Monday, September 22, 2014

14 August 2014

A not-so early rise today at 5:30am, followed by breakfast at 6:00am, and departure from the Canopy Lodge at 6:30am. Today we were heading to the Pacific Lowlands, and once again were joined by the Americans. The drive out of El Valle was striking, with steeply graded roads and hairpin turns through moist sub-tropical forest and up to windswept grassland and water-tolerant agave's. As we slowly descended the crater rim the landscape was increasingly dotted with farms and rural residences. Power lines were commonly occupied by Tropical Kingbirds, and the occasional White-tipped Dove darted across the road. We stopped briefly at one residence to check some birds along the roadside. Here we started the day off with Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Striped Cuckoo, Streaked Saltator, and Lance-tailed Manakin. Eventually we crossed the Inter-American Highway, where the topography was noticeably flat. We spent much of the day in this landscape, where the temperature and humidity were exhausting.

Most of our birding was spent along roads, stopping frequently and walking short sections. Our first stop, which was triggered by an Aplomado Falcon sighting (first lifer for the day), yielded Variable Seedeater, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Blue-Black Grassquit, Yellow-crowned Parrot, and Crested Bobwhite (lifer). A bit further along we added Groove-billed Ani (lifer), Bared Antshrike, Scrub Greenlet, Eastern Meadowlark, and Thick-billed Seed-Finch. The day continued with much of the same…drive a bit, stop a bit, drive a bit, stop a bit. Each stop produced a few new birds, such as Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Cliff Swallow, and several Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures (lifer). The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture may have been one of my most looked-over species during my first four visits to Panama, as on previous trips the sky has been clouded with Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures, the former which looks very similar to Lesser Yellow-headed. On this trip however, as we were visiting in the North American breeding season, there were relatively few Turkey Vultures present, which made spotting the yellow-heads rather easy. When seen well, two key fields marks give this bird away: 1) a light patch on the upper surface of the primaries, and 2) the comparatively bright yellow-orange head compared to a Turkey Vultures pinkish-gray head.

As the morning graduated into early afternoon bird activity slowly decreased, although the day-list continued to grow at a reasonably healthy pace. New additions included Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-green Vireo, and Savannah Hawk. Our next good birding stop was at a flooded rice field, which contained several ‘waders’ (i.e., shorebirds, herons, egrets). Here the day-list grew with a sudden fervor, with new additions including Wattled Jacana, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Anhinga, Southern Lapwing, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Pectoral Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Little Blue Heron, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, and Solitary Sandpiper. Amidst all the waders were also a few Crested Caracara, one of which found a tasty vehicle-flattened morsel just in front of our van.

By now, two of the Americans (a couple) had reached the pinnacle of boredom, and at times barely found the enthusiasm to exit the vehicle. Regardless, our guide continued his pursuit of birds and as we drew nearer to lunch, several more birds were added to the list, including Pearl Kite, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Plumbeous Kite, Gray Hawk, and White-winged Becard. Shortly after noon we arrived at the Pacific Ocean where we would enjoy a picnic lunch. At the sandy beach (in the shade though, as it was sweltering) we added Whimbrel, Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Sanderling. Flying just offshore were several Brown Pelican, Blue-footed Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, four Peruvian Boobies, two Sandwich Terns, and two Royal Terns. Following lunch we walked a short dirt road behind a few beach houses. Here the guide successfully used call playback to lure out a Pale-breasted Spinetail (lifer). A bit further along the road we added Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Howard (right) and I enjoying a birding-lunch on the Pacific coast

It was now time to begin the long, slow journey back. We did stop at a few additional locations in an attempt to find some “target” birds, but we largely came up empty-handed. Some decent additions for the day however included Red-legged Honeycreeper, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Our final stop of the day, which was on the steep, windswept, grassy slopes of the volcanic rim surrounding El Valle, we added Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch. The guide used call playback, and where hope seemed like little less than a glimmer, a single bird suddenly responded. At first we got so-so looks through the scope as the bird was well-hidden in the grass, but shortly after first appearing the bird moved into the open where we all got great views. Finally, we all piled into the van one last time and made the final jaunt back to the lodge.

It had been a long, exhausting day, but there was still light. Simon, Howard and I watched the feeders for a while, continuing to push the tally of birds for the day upward. We added Crimson-backed Tanager, Rufous-capped Warbler, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Buff-throated Saltator, and Simon’s favourite bird, Bananaquit. The biggest rub of the day for me however was that I had to use the washroom…so I left Simon and Howard at the feeders for about five minutes. Upon my return, both Simon and Howard were browsing their field guide, confirming their identification of a Barred Forest-Falcon that apparently (seemed very fishy and convenient to me) landed in one of the shrubs next to the feeders. Most peculiar, was that one of our American friends had his camera set-up at the same location and somehow didn’t even see the bird, let alone get a picture…Simon. Howard. Were you pulling my leg?

With the last bit of light finally gone we cleaned up for dinner, compiled our day lists, and had dinner at 7:00pm. It was a fantastic day with 104 species seen, including six lifers for me. As for tomorrow’s day of birding, I was really looking forward to spending the day in the cooler, less humid mountains. We also got word that our American friends had expressed an interest in doing something other than birding all day (i.e., they complained about birding all day), and that they were going to go with a different guide. For us, it was icing on the cake.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 104
Total cumulative species for the trip:  219
Total lifers today:  6
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 20

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