Thursday, 11 September 2014

Panama - Day 4 (March 3, 2014)


For our third day in the Canal Zone, and last day before checking out other areas of Panama, the three of us decided to drive over to Achiote Road located in the lowlands on the Caribbean side. The previous day (which included a check of Plantation Road) only netted me nine new trip birds - a weak showing given that it was only our third full day.

We were hoping that Achiote Road would reveal to us a large number of new birds since we were venturing further afield and into new habitats. Sure enough it came through, and when it was all said and done I had added 29 new trip birds of which 13 were new for my life list.

Our first stop just after dawn was at the Gatun Dam- an impressive series of locks used to allow massive ships entrance into Gatun Lake, which later empties into the Panama Canal. We were more focused on some of the birds that could be found in the grassy areas nearby and in short order had seen our first Red-breasted Blackbirds of the trip - an absolutely stunning species. I also spotted my first Striated Heron in a roadside ditch while we were driving, and we had a few more interesting birds including Eastern Meadowlark (yep, that Eastern Meadowlark!). 

We arrived at Achiote Road around 7:00 AM and began walking the roadside. Despite occasional vehicles, the road was surprisingly birdy and I was excited checking out the Caribbean slope birds for the first time! 

birding Achiote Road, Panama

Some of the highlights along Achiote Road included Spot-crowned Barbet, Black-chested Jay, Collared Aracari, Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Long-tailed Tyrant. At one point Dave and I had an interesting bird fly over which we both identified as a female Blue Cotinga as it landed briefly in a tree - my first cotinga and a huge target bird for Steve. Unfortunately he missed it! Luckily sweet redemption was made later on in the trip during the Darien extension, which you will read about at some point...

Howler Monkeys were abundant (and quite vocal!) along the road, allowing for some neat photo opportunities.

Mantled Howlers - Achiote Road, Panama

Mantled Howlers - Achiote Road, Panama

Mantled Howlers - Achiote Road, Panama

I also took a moment to snap a photo of this Malachite - a stunning species that happens to be quite common throughout Central America.

*Edit: Several readers have mentioned that this butterfly is in fact a Philaethria dido. It has many common names, such as Green Heliconian, False Malachite and Dido Longwing. 

False Malachite (Philaethria dido) - Achiote Road, Panama

As the morning wore on it became quite hot and humid, so we retreated to some roadside trails to try our luck with some different species. While we missed most of our targets (White-headed Wren is one that comes to mind), we did add a few other interesting ones. A highlight for me was certainly this young Rufescent Tiger-Heron that flushed from a small creek into a nearby tree. 

Rufescent Tiger-Heron - Achiote Road, Panama

Rufescent Tiger-Heron - Achiote Road, Panama

We spotted several snakes, both of which got away unfortunately. One was likely a Dendrophidion percarinatus. I also managed my first photos of this really awesome clearwing butterfly!

Blushing Phantom (Cithaerias pireta) - Achiote Road, Panama

Blushing Phantom (Cithaerias pireta) - Achiote Road, Panama

We finished up with about 100 species for the area and checked out the town of Achiote where we happened to stumble across a "restaurant" for the locals in the town. They do not get many visitors and were quite happy to cook us up a big meal of fish with fried plantains - delicious! Of course by the end of the meal Steve had made friends with everyone in the restaurant and several others in the town! 

By this time it was mid-afternoon and the birding had slowed down considerably so we began the long drive to Altos del Maria located in the foothills west of the Canal Zone. Here we had arranged to stay with local birder Alfred Raab for several nights. Alfred splits his time between Altos and the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario and was a good friend of Steve's. 

The drive was long and fairly uneventful with the exception being the Carnival festivities/street parties going on in every single small town along the highway! Eventually we made it to Altos del Maria by late afternoon. We did see what was my first Fork-tailed Flycatcher in a roadside field - a common bird through much of Panama but one that I was just dying to see. My photos of this one leave a lot to be desired but I did snag a few decent ones later in the trip.

That night Alfred discovered a massive locust of some sort on his door so we played around with some photos of the massive (7+ inches) insect!

We were excited to be in this new area and especially thrilled that Alfred was willing to spend two full days showing us around his "local patch". Dozens of lifers awaited us...

Total bird species so far: 242

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