Monday, February 24, 2014

Family Trip to Gamboa Aerial Tram

Yesterday, both the Cubilla-Archbold and Caballero-Cubilla families decided to spent half day in the grounds of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort.  Both my sister and Gloriela won a free pass for two adults each to the aerial tram and the exhibitions.  In spite of all my years visiting Gamboa, that was my first experience in an aerial tram... and I have to admit that I was a little excited.
 After a brief introductions, we reached the facilities.  Our knowledgable guide, Juan, told us about the 14 years-old structure, which has 18 cars (some with wheelchair access), 1.2 kilometers long and a maximum height of 30 meters above the ground.
We boarded the last car and we had a pleasant trip just under the canopy.  Juan was talking about the relationship between the trees and the animals, when a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys went out to say "hello", for the delight of the children (I was looking at the Streaked Flycatcher perched in the opposite side).
At the end of the line, a short trail took us through the forest and lianas to the 30 meters-high observation tower.
I was impressed with the tower.  The 360º view of the surrounding forest, the Panama Canal and the Chagres river was exceptional.  I took a photo of a nearby Embera village and, of course, the family photo was mandatory.
Embera village
We really enjoyed the trip, Gabrielle enjoyed it a lot!  But the trip was not over.  We visited the several exhibition rooms that the resort kept in its grounds: the fishes, amphibians and freshwater reptiles exhibition, the serpentarium, the butterfly house and the orchids exhibition.
Young Spectacled Caiman
What a great morning.  We really enjoyed it and recommend it as a good choice for a family trip!
Gabrielle and Kevin exhausted after a day in the forest!

Another extraordinaire day!

As I mentioned earlier, "extraordinaire" have different meanings according to each person, even several meanings for a same person, like myself.  For example, besides seeing a Ground-Cuckoo to make my day extraordinaire, I just realized that seeing your little two years-old daughter performing on stage without shyness is not only extraordinaire, but priceless too!
That's right, last saturday was the closure act of Debby Ann Dance Academy's summer course and my little princess performed twice: ballet and tap dance (notice Gabrielle's tap shoes in the next photo).
Gabrielle was the youngest child in the course, as you can see in the next photo holding her certificate.
Gabrielle: mom and dad are very proud!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An extraordinaire day

The definition of "extraordinaire day" is different for each person.  For some, a day is extraordinaire if everything goes as planned; for others, you need a special event to occur.  For me, ANY day with a GROUND-CUCKOO is an extraordinaire day!  And, after hearing that a family group of Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoos were attending an antswarm in Pipeline Road (central Panama) allowing nice views for the visitors, I decided to accept the invitation of my friend Osvaldo to bird the area last saturday.
We started at the marina in the town of Gamboa.  We were expecting to find some migratory ducks, but it seems that this is not a good year for them.  The place was full of Common Gallinules as usual, and Wattled Jacanas (like the one pictured above).  After walking along the access road, we found many species of both resident and migrant birds.  My favorite was an adult Rufescent Tiger-Heron hunting quietly behind the access gate.
After a while, we decided to move to the famed Pipeline Road.  The furious activity at the marina deviated us from our main destination, the same happened in the other stops we made before reaching the entrance to Pipeline Road.  For example,  this Crimson-crested Woodpecker entertained us at the Ammo dump.
And a mixed group of warblers, antbirds and antwrens did the same right before entering Pipeline.  There, two species of antshrikes were inspecting a patch of forest close to the ground.  Considering that others birds were in the same area (like Black-bellied and Song Wrens, Dusky Antbirds and Black-faced Antthrush), I suspect that there were some ants or something in the ground.  Notice the heavy bill of this male Fasciated Antshrike.
And the black crown of this aptly named Black-crowned Antshrike.  This is a male, of course.  The female is patterned in brown and buff, with little black.  This species used to be called Western Slaty-Antshrike... but it is not closely related to other Slaty Antshrikes in South America.
A little before 11 am, we finally reached the Pipeline Road.  One kilometer after the entrance, we noticed a foreign birder standing aside the road.  We joined him and immediately heard the Bicolored Antbirds attending an antswarm.  The birder quickly showed us a photo in his bridge camera... a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo appeared in the screen.  We waited for a while and then, the bird materialized above a log more or less 4 meters from us.  What a sight!  The long tail and powerful legs, plus the expressive crest is unmistakable.
File photo
Unfortunately, we could not take pictures.  I took the above photo five years ago almost exactly in the same site!  The Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo is a very rare ground-dwelling species that is found almost exclusively around antswarms.  Pipeline Road is, perhaps, the best place to see it, specially during our dry season.  So, now you see why that was an extraordinaire day?  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Still at Panama Viejo (Bonaparte's Gull)

Finally, the perseverance yield results.  After countless visits to Panama Viejo, I finally got again the Bonaparte's Gull that has spent the winter in our warm shores.  Around 3:30 pm, I went to Panama Viejo (Panama City) with Gloriela and Gabrielle.  They decided to wait in the car (it was hot out there)... I started to scan the huge flock of Laughing Gulls resting in the mudflats in front of the Museum.
Laughing Gulls, several ages
I assure you that I checked each of the birds resting on the site, finding some Franklin's Gulls mixed in the crowd.  Most of them were first-winter birds, I only saw one adult-type bird.
Franklin's Gull (1st winter)
Remembering that my friend Kilo saw the bird two days ago, noticing it first at flight, I started to check the birds flying over the tiny mangrove island with my binocs.  Surprisingly, I managed to ID a first-winter Bonaparte's Gull in the distance!
Notice the white underwings and black tail band in the above photo.  The wing pattern is clearly seen in my next shots (although distant).
I rushed to the mangrove island, but by the time I arrived five minutes later, the bird had disappeared.  I scanned the mudflats with my binocs, eventually finding the little bird far away!
I took some record shots, but the bird was in the middle of the mudflat, and it would not get closer.  I cropped the best ones, and I'm quite satisfied with the results.
This vagrant for Panama was a year bird for me, and only the third time ever that I see it anywhere!  Vagrant or not, what a bird!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

2014 First lifer!

Last weekend, my friend Osvaldo showed me a photo of a warbler he found in the Metropolitan Natural Park.  The bird puzzled me a little, but after much thinking I declared it a female Mourning Warbler.  He showed the photo to some local experts later, and some red flags started to appear... Osvaldo photographed a rare (for central Panama) MacGillivray's Warbler!  Not only that, he re-found the bird at the same site last friday and took new photos.
I took advantage of a tiny gap in my agenda and went to the park around 1:00 pm.  In spite of the hour and the heat of our dry season, the place was alive with tons of birds attending a flowering Erythrina tree.  These trees are special for both resident and migrant birds.  In fact, I saw many migrants, including both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, eight warblers species (!) and this Yellow-throated Vireo.
Among the warblers, the most obliging were the Chestnut-sided Warblers.  The bright green back and the lemon-yellow wingbars are distinctive.
Of course, the Golden-winged Warbler wins the prize of the most beautiful warbler in the flock.  A distant male made a short appearance... my distant photo is useful to identify the bird at least.
Then, I saw a bird skulking in the understore exactly where Osvaldo described me.  Soon I notice it was a female Geothlypis (formerly Oporornis) warbler, but most important, in the dark of the forest, the broken arcs above and below the eyes were quite conspicuous.
The call was different to the sweet chip note I'm used for Mourning Warbler, it was harsher and rougher, but still a chip note.  The yellowish throat made me doubt... but then I see that this is quite variable (and some photos in the web show this feature in immature males MacGillivray's Warblers).  The broken eye-ring was definitively more prominent than those of the females and immatures Mourning Warblers, and the gray surrounding the throat made a complete breast band above the yellow belly, all consistent with MacGillivray's Warbler... my life MacGillivray's Warbler

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bird of the Month: Brown-throated Parakeet

The Brown-throated Parakeet (Eupsittula pertinax) is a familiar member of the parrot family adapted to open habitats in Central and South America, as well as in the Caribbean, quite variable considering the high number of recognized subspecies (14 to be exact).
These social birds are noisy and smart, and their presence is revealed by the sharp metallic chattering they constantly made.  As you can see, they feed in a variety of plant material, from flowers to fruit.
Other feature you can see in the photos is the orange-yellow patch of feathers below the eye.  This field mark is unique to the form ocularis in this complex.
Ocularis is a former endemic to western and central Panama's Pacific slope (now is present in southeastern Costa Rica as well), isolated of all the other subspecies..., in fact, sometimes is considered a full species, and named Veragua Parakeet.  For these, and many other reasons, is why we chose the Brown-throated Parakeet as our Bird of the Month!
Literature consulted:
1.  Angehr G, Dean R.  The Birds of Panama. A field guide. 2010
2.  Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive.  Available at