Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Global Big Day in Panama

For the third year in a row, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology held the Global Big Day on last May 13th, a day when thousands of eBirders around the world joined forces to record the largest ever seen before number of birds.  Not a global competition, but an event to raise awareness and support global conservation, to work as a team, to set goals and to surpass oneself... that's the magic of this initiative.
In one way or another, many birders worked together to elevate their countries to the highest place in this non-declared "competiton".  Here in Panama, several groups announced their routes and targets.
Of course I did the same.  In what is now a tradition, I went with my wife Gloriela to the foothills of Cocle province (central Panama) and stayed the night before at the cabin of the General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park above the town of El Cope.  Exactly at 12:00 am, I went out in the dark looking for owls.  The night was chilly and foggy, and only a Mottled Owl was heard in the distance... but that was my first bird of the day!  Later, around 5:00 am, we were ready to listen the dawn chorus.  In quick succession we started to add species by ear: Rufous Motmot, both Clay-colored and Pale-vented Thrushes, Hepatic Tanager and so on...  With the first lights we started to hike La Rica trail, taking then La Rana trail in a kind of loop back to the cabin.  There was another group birding the area, so we did the transect quite quickly, adding some nice species like Stripe-breasted Wren, Spot-crowned Antvireo and Orange-bellied Trogon.
Adult male Orange-bellied Trogon
Soon, it was time to start the descend to the lowlands.  On route we did several stops to check the activity... still above El Cope town we found Black-headed Saltator, Chestnut-headed Oropendolas and Giant Cowbirds, while at town a Lesson's Motmot allowed nice views and photos.  The exact ID of members of the former Blue-crowned Motmot in central Panama is a mystery, but now I think that all of them (both in the foothills and in the lowlands) probably are Lesson´s Motmots.
Black-headed Saltator 
Lesson's Motmot
The heat of the lowlands savanna contrasted with the chilly humid premontane forest that we left behind.  It was suffocating!  Nevertheless, we kept birding.  Typical birds of this habitat were Savanna Hawk, Ruddy, Plain-breasted and Blue Ground-Doves, Brown-thorated Parakeets, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and both Golden-fronted and Scrub Greenlets.  At the Aguadulce Salinas, a huge group of Black Skimmers was expected, but the dozens of Wilson's Phalaropes were not!  Nice additions for the day.  At El Salado beach, many waders, including American Oystercatchers, were present, while some nearby fields were good for egrets, meadowlarks and other species.
Wilson's Phalarope (file photo)
Our next stop was Sarigua, were our target was the isolated form of Common Ground-Dove.  An important species for the country since no other group was expected to find it... the ground-dove is extremely localized in Panama, and Sarigua is the best place to find it.  It took us a while, but eventually Gloriela found a pair by the main road in the way out.  With our target in the bag, we ended the day at the town of Chitre, checking some common species and few waders.  We still had a long way to western Azuero... where we stayed that night in order to prepare for the pelagic trip (yes, more about that in my next post).
Globally, the event was a complete success! In Panama, we only managed to achieve one goal (of three): to surpass last year's numbers.  We failed in being the first Central American country in the general table and to enter the world Top Ten...  but certainly next year will be waaay better!

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