Friday, March 2, 2012

2012 Trip Summary

What a great trip it was, and a flurry of birds in just 7 days. Here's a summary of how results.

Total species seen for this trip = 210
Total lifers seen for this trip = 17
Total species added to my Panama list = 29
Total species I've seen for all time in Panama = 374
Total species on my life list = 1,161

Total new mammal species seen = 2 (Anteater and Jaguarundi)
Total mammal species I have seen = I have no idea - one day I'll tally them up!

Total lifers I thought I had, but turned out I had already seen them = 3 (White-ruffed Manakin I had seen at Cerro Azul in 2010 ; Greenish Elaenia I had seen in Ecuador in 2011; Black-tailed Trogon I had seen on Pipeline Road in 2008). Note to self - must improve memory.

Until next time, happy birding.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

21 February 2012

Our last day in Panama, and as we only had half a day to go birding, we stayed local and went to Metropolitan National Park. We woke at 5:25am, departed at 6:05am, and arrived at the park at 6:30am. As with all previous trips, the entry fee was $2. We began birding immediately behind the visitor centre, which surprisingly was not as busy as with previous trips; the forest edge adjacent to the field was relatively inactive bird-wise. We did however spot 10 Keel-billed Toucans flying over, as well as Palm Tanager, Lesser Elania, and Panama Flycatcher in the scattered palm trees.

From the open field we headed into the forest and onto the small lagoon located near the nursery. Here there was a lot of activity, and we spent about 30-45 minutes working the flock of birds. Among the group was Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-backed Oriole, Prothonotary Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Rufous-and-White Wren, Purple-crowned Fairy, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, and Blue Dacnis.

From the nursery we slowly walked the trail that parallels the main road. Near the second park entrance, just south of the guard station, we encountered another flock of birds. Within it were Black-tailed Flycatcher, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Black-bellied Wren, Orange-billed Sparrow (2), Dusky Antbird, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Rufous-breasted Wren, Greenish Elania, and Rosy-thrush Tanager. After presumably exhausting all of the species in this flock, we continued along the main trail and headed up toward the mirador. Along the way the wind began to pick up considerably, and in doing so the bird activity diminished. Amidst the gusts of wind and swaying tree branches we did manage to spot Slate-colored Grosbeak, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, and Yellow-rumped Cacique, but that was it. At the mirador a lone Yellow-headed Caracara sat on a fence railing, and in the air a few Black and Turkey vultures soared overhead.

It was now 10:30am, and so we began our slow decent through the forest, this time taking a trail that we though would be more sheltered from the wind. It was not to be, as we did not see a single bird from the mirador to the main trail back at the road. As we made our way past the guard station we ran into what we believed was the same flock we had earlier. Interestingly, however, we spotted several species that were not there upon first inspection. These included Long-billed Gnatwren, Dot-winged Antbird, Spotted Antbird, White-winged Becard, and Squirrel Cuckoo. Along the rest of the trail we did not find anything new; we arrived back at the hotel at 12:15pm.

While at the hotel we both had a shower and pack our bags for the long trip home. At 1:45pm we went to the Mira Flores locks where we spent some time exploring the visitor centre and watching a ship pass through the locks. The visitor centre was currently undergoing renovations, no doubt in preparation for the new locks that are currently being constructed and which are scheduled to open in 2014. At 3:15pm we left the centre and headed to the Tocumen airport. We arrived at a little after 4:00pm, and with little difficulty we returned the car, checked in, and passed through security. To pass the time to departure we had some lunch and browsed the very over-priced electronics stores.

At 6:45pm it was time to board our flight, and just prior to doing so we spotted our last new trip species, a Peregrine Falcon. The flight departed on time at 7:15pm EST, and after a sleepless 8-hour flight, we were back on home turf a little before midnight PST. From there we headed to our hotel and hit the hay. Our final trip leg was a ferry ride tomorrow morning.

Overall the trip was very successful. We saw some great birds, and 18 new species was nothing to scoff at. I don't know when my next trip to Panama will be, but it will be a long time from now as I set my sights on other parts of the world. So, until next time, happy birding wherever you may be.

Total species seen today = 63
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 210
Total lifers seen today = 0
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 17

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

20 February 2012

Today we woke at 4:40am for an early departure to Achiote Road on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. We departed the hotel at 5:10am and took the new express route to Gatun Locks at which we arrived at 6:15am. Here we waited nearly 30 minutes before being able to cross as two large ships made their way through. Since I was last here two years ago, a number of changes have taken place in the area owing to the construction of the expansion of the new locks to be opened in 2014. At the locks we tallied all of the typical species, including Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Great-tailed Grackle, Black and Turkey vultures, Osprey, and Orange-chinned Parakeet. We also added Tropical Mockingbird to our list, a species that had thus far evaded us.

Once through the locks we crossed the large earthen dam where Dad spotted a Red-breasted Blackbird enroute to Achiote Road. Our plan for the area was to work the three primary bridges, beginning with parking at the first and walking to the second, the driving to the third and working that area. From the first to second bridge we tallied an impressive number of species, and some good ones for the area. Our first highlight was Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, of which we had excellent views. That was soon followed by Mealy Parrot, my first lifer of the day and another bird which allowed us stunning views. Further along the road we picked up Violaceous Trogon, Dot-winged Antwren, Fasciated Antshrike, and Thick-billed Euphonia. After that, things just kept getting better.

Our next highlight was Black-cheeked Woodpecker, quickly followed by a beautiful Spot-crowned Barbet and Yellow-backed Oriole. Then, my second lifer for the day, amounting to no more than a 2-second look, was a Band-tailed Barbthroat; unmistakable by its white-tipped tail, slight curved yellowish-black bill, and rusty-orange throat patch. Soon after seeing that bird we spotted Slaty-tailed Trogon, Golden-collared Manakin, Flame-rumped Tanager, Blue-black Grosbeak, and Masked Tityra.

Among one of the many things that makes Achiote Road great for birding is its diversity and abundance of raptors. Depending on the conditions of the day they can be hit or miss as we have learned, but today turned out to be quite good. Shortly after seeing the tityra’s we spotted a gorgeous adult Crane Hawk soar low over our heads. That was soon followed by three Gray-headed Kites and a flock of more than 30 Broad-winged Hawks. Later on, during our walk back from the second bridge, we had a good look at Common Black-Hawk in flight and two perched Hook-billed Kite’s.

As we approached the second bridge another group of birders were coming toward us. The group was being led by Carlos of Birding Panama Tours, and as it turns out, the birders were not only from Vancouver, but were on the same flight as us when we came down. Among the group were Joanne MacKenzie and George Clulow, two birders I had met on more than one occasion in British Columbia. After a short chat, and a glimpse of a Band-rumped Swift, we parted ways and continued our respective birding trips. Dad and I slowly walked back to the car, along the way picking up Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-headed Parrot, Collared Aracari, and Plain Xenops.

At the third bridge we had only two species: Orange-chinned Parakeet and Little Blue Heron. The heat of the day was now beginning to take its toll and the birds were becoming much less active. We returned to the second bridge for another scan, and although we only got one species, it was a lifer: Rufous-breasted Hermit. From here we went to El Trogon trail and walked the under shaded canopy hoping to pick something up. We only got one species, a Southern Bentbill. From the trail we drove the main road through Achiote town scanning the roadsides for birds. Some of the fields were quite wet and in the pools were dozens of Cattle Egrets and Little Blue Herons, and ones or twos of Wood Stork, Tricolored Heron, Great Egret and Common Moorhen.

By now it was 12:30pm and so we decided to start making our way back to Panama City. As we left Achiote Road, we spotted six Black-chested Jays, my second-ever sighting. During the drive back we saw very little, and so to liven things up we decided to stop in at Ammo Dump ponds. We weren’t expecting much being that it was 1:30pm and very hot, but to our surprise it was very good. In just 20 minutes we tallied 31 species. The best bird was a White-throated Crake, my second-ever sighting and by far the best look. Other highlights included Barred Antshrike, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Greater Ani, and Shiny Cowbird.

We arrived back at the hotel at 2:30pm where we had a quick shower and a drink before deciding to head back out to Summit Ponds at 4:30pm. Once we arrived we had only about 1 hour before sunset, but as it turned out, that one hour was amazing. We parked our car at the ponds and the first bird we spotted was Greater Ani, quickly followed by Anhinga, Keel-billed Toucan, Green Kingfisher, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, and Boat-billed Heron. We also saw our first-ever Anteater, literally no more than 10 feet away as it moved through the underbrush and at one point climbed partially up a small tree exposing itself to our binoculars; if only we had a camera!

As we walked the trail we spotted Southern Bentbill, Blue-black Grosbeak, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Violet-bellied Hummingbird and Black-bellied Wren. We also met up with a birding tour group from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. We didn’t exactly tag along with the group, but we did tend to walk at about the same pace and stop to watch the same birds. At the end of the trail the chap leading the walk located a roosting Spectacled Owl and allowed everyone, including us, to have a look through his scope. After that we made a bee-line back to the car, and as if the day had not been amazing enough, there, at the pond, was two Capped Heron’s sitting in the trees. Again, the Gamboa Lodge leader let everyone have a look through his scope – what a great bird, and icing on the cake.

We returned to the hotel by about 6:45pm and went for dinner at the adjacent restaurant. While we waited for food I tallied the notes for the day, only to reveal the final surprise of the day – we had seen 100 species today!

Total species seen today = 100
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 199
Total lifers today = 3
Total cumulative lifers for the trip = 17

Monday, February 20, 2012

19 February 2012

In to new territory today, with a trip to Nusagandi and Bayano Lake being the furthest east I've ever been in Panama. We woke at 4:25am and departed at 4:58am. For efficiency, I ignored the GPS directions and headed straight to Balboa Ave so that I could connect with Corredor Sur and get out of the city ASAP. Trouble was, that when we got to Balboa Ave it was closed for the Carnival parade that we were not aware of. Almost instantly we were in an area not familiar to us, and with the GPS telling us to do U-turn after U-turn to join Balboa Ave, it wasn't helping. We ended up losing about 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get out of the city, eventually ending up far enough east that we could avoid the road closure and be on our way. This was not a good start to the day.

We arrived at the turnoff to Nusagandi after nearly 60km of paved road and 25km of rough gravel. We then proceeded along the El Llano-Carti Road, which was paved, to Nusagandi. For a little village road it was surprisingly very busy, no doubt people travelling to some Carnival party. The road was incredibly hilly, with each dip being unpaved and deeply rutted. Our first destination was the Burbayer Lodge, about 8km along the road. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was not open and a guard dog was on duty. We proceed a bit further to the Ibe Igar trail, which in the Bird-Finding Guide to Panama is one of the better places to find Sapayoa and Speckled Antshrike - we found neither. In fact, we found nothing. The trail was dead and the wind was blowing hard. In addition, the fog was gradually rolling in and it was spitting with rain. Today's adventure was getting worse by the minute.

From Ibe Igar we decided to head to Nusagandi where another set of trails are also supposed to very good for Sapayoa and Speckled Antshrike. However, at KM 15 along the El Llano-Carti Road there was a long line of vehicles that apparently were stuck behind a vehicle that had got stuck in one of the unpaved dips. At this point we had to cut our losses, and so after waiting for about 10 minutes with no sign of movement, we turned around and started making our way to Bayano Lake.

By now you may be wondering why I haven't mentioned any of the birds we've seen - it's because we haven't seen any! We arrived at Bayano Lake a little after 9:00am where at the main bridge we pulled over and entered a private residence that for $2 you can bird the lakeshore and short trails. Immediately upon arrival at the lakeshore I spotted my first lifer of the day, Pied Water-Tyrant (photo below). That was soon followed by my second lifer, a Cocoi Heron that flew overhead. Other birds at the water's edge included Great Egret, Green Heron, Amazon Kingfisher, Least Grebe (my second ever sighting), Purple Gallinule, Neotropic Cormorant, and Common Moorhen. Along the short trail, where we suffered immensely from the heat and humidity, we spotted Golden-collared Manakin, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Dusky Antbird, Forest Elania, Blue-black Grassquit, and others.

From the private residence we drove about 6 kilometers to the Rio Mono bridge, another location cited in the bird guide as being very good for a number of local specialties. Upon arrival another birder, Tom, was scanning the area. Tom was from the San Francisco bay area and was spending 36 days in Panama. Together we scanned from the bridge and picked up Lesser Greenlet, Orange-crowned Oriole (lifer), Yellow-backed Oriole, Blue Dacnis, Plain-colored Tanager, Panama Flycatcher, and a few others. After about 20 minutes, another group of birders arrived in a small van. Myself and the group then saw White-eared Conebill (lifer), Blue Ground-Dove, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Cinnamon Becard, Black-tailed Trogron, and King Vulture. Now the day was starting to look a lot better, but with the heat of the day upon us, we decided to slowly make our way back to Panama City.

The drive back to town was largely unproductive, except for one particularly great bird, an immature Snail Kite (lifer; photo below) observed sitting in a tree just a few meters from the road. Not only was this a new species for me, but it was outside of its usual range in Panama. Virtually all sightings are from the Canal Area according to e-bird and the new Panama bird field guide, and there is just one outlier record from Tocumen Marsh. To officially document our record we posted the observation to e-bird; when I get home I'll try to see if any other agencies are tracking bird records in Panama, such as the Smithsonian or Audubon Society.

Once back in Panama City we returned to the hotel for a quick shower and a drink. By now it was 3:00pm, so I spent some time transcribing today's notes to my field diary and writing yesterday's blog posting. At 4:15pm we decided to head out to Summit Ponds, and to our surprise it was incredibly productive. The heat of the day had subsided, relatively speaking, and it was quite comfortable walking along the road under the shaded of the canopy. In and around the pond we spotted Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Greater Ani, Collared Aracari, and Ringed Kingfisher. We then proceeded down the trail where a hive of activity was amidst the forest layers, including: Plain-colored Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Thick-billed Euphonia, Forest Elania and Scarlet-rumped Cacique. Then, the best bird of the day flew over - a gorgeous Capped Heron! It was only a fleeting glimpse, but the black cap, blue bill, and cream-colored chest are diagnostic. What a gem.

Along the rest of the trail we picked up Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, and Fasciated Antshrike. This one hour walk was very good, and ended the day on a high note. Hard to believe that a day that started out looking like a disaster, would turn out to be an all-round excellent day. We left Summit Ponds at 6:15pm, had dinner at the pub next to the hotel, and turned in for an early night (8:15pm) for tomorrow's early rise to go to Achiote Road.

Total species seen today = 67
Total cumulative species for trip = 174
Total lifers seen today = 6
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 14

Sunday, February 19, 2012

18 February 2012

Today our adventure takes us to the famous (for birding), and local, Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park. we woke at 5:10am and departed the hotel at 5:45am. After a short drive, we arrived at 6:15am. Previously, all of my trips to Pipeline Road have begun at the first gate, just a few hundred meters above the Gamboa boat dock. But today, based on advice from Simon yesterday, we decided to start at the second gate located at the junction to the Discovery Centre. Upon arrival the forest was alive with sound, and as we got our bearings, Simon arrived just behind us. To make a good go of it, the three of us birded together.

Simon is a Londoner, and true to the British birding core, is an excellent hardcore twitcher with a sharp eye. Within minutes he had spotted Black-throated Trogon, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and Rufous Motmot. Further down the trail he spotted three Song Wrens foraging together, and nearby a pair of Violaceous Trogons. Among the more common species, we observed Southern Bentbill, White-shouldered Tanager, Western Slaty-Antshrike, and Violet-bellied Hummingbird. Other 'good' birds included Long-billed Gnatwren, White-flanked Antwren, Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique.

After nearly 3.5 hours of birding we arrived at the next main bridge, about two kilometers from where we had parked. Simon had birded this area yesterday and commented to us about having found an army ant swarm with some army ant bird specialists. Today, within minutes of arriving at the site, Simon picked up on a familiar bird call, the Bicolored Antbird, and I spotted a Northern-barred Woodcreeper (lifer) - both army ant specialists. Subsequently, the three of us headed into the forest about 20m and suddenly found ourselves amidst a swarm, of birds that is. Bicolored Antbirds (lifer) were seemingly everywhere, as were Oscillated Antbirds (lifer; photo below), Northern-barred Woodcreepers, and Plain Woodcreepers. Also among the group were several Gray-headed Tanagers, and at the periphery of the flock were two male and one female Spotted Antbird.

We stayed with the flock for about 20 minutes, constantly scouring the area for other ant specialists, such as Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo or Ruddy Woodcreeper, but no such luck. For me, it didn't really matter (although another lifer would have been nice). I was pleased as punch to have finally encountered my first-ever army ant swarm and to witness the bird activity around them. The birds are remarkably approachable while feeding!

From the swarm we continued along the road for about another 20 minutes, picking up Slaty-tailed Trogon and Red-capped Manakin along the way. Now it was just after 10:00am and it was time for Simon to head back to his hotel to check out. I have a feeling this is not the last time I will see Simon, as he offered to take me birding in England for a day during my upcoming visit there in April. I shall be be sure to do my best to take him up on his offer, as there are still a number of good birds that I don't yet have for the U.K.

Soon after Simon departed, Dad and I began the long walk back. Along the way we picked up Keel-billed Toucan, Broad-billed Motmot, and Purple-crowned Fairy. The highlight however was a fleeting look at a Jagurundi that walked across the road not more than 50 feet ahead of us near where we parked the car. After Pipeline Road we stopped at the Ammo Dump ponds and picked up Gray-headed Chachalaca among several of the more common species. We arrived back at our hotel a little after 12:00pm, and with a quick clean-up we went for lunch at Albrook Mall, picked up a few groceries, and filled up the car.

At 4:30pm we headed to Summit Ponds for a bit of late afternoon birding. There we saw 23 species, including Boat-billed Heron, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Greater Ani, and Prothonotary Warbler. At 5:45pm we returned to the hotel, had some dinner, and were in bed for 8:00pm in preparation for our very early rise tomorrow.

Today's birding was one of the best in a long time, and definitely the best so far for this trip. Although we didn't see that many species, the army ant swarm and it's associated bird specialists was truly amazing. Until next time, happy birding wherever you may be.

Total species today = 59
Total cumulative species for trip = 151
Total lifers today = 3
Total cumulative lifers for trip = 8

Saturday, February 18, 2012

17 February 2012

Today we woke at 5:00am and departed the hotel at 5:30am to head to Cerro Azul. We expected the drive to take about 45 minutes, but instead, thanks to my GPS guiding me to the land of nowhere, it took nearly 1.5 hours by the time I had back-tracked from obscurity. As it turned out, the maps I downloaded for my GPS did not have roads going to Cerro Azul, so the GPS was trying to get me to the closest possible point, which was nowhere near where I really needed to be.

By the time we did get onto the correct road, our first stop was Los Nubes, a small residential area that is just downhill from Cerro Azul. We had stopped at Los Nubes in March 2010 with Mae from Birding Panama and learned at that time it was quite productive. We started birding at 7:15am, picking up many of the common species first: House Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, and White-tipped Dove. We then spotted a few other interesting species including Bananaquit, Streaked Saltator, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Blue-black Grassquit, and a nice male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Overhead there were several American Swallow-tailed Kites flying, and my first lifer of the day, a Plumbeous Kite.

From Los Nubes we drove to the Rio Mono trail in Cerro Azul and set off down the very steep trail. It didn't take long to realize that bird activity was absent. We could hear very little, and saw even less. Of note however were two lifers, Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager and Long-tailed Woodcreeper. After spending about 1.5 hours on the trail and having found only 10 species, we returned to the car. The only other birds of note we saw were Stripe-throated Hermit and Green Honeycreeper.

From the Rio Mono trail we drove to Cerro Jefe Cloud Forest Reserve where we spent another hour walking in strong wind and direct sun. That trail yielded only two species: Plumbeous Kite and Black Vulture. By now it was just after 11:30am, and so we decided that today was a bust and headed back to town. We arrived back at the hotel at 2:30pm, had a shower and a drink, and went to the Ammo Dump ponds at 4:00pm and birded for about 1.5 hours.

At Ammo Dump ponds we spotted may of the regular species, but in the short time we were there, tallied an impressive 26 species and saw Capybara and White-faced Capuchin. The highlight was a King Vulture (lifer) flying overhead. Other notable birds included Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Green Heron, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. While at the ponds we met a nice birding chap from London, Simon. He had been birding in the area for several days and was mentioning his good fortunes on Pipeline Road, our destination for tomorrow. Turns out he was also going back there, and so there was a chance we may do some birding together. He had an incredibly sharp eye.

Dad and I returned to the hotel by 6:15am, went straight for dinner at the restaurant next door, and went to bed by 9:00pm. Tomorrow, as we are going to bird locally, means that we get to sleep in until 5:15am! Until then, happy birding.

Total species today = 53
Total cumulative species for trip = 125
Total lifers today = 4
Total cumulative lifers for trip = 5

Thursday, February 16, 2012

16 February 2012

Today we woke at 4:45am and were on the road by 5:17am. We headed north toward the Centennial Bridge where we crossed the Panama Canal and drove to Cerro Campana National Park. It took a little over an hour to get to the park headquarters where, with great anticipation, I had hoped to find my first Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch. Sadly, the wind was blowing a gale and I knew instantly that most birds would be taking shelter. And, true to my prediction, we could not locate a bird.

From the headquarters we drove along the part paved, part gravel, road toward the Panama trail. Along the way we stopped near some houses and picked up a few birds in the shrubs, including Hepatic Tanager, Keel-billed Toucan, and Chestnut-headed Oropendola. A second stop along the road, near a small stream surrounded by primary forest, we spotted Bay-headed Tanager, White-ruffed Manakin, Green Honeycreeper, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and Rufous-capped Warbler. At the trail head the wind was still blowing a gale, but to add insuklt to injury, the cloud had rolled in. We walked about 400m along the trail and spotted only two birds: Gray-breasted Wood-Wren and another Bay-headed Tanager. We walked another 100m and it started to rain - we were doomed. We umm'd and ahh'd for about 10 minutes trying to decide what to do, and reluctantly we made the decision to head back to Panama City and try our luck at Summit Gardens. Sadly, we departed Cerro Campana at 8:30am.

On the way to Summit Gardens we saw very little along the highway. A highlight however was my second ever sighting of a Crested Caracara as it flew across the road. We arrived at Summit Gardens at 10:00am and it was hot! We paid the $2 entrance fee and proceeded to walk the grounds, navigating from one shady patch to another. The birds were quiet, although we did pick up some species we were expecting, including Giant Cowbird and Shiny Cowbird. The only other notable birds were a single Broad-winged Hawk, two Yellow-rumped Caciques, and colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas. We departed Summit Gardens at 11:30am and went back to the hotel for a much needed shower. After that we went for lunch at Albrook Mall and mosied through the air conditioned halls for about 30 minutes. From there we went to the Smithsonian bookstore which was about 10 minutes away and took 40 minutes to get to! The road works in Panama City are unbelievable-  major diversions and back-ups everywhere.

By the time we finished at the Smithsonian it was 3:30pm, so once again we headed back to the hotel where I updated my notes and blog, and Dad had an unusually long blink. At 5:15pm we decided to go for dinner at the Amador Causeway, but just before going I checked my e-mail and was pleasantly surprised to learn that we had obtained permission to access Cerro Azul tomorrow. So on that happy note, off to dinner we went, discussing along the way how we hope the wind and cloud will cooperate for tomorrow. During dinner we watched the sun set over the canal and at 7:30pm we headed back to the hotel to turn in for an early night.

Total species seen today: 35
Total cumulative species seen for trip: 112
Total lifers today: 1
Total cumulative lifers for trip: 1

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

15 February 2012

Our first day of full birding, and true to the saying, "the early bird gets the worm", we were up at 5:20am, 10 minutes before the alarm was set to go off. After a quick wash and some breakfast, we were on the road by 5:52am and at our destination, Old Gamboa Road, by 6:30am.

For Panama climate, today was very pleasant - somehow the humidity seemed less than usual and the early morning warmth cooler. Right where we parked the car we started the day off with several Blue-headed Parrots, two Golden-hooded Tanagers, a Common Tody-Flycatcher, a Summer Tanager, and several of the commoner species. From the parking lot we headed down the small access road toward Old Gamboa Road. Along the way we heard a trogon, which I successfully imitated as indicated by a male Violaceous Trogon that flew immediately to a branch above where we were standing. Other birds along the access road included Southern Bentbill, Blue Dacnis, Plain Xenops, Streaked Saltator, and Keel-billed Toucan, among others. Now at Old Gamboa Road we headed south toward the ponds. Soon after beginning we spotted a beautiful male Indigo Bunting, my second only sighting ever - the first being from Tucson, Arizona in 1994. In the same general area we also spotted Blue-crowned Motmot, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, and Blue-black Grassquit. The remainder of the road was relatively quiet to the ponds, although we did have good looks at a Yellow-headed Caracara and a Gray-headed Kite. At the ponds we spotted two Boat-billed Herons on nests, and three species of kingfisher: Ringed, Amazon, and Green.

With much of Old Gamboa Road complete, we headed back toward the car once we finished birding the ponds. On the way back we spotted Piratic Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler (my second only since Memphis, Tennessee in 1993), Purple-crowned Fairy, Yellow-green Tyrranulet (first lifer for the trip), and Golden-fronted Greenlet. From Old Gamboa we headed to Plantation Road. Upon arrival it was notably hot and humid, and the cicadas were in full song. We walked about 400m along the trail, and after having not seen or heard a single bird, decided to head to Gamboa Park.

We arrived at Gamboa Park at 10:05am and quickly tallied a number of waterbirds: Great Blue Heron, Common Moorhen, Mangrove Swallow, Tricolored Heron, and Little Blue Heron. We also saw a Caiman (about 6 feet long) and an American Crocodile (about 15 feet long). From Gamboa Park we headed to Ammo Dump Ponds. Here we had an impressive tally of species, including three species of oriole: Yellow-tailed, Orchard, and Baltimore. Other highlights included Yellow-rumped Cacique, Fasciated Antshrike, and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird. From Ammo Dump Ponds we went back to the hotel for a quick clean-up, then went to Albrook Mall for Popeye`s Chicken (mmmmm, tasty treat).

From Albrook Mall we headed west to Playa Bonita and spent some time birding the Panama Canal estuary where we tallied Yellow-crowned Nigh-Heron, White Ibis, Whimbrel, Wood Stork, Black-bellied Plover, and Willet. We then went to Amador Causeway and visited Punta Culebra, the marine interpretive centre hosted by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. In this area we tallied such species as Laughing Gull, Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Northern Waterthrush, Garden Emerald, Yellow-bellied Elania, and Plain Wren. We departed the Amador Causeway at 5:05pm and went for dinner at 6:45 at a nice restaurant / bar beside the hotel. Both of us are very tired, and tomorrow's rise at 4:45am means getting to bed early.

Total species seen today: 98
Total cumulative species seen for trip: 98
Total lifers today: 1
Total cumulative lifers for trip: 1

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

14 February 2012

Rise n' Shine. Oops - it's 4:45am, no sun for another 2.5 hours. Ah well, onto the airport shuttle bus at 5:15am and at the Vancouver airport by 5:30am where we joined the very long line to check-in with Air Transat. Forty-five minutes later we had our tickets and proceeded through security - no problems. Then for breakfast at the White, no. Major renovations at Gate D, so the only option was A&W or Tim Horton's - we went to the former and had bacon and eggs on toast. At 7:05am we decided to head over to our gate, and upon turning the corner, quickly realized the plane was almost completely loaded. We were the last ones to board.

Thinking we were going to depart on time, we quickly learned differently. An airplane inspection, which was supposed to occur in Panama, was rescheduled to occur now. That put our departure behind by 20 minutes. Then, during the inspection, they discovered frost on the wing and called for the de-icer. I was baffled. Since when does frost form on the wing of a plane in Vancouver when it's +7C? Anyway, we were finally left the gate at 8:03am, 28 minutes behind schedule.

The flight was like any other - long and uninteresting. It took nearly an hour to get a drink, and nearly 3 hours to get some food. There were two movies, both of which weren't that bad: Moneyball and Crazy, Stupid, Love. The remainder of the journey was spent playing Sudoku and studying the bird guide.

We approached Panama at just before 6:00pm EST, flying first over Colon and Gatun Locks, and then following the canal north to Panama City and then lining up for a westbound landing. Just prior to touching down I spotted Cattle Egret and Black Vulture, and as we taxied along the runway I spotted 3 Smooth-billed Ani's and a flock of Great-tailed Grackles. Other than at Vancouver airport a Red-tailed Hawk on a guy-wire and a Coyote running parallel to one of the aprons, that was it for wildlife for the day.

As we near the front of the plane, we cleared customs relatively quickly, claimed our bags, and got our rental car. Everything went very smoothly, until I used the GPS to navigate to the hotel. We got hopelessly lost, and what should have been a 30 minute drive, turned out to be 45 minutes. We also paid nearly $5 in toll fees because we kept ending up one the wrong road. Once at the hotel we checked in, unpacked, and went for some groceries. There have been some major changes to the roads in the canal area, and several of the areas I knew quite well have changed. We returned to the hotel by 9:15pm, and I wrapped up the day my writing this posting.

Tomorrow we are going to Old Gamboa Road and Summit Gardens. Depending on how that goes, we may even pay a quick visit to Gamboa Park and Ammo Dump Ponds. Until tomorrow, happy birding wherever you may be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Adventure Begins

The past few days have been very busy with wrapping up various tasks at work and planning the final details of the trip. Yesterday Joanna and I participated in a couple’s only birdathon, lasting from 6 am to noon, in the Victoria area. It was a great day, and really got me psyched up for today’s departure for Panama. Joanna and I won the friendly competition with 82 species!

Last night I completed my packing, printed all the trip confirmation details, and hit the hay early – six hours of birding can really take it out of a guy! This morning it was off to work, first dropping Amelia off at daycare, then rendezvousing with Joanna at my parent’s place so that we could coordinate transport and vehicles. Work was hectic, but productive, and before I knew it was 3:30pm and I was being paged – my Dad had arrived at the office. Joanna drove us to the ferry and dropped us off. We had an hour to kill before the ferry departed, but that hour felt like 2 as some guy decided he would play his banjo in the waiting area and sing. It’s one thing to be just generally rude, but another thing entirely when both the banjo and singing are off key. I’m always surprised to see people staring and shaking their heads in dismay, but no one ever has the nerve to say anything – myself included.

Once onboard, Dad and I bought our bus tickets for the ride to the hotel in Vancouver. We then went to the Pacific Buffet – oh, wait – we’re on the crappy retrofit BC Ferry, there is no buffet. Ah well, I really had my heart set on the deep fried chicken parts with sugar sauce available from the cafeteria anyway.

By the time the ferry ride was half over, it was dark. We saw a few birds along the way: American Coot, Mallard, Great Blue Heron, Pelagic Cormorant, Belted Kingfisher, Pigeon Guillemot, to name a few.

Tomorrow our flight departs at 7:35am PST. We land in Panama at 5:55pm EST. Unlike previous trips we don’t have a firm plan, despite my best efforts to make one. We will be visiting Cerro Campana National Park and the Nusagandi and Bayano regions, both of which are new destinations for us. We will also be visiting some familiar locations, including Old Gamboa Road, El Valle, Metropolitan Park, and Pipeline Road. We may also visit Cerro Azul if I can arrange permission to enter the private residence. Another area we had hoped to visit was Tocumen Marsh, but I learned just yesterday that it is no longer accessible to birders. Apparently the site had some of the best wetland birding in the region – I guess I’ll never get to find out.

It is now time to get on the bus. The ferry ride is just about over. So, until tomorrow, happy birding wherever you may be.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Panama, Again!

Believe it or not, I'm heading to Panama, again! I thought that after my 2010 trip that that would be it - for a long while. But, after doing my usual weekly search for great flight deals, I came across an out-of-this-world deal from Air Transat. Previously, my flights to Panama have been in the range of $1200-$1400 CDN round-trip, with a connection either in Los Angeles, Miami, or Houston. This flight deal however was better; much better. For a round-trip, taxes included, non-stop from Vancouver to Panama City, the flight is just $499 CDN. How could I pass on this opportunity?

I mentioned the deal to Joanna, but she didn't share the same enthusiasm for going as I did - something about saving her vacation time to visit family in the U.K. Yikes! Comments like that in the birder's world are like blasphemy, but who am I to judge. Looks as though I'll be birding on my own. Or not.

Shortly after finding the deal and deciding to go, I called my parents to let them know. Low-and-behold, Dad expressed interest in going again, much to my surprise. So, with little less than a 10 minute discussion about the logistics, we were ready to book our flights. Here's how it'll pan out.

1) Catch ferry from Victoria to Vancouver on February 13 and fly from Vancouver at 7:30am on the 14th direct to Panama City, arriving at 5:50pm.

2) Bird like mad - Tocumen Marsh (hopefully), Cerro Azul (hopefully), Cerro Campana, El Valle, Summit Gardens, Metropolitan Park, and possibly Pipeline Road and Gatun Lake.

3) Fly direct from Panama City at 7:30pm on February 21 and land in Vancouver at 12:20am on the 21st. Catch the ferry back to Victoria first thing in the morning on the 22nd and go to work.

Assuming all goes well, the trip should be a hoot (no pun intended) - and it will give me a chance to try out the new Panama bird field guide (shown below).