Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Penonome pics

Our vacations are almost over, and we spent great part of it at our home in Penonome, Cocle province in central Panama. Now, we are in the city again, but I took some photos of common birds, wildlife and landscapes along the roads and rivers (specially the Zarati river, which we visited at least in four different sites) that I want to share.
Penonome is very hot, considering that we are in the middle of the dry season, and the trees and other plants are blooming or having fruits, allowing the wildlife (specially birds) to feed their youngs. This is the case of the House Wrens and the Blue-gray Tanagers that nest by the roof of our neighbors... always busy looking a fresh meal for their youngs.The great variety of flowers that the people keep in their gardens attract many hummingbirds, including the Garden Emeralds (a female in the picture).Also, it is time for lot of singing... and the most perseverant singers are the Clay-colored Thrushes and the Rufous-browed Peppershrikes. They even sing in the hottest part of the day!Even the all-black birds shine in these bright days, like the Great-tailed Grackles and the Bronzed Cowbirds. No matter their abundance... they look simply great with a suitable light.The insects also enjoy this time of sun... including the pair of damselflies I found in the shores of the Zarati river.Well, these were good vacations, I hope you enjoyed the pics... now, back to the real life!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More about SACC taxonomic changes

I already wrote about the split of the Blue-crowned Motmot complex, resulting in five different species adopted by the South American Classification Committee (SACC). In spite that this is the most important change for the Panama bird list (that is, for the birders), there are other taxonomic changes that are worth the checking. The most important involves the Thryothorus wrens, of which Panama has 11 representatives (or 12?). The genus Thryothorus is now restricted to North America, since all its former South American members are now included in three different genera: Pheugopedius, Thryophilus, and Cantorchilus. The new names and linear sequence (for Panama) are as follows (some species were not included in the SACC discussion because are not found in South America, they are included here according to its affinities):
  • Sooty-headed Wren Pheugopedius spadix
  • Black-throated Wren Pheugopedius atrogularis
  • Black-bellied Wren Pheugopedius fasciatoventris
  • Rufous-breasted Wren Pheugopedius rutilus
  • Rufous-and-white Wren Thryophilus rufalbus
  • Stripe-throated Wren Cantorchilus leucopogon
  • Stripe-breasted Wren Cantorchilus thoracicus
  • Bay Wren Cantorchilus nigricapillus
  • Riverside Wren Cantorchilus semibadius
  • Buff-breasted Wren Cantorchilus leucotis
  • Plain Wren Cantorchilus modestus (including zeledoni)

The other change affecting the Panama list is the recognition of the Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata) as a full species. The differences in bill and shield shape and color are consistent with the species rank within this group. Now the Common Moorhen is restricted to the Old World.

I already included the changes in my Life List, and you?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kelp Gull still at Costa del Este

A quick visit to Costa del Este at yesterday's noon produced a distant Kelp Gull that, as far as I can see, is an adult. The bird was at the tideline at the mouth of the Matías Hernández river, close to a flock of cormorants and pelicans, plus tons of Royal Terns. Probably is the same bird that has been around for a while.
Also, in the place were lots of Western and Least Sandpipers, few Black Skimmers, only two or three Franklin's Gulls, White Ibises and Marbled Godwits among other common species.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blue-diademed and Whooping Motmots

It is official, what we used to know as the Blue-crowned Motmot now consist of, at least, five species. This after the approval of proposal 412 by the South American Classification Committee (SACC), based in the published work of F. Gary Stiles. Of those species, two occur in Panama: the traditional and well recognized (by most panamanian birders) Whooping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens) of central and eastern Panama (CO, RE, OL, AR, SU, SP and OS at the map); and the Blue-diademed Motmot (Momotus lessoni) of western Panama (LE in the map). Now, I have a question considering that the range illustrated for the Whooping Motmot doesn't includes the Cocle province... what about the motmots I have been watching this month along the Zarati river in Penonome and the one I photographed some years ago in El Valle? According to their vocalizations, and the fact that lessoni has only been registered up to Herrera province (which not appears in the map either), those birds belongs to the Whooping Motmot species. Saying this, I only have photos of the Whooping Motmot, and the only sighting that I can remember of a Blue-diademed Motmot was MANY years ago in the road to Caldera (Chiriqui province). Two things caught my attention back then: the motmot was greener and it was perched on a barbed wire, in cattleland (not forest!). It seems that my life list grew by one!

The other three species are the Amazonian Motmot, Momotus momota (MI and MO at the map); the Highland (Andean) Motmot, Momotus aequatorialis (AQ at the map); and the Trinidad Motmot, Momotus bahamensis (BA at the map).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sand and terns at Santa Clara beach

A clear day in Santa Clara beach (central Panama pacific coast) is something hard to forget. Green waters, white sand and the cool marine breeze. Even the food at the beach is excellent too! But most important, a flock of Sandwich and Royal Terns plus Laughing Gulls at the sand allowing close pics is simply great!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Resplendant day in Cerro Punta

The journey to Cerro Punta took a little more of what we expected, thanks to the awesome birds we saw in the way. Our original plan was to spent most of the morning searching for an adult male Resplendant Quetzal, which Gloriela had never seen. She had seen quetzals before, but only immature males and females. The first place we visited was the entrance of the road to El Respingo. It was very quiet, and the activity was low. The only birds showing up were White-throated Mountain-Gem, Brown-capped and Yellow-winged Vireos, Black-cheeked and Flame-throated Warblers and Mountain Thrushes. A little drab bird resulted to be a White-fronted Tyrannulet, an scarce member of its family in Panama (yellow underparts, two yellow wing bars and it was quickly raising a wing over the back). Then, we tried the Finca Ríos... only finding Scintillant and Volcano Hummingbirds and both Whitestarts. We decided to visit Finca Dracula, at the town of Guadalupe. It proved to be a good idea since its gardens and feeders were full of birds, but alas, no signs of Quetzals. A pair of Slaty Finches visited the feeders, while a big flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks flew around, taking advantage of the feeders too. Most of them were females, but also included was a nice adult male with its complete breeding plumage. A Red-tailed Squirrel scaped with a big banana, while a Yellowish Flycatcher and a Common Bush-Tanager acted only as spectators. A Stripe-tailed Hummingbird fed at the Heliconias in the garden, probably avoiding the insane activity at the hummingbirds' feeders. There, an agressive group of White-throated Mountain-Gem (both males and females) were banishing and chasing all the others species in the area including Magnificent Hummingbirds and Violet Sabrewings. Even a female Green-crowned Brilliant stayed only for a while due to the Mountain-Gems. The Green Violetears preferred to stay away of conflicts, singing from very high perches. It was hard to leave such a great place, but it was clear that we were not going to find quetzals there... so I played my last ace: the entrance to La Amistad International Park in Las Nubes. It was late, so we had lunch at the little restaurant of the entrance. The coocker lady told us that she had seen several pairs of quetzals that season, but not that day. While waiting for the food, we were distracted by the hummingbirds attending the feeder by the dinning room: Violet Sabrewings, Magnificent & Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds and White-throated Mountain-Gems. The only difference with the feeders in Finca Dracula was that this feeder was dominated by males Sabrewings (not by the Mountain-gems). The hummingbirds were not the only attraction. The lady filled a feeder with rice and rapidly some hungry birds appeared: Summer Tanager, a female Flame-colored Tanager and Yellow-thighed Finches. It was almost time to go, so we walked a little bit towards the ranger's station to give a last chance to the quetzals. The habitat and the light was perfect, but the quetzals simply didn't showed up. Then, when we already started the way back, an unmistakable silhouette flew against the canopy, perching very close to us: an adult male Resplendant Quetzal in full view!!!... and Gloriela was seeing it! What a great moment... I was so excited that I forgot to grab my camera. We saw the bird for 30 seconds and then it move to a distant perch (then I remembered my camera). It settled for a while and I managed to obtain a poor photo where you can see how long its tail was (OK, OK, is not its tail, but its elongated tail coverts)... notice that the end of the feathers not even appears in the photo! It was a remarkable experience, an excellent closing to our incursion to the Chiriqui province.

In the way to Cerro Punta

After birding the previous day in Batipa, we woke early the morning of monday, march 15th in order to leave David city (the capital of Chiriqui province in western Panama) towards the highlands, this time to the western side of the Baru volcano, to the town of Cerro Punta. Despite our original plan was to spent most of the morning searching for an adult male Resplendant Quetzal in Cerro Punta, we decided to make some stops along the way after the town of Concepción. Now, there are only few scattered patches of disturbed forest remaining along this road, but sometimes those patches can have surprises. Our first stop was at the town of San Vicente. We took the road towards the town of Escobal, but drive only few meters until reaching a bridge over a shaded creek. Almost immediately we heard the distinctive noise of a Manacus manakin and, after a little searching, we found a pair of Orange-collared Manakins. This species is a regional endemic (southeastern Costa Rica - western Panama), a really handsome one, but there are still some taxonomic issues about its relationships. Anyway, the male was very cooperative (the female dissapeared quickly), allowing many photos in full view. We only recorded common species in the area, including Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-crowned Euphonia (I checked it well, it wasn't a Spot-crowned) and Piratic Flycatcher (calling everywhere). We spent about half hour in that place and then moved on. The next stop was at the Macho de Monte river, entering through the Cuesta de Piedra town. We had been quite lucky in this site before, but that day there were heavy construction works at the bridge, with lot of noise, so we were sceptical. A quick glimpse revealed common birds like Blue-and-gray, Cherrie's and Golden-hooded Tanagers plus a Buff-rumped Warbler. I also noticed a flowering Inga tree, so I decided to check it out. The first hummingbird I saw was a Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, but then, a tiny bee-like hummer appeared. Mostly rufous, with white throat and white rump band: a female White-crested Coquette!!! I took a couple of (bad) photos and then ran to warn Gloriela who was still in the car. Soon we relocate the bird, perched nicely on a bare twig, allowing more photos. We stayed for an hour or so, while the coquette remained in the surroundings. This is a very rare hummingbird (at least in Panama), with recent reports from this same place and from El Chorogo (at the border with Costa Rica in the Burica peninsula). My only other sighting was of a female too many years ago precisely in El Chorogo... I suppose that I will have to return in order to see an adult male! Eventually, we reached Cerro Punta, but it was a little bit late for birding... anyway, we looked for an adult male Quetzal in several spots before finding one in Las Nubes (more details in the next post). After that, we descended again, this time we took the road to Santa Clara and found a bunch of fruiting Cecropias by a coffee plantation. Highlights were Speckled and White-lined Tanagers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis (all of them year-birds), Masked Tityra and a pair of Fiery-billed Aracaris feeding on the Cecropias. Great collection of birds below Cerro Punta, don't you think?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Bright day in Batipa

Batipa is a private reserve in the lowlands of the Chiriqui province (western Panama) that still contains remaining patches of lowland forest. Its include the Cerro Batipa and other two hills, plus a coastline with tall mangrove forest. It is the only reliable site in Panama to find the endangered Yellow-billed Cotinga but it also holds many western Pacific specialties, including a former endemic for Panama. Last sunday, after an excellent day birding the highlands around the town of Boquete, Osvaldo Quintero, Osvaldo Quintero Jr., Rafael Luck, Milagros Sánchez, Olemdo Miró, Gloriela and me decided to visit this reserve, trying to locate the cotinga. We were a little delayed (after descending all the way from Boquete and meeting Mr. Ríos -the reserve owner- for the key of the access gates), so we started birding around 9:00 am. We didn't realized how hot it was in the lowlands until our first stop. After spotting a Laughing Falcon, we all went out of the cars, raising our cameras, noticing that these were completely misted due to the sudden change of temperature. Anyway, I tried to obtain some photos of the falcon... I needed to do a lot of photoshop to fix it! After solving the problem (only waiting a couple of minutes and driving with the windows down with the air conditioners switched off) we stopped a little farther, in a section of road bordered in trees with deep-orange tubular flowers. Soon, we saw five Fiery-billed Aracaris feeding close to a group of Howlers Monkeys. The aracaris moved closer to us allowing some photos, while others birds started to show up. First, an unidentified bird photographed by Olmedo resulted to be an Olivaceous Piculet laboriously working at a few twigs; then, Rafael spotted a hummingbird in the tubular flowers and then another one: a Long-billed Starthroat and a Veraguan Mango. The mango used to be an endemic bird for Panama, but now it is presumably established in Costa Rica's extreme southeastern corner due in part to deforestation. This individual was an immature male because it showed lot of white speckling in the underparts. It showed also a yellow throat probably due to the pollen of the flowers it visited earlier. Later, in the same site, we found an adult male Veraguan Mango feeding in the same flowers. We reached the tideland of the Horconcitos river and decided then to take the road around the Cerro Batipa, which passes through several forest patches and through an immense teak plantation, finding Black-hooded Antshrike and Lance-tailed Manakin in several sites plus Yellow-olive Flycatcher and Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant in the hill itself. Besides the Laughing Falcon and both Caracaras, others raptors found were Swainson's, Gray, Roadside and Zone-tailed Hawks, plus a flock of ten or more Swallow-tailed Kites around Cerro Batipa. We didn't reach the mangroves and probably we never had a real chance to find the cotinga without a guide. By noon, we said goodbye to Rafael, Osvaldo and Osvaldo Jr, who were returning to Panama City, while we returned to David with Milagros and Olmedo. The last bird we saw together was a White-collared Seedeater in the urban area. Then, we separate only to meet us again at the San Jose de David Fair, where we visited the commercial and agricultural exhibitions, among others. We said goodbye to them too... it was time to rest and to prepare for the next day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Birding Boquete: Part II

After a very good birding in the morning, the group conformed by me & Gloriela, Osvaldo Quintero and Osvaldo Quintero Jr., Rafael Luck, Milagros Sánchez and Olmedo Miró, decided to have a well deserved late lunch close to Boquete (western Panama highlands), in Alto Lino at an italian restaurant. It was around 3:00 pm and all of us enjoyed a tasty pizza (except Rafael who ordered pasta) in the lovely place. There was a creek in one side of the restaurant where a Torrent Tyrannulet was having lunch too. It perched on rocks in the restaurant's garden right by the window, allowing some very close photos. While listing the birds watched during the morning, everyone was impressed when I mentioned an American Dipper seen from the car in the middle of the Caldera river at Bajo Mono. It seems that nobody else have seen this bird before, so we quickly decided to return to Bajo Mono searching for it. After passing by "The Bricks" (an hexagonal basalt wall of volcanic origin), we stopped close to the "Y" (an intersection in the road of bajo Mono) to inspect the river. After few minutes, a pair of American Dippers appeared close to us. The most amazing thing about these birds is their habits. They swim and dive in the cold waters of the river, looking for aquatic invertebrates. They stayed together for a while, but then one of them flew upriver, giving some high-pitched calls. The other bird stayed for more photos, diving, swimming and even giving a glimpse under the water, as I pictured in my photo. Eventually, it was joined by a pair of Torrent Tyrannulet, about half of its size despite the subjective proportions of my photos (the photo of the tyrannulet was of a very close bird). Unlike the dippers, the tyrannulets never wetted intentionally. They picked up tiny insects from the surface, tolerating the splashing with the water if neccesary. A little farther, a Black Phoebe completed the trio of stream dwellers (a forth one, the Buff-rumped Warbler, is found at a lower elevation). Continuing the day, we went towards the area of Horqueta, making few stops for common birds, including the omnipresent "Tío Chicho" (Rufous-collared Sparrow), but also Green Violetear, Flame-throated & Tennessee Warbler, Mountain Elaenias, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush and White-naped Brush-Finch among others. Once in Horqueta we decided to walk a little bit the lower trail, but it was getting late so we decided to return when I saw a bulky ground-dove perched in a bush. I clearly saw two distinctive violaceous wing bars just for three seconds... then the bird flew reveling its wide white tail corners: a female Maroon-chested Ground-Dove!!! The combination of wing bars and white in the tail, plus the altitude (1.995 meters above sea level) confirmed the id. We didn't see any bamboo in the site, and the bird flew to a coffee plantation. That was the last bird of the day... and what a bird! Back at Olmedo's house, we planned a trip to Batipa (in the lowlands) for the next morning, but that is another history!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Birding Boquete: Part I

After spending the night at Olmedo Miró's house in Boquete, the group conformed by me, Gloriela, Osvaldo Quintero & Osvaldo Quintero Jr, Rafael Luck, Olmedo Miró and Milagros Sánchez departed to the Volcan Baru National Park searching for the Three-wattled Bellbird. We left the picturesque town of Boquete and headed to Bajo Mono. Despite the fact that Boquete has grown considerably during the last years, there are still some farmers that use traditional methods in their field. We crossed one of them working on his field with a "yunta" (a tool powered by bulls), a rare sight anywhere else in Panama, and I didn't resist to take a photo of him. We took the windy road all the way up to Alto Chiquero, where the ranger station is, and where we parked the cars. The park ranger told us that the Bellbirds are heard daily, but not often close. Following the instructions of Dan Wade, a resident in the Boquete area, we decided to walk the road towards the entrance of Los Quetzales trail, which eventually leads to Cerro Punta, to El Respingo area. This road crosses patches of very good montane humid forest. We scared a pair of Black Guans and found a flock of Spangle-cheeked Tanagers while hearing a bellbird very close. Then, Osvaldo Jr. spotted a big "red" bird perched in a bare tree. Rapidly all got around and through a little window in the canopy all enjoyed the sight of an adult male Three-wattled Bellbird in full exhibition, making its loud and far-carrying call with its beak all wide open. It was amazing, and I managed to capture some photos (Rafael and Osvaldo's photos are better). More impressive was that we accomplished our goal within our first hour in the place! This is the only Bellbird species in Central America, where it inhabits highland wet forest but then move to lower elevations (even sea level) out of the breeding season. The distintive call of the bird is heard everywhere, but to see one is another tale, considering that these are canopy dwellers. Happy with the finding, we decided to walk a little farther on the road, finding both Whitestarts (Collared & Slate-throated), Mountain Elaenia, White-naped Brush-Finch, Black-faced Solitaire and a nesting pair of Tufted Flycatchers that allowed close photos. We reached the upper part of the "Hill of Lamentations" and decided to turn back because we didn't want to complain about anything in the way back. We spotted a Red-tailed Hawk and some Vaux's Swifts around the trout farm, but once again in the forest, the things changed... for good. We found some activity in the same stretch of forest where we found the Bellbird earlier. Some of the birds there were Dark Pewee, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Mountain Thrush and a beautiful pair of Golden-browed Chlorophonias. Farther in the road, and closer to the ranger station, we found a big mixed flock with Ruddy Treerunners, Black-cheeked Warblers, Black-throated Green Warbler, Brown-capped Vireos, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo (only heard), Yellow-thighed Finches and a Red-faced Spinetail who responded well to the recordings (being a "life photo" for Rafael). Once again in the station, a gaudy male Flame-colored Tanager was around, plus lots of Blue-and-White Swallows that nest in the roof. The morning was not over, so we decided to descend to the Pipa de Agua trail, looking this time for Quetzals. The first part of the trail is through pastures, and we found White-throated Thrushes and more Flame-colored Tanagers feeding next to the trail. Then, we found a family group of Blue-hooded Euphonias, conformed by several adult and immature males plus a single female. They stayed around for a while, jumping from one perch to another and vocalizing a lot. It was a great show. We kept walking the trail, listen for any signal of quetzals, and crossed a couple who told us that they just saw a female farther in the trail. It was getting hot, but we kept searching all the fruiting trees, finding a Black-thighed Grosbeak having a banquet with the fruits of an unidentified tree. It was not close, but stayed still, allowing us to take some photos of it. Curiously, this was just my second sight of this bird in my life; the first was in the area of Fortuna (central Chiriqui province) many years ago. Just when we were thinking that we would not achieve our aim, a female Resplendant Quetzal flew and perched on a distant tree. I got some poor photos, but at least you can identify the bird. We searched and searched, but were not able to find an adult male in the surroundings, so we headed back to the cars, finding an Hoffman Two-toed Sloth in the way. It was around 3:00 pm, and we were hungry, so we descended to the Boquete area to have a well deserved late lunch after a great morning birding in the highlands.

P.D.: if you want to know what fate had in store for us the evening of that same day, you must read Birding Boquete: Part II.