Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Coastal Beltway

Last sunny evening (y'day), I went with Gloriela to the recently opened Coastal Beltway (Cinta Costera). Independently of the controversies, I can't deny that this work has changed the aspect of the city. Is supposed that it will guarantee an efficient solution to the traffic jam on Balboa Avenue but, as you can see in the photo, I think the new four-lane highway soon will not be sufficient. What really I admire is the opening of the public green areas, as well as recreative and cultural areas. We enjoyed seeing families having a walk, people jogging and kids playing basketball along the way. And what about the birds? Despite I only spent 30 minutes, I saw several flycatchers, the omnipresent grackles, a pair of Ruddy Ground-Doves, a female Sporophila seedeater, two Saffron Finches and, of course, all those birds you expect from the mudflats around the Intercontinental Hotel and the Yatch Club (low tide). Let's wait for the migration.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Birding Gamboa and Pipeline Road

Gamboa is a quiet town in the shores of the Gatun lake (central Panama) that offers a wide variety of habitats. From gardens and residential areas to primary forest, you can find it all there, close to Panama city. With so many options, the perseverance is the key. That's why we try to visit this place almost every weekend and last saturday was not the exception. Osvaldo Quintero and myself went to this place, making our first stop in the ammo dump, as usual. With cameras in hand, we checked the marshes, finding the usual suspects: a juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron (close to a nest), Wattled Jacanas, White-throated Crake, Green Heron, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, and so on... Then, Osvaldo spotted three little birds high on a tree. A quick check with my binoculars confirmed that they were Olivaceous Piculets, a lifer for Osvaldo, and only the second time that I have seen this bird in Gamboa.
We entered the Pipeline Road (seeing a Little Tinamou at the entrance) and began to walk from the first bridge (Juan Grande). The activity was low, and the rising heat made us reach only the third bridge (Frijoles). Anyway, we heard some birds and tried to fotograph a Black-bellied Wren (frustrating). We deserved a cold drink, so we headed to the Rainforest Discovery Center. Trust me, you must visit this place. Is located in the middle of the forest, and they have the best lowland hummingbirds feeders in Panama (you can see my video here). If the hummingbirds don't impress you, then the circuit of trails or the 100 feet observation tower will. The place was crowded, but nonetheless we enjoyed the hummingbirds and some antbirds and tanagers attending an antswarm (no Ground-Cuckoos this time). This place is excellent for both the amateur birder and the bird-maniac-lister-&-twitcher. After saying goodbye to Margelis and Julia (our hostesses), we returned to the city. The plans for the evening include to attend the 11th PAS Owls, Wine and Cheese Night (Osvaldo) and to finish some case reports (I'm not in vacations yet!).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fieldtrip to El Real, Darien. Part II

Saturday morning caught us early having our breakfast at Doña Lola's. The weather forecast was not good, the sky was completely gray, with an imminent threat of rain. It prevented me to carry my camera, but not to keep ongoing our adventure. Actually, the only shot I got of a bird is that of a rooster in the middle of one street in El Real before it starts to rain (just a drizzle, but I didn't wanted to take any risk). We took an arranged pick-up (courtesy of Guido Berguido from Advantage Tours) and headed to Pirre 1 through pastures and nice forest patches. We saw (and heard) the first Yellow-breasted Flycatcher of the trip, a Laughing Falcon and a Crane Hawk. At the end of the road, in the little town of Pirre 1, we got a Capped Heron, a pair of Spot-breasted and Red-rumped Woodpeckers, and a pair of Pied Puffbirds excavating a nest very close to the road, for the delight of those with cameras (that means, not me).
The trail to Rancho Frío, a ranger station in the Darien National Park, was wide and muddy... and I mean very muddy. The first part is through secondary forest patches and open areas before it enters the primary forest. Soon we found a mixed flock that kept us animated. Yellow-breasted and Yellow-margined Flycatchers, Bananaquit and White-shouldered Tanagers delighted us while feeding high in the canopy. Then, I spotted a little yellowish tanager with a gray belly. It wasn't until we saw a male Yellow-backed Tanager when I confirmed my initial I.D. Later in the day we got closer looks of this Darien specialty in association with orioles, tityras, becards, other tanagers and flycatchers. My life Pale-bellied Hermit was chasing a Rufous-breasted and then perched at a ridiculous shooting range for a minute or so (only happens when I'm not carrying my camera). Inside the forest the activity was low, but still we managed to found Black-breasted and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Blue Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Bright-rumped Attilas, Crested Oropendola and even a perched male Green-crowned Woodnymph that allowed us to study it in detail. After many hours of slow motion walk on the muddy trail, we decided to return (not before a rapid dive in the Peresenico river) to have our packed lunch. We had an uneventfull drive back to El Real, where we met Guido and his group. In the stretch of road between the pumphouse and the water tank we found 4 different woodpeckers (Red-crowned, Red-rumped, Spot-breasted and Crimson-crested), tons of seedeaters (Variable and Ruddy-breasted), more anis, and many more. We walked to the airstrip finding the bird of the trip (at least for me, thanks Guido): a pair of singing Black-capped Donacobius. I don't know what impressed me more: the beautiful contrast of the black, brown and buffy tones, the expressive yellow iris, the loud voice or the choreography that they monted whenever they were singing antiphonally. What a spectacular pair of birds... and everything within ten or 15 feet (and my camera?). The day ended with four lifers, plus a Panama life bird.
Next (last) day we tried the Pinogana road. This one is a more open road than the Pirre one, also in good conditions. The more open areas produced such birds like the White-necked Puffbird and the Roadside Hawk pictured above (I brought my camera), plus lots of commoner birds. New birds for the trip were the female Black Antshrike working in the tangles at the first part of the road and a group of Gray-headed Chachalacas. We got better looks of the Laughing Falcon, Crane Hawk, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and the Black Oropendolas (not the best picture, but the only one I managed and I think it is recognizable). Then we moved to the airstrip trying again for the Donacobius, but only heard it far away (I brought my camera). We saw again the Large-billed Seed-Finches, but no Yellow-hooded Blackbirds this time. We had our mid-morning breakfast (after seeing a Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher in a tree over the restaurant in the middle of the town and an inmature male Lesser Goldfinch over the hospital) and then, back to our hotel to pack our things. We had a dry ride to Yaviza where we finished the fieldtrip with a big smile in our faces, after seeing lots of birds and always remembering those Donacobius dancing for us. I didn't had a chance for a picture. Good excuse to return.
Only one last thing. On route we stopped in Metetí (central Darien) in a gas station to fill the tank. We saw several individuals of House Sparrow there. For sure I'm not the first one that have seen this bird in Darien, but it is seldom reported (if reported at all). So I got some pictures!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fieldtrip to El Real, Darien. Part I

El Darien... the final frontier. I have been a more or less active birder since 15 years ago in Panama, and the biggest gap on my life list still is those birds only ocurring in the Darien lowlands (eastern Panama). Some years ago, I got interesting highland birds in Chucanti (barely western Darien) and spent few days in La Palma, which is the Darien's capital, watching a Harpy Eagle nest and Black Oropendolas, but nothing else (okay, i also got there my life -and only- Bicolored Hawk). That's why I was so excited by this trip. El Real is located in eastern Darien and is one of the birding hotspot of the province. Of course is not like Cana, on the Pirre range, but you can find lots of birds, with South America affinities, that are not present in central Panama. In fact, the latest additions to the panamenian avifauna have been sighted in this site (Large-billed Seed-Finch and Yellow-hooded Blackbird).

Last weekend, I joined 10 others members of the Panama Audubon Society in a journey to the heart of the Darien province, searching for everything what has to offer. The first stop in the route (still in Panama province) was to watch a pair of isabellinus American Kestrels. Then, at the Río Mono bridge we heard a Barred Puffbird and saw a soaring Hook-billed Kite. From there we took the improved Panamerican highway to Yaviza, where it ends. Yaviza is a busy town in the shores of the Chucunaque river. It's a gate to many other communities in eastern Darien, including El Real. We headed for El Real under a heavy rainfall. During the only chance that mother nature gave us, I spotted a big raptor perched on a branch... with a white head... an adult Black-collared Hawk!!!! After dipping on it in Río Mono, I almost materialize it with all my desire of seeing it!!! My first lifer of the trip and we haven't even arrived to El Real yet! Of course we saw other common birds: Common Black-Hawk, Cocoi Heron, White and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Ringed, Green and Amazon Kingfishers, Smooth-billed and Greater Anis and so on... the bird activity was good until we were hit again by the storm.
After navigating the Chucunaque, Tuira and Pirre rivers, we arrived to El Real trough the Uroseca river. Because of the low tide, this was a little creek by the moment we tried to land, making it a hard task. Finally we did it, and established ourselves in the hotel El Nazareno (only one in town). Basic accommodations and no running water, but what else you expect in this remote corner of the country.

Soon we were out searching for any feathered creature we can. The very first bird spotted at the airstrip was an adult male Yellow-hooded Blackbird!!! in the far end of a flooded field. It proved to be the only one for all the trip. Then, at the airstrip itself, we saw at least two adult males Large-billed Seed-Finches (my second lifer of the day), one of them singing. Some other noteworthy sightings were the Plain-breasted Ground-Doves all over the place (probably first report for the Darien province), a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (second report for the Darien province), Bran-colored Flycatcher and Gray-breasted Crakes heard. Then we moved to the cemetery road (aka Mercadeo road) finding a nice mixed flock that included Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Orange-crowned Oriole, Spot-crowned Barbet, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and so on... More experienced birders in the group recognized the chattering calls of a group of Spectacled Parrotlets and we soon were watching these tiny birds feeding on a Cecropia tree (my third lifer of the day). While everyone was watching the parrotlets, a little bird behind us caught my attention. It was an adult male Lesser Goldfinch that disappeared too quickly (maybe first report for the Darien province). After a nice birding afternoon, we headed to Doña Lola's restaurant to have dinner while hearing "la escandalosa" - a Limpkin - and then back to our hotel in order to have some deserved rest.
Lifers of day one: 3 plus a Panama life bird!
Part II here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Las Nubes, Cerro Azul

Last thursday, Gloriela, Osvaldo Quintero, Osvaldo Quintero Jr. and myself went to Las Nubes of Cerro Azul, a very quiet and pleasant community no more than 45 minutes to the east of Panama City. Our main objective was to find (and photograph) one of the American Swallow-tailed Kites' nests that are around. We arrived late in the afternoon, finding a cold, wet and foggy environment. Soon we got common backyard birds: Yellow-faced & Blue-black Grassquits, Variable Seedeater, Tropical Pewee, Tropical Kingbird, White-tipped Doves, Blue-and-gray, Palm and Plain-colored Tanagers. We also saw some kites soaring over us but, alas, no nests.It wasn't until we found a local worker, who showed us an Eucalyptus tree that was holding an active nest, that we were able to watch two overgrown chicks. Later, we found another nest with an adult kite on it. My distant and cropped picture shows one of the chicks on the first nest (better pictures by Osvaldo at Xenornis)It was a nice, after-work, relaxing trip. Except by the mud on my shoes, everything went right as planned (we found the birds and spend a wonderful time).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Last sunday

Last sunday we visit one of the less known panamenian national parks, the Camino de Cruces National Park. Usually nobody realizes that the main buildings and visitors center of the park are close to the Centennial Bridge, in route to western Panama, or to Gamboa as in our case. It was a very quick and early visit, around 7:30 am. A nice, but sleepy women attend us because the park rangers were in their daily duties. She told us that she only knew about one trail, the Capricornio trail (funny name for a forest trail), but last night's blizzard ripped out some trees, making it difficult to walk.
Anyway, we tried. It was wide and passable only by a few meters, crossing a little creek to a tall secondary forest, where we heard little activity. After hearing a Cocoa Woodcreeper and a Blue-and-black Grosbeak, we returned to the parking lot in order to continue in our way to Gamboa. This park used to be my counting area during the Christmas Bird Counts many years ago. Back then we entered the park through the Chiva Chiva's road, near the Miraflores locks. This road still exists, but now there are some safety issues that make me think on it twice before doing any birding again in that road. I hope to visit this park again someday. For sure there are more trails and the forest seems to be good.