Sunday, February 28, 2010

A strange gull

Two days ago, I went with Gloriela to Panama Viejo and Costa del Este, searching the Lesser Black-backed Gull sighted by the Ahrens last thursday. We found a really big flock of Laughing Gulls, most of them molting into breeding plumage and we even heard the "laugh" of this species. Almost immediately, one of the gulls caught my attention. Among the typical Laughing Gulls, I saw a Laughing-type gull with almost complete breeding plumage but with bright orange bill and legs. The complete effect was that of a gorgeous bird. Take a look:

Curiously, this is not the first time I saw a Laughing Gull with those striking variations in soft parts colors. Last april, a group of Auduboners (including me) found an adult gull with bright red bill and legs while seeking for rare vagrants in Panama Viejo (you can see a photo here) and I can remember others reports of variations in that same place (including birds with yellow legs, or only orange bills and so on...). I suppose that you can expect all sort of variations in such a big population of individuals, and is only matter of time to find one of these aberrant birds. I tried google image to find more photos and I find this and this other one. Notice that one of the gulls is listed simply as a "strange gull". Just compare it with a more typical molting Laughing Gull and you'll see that this "variant" is simply beautiful (at least for us). Well, after some searching we failed to locate the Lesser Black-backed Gull or any other gull except for few Franklin's Gulls that were in Costa del Este with a huge group of terns (Royal, Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns) and at least 18 Black Skimmers resting at the mudflats. Only one skimmer was flying, and that particular individual had a dark tail (south american skimmer?). Well, I suppose that I will need to go back if I want to see rare vagrants this year!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Birding the savanna

The day after my visit to the Aguadulce Salinas, I woke early in order to visit the open fields and the savanna that surrounds Penonome (central Panama). This habitat was altered mostly by human activities, but it still holds many of the species typical of it, except for some that are harder to find now (Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellowish Pipit), including one probably extirpated (Grasshopper Sparrow). I headed to the south, in the way to El Coco, and then I took the turn to El Gago, which passes through some cattle and agricultural land, with rice fields and some scattered bushes. Soon I was watching my first specialty of the area: a flock of Plain-breasted Ground-Doves (mostly females) that looked like a covey of tiny quails. Only the male stayed enough time to get a picture.. the females ran (yes, ran) away. Not to much after that, I got my second columbiforme of the day: a pair of Mourning Doves. We have two populations of this dove in Panama, one in the western highlands and other in the lowlands of the dry pacific slope. In the lowlands, this dove is locally common... but it seems that nobody has heard them singing here. Both of them (the dove and the ground-dove) were new year-birds for me. Other doves species for the day were the Ruddy Ground-Dove (widespread), the White-tipped Dove (quite shy here) and four Pale-vented Pigeons at a fruiting tree. Of course, by that moment I already had recorded more widespread species like Blue-black Grassquit, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and so on... At a dump next to the road I got three species of Vultures (Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed) plus many Yellow-headed Caracaras in all sort of ages and two adult Crested Caracaras. I realized that I was getting luckier with the raptors when I saw an Aplomado Falcon followed few minutes later by an American Kestrel and a White-tailed Kite, while, perched in the ground, a Savanna Hawk was inspecting its territory. In my cropped picture is very hard to see the rich cinnamon color that makes this bird so beautiful, specially when flying. Eventually I reached a flooded rice field that was full with egrets and, curiously, Greater Yellowlegs. The yellowlegs were chasing each other, vocalizing. They should have been around 12 or more. I wonder if they were congregating in order to begin its northward migration. Well, it was getting very hot, so I started to return, finding both Eastern Meadowlarks and Red-breasted Blackbirds in the same field, and a flock of Brown-throated Parakeets that perched very close as saying good-bye. Many new year-birds in this short trip!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Aguadulce in Carnavales

Yesterday, taking advantage of the early high tide, I went to the Aguadulce Salinas (saltflats) with my camera. Trust me or not, the mosquitoes were taking advantage of the chilly air too and, despite of the tons of shorebirds and waders in the ponds, I was unable to take pictures because of them. Anyway, I managed to take some shots through the car's window. This time, the Roseate Spoonbills were too far away for my camera, while a flock of Wood Storks flew heading inland. There were lots of sandpipers, including Semipalmated, Least and Western Sandpipers, few Solitary Sandpipers with Lesser Yellowlegs and Short-billed Dowitchers. The warm light of the mourning gave a brownish look to my pictures (rather than grayish). Also, at the ponds, were Black-necked Stilts, Whimbrels and Willets. Among the waders I saw Great Egret and Great Blue Heron. At the mangroves, I heard and then saw a White-winged Dove and a Gray-necked Wood-Rail, both were year-birds. I only stayed for an hour or so. Then, back in Penonome, I enjoyed the last day of the Carnavales with my family.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Don Bosco procession

I have been quite busy last month, staying at home most weekends because of work-related stuff. But it does not mean that there are not interestings things to blog about, and one of those interesting things just appeared out of my window yesterday: the procession of Don Bosco in Panama City. Each year, thousands of parishioners gather here in order to follow the saint around the streets, showing their devotion. This is by far the biggest and most important religious procession in Panama city, and one of the biggest in the whole country. That is a lot to say considering that we are deeply catholics in this country. The event is marked by the figure of the saint being walked around the main streets, in order to reach again the minor basilica at 7:00 pm, when the eucharist is preceded by high authorities of the congregation and/or special guests. It is simply amazing, and we got first row seats to appreciate the spectacle! After the eucharist, the event ends with a beautiful fireworks show that ignited the night sky with its colours and radiance. And now, back to my work!