Sunday, January 31, 2016

It is summer time!

Time to enjoy the sun and the marine breeze!  Well, in Panama you can enjoy them anytime... as I did with my family last weekend in one of the huge all-inclusive beach resorts that abound along the central Pacific coast.

To be honest, I didn't intended to bird extensively... only during the first hours of light while the others were still sleeping, or if something curious or rare appear.  My morning checklists included more than 20 species, most of them common inhabitants of the lush gardens at the resort.  At the sandy beach, the numbers of Laughing Gulls and Sandwich Terns were impressive.  They were fairly confident ... just walking a few steps away when someone approached.
Sandwich Terns
Of course some other marine birds were present too: pelicans, frigatebirds, cormorants and even a lonely Blue-footed Booby dive-bombing near shore.  The only shorebird seen were the omnipresent Willet and Whimbrels... and a tiny group of Sanderlings too.  But no bird was as confident as a curious raptor that visited the main pool.  Some tourists, noticing my binoculars, showed me the bird, and asked me if I knew what it was.
Common Black-Hawk
I said yes, it is a Common Black-Hawk.  I know it sounded obvious... it is a hawk, is black... and certainly common if just appeared in the middle of a huge resort full of bathers.  I didn't want to deepen on taxonomic issues, but this form used to be known as the Mangrove Black-Hawk and I still call it that way when birding alone.  Well, after all the bird was a great show and people seem satisfied with my explanation, so all happy!  Enjoy the summer, and good birding!

Friday, January 8, 2016

More birds this 2016!

It is not a secret that I'm an avid birder... but during the last years my birding activities have dropped a little bit due to "lack of time".  The truth is that you don't need to organize a one-week expedition to exotic forests or mountaintops to watch birds... you can bird everywhere, anywhere!  One of my new year resolutions is to "watch" more birds... more accurately, to record more birds.  So far, I'm recording everyday the birds that I see from my home and from the office... and I have even taken the time to go to hotspots within Panama City, like Costa del Este and Panama Viejo.  In fact, today was the third day in a row visiting the mudflats and mangroves of Panama Viejo (at Panama City's waterfront).
Ruins, skyscrapers and birds mix in Panama Viejo
How can I ignore that?  This place holds a bird list of more than 270 species, with some rarities regularly recorded.  These last days, the place was filled with tons of Laughing Gulls and some shorebirds (godwits, willets, whimbrels, dowitchers and black-bellied plovers, among others).  A closer to look to the flock revealed some Franklin's Gulls too... and a Ring-billed Gull too!
Franklin's Gull
Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls
As I have mentioned on other occasions, you can expect only one gull species in Panama: Laughing Gull... so, three species is not bad at all.  But after checking eBird, I knew that at least two other species have been reported from the same site recently.  The next two days produced both of them... a first-year Herring Gull flying away and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull today.
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed and Laughing Gulls
Rare species so close to home... priceless.  Of course, more widespread species were present too, like cormorants, pelicans, frigatebirds, lapwings and many more... ah, and don't forget the American White Pelican that continues wandering around!
American White Pelican
So, this year I hope to watch more birds, use more eBird, get some lifers and add some new species to the Panama list this year... ambitious?   I don't think so!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bird of the Month: Red-billed Tropicbird

The Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) is a widespread resident of the east Pacific, east and south Atlantic, Caribbean and the northwestern corner of the Indigo Oceans, where it is quite sedentary close to its nesting islands.  Few birds equal in beauty and elegance the tropicbird in flight, and a flock of these birds circling close to their nesting islands is an amazing event!
Red-billed Tropicbird
In Panama, it is regularly found around the Swan Cay (off Colon Island, Bocas del Toro province), where it breeds.  In fact, all the photos of this post are from that colony.  Is very rare elsewhere in Panamanian waters.
Cay off Colon Island, Bocas del Toro (Panama)

The first time we saw this bird, my wife and I were in the islands for our honeymoon.  We took a quick boat trip around Colon Island making several stops in the way, including the Swan Cays, where she took the next photo with her point-and-shoot camera.
Red-billed Tropicbird
Eight years it took to return to see these spectacular birds; this time both of us (plus our daughter and nephew) were able to see them in detail... including their coral-red bills, bicolored feet, bandit-like mask and, of course, the long central tail feathers.
Red-billed Tropicbird
They are powerful flyers, and feed by plunge-diving on flying fish and squids.  The birds that we saw were chasing each other and approaching the cliff edges where other birds were already resting.  They share the cays with Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebird; although doesn't compete directly for nesting sites.
Red-billed Tropicbird
For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the Red-billed Tropicbird as our Bird of the Month!

Literature consulted:
1. Ridgely R, Gwynne J. A guide to the birds of Panama. Princeton Univerity Press 1989.
2. Angehr G, Dean R. The birds of Panama. A field guide. Zona Tropical 2010.
3. Orta, J., Jutglar, F., Bonan, A., Garcia, E.F.J., Kirwan, G.M. & Boesman, P. (2016). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 1 January 2016).