Monday, January 5, 2015

2014's CBCs: Pacific & Atlantic

The Pacific and Atlantic Christmas Bird Counts were conducted on Sunday 27 December and 4 January (2015) respectively, organized by the Panama Audubon Society (PAS).  I'm summarizing both counts in this post, in part because my assigned areas for both counts are rather similar: coastal habitats with a variety of vegetation, from mangroves to patches of secondary forest and open areas.  In the Pacific CBC, my counting area is the west bank of the Panama Canal... from Farfán to Veracruz.  Our meeting point was the pond at Farfán, where some rare ducks have been reported in the previous week.  There, Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck and I met Alfred Raab, who joined us this year.
Let's count some birds!
Thanks to Alfred's scope, we where able to quickly identify the distant ducks in the ponds, including a flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, more than 40 Blue-winged Teals (but not Cinnamon Teals), a pair of Northern Shovelers and a single male Lesser Scaup.
Lesser Scaup
The last two are rare for the count circle (and for Panama); in fact, the Lesser Scaup needs full documentation... that's why I took this digiscoped photo with my phone.  After Farfán, we drove to Veracruz beach, looking specially for shorebirds.  We found some fine species, including some  Sanderlings resting in the same rocks that a group of terns... including a Common Tern, also rare for the count (and deserving full documentation as well).
Royal, Common and Sandwich Terns (and some Willets)
We got many more interesting species, like Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Black Terns and a pair of American Oystercatchers back in Farfán.  In fact, the oystercatchers were the last birds we saw for the Pacific CBC before lunch.  One week later, I was in the other extreme of the Panama Canal, this time in Colon province for the Atlantic CBC with my friend Rafael Luck.  Our assigned area was Galeta Point, a reserve that holds a marine laboratory of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.  The weather forecast was not good... large waves would hit the coast all morning.
Those were bad news for the shorebirds, our main objectives.  We did not see a single shorebird species that day... but saw several Sandwich and Royal Terns, some Laughing Gulls, a distant Parasitic Jaeger and one Common Tern, a rare sight as I mentioned before.
Common Tern
The inland part of the site was well covered by dozens of researchers and students in the morning, so we kept birding the coast.  However, in the afternoon, we birded the main road and the mangrove forests along it... we were lucky enough to find some specialties previously reported and some new birds for the count.  I really liked the warblers: Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, Yellow, Magnolia and Prothonotary Warblers were quite easy to see.
Prothonotary Warbler
But the real highlight was a female Northern Parula accompanying them, allowing some photos and great views.  We were unable to relocate two rare species seen the day before (Praire Warbler and Ovenbird); although I don't know if any of the other groups working Galeta saw them.  The Northern Parula is a rare, but regular, migrant to these mangrove forests.
Female Northern Parula
Female Northern Parula
My personal highlight was not a warbler.  While seeing them, a large bird flew into the mangroves.  The soft plumage, slim profile and bandit mask make it unmistakable: a Mangrove Cuckoo.
Mangrove Cuckoo
After many years counting birds in Galeta, this is my first Mangrove Cuckoo for the site.  So, as you can see, there is always something new in the CBCs surprising you.  I still don't have the official numbers of these counts, but I'm glad to participate and contribute in this activity...  see you in Christmas for the next counts!

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