Tuesday, July 11, 2017

And the birding continues! Pelagic off western Azuero

And after exciting 16+ hours of pure birding, we ended at the town of Malena, western Azuero, with our friends Kees and Lowes of Heliconia Inn.  We scheduled a pelagic trip for the next day, and the rest of the participants were already there: Mario Ocaña, George Angehr (yes, the author of "The Birds of Panama" field guide), visiting birder Enos Diestre and Kees Groenedijk as our guide.
That's me, George, Mario, Kees, our captain and Enos
As usual, very early the next day (May 14th) we took a quick breakfast and headed to the dock at Rio Negro, close to the town of Mariato.  With the first lights we started to navigate along the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula, in a route now familiar to some of us who were recurrent in this kind of trips.  It soon became clear that this would be a spectacular journey... since hordes of Black Terns, Brown Noddies and Galapagos Shearwaters started to appear... even close to shore!
We found several of these flocks feeding over schools of Bonitos... the show was simply amazing!  Frenzy feeding action both under and above the waves... it was hard to focus in just one bird.  In fact, among the dozens of goodies and Black Terns, there were other terns species, like Common and Sooty Terns for example.
Brown Noddies
Alternate Black Tern
Common Tern
Sooty Tern
But most important, the first tubenoses were also attending the party.  First a few... then, flocks with up to 50 Galapagos Shearwaters resting on the water or swiftly moving around each good spot.  The Galapagos Shearwaters are always present in these pelagic trips; however, it was the first time I saw so many... reminding me those photos of one of my favorite field guides on pelagic birds.  They allowed some close shots by the way!
Galapagos Shearwater
When we reached the Continental Shelf break, some other tubenoses started to appear... up to three Wedge-tailed Shearwaters started to feed among the Galapagos Shearwaters, while some Black and Wedge-rumped  Storm-Petrels also did some quick appearances... but they were quite shy for photos. Trust me, it is not easy to aim and shoot those little guys from a buoying boat in the middle of the ocean!
Wedge-tailed Shearwater
Wedge-tailed and Galapagos Shearwaters
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
We recorded some other species, including Brown and Nazca Boobies, Bridled Terns and Laughing Gulls out there.  We also had some nice non-avian highlights... like several Hammerhead sharks (unknown species... if you have an idea let me know) and at least two different species of sea turtles, including the one pictured here:
Hammerhead Shark sp.
Sea Turtle sp.
As you can see, a successful trip.  Each one of these trips in Panama help us to understand a little bit more our pelagic avifauna... still a lot to do in this aspect of course.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

2017 Global Big Day in Panama

For the third year in a row, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology held the Global Big Day on last May 13th, a day when thousands of eBirders around the world joined forces to record the largest ever seen before number of birds.  Not a global competition, but an event to raise awareness and support global conservation, to work as a team, to set goals and to surpass oneself... that's the magic of this initiative.
In one way or another, many birders worked together to elevate their countries to the highest place in this non-declared "competiton".  Here in Panama, several groups announced their routes and targets.
Of course I did the same.  In what is now a tradition, I went with my wife Gloriela to the foothills of Cocle province (central Panama) and stayed the night before at the cabin of the General de Division Omar Torrijos Herrera National Park above the town of El Cope.  Exactly at 12:00 am, I went out in the dark looking for owls.  The night was chilly and foggy, and only a Mottled Owl was heard in the distance... but that was my first bird of the day!  Later, around 5:00 am, we were ready to listen the dawn chorus.  In quick succession we started to add species by ear: Rufous Motmot, both Clay-colored and Pale-vented Thrushes, Hepatic Tanager and so on...  With the first lights we started to hike La Rica trail, taking then La Rana trail in a kind of loop back to the cabin.  There was another group birding the area, so we did the transect quite quickly, adding some nice species like Stripe-breasted Wren, Spot-crowned Antvireo and Orange-bellied Trogon.
Adult male Orange-bellied Trogon
Soon, it was time to start the descend to the lowlands.  On route we did several stops to check the activity... still above El Cope town we found Black-headed Saltator, Chestnut-headed Oropendolas and Giant Cowbirds, while at town a Lesson's Motmot allowed nice views and photos.  The exact ID of members of the former Blue-crowned Motmot in central Panama is a mystery, but now I think that all of them (both in the foothills and in the lowlands) probably are Lesson´s Motmots.
Black-headed Saltator 
Lesson's Motmot
The heat of the lowlands savanna contrasted with the chilly humid premontane forest that we left behind.  It was suffocating!  Nevertheless, we kept birding.  Typical birds of this habitat were Savanna Hawk, Ruddy, Plain-breasted and Blue Ground-Doves, Brown-thorated Parakeets, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and both Golden-fronted and Scrub Greenlets.  At the Aguadulce Salinas, a huge group of Black Skimmers was expected, but the dozens of Wilson's Phalaropes were not!  Nice additions for the day.  At El Salado beach, many waders, including American Oystercatchers, were present, while some nearby fields were good for egrets, meadowlarks and other species.
Wilson's Phalarope (file photo)
Our next stop was Sarigua, were our target was the isolated form of Common Ground-Dove.  An important species for the country since no other group was expected to find it... the ground-dove is extremely localized in Panama, and Sarigua is the best place to find it.  It took us a while, but eventually Gloriela found a pair by the main road in the way out.  With our target in the bag, we ended the day at the town of Chitre, checking some common species and few waders.  We still had a long way to western Azuero... where we stayed that night in order to prepare for the pelagic trip (yes, more about that in my next post).
Globally, the event was a complete success! In Panama, we only managed to achieve one goal (of three): to surpass last year's numbers.  We failed in being the first Central American country in the general table and to enter the world Top Ten...  but certainly next year will be waaay better!