Friday, October 7, 2016

Off shore western Azuero: birds and mammals

It was 5:00 am last October 1st, 2016.  In spite of a not-so-favorable weather forecast, a group of intrepid birders, including George Angehr, Howard Laidlaw, Joris Deruwe, Miguel Siu and your blogger host were standing in the dark while Kees Groennedijk was taking care of the last details for our first pelagic trip of the year.  We were at the dock in Reina beach close to the town of Mariato in western Azuero Peninsula (Veraguas province).  A little "panga" took us along the Negro river and, eventually, to the fishing boat anchored off shore due to tide issues.
Part of the group at the dock in Negro river
Our pelagic trip started in the dark.  It was not after passing the 6:00 am mark that we started to watch some birds... the first one was the silhouette of a Magnificent Frigatebird.  We took the same route we did last year, navigating parallel to the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula to Punta Naranjo (the southwest corner of the peninsula), then off few miles to deep waters along the Continental Shelf break, moving to the west while chumming and then going back to Reina beach more or less in an straight line.
Punta Naranjo
Still within the Continental Shelf, our first highlight was an immature Red-billed Tropicbird that decided to swim quite close to the boat, allowing some shoots before taking off again.  The species seems to be regular in those waters according to Kees, but it was the first time I see it in the Pacific Ocean.  Eventually, we saw three to four different individuals, all of them immatures and within the Continental Shelf.
Immature Red-billed Tropicbird
Immature Red-billed Tropicbird
At Punta Naranjo we only saw two (instead of dozens) Brown Noddies flying close to the rocks.  By that time, it was evident that the most common species present was the Black Tern... loose flocks of up to 50 birds were seen each hour, specially within the Continental Shelf, plus other terns species like Royal and Common Terns inshore and many Bridled Terns well offshore... but also some resting on floating debris close to shore.
Brown Noddy 
Black Tern (basic)
Common Tern (alternate)
Bridled Tern (basic)
This time, our time at deep waters was not very productive.  At the chumming sites we only saw few Galapagos Shearwaters... the only tubenose recorded in the whole trip.  That's right... no other shearwater, petrel nor storm-petrel species that day.  At least, we were expecting two or three different species of storm-petrels... none was seen.  Were they not there?  The chum was not smelly enough?  We were not lucky enough?  Certainly, we still need to know a lot about our pelagic avifauna.
Galapagos Shearwater
Besides the birds (and lack of them), the other highlight was the number of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins that we managed to see.  Several dozens of these intelligent animals accompanied us for a while, they gave us a marvelous show!
And that my friends was our day at the sea.  No new birds for Panama and no life birds, plus a little bit of seasickness for the first time (weird, since the sea was quite calm)... but hey! that's pelagic birding!!!  Can't wait for the next one!

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