Our second week in Panama at Altos del Maria started out again with wonderful weather and lots of birds. The yard birds at Alfred’s never ceased to entertain us as the hummingbirds were always on the chase and new birds would occasionally drop by and play “catch us if you can” as they seemed to know when we went for our cameras. You just never knew what might come around a corner in the garden and show itself as we were having our morning coffee. Every morning early, we could hear the Gray-cowled Wood rail singing its distinctive morning song and surprisingly enough one day one poked its head around some greenery, looked at us, and disappeared in a flash. We had a great view of it but didn’t even have time to try and dive for a camera. That’s how birding often goes. Those quick looks at one of those secretive birds are always treasures to remember. One of the yard birds that did stay for a photo was the Chestnut-backed antbird that frequents the garden.
A Panama flycatcher on a branch in one of the garden trees had a very curious look on its face as it watched us and at the same time watched for bugs to snap up for breakfast.
We were trying to get a view of a local Black-chested Jay, but it wasn’t cooperating as it hid in the tree canopy and behind branches making it tough to get clear views. We got a few photos, but it didn’t want to show us its colours from the front. Its bright yellow eye does make it stand out even in the shadows of the tree.
Another of the bright tanagers of the area gave us a photographic challenge as it preened and cleaned its feathers in the shade of one of the local trees. It was tough to get a good exposure on our photo, but the Bay-headed tanager is such an interesting colour we had to try anyway.
On one of our short trips up to the higher elevations of the area (900-1100 metres) a Lessons Motmot watched us from a house gate…..at least until he realized we were interested in him. Then it was off to the jungle to hide out for a while until we left. These birds sit still in the jungle and can be quite hard
to see unless you catch a glimpse of their beautiful colours or their interesting tail that they sometimes swing back and forth like a clock pendulum. Often, we would stop the car and go for a stroll in an area where Alfred knew there were some interesting birds and on one occasion a Purplish-backed Quail dove was out wandering through the ground cover. These doves are ground dwellers unless flushed but this
one was calmly moving along the ground until it realised it had some company and it then made a quick retreat back under the cover of the brush on the forest floor. In this general area there were also Leaf-cutter ant hills that were very old and took up areas of 30 to 40 meters square. We could see trails of these ants as they were all lined up carrying pieces of leaves to their underground nest. They feed these leaves to their fungus gardens and eat the fungus that is produced. Some of these colonies can be up to 10 million ants thus the large space required for a colony. Its quite interesting to read up on some of these other species that you come across in the search for new birds.
On a hike into a denser section of the jungle Anne-Marie and I were surprised as to how few other species of life were visible. There were the ants, both Leaf-cutter and Army varieties, a millipede or two, and the odd butterfly but not many other things moving around where we were. I’m sure the noise we were making cutting our way through some of the fallen brush alerted other animals to our presence, but it was a quite quiet hike in respect to other wildlife. We did come across this beautiful Cithaerias Meander butterfly and you can see how transparent the wings on this butterfly are.
The spots on its wings are probably to help it try and look fierce to scare away predators of at least give the butterfly time to escape. This one didn’t stop for long and was far better adapted to making its way quickly through the jungle than we were. On this same path we came across this Snowcap hummingbird and although the lighting under the forest canopy made it tough for nice photos this little bird sat still several times and even did its stretching exercises as we enjoyed watching it.
The little white crown and white tail feathers make for quite the show when this little hummingbird did its stretches.
After the hike through the dense jungle we came out and continued to another area in a sparsely populated development. We saw some bird activity, so we stopped and scanned the bushes and underbrush. This White-ruffed manakin came into view and gave us good views but was a very active little bird so our photos weren’t great. This was a glossy blue-black coloured male with the distinctive white throat patch. The females are greenish and much better camouflaged.
Another distinctively coloured hummingbird we saw was this Crowned Woodnymph. There seem to be no lack of interesting hummingbirds in this area, but specific ones prefer specific habitats so having Alfred to guide us along we managed to see several of the various species in the area.
Some of the birds we saw didn’t have the bright colours that catch photographers’ eyes but other features of the birds make up for that. This Thick-billed seed finch female was basic brown but the size of the bill to help it crack seeds open was interesting to see.
The Black-faced grosbeak is another bird that has a large beak to help it get the berries and seeds that make up its diet. This was another lifer for us as the list just kept growing.
About this time Anne-Marie and I realized there were indeed things other than birds in the jungle. Unfortunately, these are small things that you can’t even see easily. She had gotten some bites that were causing her a bit of discomfort and I had picked up chiggers along the way. I soon realised that I should have been tucking my pantlegs into my socks and possibly using a bit more bug spray as the itch from the chiggers was to be with me for the rest of the trip. I won’t go into the details of chiggers here but if you are heading to a warm climate and heading into jungle type areas do read up on them and take whatever precautions you can. They cause quite an itch and I probably had about 100 spots on each leg before I realised I even had come across them on my travels. Scratch, scratch !!!
It was time to ignore them for now as off we went back to the lowlands to see what other bird species would show up. In the same lowland area we had initially visited we saw Rufous-browed Peppershrikes foraging in the trees close to the road. From the photo you can see the rufous colour above the eyes
that give this bird its name. Its one of the largest birds in the vireo family. Farther down the road in a tree a Roadside Hawk was keeping an eye on the territory and the Groove-billed and Smooth-billed Ani were not appreciative of its presence in the area. Yellow-headed Caracaras were also a bit bothered by the hawk’s presence.
The smaller birds kept foraging through the trees, and we got to see Yellow-green vireos, Yellow-crowned parrots, Brown-throated parakeets, Scrub greenlet, and Mouse-coloured tyrannulet to name a few.
As we ventured farther into the populated area, we got closer to the shore and saw Ruddy turnstone, Short-billed dowitchers, Sanderling, Red knot, Caspian terns, Ringed kingfisher and several other shorebirds and terns. These Wilsons plovers were lifers for us as well and didn’t seem to mind our presence too much. The Wilsons are the larger plovers with the longer and heavier looking bill than the Semipalmated plover that can be seen in the foreground on the right. Since they were in a populated area they were used to other activity so although they were suspicious they didn’t vacate the area.
Near an area that they farmed shrimp and crabs the Great egrets, Snowy egrets Tricoloured heron and White ibis were out in numbers probing in the mud flats for whatever buried tidbit they could find.
Black-necked stilt were also abundant in other ponds where they probed and wandered around trying to keep cool and find some food.
In a small village we spotted a few Southern lapwing moving along through some tall grass near an overgrown yard. It was a bit tough to get them out in the open enough for a reasonable photo but since this was another lifer for us, we got what we could. They are a large shorebird but are often found in grassy fields as well.
On the way back home to the coolness of the mountains we came across a Short-tailed hawk cruising overhead and then later a Double-toothed kite perched in a tree probably watching for dinner.
The kite gets its name from two small projections on its top mandible that appear to be small teeth. Our trip was starting to wind down but after this trip to the lowlands we were at 208 species for the trip with many of these birds as lifers for us.
The rest of our days in Panama we spent closer to Alfred’s place venturing up into the highlands once again to see what other species we could see before it was time to head home to Canada. In Alfred’s yard another Keel-billed toucan came to visit and these birds are just too beautiful and unique to pass up a photo opportunity…….so here’s another view of this toucan species.
I’m going to list a few of the new birds we saw but didn’t get good photos of as our time wound down. There were Crested oropendola, Black Hawk eagle, White-lined tanager, Blue-chested hummingbird, Bronze-tailed plumeleteer, Scaly-breasted wren and Rusty-margined flycatcher to name a few. It has been an amazing trip with an amazing guide and a time we will never forget. Panama is indeed a birders paradise and with a possible 965 species to be seen in this country we have barely scratched the surface.
Our adventures weren’t quite over even as we headed to the airport to board our airplane for Toronto. As is often the case at this time of year there was a spring snowstorm in Ontario and with that fact and the subsequent delays our flight was eventually cancelled and scheduled for the next day. We did get on the airplane but after a delay we had to get off the airplane and were then bussed to a hotel where we spent the night. As a bonus that gave us an extra morning in Panama City where we went for a stroll in the local area and saw both Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned night herons and even a Pied-water tyrant to cap off our wonderful trip.
As it was low tide on our morning stroll there were many shorebirds out probing the mud. This juvenile White ibis isn’t quite as flashy as its totally white parent, but it gives you an idea as to where these birds like to forage. Whew…..that looks like pretty sticky mucky stuff to me but I guess its what is hiding under all that muck that are the treasures to these birds.
That afternoon we boarded our flight and flew back to a nightmare at Toronto airport. Many flights had been cancelled and then rescheduled due to the poor weather in Toronto the previous few days. The airport was PACKED with people trying to get their luggage, go through customs and eventually get to the cold and snowy streets of the city. After about 2 hours we arrived back at the hotel where we had left our car, but the hotel was fully booked up for the night. We had the room booked the previous night but had to cancel it due to the flight delay so with “no room at the inn” we loaded the car and started our 2 1/2 hour drive home at 1:00 am. Needless to say it was nice to safely arrive home even if the house took a while to warm up. It was quite a difference from the 25 to 30C weather we had left behind us in Panama.
The weather improved for the next few days and we went for a drive and to see what birds were still in our area. It’s always nice to find one of our Snowy owls still enjoying the cooler weather and sitting nice and still for us to enjoy. These birds would soon be heading north to their tundra summer nesting areas but were still here to welcome us home.
We had another road trip ahead of us in May as we planned to visit our son in Colorado but as they say…..that’s another story.
We hope you enjoyed our Panama trip and photos as much as we did. I’m sure we’ll be heading back there another year as there are still many birds to be seen and hopefully, we can get the blog out in better time. I must say that sitting here going through these photos makes me feel a bit warmer even though its -10 C outside as I type. Enjoy your day wherever you are and stay tuned for more activity in the birding lives of Bob and Anne-Marie.