Wednesday, September 9, 2020

First birding day in a while!

An open space with a sign that reads "Keep physical distancing"

After almost six months of confinement due to the sanitary emergency, I finally went out to have a birding day, searching for shorebirds in order to participate in the World Shorebirds Day.  The high tide was quite early, so I started with the first lights.  My plan was to visit several places along the waterfront of Panama City, following the tide.  With the water level high, I chose a rocky spot that provide resting sites for tired shorebirds when they are not foraging in the mudflats.  As expected, I found some loose flocks with some of the most common species, plus rocky shores specialists, like Ruddy Turnstones and Surfbirds.  However, they were too distant for decent photos, so I concentrated my shots in some nearby targets, like the groups of Least, Semipalmated and Spotted Sandpipers that were checking the small puddles on the rocks.

Least Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpipers
Spotted Sandpiper

After 30 minutes carrying my backpack, camera, lens and binoculars, I realized that I was exhausted!  Certainly, the sedentary routine of my confinement had something to do with that!  The air conditioner of my car was huge relief... but I had no time to waste, the tide was retiring, exposing the mudflats of my next stop: Costa del Este.  The wetlands of the Upper Bay of Panama are of hemispheric importance for the migratory shorebirds.  Millions of birds use the area during their annual paths, the reason why Panama Audubon Society has worked incessantly in protecting the site, monitoring its birds and doing environmental education in the surrounding communities... and Costa del Este is one of those communities.  From the lookout with interpretative signs depicting shorebirds, I was able to scan the extensive mudflats at the mouth of the Matía Hernández river, adding Black-necked Stilts, Black-bellied Plovers, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and, specially, thousands of Western Sandpipers, although widely dispersed.

Greater Yellowlegs
Western Sandpipers

After my short 30-min stop at Costa del Este, I went to a nearby site for a change.  If you want to see a greater diversity of species, then you need to visit different habitats, so I went to a grassy meadow with artificial ponds, known as MetroPark.  The pond had Wattled Jacanas, Black-necked Stilts and both Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, while the grassland had Whimbrels and many Southern Lapwings.  I was not the only human being at the site, several people use the open spaces to work out and breath "fresh air"... of course, following the sanitary recommendations, as explained in the multiple signs all over the place (as you can see in the first photo).  My last stop was, again, a different habitat... the only sandy beach of the waterfront, right at the Panama City's coastal belt, by the mouth of the Matasnillo river.  As expected, it produced my only Sanderlings of the day.  Two pale birds were agitatedly feeding in the sand, going forth and back with the waves.  By that time, the tide was low enough to take a break until the next high tide, in the afternoon.
Southern Lapwing


For the second round, I joined my friends Rosabel Miró, Venicio "Beny" Wilson and Aitor Gonzalo, who were also participating in the World Shorebirds Day.  We were after an species that occurs near the city only at one reliable site at the West Bank of the Panama Canal.  The combination of sandy and rocky beaches with tons of bivalves and other mollusks to feed is ideal for the American Oystercatcher.  we knew a place where they breed, so we went there and were rewarded with a pair of vocalizing birds that flew right above us... what a sight!

American Oystercatchers

Pitifully, we were not able to find two plovers species that are also found at that habitat: Collared and Wilson's Plovers, which are also localized near the city.  To take advantage of the few hours of light left, we swiftly moved back to Costa del Este, where the tide cornered the birds in a section adjacent to the mangroves, where these birds spend the night.  We added Marbled Godwit to our checklists, but were impressed with the thousands of peeps present at the site, mostly Semipalmated Plovers, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers.

Almost at night, we left the mangroves (and the mosquitoes), our final count was more than 5000 peeps in that little corner of mangroves.  At the end of the day, I managed to record 19 different species of shorebirds at, or near, Panama City.. an excellent number!  So tell me, how was your World Shorebirds Day?