Monday, March 16, 2015

Assault to the highlands

The highlands of Chiriqui province in western Panama (and all its horde of endemics birds) are too far from Panama City for a weekend trip... unless a VERY rare endemic species becomes common due to a natural phenomenon that occurs only every 15 to 20 years!  Yes, the bamboo is flowering... and many  bamboo-specialist are around!  So, I went with Gloriela in a hurry to the highlands, checking at our hotel in the town of Guadalupe at night this last saturday.  My plan was to walk the road to El Respingo the next day in the morning and then, start the 6+ hours-drive to Panama City again.  It sounded good... except the part of "walking" all the way up to El Respingo.
Yes, all the way up!
However, before getting into bed after a long drive, I contacted my friend Ito Santamaría (who is an experienced guide resident of Guadalupe) with the intention to settle unfinished business.  Somehow, after all this years visiting the highlands, one species still eludes me: Dusky Nightjar.  Endemic to Costa Rica and Panamá, Ito knew a reliable spot to find him... just few steps from his house.  So I followed him in the dark and started to search.  After a little bit of playback, a majestic male showed up allowing great views... taking a photo was difficult due to light conditions... and this was my best shot:
Dusky Nightjar
Notice the conspicuous white corners to the tail and dark rufous plumage.  What a great start!  The next morning, after taking our breakfast, we headed to El Resingo.  As planned, we parked the car where the asphalt ends and started to walk.  Quickly, we recorded several species, like Resplendant Quetzals, Mountain Thrushes, Barred Parakeets, Collared Whitestart, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-thighed and Large-footed Finches (the last three endemics to Costa Rica and Panama).
Fiery-throated Hummingbird
Large-footed Finch
As we climbed, we started to notice the flowering bamboos and the singing birds.  At first, some stayed high in the bamboo... in fact, the few Slaty Finches that we saw never approached closely...and I only got this photo of a singing male.
Slaty Finch
But then, the buzzy calls of our target became more and more common... and it was evident that the place was invaded by Peg-billed Finches!  This species is kind of irruptive in Panama... only present associated with flowering bamboo in most cases, and this was not the exception!
Peg-billed Finch
At first, we only got distant shots, like the above showing well the bamboo... but eventually, we got better views and I even managed to record the call with my cell phone.  The distinctive pointed, bicolored bill is evident.
Peg-billed Finch
Close to the entrance of the rangers' station at El Respingo, we saw a pair of Peg-billed Finches carrying nesting material into a rock crevice at no more than one meter from the ground.  The male regularly perched in a sunny spot, where I got this photo:
Peg-billed Finch
I don't know if there are nesting records from Panama... we didn't want to disturb the pair, so we left the birds in peace.  Although the drive to Panama City was tiring, we were both happy with our lifers!  I don't know how long is going to last this Peg-billed Finches invasion... but if you still need to see this Costa Rica/Panama endemic then what are you waiting for?


  1. Yes a few weeks ago I did see them there for the first time in my life.It was exciting.I did make a small movie.. 26th of February 2015 Greetings Terry

  2. Cool! We were actually there the same week-end, unfortunately without seeing the peg-billed finch - we didn't walk all the way to the station. We came across a tour group, however, so it was still great birding led by Jacobo Ortega. Too bad we didn't bump into you guys, would've been nice to see the nightjar too... I must return to Guadalupe!

  3. @Josef: we met Jacobo during the dinner at the lodge in Guadalupe... he was with a group... probably you were there too. I must return too!

  4. @Terry: Great video. I managed to record a calling bird