Monday, November 29, 2010

Watching birds in Penonome

Taking advantage of the long weekend, I went with Gloriela and some relatives to Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama) in order to relax and to rest a little. Of course, many people did the same, so eventually we all met at Gloriela's dad "finca" in the outskirts of the town where he is constructing a little cabin (OK, is not so little after all). Is not finished yet, but at least it gave some shelter to avoid the noon sun or the november (heavy) rains. He have done a good job with what used to be pastureland... now the place looks more like a woodland with creeks and tons of trees (both native and introduced). Not only humans were attracted, birds were too. I had a great time walking around, taking photos of common (but entertaining) birds. The property is bordered in one side by a shallow river covered under the canopy of a gallery forest, home of species like Lance-tailed Manakins and Rufous-capped Warblers, with one making a brief appearance in response to my "pishing". The bold eyestripes contrast with the rufous head in a very nice way. I walked along the river, enjoying the sound of the running water and the freshness of the air. Eventually, I decided to left the river to explore more hilly parts of the property, with scattered bushes and low trees typical of the coclesian savannah. I found some typical species of this open habitat, including some raptors (Roadside Hawk, Crested Caracara) and the very common Fork-tailed Flycatcher. Several pairs were vocalizing and I even saw a beautiful male doing an aerial exhibition (impressive). These birds are well-known by locals with the name "tijereta", allusive to the long, forked tail. This habitat is also typical of the Mouse-colored Tyrannulet. I heard its distinctive call in several places and saw few individuals briefly. They sound like a tiny evil laugh. The Lesser Elaenias were also common, just like their close relatives, the Yellow-bellied Elaenias. Both of them are known as "moñonas" despite the less obvious "moño" (crest) of the Lessers. The flycatchers are a very important group of birds in this habitat. Other flycatchers seen and/or heard were Social, Streaked, Acadian, Panama and Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern and Tropical Kingbirds, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Yellow-crowned and Southern Beardless Tyrannulets and a Great Kiskadee. Have you noticed how many medium to large-sized flycatchers exhibit the same facial and overall pattern of the kiskadee? It is suppose that all them evolved to look just like this agressive, adaptable and successful species. Interesting eh? The flycatchers are not the only ones found there. Closer to the cabin, in a quite humid spot with many fruiting trees, I found several tanagers (and former tanagers species) along with some other frugivorous birds and some bathing birds (that had nothing to do with the fruits).. One of those former tanagers was a male Summer Tanager (now merged with the cardinals), representing also the migrant species. More migrants (besides the migrant flycatchers listed before) were both Yellow and Tennessee Warblers (having a bath), many swallows and several Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in basic plumage. The place attracted many other species, like Black-striped Sparrows, tons of Clay-colored Thrushes, Streaked Saltator, Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers, Variable Seedeaters, Yellow-crowned Euphonias and a flock of Red-legged Honeycreepers (a female pictured here, but with the males looking similar except by their black wings). The last birds I photographed were the resident Lesser Goldfinches that were calling constantly. After a couple of hours of birding and trekking along the property, I finally relaxed while having a nice, unobstructed view of the majestic Guacamaya hill in the distance and enjoying the fresh breeze of the coclesian savannah accompanied by Gloriela and maaaany of our nephews!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cerro Azul hummers revisited

I'll be sincere. This post is just an excuse to publish some photos of hummingbirds found at Cerro Azul my last time there. Some are OK, others are bad, but still showing some interesting species, most of them for the first time in this blog.
I already posted photos of my year-birds # 600 and 601 (Violet-headed and Violet-capped Hummingbirds), but with my year-bird # 603 I was not as lucky in order to get good photos. Despite that, we got terrific views of several White-tipped Sicklebills at a known spot in Birders' View thanks to their habit of inspecting you while hovering in the air right in your face! These amazing birds have specialized 90º curved bills to extract the nectar from specific Heliconias flowers. In this (bad) picture, the bill is not evident, but the bird is hanging from its favorite Heliconia. You can readily recognize the bird by its streaked underparts, unique among the hummingbirds of that locale. The second (bad) picture is from near El Valle de Anton (Cocle province), just to show the bill and also that it is usually not easy to photograph them because they prefer shaded places inside the forest.
Like the sicklebills, the hermits also have the habit of confronting you. The common species in Cerro Azul is the Green Hermit. These are big hummers with long tails and decurved bills. They exhibit some sexual dimorphism, with the males being greener than females, which exhibit different degrees of gray and tawny on their plumages. These are common feeders visitors, like other big hummers, but they are not dominant on them. They can be very difficult to detect when perched, specially the lekking males low inside the forest. As you can see, both pictures here are of females. Other hermits species are less common at the gardens we visited, including both the Long-billed and Stripe-throated Hermits (both are commoner in the lowlands).
At the Ahrens' place, a very nice Purple-crowned Fairy visits regularly the hummingbird feeders. These hummers are so elegant and delicately patterned in clean white and green that it is hard to believe. The lack of green moustache makes this individual a female, which have longer tails than males. This is not the first time I post a photo of this species, but who can get tired of it? Other big hummer regularly visiting feeders at Cerro Azul is the Long-billed Starthroat. I saw it once in Birders' View, but it seems more regular at the Ahrens' place and at the Lieurance's place (The Petrels in Panama living in Cerro Azul, check their video).
Of course, we also saw more common species like Snowy-bellied, Rufous-tailed and Blue-chested Hummingbirds and White-necked Jacobins, but I have posted photos of them before elsewhere. Somehow, I haven't posted photos of the next species despite its commoness in Cerro Azul: the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. This is also a medium to large-sized hummingbird inhabitant of forests and borders that is readily attracted to feeders. It is SO easy to identify due to its conspicuous red-pinkish feet, a mark not shared with ANY other hummingbird in Panama.
Well, the list of hummingbirds recorded at Cerro Azul is impressive, including some species that I still have to find in that place (Green-crowned Brilliant comes to my mind) and others that are present only seasonally, like the Rufous-crested Coquette and the Green Thorntail. I still need many more visits to that charming piece of Panama!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lazy birding ?

Last saturday, Osvaldo Quintero, Itzel Fong and your blogger host visited the foothills of Cerro Azul, one hour to the east of Panama City. The bird activity was SO intense that we saw, heard and/or photographed at least 40 species in a single garden (at Birders' View, thanks Rosabel) and then added some more in the garden at the Ahrens' place (thanks Bill & Claudia). That is why I ask if this is lazy birding... all these birds were seen with VERY little walking and without wakening too early! At Birders' View, after finding my year-bird # 600, we noticed that the berries of two plants (Ortiga - above with white/pinkish berries in a purple florescence and a bonus female Green Honeycreeper on top- and Ortiguillo -with yellow berries- according to Nando, the house's handy man and keeper, but also an excellent birder) were attracting tons of birds, including no less than 12 tanagers species! My favorites were the six Tangara tanagers, with all their contrasting patterns and brightly-coloured plumage, including the Plain-colored Tanager that I'm not picturing here, but have a look at the other five (all of them in the Ortiguillo), starting with the Golden-hooded Tanager... common but gorgeous!
This Emerald Tanager is showing that the guys that named it were absolutely right!
The Speckled Tanager was a little shy. Notice its yellow face and blue margins to the wings.
Despite its commoness, I got my first close-up shot of a Bay-headed Tanager that day.
The Rufous-winged Tanager is regular in that garden. Compared to the Bay-headed Tanager, it has more yellow on the back, less blue in the underparts and, of course, rufous in the wings.
OK, I know that the Hepatic, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers are not tanagers, but cardinals... but we still need to assimilate that. This female Scarlet Tanager was very cooperative while feeding at the Ortiga berries.
The euphonias (former tanagers) and the honeycreepers were well-represented as well. Here, in quick succession, I'm showing the Fulvous-vented and Tawny-capped Euphonias (all males) and a male Green Honeycreeper... all at the Ortiga.
We DID walk a little... but only 15 minutes in one of the well-kept trails, finding several White-tipped Sicklebills in an Heliconia patch inside the forest. Returning to the natural feeders at the house, Itzel noticed that a new bird joined the party at the Ortiga below us... a female Yellow-eared Toucanet just feet from us!
She eventually got VERY close, less than a meter from me and Osvaldo was able to photograph her with his cell phone!
Some books mention that the Selenidera toucanets are shy... certainly she did not read those books!
We barely left the place due to such amazing activity, but it was getting late. In the way out, we visited our friends Bill and Claudia at their beautiful place, where they showed us the furious activity at the hummingbird feeders (that is a male Violet-capped Hummingbird -year-bird # 601) and the technique to dissappear a bunch of bananas in few seconds (just left it at their feeders, the Palm Tanagers and the Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, among maaaany others, will take charge).
What a great day... full of colourful birds in close proximity and good friends sharing them with you... this is birding all about!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

2010's bird # 600: Violet-headed Hummingbird

Yesterday I visited Cerro Azul (foothills to the east of Panama City) with Itzel Fong and Osvaldo Quintero. We simply wanted to enjoy some easy birding at the foothills, but I also had in mind to find my year-bird # 600 since I was only one bird away of my goal (I'm participating in Panama's 600 Club). Once I got out of the car, I started to search. Soon, my desired bird appear, in the form of a beautiful male Violet-headed Hummingbird feeding at the little flowers of the garden at Birder's View (thanks Rosabel).
Despite it is a common hummer, it was new because it was my first time at Cerro Azul this year (despite it is only a 45-minutes drive from the city). In fact, all the other new year-birds of the day were common species at this site (five in total, three were hummingbirds). We saw at least two different individuals. These hummingbirds liked the little, tubular flowers growing wild in the garden, never visiting the hummingbird feeders frequented by many other species. Notice that all the flowers in these pictures are similar, except by its color.
This male perched frequently no far away of the flowers, sometimes singing incessantly its insignificant song. It was so nice to have this little guy as my year-bird # 600!
This post was submitted to Bird Photography Weekly # 116. Check it out!

Panama City from the Ancon Hill

After my visit to the Metropolitan Natural Park in the morning of november 10th, I went to Panama City's Ancon Hill in the afternoon to visit the main team of counters participating in the "Raptors Ocean to Ocean" of the Panama Audubon Society. I was a 12-years old kid the last time I visited the top of the hill (probably younger, I don't remember well), so it was like a new experience for me. The windy road to the top have just one lane, so you have to wait the signal of the guard at the entrance to go up. I will try that road on foot next time, since it is forested and seemed perfect for migrants. At the top, Ovidio Jaramillo, Juan Pablo Ríos, Euclides "Kilo" Campos and the enthusiastic Laura Reyes were counting each single raptor flying over the hill. Not only that, they were also collecting other data (on weather conditions), compiling the totals and explaining to all the visitors their task and the importance of this little piece of land for the migration of these raptors. I have to say that this is a great work, since many young student visit the hill with their teachers and all seemed astonished with the spectacle and with the explanations. Great work guys and congratulations. At the other hand, the place is very popular because you can get amazing views of the city and surrounds... and I took pictures:
Northwest view: the Centennial Bridge over the Gaillard Cut (the narrowest part of the Canal), with Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks in the foregorund (separated by the Miraflres lake).
Southwest view: the "Bridge of the Americas" over the Pacific entrance to the Canal, once the only permanent terrestrial connection between North and South America.
South view: the colonial Panama City (better known as the "Casco Antiguo"), with all its churches and old buildings.
Southeast view: the modern and cosmopolitan Panama City, with its skyscrapers and the Coastal Beltway next to the Pacific Ocean.
If you have a chance to visit this part of the city, took it!
The panamanian flag atop the Ancon Hill.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More and more migrants

I went yesterday to the Metropolitan Natural Park of Panama City, taking advantage of the free day. The two previous day have been amazing due to the thousands of hawks and vultures that flew over the city in their way to the south and yesterday the counters at Ancon Hill (that hill with the panamanian flag covered in migrant Turkey Vultures) that the raptors stayed at the forest surrounding the former Canal Area. So, I was expecting to find many raptors in the park waiting for the day to heat-up to re-start the migration. The same did Osvaldo Quintero and Itzel Fong... they also went to the park looking for sleepy raptors. We hardly saw any migrant raptor in our way to El Mirador, but saw many migrant songbirds, specially tons of Swainson's Thrushes and Eastern Wood-Pewees (both were aboundant). At El Mirador, the activity was low... but after a few minutes we started to see some Turkey Vultures, then other group, and then another! In seconds, we saw tons of Turkey Vultures at the thermal currents gaining altitude from all the surrounding forests! Then we saw some Swainson's Hawks too approaching quite close to us, including one individual that flew so close over our heads that I barely captured part of it in the photo. By that time, the whole city was covered in migrat vultures and hawks, literally!!!
We realized that the main route was following the coast, a little distant of us, so we started to walk the way down to the parking lot at the entrance of the trails. We found a big mixed flock after passing the entrance to La Cieneguita trail with many resident species like Lesser and Golden-fronted Greenlets, White-shouldered Tanagers, one Green Shrike-Vireo and some Red-throated Ant-Tanagers; but also including some migrant warblers. The most common was the Bay-breasted Warbler. We found several individuals with variable amount of chestnut on its flanks. I checked them all very well looking for something rarer... but all seemed to be Bay-breasted Warblers in basic plumage. The other pretty common parulid was the Chestnut-sided Warbler. It is amazing how much they change... the alternate and basic-plumaged birds look like different species! However, it is very distinctive even with its winter dress. You can recognize them (even in my photo) by its bright-green crown and back, the complete white eye-ring and its lemon-yellow wingbars. The flock also included a magnificent male Golden-winged Warbler. It was so active, never stopping its quest for insects high on the trees, so I only got blurry photos. It is a shame because that bird is a real jewel. Other warblers at the park, but not in that particular flock, were the Yellow Warblers and the Blackburnian Warblers (both photos are from Costa del Este recently). The Yellow Warbler is one of the most common migrant songbird in Panama, but not in the forest. We also have a resident population, the "Mangrove" Warbler, distinctive different and considered by many as a good species. About the Blackburnians, they become very common in the park (and around the city) for a short period of time... this time I saw only one probable individual briefly while seeing the raptors from El Mirador (this species was pretty common just a couple of weeks ago). Close to the parking lot (at "El Castillo"), I saw a thrush perched quietly at the border of the trail. A quick look with my binoculars confirmed it to be a Gray-cheeked Thrush instead of the aboundant Swainsons'. Both Itzel and Osvaldo asked me: who??, so I showed them the bird, who stayed enough for some photos. It turned out that it was a lifer for both of them! Curiously, that was the second time this season that I see the bird exactly in the same place... so it was not a new year-bird for me, but an exciting lifer (and life photo) for my companions. We then drove to the Visitors Center of the park to have a well-deserved drink... but Osvaldo had a surprise for us. He took us behind the wildlife rehab facilities and in a matter of seconds, a splendid young Common "Mangrove" Black-Hawk appeared to inspect us, probably waiting for us to feed him. Of course we took tons of photos of the cooperative bird, who stayed in the nearby forest when the park's personnel released him. Great way to end the day!