Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017's Top 10 Birds!

And here we are again!  This year is about to end, and everyone is looking forward to have a new beginning, with new goals and resolutions.  I'm glad to say that my last year's wish came true, to have  more life birds... and some of them, plus other goodies, are now part of this new Top 10 Birds for Panama in 2017.
Large-billed Tern
10. Large-billed Tern: extremely rare and erratic in Panama, this impressive species showed up at the Charges river in Gamboa (central Panama), where I was able to twitch it successfully.... several times!  Curiously, later in the year, a pair appeared in Finca Bayano, where I was able to photograph and audio-record them!
Buff-fronted Quail-Dove
09. Buff-fronted Quail-Dove: this secretive species was a long expected lifer for me.  I include it in this top 10 not because of its rarity or beauty, but for the story surrounding it... a long twitch with my wife Gloriela, a scary drive in the dark through an extremely rough road, and finding it quietly walking the trail in the chilly morning... simply a sublime experience!
Hermit Warbler
08. Hermit Warbler: also a long twitch to the western highlands with my family.  This rare migrant warbler decided to spent some days in Bambito (Chiriqui province).  Thanks for the alert of fellow birders, I was able to catch it during the most important festivity for the Panamanians: the carnival.
Dusky-backed Jacamar
07. Dusky-backed Jacamar: this range-restricted species, found only in eastern Panama and Colombia, used to need a complete expedition to find.  My good friend Nando Quiroz showed it to me, with many more eastern Panama specialties, aboard a little canoe and whistling it in!
Nop, there are no birds in the picture!
06. Gray-capped Cuckoo: another extremely rare and erratic species.  A Gray-capped Cuckoo appeared in Finca Bayano and stayed for three more days (at least).  No photo of this one.  It was probably taking advantage of the caterpillars feeding on the mangroves, as pictured above by my friend Rosabel Miró.  The mangroves suffered... but at least it made some lucky birders very happy!
Little Cuckoo
05. Little Cuckoo: this one appeared while trying to relocate a Dwarf Cuckoo reported in Rio Torti.  I dipped on the Dwarf Cuckoo, but this localized species made my day.  Why?  Because that was the last species missing in my very first "Wish List", which I wrote down more than 20 years ago!  Follow the link and you will see the blank space after the "Cuco Enano" entry!
Maguari Stork
04. Maguari Stork: this huge and elegant vagrant from South America was found by my friend Rolando Jordan in Finca Bayano... just the second sighting for the country.  One day later, short of time and in a hurry, I was able to relocate the bird with some friends.  I was unable to find it the first time it appeared in Panama, and curiously, it was a species that eluded me in South America as well... so it was a huge lifer for me!
Volcano Junco
03. Volcano Junco: this is the only species that was not a Panama-lifer for me in this list.  But seeing it after more than 15 years (and just for the second time) at the highest point of the country (at the summit of the Baru volcano, in the western highlands) with my wife and the fading light of the sunset... priceless!
Carib Grackle
02. Carib Grackle: this smart and adaptable species colonized Panama unnoticed!  The first records for the country are so close to Panama City that it is almost shameful.  After seeing it with a group of fine birders and friends (including Beny Wilson, Rolando Jordan and Natalia Decastro), I realized that this was the species that I saw and photograph some weeks before in Finca Bayano as well!
Russet-throated Puffbird
01. Russet-throated Puffbird: I know you already figured it out... a new species for Panama and North America!  Found yesterday by an organized birding group, I twitched it immediately with my friend Rolando Jordan, sorting traffic jams, pot-holed roads, torrential downpours and bad light conditions... well, that's probably the recipe to success!
OK, I hope you enjoyed this list as much as I did... and now, take your binoculars, go out, sort some obstacles, and lets find some new life birds in the new year!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Northern Central America Endemics birds!

Earlier this year, I visited Antigua, Guatemala, attending a medical congress.  It was not my first time in the picturesque city, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its cobbled streets, colonial buildings and dozens of churches... it doesn't matters how many times you visit it, it is always charming and full of culture and history.  However, this time I had a spare day to spent birding.
I arranged a day trip with Cayaya Birding and was not disappointed!  They already knew my target list of species due to the constant communication I had the weeks before with Claudia Avendaño (one of the owners and bird guide), so they planned my day carefully in order to get as many lifers as I can.  Knut Eisermann was my guide for the day.  He picked me up before dawn at my hotel and, after a brief introduction, we headed to our first destination: Cerro Tecpán.  The day started with a tasty breakfast at a restaurant by the entrance of the trails (one of them called "Sendero del Chipe" and featuring a Pink-headed Warbler!), watching White-eared and  -recently split- Rivoli's Hummingbirds at feeders by the windows.  Right by the parking lot we started to watch some goodies: Black-capped Swallows, Hooded Grosbeak and Mountain Trogon.
Mountain Trogon
Once at the trail, the pine-cypress-oak-alder forest was alive with chirps, calls and songs completely unknown to me... I was not in Panama anymore for sure!  Even shared species, like Paltry Tyrannulet, looked and sounded completely different to what I am used... Knut immediately started to point lifers to me: Crescent-chested and Golden-browed Warblers, Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Hutton's Vireo, Rufous-browed Wren, Steller's Jay and noisy Blue-throated Motmots that were quite difficult to photograph.
Blue-throated Motmot
Cerro Tecpán wat not a random choice... Claudia and Knut both decided to try this site first since it was the only one within the range of a day-trip where we could have a chance for my main target: Pink-headed Warbler.  Soon, Knut told me to follow him, since he was hearing the warbler further ahead the trail.  We started to search the nearby trees, finding Bushtits, Olive Warblers, Slate-throated Whitestarts (with red bellies) and Tufted Flycatchers... then, I managed to see a flash of crimson and silver... a tireless Pink-headed Warbler was hoping from leave to leave looking gorgeous in the morning light!  What a special little creature.  This species is restricted to Guatemala and the Mexican state of Chiapas, and was very high in my wish list!  We kept birding, reaching the upper part of the trail.  More specialties were to come in the form of Rose-throated Becard, Acorn Woodpecker, Northern -Guatemalan- Flicker, Greater Pewee and Blue-and-White Mockingbird (probably an immature, due to the dark patches in the underparts).
Blue-and-White Mockingbird
Soon it was time to leave.  In order to take advantage of the full day, we went back to Antigua to have lunch, and then, to well-known Finca El Pilar.  I visited the hummingbird feeders and the first part of the trails in my previous visit last year; however, this time Knut took me to the upper ridges of the finca, with several stops along the way that produced several lifers for me (like Cabani's Wren, Red-billed Pigeon, Black-vented Oriole and White-eared Ground-Sparrow) plus some widespread species that we also have in Panama, like Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Orange-billed Nightingale-Wren and White-winged Tanager.  He also found a Mexican Porcupine (also a lifer) sleeping in a high branch partially hidden by some bromeliads.
Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Rivoli's Hummingbird and White-winged Tanager (seconds before, there were also Greater Pewee and Cabani's Wren)
Mexican Porcupine
We reached an open camp with some cabins when it started to rain.   We stayed under a shelter, scanning the surroundings and the forest border around.  The place was alive with several Gray Silky-Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, Buff-breasted Flycatchers, Black-headed Siskins and beautiful Rufous-collared Thrushes.  The view was amazing, with the majestic Agua Volcano, Antigua and the old city at the horizon.  It reminded me a place in Panama (El Respingo)... although the birds were quite different (of course).
Finca El Pilar - cabins
Eastern Bluebird
Black-headed Siskin
In the forest above the cabins we were lucky enough to watch an elusive Scaled Antpitta crossing the trail, plus Northern Emerald Toucanets, Collared Trogons, Bar-winged Oriole (lifer), Collared Forest-Falcon and Highland Guan (both heard in the distance), a family group of Band-backed Wrens and several resident warblers.  It was getting dark, but Knut still had a last surprise for me.  He knew a spot for a special species that wanted to show me.  He played a recorded call few a times and waited. Then, he pointed towards an exposed branch... silently, an owl landed there, inspecting us curiously... a Fulvous Owl!
Fulvous Owl
The Fulvous Owl is restricted to the humid evergreen forests of the highlands of northern Central America and southern Mexico, and certainly I was not expecting it on this trip!  Thanks Knut and Claudia for the excellent day, the lifers and the great company!