Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hello Antigua!

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit the city of Antigua, in Guatemala, for just a couple of days.  This is going to be a quite short report, since I barely had time to bird... I spend most of my time attending an academic activity.  Antigua, with its cobbled streets, colonial buildings and warm people is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its convoluted history is quite interesting.
Typical cobbled street in Antigua
Agua Volcano in the background
I have to admit that I was more interested in the natural marvels surrounding this beautiful city... not only birds, but also a landmark we are not used to see in Panama: volcanoes.  My wife warned me about the active volcanoes surrounding the city... she climbed the smoky Pacaya Volcano during her visit to the country some years ago (check this post)... but I was not prepared for the sighting of an active volcano spewing fire, lava and clouds of ash!
Fuego Volcano
I took the above photo around the corner of my hotel!  That's the Fuego Volcano in a way I never dreamed to see... scary (at least for this Panamanian)!  I tried to sleep that night trying not to think on that sight of course; instead, I thought of the new birds I was about to see, since it was my first time in northern Central America and was pretty sure that even the common birds would be lifers.  The very first bird I saw was a Great-tailed Grackle (the most common one in Panama City!)... but then I got some nice lifers right at the main plaza, like Pacific Parakeet, Inca Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Black-capped Swallows and Yellow-winged Tanagers.  However, my favorite lifer at the city was the Bushy-crested Jay that I found in a wooded area very close to the hotel.
Bushy-crested Jay, adult
Bushy-crested Jay, immature
This species is restricted to northern Central America, and was conspicuous and noisy (well, is a jay after all).  It was my last life bird in the city, and I knew that I had to get out of the city into the woods if I wanted more life birds.  After a quick internet search it was clear that the place to go was Finca El Pilar, just 10 minutes away of the main plaza.   Taking advantage of the only free afternoon, I took some hours to bird the trails.  At first the activity was low... but this sign kept me optimistic!
The hummingbird feeders attracted both Violet and Cinnamon Sabrewings, Magnificent, Azure-crowned and White-eared Hummingbirds, and Green-throated Mountain-Gems (four of them life hummers for me), while White-naped Brush-Finches, Band-backed Wrens and more Bushy-crested Jays roamed the forest interior.
Cinnamon Sabrewing
White-naped (Yellow-throated) Brush-Finch
I had the trails for my own, so I was able to see some secretive forest-dwellers like Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes and even a group of Singing Quails scurrying uphill... I managed a creepy photo of one of the quails.
Singing Quail
When leaving the place, a fruiting tree by the entrance produced Brown-backed Solitaire and Gray Silky-Flycatcher, my last two life birds in Guatemala.  I know this is just a taste of the extraordinaire avifauna of Guatemala and northern Central America, and I know I will be birding this country again soon!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Impressive numbers at Boca de Pacora

The news spread through the social media... a vagrant (for Panama) Large-billed Tern appeared in the coast of the upper Bay of Panama close to the mouth of the Pacora river (Boca de Pacora) to the east of Panama City... and we were after him! Under the guidance of Karl and Rosabel Kaufmann, Stephany Carty, Rolando Jordan and your blogger host rode the intricate dirt roads through pasture lands, scrubs and patches of gallery forests in order to reach the beach.  The one-hour drive resulted in some nice birds of course, like this obliging and aptly-named Roadside Hawk.
Roadside Hawk
I took the above photo from the car... in fact, we only left the cars in order to watch a roosting Barn Owl (always nice to see an owl in daylight) and to find a calling Striped Cuckoo that turned out to be a life bird for Rolando!
Striped Cuckoo
Eventually, we reached the beach.  The surf was quite away, but the tide was raising.  The extensive mudflats were full of waders and other water birds.
Boca de Pacora beach
We checked first a sand bank where Rosabel's group saw a family of American Oystercatchers with a recently fledged young some days ago.  There are few breeding reports of this species in the upper Bay of Panama, including mine some years ago while celebrating with my wife our anniversary (check this post).  We saw at least 12 different oystercatchers at the site that day, some of them doing courtship displays.
American Oystercatchers
As the tide was rising, the birds began to gather closer to the coast.  Impressive flocks of Neotropic Cormorants, Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds obscured the horizon... but more important, flocks of migrants also started to appear.  It is the middle of June and these species shouldn't be in Panama... at least not in such numbers: tons of Sandwich, Gull-billed and Common Terns were quite unusual... and no less than eight Caspian Terns also add some color to the flock.
Caspian Terns
The most common species was the Black Skimmer.  Close to one hundred birds were resting at the beach.  However, these birds probably belongs to the South American subspecies cinerascens, which are larger than the North American birds, with gray wing linings and tails and thin white trailing edge to the wings.
Black Skimmers
Black Skimmers
Although we found most of the previously reported species for the area, the Large-billed Tern did not appear again.  We had to leave the place since a huge rainstorm was about to hit us, but we were happy anyway knowing that all those birds still call Panama their home!
Dark clouds over Boca de Pacora

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stopping by the park

Exactly three years ago, I photographed a pair of Striped Owls, with my family, right in the middle of Panama City at the very popular Parque Omar (here the photos).  Today, my friend Osvaldo Quintero showed me this Striped Owl almost in the same site, over the tennis court:
Striped Owl
The Striped Owl is rarely seen in Panama City, where there is little available habitat.  This individual was discovered due to the droppings that appeared each morning on the court since some days ago.  A second individual had just left the site, according to the tennis players.  This owl is beautifully patterned in warm brown, white and black... and have the conspicuous ear-tufts associated with owls by the non-birders.
Striped Owl
After some shots, I left the site with the owl exactly in the same site.  If you want to see it just check the branches above the tennis courts over the droppings.  Happy birding!