Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Panama WYD 2019

Our little country has received thousands of pilgrims from around the world who visit us for the World Youth Day. The joy and excitement of these pilgrims is contagious, and Panamanians have joined the celebration and we have opened our homes and hearts to receive them and make them feel at home.
Although many activities have been held so far, with the arrival today of Pope Francisco, the main events begin! To receive it, pilgrims, Panamanians and the general public positioned themselves along the avenue waving flags and singing loudly. It was an opportunity to see the Pope that I could not let go. So together with my family, we decided to wait for the passage of the Popemobile.
At the spot to see the Pope
We found a good place where we decided to wait in the company of people from all over the world. We even had time to welcome and take pictures with pilgrims from distant lands.  My knowledge in geography was put to the test today and I had to google several flags by the way!  

The Panamanians are in debt of hospitality to the world, considering the way they treated us in Russia last year during the World Cup (yes, we went to Russia and they made us feel at home... but that is another story).
Feeling at home in Sochi, Russia (June 2018)
Soon, the Popemobile appeared with Pope Francisco greeting people with a huge smile. It happened quickly, it gave me the opportunity to take a single photo before the crowd obstructed my field of vision ... but it was a great experience. You could feel the excitement in the air... you never know when you'll see the Pope after all!

Altos de Campana National Park: 20 years later

Altos de Campana was the very first stablished national park in Panama, back in 1966.  It protects humid pre-montane forests at the upper slopes of the Campana hill, but it's probably more popular among locals because of the breathtaking views of Chame Bay from its lower grassy slopes.  Due to its proximity to Panama City, it is a nice place to look for foothills species on a day-trip.  For some reason, I simply overlooked this magical place for more than 20 years since my last visit there was in April 1998 (although I have done several visits to the lookout in the grassy slopes after that)!
Panama trail, Altos de Campana NP
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to start very early and payed a visit to this park.  I was the only visitor that day (to the trails at least).  The chilly atmosphere and the twisted trunks show the strength of the wind that face this part of the park.  Slowly, the activity started to grow.  The dawn chorus was full of new species for my Big Year quest.  In a quick succession I recorded Plain Antvireo, Spotted Woodcreeper, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Bananaquit, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and Tawny-capped Euphonia.  The several different vocalizations of the euphonia fooled me for a while, until I was able to watch a pair close to the entrance to the trails.
Female Tawny-capped Euphonia
Walking the trails hearing only my steps and the song of the birds was truly relaxing I must admit.  It was so peaceful that I even started to hear the noise of ground-dwelling species over the dry leaves.  One particularly loud noise caught my attention.  Through a window in the foliage, I was able to watch a dark silhouette hoping from one site to another.  It was a familiar sight, one that I saw in the general same area in my last visit twenty years ago.  Some pishing and the bird revealed itself: a Black-crowned Antpitta!
Black-crowned Antpitta
This curious individual stayed long enough for a couple of photos.  After a while, I heard a second individual deep inside the dark forest.  There is no doubt that these birds inspired the tales of goblins and elves that our grandparents told us to warn us not to wander alone through the forest.  Well, I was wandering alone in this forest and was fortunate enough to see this goblin!  With limited time, I returned to the entrance of the park, not before taking my time photographing some nice butterflies on the way.
Heliconius cydno
This photo doesn't make justice to this Heliconius cydno! The flashes of blue and white when flying, as well as the soft shades of yellow and orange when perching are simply sublime.  As soon as I left the forest, the inclement heat of the grassy slopes hit me hard.  My plan was to drive directly to Panama City, but in the last minute I decided to make a stop at the lookout of grassy slopes.
Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch
After a while, a single Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch was very briefly interested to my attempts to attract him with playback.  This species is localized in Panama, absent from sites with apparently suitable habitat, and those slopes are a classic site to finding him.  After twenty years, I can say that Altos de Camapana NP still have a lot to offer and continue to be a very nice place to relax and watch birds (and butterflies), specially if you are short of time!

Monday, January 21, 2019

The quest for 600 birds in 2019 begins!

As you hear it.  This year, I'm committed to record 600+ species of birds for Panama.  In fact, I want to break my own Big Year record of 620 species in 2010, hopefully reaching 700+ species!  I joined a group of intrepid birders who, like me, want to reach the same goal this year, celebrating Panama Audubon's Society (PAS) 50th anniversary.  Some of them already are members of "The 600 Club" of Panama and I'm pretty sure they want to break their own record too.
So far, this year has been good.  I already reached 300 species by January 15th (half of my goal), my best Big Year start ever.  On January 1st I did a Big Day, recording 190 species (I was the #1 ebirder  in the WORLD for a couple of hours HAHAHA!).  It started around 4:00 am looking for owls and night birds in Panama City and Gamboa town, hearing the dawn chorus in the deeps of Pipeline road (the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center was closed, so I missed some keys species), birding different spot from Gamboa Ammo Dump  and Summit Ponds to Metropolitan Natural Park and along the coast in Panama Viejo and Costa del Este to finally end at the ponds in Albrook residences with Karl Kaufmann and Rosabel Miró (PAS Executive Director).  Since then, I have made some short trips in central Panama and have twitched some rarities that have appeared in my bird alerts, like Cape May Warbler and Maguari Stork.
Maguari Stork (Finca Bayano, January 20th, 2019)
Panama is so diverse and accesible that reaching 600+ species in a year certainly is not impossible.  In fact, the Big Year record for Panama is 800 species, recorded by Kenneth Allaire (RIP) back in 2010.  However, it takes time... and monetary resources of course.  The 700 species mark is easily reached by free lance bird guides that have no restriction of places to visit.  I mean, if your job is to watch birds all over Panama, then you have no issues with time spending birding.  However, I do not work looking for birds, and my available time for birdwatching is limited (as is the case of many birders in Panama), so I have devised some strategies to maximize my time, including my family in my trips and choosing sites that offer me more new species in a short time.
Gabrielle and Gloriela in Viveros Island (Pearl Islands) where I was looking for some restricted antbirds (like this Jet Antbird)
In fact, I'm impressed with how I have managed to take advantage of my free time so far between birdwatching and family time.  The good thing about birding sites in Panama is that most of them are also attractive for family activities.  Take for example the paradisiacal Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama where you can enjoy the turquoise waters and look for pelagic birds or restricted antbirds (like White-fringed Antwren and Jet Antbird), or the beautiful foothills forests above the town of El Cope in Cocle province (central Panama) where your family can enjoy the fresh air and chilly creeks while you look for multicolored tanagers in mixed flocks (like this Emerald Tanager).
Emerald Tanager
Well, I'm pretty sure that good birds will show up this year.  Let me know if you see something rare or invite me to your trips!  I will do the same!