Wednesday, September 24, 2014

15 August 2014

Another morning to sleep in…up at 5:35am, breakfast at 6:00am, and depart at 6:30am. Today we were spending the day in the area of Alto de la Maria, a private housing estate that was absent of, well, housing. It really was quite remarkable…the estate was gated and manned by a full-time security guard, and inside the compound were paved roads, full services (water, electric), and several marked lots…just no houses. There was even a fully-paved walking trail, built entirely of cement, that weaved through the adjacent forests. We spent the entire morning birding this trail.

To get to Alto de la Maria we first passed through the village of El Valle where we started the day with Ruddy Ground-Dove, Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Pigeon, and Flame-rumped Tanager. Once at Alto de la Maria we parked at a small fish-stocked pond and immediately started working the small wooded area adjacent to the pond where we saw Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Keel-billed Toucan, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, House Wren, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. Once on the trail we began with some real crackers (British for awesome, I think?) such as White-ruffed Manakin, Pale-vented Thrush (lifer), Black-crowned Antpitta (lifer), and Chestnut-backed Antbird. Continuing along we then added Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Snowcap (a female; later in the day we say an amazing male; lifer), Silver-throated Bush-Tanager, and Common Bush-Tanager. At an opening in the forest we spotted a Bat Falcon perched atop a snag, four Red-faced Spinetail hidden amongst the thick underbrush, four Spotted Woodcreeper,  and a Violet-crowned Woodnymph.
The trail soon began to climb, which for a change was not annoyingly steep, muddy or riddled with steps (see some of my Ecuador blog posts for these nightmares, uh, challenges). About a third of the way up our guide heard something of interest, and with his call playback unit out, he soon attracted a Brown-billed Scythebill (lifer). This bird was amazing with its long down-curved bill, but it was frustratingly difficult to see well. It continually darted across the trail, seeking out the darkest undergrowth and moving from branch to branch before we could fix our binoculars on it. After about 15 minutes we all eventually had good looks, and it was worth the effort. Further up the hill we added Green Hermit, and at the top (the Continental Divide) we added Swallow-tailed Kite. The guide also successfully lured an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush in to view…a lifer for Simon, but a bird I had seen previously in Boquette. Just prior to turning around to begin the walk back we added Scaly-breasted Wren (lifer; formerly Southern Nightingale-Wren) to the trip-list.
Shortly after beginning our return to the car I added yet another lifer, White-tipped Sicklebill, which also was difficult to see until eventually it perched and we got great views through the guides' scope. This was shortly followed by a nice mixed feeding flock which included Tawny-capped Euphonia, Spotted Barbtail, Golden-hooded Tanager, and Band-tailed Barbthroat. We also had some decent one-offs during the walk back, including a great look at White-throated Spadebill (lifer), Russet Antshrike, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Black-and-Yellow Tanager. We also saw three Dull-mantled Antbird's (lifer) in short succession. Once back at the small pond we had a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit and juice. Our lunch however was interrupted when we were informed of a boa constrictor not far from where we were eating. This was an animal to be seen, and we all took pause from our lunch to view the snake, which I estimated to be between seven and nine feet long and about three to four inches in diameter. The snake, relatively docile, was loosely coiled atop a dirt mound and next to a hole in the ground. Upon closer inspection the snake slowly disappeared down the hole…very cool sighting!
Boa constrictor (photo courtesy Simon)
While we finished up lunch we added Short-tailed Hawk to the day list. We then drove to various locations within the houseless housing development to do short walks in search of new species. Our first walk was at the end of an undeveloped cul-de-sac where the guide successfully called out an Orange-bellied Trogon (lifer); a cooperative White-vented Euphonia (lifer) also made an appearance. A little further along we added Hepatic Tanager (well, Simon and I added it…poor Howard did not), Spot-crowned Antvireo, Plain Xenops, Brown Violetear, Green Honeycreeper, and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet (lifer). At this point the wind had begun to pick up, the low cloud was rolling in, and the rain began. To try our luck elsewhere, we moved to another location in the development and walked another short stretch of road. Here we were able to dodge the rain and add Blue-throated Toucanet (formerly Emerald Toucanet), Tawny-crested Tanager, and Olive-sided Flycatcher (an early North American return).
By now the rain had settled in a bit stronger and the day was essentially over. As we worked our way back to the lodge we stopped at a small trail just off the side of the road. While we huddled under some overhanging branches to stay dry, the guide successfully called in a Tody Motmot (lifer) which took relatively little time for us all to get good views. Back at the lodge we ended the day watching the feeders…all of the usual species were seen, as well as a couple of new ones: Crested Oropendola and Black-chested Jay. That was the end of our guided birding in El Valle; it was fantastic!
2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 78
Total cumulative species for the trip:  269
Total lifers today:  13
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 33

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