Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October = Migration !!! (Part II)

In my last post, I wrote about the impressive diurnal migration of hawks and vultures over Panama City in october... but october is also the peak of the migration of many other birds, including many song birds (passerines),  and the Ancon Hill is also an excellent site to watch them as well.
Sometimes, it is not clear if you are watching a migrant or a resident bird... for example, I know that the Zone-tailed Hawks nest in Panama, but definitively I see them around more often during the migration season, like the one pictured above at the Ancon Hill.  Other times, it is obvious you are seeing resident birds... like the Keel-billed Toucan... who paints these birds anyway?
It is nice to see how our common species share their food sources with the migrants.  For example, several Scarlet Tanagers were feeding in the same bush with a group of ubiquitous Social Flycatchers.
During the migration, some species are way more easy to see than in other seasons... this Mourning Warbler was hoping around merely three feet of me! 
Sometimes, the migrant species resemble the resident ones.  Take for example this Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.  They are transient migrants (that is, they do not winter in Panama), temporarily quite common all over Panama, where they share habitats with our resident Streaked Flycatchers... the only reliable field mark to tell apart these two is the black chin of the migrants!
Well, this is Panama in migration... I still need some migrants in my life list... so this is not my last time in Ancon Hill looking for them (and yes, I am talking about Black-billed Cuckoos)!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October = Migration !!!

If you live in Panama, or happen that you visits Panama City in october, then watch the skies... you may be missing one of the greatest spectacle this land has to offer!  The southward migration of millions of raptors passing right by the city (enlarge the photo and try to count the dots).
Each year, almost all the populations of Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks and Swainson's Hawks, fly from their breeding grounds in North America, to their wintering grounds in South America.  In their migration route, the isthmus of Panama is a kind of bottle neck where huge kettles forms, looking like an aerial highway of birds.
This is a diurnal migration, since these birds needs the ascending thermal currents to gain height.  Once at the top of the thermal, they simply glide to the base of the next current and so on.  In this way (gliding), they save a lot of energy during the travel, that can be as long as 14000 miles (22400 km) in the case of the Swainson Hawk.
The three species mentioned above form the bulk of the living mass flying through Panama, but many other species of raptors migrates through Panama too.  Just check at the number of species and, more important, the number of individuals counted this month only at the Ancon Hill hawkwatch site in Panama City... IMPRESSIVE! 
Sometimes, the number of birds is so high, that the domestic flights in Panama City have been suspended.  Thanks God this plane was flying much higher than the birds in that moment.
So, if you want to see a real river of raptors, come to Panama and enjoy!
No doubt these photos were taken in Panama!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

II National Festival of the Painted Hat

Last sunday, october 14th, I went with my family to the picturesque town of La Pintada (Coclé province, central Panamá), less than 15 minutes north of Penonomé, in order to attend the last day of the II National Festival of the Painted Hat.  La Pintada is, officially, the hometown of the painted hat, a masterpiece handmade by talented craftsmen and reflection of our culture and customs.
The festival is a showcase where craftsmen of every community of La Pintada district show their creations.  In the next photo, Gloriela and her sister Teresa are standing in front of the kiosk of Machuca community... and both are wearing painted hats.
After seeing the hats and all the other kiosks, we took our places in order to watch the parade of oxen-pulled cars showing daily life scenes of these communities and typical dresses of the region.
There were also luxurious carriages pulled by horses, lots of music, typical dishes and many more.  
We enjoyed a lot the day... I hope that you also could next year! 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rice fields and savannas!

Birding in the tropics is not only about rain and cloud forests... any type of habitat is good if you are looking for birds!  The group of intrepid birders, composed by Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck, Venicio "Beny" Wilson and myself, headed last saturday to the -mostly- agricultural lands of Juan Hombrón, in Coclé province (central Panamá).  We were looking for migrants buntings; however, we found many other goodies (but no buntings).  Our first stop were the rice fields on route to Juan Hombrón.  Most of the fields were essentially pool of mud waiting to be sowed... but it turned out that was the perfect habitat for a bunch of migrant waders!
As you can see, we saw many shorebirds, especially Southern Lapwings and Least Sandpipers, but also small numbers of Pectoral Sandpipers, Willets, both Wilson's and Semipalmated Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilts and Solitary Sandpipers.  We were inspecting carefully every shorebird looking for rare vagrants when Beny called us to see through his scope: an American Golden-Plover still with part of its breeding plumage.  Not exactly a vagrant, but a rare migrant through Panamá.
Not the best photo, it was too far away.  We continued our way, finding many typical inhabitants of these fields, like Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Savanna Hawks and the omnipresent Cattle Egrets.
One mile before reaching the coast, we stopped at a tiny gallery dry "forest", finding Veraguan Mango, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, both Common and Slate-headed Tody-Flycatchers and many more... but only this Acadian Flycatcher allowed photos.
By the time we reached the coastal marsh, it was raining so hard that we decided to go back, stopping again at the rice fields were we saw the bird of the trip.  After a while, we went to Penonome, where we had lunch at a new hotel in the outskirts of the town.  Then, we headed south of town, taking the road to El Gago, finding more raptors typical of the coclesian savannas, like White-tailed Kite, Roadside Hawk and both Yellow-headed and Crested Caracaras.
For the first time, we actually reached El Gago, a tiny river pier at the end of the 16 km-long road!  That was a life site for me!
At El Gago, we saw both immature and adult Common Black-Hawk, this form used to be known as the Mangrove Hawk some years ago.  I think that the adult looks boring if you compare it with the colorful immature bird.
In the way out we took a couple of minutes to photograph some migrant Barn Swallows by the road.  Not only that, I also got my first Bank Swallow photo!  Can you find it?
I stayed in Penonome with my family after saying good-bye to my friends.  What a great day at the savannas, watching resident and, specially, migrant birds.  To end the day, I was able to capture the silhouette of a migrant Chimney Swift over the shrubs of the savanna... simply a nice way to call it a day!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Harrier's festival in Coclé!

Of the three harriers species (Circus sp.) found in the Americas, two had been recorded so far in Panama.  The Northern Harrier, which is an uncommon migrant from North America, and the Long-winged Harrier, considered as a vagrant from South America and recorded, as expected, in the eastern part of the country... until now!  Along with Rafael Luck, Osvaldo Quintero and Venicio "Beny" Wilson, I went last saturday, october 13th, to Juan Hombrón, in the Coclé province of central Panamá.  We passed the rice fields, birded for a while (the story in another post) and continue our route... but it was at the rice fields in the way back when Beny saw it!
Juan Hombrón rice fields
He separated of the group for unknown reasons and while we all were seeing in the opposite direction, he saw a big black bird flying low passing in front of him... he immediately started to call us because he soon realized that was seeing something rare and new for him!  The bird crossed the road from one rice field to another, allowing some photos (watch Rafael's photos of this and other birds in Xenornis).
After litte discussion, we all agreed that the bird was a Long-winged Harrier due to its very dark (almost black) general color, pale primaries panels (both from above and below), and large size.  The pale streaks of the underparts make this bird a dark phase immature.
After seeing Rafael photos in Xenornis, I realized that this bird also showed the rufous vent characteristic of this species... only my next photo shows that feature (OK, with a little bit of imagination... you may need to enlarge the image to see it).
The bird also showed little white in the rump... essentially a white rump band... very different to the conspicuous white rump patch of the Northern Harrier.
After a while, we relocated the bird, allowing more photos... but the bird was chased away by a group of Southern Lapwings that were not as excited as we were with this raptor.  Notice the long-winged profile of the bird while soaring high in a thermal current.
Compare the last photo with my own Long-winged Harrier photo from eastern Panama province, taken last june... same profile.
Long-winged Harrier.  Eastern Panama province, june 30th, 2012.
For some reason we were quite lucky to have the rare opportunity to watch the other species of harrier, the Northern Harrier, also flying over a rice field farther west, in the road to El Gago, south of Penonome (Coclé province too).  In comparison, they (two birds) were smaller, browner, with a different wing pattern and conspicuous white rumps.
I know the last photo is simply not good... but this is the third year in a row that I see this species in the same area, and I have other photos published here (also, you can see Rafael's photos in Xenornis).
This, if accepted, is the ninth or tenth report for this species in Panamá; and certainly, the western/northernmost of them... what a crazy find!!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Jogging was my main intention

I can swear it!  I went with Gloriela, Gabrielle and Teresa (Gloriela's sister) to the Metropolitan Natural Park in order to make some exercise, jogging through the trails, burning out some calories and breathing fresh air.  However, we soon realized that we chose the wrong baby carriage for Gabrielle, because it was completely unsuitable for the gravel-covered paths.  
We walked "Los Robles" trail, connecting the administrative installations with the main trails, taking a couple of minutes to help feeding the turtles at the lagoon.  No herons at the lagoons, but what an amazing experience for Gabrielle!
At the gate of the main trails, it was clear that bearing a 20-pounds girl with you while trying to walk an up-hill trail was not a good idea, so I decided to stay with Gabrielle in the surroundings of the parking lot and the entrance of the "Mono Tití" trail, watching common birds like the pair of Orange-chinned Parakeets pictured here, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Squirrel Cuckoo, Tropical Kingbird and both Cocoa and Olivaceous Woodcreepers.
When Gloriela and Teresa came back 30 minutes later, they told me that my good friend Osvaldo Quintero was photographing birds in the highest part of the trail, in the lookout.  So, it was my turn to walk up-hill.  They leave me because it was getting hot for Gabrielle (she is only 9-months old), but that was not a problem considering that the park is right within the city and is easily accessible by taxi and other public transportation.  I crossed a birding group by the mid part of the trail.  They were in the middle of a mixed flock, with antwrens, White-winged Tanagers, a Plain Xenops, and others... but it was a migrant thrush in the edge of the trail that caught my attention.  After seeing it through the scope of the group guide, it was clear that the bird was a Veery, and uncommon migrant in central Panama, and only my second time ever with this bird!
Eventually, I reached the lookout, and Osvaldo was there in fact.  He photographed some migrant vireos and warblers, but the huge mixed flock of migrants that he was expecting never showed up, so we decided to return.  The only common migrants were the Red-eyed Vireos that were everywhere, and the Canada Warblers, in the peak of their migration.
However, a little bit down in the trail, we saw a high kettle of, mostly, Broad-winged Hawks in their annual southward migration... an amazing spectacle!  October is the month of the raptors river in Panama, a show that we are all expecting soon... so stayed tune! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bird of the Month: Blue-footed Booby

The Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) is a common member of its family in Panama.  Probably is one of the most known booby, as this is the species typically depicted on all those Galapagos Islands documentaries, with bright, plastic-like, blue feet and elaborated courtship displays.  Those blue feet are  a secondary sexual characteristic, linked to health status, access to food and age (older males have duller legs) and not simply a caprice of the nature.  In non-breeding season, the feet become dull blue-gray... you can see in my photos that there are still some individuals with bright blue feet. 
By the time I took the next photo, at the Frailes islands off the Azuero Peninsula, the Blue-footed Booby was considered quite uncommon in the Pacific coast of Panama... and then only around the Gulf of Panama.  The photo illustrates the conical bill and head and the strong neck... adaptations to the fishing style of diving like bombs from considerable heights!
We are seeing now an increase of numbers of this species in Panama... once a rare sight from shore, now it is not uncommon to see them flying close to shore, as I had done in Cocle province of central Panama (Juan Hombrón and Aguadulce for example), or along Panama City.
Not only that... back in 2005 and 2006, Angehr et al. reported the Blue-footed Booby as outnumbered by its close relative, the Brown Booby, in the Gulf of Panama; however, since then, it seems the contrary is happening... each time it is more and more difficult to see Brown Boobies from shore... and in my recent trip to the islands of the Gulf of Panama, the Blue-footed Booby was -by far- the most common booby encountered.
For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the Blue-footed Booby as our Bird of the Month!
Literature consulted:
1.  Angehr G, Dean R. The birds of Panama. A field guide. 2010.
2.  Angehr G, Kushlan J. Seabird and Colonial wading Bird Nesting in the Gulf of Panama. Waterbirds 2007; 30: 335-57.
3.  Ridgely R, Gwynne J.  A guide to the birds of Panama. 1993.