Sunday, April 19, 2015

Some nemesis bite the dust!!!

Guido, Jan, Noah and Yari
Why so happy?  Well, not everyday you see strange, enigmatic (and nemesis) species accompanied by skilled and famous birders!  On his quest to see 5000+ birds species in one calendar year, Noah Strycker visited Panama for three full days this week (you can track his progress following "Birding without Borders").  He has a quite tight agenda, and of course had to focus on regional specialties of every site he visits, trying to balance quality and quantity of birds observed to reach his goal.  The best way to make this is by birding with the locals.  Noah is not only a lucky guy (as you can read on his blog), he also was wise enough to contact Guido Berguido, and old friend of mine and birder extraordinaire who runs Advantage Tours Panama... as he says: "birding with the local advantage"!  Guido was kind enough to invite me to join them on their trip to Nusagandi, in the wet foothills of Guna Yala in eastern Panama during Noah's second full day in Panama.
Pelican Island, Guna Yala
Guna Yala ("Home of the Gunas") is best known by its paradise islands in the Caribbean Sea and the rich culture of its people.  In fact, just few days before, I visited the archipelago with my family enjoying my last days of vacations... but that is another story!  Of course, we were more interested on the steep-sided valleys and wet ravines of the mostly-undisturbed cloud forest close to the Continental Divide.  This protected area is home of some range-restricted species... and we were after them!
Cloud forest along El Llano-Carti road
As you can see, the El Llano-Cartí road that runs through the area is in very good conditions... the days when powerful 4WD vehicles were required are gone.  So I met with them on Tuesday afternoon at the start of the road in the dry Pacific slope.  They just had an amazing day in eastern Panama province... not only Noah managed to ID his 2000th bird species for the year (Shining Honeycreeper), but also was the biggest day so far regarding birds species recorded (184 when we met... then we added Mottled and Crested Owls after dinner, making it a 186-birds day!).  Impressive, considering that it was not the intention... they started at dawn (not at midnight), birded mostly one site (San Francisco Reserve), took a long nap and Noah even managed to give an interview for a live Colombian radio show!
Noah's 2000th Year Bird (which we found later again in Cerro Azul)
We stayed in Garduk, a known restaurant with modest charming cabins just minutes away from the reserve, popular stop among those seeking the sun and breeze of the Caribbean Sea.  The huge rain storm that hit us during the night worried me... but it stopped right on time before breakfast.
Handcrafts at Garduk restaurant
Yari, our hostess, agreed to join us. According to Guido, she has very good eyes and is like a good luck charm.  I'm absolutely sure it is true!  After a short drive, we started to bird along the main road, finding almost immediately new year-birds like Black-and-Yellow and Sulphur-rumped Tanagers in the same mixed flock, and Brown-hooded Parrots perched quite close.  After a while, we entered one of the forest trails, looking for the great rarities for which this area is famous.  Another mixed flock inside the forest produced Tawny-crested and Carmiol's Tanagers, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Red-capped Manakins and Stripe-throated Wren.  Streak-chested Antpittas and Chestnut-backed Antbirds sounded in the background while we walked along the trail, eventually reaching a clear-water stream.
Crossing the stream
Shortly after our arrival, we started to hear our main target.  As we walked towards the calling bird, I simply could not believe I was about to see one of the most enigmatic species of the New World: the Sapayoa.  The call was louder and louder... then, Guido pointed us THE bird... a lonely Sapayoa was flycatching mere three meters from us!
Its latin name says it all: Sapayoa aenigma.  This species is placed in its own monotypic family and genus, with no close relatives in the New World... in fact, it is most closely related to the Old World's Broadbills (Eurylaimidae).  It was a life bird for Noah and for me... very special due to its restricted range and uncertain affinities!  However, it was not over.  While seeing the Sapayoa, Guido told us that a Dull-mantled Antbird was calling behind us.  I replied "WHAT?¿!*`?!!!!... I don't hear it"!  In fact, I was the only one not hearing the bird... I don't know if I was programmed to simply ignore it... after all these years looking for this supposedly common (almost thrash) bird and dipping miserably, I was simply unable to hear it.  Thanks God the Sapayoa flew away after some minutes, so we were able to walk towards the stream... then I started to hear the bird, closer and closer.  Then, my nemesis materialized: a majestic male Dull-mantled Antbird was walking on the banks of the stream.
Dull-mantled Antbird!!
I managed to approach the bird very close, just few feet, to photograph it and to record its call. 
Look at those fiery red eyes... amazing!  That's the way to see a Nemesis!!!  Trust me, I wanted so hard to see this species that all my friends tagged me on their own Dull-mantled Antbird photos (yes Jose Pérez and Rafael Luck, I'm talking about you guys).  But the surprises did not ended yet.  Did you hear my embed recording?  Something else was calling in the background, and Guido recognized it immediately.  While I was admiring my Dull-mantled Antbird, Guido, Noah and Yari found the bird making the call slightly above eye-level few feet from my position.  Eventually, I joined them and was able to take some shots:
Speckled (Spiny-faced) Antshrike!!!
A female Speckled (Spiny-faced) Antshrike!!!  This bird was calling spontaneously (no playback used) and alone, foraging in low and mid-levels of the forest along the stream, sometimes looking like a foliage-gleaner more than an antshrike.  This was probably the rarest of the species seen that day.  Almost endemic to Panama (barely reaching northwestern Colombia), this very range-restricted species also have uncertain affinities.  Its latin name, Xenornis setifrons, literally means spiny-faced strange bird!  This bird was Guido's nemesis... so even Guido managed to get a lifer that day!  Now you can see why the happy faces at the start of this post!  We saw these species in a 10-minutes lapse, saving us hours of search on the trails (especially for the Xenornis).  Without targets to seek, we decided to move.  After saying good-bye to Yari, we headed to the foothills of Cerro Azul, close to Panama City.  It was late in the afternoon, and time was gold, so we checked first a backyard with several feeders attracting 13 different species of hummingbird, including Brown Violetear, Rufous-crested Coquette and the near-endemic Violet-capped Hummingbird, which was a new year bird for Noah.
Brown Violetear
Violet-capped Hummingbird (file photo)
With the last rays of sun we birded Maipo, finding the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker and hearing Black-eared Wood-Quail, both new year birds for Noah too.  We ended at Birders' View hearing again Mottled and Crested Owls in the distance.  Guido and Noah spent the night in the comfortable property while I returned home after a hard day of birding, finding several Common Pauraques at the entrance road.
Common Pauraque
Birding with these two guys was amazing.  And Noah is a great guy... not only smart and lucky, but humble as well, and I wish the best luck on his quest for the rest of the world!  BTW, thanks for the lifers!


  1. Hi Jan , I bet you have not slept after all that excitement. Congrats!

  2. Hi Jan, I am a big fan of your blog! I would like to go to Cerro Azul because I've seen in your posts that there are many birds there but I've read that Cerro Azul is a gated community so people can't just go and enter. How did you get access? Are there any trails? Thanks in advance! Liam G