Friday, December 6, 2019

Chiriqui Highlands clean-up!

The advantage of having a small birding community in Panama is that you know most of the avid birders of the country.  That is specially useful when you are doing a Big Year because you need to find local specialties with limited time (specially if you are doing a Big Year AND still have a regular job unrelated to birds or traveling).  After noticing that there was a big gap of Talamanca endemics in my Year List, I called a great friend of mine, Genover "Ito" Santamaria, and planned to spend half-day in his reign, looking for those specialties.  Ito is a nice guy and also a great birder, something you can experience by contacting him through Tamandua Nature & Photo Travel Panama.  Why you should?  Well, keep reading and you will see!
Talamanca endemic Ochraceous Pewee
As mentioned before, I only had half-day to find a list of targets, most of them endemics of the Talamanca mountain range shared by Costa Rica and western Panamá.  So I spend the night at the town of Guadalupe and went to bed after having a hot chocolate with marshmallows (specially good when the temperature outside is 12ºC).  Very early the next morning, Ito joined me with his modified 4WD truck (just after hearing my first target of the list, a Dusky Nightjar, above his house!).  Knowing the we were short of time, he planned to visit some key sites in a quick succession in order to maximize our chances.  The first stop was a road near the town of Las Nubes that crossed several habitats, including some nice patches of forests.  Quickly he started to point out some nice additions to my Year List.  Some forest border specialist, like Ochraceous Pewee and Black-capped Flycatcher were quickly noticed, while some skulkers took a little bit more of time (Buffy Tuftedcheek and Streak-breasted Treehunter).
Streak-breasted Treehunter (also a Talamanca endemic)
We crossed several mixed flocks with flycatchers, tanagers, chlorophonias and redstarts.  The activity was intense... actually, we noticed that it was very intense!  Soon, we realized that a bird we called earlier was vocalizing  and that probably all the clutter was due to its presence.  We started to search every tree, but following the hooting notes to its source was not easy.  However, experienced Ito knew exactly where to look and soon he found it!  A fierce-looking Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl in all its glory showed itself.  We got more-than-excellent views through the spotting scope... only my second sight ever and -by far- the best one!
Costa Rican Pygmy-Owl
Well, with most of my targets in the bag, we moved to another spot nearby where we got more birds, some of them also new year-birds.   Although some of them were not endemics, I was amazed to be able to include in my list some birds that I had not seen in many years in Panama.  Actually, two of them where species that I had seen only once before... in both cases (White-throated Flycatcher and Barred Becard), Ito was also involved in showing them to me for the first time.
White-throated Flycatcher
If you think this is a quick summary, well it is!  We moved from site to site very quickly, always looking for new birds.  We finally visited the last scheduled site, Volcan lakes.  It was almost noon, but the forest surrounding the lakes was alive with singing birds!  We were particularly lucky with flycatchers (with Slaty-capped Flycatcher and Eye-ringed Flatbill being new year-birds) and furnariids.  The mega skulker Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner allowed short -but nice- views... it was a Panama lifer, while both Chiriqui Foliage-Gleaner and Costa Rican Brushfinches offered an unforgettable show, posing for photos and I could even record audio.
Chiriqui Foliage-Gleaner
Costa Rican Brushfinch
What a memorable morning!  But it was time to say good-bye.  Curiously, the target that was still missing was also a widespread and common highland endemic: Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher.  We were not able to find it at its usual haunts in Guadalupe, but Ito gave me the directions to find it in my way back to David city.  Well, as you guess it, the bird was exactly where Ito told me!
The Long-tailed Flycatcher was my year-bird #700 for Panama!  At the same spot, I got more year-birds, including my life Townsend's Warbler!  So... YES!  It was an amazing quick-trip to the western highlands, full of endemics, specialties and new year-birds but more importantly, it was a birding trip with a good friend!