Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More birds at the finca

The Blue-crowned Motmots were not the only birds I saw during my last visit to the "finca" in the outskirts of Penonome, Cocle province (central Panama). In fact, I saw many more species than in previous visits, probably because I birded earlier than in others occasions. Not only that, I managed to take some photos for the first time of some species at the site. Starting at the creek, where I saw the motmots, a little, greenish bird caught my attention. It was actively foraging at the external leaves for periods, making some pauses for a couple of seconds (enough to take photos) to then start again. Many times heard, but that was the first time I saw a Yellow-olive Flycatcher at the finca. It is not unexpected for this part of the country, but at least its indicates that the habitat is wooded enough to support a population of this species. I moved to more drier areas with scattered big trees and lots of understore plus some grassland. This kind of habitat is rich in species, including Lesser Goldfinches. I saw a flock of at least six females and two adult males feeding in the ground, very alert of my movements, always vocalizing... they have a kind of sweet voice, the reason why they are common as cage birds in some places. Here, they fly free all over the place. Inspecting them (or inspecting me?) were a pair of Great Kiskadees and a Boat-billed Flycatcher. These species are VERY similar, but they differ strikingly in voice and in some plumage characters. Can you say which one I'm showing here? Otherwise, both are agressive, big flycatchers of open habitats. The last birds I saw was a flock of Streaked Saltator. They look and act like tanagers, they even sound like them. The taxonomic position of the Saltators is not well defined yet... some thinks they are in fact tanagers, or probably cardinals. I don't think much on that... I'm simply happy with my first photos of that species in the finca... I think the photo is quite good, what you think?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Penonome Motmots revisited

Some months ago, I adressed the Blue-crowned Motmot of Cocle province (central Panama) because this could be a potential intergrade zone between two distinct forms that have been considered as separate species by the South America Classification Committee (posted here). The day after Gloriela's Baby Shower, all the family went to the finca at the outskirts of Penonome city to have a BBQ and to breathe fresh air. With my camera, I walked to the creek and, as soon as I got there, two dark silhouettes flew from the banks to a nearby tree and immediately I heard a whoo-hoop, typical of a Blue-crowned Motmot, answered by a single hoop! by the second bird. They were incredible shy, always hiding behind foliage and flying away whenever I tried to approach them. Nevertheless, I did saw some important field marks, all of them matching the description of the conexus form, which is the expected form of Blue-crowned Motmot in that part of the country (part of the Whooping Motmot complex). They had some mud in their bills, so I think they were probably excavating a nest in the banks of the creek. In spite that the first vocalization I heard had two notes, it lacked the pause between them, characteristic of the lessoni form from western Panama and Central America (the Blue-diademed Motmot). There are still many questions about these motmots... is there any area of contact between these two forms? Are the motmots of the coclesian foothills conexus like the lowlands birds? Is there any hybrid reported? And so on... I'm pretty sure this is not the last time we hear about these guys!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

House birds of Penonome

When we visit Penonome (Cocle province, central Panama), we usually spent most of the time at our house in a new development devoid of big trees but surrounded by savanna-like habitat with some gallery forest at the perimetric fence... or at Gloriela's relatives house in downtown, which is more wooded, and with a little creek running behind the house. Despite both places share many common, urban birds, there are some differences. At our house, the most common birds are Great-tailed Grackles and Gray-breasted Martins... however, I enjoy more the beautiful song of the resident pair of Tropical Mockingbird or the gang of House Wrens that search carefully every corner, every bush, everything they can... even the frontal tire of our Picanto. Sometimes, the Tropical Kingbirds surprise me because they take advantage of every perching site available, even our trash basket, despite how close to the house (or us) it is. The perimetric fence of the development is another thing. Big trees and bushes separates the houses from the surrounding savanna... and these habitat results very attractive to many species of birds. I have seen so far many migrants, like Summer Tanagers, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, among others, inspecting the trees at the fence. Last time, I heard the characteristic call of a Crested Bobwhite and soon found the singing male inside the trees, very close to one of the resident White-tipped Doves and the common Red-crowned Woodpecker. The savanna attracts raptors like Short-tailed, Zone-tailed and Roadside Hawks, plus Crested and Yellow-headed Caracara.. At night, the loud calls of the Pauraques remind me why they are called bujío by the panamanians... it sounds exactly the same (you have to say it in spanish of course). Downtown Penonome, which is more wooded, the birds change a little bit... the same common birds appear as well, but then you get some additions like Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Lineated Woodpeckers to complement. At Gloriela's relatives house, the bananas left in the open attracts Clay-colored Thrushes, Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers ("Azulejo"). I will say this forever, but no matters how common the "Azulejo" is, it is gorgeous! A Common Basilisk resides at the creek behind the house, often showing its ability to run over the water, the reason why this reptile is also known as Jesus Christ Lizard. This particular one was changing its old skin. Well, I still need to make a list of all the birds I have seen so far in the urban area of Penonome... I'll try as soon as the birds lets me.... oh, oh, is that a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl singing across the street? I think I will left the list for another day again!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gloriela's Baby Shower

After months of carefull planning and anticipation, Gloriela's Baby Shower was held last saturday, november 12th in the city of Penonome, where relatives and friends shared all their best wishes for our beloved Gabrielle and spend a couple of hours of fun.
The planners did a great job I should say (they are showing their owl-rings in the photo)! The decoration, the food, the music, everything was excellent... and the games were VERY funny as well.

Thanks to all of you for your best wishes and I'll let you know as soon as Gabrielle borns!

P.D.: I had nothing to do with the owls theme of the shower!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Migrant and resident kingbirds of central Panama

During the northern winter, the resident population of Tyrannus kingbirds in Panama receives the visit of some others members of the same genus from farther north. Four different migrant Tyrannus have been reported for Panama, with two species that become particularly common around Panama City in central Panama. Despite it is only a passage migrant (doesn't winters in Panama), the Eastern Kingbird is the most common migrant Tyrannus in Panama. They typical are seen in huge and compact flocks during their passage through the isthmus, usually feeding only from fruits at the canopy of the trees. They fly over almost every kind of habitat in Panama. For obvious reasons, the translation of its spanish name is Northern Kingbird (the "eastern" part of its name makes no sense for us down here) and, definitively, this species is strongly associated with migration here in Panama. In contrast with our common, bright-colored species, the Tropical Kingbird, the Eastern KB exhibit a black-and-white pattern more reminiscent to the Fork-tailed Flycatcher. Of course, the Eastern KB lacks the long trail streamers; instead, it has a square tale tipped in white and has white markings in the wings. It also lacks the pale gray back of the Fork-tailed Flycatcher. Both, the Fork-tailed Flycatcher and the Tropical Kingbird, are VERY common in central Panama. Usually solitary, these two species often gather in really big flocks in relation to local movements, and even migration for the Fork-tailed Flycatcher. One of those unusual flocks of Tropical KBs initiated an interesting debate some months ago (you can read the story here). Not as common like the previous species, the Gray Kingbird is quite frequent in open habitats in central Panama. This is a migrant species, only present in our country during the northern winter. Mainly caribbean in distribution, this species also breeds in the mainland in southern Florida and in northern South America (Venezuela). You can tell apart it from the Eastern KB by its greater size, heavier bill and lack of black in the plumage or white in the tail. It also have a more large-headed look than the Eastern KB, making it more similar to our resident TK, specially under bad light conditions when you cannot distinguish its colors. All the species above mentioned are pretty common, surely due to their adaptability and availability of suitable habitat. However, the other two Tyrannus recorded for Panama are rare to very rare migrants to the western part of the country, though there are several records from central Panama as well. I still need to see a Western Kingbird, of which there is only a handful of records (the most recent here) and, till today, my only Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was an adult in the caribbean side of the Canal some years ago during a Christmas Bird Count. My distant photo does not do justice to the beauty of this bird...well, I guess I'll need to keep searching for these rarities!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Festivities in Cocle province. Part II

The second day of our stay in Penonome, Cocle province in central Panama (november 4th, our flag's day), Gloriela and I decided to visit the savannas and rice fields just south of town before breakfast, around the road to El Gago. It was harvest time, and the machineries in the fields were followed by hordes of herons looking for an easy meal. Yes, we did see typical species of this kind of habitat, including Plain-breasted Ground-Doves, Mourning Doves, Eastern Meadowlarks and Red-breasted Blackbirds... but the real value of birding the coclesian savannas are the birds of prey. We saw many individuals and many different species! A pair of aptly named Savanna Hawks were standing in the ground with a young bird, while several Yellow-headed Caracaras were yelling at them like saying "GET OUT OF HERE!" I almost miss a raptor perched quietly very low... Gloriela was who told me to drive back a little bit and, after grasping my camera, took some excellent shots of a young Common Black-Hawk from inside the car... it was a VERY cooperative bird, seeing us as curiously as we were seeing him! Others common raptors along the road were the Roadside Hawks (aptly named too) and some White-tailed Kites hovering in a characteristic 45º angle before dropping to the ground after a prey. Strangly, the Crested Caracaras were pretty common too, we saw at least three family groups (two adults birds and a full-grown young one following them). I really like his impressive presence, no doubt at first sight that this is a powerful bird! The caracaras belong to the falcon family despite they look so different of the typical Falco falcons, which are well represented in these savannas too... the turn that day was for an exceptionally gorgeous and uncommon one: the Aplomado Falcon. Is not the first time I see this species in that road, actually, it is one of my best spots for that scarce falcon of open habitats. However, the Aplomado was not the most scarce raptor we saw that day. While inspecting the rice fields, I detected a characteristic flight pattern of a slim raptor with long wings held over the back like a "V", swinging from one side to another, and exhibiting a conspicuous white rump... a Norther Harrier! We saw at least three or four different individuals flying over the fields, all seemed to be female-plumaged birds. It is the first time I see a harrier in these fields... a proof that you ever know what to expect while birding. I will left you with the evocative picture of a harrier over the savanna with the coclesian foothills as backgrounds.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Festivities in Cocle province. Part I

November is a month of national festivities here in Panama... Gloriela and I took advantage of the long weekend, starting thursday, november 3th (celebrating the separation of Panama from Colombia), to rest and to spent some time at our house in Penonome, the capital of Cocle province in central Panama. That day, we went to the Aguadulce Salinas (saltponds) quite early. The chill breeze from the ocean and the immensity of the place was appreciated better by the fact that we almost saw no one else in the place! We were just starting the long road through the saltponds when I noticed a medium-sized, dark heron close to it. The all dark bill and legs confirmed by initial suspicion: an immature Reddish Egret in dark phase! It was our closest encounter with that bird, and only my third sighting of it (lifer for Gloriela!). The egret was still, and only moved to get away, so we were not able to see the acrobatic feeding behavior characteristic of this species. Essentially a rare bird for the republic, the Reddish Egret seems to be quite regular in this site. There were big -but distant- flocks of Semipalmated Plovers and unidentified peeps (those identified seemed to be Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers), plus tons of egrets and herons. A group of big waders, composed by a migrant Great Blue Heron, an adult Wood Stork and an absolutely gorgeous Roseate Spoonbill, was a great sight. The bright pink plumage of the spoonbill is simply beautiful, and makes this species identifiable from long distances. Blurry photos.... but a great bird anyway!
We spend less than two hours in Aguadulce. In the way back to Penonome, we stopped at my grandma's house in the little (perhaps tiny) town of El Caño, just in time to see the parade of the only elementary school in town celebrating the separation of Panama from Colombia.
Birds, drums and typical suits... what else do you need for a day in november?