopy Tower, was heading deep into Pipeline road aboard a modified 4WD vehicle. He was accompanied by Charlotte Elton, Mikko Oivukka, Domiciano (Domi) Alveo (another guide of the Canopy family) and Domi's wife, Angie. Carlos needed all his driving skills to pass some mud pools in order to reach the low hills beyond the Limbo bridge.
Reaching these hills was very important because are continuous with the foothills of eastern Colon province. Our main targets were foothills species found only in these hills in the entire count circle. Both Carlos and Domi are very experienced birders, specially for that site. We reached the Mendoza river and started to bird.
|Mendoza river sign|
The birding skills of these two guys are kind of legendaries. Soon they started to point out bird calls, adding numbers to our list... many of them specialties for the area: Sulphur-rumped and Carmiol's Tanager, Tawny-faced Gnatwren and Long-tailed Woodcreepers, among others.
|Record shot of a Long-tailed Woodcreeper|
Of course, we also saw many more common species along the road, including Gray Elaenia, Streak-chested Antpitta, Chestnut-backed, Dusky, Spotted, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds, four trogon species, Ruddy-tailed Flycatchers, Blue-crowned Manakins, etc.
|Blue-crowned Manakin, female|
Pipeline road is a birding hotspot with a bird list of more than 300 species... however, you need several days to make it justice, or to be very lucky. Not only the road conditions prevented us for continue further into the forest, by noon, a torrential rain hit us hard... well, it is a rainforest after all!
My count ended just outside Gamboa, looking for some common species after the rain stops. After 9-hours of continuing birding, I decided to return home in order to make the day list. Now, I'm waiting the next CBC this weekend... see you there!