Friday, April 7, 2017

To twitch, or not to twitch

Different birders watch birds in different ways.  Some of them like to spend the afternoon relaxing in the porch, watching the birds at the feeders in the middle of the backyard while others chase all the species possible within a region... some keep watching birds everywhere, anytime while other only birdwatch during the weekend.  I do a little bit of everything, depending on time of course.  However, sometimes a little extra effort is necessary if you want to add new birds to your life list.
Large-billed Tern at Gamboa
This year have been exceptional regarding occurrence of local rarities.  And so far, I have managed to cross the country several times searching for them... successfully!  Alone, with my family or with friends, chasing a rarity is always exciting, specially if you manage to successfully locate the bird you were looking for.  For example, the day after the first report of a vagrant Large-billed Tern in the town of Gamboa (central Panama) I decided to pay a visit in my lunch break... actually it was my only chance because I was about to leave the city later that day and for more than a week.  Gamboa is mere 30 minutes or less from Panama City, so the decision was straightforward.  After 10 minutes of my arrival, the Large-billed Tern circled above the public dock (right where it was reported) showing its spectacular flight pattern and allowing nice photos (above) and even better views.  I probably stayed only 20 minutes... yes, I saw it and that was all... back to work!
Twitching a Dwarf Cuckoo
Time is important... you better try to find your desired birds as soon as you get the news of its occurrence.  Some vagrants stay for long periods of time while others are seen only once or twice.  When the very rare (for Panama) Dwarf Cuckoo appeared in Tortí (one and a half hours to the east of Panama City) one week ago, I lost the chance to chase it... when I finally went to the site four days later, the bird was not there.  The birders that went the next day of the initial report found it by the way.  A Little Cuckoo at the site was a great consolation prize, but having a twitching trip with good friends always worth it... with or without Dwarf Cuckoo!
Little Cuckoo at Torti
But some times you get lucky... when my friend Rafael Lau published the photos of a very rare (for Panama) Hermit Warbler in Bambito (western highlands of Chiriqui province), I was in the middle of a trip with my family, thousands of kilometers away of Panama.  When I finally was able to twitch the bird, I drove more than 700 kms back and forth in the same day with my wife Gloriela and my daughter Gabrielle.  At the site, I started to search for the vagrant warbler.  It took me a while before an adult male Hermit Warbler decided to materialize in front of me, allowing some shots, like the one posted below... amazing!  We were in a rush, and only had time for another specialty of the Chiriqui highlands: strawberries with cream!
Hermit Warbler at Bambito
Strawberries & cream!
And then, just few weeks after my life Hermit Warbler, I went back to the Chiriqui highlands, again in a long twitch from Panama City with my wife.  My objective, a relative common, but secretive, inhabitant of montane forests.  Some friends of mine repeatedly reported a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove in the trails above the town of Guadalupe, within La Amistad International Park.  But a very early drive in the dark through a really bad road was necessary in order to be at the trail on time to watch the bird... and that was exactly what we did.  After spending the night at town (just after watching, for the first time, a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl), I drove the road in complete darkness.  The road looks like a dry river bed... quite bumpy and scary... but we made it.  At first light, we were at the start of the trail.  Soon, I saw a plump figure walking toward us... I barely trusted my eyes because a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove was in collision trajectory!  When the quail-dove noticed our presence (mere five meters from us), it turned around, walking up-trail.  Then, I remembered that I was carrying my heavy camera and tried some shots... just this came out:
What a great experience!  Finding your desired bird is magical, specially after investing time and effort on it.  The above picture probably doesn't show the quail-dove in all its splendor, but I kind of like it... I can almost feel the chilly air in the morning under the canopy of the montane forest while seeing this photo!  For me, the answer to the question is TO TWITCH!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Roatan!

The dry season in Panama has kept me busy... between work and family outings to enjoy our beautiful country, I have not had time to update this blog... and; so far, I have made only short excursions to watch common birds around Panama City.  However, taking advantage of a long weekend last month, I took my family to the island of Roatán, the largest of the Bay Islands off the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Not a birding trip... but binoculars and camera were both part of my luggage of course.
It could not be easier.  A direct flight right from Panama City domestic airport (mere 10 minutes from our apartment) took us in less than two hours to the paradise island.  The mixture of cultures is felt as soon you get off the plane and everyone is willing to gift you a smile. A short transfer tooks us to our all-inclusive resort.  Only a narrow one-lane bridge connects the main island with the resort, which was a private island by itself, with coralline white beaches, patches of mangroves, deciduous forest, some open areas and, of course, all the resorts amenities you can need... my girls just loved it!!!
I have to admit that my expectations were not high regarding possible lifers... as most islands out there, the avifauna is limited, and the island is close enough to Panama to share many species with us.  Of course some residents birds certainly would be new for my Life and Central American lists, and I made short walks around the resort two to three times a day, each day, looking for them.  Right at the resort grounds, two of such resident were quite common: Mangrove Vireo and Canivet's Emerald... both lifers by the way.
Mangrove Vireo 
female Canivet's Emerald
However, the site was quite good for boreal migrants.  Several species of waterfowls, waders, wood warblers and others call Roatan its home during the winter months.  Some are widely distributed back in Panama, like Yellow and Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Waterthrush and Northern Redstart, while others are considered rarities back there, like Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Yellow-throated, Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers.
Black-and-White Warbler
Worm-eating Warbler
In fact, the Worm-eating Warbler pictured above was only my second one ever!  Most of these birds were seen around the resort or incidentally along the touristic tour that we took around the island.  As I mentioned, this was not a birding trip... but at least I was hoping to get some range-restricted species for Central America in one of the planned side trips: a diving experience to Cayos Cochinos, home of Caribbean Dove and Yucatan Vireo.  Both species are found in Roatan, but are scarce, specially the dove... at the cays, they are more common and easy to see... and I was sure my family would enjoy the sun and the beach of the place.  However, a cold front hit the islands (and most of Central America) the day of the trip, and it was cancelled due to rough sea conditions.
The view from our room during the cold front
Well, in spite of the weather, we enjoyed the resort's amenities and took it easy at the pool and the room.  I found more Roatan residents, including a pair of Brown-crested Flycatcher (not a lifer, but new to my Central America list) and a nice selection of doves and pigeons: feral Rock Pigeons and Eurasian Collared-Doves, White-winged Doves, Common Ground-Doves and White-crowned Pigeons.
Brown-crested Flycatcher
White-crowned Pigeon
The last species was particularly beautiful and conspicuous, specially considering my previous experiences with it in Panama and San Andres island. I saw it very well and quite close, even at the middle of very populated towns, like Coxen Hole and its water treatment facility close to the airport.
In fact, the place was quite birdy, with dozens Blue-winged Teals and American Coots, some stilts and Least Grebes and even a pair of rare (for the island) Ring-necked Ducks.
Ring-necked Duck
The last place we visited was the Carambola Botanic Gardens, in the northwestern coast of the island.  We enjoyed a nice walk, but the trail to the viewpoint at the top of the hill was blocked by the fallen trunks and palm leaves of the previous day cold front. However, I managed to spy a singing Yucatan Vireo in a tangled tree high above us.  I saw the bird for just a fraction of second and ID'd it based on voice... I will include it in my Life List next time I found it with more prolonged views (I hope).
At the end, what a great trip we had... fun, sun, sand, tropical breeze and some life birds of course!