Friday, July 30, 2010

AOU changes

Exciting as it sounds, the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) recently published the 51st supplement of its Checklist. The changes do not affect the total number of species for Panama, but there are lots of changes, both in English and Latin names. Also, there are lots of other taxonomic issues, involving new families and orders. Some changes were already made by the South American Classification Committee (SACC), but I suppose that we will have to wait for the AOU NACC to adopt some other changes, like the splitting of the Blue-crowned Motmot complex, new genera in the Troglodytidae (Wrens), etc... I'll be listing only those changes that directly affect Panama.

Only two changes in English names: 1) the Violaceous Trogon is split into two species, the form occurring in Panama is the Gartered Trogon, Trogon caligatus (notice that its Latin name also changed) 2) The hyphen in Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher was removed, becoming Crowned Slaty Flycatcher ( a recent addition to Panama and North America's lists).

Many changes in Latin names: 1) the White-tailed Trogon is now Trogon chionurus (Trogon viridis -the Green-backed Trogon- is extra-limital) 2) the Brown Jay is now a monotypic species: Psilorhinus morio (a juvenile in the photo) 3) the Blue-winged Warbler becomes Vermivora cyanoptera 4) the Tennessee Warbler becomes Oreothlypis peregrina (formerly in Vermivora) 5) the Flame-throated Warbler becomes Oreothlypis gutturalis (formerly in Parula) 6) both waterthrushes are now in the new genus Parkesia

Other changes of interest: 1) the Osprey recovers its status as monotypic familily, the Pandionidae 2) the Prong-billed Barbet, and the extra-limital Toucan-Barbet, conform the new Semnornithidae 3) all the Lipaugus pihas are officially cotingas (anticipated by Ridgely) 4) the Capitonidae (split from Ramphastidae) only includes New World barbets 5) other two new families arise: the Polioptilidae (gnatwrens & gnatcatchers, split from the Old World Sylviidae) and the Donacobiidae (Donacobius) 6) new orders are: Accipitriformes (kites, hawks & eagles), Eurypygiformes (Sunbittern and extra-limital Kagu), Phaethontiformes (tropicbirds, Red-billed Tropicbird in the photo) and Suliformes (boobies, cormorants, frigatebirds and anhinga) 7) the Pelecaniformes now include the herons, ibises and spoonbills (formerly in Ciconiiformes)

Well, now is time to update my lists!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

There will always be hummingbirds to impress

Yesterday, I went to Pipeline road beyond the town of Gamboa (central Panama) in order to show some nature to my nephew Michael. Along with Gloriela and Osvaldo Quintero, we drove all the way to the sleepy town, stopping as usual at the Ammo Dump. The place was very quiet, with few birds present except by the numerous Rusty-margined Flycatchers and a flock of Keel-billed Toucans. We heard a pair of Yellow-backed Orioles and the always-present White-throated Crakes. The vegetation in the ponds was very tall, so it was difficult to spot anything. Other birds in the area included Greater Anis, Red-lored Amazons and Scrub Greenlets in good numbers, and many seedeaters and Gray-breasted Martins at the entrance of the ponds. We decided to go directly to the first bridge in Pipeline road to walk from there. The activity was unusually low and we only recorded some common species like Dot-winged and Checker-throated Antwrens, Western Slaty Antshrikes, Black-faced Antthrush, a single Stripe-chested Antpitta (only heard), Brown-capped Tyrannulets, Purple-throated Fruitcrows and a pair of Blue-black Grosbeaks feeding on a palm tree. The slaty-antshrikes were particularly conspicuous, with a pair quite often found along the road. We found also a cooperative pair of White-whiskered Puffbirds, one of them allowed some photos. It became clear that the activity was not going to get any better, so we decided to head back before reaching the second bridge. I worried about the interest of my nephew, but he seemed to be doing just fine, considering that EVERYTHING was new for him (he is essentially a city boy), including not only the birds, but also the Howlers Monkeys, the agoutis, the anoles, the Green Iguanas and all the wildlife that we found in the road (including the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth that we found later). To keep him interested, we drove to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center (PRDC) in order to have a snack and to watch the hummingbirds' show. Trust me, the hummingbirds at the Center never fail to impress... hordes of thirsty hummingbirds all around, chasing each other and perching very low (want to experience it... check this old video). Here is a small gallery of the hummingbirds that showed up, more or less in taxonomical order (some photos are of previous visits):This Long-billed Hermit was lekking with other males close to the Center allowing great shots.The tiny Stripe-throated Hermit hurries to drink before being thrown by the other species.Usually, the White-necked Jacobin is one of the most abundant and aggresive species at the feeders.
One or two males Violet-crowned Woodnymphs are always present. They usually look dark in the field (not the case of this photo!).
The Violet-bellied Hummingbird is one of the most abundant species at the feeders. A real jewel.
The Blue-chested Hummingbird could be impressive too, with the suitable light! The female is more modest.So agressive in the city, in the PRDC the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is dominated by several bigger species.The White-vented Plumeleteer is quite big... and agressive too!
Is not only the variety of species... it is also the numbers. And those were only the species that we saw yesterday! The list of hummingbirds recorded in this feeders ascend to 13 different species, which is an excelent number for the lowlands. Now you see why I think that place is simply great if you want to introduce somebody into nature and outdoors activities (like birdwatching). In the way out, it was another thing that impressed my nephew: the sighting of a huge ship crossing the Panama Canal in front of us, with the forest as background... great way to call it a day!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Looking for a particular branch

I went yesterday to the Metropolitan Natural Park in Panama City to photograph a particular bird that has been reported for that place since a month ago, more or less. You might think that I was very optimistic considering that I was looking for a bird reported a month ago, but when the bird looks like and acts as the branch of a trunk, then it is possible. As you guessed, I wanted to find the Common Potoo that resides near the ranger station. Months ago, I photographed one of them in La Cieneguita trail behind the station (pic here) and I simply wanted to get another pic. Prepared with my bins and camera, I asked the ranger if he knews the bird that "looks like a branch" and he answered "you mean the potoo? I'll show you". I followed him to the park-like forested area between the station and the main street and there it was... ridiculously exposed and close to the station, a Common Potoo in full daylight, resting, trusting in its camouflaged plumage to go unnoticed. The red eye in the second photo is due to my flash, an adaptation for its nocturnal habits. It took me merely three minutes to find the bird (with the help of the ranger of course). And that's all folks. Just kidding. I decided to walk the Mono Titi trail despite the heat of the day (after all I was there... why not?). Of course I heard many birds... but to see one was other thing because the time of the day (almost noon). The calls of a Collared Forest-Falcon encouraged me to continue. It sounded like a distant weeping in an enchanted forest. I found a troop of monkeys of which the trail takes its name. They are not "tities", but tamarins.... Geoffrey's Tamarins to be exact. I think they were as curious as I was. A White-nosed Coati and a pair of Central American Agoutis completed my mammals list for the day. Some birds in my heard-only list were (apart of the forest-falcon) Rosy Thrush-Tanager, White-bellied and Dusky Antbirds, Rufous-breasted, Rufous-and-white and Black-vented Wrens, Orange-billed Sparrow and Green Shrike-Vireo; but in the other hand I got great views of a Blue-crowned (Whooping) Motmot, a female Slaty-tailed Trogon, a Cocoa Woodcreeper inspecting a hole in a trunk, at least three flocks of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers (only a female stayed for a poor photo) and a colourful mixed flock with Blue Dacnises, White-shouldered Tanagers and Yellow-backed Orioles. Nice walk after all and I saw my potoo!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One day, two destinations

By the end of the last month, some of us were compiling our year lists just to see how far we were for becoming members of The 600 Club - Panama. That is why Rafael Luck and his nephew Daniel invited me, Venicio "Beny" Wilson and Osvaldo Quintero to a one-day quest of those birds that some way or another have eluded us so far. We visited in the same day both the entrance road to Cerro Campana National Park and El Valle de Antón. The trip was a complete success, and I got several new year-birds for my list (I'll number each of them in the text). Our first destination were the hills of the entrance road to Cerro Campana National Park. This park (the first one of the republic) protects the remaining patches of humid forest in the foothills of Capira (western Panama province), but we were interested in the more degraded habitat that occurs in its lower elevations by the entrance road next to the rangers station, the grassy slopes with scattered rocks, the main habitat of our targets: Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch (1) and White-tailed Hawk (2). We stopped by the "Mirador" (from where we got the magnificent view of the Chame bay in the photo with the first light of the day) and started the search. We saw many common species like White-tipped Dove, Lesser Elaenia and Tropical Kingbirds while several American Swallow-tailed Kites patrolled the skies. Soon, we saw a pair of the grass-finches singing atop some rocks, but always close to cover. Then, Beny found with his scope a distant and huge raptor also perched atop a rock. Mostly white with a dark half-hood: a White-tailed Hawk! We got our targets within 15 minutes of our arrival! Very happy, we headed to the west, to El Valle de Anton in the Cocle province. On route, we stopped near the town of Los Llanitos (you know, Todies' Land) for a short walk. Soon, we were looking for the Tody Motmots (3) that responded to the tape, at least three individuals. Eventually we saw one of them very close to us, but it didn't allowed photos. Other birds in the area included Sepia-capped Flycatchers (4), Black-chested Jays, Cocoa Woodcreeper, two White-thighed Swallows (5), several Rufous-capped Warblers with juveniles and a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher. With more new year-birds in the bag, we finally entered the picturesque town of El Valle and headed to La Mesa, where Beny suggested to explore a side road. It was a good idea since we found a perched White Hawk very close to the road. The elegant bird then took off from the branch and circled us a couple of times before dissapearing behind the hill. We followed the road by foot, which passes through the border of a nice moss-covered forest with lots of bromeliads. We found a nice mixed flock with Silver-throated, Common Bush and Hepatic Tanagers (6), Tawny-crowned Euphonias, Olive-striped Flycatcher, and a pair of Tufted Flycatchers that were nesting in the area. A flock of Tawny-crested Tanagers (7) catched our attention with their calls, the same for a pair of Great Black Hawks (8) flying high in the skies. Then, we tried the entrance of the Gaital Natural Monument, but it was raining so we only saw a group of Dusky-faced Tanagers (9), several Violet-crowned Woodnymphs and a Spot-crowned Antvireo (10) in a mixed flock with more Tawny-crested and Lemon-rumped Tanagers. After a late lunch in town, we spent the last hours of light in Mata Ahogado, close to El Valle. We saw more common birds including Gray-capped and Social Flycatchers, Barred Antshrike; Silver-throated, Plain-colored, Lemon-rumped, White-lined, Palm, Blue-gray and Crimson-backed Tanagers, Paltry Tyrannulet, Buff-throated and Streaked Saltators and a calling Bran-colored Flycatcher (11). A car crash prevented us to continue the road leading to Altos del María so we called it a day and started the return to Panama City, after a successful day with tons of pretty new year-birds!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Birding Bocas: Part III

The first day of our trip we birded around Changuinola; the second day we explored the frontier zone with Costa Rica and ended in the town of Punta Peña after an excellent birding in El Silencio; the third, and last, day of our birding trip started very early in Punta Peña were we stayed for the night. We (Rafael Luck, Venicio "Beny" Wilson and your blogger host) headed to a restaurant in order to have breakfast when we saw a flying Barn Owl in the fields and a group of Brown Jays. Great way to start the day! After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Two Tanks road in Chiriqui Grande to find a specific target, Green Ibis, before moving to the foothills and to Fortuna in our way to Panama City. Soon we got our birds, a group of at least five Green Ibises calling from the huge trees and flying around. We got excellent views, and even saw the green tones of these birds with the suitable light. Otherwise, these birds look almost black in the field and, when flying with those broad wings, sometimes recall vultures until you heard its characteristic cacophony. We saw others common birds, but the highlight was an irritable Common Snapping Turtle right in the middle of the road (Beny moved it out of the way for its own safety). My first Snapping Turtle... and a big one (this and others Bocas' herps here). We then moved to the foothills, taking the winding Oleoducto road that is under heavy reparations works, specially in the several bridges. We did few stops along the way, finding no many birds, but the highlight were Tiny Hawk, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Bay-headed Tanagers, Sulphur-winged Parakeets and both Slaty-tailed and Lattice-tailed Trogons (both females). The noise in the main road by the heavy equipment, plus the very sunny day made the activity low. We decided to drive directly to the Continental Divide just to see if the things become better. By the entrance of the trail to the Continental Divide we found a mixed flock with Common Bush-Tanagers, Azure-hooded Jays, Spotted Woodcreepers and even a female Black-bellied Hummingbird. Farther in the road to the communication towers (and always within the Bocas del Toro province) we saw a contrasting Crimson-collared Tanager and a family group of Blue-hooded Euphonias. A flying flock of 30 or more parakeets turned out to be Barred Parakeets, identified by voice, shape, size and the ausence of yellow in the underwings. The first life bird for the day, but not the last. Not long after that, Beny recognized the calls of a distant Ornate Hawk-Eagle. We tried the tape recorder on it and guess what... it heard us!!! Soon, the magnificent bird was flying above us and even perched conspicuosly in a nearby branch for our delight. What a bird and what a show!!! Voted as the best bird of the entire trip, a life bird for me! The rest of the day we appreciate the scenic road in our way to Panama City, just stopping in few places to take pictures of the landscape (including a picture to the impressive waterfall at the Chorcha plateau in the Chiriqui province) and in El Chiru (Cocle province) were we saw our long-desired Grassland Yellow-Finch as a bonus bird for the trip!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bocas` Herps

Just a sample of the amphibians and reptiles found during a three-days birding trip to western Bocas del Toro province in the Caribbean slope of Panama, along with two "bocatoreños": Rafael Luck and Venicio "Beny" Wilson. I'm showing the herps more or less in the same order as they appeared in the field.

This Green Basilisk, Basiliscus plumifrons, was resting in the banks of a little creek beyond Boca de Yorkin. Notice its expressive golden eyes.
We found many absolutely-awesome Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs, Dendrobates -Oophaga- pumilio, in the wet interior of a forest patch close to the town of Las Delicias. These tiny jewels were very conspicuous while hopping and singing in the forest floor. The first photo gives you an idea of its actual size. You can check Beny's video here.Why Strawberry you might ask. Well, Bocas del Toro is well-known by the great variety of colours and patterns that this same species exhibits in each different island and in the mainland. Please take a look at the sand-covered individual that Gloriela and I photographed during our honeymoon some years ago in Bastimentos island (near the aptly named Red Frog beach).
Beny found this splendid Neotropical Green Anole, Anolis -Norops- biporcatus, while birding in El Silencio, close to Changuinola, in a forested area. I saw an additional unidentified species of anole, smaller than this one (about three inches-long not including the tail), brown and boldly patterned. It reminded me those commonly found in forests of the Canal Area in central Panama.
A great find was this Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, in the middle of the Two Tanks road in Chiriqui Grande. It was my first snapper, and what a creature! This form, which extends from Nicaragua to Ecuador is C. s. acutirostris. About the last photo, please don't try it at home. Beny moved it out of the road for its own safety, despite we knew about its irribitability... he still have all his fingers!

Our last, and certainly deadliest find was made by Rafael in a quick stop along the Oleoducto road at the Bocas del Toro foothills. In the photo you can appreciate the dorsal pattern of a young Fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper, or Equis ("X") as is better known by us. This viper is the most important cause of envenomations by snakes in Panama. Well, I hope you enjoyed this little collection of absolutely great creatures. Not bad for only a three-days visit, don't you think?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Birding Bocas: Part II

A rainstorm struck Changuinola in the Bocas del Toro province (western Caribbean lowlands) during the night of our first day there, so the morning of our second day was clouded, but afortunately without rain. Our plan was to explore the road that follows the Sixaola river (which is the limit between Panama and Costa Rica) beyond the frontier town of Guabito. We passed the towns of La Mesa, Las Tablas and Tiger Hill on a very good road, reaching the tiny town of Sibube and then, Las Delicias and Boca de Yorkin. It was like an exploratory trip since none of us had reached that part of the road ever. Of course we saw some pristine forest at the hills close to the towns, but the road only passed by its borders in few places, more often around Las Delicias were we stopped several times just to see what can we get. This is a beautiful region of our country and the road is passable all the way to Yorkin, a town seldom visited by foreigners. We were able to see the town of Bribri in the Costa Rican side of the Sixaola river while visiting Las Delicias duty free shop (yeap, a duty free in that isolated part of Panama) and to talk with a member of that ethnic group (the Bri bris) at the road. And what about the birds? OK, we did not saw any new bird for Panama (you know, Red-billed Pigeons, Melodious Blackbirds), but got some interesting sightings. For example, we saw many Green-breasted Mangos, including a female feeding a young bird. We still need to know more about the relationships of the Mangos species in Panama... some years ago this form was unknown for Panama! We also saw a flock of Chestnut-collared Swifts, previously unrecorded for that region. Of course we saw others common birds like Crimson-fronted Parakeets, White-crowned Parrots, more Passerinii's Tanagers and Grayish Saltators and Olive-crowned Yellowthroats and several pairs of White-lined Tanagers. The females honor its latin name, Tachyphonus rufus, as you can see in the photo. Since they usually travel in pairs, it is easy to identify them by their companions. Again, we heard the Grayish Saltators almost everywhere... it is hard to imagine that this bird was unknown in Panama few years ago. This species is one of those that occur in northern Central America and reappear in South America, skipping Panama (others examples are Double-striped Thick-Knee, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Steely-vented Hummingbird, Vermillion and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Green Jay and so on...). This is due to the relative recent origin of the isthmus (at least of the lowlands) and some habitat requirements that changed since then, isolating the populations of certain species in the north after its migration from the south through the isthmus. It is not strange that most of the examples are birds of clear forests, open or dry habitats, being isolated by the tropical rainforest that grew up in the isthmus. Now, some of these birds are gaining terrain again due to men activities (clearing the forests for example) in both directions... most of the new species of birds recorded for Panama in the last decade or so, both in the west and in the Darien province, are typical of open habitats, not of forests. OK, I'm glad that our country list is constantly growing, but it would be great to preserve our forest just to see if the forest denizens gain terrain too. Back to the story, in the way back we stopped in several places looking for more Bocas specialties. Two species were in our radar: White-collared Manakin and Black-throated Wren, both of them completely resctricted to western Bocas del Toro province. We heard them the previous day, but we wanted to actually see them (both were long-desired life birds for me). So, after a quick meal in Changuinola, we tried the road to El Silencio. This road is mostly lined with houses, but some patches of forest still remain in some places. We drove all the way to the new bridge over the Teribe river, from which you can see the confluence of the Changuinola and the Teribe rivers. You need a permit to drive through the bridge in the brand new road to Bonyic, a Naso community and the proposed site for an hydroelectrical proyect (hence the construction of the road and the bridge). Back to the birding, we inspected a little patch of forest where I heard the typical noise of a group of males Manacus manakins... I saw a movement through the understore with my binoculars but then a gorgeous Black-throated Wren appeared in front of me! The White-collared Manakins took us more time, they were difficult to spot in the entangled but eventually we got great views of the lekking males, with its contrasting snowy-white necks and lemon-yellow underparts. To photograph them went almost impossibly, I only got a (VERY) poor shot of its legs! In the same site we saw also a Bronzy Hermit and a pair of Bare-crowned Antbirds, all of them new year-birds for me. We said good-bye to Changuinola and headed towards the town of Punta Peña and Chiriqui Grande (70 km away), stopping in some places looking for Snowy Cotingas, but finding a pair of Masked Tityras in a Cecropia tree and a beautiful White Hawk perched in the distance. After a delicious sea-food dinner, we stayed at a comfortable cabin in the town of Punta Peña. The plans for the next day (our last day) were including a visit to the Chiriqui Grande's Two Tank road and the Bocas foothills in our way back to Panama City.