Monday, March 8, 2010

Birding Feb 24, 2009

24 February 2009
We woke today at 5:00am feeling much better having had a good nights sleep, and after both having a shower and some breakfast we were on the road by 5:45am. Today's birding adventure was going to be in the vicinity of Cerro Azul and Cerro Jefe, a higher elevation foothills area located about 45 minutes east of Panama City, and adjacent to Chagres National Park. The first half of getting to Cerro Azul was relatively quick as it was almost entirely freeway driving toward Tocumen airport. After that we weaved through several smaller roads in a residential community before climbing gradually up the hillside to the private, gated community of Cerro Azul. Getting through the manned gate was not entirely easy, but after some crude hand signals and pointing at our binoculars and bird guide, the guard called the main office to determine if in fact we could enter. After a brief chat on the phone the guard also indicated rather crudely that we were to proceed ahead about 1 km to the office and check-in. Upon arrival at the office we were greeted with paperwork and a $10 access fee; it really is remarkable just how often we had to pay to go birding in Panama, particularly in a residential neighbourhood!

Our first point of call was the Rio Mono trail, in which access was via a small dirt track that leads past a private house and ends abruptly at a sudden drop down the hillside in what can only be described as a steep, slick, mud and rock slide. The Bird-Finding guide recommends that 2-wheel drive cars park at the top of the hill, and that 4x4 vehicles should only proceed during the dry season. If this was any indication of how steep and slick the hill actually was, being there confirmed it. Heeding the books advice, Joanna and I grabbed our daypacks and binoculars and proceeded down the hill on foot. Initially the birding was relatively quiet, but after about 5 minutes we came across a large feeding flock high up in the canopy. Spotting most of the birds was rather challenging on the steep hillside, and to say that our necks were sore from looking up so much would be an understatement. Among the birds we did see were Black-throated Trogon, Violaceous Trogon, Brown-throated Parakeet, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, and my first lifer of the day, Sulphur-rumped Tanager. Below the canopy we tallied two more lifers, the first being a Marbled Wood-Quail that Joanna spotted skulking in the undergrowth on one side of the trail, and the second being a pair of Scaly-throated Leaftossers doing exactly what you would expect on the opposite side of the trail.

As we continued down the trail we spotted another new species, Black-striped Woodcreeper, foraging among the lianas. Later we found two Red-capped Manakins, several White-shouldered Tanagers, Panama Flycatcher, and Plain Xenops. After about 30 minutes we arrived at a creek crossing that marked the turnaround point for how far we decided we wanted to go. There was a remote possibility of spotting a Sunbittern or Fasciated Tiger-Heron foraging along the stream, but we were not so lucky. We did however spot a Green Kingfisher.

On the walk back toward the car the birding was noticeably better than when we had walked in, especially on the lower section of the trail between the creek and the bottom of the steep hill. In addition to several commoner species, we spotted three new lifers: Short-billed Pigeon, Olive-striped Flycatcher, and Rufous-capped Warbler, the latter of which was foraging right next to the car when we returned. From the Rio Mono trail we headed toward Cerro Jefe. Initially we were going to drive to a T-junction that was mentioned in the Bird-Finding Guide, but once we left the paved road, the access to the T-junction was little more than a slick dirt track that, although it was a lot less rocky than the previous "road", it had a distinct shine from its wet red clay surface that just shouted danger. The weather was also different as heavy cloud restricted our visibility to little more than 35-50 m, and a light drizzle kept things cool.

From the start of the dirt track we proceeded on foot, binoculars and raincoat in tow. At a little less than 200 m along the road we ran into a small flock of birds, and of the four species we saw, three were new: Speckled Tanager, Bananaquit, and Rufous-winged Tanager. Further along we easily spent 10 minutes trying to coax out a singing Bay Wren, which prior to showing itself, we didn't know what it was having not heard one before. We continued along the trail to another T-junction and then headed right toward a mirador (view point). The cloud got progressively worse, and since the previous flock of birds, we hadn't seen or heard anything else. We spent about 15 minutes at the mirador, just hoping something would come along, but nothing did. On a clear day, according to the Bird-Finding Guide, we should have been able to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but as it was we couldn't even see the forest that was just 20 m away. Deciding to cut our losses, because in a cloud forest we could have waited along time for the cloud to disappear, we headed back to the car. On the way we spotted just two other birds, Blue-black Grosbeak and Western Slaty Antshrike, further indicating that this trail was not cutting the mustard.

By now it was about 11:30am and there was just one other trail, Calle Maipo, that we wanted to hike. We traced our route back a few kilometers and eventually found the the trailhead that lead off into a dryer forest before descending steeply into a ravine. The weather here was much better and the visibility was substantially better. However, in the 1-hour we spent on the trail we didn't see or hear much except for a few common tanagers, another Rufous-capped Warbler, and a Thick-billed Euphonia. At the point on the trail where we decided to turn around I did heard a rather unusual bird call coming from the forest interior. I spent quite some time trying to pinpoint its location, and after having no success from the trail, I cautiously ventured into the forest making sure I didn't accidentally step on an army ant colony or something else equally nasty. After a bit of extra searching I finally spotted the source of the call - a Green Hermit (hummingbird) male perched on a low branch. I waved Joanna to come and see the bird, and thankfully it remained long enough for both of us to see very well.

We got back to the car at about 1:00pm and decided to call it a day. We headed down the hill and back to the highway, and upon return to Panama City we decided to stop briefly (and illegally) on Corredor Sur to quickly scan the intertidal mudflats for shorebirds. Fortunately traffic was very light, and so we had about 60 seconds to scan the area. In those 60 seconds we tallied nine species, four of which were new for the trip list: Willet, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover, and Marbled Godwit. After arriving back at the hotel we decided that we would a have a quick shower and visit Punta Culebra, a Smithsonian Institution marine research facility located on the Amador Causeway.

Once at the Amador Causeway our stomachs reigned supreme, and instead of going straight to Punta Culebra, we went to one of the many restaurants in the area and had an early dinner. From the open-air restaurant we had a wonderful view of Panama City on the opposite side of the bay as we watched Magnificent Frigatebirds effortlessly ride the winds up and down the causeway. After filling our bellies, we drove the 500m from the restaurant to the Punta Culebra parking area. We had a little over an hour before the exhibit closed, and so we moved relatively briskly through the small, but very informative exhibits. We initially began the tour without binoculars, but after seeing several birds flitting in the trees, Joanna quickly went back to the car to grab a pair, and thank goodness. One of the first birds we spotted turned out to be a female Barred Antshrike, a lifer for both of us. We also spotted a few new species for the trip, including Wilson's Plover (my second ever sighting and Joanna's first), Sanderling, and Spotted Sandpiper on a small stretch of sandy beach.

We ended the day by walking and driving parts of the Amador Causeway as the sun set below the horizon. It was a beautiful evening and actually quite pleasant walking in the cooler, yet still very humid, air. We returned to the hotel at about 7:00pm, watched a bit of TV, and went to sleep by 9:00pm.

Total number of species seen today = 58
Total number of lifers seen today = 12
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 240
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 90
Number of species seen at Rio Mono Trail today = 27
Number of species seen at Cerro Jeffe Trail today = 7
Number of species seen at Cerro Maipo Trail today = 7
Number of species seen at Amador Causeway today = 18

1 comment:

Richard King said...

Looks like a great place and good birding. Must get there one day.

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