Monday, June 14, 2010

Azuero Parakeets in Flores!

You don't see a panamanian endemic everyday. That is why last sunday was so special. Thanks to an invitation made by Osvaldo Quintero, I went with Gloriela, Rafael Luck and Venicio "Beny" Wilson to the southernmost part of the Veraguas province in the western side of the Azuero Peninsula, to the little town of Flores. Our goal: to relocate the panamanian endemic Azuero Parakeet found for the first time by a birder (that is, not by locals) in that side of the Cerro Hoya mountain range by Beny last april. The only idea of having a chance to watch this bird included mounting an expedition, with lot of hiking and climbing, almost no facilities and really serious logistic headaches (read my journey to Cobachon entry and you'll know what I mean)... until now. We left Panama City during the mid-morning of saturday, june 12th heading west along the Panamerican highway. Osvaldo could not go due to personnal issues, the only negative note about this trip; but under the guiding of Beny we were very confident of our chances (Beny is very modest... he is in fact one of the best guides in Panama). We took the road to Atalaya only a few kilometers before reaching Santiago (Veraguas province's capital city) and then the turn-off to the town of Mariato, which we passed stopping only at the little town of Malena where Beny arranged our rooms and the dinner. Then, we drove to Flores, to the finca of Juan Velásquez, which property includes some forested hills adyacent to the Cerro Hoya National Park. We drove under a heavy rainfall, but somehow we found common species like Great and Cattle Egrets, tons of White Ibises, Red-breasted Blackbirds and Eastern Meadowlarks. A dark bird spotted by Beny turned to be an adult Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. These Tiger-Herons are common along the peninsula's coast, as well in some insular areas (my photo is from El Ciruleo, in the eastern side of the peninsula). The road is very escenic, with impressive beaches and hills. Once at Juan's place, his family welcomed us by saying that the parakeets have been regular during the morning around the house, feeding in fig and nance trees that abound around the property (which have the Playita river and its valley as backyard!). They are present from april to july, the rest of the year they live high in the mountain range according to Juan. The interest of this family in preserving the land for the parakeets (and other wildlife) is admirable. They are constructing a little cabin for the visitors, but until it is finished, Juan is charging $10.00/person for visiting the property, proving to his neighbors that there are others ways to profit that do not involve logging the forest. We spent the night in Malena, after an excellent fish dinner. The next day (sunday, june 13th) we had breakfast at our cabin and started our way to Flores. We drove all the way to the cabin at Juan's property, who accompanied us in our search of the parakeet. The first bird that appeared for photos was a magnificent King Vulture perched atop a tree, having a sunbath. It was a sub-adult because it had some black feathers in the back. That multi-coloured head is something special! We quickly found many birds typical of the pacific slope savanas, like Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Groove-billed Anis, Bronzed Cowbirds, a pair of Pearl Kites, many Blue Ground-Doves of both sexes and two very special birds: a female Orange-collared Manakin (in a nance tree) and a Black-hooded Antshrike; both of them restricted to the western pacific slope of Panama and southeastern Costa Rica (not exactly in savanas). While admiring the valley of the Playita river and the birds, Juan pointed us a flock of 15 or 16 Azuero Parakeets that flew close to us, passed the car and landed over a fig tree full with fruits (we could have seen the birds from the car!!!). Great! the birds were quietly feeding with the figs, allowing us to take some photos. They stayed for 15 minutes more or less to then fly away inland. We followed Juan while searching the birds, finding them after 15 minutes in a forested area. They were engaged in social activities, as you can see in the short video filmed by Gloriela through Beny's scope with her point-and-shoot camera. Four birds are preening, two of them preening each other intimately! (more and better videos at Beny's YouTube account). We also saw a pair copulating and other ones "kissing" each other.

We enjoyed the birds and its chattering calls, while a Violaceous Trogon was singing nearby. Then, a troop of White-faced Capuchins scared the parakeets, that flew to a nearby nance tree. We relocated again the birds under the vigilance of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that acted as a witness of our joy and happiness. It is always nice to find an owl in the day-time, specially one so cute, don't you think? The parakeets were eating nance this time, very low in the tree an allowing extremely close approaching by us. They were very confident of people, and we got excellent shots of them, both with our DSLR's and by digiscoping (Gloriela is much better than me in that technique because she always does "digimicroscoping" at her work). What a glorious moment, and what a cooperative flock of birds. I don't know if they were as curious as we were. The birds flew to another nance tree in a nearby hill. It is a real spectacle to see a flock of these birds flying with their blue flight feathers and red tails and rumps. They looked like tiny Great Green Macaws, that also occur in the area, but not that day. We reluctantly said good-bye to Juan and his family, finding a different flock of 5 or 6 parakeets close to their house (confirming Juan's statement of the coexistence of several flocks in the area). It was a long way to Panama City, again under a heavy rainfall most of the way. Still we are thrilled by the experience! Thank you Beny for showing us the easy way to see one of Panama's most extraordinary endemics. If you still need that bird, or simply want to see it again, don't hesitate to contact Beny, it is a great experience!


  1. Sounds like a great trip and one that I hope to do some day as well. Great shots of this special parakeet too!

  2. Thank you Pat. As you said, those are special birds.

  3. Great pictures!!! The creation it's stunning!