22 February 2009
Today was going to be "less birdy" than usual as we had arranged for a private tour of the Coffee Estate Inns' shade-grown coffee plantation from 8:00-10:00am. Prior to the commencing the tour we began our day by enjoying breakfast on the patio and watching the sun rise on Baru Volcan. The birds also enjoyed their breakfast of sliced banana and orange, and as the sun came up over the hill behind us I was able to get a bunch of photos of the various visitors (in order of appearance below, Flame-colored Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Summer Tanager). As the morning progressed, and the coffee tour ensued, we tallied a total of 23 species for the grounds. The tour ended in the main house with a coffee roasting demonstration, from which we couldn't resist purchasing a pound of beans to take back to Canada with us. The coffee was wonderfully smooth and flavourful, and truly was the best coffee we had ever tasted.
After the tour we arranged to leave our packed bags at the main house while we went for a short 2-hour hike up Pipeline trail. Yesterday's hike in this area was just too brief, and we didn't feel we had spent enough time to properly see what else might be around. As we began the trail the usual suspects were present: Black Vulture, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and Silver-throated Tanager. A little further along and we saw our second-ever Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Elegant Euphonia, and Black-faced Solitaire that were followed shortly afterward by our first new species of the day, a Blue Seedeater. Initially the Pipeline trail passes through some agricultural lands, and then a small soccer pitch, before entering denser forest. Once in the forest, species such as Scintillant Hummingbird (lifer), White-throated Mountain-Gem, Philadelphia Vireo, Slate-throated Redstart, and Golden-winged Warbler were more common. We also spotted our first-ever Golden-crowned Warbler in a mixed-species flock that had Black-and-White Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Tennessee Warbler. We also saw our second Red-faced Spinetail and a small group of Common Bush-Tanagers.
After about two hours of birding it was time for us to return to the Inn to collect our belongings and drive back to David to catch our return flight to Panama City. We knew as early as yesterday afternoon that we should have planned for more time in the Highlands, but there was nothing we could do now but say we would re-visit at another time, and for a longer period. As we hiked briskly back to the car we spotted a few other species such as Flame-colored Tanager, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and Yellowish Flycatcher, as well as two new species, Dark Pewee and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet.
On our way back to the Inn we spotted a Passerini's Tanager (formerly Flame-rumped Tanager) in a residential garden, another lifer that was absolutely gorgeous. Once back at the Inn we collected our belongings, bid our farewells, and began the drive back to David. The return route was purposefully different than our arrival route as Barry and Jane warned us in advance that today was the height of Carnival, and that we were likely to be subject to various pranks and celebrations as we passed through a couple of towns between Boquette and David. Carnival is a country-wide event that is similar to the Mardis Gras of New Orleans, but perhaps even wilder as the locals would have us understand it. Our "alternate" route would have us bypass party-central and visit the more scenic, and perhaps birdier, Caldera Dam and Gualaca area.
The area around Caldera dam was indeed quite scenic, although the birding left little to be desired. Soon after leaving the Highlands the temperature increased substantially and before we knew it we were back to 30+ degrees Celsius. We spotted several Great and Cattle Egrets near the dam, as well as numerous Turkey Vultures and a few Barn Swallows. From that point on we saw little else, except for the occasional Great-tailed Grackle and Fork-tailed Flycatcher. The entire area was noticeably deforested, consisting largely of crop plantations of some sort. What was once very likely a diverse and complex tropical forest community was now an homogenized monoculture of fields supporting little else than those species that have managed to eek out a living in this biologically sterile environment.
As we approached David, Joanna and I were badly in need of pee and given that we wanted to avoid spending any time in the city, we decided to visit nature, or what was left of it. We pulled over onto a small dirt track that bisected two fields, and along the road were a few trees that had been spared by the axe (or chainsaw as it likely would have been). After relieving herself Joanna spotted two dark birds perched in one of the trees about halfway down the road; it was a pair of Crested Caracara's, a species I had tried finding in southern California, Arizona, and Florida, but came up short each time. As we admired their cartoon-like appearance, a noisy flock of Brown-throated Parakeets, another lifer, landed in the trees just ahead of us. After enjoying a good look at these two species, and realizing that we had to get to the airport, we acknowledged that there are benefits to outdoor bathroom breaks other than just instant bladder relief.
We entered David from the east on Carretera Interamerican Route 1 and while crossing a bridge over a river between Los Lomas and David we spotted our last new species, a White-tailed Hawk, for this part of Panama. From there we proceeded to the airport, returned the car, and awaited our flight. At 5:30pm we departed David on-time, and thankfully the cabin temperature was much cooler than when we travelled here. As we made the quick flight back to Panama City we enjoyed watching the sun set over the clouds, from white, to orange, to pink, to twilight, to darkness.
We arrived in Panama City at about 6:45pm and after collecting our baggage a National Car representative met us at the airport to take us to the downtown office to pick-up our car. Because it was Sunday the office at the Marcus Gelabert airport was closed, and although our hotel was less than 5-minutes away, we had to take a 25 minute ride downtown, get our car, and make the 25 minute drive back. At the hotel we had a light supper and went to bed early - I think the intensity of the trip was starting to catch-up to us, but sometimes you have to dig deep. We were in bed by 9:00pm, a relatively late night for us, but tomorrow we were birding locally, about 20 minutes away.
Total number of species seen today = 57
Total number of lifers seen today = 9
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 210
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 75
Number of species seen at Coffee Estate Inn today = 23
Total cumulative species seen at Coffee Estate Inn = 29
Number of species seen at Pipeline Trail today = 27
Total cumulative species seen at Pipeline Trail today = 34