Saturday, September 20, 2014

13 August 2014

Our 4th day of birding in Panama, and today we were to embark on a two-and-half day mini-excursion to El Valle. Simon and Howard arranged this trip several months prior to our departure, which includes three nights at the Canopy Lodge, and two full days of guided birding; one day in the Pacific Lowlands, and one day in the mountains. El Valle is located south west of Panama City, about a two hour drive away. The village itself is nestled in the crater of an extent volcano, which is very picturesque as it is surrounded by towering ridges, lush vegetation, and commonly a layer of low cloud hugging the hillsides.

Prior to our departure from Gamboa Resort, Simon and I did some birding around the grounds. We met at 6:00am in the lobby and birded for about two and a half hours. All of the usual suspects were present, such as Clay-colored Thrush, Plain-colored Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, House Wren, Social Flycatcher, and Lesser Kiskadee. Some notable highlights included Snail Kite, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Ringed Kingfisher, and Buff-breasted Wren. At a small boat dock we spotted a female Great Antshrike; a lifer I thought at first, but later discovered I had seen it previously in was however a Panama check. We worked our way back to the resort, adding Buff-throated Saltator, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Broad-billed Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Flame-rumped Tanager, and Collared Aracari to the day list...we tallied 35 species for the morning walk.

Promptly, at 10:00am, our transportation arrived to take us to El Valle. We didn't see many birds along the way, as much of the journey was along a busy highway. We did however see a Short-tailed Hawk. Once at the lodge, and after a brief orientation and settling into our rooms, we clung to an area at the front of the lodge where a few bird feeders were located. There wasn't a great deal of activity, but we did see several Thick-billed Euphonia, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bananaquit, a single Long-billed Starthroat, and a peculiar Gray-necked Wood-Rail that preferred to stand on one of the banana feeders to eat bits of rotting banana. In front of the lodge was a small trail that paralleled a small creek; we spent about an hour walking this trail, which led to the main road. Again, birding was relatively quiet, although I did add Dusky-faced Tanager (a lifer) which unfortunately was missed by Simon and Howard. They refer to it as being "gripped-off", a term used when someone gets a new bird that that the other did not. Not surprisingly, the person who was gripped off can "grip back"; I love British birding terminology.

At about 4:00pm one of the guides hosted a walk at La Mesa (one of the many farms in the area), along a trail referred to as Candelario. In addition to Simon, Howard, and myself, we were also accompanied by three Americans...two very uninterested and dull non-birders, and another who clearly knew everything and couldn't stop over-sharing. Despite this, the guide at least was very focused on birding, and the nearly 2-hour walk we did was very good.

In the farms surrounding the trail we saw Southern Lapwing, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Black-striped Sparrow, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Thick-billed Euphonia, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Scaled Pigeon, Collared Aracari, and Gray-headed Chachalaca. We then entered a small patch of forest, where the trail was suddenly quite muddy and slippery...the temperature however was wonderfully mild and the humidity was far less oppressive than the lowlands we had so far been exposed to. Inside the forest we soon started to add some good birds, beginning with Spotted Antbird and Plain Antvireo. Those were quickly followed by two lifers: Spot-crowned Antvireo and Spotted Woodcreeper. Further along we saw our first and only Rosy-thrush Tanager for the trip..."saw" is a tad of an understatement. We probably spent 15 minutes trying to locate the bird, which hawk-eagle-thrush-tanager-eye Simon spotted well back in the thick brush...this was a lifer for Howard, and a bird he was excited to finally see.

Further along the trail we added Dot-winged Antwren and Rufous-breasted Wren, soon followed by another lifer for me, Rufous Mourner. We then added White-breasted Wood-Wren, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Silver-throated Tanager, Plain Xenops, and Long-billed Antwren. Toward the end of the trail, and where the light was dimming, the Americans had moved well ahead out of lack of interest in the birds. We however continued to add some good birds, including Slaty Antwren, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Sepia-capped Flycatcher (lifer). Our next bird, and a lifer for me, was the tiny Tawny-faced Gnatwren...which flitted endlessly around us in the dark undergrowth staying perched for barely a second or two. It took us at least 10-15 minutes for us all to get good enough views. We ended our our walk by adding Checker-throated Antwren, Stripe-throated Hermit, and Black-chested Jay.

On the way back to the lodge, where we were all looking forward to having dinner, we stopped adjacent to a small farm shop. Here the guide promptly pointed out two roosting Tropical Screech-Owls (lifer), one rufous morph and one gray morph. Apparently the roosting owls were using that exact same spot for for several weeks or months. We arrived back at the lodge a little after 6:00pm, where daylight had now turned to twilight. A delicious dinner was served at 7:00pm, and by 8:30pm I was in bed. Having been to El Valle twice before, I was excited to have added seven new species to my list in just a few hours...the next two days could be very productive...for the life list that is!

The excellent accomodation at Canopy Lodge

2014 Panama Birding SummaryTotal species today: 75
Total cumulative species for the trip: 174
Total lifers today:  7
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 14

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