Monday, May 18, 2015

Roosting Owls in Metro Park

Just a VERY short note.  By now this should be past news; anyway, if you have 30 minutes free and are close to the Metropolitan Natural Park in Panama City, be sure to visit Los Caobos trail (behind the bonsai shop).  A trio of roosting Black-and-White Owls has remained for several days in the same place, virtually ignoring hikers, birders and photographers.  I found two of them last weekend... immutable as ever.
Black-and-White Owls
Finding owls as their day roost is always a treat, especially if it is as beautiful and attractive as this species. So, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Lifer next door

When many people participate in a massive birding event, as last Global Big Day, it is inevitable that some rare or exotic species will be reported.  While reviewing the Panama numbers (620 species, so far!), I noticed three rare species reported for the Canal Area and Panama City that were potential life birds for me.  One of them was reported very close to my home, in the exposed mudflats of Panama Viejo.  So, taking advantage of my lunch time, I grab my bins and camera and headed that way.  The first thing I noticed was the huge number of migrant Short-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plovers.
Short-billed Dowitchers 
Black-bellied Plovers
I was interested in the peeps that use these mudflats, but most of them were far away following the retiring tide.  Not enough with that, it started to rain and I had to seek refuge in my car several times due to the short showers that prevented me to review thoroughly the flocks.  Well, at least I found the continuing American White Pelican mixed in with the Brown Pelicans (can you find it?).
Brown and American White Pelicans
During one of those moments waiting inside the car facing the mudflats, I noticed a small flock of peeps approaching from the mangrove island.  I hurried to check them.  Initially, nothing out of the ordinary.  Then, one of the peeps caught my attention.  The flock included both Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers... but one of them looked "wrong".
A Western/Semipalmated Sandpiper and a...
The birds flew closer and I was able to relocate the bird, this time it was close enough to confirm my initial suspicion: a White-rumped Sandpiper!!!
White-rumped Sandpiper
Notice the slender profile due to its long wings and the more angled position while feeding compared to the other peeps.  I also noticed that the wing tips crossed each other after passing the end of the tail and the finely streaked breast and flanks.  I know these are awful photos... but it is a rare passage migrant in Panama, and a lifer for me (did I mention that already?).  The flock only stayed for less than 5 minutes in front of the Visitors Center before flying away.  When leaving, I managed some last shots of my lifer:
White-rumped Sandpiper
White-rumped Sandpiper
Any doubt?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Our Global Big Day

Last May 9th was held the Cornell Lab's Global Big Day around the world, and Panama was not the exception.  In fact, Cornell's Team Sapsucker did its big day in our country, with amazing results.  Of course, my wife and I participated in this great event, and instead of choosing a route along the Canal Area and Panama City (aiming to a probable list of more than 200 birds), we decided to mobilize towards the interior of the country to begin our count in the foothills of Coclé province.  We stayed at some lovely cabins the previous day above the town of El Cope, where we finalized the details for the big day.
That's Gloriela "finalizing the details"
The alarm went off at 3:30 am.  We hardly sleep last night thinking about the day that awaited us.  As we loaded the car, we heard the distinctive nasal call of a Common Nighthawk above us, making it our first species for the day!  Our plan was to drive the dirt road all the way to the General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park, best known as El Cope NP (as you can see it has the longest name for a national park in Panama), and spent one to two hours owling; however, our car was unable to climb a slippery slope almost one mile before the park entrance (then we learned that day that no one could climb the slope), so we had to walk upslope in the dark, reaching the park entrance short before sunrise (I took the next photo later, with better light of course).
The place was foggy, dark and windy... and we heard few species during the dawn chorus (and no owls).  We waited a while to walk the trails inside the park... it was too dark to see anything, so we birded by ear...  I was in charge of the identification issues, bird photography and driving; Gloriela, of annotating the species, individuals, effort data and non-bird photography.  For no apparent reason, we called our team "The Penguin Squad" (yes, I know, we were only two of us... but it sounds cool).
The foothill forests of this national park are the most beautiful in Panama, and are the extreme eastern end of the range of several western species, like Chiriquí Quail-Dove and Black-breasted Wood-Quail (both heard at dawn).  Other species are more widespread, like Black Guan, Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Pale-vented Thrush and Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, among others.
A shy Black Guan
Purplish-backed Quail-Dove
The Black Guan (found by Gloriela by the Visitors Center) was the only one for Panama during the event, so far.  The day was low... and we feared we would not have enough time to find some key species; however, we found our friend José Pérez and his wife Yissel birding along the main road inside the park.  They planned to bird most of the day and to submit their sightings to eBird, so we thought the place was well-covered and decided to start our way down to the car, with roughly 50 different species for the site after four hours.  We added many more species in the way down, with mixed flocks of tanagers and honeycreepers as the main highlights.  In the way down to the dry lowlands, we picked up new species everywhere: Boat-billed Flycatcher and Buff-throated Saltator at the town of El Cope, Brown-throated Parakeets, meadowlarks and Zone-tailed Hawk at La Candelaria, tons of herons, egrets and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures at the Rio Grande savannas, and so on... eventually reaching the Aguadulces Salinas (saltflats).
A monument to the salt workers at Aguadulce
It was a little bit dissapointing... the saltflats were devoid of birds, dry and hot.  The things looked better at El Salado beach, where the exposed mudflats (part of the Parita Gulf) attracted the first waders for our day list: Whimbrels, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers and Black-necked Stilts, among others, were new for the day.  Leaving Aguadulce, we headed west along the Panamerican highway and then south, along the National highway into Herrera province... becoming the only eBirders for that province during the event.  Our first stop was the Santamaría ricefields, adding Savanna Hawk and Glossy Ibis.  Then, we headed to Las Macanas marsh.  Again, hot and dry... but at least we managed some great additions to our list, including this Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl:
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
The big lagoon was full of herons, including an absurd number of Great Blue Herons, Caspian Terns, Blue-winged Teals and two Lesser Scaups.  Several new species in that site... but we had to move.  Our next stop was the most arid and dry place visited on our trip, and protected by its own national park too: Sarigua.
Notice the barren terrain and the xerophytic vegetation in the above picture.  Probably not the first option for a bird-a-thon like this; however, because this was a nation-wide effort, we chose this place to look for a localized species.  It took some time before finding our goal.  Despite its name, this species is actually "common" only in Sarigua.
Common Ground-Dove
Yes, Common Ground-Dove!  The Panamanian population is isolated from populations both to the north and south, and probably merits recognition as a distinctive subspecies.  We found three different pairs close to the ranger station.  We also saw (and heard) several White-winged Doves, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyants and grassquits.
Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant
As expected, the place was very hot... so we headed to Chitré (Herrera province capital city), and then to El Agallito beach.   Although we reached the place late in the afternoon, the tide was just raising... and the exposed mudflats were extensive.  From shore we were able to spot hundreds of waders in the distance... so we put on our rubber boots and started to walk towards them.  And what a great place... flocks of Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and five plover species among many more were wading on these mudflats.
That's me, looking for some shorebirds
When the sun began to hide, we picked the last diurnal species along the highway back to Penonome, where we were going to spent the night (at our house, of course).  We reached Penonome at night, and after a short break for dinner, we found Common Pauraque and Tropical Screech-Owl at 9:30 pm... making it a 19-hours day of intense birding!  After traveling 300 km by car and over 5 km on foot, 14 complete checklists (and other 9 incidental sightings) and lots of cokes and snacks, we managed to record 151 species for the day!  We had a lot of fun participating in this first Global Big Day, and it seems that Panama did very well... with more than 600 species recorded for the day.  What an achievement!   

Friday, May 8, 2015

Getting ready for the Global Big Day

During last night Panama Audubon Society's monthly meeting, we had the pleasure to receive two eBird project leaders, Christopher Wood and Marshall Iliff, who talked about the next Global Big Day and eBird in general. The idea is simple... to record most of the birds of the world into eBird checklists in May 9th, 2015.  This is the first ever Global Big Day, and Cornell Lab's Team Sapsucker chose our country to tally as many birds they can in 24 hours!  So far, their scouting trips have been exceptionally successful, finding (and documentating) very rare birds for Panama and the region, like Black Swift, Jabirú, Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, among others!
Many people have shown interest in participating in this event in Panama; so far, 25 teams have signed up for eBirding along the length and breadth of our country and I'm sure this event has raised awareness about the importance of this tool for citizen science.  Personally, I'll be birding in central Panama and will try to cover as many habitats possible in the way.  Good luck to ALL the eBirders, specially to Team Sapsucker!
Chris, Jan and Marshall