Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Birding the Pearl Islands: seabird colonies and huge beasts!

After a successful first day finding our main target, the White-fringed Antwren, in the Pearl Islands, the itinerary for the second day included to visit some other islands with colonies of common seabirds and, in the way, to look for whales and other cetaceans.  In that aspect I was optimistic because the previous day we saw both Pantropical Spotted and Bottlenose Dolphins from the ferry to Contadora and even a Humpback Whale very close to the first island we were suppose to visit this time, Paquecha.
Bottlenose Dolphins (file photo)
We first did a short walk in Contadora before breakfast, finding more migrants than resident species (by the way, if you know how to ID the empid pictured below, that did not vocalize, let me know).  Purple Martin and Pied-billed Grebe were nice surprises for me... and new year birds too.
At 9:00 am, we boarded the boat in Executive beach and headed to Pacheca and Pachequita Islands, passing first by Saboga Island and its 300 years-old church, the oldest in the archipelago.
The first thing we noticed was the huge number of Magnificent Frigatebirds swarming over the two islands.  Pacheca holds the second biggest colony of this species in Panama (only Isla Iguana has a bigger colony of frigatebirds in Panama), and we saw hundreds of them, including immature birds perched in low bushes and trees.
Other species also nest on these islands, including Neotropic Cormorant, Brown and Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Pelican, and so on...  These diversity reminded me a previous trip to the islands of the Upper Bay of Panama, also with Beny as a guide.
The Virgen Del Valle protects those who ventures to these waters... and it seems that also protects these birds!
After inspecting Pacheca and Pachequita Islands, we landed in Bartolome Island to watch the colony of Brown Pelicans.  While I was trying to photograph the resident Yellow "Mangrove" Warblers, Gabrielle was having a great time enjoying the island's white sands.
Gabrielle in the sands of Bartolome Island
Then, something catched Beny's attention out in the sea passing Contadora, so we headed that way immediately.  After some minutes in the boat, what caught his attention became evident... it was... it was... well, see by yourself:
OH YES!  A huge Humpback Whale with calf!  As I said before, the Pearl Islands have become a major site for whale watching in Panama.  These whales travel all the way from the southern seas to give birth to their young in these warm waters.
And they are pretty picky with temperature selection, choosing only waters around 24.8º Celsius.  We followed them for a while from a safe distant... what an amazing experience.  I'm glad that my family could marvel at this spectacle of nature.
In the way back to Contadora, we found this American Oystercatcher resting in some rocks... always a beauty.  Curiously, this and the Spotted Sandpipers were the only waders we saw in the islands.
After all these emotions and nature marvels, we still had time to enjoy Executive beach in Contadora before heading back to Panama City in the ferry.  Thank you Beny for this great trip and to all the participants who joined us to this corner of Panama!
Gloriela and Gabrielle in Executive beach, Contadora

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