Monday, August 22, 2016

PAS' Owls and Wines Night

Rather than an owling trip, the Panama Audubon Society's Owls and Wines Night is more like a social event, where old and new friends meet to enjoy a pleasant night.  This year event was held in the iconic Canopy Tower at the Soberania National Park in central Panama.  I went with Gloriela and met the other ten participants a little bit before sunset... the views from the upper deck of the tower are simple overwhelming!
Jan & Gloriela
I don't know if you noticed that a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth was photo-bombing the frame! You can have eye-to-eye encounters not only with these gentile creatures, but also with some canopy-dwellers hard to see otherwise.  Here is a closer look at our friend:
Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
The sloths (yes, as in plural) and birds were not the only highlights at the tower.  A set of the Motus Wildlife Tracking System (one of four installed in Panama) is on the tower, and Karl Kaufmann explained to us how it works.  The Panama Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada made Panama the first country in Central America to track migratory birds this way.
Motus system
After that, we spend some time tasting fine wines and a selection of cheeses and caught up on environmental, political and religious issues... actually caught up on ALL the issues.  Time flew by so fast that we almost forget the owls... almost.  The forests around the tower are home of many different species of owls and other night creatures. So, aboard one of the Canopy Tower's modified trucks and under the guidance of Michael, we started the search.
Well, to be honest, I never expect many species "seen" on these trips... owling is not an exact science and you should aim to identify the birds by their field marks... the vocalizations in the case of owls.  Nevertheless, we tried. The night was bright clear... actually not very good for owling.  After several stops, we only heard frogs and crickets... until Michael found this guy:
Great Potoo
Not an owl, but a Great Potoo in the middle of the night waiting for insects on a pole.  It was the only night bird for the trip... but a good one.  I want to thank all the participants for the good company and the Canopy Family staff for the awesome night!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Rare migrant at the saltflats

The month of August marks the beginning of the migratory season in Panama.  All over  the country, the early migrants are showing up in both expected and unexpected sites.  One of the historical migrant traps in Panama are the Aguadulce Salinas (saltflats) in Cocle province (central Panama), where I did a quick stop with my family last weekend, finding some goodies.
Black Skimmers and Royal Terns
The huge flock of Black Skimmers was accompanied with impressive numbers too of Royal Terns... none of these breed in Panama, but they are found year-round in Panama.  The skimmers, particularly, are regular in these saltflats.  Another species present year-round in Panama is the Black-necked Stilt, but they do breed in Panama... and the saltflats are one of the few breeding sites known in the country.
Black-necked Stilt
But I was more interested in those long-distance migrants that use the saltflats as a re-fueling stop in their journey to higher latitudes... some of them only spent few weeks at our country.  After checking flocks of peeps and larger shorebirds (specially both Yellowlegs), I finally found a lonely Wilson's Phalarope frenetically swimming in circle picking food from the surface.  It was far away, so my pic is essentially for documenting purposes.
A distant Wilson's Phalarope
But my big surprise was the single Stilt Sandpiper found with some Yellowlegs and Dowitchers in a shallow lagoon.  The long legs, slightly downcurved, thin bill and white eye-brow were diagnostic.
Stilt Sandpiper
The Stilt Sandpiper is a rare passage migrant through Panama. Curiously, this is my second sighting this season because we saw at least two of them some days ago to the east of Panama City in Finca Bayano.  It seems that this is going to be a good migratory season!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Visiting Finca Bayano

Since the closure of the former Tocumen marshes to birders some years ago, we have been visiting a rice farm to the east of Panama City known as Finca Bayano, looking for those open habitat species of birds difficult to find around Panama City.  The site is promising since it have a nice mixture of habitats: pastures, gallery forests, scrubs and bushes, cultivated fields and so on...  So we visited it last weekend, reaching the place at sunrise.
Finca Bayano
I joined Rosabel Miro and Bill Adsett for this birding adventure... and to be honest, I was expecting a regular day in the field, however, we soon noticed that everything was set to have a great day!  Literally hundreds of herons, egrets, ibises and storks were feeding on the flooded fields.
Well, but all these species were common ones... then we started to notice some shorebirds in the same fields... first some scattered groups... by the end of the trip we saw no less than 100 Pectoral Sandpipers, both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted, Solitary, Western, Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers... but more important, we saw at least two Stilt Sandpipers, pretty uncommon for Panama. I took a short video showing some Pectoral Sandpipers (is the first time I saw so many of them!).
As you can see, my digiscoping abilities are close to zero... but I just wanted to document the numbers.  The waders were not the only highlights.  We saw many species with nesting materials or feeding young.  In fact, we saw several pairs of elegant Pied Water-Tyrants making nests and at least two Pale-breasted Spinetails feeding young birds (they look rather plain).
Pied Water-Tyrant
Also impressive was the number and variety of raptors in those fields: both Caracaras, Bat and Laughing Falcons, Pearl, White-tailed and Hook-billed Kites, Common Black, Roadside, Gray-lined, Savanna and Zone-tailed Hawks were hunting all over the place... in fact, we just saw this Zone-tailed Hawk to grab a whiptail lizard from the ground.
Zone-tailed Hawk with whiptail lizard
However, the most surprising bird (at least for me) was another raptor... but not a diurnal one.  Over a field with dry grass I saw a ghostly figure approaching low to land over a bush facing away.  After a while, the bird turned its head 180º towards me... a Barn Owl was making eye-contact with me under a bright sun!
Barn Owl
Any day with an owl is a good day!