Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Bocas' Birds and Friends

Tranquilo Bay pier, Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Toro
Traveling around the country looking for birds also bring friends together... it is always great to reunite with old friends or to meet social media friends personally.  During one of those trips, I went with my family to Bocas del Toro province, in western Caribbean slope, specifically to the Bocas archipelago.  Apart of the birds, the islands are a nice touristic destination, with exuberant vegetation, delicious foods and pristine beaches.. perfect for a family micro-vacations!
The Cubillas at Colon Island, Bocas del Toro
We stayed at Colon island in a beach resort surrounded by secondary vegetation that produced several western Caribbean slope specialties, like Montezuma Oropendola, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Grayish Saltator and even a fly-by Gray-headed Dove to my delight (a year-bird for me).  We were close enough to Bocas town to walk the busy streets visiting the stores and to have traditional dinners there, while enjoying the spectaculars sunsets.
Spectacular sunset at Bocas archipelago
My plan included a visit to Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Resort, in Bastimentos island.  The calm waters surrounding the pier (as you can see in the first photo) certainly live up to its name (tranquilo = calm), and the forests around the cabins were alive with bird activity.  As usual, my friends Natalia and Ramón showed me the local specialties, including range-restricted (for Panama) Stub-tailed Spadebill, more Gray-headed Doves and Three-wattled Bellbirds that call the islands home during their non-breeding season.  Stacey Hollis, who also is a resident guide at Tranquilo and one of those social media friend that I finally met that day personally, joined us to find more birds!
Stub-tailed Spadebill
Three-wattled Bellbird, subadult male
We took a boat to a nearby island: Cayo Venado.  My main target there was the Snowy Cotinga, which use the mangrove forest surrounding the channels.  Soon, eagle-eyed Natalia spotted a female cotinga atop a mangrove tree.  Eventually, we saw several adult males and another female cotinga, allowing some nice photos.  What a bird!  Back at the hotel I was able to say Hi to Renee, Jim and Jay (who own and run the lodge with their families) before heading back to Colon island where my family was enjoying the marine breeze by the swimming pool!
Snowy Cotinga, adult male
Ramón, Natalia, Jan Axel and Stacey
Well, but the mini-vacations were not over yet... I still had some targets in mind.  The next day I met two social-media friends (before that day we knew each other only by emails and WhatsApp messages) at Boca del Drago, at the northern side of Colon island.  Both resident of Colon island, Lukas Bell and Pat Wade (I met his wife Kitty -also a social-media friend- later that day too) joined me to bird along the Snyder channel, an artificial channel that parallels the mainland coast close to Colon island that was used to transport loads of bananas and other merchandises.  We chose that site due to a very localized species: Nicaraguan Seed-Finch.  Our first attempt at the usual sites produced no birds... but the channel and the estuary of the Changuinola river entertained us with many different species.  At the last possible spot, Lukas insistence paid off: an adult male Nicaraguan Seed-Finch was working the grass spikes with its huge, pink bill.  I managed some diagnostic shots, my first pictures of that species!
Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, adult male
Our last target was somewhat easier.  After leaving the channel, our boatman took us to the small Swan Key, home of a colony of seabirds, including dozens of breeding pairs of Red-billed Tropicbirds.   The tropicbirds are almost guaranteed at that location, so with our targets in the bag we made it back to Boca del Drago.  Pat's analogy of my Big Year with the Atlas Stones Competition, where lifting each rock is increasingly tougher... the same as getting new birds while the year advances, was certainly correct.
Jan Axel, Pat and Lukas
Nesting Red-billed Tropicbird
Our twitch ended at Boca del Drago, tasting one of the culinary delights of the Caribbean: the Run down or Rondon.  Simply exquisite!  Lukas took me back at my hotel, but only after checking some prime habitat at Carenero island, adding more species to our growing list.  I spent the rest of the day with my family before departing to Panama City in the last evening flight.  I got many new year-birds... but most important, was able to bird with friends and to spent time with my family at a paradise island as well!