Saturday, August 29, 2009

Visiting Altos del Maria

I just came from Altos del María, a gated community in the foothills of western Panama province that have proved to be a good birding spot. Along with Osvaldo Quintero and Alfred Raab, an Altos' resident who kindly guided us through the area, we explored some nice areas with good access roads and good birds. Alfred was constantly saying that we were lucky because we found a sunny day without fog in the upper part of the housing development (La Rioca), where we walked La Coruña street finding a nice mixed flock right in the entrance, with Silver-throated Tanager and Common (very common) Bush-Tanagers, along with Rufous-capped Warblers (feeding youngs), Tufted Flycatcher, Thick-billed and White-vented Euphonias, at least two Yellow-billed Caciques and an Ochraceous Wren that Alfred immediately recognized by its Winter Wren-like call. A little farther we took a trail that leads to an observation tower, attracted by the frog-like call of two Purplish-backed Quail-Doves that eluded us despite our efforts... but bonus birds were the male Purple-throated Mountain-Gem and a shy Black Guan plus a spectacular view of the Cerro Trinidad in the distance. At the tower, we had a terrific view of the pacific lowlands, and of the forest at the foothills. It is possible to see both oceans in a clear day. We decided to visit some other sites before the fog covered everything. Among other species recorded were White Hawk, Pale-vented Thrush, a bright female Shiny Honeycreeper, Paltry and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Golden-hooded and Bay-headed Tanagers.
We start to return, stopping at the Styria gate (the "pyramid") from where you can see all the lower valley of El Maria, where the main community is. We found a big group of American Swallow-tailed Kites plus a Short-tailed Hawk soaring in a thermal. You don't very often see these birds at eye level, nor from above, so we enjoyed the sight for a few minutes. Then, we descended to the valley, to Alfred's place. Alfred have done a good job in his property, hanging feeders and making trails that hold many birds. Only in few minutes around noon we saw or heard Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Black-striped Sparrow, Plain, Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, a nesting Streaked Saltator and Lance-tailed Manakins... all of them typical of drier forest (like the Metropolitan Natural Park here in the city) than the humid mossy-covered forest that we found in La Rioca (which lies over the 1100 meters above sea level and on the Continental Divide). After a quick lunch, we headed to El Valle road (that connects Altos del Maria with El Valle de Anton), but as soon we got to the forest, the rain and the fog showed up. This part of the valley was full of flowering Inga trees that are very good for small hummingbirds (we only saw Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds) Despite our waiting, the rain didn't stop, so we decided to head back to Panama City after a great day in the foothills. Alfred: thank you for everything, I hope to see you soon!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Birding El Cope N.P.

The General de División Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park is located above the picturesque town of El Cope (that's why is aka El Cope N.P.) in the central coclesian foothills and it harbors lots of western highlands species not found farther to the east. It protects one of the most beautiful montane cloud forest in Panama. The promise to find rare and elusive birds led me, Osvaldo Quintero and Hildegar Mendoza to this special place last sunday, blessed with an unusually good weather. After a 3-hours drive from Panama city, we met our local guide, Mr. Santana, at the rangers station and then we moved to the Visitor Center, where Rafael Luck and Euclides "Kilo" Campos were already waiting for us. They were returning from an intrepid one-day trip to Cobachón, following the instructions posted here (and yes, they saw the Azuero Parakeet). They had a surprise. While waiting for us, they walked the first part of the Snowcap (La Rica) trail finding several individuals of Bare-necked Umbrellabirds plus a Lattice-tailed Trogon!!! Wow... hoping not to miss the birds, we literally ran to the trail. Santana was the first to spot two short-crested Umbrellas' with no visible bare skin. They were feeding, one of them seemed curioser, allowing us to take some pictures (confirming our impression that it had white markings in the underparts... maybe a young bird?). After several minutes, a third bird appeared, this one being bigger and heavier with a partially hidden dull red bare skin in the throat, but a short crest. It fed in a more eminent way, shaking the branches wherefrom it was taking the fruits and even catching really BIG insects, striking them violently before swallowing them. Occasionally they vocalized, probably in response to our recording. We found a mixed flock, while watching the Umbrellabirds, composed by Tawny-crested, Black-and-yellow and Speckled Tanagers plus a group of three or four Yellow-throated Bush-Tanagers and a female Black-and-white Becard. Hildegar called my attention toward a tiny "baby" hummer that proved to be a female Snowcap, while Osvaldo was watching a Stripe-throated (Little) Hermit face-to-face. Farther in the trail we found another mixed flock, this time with Golden-olive Woodpecker, Carmiol's (Olive) Tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Slaty Antwrens, Tawny-faced Gnatwrens and Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens. Santana showed us a perched male Ruddy Quail-Dove that stayed for a couple of minutes. We started to return and then, someone flushed a reddish bird that landed a few meters away on a branch for a few seconds, enough to recognize it as a Chiriqui Quail-Dove, a bird only found at higher elevations, but seasonally common in that place according to Santana. You can see in the photo by Osvaldo (used with permission) the uniform reddish colour, the totally gray crown and the marked lores. The neck scalloping was more evident than the moustachial stripe in the field. Happy with the finding, we met again with Rafael and Kilo at the Visitor Center where we heard a Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, the third Quail-Dove of the day. Rafael and Kilo birded the Rana trail, finding a mixed flock of tanagers plus a Orange-bellied Trogon and a Striped Woodhaunter. We decided to walk the Helechos trail, a short loop trail behind the Visitor Center. Osvaldo had been lucky in this trail a year ago so he wanted to give it a chance. He played a recording of a Black-crowned Antpitta two or three times when suddenly it materialized only a few feet from me, responding with all its forces. A really spectacular bird as you can see in my photo. Also note the clay on the bill, maybe it was excavating a nest or looking for earthworms? Currently, taxonomic issues put this bird with the south american Gnateaters, all of them smaller than the Pittasoma. For me, it always will be an Antpitta. After a superb birding, we headed to the lowlands, to Penonome where we had our lunch. After some deliberations, we decided to go to El Gago, looking for some lowlands birds. As usual, we were lucky with the raptors, finding tons of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures (a better name could be Multicolour-headed Vulture), Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, White-tailed and Pearl Kites, Roadside and Savanna Hawks, American Kestrels and two Aplomado Falcons. Others specialties were the Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, Mourning Doves and Crested Bobwhites along the road. A nice day with amazing creatures, great weather and even a life bird!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Varied Weekend

My vacations have ended, but anyway I managed to have another free weekend. In order to spent it well, I joined Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck in a birding trip to Cocle province last saturday, visiting new sites for Rafael's GPS. We headed to El Chirú, a place that holds some typical lowland species. At the first stop on the road we heard (and eventually saw) a Rufous-browed Peppershrike, the first of many Yellow-green Vireos, a cute Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet and many others. We decided to walk a side road with a plantation of Eucalyptus and other scattered trees in one side, and a open grassland at the other. Soon we heard a loud Bob, Bob-white!!! so we started to search in the surroundings for the hidden singer. After a few minutes we realized that a Crested Bobwhite was calling above us high on a tree (yes, on a tree!). A flock of Brown-throated Parakeets flew around the Eucalyptus, allowing us eventually to spot some couples. The place got hot quickly, so we started to walk back, not before exploring another side road that was seeming promising for raptors, but finding instead a mixed group of birds that included Lesser and Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Plain-breasted and Ruddy Ground-Doves, Panama, Social and Boat-billed Flycatchers, and a Pale-breasted Spinetail. Then, we drove to Juan Hombron, a little to the west and still in the lowlands close to the coast. The agricultural field proved to be very good for raptors. We found White-tailed Kite, Savanna Hawk, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracara and an American Kestrel of the isabellinus race. A bit dehydrated, we drove toward El Valle de Anton to have lunch and to drink some water. Renergized by the drinks and the fresh climate, we decided to bird the entrance to the Gaital Natural Monument... finding much of the same as in our last visit, plus a White-tailed Emerald and a group of Common Bush-Tanagers. We tried to visit Los Llanitos, but the rain ruined our last plan for the day, so we headed back to the city.

But this continues... Next day, very early in the mourning, I met the participants of the PAS fieldtrip to Cerro Azul. The plan of the day was to bird the Río Mono trail, making some stops along the way. In the first stop, we found a pair of Black Phoebes, an uncommon sight in this part of the country. Then, at a viewpoint, we saw a pair of Blue Dacnis from above. Before reaching the entrance of the trail, we found a nice mixed flock with Blue-gray, Palm, Crimson-backed, Bay-headed and Plain-colored Tanagers, Green and Red-legged Honeycreepers, a very cooperative Yellow Tyrannulet, a group of Scaled Pigeons and many more. The trail was steppy, slippery and quiet, through a beautiful forest where we found three different manakins (Red-capped, Blue-crowned and White-ruffed), Short-billed Pigeons, Speckled Tanagers, Wood-Wrens and Stripe-throated (aka Little) Hermits. The rain was threatening to fall above us, so we decide to visit Birder's View, where the Kaufmanns had some snacks and sodas already prepared. The rain forced us to go indoors because the temperature quickly dropped (contrasting with my previous day). It was time to relax, talk with friends and to view the photos captured during the day. When the rain stopped, we decided to make it a day, not before enjoying a Bay-headed Tanager and a White-ruffed Manakin feeding in a little bush right at the entrance of the house. So, it was a varied weekend, with so many habitats, weather, birds and friends.