Thursday, October 22, 2015

Escape to Bocas. Part I

Very often we say that Panama is a paradise ... so often that sometimes sounds like a cliché; However, this time you'd better believe it, because only a week ago I visited a hidden paradise with my family in the Bocas archipelago (western Caribbean lowlands).  We took the overnight bus from Panama City and arrived to the coastal town of Almirante early in the morning last friday where we took the water taxi to Bocas town (Colon Island).  After few minutes in town we met Jay, one of the owners of the Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge, in Bastimentos Island... our home for the next days.
Jean-Michael, Jan Axel, Gabrielle and Gloriela at Tranquilo Bay
The boat ride to Tranquilo Bay was uneventful, and soon we reached the main dock of the lodge.  A boardwalk across a beautiful mangrove forest (full of Prothonotary Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes, among other migrants) took us to the main lodge, where we met Jim and Reneé, co-owners of the lodge, who made us feel like home.  I have to admit that the place impressed me immediately... the view from the upstairs balcony was superb for watching canopy-dwellers at eye-level, and the number of species and individuals of migrant birds swarming around was astonishing... soon my lens focused on these guys:
Red-eyed Vireo
Scarlet Tanager 
Eastern Kingbird and Miconia berries
The tiny berries of the Miconia trees attracted tons of birds... and these trees were all around the property, but not randomly.  Ramón and Natalia, both resident and well-experienced naturalist guides and friends of mine since some years ago, explained that the trees were planted with the intention of being natural feeders for birds and other animals when they grew... and the idea was paying off!
Jean-Michael, Ramón, Jan Axel, Gabrielle and Natalia in the dinning room
After settling into our cabin, we made our first excursion with Ramon, Natalia and other guests. After a short boat ride from the lodge, we entered a lovely natural channel between Venado Cay and Popa Island bordered in mangroves but with some mature forest in sight as well.  In spite of the time of the day, we saw many different species, including toucans, oropendolas, pigeons and a big surprise.  Atop a stand of mangrove, a glooming white bird attracted Natalia's attention: a male Snowy Cotinga!
Snowy Cotinga
This species is uncommon and restricted to the western Caribbean in Panama... and a LIFER for me, the first of the day by the way.  I know it is an awful photo, but I'm happy with it... not every day you got an unexpected lifer in a heavenly environment!  What a great way to start this -birding- trip.  Back in the lodge, it was time to enjoy the facilities.  My family stayed at the cabin, admiring the great variety of flowering bushes and plants in the garden (and a family of White-faced Capuchin monkeys and two species of sloths in the way).  The purple Verbenas were attracting many hummingbird species (including a Bronzy Hermit resting right next to the cabin)... but the colorful Hibiscus flowers stole the show.
Bronzy Hermit
I was more interested in the forested areas.  Up to 75% of the property has been left in its natural state, and Ramón showed me the trails into the mature forest behind the cabins.  Soon, some forest-dwellers started to show up, like Chestnut-backed Antbirds, White-flanked Antwren, Black-crowned Antshrikes and Ochre-bellied Flycatchers.  However, we were after a specialty of these islands... a species with a weird disjunct range because it reappear in northwestern Costa Rica and extend north into southeast Mexico.  In Panama, it is found only in the larger islands of the Bocas archipelago and adjacent mainland.
Stub-tailed Spadebill
Yes!  I'm talking about the Stub-tailed Spadebill.  As you can see, eventually Ramón heard two birds and soon we were admiring this tiny inhabitant of these forests.  The individual pictured above was very active, hopping from one site to another in the understore.  We had some nice views of this little creature; by the way, also a long-desired LIFER for me!!! In spite of the low light inside the forest, I managed these pictures.
Stub-tailed Spadebill
So many emotions and the first day was not over yet!  Later, I did another walk through the trails with Ramón and my family... but I'll left that story for the next post, so stay tuned!  

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