Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Record-breaking day!

And for a second year in a row, a world birder visits our isthmus in his quest to record the largest number of birds species in a year.  Arjan Dwarshius' attempt to break the world's big year record of 6042 species recorded in a year, set by Noah Strycker just 11 months ago, was about to make history!  After spending his first day in Panama last November 3rd, Arjan was just 11 birds away of the record!  This was not coincidence... Arjan and, his uncle Fred, chose the local advantage to make the most of their time in our country... they were guided by Guido Berguido who runs Advantage Tours and who is the head of the local NGO ADOPTA Panama Rainforest... and also an old, good friend of mine!  Also joining them was another friend of mine, birder extraordinaire and, since recently, an excellent, independent birding guide Ismael "Nando" Quiroz.
Elfin forest at Cerro Jefe, above Cerro Azul (file photo)
I took the late night bus from Penonome town (about two hours from Panama City), where I was resting with my family during the holidays (yes, the first days of November are holidays in Panama), in order to join the group in the record-breaking day!  Very early the next day, we headed to the gated community of Cerro Azul in the foothills to the east of Panama City, and headed directly to the upper slopes of Cerro Jefe and its stunning elfin forest, home of many range-restricted birds.  The day started quite low, but with some new year-birds for Arjan.  At the Vistamares trail we crossed a mixed flock with Shining and Green Honeycreepers, Rufous-winged, Emerald, Speckled and Black-and-yellow Tanagers, migrant Red-eyed Vireos, Tawny-capped, Fulvous-vented and White-vented Euphonias, Paltry Tyrannulets and White-ruffed Manakins, among others.
Black-and-Yellow Tanager (male)
After a while, Guido managed to attract an endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker allowing scoped views... but the desired Black-crowned Pittasoma refused to show up...  but a pair of handsome Yellow-eared Toucanets were a nice consolation price instead.  Eventually, we managed to find 10 new birds for Arjan's list.  Year-bird 6042 was the Black-eared Wood-Quail that we actually managed to see thanks to Nando's advice (it was a life bird for me; although I have heard it several times previously).  After that, the activity dropped sharply... and we decided to have lunch before heading to Calle Maipo trail.
Yellow-eared Toucanet (male)
At Maipo, the record-breaking bird arrived quite unexpectedly when a Tody Motmot (very rare in the area) responded to a recorded call played by Guido... we tried hard to see the bird but it turned out to be very shy... but we saw a pair of Crimson-bellied Woodpecker that were Panama lifers for me as well (not a new year-bird for Arjan of course).  After realizing that we were not going to see the bird, we accepted that the record-breaking species was a heard-only record... of course, lots of high-fives, big smiles and congratulations continued!  Uncle Fred surprised all of us (including Arjan) when he opened a Champaign bottle and a nice banner to celebrate the moment... I'm impressed of his organization!
He did it!
We ended the day at the-now-famous Finca Bayano, were we managed to find the Long-billed Dowitchers reported earlier in the season... they were new year-birds for him, as well as three other species in spite of the short time we spent there.  And in spite of the short time I shared with Arjan, I can tell that he is passionate about birds and birding... he really seemed to be enjoying each little brown job that, desperately, we were pointing to him hoping it to be a new year-bird for him... but what can you show to a man that already has seen more than 60% of the extant birds of the world! I recommend you to track his progress HERE... the numbers are just amazing!  Not only that, remember that he is birding as a fundraiser for the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme , so enter the webpage and make a donation!  I had to said good bye after leaving Finca Bayano... a long journey back with my family was awaiting me.  He spent five more days in Panama, watching amazing birds in Chucanti, Nusagandi, Yaviza, Aligandi and even right here in Panama City before taking his flight to Costa Rica.  Check this POST and you'll see that he is VERY lucky as well! 
FAREWELL, MY FRIEND.... I know 7000 birds for this year is plausible!

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