Friday, February 21, 2020

Birding anywhere!

Many years ago, an invasion of rare rails and crakes close to Panama City attracted dozen of birders to former Tocumen marshes.  Back then, I was doing my fellowship in Internal Medicine and, literally, was living at the hospital with no possibilities to go out to birdwatch.  One of the rarest birds there was the Paint-billed Crake.  With just a handful of records, this species was not only rare, but naturally evasive and difficult to see due to secretive habits and dense habitat.  I missed it, of course, and it was not after 11 years later that a group of experienced birders found a new reliable site.
But there were two problems.  First:  the site is far away west of Changuinola, in Bocas del Toro province.  With limited time due to my work obligations, I had to take a midday flight to Changuinola, rent a car and then drive to where they found the crake.  Second: the site is a dump!  Yes, a swampy, smelly dump filled with millions of flies... but what a place to bird!  Sometimes birding takes you to unexpected places... but as soon as I approached I realized why others had entered the site looking for birds.  Hordes of egrets, vultures and Pale-vented Pigeons were seen from the road, the residual waters had shorebirds and teals, and dozens of flycatchers, grackles, meadowlarks, seedeaters and seed-finches adornated the surrounding bushes.  But I was after the crake after all, so I sited among the flies and waited.  Soon, a Paint-billed Crake walked around some flooded reeds, allowing great views, but few -poor- photos.
Paint-billed Crake
What a sight!  Another one of my nemesis bit the dust!  The rest of the afternoon I was able to relax, doing some birding in the surroundings.  At the hotel in Changuinola that night, I planned the next day to leave the lowlands very early to catch the first light at the Continental Divide in Fortuna area, almost two and a half hours away.  And I did it.  The scenery could not be more different from the previous day:  pristine humid pre-montane forest, fresh air and chilly temperature.  I even got some little rain, but nothing to worry about.  Instead of taking the Continental Divide trail, I tried a shorter one known as the "Umbrellabird trail".
This trail goes steeply downhill from the main road; however, I only bird the first couple of birds, and that time was not the exception:  a huge mixed flock with tanagers, antbirds, Golden-bellied Flycatchers, chlorophonias and woodcreepers entertained me for a while, while some skulkers were easily heard in the understore, like both Black-headed and Rufous-breasted Antthrushes, Silvery-fronted Tapaculos and a Northern Schiffornis.  Then, my main target started to call... a sweet whistled note.  After 30 minutes imitating it back and forth, the forest denizen finally showed up:
Ochre-breasted Antpitta
Ochre-breasted Antpitta! Any day with an Antpitta is an excellent day.  The Ochre-breasted Antpitta is very localized in Panama, it was a country lifer for me (I got my life Ochre-breasted Antpitta -Shakira- in Ecuador some years ago).  I started my way back to Changuinola, making few stops along the way.  For example, close to town, I visited the road to "El Silencio", where I made two additions to my year-list, in the form of White-collared Manakin and Northern Bentbill.  After that, and still having some time before my flight back to Panama City, I followed the instructions of my friend Euclides "Kilo" Campos to look after a relative recent addition to Panama's avifauna.  After the split of former Gray Hawk into two separate species, a gap of distribution was immediately evident in western Panama.  Recent sightings confirm that the form present there is in fact Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus), and not the widely distributed -in Panama- Gray-lined Hawk (Buteo nitidus). Well, finding a pair of vocalizing Gray Hawks was quite easy with the detailed instructions of Kilo.
Gray Hawk
The Gray Hawk was also a Panama lifer for me, a great addition by the way since this species is only found in lowland Bocas del Toro.  I got prolonged views, photos and voice recordings and was able to check all the field marks that separate both forms.  That is the way to get a lifer... and all of these on time to catch my afternoon flight back to Panama City!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Mount Totumas Cloud Forest's Hummingbirds Gallery

Last year I had the opportunity to travel all over Panama, knowing new birds and sites by the way.  Certainly, one of the Top 5 sites (not only my opinion, but my family's too) was Mount Totumas Cloud Forest, in the western highlands of Chiriqui province.  Taking advantage of some free days in November, I went with my family for a couple of nights at the lodge, which is the highest eco-lodge in Panama (at 1900 meters), surrounded by a beautiful montane forest (as you can see in the top photo).  The well-marked trails are alive, not only with birds, but with all sort of critters, mammals and other wildlife... in fact, the place is known by holding one of the greatest invertebrates collection for Panama and by recording almost all of the feline species on its trails (captured with game cameras).  But a thing that is specially spectacular in Mount Totumas is the hummingbirds show.  Several hummingbird feeders placed strategically around the property, plus plenty of flowering trees and bushes, make Mount Totumas a hummingbird's heaven.
Gloriela using the hummingbird hat (featuring Snowy-bellied and Talamanca Hummingbirds)
The hummingbirds are used to people, so it is not rare to feel them close to you when they pass swiftly.  They will even feed right at your face, if you use the hummingbird hat!  They have a list of more than 25 different species of hummers for the property.  Of course, some are rare or do not visit the feeders, while others are seasonal... but the regular visitors are so amazing that you will spend hours admiring them without noticing it.  With some patience, you will get amazing shots, like the one I'm presenting in the next gallery
Glorious adult male Green-crowned Brilliant.
Talamanca Hummingbird.  This adult male is showing why its former name ("Magnificent") was  well earned.
Adult male Violet Sabrewing, one of the largest hummingbird in Panama
Lesser Violetear... what a boring name for such a great creature
Adult male White-throated Mountain-Gem.  The photo make him no justice!
Adult male Stripe-tailed Hummingbird.  A little jewel for sure.
I don't know what I like more, the contrasting Snowy-bellied Hummingbird or its pink perch.
Aptly named Scintillant Hummingbird, and adult male.
The star of the show: adult male Magenta-throated Woodstar.
So, what you think?  Amazing right!