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

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