Wednesday, June 26, 2019

2019 Macaulay Library Sound Recording Workshop

When you appreciate birds in the wild you quickly realize the infinite variety of facets they have. Taking notes or photos simply becomes insufficient and, at least for me, it became evident that I should record their songs and calls. So, shyly, I started recording bird sounds with my smartphone, nothing more. Definitely not the best, and thanks to some online tutorials I improved my technique a bit ... it was when I started uploading many of my audios to eBird.  Well, someone was paying attention to this.  By the end of 2018, I received an email from Matthew Medler, who is the Collection Manager Leader of the Macauly Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, inviting me to this year Sound Recording Workshop... I was surprised!
Matt showing us interesting equipment at the museum of the Macaulay Library
YES!  Ready to go!
The complexity of bird sounds is so wide that it certainly surpasses other aspects of their lives.  With the large variety of songs, sub songs, calls, contact calls, flight calls and non-vocal sounds (used in some displays and other situations), now I think it is absurd to annotate "Heard only" in my eBird checklists (in fact, it make more sense to annotate "Seen only" if you see a silent bird).  The Macaulay Library collect and preserve recordings of each species' behavior and natural history, and make it available for research, educational and commercial purposes... so I guess there is no better institution to teach you about how to record natural sounds.
Thanks God the parabolas are way lighter now!
Cornell University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosted the workshop.  One by one, each of the participants arrived at the Robert Purcell Community Center, at the North Campus.  Matt gave us an introductory lecture and assigned the equipment, while we started to know each other.  What a terrific group!  Locals and foreigners (from ten different countries) with different interests and expertise, but all passionate about birds and wildlife in general, under the guidance of world-top, renowned instructors, specialist in their fields and experts birders.  I was happy to meet with old friends (like Roselvy) and finally meet people who had only contacted by email at some point during their birding trips through my country (like Kathi, who was one of the instructors).  Staying at the dorms of the North Campus, attending the lectures and having meals at the community center with your personalized card made us feel the academic environment of one of the most renowned institution in the US.
This is how a 4:20 am breakfast looks like
The workshop was planned in detail.  Everyday we started early with breakfast at 4:20 am in order to be on route to our recording sites no latter than 5:15 am.  We changed sites (and thus habitats and sound recording conditions) every day.  The fieldwork consisted of dividing us into small teams (usually of two or three), each with an instructor who showed us the best sound recording techniques, helped us with the settings of the equipments, bird ID and kept us on schedule ... really a personalized attention.
With Daniel Souza (from Mexico), all geared up! Morgan Rd. marshes.
Then we would go back to the community center for lunch. In the afternoon we attended the talks and spent time editing our recordings; but we also attend the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where we carry out various activities... these visits were certainly a personal highlight of the workshop.   Of course we had plenty of spare time to birdwatch and socialize... even one afternoon was scheduled to twitch local rarities and special birds around the Finger Lakes area!
These birders know how to have fun! With Orlando, Rafael and Daniela
And the results?  Well, more than 800 recordings uploaded to eBird by the participants of the workshop during the week, with notable improvement of its quality throughout the days!  I uploaded 69 recordings and had 17 lifers!  But most important, I got new friends from all over the world that share my passion and that work hard to make this world a better one for birds and, why not, for us too!
Some of our instructors: Andrew Spencer, Matthew Medler and Jay McGowan
And what about the lifers?  Well, I documented 13 of my 17 lifers with sound or photo.  The warblers and wrens offered the best sound recordings experiences, while waterfowls were nice highlights, specially those northern breeders that stayed a little bit more due to different circumstances, like Redhead, Canvasback and Snow Goose.  An all-white goose may be boring... but hey!, ANY bird with "Snow" on its name is a highlight for this sun-lover Panamanian!
Adult male Redhead
Adult male Canvasback
Snow Geese
The avian lifers were not the only ones!  We saw plenty of wild mammals running freely at the campus, like White-tailed Deer, Eastern Gray Squirrel and Eastern Cottontail, plus several new  species for most of the foreign members of the group, like extremely-cute Eastern Chipmunks, Woodchucks, Striped Skunk, Muskrat, American Beaver and even an adult Black Bear at the Arnot Forest that allowed GREAT views (video recorded by Arthur Gomes, one of the participants from Brazil)!
American Beaver... somewhat reminiscent of our Capybaras
I want to thank all the personnel of the Macaulay Library and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for the great experience... we felt at home.  And all my companions and instructors at the workshop for the great moments.  The question now is... do I get a shotgun microphone or a parabola?  Whatever I decide, prepare to see me recording birds in every corner of Panama soon!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Global Big Day 2019! What a day!

And the Global Big Day started!  Last May 4th, thousands of birders around the world joined efforts to record the largest number of birds species in 24 hours.  Of course, new records were set and hundreds of birding histories were told.  You can read the global summary at the eBird page... and my own history here (just keep reading).
Ramiro Duque, Rolando Jordan, Jan Axel Cubilla and Carla Black
Like last year, my intention was to do some pelagic birding... and again, my destination was Bahía Piñas and fabulous Tropic Star Lodge in eastern Darien.   Last year, getting to Bahía Piñas was a complete adventure... this year, well, there were some inconvenients as well.  First of all, I was not able to take the commercial flight to Bahía Piñas... all the seats were booked due to the Presidential Elections that would be held the next day.  However, the NGO ADOPTA Panama Rainforest managed the support of the government (through MiAmbiente) who contributed with transport and logistics for several teams to remote counting areas, including the ADOPTA Team to Puerto Obaldia, in extreme eastern Guna Yala.  Guido Berguido (ADOPTA's executive director and a friend of mine) included a stop in Piñas in the flight plan, so I joined them in the ride.  After some mechanical setbacks, we were finally in the air heading to Piñas.... but due to some logistical problems, the ADOPTA team had to stay in Piñas, so we improvised a little bit.  Rolando came with me on the boat while the rest of the team birded around the town and the airstrip.
Bahia Piñas airstrip and town
After an early breakfast on May 4th, I was ready for the pelagic trip.  Rolando was already waiting for me at the dock, as well as the crew of our fishing boat.  The day was dark and soon it started to rain... a lot!  Anyway, we headed directly to deep waters.  The Continental Shelf break is very close to the coast in this part of Panama, meaning that quite soon we were enjoying pelagic birds around us.  These waters are incredibly rich, the avifauna is abundant and easy to approach, paralleling the other wildlife for what these waters are famous: pelagic fishes, specially billfishes!
We were not there to fish, that was for sure... we were quite busy counting and identifying the birds around, specially the storm-petrels.  Three different species (Least, Wedge-rumped and Black Storm-Petrels) swarmed around the boat in huge numbers!  Check one of the flocks that we crossed containing all three species.
Storm-Petrels off Piñas
We scanned these flocks looking for rarer or unreported species for Panama, and I tried to took as many photos I could... sometimes you detect rarities on land, reviewing the photos, but not this time.  Apart of the storm-petrels, we saw both Galapagos and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, several terns and boobies species, including obliging Nazca Boobies!  We essentially followed a route along the shelf, stopping at usual fishing hotspots and whenever we find activity, both of birds and other animals like dolphins and tuna.  In fact, a huge school of tuna was followed by more than 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphins!  What a sight!
Pair of Nazca Boobies on floating debris
Short-beaked Common Dolphin
Time flies when you are having fun, and soon it was time to head back to the lodge.  Closer to the coastline we find different species, like Brown Pelicans and Blue-footed Boobies, adding them to the growing list.  It was not an exceptionally long list, but certainly one with quality birds.  In fact, we were sure that we got that day several unique species for the country, since we were the only team birding the seas.
Blue-footed Booby
Back at dock, I said good bye to Rolando, who went back to Piñas town to bird with the rest of the group.  After few minutes of rest, I also started to scan the surroundings.  The lodge is surrounded by lush forest, and some good species wander around.  Unfortunately, I was not able to relocate the Viridian Dacnis I saw the day before, but anyway, I kept birding.  The highlight was a flock of swifts including Spot-fronted Swifts and a lonely Chapman's Swift!  Creepy photos of both them at this eBird checklist  At night, I ended my participation recording Gray-cowled Wood-Rail and Mottled Owl... but a Crab-eating Fox just in front of my cabin stole the show!
Crab-eating Fox
I ended up submitting 72 species for the day, a modest number compared to other teams... but for second year in a row I manage the greatest number of unique species to the national total, only matched by Isaac Pizarro (who birded all the down from Pirre range to the lowlands around El Real): both recorded 11 unique species.  These numbers reflect that we need more participation... another team doing pelagic or more teams covering Darien National Park; but also, they indicate how important each participant is.  As they says, every bird counts!  Panama numbers, as in general, were good.  We didn't break our previous year record of 750 birds species since we got 731!  Still an awesome effort that positioned us as first for the Central American region and 8th worldwide!  I wish to thanks all the participants who kindly donated their time and effort in making this possible, and to ADOPTA a Guido Berguido for coordinating the logistics and transportation provided by the government.  Next year I hope more participation and official support to keep making Panama number ONE in Central America in terms of avian diversity!