Sunday, February 27, 2011

Visiting the Metro Park

I don't know why I don't visit more often the Metropolitan Natural Park. It is right here in Panama City and holds a huge list of both resident and migrant species. Trying to change that, I went this morning to the Mono Titi trail, where I joined Osvaldo Quintero. The park is quite popular, and we crossed several groups of joggers, birders, trekkers, or people simply having a walk through nature. At first, we saw mostly big-sized birds, like the always-present Blue-crowned Motmot, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, White-tipped Doves, at least three Scaled Pigeons high on a tree, some Slaty-tailed Trogons heard and a female Black-throated Trogon that welcomed us with her calls. Is when you see the female of this species that you understand why its scientific name is Trogon rufus. Then, we started to see the smaller species of tanagers, greenlets, flycatchers and warblers that are very common in these forests. Of course, we were paying more attention to the warblers and other migrants. In the lookout, the fruiting trees were full of migrants, including several Bay-breasted Warblers, some of them acquiring parts of their breeding plumage. Other migrants present were tons of Great Crested Flycatchers, Yellow-throated Vireos vocalizing and Chestnut-sided and Yellow Warblers. Soon the lookout got crowded with a group of little children, and the place became quite noisy... time to move on. In the way out, we find others common residents of the park, like the Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, both Scarlet and Yellow rumped Caciques, and a immature male Lance-tailed Manakin calling and displaying, allowing some great pictures. As you can see in the photo, this male still have some olive in its plumage. At the entrance, by "The Fortress", a mixed flock stopped us for a while. We saw one active Black-tailed Flycatcher, fanning its tail and exposing its yellow rump, several Southern Bentbills, Yellow-margined Flycatchers and Greenish Elaenia. We also got more Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers plus another Yellow-throated Vireo and resident Plain-colored Tanagers. A calling bird out in the open turned out to be a Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, who stayed for photos. We waited in front of a fruiting tree waiting for the mixed flocks to pass, but we only got some Red-legged Honeycreepers and more Plain-colored Tanagers. In the other side of the field, a group of birders, guided by our friend José Carlos, were focused on a patch of tangles where they heard, and then saw, a rare White-eyed Vireo (!!!), and a coperative Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant that showed well when we finally arrived to the place (but the vireo left). The pale eye of the pygmy tyrant is not very conspicuous in the field, but you can see in my photo its pale legs and mandible, plus its compact size. By the end, at a mango tree right in the entrance, a pair of Green Honeycreepers were inspecting the dead leaves... both of them stopped their duties to have a look at me. For a short walk, we saw tons of birds... definitively I will try to visit more often this place!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Walking the Pipeline Road

I'm back from an early visit to Gamboa and Pipeline road (central Panama) this morning with Osvaldo Quintero. As usual, we started at the Gamboa Ammo Dump, where the activity was great, with lots of common birds in the surroundings. Among the flycatchers, the chachalacas, and the jacanas, we found a cooperative pair of Barred Antshrikes feeding at eye level. Curiously, these are the first individuals of this species that I see this year, despite they are pretty common in the city (and perhaps elsewhere). I really like its call, a ba-ta-ra-ra-rarara-RA! frequently heard, and the origin of the spanish name for the group (Batará). Many people think that the female is prettier than the black-&-white male, what do you think? Close to them, two or probably three Buff-breasted Wrens were skulking, giving loud notes eventually... they were simply too shy for my camera! We left the Ammo Dump and headed to the entrance of Pipeline road, where a huge fallen trunk blocked it. We had to left the car in the entrance and started to walk the first part, which usually we by-pass to go directly to the Juan Grande bridge or to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center (PRDC). It was a good think actually, because we got some others birds in the short walk, and we also joined Jennifer Wolcott who arrived earlier to the road. We found a group of skulkiers in the undergrowth, including Dusky Antbirds, Dot-winged Antwrens and a Black-bellied Wren that I barely captured with my camera... you can have an idea of the tangled and dark habitat this wren prefers by looking at the photo. In an area with tall grass (where we never stop with the car), I detected little activity in some vains, it was a warbler and I managed to take these photos (you can enlarge them):
Not the best photos (Osvaldo's are much better), but at least you can see the mostly bright yellow underparts with white vent and undertail coverts and the narrow black line through the eye of a Blue-winged Warbler, another rare warbler for this season's collection! In the field was very evident its two white wing bars over the blue wings. It was foraging alone, despite there were two Squirrel Cuckoos and several Lesser Greenlets close to it. The cuckoos stayed for photos, the warbler did not. It is so nice to have such a gorgeous and big cuckoo as a common species in Panama. We walked beyond the Juan Grande bridge, but we only heard more antwrens, some fruitcrows and a pair of Black-breasted Puffbirds, so we decided to walk to the Rainforest Discovery Center. Good choice because the activity was crazy there, both of birds and people... several birders and non-birders groups were in the Center, even George Angehr (author of the new field guide to the birds of Panama) arrived there later. After saying hello to the staff, and after having some sodas and a snack, we started birding the surroundings. A huge mixed flock was passing by, with Yellow, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided and Golden-winged Warblers, Brown-capped Tyrannulet in a Cecropia tree (usually only heard, this is a canopy-dweller, tiny flycatcher), White-winged Becard, Dot-winged Antwren, another Black-bellied Wren and several Scarlet-rumped Caciques. We heard the characteristic call of a Moustached Antwren, and after a quick search we found him with the flock high in the canopy.... again, only marginal photos of this tiny, but attractive bird. At the end, it was worth the effort to walk into the road, instead of driving it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Back to the ponds!

I returned this afternoon to the Summit Ponds (central Panama), after visiting the place last monday, this time accompanying Rosabel Miró who wanted to see the White-eyed Vireo reported there. The place was crowded with two groups of birders, one of them guided by Carlos Bethancourt himself (who reported the rare migrant in the first place, he is at the far left). They were more interested in the residents Lance-tailed Manakins, so we focused on finding the rare vireo (for Panama). Not even 10 minutes after our arrival, we found the White-eyed Vireo exactly in the same tangles where I left it last monday! In the meanwhile, both groups departed to the ponds. Since a year ago, the Autoridad del Canal de Panama (ACP) prohibited the entry to the ponds and we lost a nice birding area, but Carlos got a permission so he was able to visit the ponds and the old Gamboa road that passes through them... so I infiltrate the group! Before reaching the ponds, a male Gartered Trogon welcomed us by perching over the road and vocalizing for the delight of all the birders... specially those with photographic equipment. The yellow underparts and eye ring are enough to recognize this species in Panama. My photo is a little overexposed, but still you can have an idea of the beautiful color pattern that this creature have. At the ponds, everyone was busy watching the birds that live there. This is one of the most reliable sites to find Boat-billed Herons, and of course we found two of them quietly resting on a branch over the water... I barely saw one individual last year because I was unable to visit these ponds. Others birds, regular in the area, were Lesser Kiskadee, Amazon and Green Kingfishers and Prothonotary Warbler. Then, Carlos spotted a heron perched quietly close to the road. The excitement was evident when he revealed that he got an immature Agami Heron. Despite its youth, it exhibited the long and thin bill plus the very long neck characteristic of the species. The heron also exhibited some blue feathers, specially in the wings, and a contrasting light blue crown... simply amazing! You know is still a young bird because of its mostly brown plumage, with white throat and underparts. This is just my third Agami Heron, and my first in the Summit Ponds where it have been reported before. Carlos called Rosabel, who was still at the vireo spot showing it to her husband Karl who arrived later, and then he continue his way deep inside the road. We stayed admiring the heron, watching it fishing and moving along the fallen trunk. What a great experience. After a while, Rosabel received another phone call from Carlos. He and his group saw an adult Rufous Nightjar on a nest. He gave us the directions, and we eventually reached the place... Carlos was kind enough to come back in order to show us the bird, which was magnificently camouflaged with its surrounding, as you can see in the photo. What a great manner to end the day. Carlos, thank you again for all the pretty birds!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Short stroll after the work

So far, this has been a GREAT season for migratory birds in Panama. Some days ago, Carlos Bethancourt, the famous guide of the Canopy Tower, reported in the social network a White-eyed Vireo at the entrance of the Summit Ponds (central Panama). Two days ago, Osvaldo Quintero and Euclides "Kilo" Campos went to the site and found that the bird was still in the same place. So I went yesterday after finishing my work at the hospital, chasing the rare bird. The White-eyed Vireo is a vagrant migrant to Panama, with only few reports, mostly from sites near the Caribbean coast. I reached the place around 3:30 PM and the first bird I saw from the window of my car was a Yellow-throated Vireo working high in the trees. False alarm... or a sign of the good things to come? The place was very quiet, surely due to the heat, but anyway, I saw many migrants in the surrounding trees. Representing the warblers, present were Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided and Yellow Warblers, plus a Northern Waterthrush. A fruiting tree had no less than three males Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Great Crested Flycatcher. I even saw another Yellow-throated Vireo and several Summer Tanagers too. Around 4:00 PM, I detected a movement in a tangle. I saw with my binoculars the white underparts, two white wing bars, yellow spectacles... THE White-eyed Vireo!!!! WOW, just like that, it materialized in front of me! The bird did not vocalize, and it moved actively always in the tangled parts of the trees. Like Osvaldo stated, it was not easy to photograph, and my marginal photos only show the neccesary to have a positive ID. I'm very impressed with the conspicuous white eye... just look at the picture (you may need to enlarge it). A HUGE lifer, and I'm very grateful with Carlos for sharing it! After a while, I detected another bird skulking in the same tangles. About the same size of the vireo, I recognized it immediately as a warbler because it was moving even more actively than the vireo. After a while I got decent views, confirming it was a Magnolia Warbler, an immature considering its gray breast band. Curiously, this is the sixth species of warbler that I see this year and that I missed last year. Both birds foraged very close to each other, without noticing a single interaction between them. I stayed for 30 more minutes, and the birds stayed in the same general area. Again, only marginal photos of the warbler, but I'm very happy with them (at least the bird is recognizable). Well, as I said: GREAT season for migrants!

Coquette and others hummers in Cerro Azul

The last place visited during our saturday trip to Cerro Azul (foothills east of Panama City) was the lovely home of our good friends Williams and Claudia Ahrens (both members of The 600 Club). They are full time residents in Los Altos de Cerro Azul, and they have banana and hummingbird feeders all over their place. After trying to find the Rufous-crested Coquette in Birders' View, Rafael Luck, Osvaldo Quintero and your blogger host, headed to the Ahrens' place (after seeing only the regular Violet-headed Hummingbird at the supposed coquette site). As usual, the place was full of birds, not only hummingbirds, but also tanagers, honeycreepers and woodcreepers among others. Bill and Claudia welcomed us warmly and invited us to check their feeders, where we immediately saw the usual suspects, mainly White-necked Jacobins, but also some Amazilia hummingbirds and even a male and female Violet-crowned Woodnymph (female on a feeder). We were surprised with the answer to our question about the coquette: Bill said "ahhh, she is at the feeders right now, or in the Verbenas outside". What!!??? The coquette was there all the time? Just seconds after his answer, I saw a little black dot leaving the feeder that he pointed, heading to the purple flowers of the Verbena : a female Rufous-crested Coquette!!! We all started shooting while the beautiful creature was quietly visiting the flowers, with its tail cocked up and looking like a big bee. They say that at least two female-plumaged birds have been visiting their grounds in the past few day, one probably is an immature male. An adult male often appears too, but not recently. We were lined up in front of the Verbena, only the shooter's noise was heard. Definitively, we looked like paparazzis taking photos of a celebrity, the coquette certainly is one. Then, Claudia saw another specialty of her garden visiting one of the feeders, a Long-billed Starthroat that quickly flew to a perch in a pine tree. The colourful gorget (the "star" throat) is hard to see in the field, but the white moustache and the long and straight bill are diagnostic. The coquette reappeared in the same bush, and we took many more photos. Eventually she left the place, leaving us astonished! We barely paid attention to the others hummers in the property, despite a Snowy-bellied Hummingbird did its best to show us that it can be radiant too, showing its glowing feathers with the sun. Thank you Bill and Claudia, and lets us know if the male coquette appears!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A day in the foothills

Yesterday, I went to Cerro Azul with Osvaldo Quintero and Rafel Luck looking for colourful birds to photograph. The foothills of Cerro Azul are less than a hour-drive from Panama City, and it holds a completely different arrange of birds to what we are used here in the lowlands. Camera in hand, we visited first the section known as Altos del Frente, where we eventually found some activity in a now-usual spot where you can also have a great view of the city in the distance. There, two pairs of Crimson-crested Woodpeckers were displaying, making a lot of noise and flying from one trunk to another chasing each other. We also saw tons of Scaled Pigeos flying all over the place, with some of them calling and others perched atop bare branches, but never allowing us to approach enough to get good pictures. These are spectacular pigeons, with a very conspicuous red to the base of the bill and showy scales to the underparts. A flock of Keel-billed Toucans appeared, announcing their presence with their croacking calls. All these birds were a little far away, but Rafael found a male Masked Tityra close enough to see all the details of its plumage, and for some to take very good photos (not my case as you can see). A little farther in the road, we found a mixed flock with lots of tanagers, euphonias, flycatchers, woodcreepers, among others. The place is very good for tanagers... in that flock we saw Plain-colored, Golden-hooded, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers. Another tanager was accompanying the flock, at first glance it was dull gray, but then it perched in a Cecropia tree where I saw the white tufts at the sides of the chest: a Sulphur-rumped Tanager! This species is quite local and seldom reported for Cerro Azul, and the most recent reports come from that place precisely. My distant shots (two of them) show the white tufts... and barely part of the sulphur-yellow rump. Those marks are unique in this part of Panama. The flock also included a Black-cheeked Woodpecker and an endemic for Panama, a Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker that we heard first and then saw it briefly. The place became quiet when the flock left, so we moved on, this time to Birders' View, also a hot spot in these foothills. The property keeper, Nando, already told us about a Rufous-crested Coquette he saw the day before, so we waited there for it, watching closely the flowered bushes in the backyard. In the meanwhile, many others species showed up, including a migrant Black-and-white Warbler creeping a trunk close to us. It was an adult male, as you can see by its black cheeks. We also saw many more tanagers, and former tanagers in the form of Summer and Hepatic Tanagers. The former is migratory, the latter is a resident species. Both male and female were working the trees surrounding the backyard. It is hard to imagine these birds as cardinals, but I have to accept that the Piranga tanagers share many characteristics with their now-close relatives (overall coloration, beautiful voices, sexual dimorphism, etc...)... they are simply cardinals with specialized beaks! The first photo is a male, still with some yellow feathers in the body. You can separate them from the similar Summer Tanager by its darker red overall and dark lores. The females of both species are yellow, the head close-up of this female Hepatic Tanager shows well its dark lores, and also its dark bill. After all, we saw no less than 13 tanagers and former-tanagers, even more if we include the species of honeycreepers that we also saw. The coquette did not show up... so we tried another spot, this time the feeders at the Ahrens' place... but that is another story.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PAS fieldtrip to Campo Chagres

Last sunday, february 13th, I guided the Panama Audubon Society (PAS) fieldtrip to Campo Chagres, in Chagres National Park. The group of PAS members included Itzel Fong, Javier Tejeira, Celeste Paiva, Michael Froude, Antonio Domínguez, Dona and Rick Pfarschner, and Jennifer Wolcott. After an early encounter at the meeting point, we departed to the site where Rolando, the park ranger, waited for us to open the gate. In the first part of the entrance road, the dry forest allowed views of interesting birds, including Gray-headed Kite, Collared Aracari, Yellow-backed and Baltimore Orioles, Scrub Greenlet, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, among others. Some others birds were only heard, including both Lance-tailed and Golden-collared Manakins and Rosy Thrush-Tanagers. We left the cars at the rangers' station and walked the trail to the lake, which was not as hot as I was expecting, surely because of the partially clouded day. We heard several species, but actually saw only a few of them, including a cooperative Blue-crowned Motmot for some of us, the noisy Red-throated Ant-Tanagers and a pair of Red-lored Amazons (file photo) perched in a Ficus tree. By the end, Jennifer wrote down the group list with her I-Pad, showing how the technology can help the birder in the field. We had a great time in this corner of Panama, and I had so much fun guiding this group of nature lovers.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Warblers and Hummingbirds at Altos del María

Altos del María is a huge, private residential development located in the foothills of western Panama province, above the town of Sora. A resident there, Alfred Raab, and his friend from Switzerland, Robert Furrer, kindly agreed to guide me, Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck into this still-little-known hot spot. Due to camera battery issues (I left it at home accidentally!), ALL the photos in this post are copyright Rafael Luck. The place turned out to be warblers' heaven! In the first stop, in second growth habitat, we found both Tennessee and Bay-breasted Warblers (the latter with buffy underparts including the undertail coverts and chestnut flanks) with some common residents like Variable Seedeaters, Plain Wren and Streaked Saltator. A little higher, we stopped at a clearing bordering a forested area around 950 meters above sea level. We immediately noticed the activity of both resident and migrant birds around us. Among a group of Clay-colored Thrushes, I saw for just a few second an infiltrated White-throated Thrush... but when I was about to show it to the others, others birds caught our attention. A big mixed flocks of warblers was passing by the woods. The first one to appear was an adult male Golden-winged Warbler... simply beautiful. Then, we got more Tennessee Warblers, two Black-and-white Warblers, a Black-throated Green Warbler (only seen first by Rafael, but then it showed well for the rest of us) and an absolutely great adult male American Redstart. A winter-plumaged warbler caught my attention... at first, we thought it was a Bay-breasted Warbler, but we noticed its yellower underparts (not buffy) with faint streaks in the chest and sides, plus white undertail coverts... a Blackpoll Warbler! There are just a handful of reports for this species in Panama, and is my first in maaaany years. Others migrants accompanying the flock were the Yellow-throated and Philadelphia Vireos. Both species of vireos were more cooperative than the warblers, moving slower along the branches and with the Philadelphia Vireo even sitting for a while, allowing some photos. This individual was particularly yellowish in the underparts... I'm used to see them with quite whitish underparts in Panama. Eventually, we were not able to follow the flock anymore and decided to move on despite the insistent chipping of a resident Rufous-capped Warbler. Alfred took us into the mountain, into the real cloud forest around 1000 meters above sea level, in a site where he and Robert saw a singing Brown Violetear the day before... and there it was, almost in the same place, singing its loud call (for a hummingbird) in an exposed branch. Despite it was against the sun, Rafael managed to take very good photos, like the one I'm showing here. Altos del María is a regular site for this erratic species in Panama, and Alfred have done a good job figuring out its haunts. In the same forest, but in a different site, Alfred reserved a surprise for us. At the end of a wide trail, he showed us no less than three adult males Snowcaps chasing each other and perching for few seconds near the canopy of a flowered tree. Amazing! These are very special hummingbirds, with a kind of patchy distribution in Panama. The trail also produced a singing Thrush-like Schiffornis, a flock of Black-faced Grosbeaks and wintering Blackburnian and Canada Warblers. In a marshy area we got Mourning Warbler and Northern Waterthrush, while in the nearby forest along a beautiful creek (walking along a brand new paved trail!) we found Spotted Woodcreeper, White-throated Spadebill and heard a Black-crowned Antpitta. What a wonderful place! In total, we saw twelve (12) migrant warblers! And I'm pretty sure that we still have not seen everything in Altos del María. Thank you Alfred for your company and expertise... shall we do this again, don't we?