Sunday, May 19, 2013

PAS Fieldtrip to Altos del María

Last month, the Panamá Audubon Society (PAS) organized the annual fieldtrip to the foothills of Altos del María.  This gated community, located in the foothills of western Panama province, gained relevance few years ago when the birders started to report western species not readily found in the mountains just to the east (Altos de Campana) or to the west (El Valle for example).  Surely it has something to do with the great accessibility to higher and well preserved cloud forests.  Alfred Raab, an Altos' resident, guided a group of 14 PAS members through these forests during this two-days trip.  However, Osvaldo Quintero, Rafael Luck, Itzel Fong and your blogger host only participated the first day.
After meeting in the town of Sora, we followed the group to our first destination, a spot close to the Valle Bonito's gate where we saw/heard some common species.
The Common Bush-Tanagers were, indeed, common.  We crossed several flocks, sometimes mixed with others foothill tanagers, like Silver-throated and Black-and-yellow Tanagers.  The form present there is of the distinctive subspecies punctulatus, recognized by its dark head and brighter orangish breast.  Also notice the distinctive shape of the post-ocular dot.
This Lineated Woodpecker was very cooperative and entertained us while we were waiting for the main attraction.
After some minutes, we found the specialty of the area: at least two males Snowcaps were around, stoping often in some skinny branches too far away for photos, but enough for terrific views through my binoculars.  The white crown is an special feature, readily evident in my poor photo.
We moved to higher forests, around 1000 meters above sea level.  It is obligatory to take a photo with the Picacho peak in the background, as Itzel did with my phone camera.
It was a little cloudy but fresh... and we found lots of activity.  More tanagers flocks, both Thick-billed and Elegant Euphonias, Olive-sided Flycatchers, and one (or more?) Rufous Mourner that seemed to be following us.
Notice how foggy it was in the above photo... however, the weather proved to be quite unpredictable up there.  Two seconds after the above photo the sun showed up (an also the butterflies and moths).
We followed Alfred through some roads and trails.  We crossed a Canopy Lodge birding group and found many others beauties like White-ruffed Manakin, Black-faced Grosbeaks, and even a male Green Thorntail seeking for insects under the leaves of a tree.  Itzel was lucky enough to get some photos that she posted in her blog.  A highlight was a paved trail all the way to the continental divide, where we saw more typical birds... including the local subspecies vividus of Tufted Flycatcher, which is less brightly colored than the subspecies in western Panama (but brighter than the birds of eastern Darien).
This trail runs along a mountain creek and offers the ideal habitat for my nemesis: the Dull-mantled Antbird.  In fact, its spanish name say it so: Hormiguero Guardarribera, with guardarribera meaning something like the one that guards the bank.  A lovely trail for sure!
Guess what!... it is still my nemesis bird in spite of Alfred attempts to lure out one of them. It was a great trip anyway, full of MANY others special birds (including that Orange-bellied Trogon that I missed), but I'll return for my Guardarribera! 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Evening escape to Cerro Azul

Cerro Azul, in the foothills east of Panama City, is a popular birding destination due to its large tracks of forests... but more important, the strong community of resident birders always letting us know the last sightings of rare birds up there!  That's why Osvaldo Quintero, Itzel Fong (and her spouse Javier) and I went to Cerro Azul late in the afternoon after the news of Black-eared Wood-Quails showing in the backyard of our friends William and Esther Adsett.  According to them, the birds visited the property almost at dark, so we first checked a fruiting tree right by the front deck attracting many birds.
These Bay-headed, Speckled and Golden-hooded Tanagers were part of a big flock including also Green Honeycreepers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Carmiol's Tanagers and many more.  It was very entertaining, and we spend a lot of time trying to get pictures... but it was getting dark, so we moved to the forest, finding many understore dwellers like Scaly-breasted Wren, White-breasted Wood-Wren, both Cocoa and Spooted Woodcreepers, Black-faced Anthrush and a cooperative female Spotted Antbird (but alas, no wood-quails).
Just a couple of hours, but full of birds and friends.  We didn't see the wood-quails... but that is a good reason to return!
Miltoniopsis sp. (roelzii?)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Birding the forest or the backyard?

When birding the Chiriquí highlands in western Panamá, the variety birds is so high, that even inside the forest you can cross a huge flock with many different species.  In other parts, usually you see more birds in the open habitats and the forest borders, but here... well, you'll see.  During our last journey to the highlands, I managed to get some shots of both forest and backyard birds.  Lets start with the common ones, we found the next species in the gardens and streets of the little town of Guadalupe, above Cerro Punta.  Of course, the ubiquitous Rufous-collared Sparrow is impossible to miss!
Not only singing adult birds, also immatures were around, as you can see in the second photo.  Another singing bird was this male Flame-colored Tanager.  We saw several pairs of these well-named tanagers.
With a sweet voice too, these Yellow-bellied Siskins were quite busy feeding in these bushes.  Male, female and immature male in quick succession.
Another hard-to-miss species in the highlands is the Slaty Flowerpiercer.  Notice the unique bill, adapted to steal the flowers' nectar.
An impressive (and common) bird in the highlands is the Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher.  Usually is seen perched very high in the trees, but this individual was very low taking some berries.
However, it is in the forest were most of the rare and elusive species are (except, of course, if you find a Lincoln's Sparrow sharing a field with Rufous-collareds!).  Just minutes from Guadalupe,  La Amistad International Park offers an excellent opportunity to see these special birds, like the Barred Becard attracted after playing a tape of its call.
Or the Large-footed Finch feeding in the forest floor.
A hard-to-see bird is the strange-looking Wrenthrush (though I prefer its spanish name: Zeledonia).  More often heard, my marginal photo shows at least the main field marks of this species, the ball-shaped body and the contrasting orange crown.
The last bird we saw in the park is a relatively common one; however, for some reason I had missed this one in my more than 15 years of birding in Panama (and other countries)... my life Lineated Foliage-Gleaner really really put on a show for us, giving exceptionally good views and photograph opportunities.
That is the way to end a trip to the highlands!