Sunday, August 6, 2017

At the end of the road

Few months ago (yes... months!), I took advantage of some spare days and went to Darien province in eastern Panama in order to find a bird that has eluded me since I started birding more than 20 years ago.  You may expect that it is a rare and range-restricted species... and until some years ago, only reliable during the expeditions that ventured deep into the jungle of the Darien Gap.
Welcome to Yaviza. Km 12,580 final from Alaska
So I drove all the way to the town of Yaviza, where the Pan-American Highway abruptly ends... the only gap in more than 30,000 km of concrete and asphalt, and where the Darien Gap officially start!  My short stop there produced Bicolored Wren, a recent colonist to eastern Panama (and Central America), but not the target of my trip.  Some forest patches near town produced some eastern Panama specialties, like Black Oropendola, Black Antshrike and the cassini  ssp. of Chestnut-backed Antbird with its distinctive white spots on wings.
male Chestnut-backed Antbird, ssp cassini 
It was late, and I drove back to Metetí, where I spent the night.  The "appointment" with my target would be on the afternoon of the next day, so I planned to spent the next morning birding El Salto road, which requires an early start... as I did.  Early next day, I caught the dawn chorus in the famous road that ends in the mighty Chucunaque river.  El Salto road is a birding hotspot of the Darien lowlands.  Many Darien specialties and range-restricted species are easily seen there... but not the one I was looking for... but it was a nice spot to spent a couple of hours birding.  In quick succession I got some nice birds like Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Double-banded Graytail, Black-tailed Trogon, Choco Sirystes and many more.
El Salto road birding hotspot
Gray-cheeked Nunlet
Time flies when you are having fun, and soon it was time to return to Metetí in order to meet an old friend of mine.  After lunch, I joined  Nando Quiroz, who is an experienced birding guide, specialized in Darien birds.  He was in a private tour with a visiting birder who kindly agreed to accept my company for some hours... so I joined them and went across the Chucunaque river into the Embera-Wounaan region, into mature, old forest.  Before arriving to the local village, Nando stopped the car at the entrance of a narrow trail.  We walked a little bit and then he pointed us a huge Cuipo tree (Cavanillesia sp.)... it had a nest with an eagle on it... a Crested Eagle!
Crested Eagle
The Crested Eagle is a rare, huge raptor of the neotropics and not very often you have the opportunity to watch one on a nest.  It was not a lifer, but just the second time ever I had the chance to experience it!  In the short way out, back to the car, we crossed Red-throated Caracaras, Blue Cotingas, Golden-headed Manakins and a pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws, detected by their raucous calls... they were lifers for me!  Once at the village, Nando suggested to take a little "panga" at the river to have a better field of view for my target.
That's Nando at back
We were looking for a bird that  inhabits forest edges and clearings... but in Panama it seems to specialize in river banks.  So there we were, aboard a wooden canoe in the middle to the river... Nando was whistling patiently.  Then, a response in the distance... something was answering to Nando's whistling.  After some tense minutes searching the surroundings, Nando pointed out a Cecropia tree.  A small, drab bird with long and pointed bill was flycatching and returning to the same perch... I shakily managed to take some photos.
Dusky-backed Jacamar
DUSKY-BACKED JACAMAR!!!  I know it is not fancy, nor colorful... but this is a quite special bird.  Restricted to a tiny area of eastern Panama and northwestern Colombia, this distinctive species required complete expeditions in the past.  Now, there are some accesible sites along the Chucunaque river that not even need a boat ride to reach!  Of course, you need an experienced guide to take you there... and Nando certainly is one of the best!  Thank you very much!

1 comment:

  1. An excellent experience and a complete goal. Congratulations.