Monday, February 29, 2016

end of the Pipe(line)

With a last afternoon in the central canal zone, Jose discussed options ... we went back to Pipeline Road.  Why not?  Every time we went we saw different birds, this time was no different.

A few Black-chested Jays perched up though my pics weren't quite what I wanted.  A Chestnut-mandibled Toucan appeared quickly too.  The toucans made up a prominent part of the afternoon soundscape; I hadn't learned their calls though.  I'm not sure if this is a sister species or a subspecies with the Black-mandibled found in Costa Rica.

Trogons don't come down to eye level very often and I had to walk back up the trail to get anything other than looking-straight-up view at this female White-tailed.  I don't know that I saw a male; I certainly didn't get a decent image of one.

Jose trolled some with tapes for Great Jacamar, but we struck out on it.  Our first Black-breasted Puffbird gobbled down some enormous insect directly over the trail.

A Great Tinamou cut behind us across the trail before freezing its pose in the darkness.
 Given this is manual focused at about 1/60th of a second I'm surprised this pic is as sharp as it is.

Another Streak-chested Antpitta was singing nearby; having experienced one about as thoroughly as a person could hope for earlier in the day we walked on after listening a bit.  My lifer Little Tinamou wasn't much easier to track down.
It moved through the thickest and darkest brush it could find and was a very difficult target for a photo.  A Thrush-like Schiffornis teased us as the sun broke through the overcast in the last afternoon before dropping down below the canopy; its thin whistle that gave way to a quiet chatter note or two at the end of the song would have to be satisfaction enough as we finally departed one of the best places to bird I've encountered.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

another antswarm!

After leaving the Antpitta we headed back to the bus, but not before a little burst of activity suddenly spilled onto the edge of the trail.  A Plain-brown Woodcreeper popped into view, a species not usually seen away from antswarms.  It was completely backlit by a random sunray and I didn't try to photograph it.  A Northern Barred Woodcreeper sidled up on the same tree though.

The books say Gray-headed Tanager is pretty dependent upon antswarms too, but I've seen this bird away from ants more than I've had them with them.

Spotted Antbirds dominated this little group.  They would perch low and then flash into the gloom before frequently returning flycatcher-style back to the same perch.  This is a male and a female.

The star of this little flock was a Black-faced Antthrush.  I saw my first one in Belize, walking across a fairly open forest floor.  I had no idea how uncommon that is, every one since was moving more rapidly in much denser thickets.  This one foraged like a sanderling, jogging about and abruptly changing direction when it spotted a prey time.

It moved quickly enough, favoring the darkest shadows, that it took some time for everyone to get on it, but eventually it made enough circuits that everyone was able to get a view.

Friday, February 26, 2016

an Antpitta at last

We were pretty satisfied as we left the Rain Forest Discovery center and walked back to the van at the entrance, not so coincidentally at the trailhead for Pipeline Rd.  Another guide exchanged greetings with Jose, and passed on word that a Streak-chested Antpitta was being seen a quarter mile down the road.  Well.  No one wanted lunch that bad.  We wasted no time and fairly quickly started hearing the bird sing before noticing a couple other birders just off and up the trail.  We went to join them, with hearts pounding while trying to move with maximum stealth and a minimum of sudden movements.  Despite a relatively open section of wood, it took a minute to pick this bird out of the leaf litter.  And what a bird.

 While the book shows the big head and eye, and unique essentially tail-less shape, it didn't do justice to the ochre eyering and lorepip set off by the slaty cap, or to the cleanliness of the breast streaking.

We watched it whistle its slow ethereal minor key song as it worked about in the leaves.

This species habitually puffs its breast feathers in and out.
 I'm not sure if that's a cooling mechanism or if it's just part of its display.  I tried to use a variety of settings as the bird slowly moved back and forth.

The bird remained in view for just over 20 minutes before it abruptly flew, startled by a sudden breath of wind.
All I can say is that it was incredible.  While all of us had been tantalized by their song previously, only a minority had laid eyes upon an antpitta before.  For me, it was my first.  And you never forget your first. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Of coquettes and kiskadees

Or maybe coquette in the singular would be more accurate.

After descending the 180 or so stairs of the canopy tower we settled in at the hummingbird feeders to rest in the shade for a bit.  Most of us visited this spot on the day before the official start of the tour and I was glad that we did since the lighting was actually better on the afternoon stop.  The White-necked Jacobins predominated again; I found one corner of the pavilion with the light at my back.
 Here's likely a first winter male.
While there were a few Violet-bellied Hummingbirds about, I didn't see any more Blue-chested's.  Of course part of the reason for that was that we spent a lot of the time looking away from the feeders up into the little snags where one of the Discovery Center workers spotted the Coquette.  I've seen Black-crested Coquette in Costa Rica well and a female White-crested poorly, but the Rufous-crested would be a new bird and probably was my 3rd most wanted bird for Panama (behind the quite unlikely Ground-cuckoo and quite hopeful Streak-chested Antpitta).  It was hard to get great looks as we were basically looking straight up and craning under or around the edge of the balcony, but the bird was there at least.

With hummingbird success Jose led us along some of the Discovery Center trails.  Not surprisingly we saw more Slaty Antshrikes,
 and some Howler Monkeys.

We ended up at a decent sized pond that was somehow connected to the canal in some fashion.  Warren spotted a Striated Heron much closer than our view had been the day before.  This cousin of our Green Heron was remarkably well camoflauged.

This flycatcher caused considerable confusion.
 Jose heard a Rusty-margined flycatcher but we were not at all clear on whether this bird was Social or Rusty-margined.
I think the fairly black ear coverts indicate it is Rusty-margined, and this bird is just a lot less rusty-margined than the birds I'd seen in Costa Rica, but will have to look more closely at my Social Flycatcher pics as they cycle through.

It'd be nice to see the bill on this next one, it certainly has rusty edges of the wings, though most of the kiskadee class birds do.

This bird has a much longer bill than the above couple.
 It's a Lesser Kiskadee, a lifer for the entire group.

We had much closer views at some Greater Anis that flew past.

Eventually we worked our way out towards the entrance finding a few additional Song Wrens and Checker-throated Antwrens, along with this Xenops that was more cooperative.

Anyone with even a passing interest in butterflies enjoys a Hairstreak.  I haven't the faintest clue what species this is.

And finally a Blue-capped Manakin, my first experience with a male.
This bird rested quietly, very deeply dug into a dark thicket; the above shot is taken about 1/80th of a second, there was a lot less light in real life. 
With one of my most wanted birds in the bank (on top of the Blue Cotinga an hour or so before which also was certainly top 10 on the hopeful list for the trip), you'd think we'd have experienced the highlight of the day... stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Discovery Center Canopy Tower

Every birder knows all about warblerneck.  And trust me, in the tropics it's more than warblerneck; it's flycatcherneck, trogonneck, cotinganeck, notsurewhathatisneck, OmyGoditsa...ohnevermindneck, you get the picture.  At dawn on the 2nd day of the tour we cut that right out of the equation by mounting the ~180 steps to the top of the Rainforest Discovery Center Canopy Tower.

Why were we there at dawn?  Because Blue Cotingas don't really like direct sun any more than we do.
 They do tend to stick in the very tops of the trees though, and are utterly silent, so the best way to see  one is on an exposed snag at daybreak.  If you look carefully, there's a male Blue Dacnis (a type of small tanager type bird to the right of the cotinga).

Here's the female Blue Dacnis.

Pigeons and parrots were flying about, moving from roosts to their feeding areas.  We saw more Pale-bellied as well as a few Scaled Pigeons though they didn't come very close.  These are Red-lored Parrots, the dominant Amazon in Panama

We saw a couple groups of Mealy Parrots distantly, in addition to a few Blue-hooded Parrots, a new species for most if not all of us.  

I'd expected the Blue-hooded's to be a lot more common than they turned out to be, probably based on eBird bar graphs from people who could recognize the flight calls.

White-shouldered Tanagers are very common birds of the upper level of forest in Panama, we saw several small groups working the treetops.
 We worked hard trying to spot some of the treetop passerines.  Green Shrike-vireos called frequently but we couldn't track one down.  Brown-capped Tyrannulet is another bird you hear frequently in central Panama, this was one of only two we saw the entire trip.
A Moustached Antwren (picture a winter wren plumaged like a female Black-and-white Warbler foraging like a gnatcatcher on speed) flitted past, but a Slate-colored Grosbeak remained unseen in the distance.

We enjoyed look-down views of a Violaceous Trogon.

As the Sun started to really get hot, raptors started appearing.  This is a Double-toothed Kite.
 We had a Gray-headed Kite do its best hawk-eagle impression distantly and then had a Short-tailed Hawk fly by.

You can't help but appreciate these small tropical Buteos given they're so hard to find in the U.S.  

All told, I think we spent about 2 hours atop the tower before giving way to the direct Sun and allure of more birds in the cooler understory...

Monday, February 22, 2016

And you shall name him ... Mothballs

Jose took us to Plantation Rd, another abandoned road (but popular mountain biking trail), into a different area of Soberania National Park on the afternoon of the first official day.  Enormous trees kept us sheltered from the direct sun.  As would be expected for mid-afternoon it was fairly slow, but that didn't deter us.

A couple of Spotted Antbirds caused some initial discord by hopping in and out of view repeatedly with Jose having lost his laser pointer with his previous group (he got another one that night).  Eventually everyone saw at least one of them, though we'd get ridiculous looks at a pair a day or so later.

Bird activity was sporadic, a couple Dot-winged Antwrens here, a White-breasted Wood-Wren there.  Jose tried to call in a Golden-crowned Spadebill after it made a very brief appearance, but mostly it flew back and forth across the trail without giving anything more than a fleeting glimpse.  A pair of Broad-billed Motmots were more cooperative, though were in pretty dark shadow.

A pair of Black-throated Trogons played hide-and-seek with us, as did a pair of Gray-headed Tanagers in very heavy shadow.
 I think the above photo is about 1/60th of a second with an ISO in the 10,000 range.  I was surprised by the paler throat and crown of the Panamanian version of the bird.  My memory of this bird in Costa Rica was of a pretty uniformly (and warmer) gray head.

The ISO was even higher (and then the image considerably lightened in photoshop) for this Scaly-throated Leaftosser that Rhoda somehow pulled out of nearly full darkness.

Lisa spotted the first sloth of the trip, and the life sloth for at least some of us, definitely for me.
 Three-toed Sloths subsists almost entirely upon leaves, a diet that doesn't have a ton of nutrition.  According to Wikipedia there's a group of moths that live much of their lives sheltering in the sloth's fur and laying eggs in its droppings when the sloth descends from the treetops to defecate.  Lichen and fungus form on a substrate of dead moths accumulated in the sloth's fur, and provide some extra level of nutrition and fat that it can't get from leaves.  I guess it must be fairly itchy to have your fur chockfull of food, moths and fungus because this guy spent much of the time we observed him scratching.  First his side, then his rear, then, well, not his rear.  Let's just say there's times to be thankful for the 40x power on a spotting scope and there's times when, well, maybe that power could be put to better use elsewhere.  It did give him a fun name though.

As evening fell we left Mothballs to his endeavors and headed back out to the van.  But not before coming across one last fun bird.
It's a White-whiskered Puffbird, the only one most of us would see.  It was dark enough to pretty much just be a silhouette, but between a super slow shutter speed, a cranked (and admittedly kinda grainy) ISO and a little extra boost from a couple cell phone flash lights, more color comes out than I deserved given the conditions.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pipeline proper

We walked the first stretch of Pipeline Rd I think on a near daily basis the first few days of the trip.  It was different every time, I was impressed by how much diversity was there.

This Brown-hooded Parrot was the only one of the trip and was visible near the entrance

This Collared Aracari was the best look at one I had

We didn't have as much success on this walk in terms of finding a mixed flock, birds were mostly in ones and twos such as this pair of Dot-winged Antwrens

It was nice to see Long-billed Hermit in natural surroundings after seeing them at the feeders

Finally another motmot, this one a Rufous.  They have to be 14 inches long

This one was a lot more exposed than most of the Rufous that we saw; they tended to staying much more obscured by mid-story leaves than their smaller Broad-billed cousins.