Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Visiting "La Angostura"

Sometimes we have natural marvels that remain secret despite how attractive they are. That is surely the case of La Angostura canyon in Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama). Close to Gloriela's dad "finca" (see the previous post), the mighty Zarati river runs along a tight rocky canyon after passing its narrowest point (no more than three meters wide), a tiny waterfall known as "La Angostura", which literally means "the narrowness". The Zarati river is quite famous due to all the local legends and narratives inspired on it, and because of the popular aquatic carnivals organized each year attracting thousands of visitors. However, this part of the river is little known, even by the panamanians, surely due to the complete lack of facilities for the visitor and the modest dirt access road passable with a high clearance vehicle, but the place is at walking distance from the main road to La Pintada (the entrance is marked by a chapel, opposite to a Jesus Christ statue, after the neighborhood of Vista Hermosa and before the entrance to Los Uveros town), crossing some pastureland and dry bushes until you reach a rocky formation that descends towards the river (you must use the steps carved in the stone). I visited the place last sunday, under a stifling sun, just for a couple of minutes, enough to appreciate the beauty of the place (also enjoyed by a Green Heron in the other side of the river) and to take these photos. The chocolate-brown tone of the water is due to the recent heavy rains in the area. The most accepted theory about the origins of this canyon states that the Zarati river excavated its way through the material deposited by the volcanic eruptions of the Guacamaya hill, five thousands of years ago. In some parts, the walls of the canyon reach 100 meters og height! So, next time you visit central Panama, specifically the Cocle province, try to visit La Angostura... is worth the effort.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Colourful birds of the dry forest

I went with Gloriela to Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama), to spent the weekend. Of course, we visited Gloriela's dad finca in the outskirts of the town where the originally-planned cabin has become a huge building, looking almost like a fortress with several rooms and gardens, but still surrounded by a nice dry gallery forest and creeks. It is always nice to walk around, feeling the breeze and hearing the birds. One of the most active and colourful is the Rufous-capped Warbler. A group of noisy four of them were working the bushes and the understore close to the house, with one of them begging constantly for food... however, it looked like an adult to me, since it had the complete rufous cap and ear covers characteristic of this species. I easily attracted them by "pishing"... these were very curious birds and I even managed a nice photograph of one of them. Close to them, I heard the unmistakable sound of a Lance-tailed Manakins lek. After a while, I found at least four adult males loosely associated, perched and vocalizing, but I saw no females around. Around the property, I have identified by ear at least four different leks of these beutiful birds, but actually seeing them is more difficult because they like the tangled understore were they perch flying only if a female, or a competitor, approaches. Sometimes, the birds are perched considerably higher in the tree than you expect. I barely got these photos, including a curious male quite high in the canopy, with a "puffy" look, raised red crest and wings dropped down (displaying?). I could spent hours admiring these guys, but I have to admit that sometimes it is frustating because you can hear them very close to you and still remain elusive! I will try to get better pictures next time.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Night outing

Some weeks ago, I went to the famous Pipeline Road and its Rainforest Discovery Center, in central Panama, with Osvaldo Quintero and Rafael Luck, but this time at night during one of the scheduled "night trips" they organize. Of course, our main objective were the owls that live deep inside that forest, specially the Crested Owl that have been reported recently by the Center's staff and which would be new for all three of us. It was a chilly night, and since the instant of our arrival we felt surrounded by the darkness and the silence, only disturbed by the occasional breeze and the buzzing insects. Julia was our (excellent) guide for the night, and we almost immediately heard a Crested Owl behind the facilities, but it was far away. I also heard a distant Spectacled Owl, they sound like a distant machine gun as Ridgely states in "A guide to the birds of Panama". Of course, the photo I'm picturing here is of a different individual that I took many years ago in daylight because we saw no owls that night. These are big birds, actually the biggest of the regular encountered owls in Panama, and one that I have found several times, both at day and night. Julia also heard a distant Tropical Screech-Owl. However, the real show was performed by a little troop of Western Night Monkeys. It is amazing how these creatures move around the tree tops and the branches so acrobatically in complete darkness! My poor photos are due to the distance and the almost complete lack of any source of light. At close range, they don't look like monkeys to me... but like big-eyed squirrels or something like that as you can see in the daylight photo I took in Panama City of a sleeping pair of these some months ago (thanks Beny). There are some taxonomic issues about this species; some think that this form, which occurs in Panama and the colombian Pacific slope, is a good species by its own: the Choco Night Monkey. Eventually, we heard another Crested Owl close to the tower, but despite our efforts, it remained invisible. We heard several others Crested Owl in the entrance road too, plus more Night Monkeys, so I think it was a succesfull night after all!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beach and Motmots

During a familiar weekend at an all-inclusive resort in the coclesian Pacific coast (central Panama), I had the opportunity to have a close look at the resident motmot species: the Blue-crowned Motmot. A single individual (with no tail racquets) was eating the fruits of a palm tree. Of course, the motmot was not the only bird species detected in the gardens of the resort, we also saw many common residents like Boat-billed Flycatchers and the similar-looking Great Kiskadees, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers and the very vocal Rufous-browed Peppershrike; but by far, the most colourful bird was the motmot. And it was not only beautiful, it is also intriguing. The Cocle province in central Panama is the extreme western end of the range for the conexus subspecies, part of what is described as Momotus subrufescens, or Whooping Motmot by the South America Checklist Committee (SACC), a change not recognized by the AOU nor by the Panama Audubon Society (you can see a distribution map here). The bird did not vocalize, which is the main field mark to separate this form from the lessoni group, the so called Blue-diademed Motmot of western Panama (and Central America). According to Stiles in his original paper, lessoni can be diagnosticable in the field based in 14 plumage characteristics. This bird showed characteristics consistent with conexus, the expected form in this part of Panama (not big contrast between chest and belly, bright green throat, contrasting thighs -as in the last photo-, lots of violet color in the posterior part of the diadem, etc...), except for the black border around the posterior diadem which was broad and conspicuous, as expected for lessoni. Considering that Cocle province could be a potential intergrade zone for the lessoni and conexus forms of this complex, I will try in the months to come to listen for these birds near my home in Penonome in order to address properly this issue about which form occurs in Cocle... so stay tunned!
Bonus, a young Green Iguana at the resort's gardens (abundant!).

This post was submitted to Bird Photography Weekly # 150, check it out!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Bird of the Month: Black-and-white Owl

The Black-and-white Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata) is a medium-sized, strictly nocturnal bird inhabitant of forest and forest edges and adjacents clearing of Central and South America. In Panama, is a a common owl (by voice) in the adequate habitat, which includes the Panama City itself, where I took all the photos I'm showing here (more specifically, in the Albrook residential area, thanks to my friends Karl and Rosabel Kaufmann). This spectacular bird is beautifully patterned in black and white as its name suggest, with contrasting orange-yellow bare parts, making it unmistakable in its panamanian range, though some similar-looking species exist in South America (including the still undescribed "San Isidro Owl from Ecuador and Peru). Despite its commoness, and characteristic vocalizations (similar to those of the Mottled Owl), it is not well-known by the general population, surely due to its nocturnal habits. It feed mainly on insects (notice the katydid this indivual have in the beak), but also on small mammals, including bats that sometimes flycatch under artificial lights. It is always nice to find these big predators, specially if they allow you to take some pictures despite the light conditions. For these, and many others reasons is why we choose the Black-and-white Owl as our bird of the month!This post was submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #149, check it out!

Literature consulted
1. Ridgely RS, Gwynne J. A guide to the birds of Panama. 1st spanish edition 1993
2. Angehr GR, Dean R. The Birds of Panama. A field guide. 1st edition 2010