17 February 2009
Our first day of birding in Panama together, and to ease into things gradually we began with the locally productive Metropolitan Park. We departed the hotel at 6:30am and made the 10-minute journey via Corredor Norte. On the way we spotted a Snowy Egret at the Marcos Gelabert airport, but didn't see much else as we focused on getting to the park in one piece, without an accident. Driving in Panama City is not for the faint of heart. Road markings seem mostly decorative rather than functional, and the honking of horns, which all sound the same but apparently communicate different messages, were endless. Any time spent sitting in traffic is also especially disgusting as fumes bilge from exhaust pipes in clouds of blue-black smoke. I realized early as a passenger in 2008 that driving in Panama City would probably be stressful for the visitor, and so for this trip we had deliberately picked a hotel on the outskirts, and opted to pay toll-road fees where traffic volumes were notably lower.
We arrived at the park, and not to sound too much like a broken record, we paid the $2 entrance fee and proceeded to bird the grassy field and forest margins behind the visitor center. The usual suspects were present: House Wren, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Variable Seedeater, and Clay-colored Thrush to name a few. Our plan was to do the big loop (El Roble, Mono Titi, and La Cienaguita trails) and once we finished scouring the area around the visitor centre we entered the forest and headed toward the lagoon and nursery. Just as we entered the opening near the lagoon I heard something rustling in the undergrowth, and with a bit of patience and several fleeting glimpses of something feathered, we were rewarded with an excellent look at a White-breasted Wood-Wren, my second lifer for the trip.
The remainder of the morning at Metropolitan Park was incredibly productive, and it was exciting to share the time with Joanna, who like me in 2008, was experiencing for the first time the incredible diversity of a tropical forest community. Some of the notable highlights, for both us, included Fasciated Antshrike, Rosy-thrush Tanager, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Green-shrike Vireo (two almost at eye-level!), Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue Dacnis, Rufous-breasted Wren, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Orange-billed Sparrow, and Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher. On our return walk, between the visitor centre and lagoon, a pair of female Golden-collared Manakins were an added bonus at the end of the hike.
We returned to the car at about 12:30pm and headed back to the hotel for a shower and some lunch. At about 3:00pm we went to the Miraflores visitor center, which when using your own car allows for a few extra birding opportunities along the way. After turning off Av Gaillard to head toward the parking area you will soon cross a bridge over a water diversion channel. Stopping on the bridge is not permitted, but immediately on the west side there is room to pull over and scan the channel and overhanging wires for birds. Several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets were foraging in the channel, and another lifer, two Ringed Kingfishers, were sitting on the wires. The visitor centre was again an interesting place to visit, and in the comfort of air conditioning, a great place to view Magnificent Frigatebirds, Laughing Gulls, and hundreds of vultures.
We returned to the Albrook Inn for about 5:15pm and had an outdoor dinner at the attached restaurant. Together we compiled our independent Panama Checklists that we had printed from the Panama Audubon Society website before we departed. Additionally, we had a great time just relaxing in the warm evening air as we watched several species of birds occupy the nearby trees or go sailing overhead, including Pale-vented Pigeon, Plain-colored Tanager, five Wood Storks, and several Short-tailed Swifts. In a small palm tree adjacent to the swimming pool a pair of Tropical Kingbirds attended a nest with four young. As day turned to night we had a delicious dinner and contemplated what we might see tomorrow on our first full-day birding trip to Pipeline Road, Gamboa Park, and the ammo dump ponds.
Total number of species seen today = 71
Total number of lifers seen today = 2
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 76
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 3
Number of species seen at Metropolitan Park today = 58