Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Skimmers at Costa del Este

After a heavy birding morning (visiting Veracruz, Farfan and the Metropolitan Natural Park) and a well deserved rest, I went with Gloriela and Michael (her nephew) to Costa del Este taking advantage of the evening's high tide last sunday, january 17. As usual, lots of birds were congregated at the mouth of the Matias Hernández river. Among them were at least four different Black Skimmers maybe of the South american race (there were only two in the morning, according to the e-mail that Rosabel Miró sent me). I suppose that it is now a regular bird in this site. The skimmers were not the only highlights. Among the gulls, the most numerous were the Franklins', they used to be quite uncommon in Panama, always outnumbered by the Laughing Gulls. Not only adults, but 1st winter birds too, allowing to check its field marks (notice, for example, the large hood and the white outer tail feathers in the flying individual that I picture here). Why we have so many Franklin's Gulls wintering in Panama this season? Maybe El Niño has made too warm their usual wintering grounds in South America (I remember THOUSANDS of Franklins' wintering in coastal Lima, Perú, some years ago) or who knows and perhaps we have been overlooking them so far (less likely). Also present were Black-bellied Plovers and Southern Lapwings (6th plover species for the day); Marbled Godwits, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and Whimbrels representing the large shorebirds; and a compact group of Western and Spotted Sandpipers moving with the waves. Very much farther, the usual assortment of cormorants, pelicans and egrets were accompanied by a lone Cocoi Heron (first for my year list). It was a very short visit, but full of birds anyway!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Metropolitan Natural Park

Panama is the only latinamerican capital city blessed with a tropical dry forest within its boundaries. The Metropolitan Natural Park is considered the lung of Panama City, and it holds an amazing diversity of plants and wildlife (including birds) considering its proximity to the busy city. After spending a couple of hours at Veracruz beach and leaving an unexpected passenger at the main buildings of the park last sunday (january 17), we decided to walk La Cieneguita and the Mono Tití trails just to see what we can shoot (with the cameras). It was about 10:30 AM so the activity was low, but anyway we managed to find some birds. At our first stop, one of the rangers pointed us a branch that at first glance looked like any other, but with the binoculars we verified its identity: a Common Potoo perfectly patterned for disguising like a tree. What a beautiful creature, in spite of its reputation... this bird is the famous "Tulivieja" (a kind of witch) of our peasants due to its lugubrious (but enchanting) song. We delighted ourselves photographing this magnificent bird, but soon we were shooting other one: a pair of highly vocal Crimson-crested Woodpeckers in courtship display. A little farther in the trail we heard the characteristic buzzy call of the Slate-colored Seedeater and soon one male answered to our recordings (always close to the bamboo). This seedeater used to be very rare, but it has become regular at the bamboo in this park since last year. Other birds seen were Dusky and White-bellied Antbirds, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers and a Rosy Thrush-Tanager. We crossed some birders in the trails including a group, guided by our friend José Carlos, trying to spy an Orange-billed Sparrow, but having great views of a Slaty-tailed Trogon instead. We said goodbye to them, heading to the exit, but the musical whistles of a pair of Yellow-backed Orioles delayed us. As you can read, it was a very busy morning!

An unexpected passenger

While leaving Veracruz beach last sunday, we stopped by the Farfan area just to check the mouth of the river, looking for waders and shorebirds. The tide was very low at this point, so the birds were scattered along the estuary and the mudflats. We saw Great and Snowy Egrets, plus many herons, including Tricolored, Great & Little Blue, and a lone Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that allowed us to take some pictures. When we were ready to leave the place, we were surprised by an injured White Ibis close to the car (and we were pretty sure that it was not there when we left the car, only a couple of minutes before). It seemed to have a scapular lesion and maybe a broken wing, making it unable to fly... so I grabbed it with a plastic bag and did what any sensible being would have done: to take it to a wildlife rehabilitation center. We had an uneventful drive to the Metropolitan Natural Park (in Panama City), where a representative of the wildlife rescue section received the injured bird, promising that they will take care of it. Well, maybe we interfered with the natural course of the world, but at least that ibis will live a bit more to discover the cure of the cancer :)

More shorebirding in Veracruz

Last sunday (january 17), Osvaldo picked me up very early at the hospital (after 24 hours of constant work) and then we headed to Veracruz in order to relocate the American Golden-Plover that has been wintering in the area. We reached the eastern end of the beach (close to the bridge) and almost immediately saw a mixed group of shorebirds, including Black-bellied Plovers with the now-famous Golden-Plover. They were feeding on a sand bank quite far from us, so we started to photograph the other birds that were feeding closer, in the rocks. The most common were the Willets, joined by a group of Ruddy Turnstones and lots of Semipalmated Plovers with Least Sandpipers. These birds were very confident, not even caring about the people at the beach, nor of us with our cameras. While the tide was withdrawing, we were approaching the flock with the Golden-Plover (though they were getting closer too), passing by a group of very shy Wilson's Plovers that only allowed some distant pics, and witnessing how thousands of Neotropic Cormorants were leaving a nearby island with some Brown Pelicans. Eventually, we placed ourselves in shooting range in order to photograph the Golden-Plover, that cooperated very well. Nevertheless, I did not obtain better photos that the previous ones (Osvaldo was luckier). The furious assault of the chiggers prevented me of taking more photos (seriously!) so we moved to the rocks at the opposite end of the beach (finding a Blue-footed Booby very close and a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture which is very uncommon in this part of the country... and inside the Pacific CBC circle). There we found a group of Collared Plovers (5th plover species of the day), plus Sanderlings, Surfbirds and Turnstones at the rocks nearby. Once again, a nice shorebirding morning in Veracruz.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Introducing The 600 Club

Back in 1996, an article titled The "600" Club, published in The Toucan (Panama Audubon Society -PAS- newsletter), caught my attention. Its author, Daniel George, after years of listing and having reached a plateu in his knowledge about panamanian birds, was narrating how he managed to register more than 600 birds in one year in Panama, together with other three respected birdwatchers. Panama has a list of 979 birds approximately (including vagrants and accidental birds), and 600 represents about 61% of it, so it is a very memorable achievement, specially for the casual birder (that is, not the bird guide or scientic who works chasing birds... I know some of them that reach 700 or more birds in a good year!). He proposed that the PAS should recognize somehow those braves able to achieve the prowess, hence the title of "The 600 Club". Well, after almost 14 years, Daniel's dream comes true. During yesterday's PAS monthly meeting I had the honor of announcing the birth of The 600 Club to the members who attended. The PAS adopted the idea (thanks to Rosabel) in commemoration of the International Year of Biodiversity and we signed a symbolic agreement of participation. I'm making a commemorative patch to wear and an electronic version to put on your websites or facebook page.
What are the requirements to belong to the 600 Club?
1. Sign a symbolic agreement of participation, or simply let us know you are participating.
2. Send me ( a digital photograph of yourself and a short biography that will be published in the Audubon web page and in a blog page still under construction. I will be in charge of checking everyone's list.
3. At the end of March, June, September and December you must submit a partial list of the birds seen. I will publish the "standings" in the blog page.
4. See, or identify by sound, 600 different species of birds while in Panama or in its territorial waters, during a calendar year (now starting from january 1st). All birds on the official PAS checklist, maintained by George Angehr, and naturally arrived vagrants will be eligible for counting. Birds not native to Panama, including escaped cage birds, likely ship assisted vagrants, and domestic fowl cannot be counted.
5. In January, 2010, participants should participate in the PAS monthly meeting for the final determination of who can be considered new members of the "600 Club".
6. If you have already seen 600 birds in a year, you can get the patch by submitting a list of the birds seen and the location (except for those already official members, those who appeared at the 1996 article: Dodge & Lorna Engleman, Daniel George and George Angehr).
7. Participants who have seen 400 or 500 species will receive a certificate of recognition, since seeing even these lesser numbers is a worthy achievement.

This activity is only for fun. There are no prizes, only the recognition that you are one of the few birders in the country to have reached this goal.
I hope that friends and PAS members will help the participants reach their goals by birding with them and enjoying the wonderful biodiversity of Panama!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy B-day Gloriela!

Now, she joined the group! Of course, the "rumba" extended all day long (we have just arrived from Penonome, after sharing this special day with our families). Happy B-day my love!

Veracruz in high tide

Despite our original plan for yesterday was to go very early to Penonome in order to organize Gloriela´s B-day party, the news of an Hudsonian Godwit in Veracruz beach (central Panama, Pacific coast) obligated us to stay a little more in Panama, joining Rosabel Miró, Darien Montañez and Beny Wilson in their quest for the bird during the morning. This time the tide at Veracruz was rising and soon we saw two distant American Oystercatchers and a closer flock of shorebirds, mainly with Black-bellied Plovers, but also including Ruddy Turnstones and some Willets. One of the plovers catched our attention because of its mostly black underparts and general smaller appearance, but the flock flew away to the opposite end of the beach before checking all the field marks to confirm the suspected id of American Golden-Plover at the time. After a short drive, we relocate the flock in some rocks, this time with Sanderlings, Surfbirds, Royal Terns and a Laughing Gull and then, luckily, the flock flew again to the beach, closer to us (and to a small group of Collared Plovers). We centred our attention in the Golden-Plover, noticing the ausence of black axillaries, its slimmer, smaller and more upright posture, the proportionaly thinner and shorter bill. Digiscoped images:
The most important field mark was the primaries projection. I can see the tip of the longest tertial barely reaching the tail tip, and 3 primaries tips projecting from it (maybe 4, confusing because American Golden-Plover are supposed to have at least 4 primaries tips visible, although quite often primaries 9 and 10 are the same size). Also note the tail tip far behind the wing tips (unfortunately, I did not obtain better photos. Both photos were cropped; the edited one was brightened and sharpened). But CAUTION, all these differences can be influenced by moult. Note that this particular bird was molting the tertials and the rectrices, which might affect the perception of the relative relations between the wings and the tail. Also note that this particular bird has some marks suggestive of Pacific Golden-Plover (which has never been registered in Panama), like the mostly white vent and undertail cover (also note some white feathers all along the sides and flanks), the contrast between the mostly brown-spotted mantle (or gold-spotted) and the white-spotted wings, and the relation between the longest tertial tip with the tail.

Well, by now the general consensus is towards an American Golden-Plover. We still have to solve what was this bird doing in Panama during january? If you have any idea of the identity of this bird let me know, I will appreciate your considerations.P.D.: any of the Golden-Plovers would be a lifer for me. Later in the same day, in the finca at Penonome, I obtained another lifer: my long-desired Mangrove Cuckoo!! Two lifers in the same day in central Panama is not bad at all!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Veracruz in low tide

After reading in Facebook about the sighting of an Hudsonian Godwit in Veracruz beach today (thanks to Beny Wilson... not a Scarlet Ibis, but a much better bird instead!!!), I went with Gloriela to the west side of the Panama Canal in order to find the bird. The Hudsonian Godwit is a very rare winter visitor to Panama, with only a handful of reports. It would have been a life bird... if it have been found by us! Despite the dipping, we enjoyed a wonderful evening at the beach, crossing it largely thanks to the low tide. At first glance, we only saw scattered shorebirds close to the water... but a more careful look revealed tons of shorebirds around the rocks. A group of Willets and Black-bellied Plovers was mixed with Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings and Surfbirds (the last one a life bird for Gloriela), since other three species of Plovers (Collared, Wilson's and Semipalmated) plus Least Sandpipers were inspecting the mud among the rocks, perfectly camouflaged. Despite we checked all the Willets and shorebirds in range, we could not find the Godwit. After the sun came down, we decided to have dinner in one of the restaurants at the beach (the fried fish was excellent)... no Godwits today, lets try again tomorrow!

Monday, January 4, 2010

PAS Atlantic Christmas Birds Count

One more time january has come and our first birding trip of the year have been to the Caribbean coast, attending the Atlantic CBC organized by the Panama Audubon Society. This was the 40th edition of this count in Panama... a count that occupied the first place for 19 consecutively years worldwide! We were assigned to the areas of Galeta Point, Colon City, Margarita, Mindi and Diversion Creek, all at the east side of the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. These areas include a vast territory and a great variety of habitats, making it a very pleasant tour full of birds. Our first stop in route to Galeta, over a bridge at the mangroves, produced many water birds, including lots of Green Herons, but also egrets, Ringed Kingfisher, Panama Flycatcher and Straight-billed Woodcreepers. We made many stops along the way before reaching the ANAM rangers station where, after a short introduction, they allowed us the entrance to the protected area. Galeta Point is the name of a Smithsonian's Marine Laboratory located on a tiny peninsula at the Caribbean coast sheltered by a coral reef. It has some facilities for the visitors and even a place to stay for researchers and, occasionally, tourists. It reminds me Culebra Point, but with smaller buildings and a bigger protected area including mangroves, reefs, sandy beaches, rocky shores, grasslands and secondary forest... all inside the counting circle. We spent most of the time at the habitats close to the laboratory, finding a huge caiman at the grassland close to the antennas and a huge group of waders at the mangroves. Inspecting the shores at the main building produced some plovers (Black-bellied and Semipalmated), Ruddy Turnstones and a lonely Belted Kingfisher (perhaps the only one for the count). We took few minutes to admire the exhibitions which include some sea turtles, equinoderms, and a curious pufferfish, before moving to another area: Colon City. We were searching for gulls and terns at the Colon 2000 Cruises Port, finding only Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns... and a huge cruise ship anchored waiting the tourists. We found also many common city birds in the suroundings, including Rock Pigeons, Tropical Mockingbirds, Ruddy Ground-Doves and Great-tailed Grackles along the drive through the streets of the city. Colon City (also known as Aspinwall City) is the only pre-designed city in Panama, with perfectly squared streets and many monuments. Also, it shelters important companies for the national economy, like the Colon Free Zone, the Cristobal port and the containers ports. It is a shame that all this wealth is not well distributed making the poverty and the unemployment serious problems in the city, explaining partly the high index of delinquency. After finding the House Sparrows at the central avenue, we headed to Margarita and Mindi, closer to the locks. More common birds, including many flycatchers and parakeets, so we drove along the Diversion Creek, making many stops in the way in order to check the ponds and the river. We found many Green Kingfishers, more egrets, Wattled Jacanas, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons and three Anhingas, including the male that I picture here (a life bird for Gloriela!). While we were approaching the Gatun locks, we could estimate how the expansion works are changing already the landscape. Some birding sites are already gone, including most of the Gatun 's settlement. After a long wait, we crossed the canal through the one-lane bridge at the locks and we could not avoid admire that marvel before going to the meeting point. The Gatun locks are the biggest one of the canal and receive daily a huge amount of visitors. We arrived early to the meeting point (the former Tarpon Club) so I had time to take some photos of the Gatun Dam, the place where the mighty Chagres river re-emerge from the Gatun lake. The dike and the lake were once the major ones of the world, and reflect the arduous work that spent the builders of this magnificent work of engineering. The participants began to arrive, being welcome by a pair of American Kestrels on the wires, a pair of Masked Tityras excavating a nest and a calling Black-tailed Trogon. Soon, we all gathers, reviewing our lists. The preliminary results were not as good as we expected so everybody were assigned to new areas for the evening. We returned to Galeta, together with Wallace and Beverly... but it was too late so the gate was locked. They stayed in the surroundings (and pointed me out a Wood Stork that surely is the only one of the count) while we headed again to Colon 2000, searching more gulls and shorebirds (but nothing else showed up). Well, a nice day counting birds at the Caribbean side of Panama, meeting with old and new friends and having a great time initiating the new year!