Friday, April 7, 2017

To twitch, or not to twitch

Different birders watch birds in different ways.  Some of them like to spend the afternoon relaxing in the porch, watching the birds at the feeders in the middle of the backyard while others chase all the species possible within a region... some keep watching birds everywhere, anytime while other only birdwatch during the weekend.  I do a little bit of everything, depending on time of course.  However, sometimes a little extra effort is necessary if you want to add new birds to your life list.
Large-billed Tern at Gamboa
This year have been exceptional regarding occurrence of local rarities.  And so far, I have managed to cross the country several times searching for them... successfully!  Alone, with my family or with friends, chasing a rarity is always exciting, specially if you manage to successfully locate the bird you were looking for.  For example, the day after the first report of a vagrant Large-billed Tern in the town of Gamboa (central Panama) I decided to pay a visit in my lunch break... actually it was my only chance because I was about to leave the city later that day and for more than a week.  Gamboa is mere 30 minutes or less from Panama City, so the decision was straightforward.  After 10 minutes of my arrival, the Large-billed Tern circled above the public dock (right where it was reported) showing its spectacular flight pattern and allowing nice photos (above) and even better views.  I probably stayed only 20 minutes... yes, I saw it and that was all... back to work!
Twitching a Dwarf Cuckoo
Time is important... you better try to find your desired birds as soon as you get the news of its occurrence.  Some vagrants stay for long periods of time while others are seen only once or twice.  When the very rare (for Panama) Dwarf Cuckoo appeared in Tortí (one and a half hours to the east of Panama City) one week ago, I lost the chance to chase it... when I finally went to the site four days later, the bird was not there.  The birders that went the next day of the initial report found it by the way.  A Little Cuckoo at the site was a great consolation prize, but having a twitching trip with good friends always worth it... with or without Dwarf Cuckoo!
Little Cuckoo at Torti
But some times you get lucky... when my friend Rafael Lau published the photos of a very rare (for Panama) Hermit Warbler in Bambito (western highlands of Chiriqui province), I was in the middle of a trip with my family, thousands of kilometers away of Panama.  When I finally was able to twitch the bird, I drove more than 700 kms back and forth in the same day with my wife Gloriela and my daughter Gabrielle.  At the site, I started to search for the vagrant warbler.  It took me a while before an adult male Hermit Warbler decided to materialize in front of me, allowing some shots, like the one posted below... amazing!  We were in a rush, and only had time for another specialty of the Chiriqui highlands: strawberries with cream!
Hermit Warbler at Bambito
Strawberries & cream!
And then, just few weeks after my life Hermit Warbler, I went back to the Chiriqui highlands, again in a long twitch from Panama City with my wife.  My objective, a relative common, but secretive, inhabitant of montane forests.  Some friends of mine repeatedly reported a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove in the trails above the town of Guadalupe, within La Amistad International Park.  But a very early drive in the dark through a really bad road was necessary in order to be at the trail on time to watch the bird... and that was exactly what we did.  After spending the night at town (just after watching, for the first time, a Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl), I drove the road in complete darkness.  The road looks like a dry river bed... quite bumpy and scary... but we made it.  At first light, we were at the start of the trail.  Soon, I saw a plump figure walking toward us... I barely trusted my eyes because a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove was in collision trajectory!  When the quail-dove noticed our presence (mere five meters from us), it turned around, walking up-trail.  Then, I remembered that I was carrying my heavy camera and tried some shots... just this came out:
What a great experience!  Finding your desired bird is magical, specially after investing time and effort on it.  The above picture probably doesn't show the quail-dove in all its splendor, but I kind of like it... I can almost feel the chilly air in the morning under the canopy of the montane forest while seeing this photo!  For me, the answer to the question is TO TWITCH!