Monday, February 9, 2015

Experiencing "Un Poco del Chocó": Las Tolas Road

This is the third of a series of entries relating the experience both Rafael Luck and I had in the private reserve "Un Poco del Chocó" in northwestern Ecuador in mid-December of 2014 (you can read the second entry here).  For the last day of our stay, our host Wilo gave us a ride along the main road to the nearest town, Las Tolas.  This road reach an elevation of 2000 meters above sea level, thus offering a broader variety of birds species.  Wilo left us in a section known for mixed flocks and we waited for a while.
Las Tolas Road
The morning was chilly and foggy... we started to see shadows and movements through the folliage, but it was not until after a few minutes that the place was cleared enough to identify some species; however, we heard some key species in the mist: Toucan Barbet, Golden-headed Quetzal and Smoke-colored Pewee (we saw it later).
Smoke-colored Pewee
After a while, we started to see some mixed flocks of tanagers... but first a surprise for us.  Rafael found a pair of big woodpeckers downhill.  The expected species at that elevation was Powerful Woodpecker; however, a quick glimpse proved them to be a pair of Crimson-bellied Woodpeckers!  I don't know how, but Rafael got a single shot of his nemesis!
Crimson-bellied Woodpecker
I was relieved. The previous day I observed a pair of this species while walking the trails of the station with our guide Christian... Rafael stayed at the cabin.  That's an unofficial rule of birding: DO NOT quit the group while birding... your nemesis WILL show up!  I guess some good birding karma was with us.  Since then, everything was a bonus... colorful ones!
Golden Tanager
Flame-faced Tanager 
Rufous-throated Tanager
As you can see, we saw Golden, Flame-faced and Rufous-throated Tanagers feeding in some fruits, plus Glistening-green, Beryl-spangled, Golden-naped, Silver-throated, Blue-gray, Palm, White-shouldered and Flame-rumped Tanagers, Blue-winged and Black-chinned Mountain-Tanagers, Tricolored Brush-Finch, Montane Woodcreepers and this male Black-and-white Becard.
Black-and-white Becard
We also saw some bigger species, like Maroon-tailed (Chocó) Parakeet, Chocó and Black-madibled Toucans and Pale-mandibled Aracari.  The last one is considered a subspecies of the widespread Collared Aracari; however, you can see the differences:
Collared (Pale-madibled) Aracari
We spent two and a half terrific days at "Un Poco del Chocó" and are more than pleased with the staff, Nicole, Wilo and Christian, for all the attention they had with us.  We are looking forward for our next visit to "Un Poco del Chocó".

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Still there!

In our way to Panama City from Penonome this morning, we decided to visit the Malibu pond in the way to Gorgona beach to check the status of the -now famous- Whistling Herons.  This is a species considered a vagrant in Panama; however, it seems that a pair has spent the season in our country since July 2014 (Xenornis report here).
Whistling Herons
After finding the usual suspects at the pond, I drove to the field right next to it.  Almost immediately I saw two Whistling Herons in the distance.  The photo above shows both of them... it is impressive to see how they blend into their surroundings despite their striking plumage.  Using the car like a blind, I managed to approach them and started to shoot... the closest one seemed curious.
Whistling Heron
After a while it started to feed again unconcernedly... certainly they are used to see the cars passing all day long.  At this point, my wife and mother in law were having unobstructed views with my binocs... lots of WOWs and AHHHs of course.  It was a life bird for Gloriela.
Whistling Heron
There is no way to miss this spot... just drive through Gorgona's main road until you reach the Malibu development to the left... the pond is just after this and become obvious as soon as the road deteriorates.  Who knows... probably you will be the first one to register nesting activity for this species in Panama!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Five gulls species in Panama Viejo!

If you already read my last entry about gulling in Panama Viejo, then this entry will remind it a lot... except for one thing: yesterday, I saw five (5) instead of four different gulls species in Panama Viejo!  Yes, I went to Panama Viejo after receiving reports of a huge flock of Sandwich Terns resting in the area.  As soon as I get there, I noticed the huge flock... simply amazing.
Most of these birds were Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls in many different ages of course.  There were some Royal and Gull-billed Terns mixed in as well.  The Gull-billed Terns are very elegant... picking up food from the water surface... not plunge-diving as many other terns species.
Laughing Gull... any guess about its age?
Gull-billed Tern
Soon I found some Franklin's Gulls among the Laughings... only three of them... all were first-winter birds recognized by its smaller size, stocky look, half black hood with prominent broad eye crescents and white outer tail feathers (conspicuous at flight).
Franklin's Gull, 1st-winter
The third and fourth species were a first-winter Herring Gull and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull... both continuing birds in these mudflats.  Both were far away for good photos... these are only record shots.  Notice the pale inner primaries of the Herring Gull and the bright yellow legs of the sleeping Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Herring Gull, 1st-winter
Lesser Black-backed Gull, adult
At this point, I was happy with my four gulls... certainly, I was not expecting another species.  So, when I saw this gull among the Laughing by the creek I got excited:
Ring-billed Gull, 1st-winter
Ring-billed Gull, 1st-winter
The Ring-billed Gull is regular in low (very low) numbers along central Panama's coasts, specially in the Pacific side.  Panama Viejo is a regular site, but my last bird there was many years ago.  Five gulls for the day!  Trust me or not, that was not the only highlight of my visit to Panama Viejo... the other was to meet Kevin Zimmer who was leading a VENT tour at the place.  I know him as a member of the South American Classification Committee (SACC), which I follow avidly, but who has not heard about this celebrity of the Neotropical birding?  Even with his experience birding in our country, that day Kevin got a new species for his Panama list: the American White Pelican that decided to winter  on our shores this season!  Great day in Panama Viejo!
American White Pelican