Sunday, August 29, 2010

Umbrellas show!

Both of us (Gloriela and me) woke up very early yesterday, at 4:00 AM. After a quick shower we soon were heading to Costa del Este, picking up Euclides "Kilo" Campo in the way, to meet Rafael Luck at his home. We all were going to travel in his 4WD because our destination was the General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park above the charming town of El Cope (simply known as El Cope NP), in the coclesian foothills of central Panama. August is a good month to visit this park. First, there are no strong winds, nor too much fog (at least in the morning... but be prepared for some rain). Second, many species of the western highlands that breed at the higher slopes of the park come down (the park facilities and main trails system is more or less at 700 meters above sea level) in a sort of post-breeding altitudinal migration that is poorly known. The road turns into gravel passing El Cope. It is in a general good condition, but after the town of Barrigon it becomes steep and quite eroded, needing a powerful, high-clearance vehicle to deal with it in parts. No problem for Rafael's vehicle. After a little more than three hours in the road from Panama City, we were paying our entrance fee at the ranger station. The park ranger told us that we were the first visitors in about a week, a fact that we confirmed while signing the guest's book. We found some fog, so we waited at the Visitor's Center for the day to clear. Soon, a mixed flock showed up with Tawny-crested, Bay-headed and Emerald Tanagers, Tawny-capped, Yellow-crowned and Thick-billed Euphonias and Shining Honeycreepers. We were lucky enough to hear a Western Wood-Pewee and a Chiriqui Quail-Dove (a bird that I saw during my last visit, about a year ago). The activity was pretty good at the Center, but we had to move in order to find our main objective: the Bare-necked Umbrellabird. This spectacular cotinga, endemic to Panama and Costa Rica, is found there only seasonally, and till now only along the Snowcap and Los Helechos trails. We walked the first 500 meters of the Snowcap trail, the most reliable stretch for the cotinga, without luck. In the way back, we found an antswarm followed by tons of birds: Ocellated, Bicolored and Inmaculate Antbirds, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Stripe-breasted Wren, Plain-brown and Spotted Woodcreepers. Then, Kilo desperately called me. He heard the contact (warning?) calls of a covey of Black-breasted Wood-Quails and I hurried to join him (Gloriela and Rafael were too far away). Soon we were watching a group of at least five wood-quails nervously walking at barely five meters of us downslope. A huge life bird for me! We were running out of time so we decided to walk Los Helechos trail, a loop trail that starts at the Visitor's Center. We found again the mixed flock, but new species were the Silver-throated and Black-and-yellow Tanagers, Yellow-margined and Slaty-capped Flycatchers and a calling Golden-olive Woodpecker. We thought that the stars of the show were a pair of Black-crowned Antpittas that responded to playback, but then, in the way back, Kilo pointed out an Umbrellabird perched very close to us that flew away after few seconds, followed by a second individual. We tried in vain to relocate them, so we decided to left the trail (after all we saw the cotingas). Again, Kilo re-found the pair of Umbrellabirds nicely perched very close to the Visitor's Center. These bird allowed great pictures, showing only little curiosity. The bird showing the pale red patch of bare skin in the neck seemed considerably bigger than the other bird, and both looked like overgrown fruitcrows! They were so cooperative that they were still in the same branches when we decided to left the site (45 minutes after finding them). What a great show, those birds were simply fascinating... one of many reasons for visiting El Cope!
P.D.: we ended the day at the Aguadulce Salinas (saltponds). Check it out here.


  1. GREAT stuff on these Cephalopterus Jan!... is December good time to go look for them?

  2. What an awesome day and amazing images of the umbrellabird! Bird species of El Cope are similar to those of one of my favorite sites in Costa Rica- Quebrada Gonzalez ranger station n Braulio Carillo National Park. Many birds here in CR also move to lower elevations after breeding.

  3. Diego: unfortunately, most of the reports of Umbrellabirds at El Cope are of august, with one of october. You can find them in december and january in Fortuna, central Chiriqui province.

    Pat: We still need to know a lot about these movements in Panama. By the way, great blog that of yours.