Friday, 29 January 2016

Panama - Day 17 (March 16, 2014)


Steve, Andrew and I birded the Parque Natural Metropolitano for a few hours in the morning - the last of our Panamanian adventure. We were hoping to add a few final target species at the park, such as Yellow-green Tyrannulet, one of about 12 bird species that are endemic to Panama.Steve only had a short time in the park before he had to leave for the airport, while Andrew and I birded the park until 9:30 AM.

The 265 acre park is an oasis within an urban area; not only popular with dog-walkers, runners and cyclists but also birders. It consists predominately of lowland deciduous forest and boasts a huge species total (the eBird hotspot for the park has 373 species).

Our time here was relatively birdy, and highlights among our 71 species included several Rosy Thrush-Tanagers, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Olivaceous Woodcreeper (a new one for me), my long-overdue lifer White-lined Tanager, and the big highlight: a Yellow-green Tyrannulet providing excellent looks for Andrew and I on a bare branch right above the trail.

Crimson-crested Woodpecker - Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

Crimson-crested Woodpecker - Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

Whooping Motmots are not necessarily a shy species, but they rarely forage on the ground only a few feet away from people. This individual must have been much more acclimated to human presence since it did not seem to mind the people walking past.

Whooping Motmot - Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

Whooping Motmot - Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

Whooping Motmot - Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

This Squirrel Cuckoo was also providing rare, unobstructed views.

Squirrel Cuckoo - Parque Natural Metropolitano, Panama City

My flight did not depart until early in the evening meaning I had all day to join Andrew in doing some birding. We made the decision to head back to Old Gamboa Road where we would meet up with Jenn for a few hours.

It was quite warm during our late morning excursion here, putting a damper on bird activity. I was happy to add Tawny-crowned Greenlet to the list, along with a wide variety of species that we had observed earlier in the trip at Old Gamboa Road.

Jenn knew the location where a Spectacled Owl roosted, and it only took u a minute or so of searching until it appeared. Awesome!!

Spectacled Owl - Old Gamboa Road, Panama

The three of us were pretty hungry after the morning of birding so off we went to a pizza place in the town of Clayton that Jenn recommended. A very tame Fork-tailed Flycatcher was hanging around the parking lot - with the hot temperatures, it was keeping its mouth open as a sort of air-conditioning! It was here I also added my last new bird of the trip - an introduced Saffron Finch on the grass beside the parking lot.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Clayton, Panama

Andrew and I said our goodbyes to Jenn, then debated where we should spend the rest of the afternoon. There really wasn't a whole lot that I still needed from the Canal Zone, plus the hot temperatures had undoubtedly put a damper on the bird activity. We decided to drive over to Costa del Este to scan the shorebirds and gulls once more.

It was here that I began to experience quite a bit of discomfort that came on suddenly and I ended up spending more time crouched in the mangroves than actually scanning the birds. This was the first time I had ever experienced some sort of illness while traveling, but fortunately I was well-stocked with Imodium. I don't recall much in the way of bird sightings that afternoon but there wasn't much of anything that was new I don't think. Andrew was kind enough to drop me off at the airport later that afternoon and luckily the Imodium had begun to kick in, preventing what would otherwise be a very uncomfortable international flight!

It had been a wildly successful trip to central and eastern Panama with good friends. We found almost 500 bird species in 17 days, while also experiencing a range of other wildlife sightings, visiting some unique and beautiful areas, and experiencing Panamanian hospitality. It is certainly a country I will visit again in the future sometime - the western mountains and Azuero Peninsula in particular are places I would love to explore.

Total bird species: 496

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Panama - Day 16 (March 15, 2014)


We left our hotel located in the hills above Panama City and completed the short drive to Cerro Azul and Cerro Jefe. 

The birding was excellent and as the morning wore on the mist receded from the higher elevations. One of our target species, the Tawny-faced Quail, was quickly ticked as several were calling from the surrounding hillsides. 

Species diversity wasn't the highest at Cerro Jefe but what we lacked in quantity we made up for in quality. Violet-capped Hummingbird is practically endemic to Panama, though its range does span some of the mountains along the Colombia border. Cerro Jefe is one of the best places to find this bird, and after inspecting quite a few suitable looking flowers we were treated to decent views of two of them. Success!!

A couple of Slate-colored Grosbeaks was a new bird, but our best find was a couple of Tacarcuna Chlorospingus, a dull olive-coloured tanager found in the nearly inaccessible Tacarcuna mountain range of eastern Panama but also in Cerro Chucanti and Cerro Azul and surrounding area. We had to work hard before we finally encountered this species.

We only had a few hours in total to bird this area before having to leave to drop Dave off at the airport. As we were leaving, we ran into another vehicle carrying some birders - it happened to be the same group of Brits that we had met in Gamboa at the start of the trip! We got out to chat with them, while also observing the mixed flock of birds in the roadside trees. Suddenly, we heard a suspicious call, and seconds later a Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker flew in! This is a Panama endemic and one that we thought we were going to miss after striking out in the Darién and Nusagandi. 

Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker - Cerro Azul, Panama

A total of four Stripe-cheeked Woodpeckers were in the area - quite the pleasant surprise for all of us!

Stripe-cheeked Woodpeckers - Cerro Azul, Panama

Before long it was time to go and head for the airport to drop off Dave. Steve and I still had the whole afternoon available so we decided to check out the coast near Panama City; in particular, Costa del Este. This is the location where we had observed thousands of gulls and shorebirds on our quick driveby on the way to the Darién.

Steve on the lookout - Costa del Este, Panama

Mixed flocks of shorebirds sprawled out over the extensive mudflats, probing in the mud between piles of garbage for whatever morsels they could find. It certainly wasn't the most picturesque way to study shorebirds - I have never seen so much garbage piled up high along the shore and in the mangroves.

shorebirds - Costa del Este, Panama

Whimbrel - Costa del Este, Panama

As I was scanning the big flock of Laughing Gulls a smaller, daintier bird with a lighter mantle stood out. It was a species I was quite familiar with from back home - a Bonaparte's Gull. This is a rarity in Panama with only a handful of records so I made sure to document the bird with photos.

Bonaparte's Gull (right) - Costa del Este, Panama

The most numerous shorebirds here were Western Sandpipers, followed by Short-billed Dowitchers, Marbled Godwits, Black-bellied Plovers, Willets and Whimbrels.
mostly Marbled Godwits and Short-billed Dowitchers - Costa del Este, Panama

shorebirds - Costa del Este, Panama

Several Southern Lapwings at close range provided some great photo opportunities.

Southern Lapwing - Costa del Este, Panama

Southern Lapwing - Costa del Este, Panama

Southern Lapwing - Costa del Este, Panama

Additional trip birds we discovered here included Elegant Tern, Caspian Tern, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Northern Scrub-Flycatcher.

Black-necked Stilt - Costa del Este, Panama

As the sun slowly began to set, Steve and I set out for an area of Panama City near the famous Parque Natural Metropolitano, a 265 hectare green oasis in the middle of the city.

Andrew Keaveney was in Panama City as well, as he had just began his adventure across the country. The three of us ended up going out for dinner with Jenn Sinasac, a friend who had relocated to Panama from Ontario and who had provided us with a lot of valuable information on our trip. Thanks Jenn!

The following morning Steve was flying back to Canada, while I was not departing until the evening. Steve, Andrew and I made plans to bird the Parque Natural Metropolitano at dawn with hopes of seeing one or two more target species. I was really hoping to encounter a Yellow-green Tyrannulet, a Panama endemic that can be found at the park. 

Total bird species so far: 490

Monday, 25 January 2016

Panama - Day 15 (March 14, 2014)


We continued working our way back west down the main east-west highway, La Carretera Pamamericana, towards Panama City. Our plan was to once again go birding in the dry forest near Lago Bayano, hopefully picking up the few species we were still missing in this habitat type. Our first stop was a single track that disappeared into the forest off of the main highway. We drove down the track for a few minutes, before exiting the car and walking along, looking for birds. The last time we were in this habitat type it was mid-day and the birds were tough to come by. 

In a couple of hours of walking we ended up with close to 50 species, including a few new ones (Golden-fronted Greenlet, Forest Elaenia). Dave also found an Olivaceous Woodcreeper which I missed.

As we were getting ready to leave, we realized that a local taxi driver had parked in front of our vehicle, blocking us in. Luckily Steve had brought a machete, and with a few minutes of work we were able to clear a path beside the taxi so we could leave!

Our next stop was at a bridge overlooking the Rio Mono, a well known birding spot. Often, small flocks of birds gravitate towards watercourses and the Rio Mono was no different. Somewhat regular vehicle traffic complicated things, but the birding was excellent with birds everywhere! Some were species we were well-acquainted with, such as this Chestnut-sided Warbler (a common breeding species in Ontario).

Chestnut-sided Warbler - Rio Mono, Panama

A Cinerous Becard was a new species for me, while this Cinnamon Becard perched out in the open for a few moments.

Cinnamon Becard - Rio Mono, Panama

Woodpeckers are well represented in central America and many species are quite colorful or with unique patterns. The Cinnamon Woodpecker is one of my favorites; one was working some of the trees below the bridge.

Cinnamon Woodpecker - Rio Mono, Panama

Often one of the most difficult aspects of bird photography is obtaining a good angle to photograph the bird. This wasn't much of an issue at the Rio Mono since most of the birds were at eye-level or lower. I took the opportunity to grab some shots of a few common species, such as Streaked Flycatcher and Dusky-capped Flycatcher.

Streaked Flycatcher - Rio Mono, Panama

Dusky-capped Flycatcher - Rio Mono, Panama

Here are a few other photos of some of the birds from the Rio Mono bridge.

Plain-colored Tanager - Rio Mono, Panama

Red-legged Honeycreeper - Rio Mono, Panama

A quick stop at Lago Bayano produced another Pied Water-Tyrant and a nice assortment of wading birds. This Tropical Kingbird provided a rare eye-level photo opportunity.

Tropical Kingbird - Lago Bayano, Panama

An hour and a half later we arrived at our destination of Nusagandi, an area of humid forest protected by the Kuna people near the west corner of the Kuna Yala reservation. Nusagandi is home to many of Panama's specialty bird species, though we had seen quite a few of them by this point (Black Antshrike, Tody Motmot, Sapayoa, Black-crowned Antpitta, Black-eared Wood-Quail, etc).

Our main target here was Spiny-faced Antshrike (also known as Speckled Antshrike), a species found primarily in eastern Panama with Nusagandi one of the better places to look for it. Spiny-faced Antshrike is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, as habitat loss has led to a declining population.

Swallow-tailed Kite - Nusagandi, Kuna Yala, Panama

We birded the Iber Igar and Iber Nusagandi trails, the latter which was overgrown. Birding was generally slow since it was early afternoon, and we worked hard to find 35 species in the afternoon. Our target antshrike eluded us unfortunately, but we did have a few nice birds such as Black-and-yellow Tanager, Northern Schiffornis, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, etc. Sapayoas eluded us as well; luckily we had seen one in the Darién a few days earlier!

Our time in Panama was quickly coming to a close and we only had one more full day. Tomorrow's plan was to check out Cerro Azul for a few remaining target species before dropping Dave off at the airport.

Roadside pet spider monkey - Nusagandi, Kuna Yala, Panama

Total bird species so far: 479

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Panama - Day 14 (March 13, 2014)


We had several hours to bird El Real in the morning before our boat trip back to Yaviza, so we headed out on foot back to the El Real airstrip to search for our remaining target species here - Yellow-hooded Blackbird and Large-billed Seed-Finch. 

Fork-tailed Flycatcher - El Real, Darién, Panama

It was going to be a scorcher and already by 6:00 AM the day was warming up quickly The birding was pretty good and we quickly added a few new trip birds - Mississippi Kite, Willow Flycatcher - as well as some Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters which was new for me. After some effort we located a few Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, though looks were brief. I stopped to photograph this female Red-breasted Meadowlark.

Red-breasted Meadowlark - El Real, Darién, Panama

A Laughing Falcon was calling somewhere along the edge of the airfield - another new sighting for us.

We continued on to the area where we had the parrotlets the previous evening and once again were in luck as a small flock was hanging about the area. This tiny species is not much larger than an American Goldfinch - a pretty strange sight to see! It is hard to believe but there are even smaller parrot species in the world; the pygmy parrots of New Guinea and surrounding area. Perhaps one day I'll cross paths with some of these species.

Spectacled Parrotlet - El Real, Darién, Panama

The Streak-headed Woodcreeper is one of the more common woodcreepers in lowland forests from Mexico to northern Brazil and Peru. This one was working some small trees near where the Spectacled Parrotlets were found.

Streak-headed Woodpecker - El Real, Darién, Panama

A Rufous-tailed Jacamar was also a big highlight for me. Jacamars look like some sort of weird hybrid between a hummingbird and a kingfisher, though they are most closely related to puffbirds. They perch quietly in the forest, occasionally sallying out to snag butterflies and other insects.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar - El Real, Darién, Panama

It was a school day so several groups of children passed by as we birded the roadside. This little guy liked our cameras and pretended to take photos of us...

Eventually our time was up and we walked back to the waterfront to take our "taxi" back to Yaviza.

We added one more trip bird on the boat ridge back (Yellow-crowned Night-Heron), but had a nice variety of sightings anyways. A sample of some of the sights along the river:

Black Hawk-Eagle - Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

Little Blue Heron - Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

Common Black-Hawk - Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

 Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

Cocoi Heron - Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

Meso-American Slider - Rio Chucunaque, Darién, Panama

By early afternoon we had paid Isaac and said our goodbyes, fired up the rental car and were on our way back west. We drove back to Torti, the town where we had stayed prior to driving to Yaviza, arriving shortly after 4:00 PM. 

We birded the same road that we had checked out on that earlier visit, seeing close to 70 species in two hours. I was particularly happy to find my first Royal Flycatcher, a species with a pretty ridiculous crest that it raises at times. The one we saw wasn't particularly keen to flash us its crest, so that will have to wait until another day! 

Total bird species so far: 473

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Panama - Day 13 (March 12, 2014)


Morning couldn't come soon enough for me, and it felt good to dry out slightly over the course of the morning. After packing up camp and birding from the ridge (adding heard-only Black-eared Wood-Quail and Rufous-winged Antwren), we retraced our steps back to Rancho Frio (the ranger's station). birding along the way. It was another hot sunny day and bird activity slowed by mid-morning. All Quail-doves are difficult to see, but Ruddy is one of the more widespread species. We paused to photograph this one alongside the trail that Isaac had again picked out with his keen vision.

Ruddy Quail-Dove - Parque Nacional Darién, Panama

We spent some time searching for Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, a large, showy Campephilus species. This particular population, considered by some to be its own species called Splendid Woodpecker, is found mostly in the Chocó region from eastern Panama to northwest Ecuador. Isaac knew some good areas for this difficult species on our walk, but unfortunately it wasn't to be. Several Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, a different Campephilus, were nice to see even though our main target remained out of sight.

Crimson-crested Woodpecker - Parque Nacional Darién, Panama

A calling Plumbeous Hawk was a new bird for us, one of only two lifers I added during the walk. The other was a Gray-cheeked Nunlet; a type of puffbird with a small global range from eastern Panama to north-central Colombia. This species can be difficult to find and the Darién is one of the best places in the world to find it.

Gray-cheeked Nunlet - Parque Nacional Darién, Panama

We paused at Rancho Frio for about 3 hours, taking the time to organize another Crested Eagle mission. Again, there was no sign of the birds at the nest, though we did pick up our first Rufous-breasted Hermit of the trip, along with another Choco Sirystes (we had seen this tough Chocó species several days earlier on our walk towards Rancho Frio).

Several hours of hiking later we emerged from the forest near the outskirts of El Real, and Isaac arranged for a ride to drive us the remaining few miles back to town. We made sure that Isaac mentioned to the driver that a case of beer be in the truck, which we would pay him back for.

After three days of hiking up a mountain and back, covering over 50 km by foot, it felt pretty good to sit in the truck while it drove us back to town! The cold beer didn't hurt either.

With several hours of light remaining, we decided to get our driver to take us over to the El Real airport where a number of specialty birds could be found, including Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Spectacled Parrotlet and Large-billed Seed-Finch.

El Real airstrip, Darién, Panama

A Spot-breasted Woodpecker was easily found, providing excellent looks and decent photo opportunities in the evening lighting. Isaac then took us to a spot where he had seen Spectacled Parrotlets in the past and sure enough some flew over, landing in the nearby trees and providing great looks. An awesome end to another great day in the Darién!! That evening we hit up the same restaurant in El Real that we had been to several days ago, and each of us killed two large plates of beans, rice and chicken along with several more beers. We had been highly successful on our trek, seeing nearly all of our target species while experiencing a beautiful, remote part of central America.

Spot-breasted Woodpecker - El Real, Darién, Panama

Spot-breasted Woodpecker - El Real, Darién, Panama

Spot-breasted Woodpecker - El Real, Darién, Panama

Total bird species so far: 463