Monday, February 27, 2017

teak farm birding, part I

Apparently farming teak trees is a fairly big industry in eastern Panama.  The lumber companies lease pasture land from the local farmers and plant rows of teak which are ready for harvest after about 20 years.  This one provided access to a variety of patchy edge habitats around the teak and at other times in wilder overgrown sections.

Black-tailed Trogon was on my want list last year; I was surprised we didn't see one, though in Eastern Panama they were quite common.
These birds are quite similar to the more widespread Slaty-tailed Trogon.  Black-tailed has a heavier (yellow instead of reddish) bill, a red eyering, and a narrow band of white separating the green breast from the red belly.

Lathe spotted another of the Eastern Panama specialties, Barred Puffbird.
 Domi said they're known to lump small birds in with large insects and eat one just as happily as another.

Another Chestnut-headed Oropendola.  They were common in the camp, but tended to be atop trees.

A look at a pair of Cinnamon Woodpeckers.

While looking at a surprising variety of small flycatchers clustered in one small area (more next post) Domi called out Great Green Macaws screeching.  The ground was open enough that we were able to see a half dozen fly steadily past.

We headed back to camp and our driver stopped for a Great Potoo.  The bird was hawk-sized.

I assume that these bizarre birds also eat bats like their smaller cousins.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

a night walk

Early on in the trip we did a post dinner walk down the entrance road to Canopy Camp.  Domi called in a Tropical Screech-owl fairly quickly.  This looks to be a gray morph, many of us had previously seen the much less common rufous morph in Costa Rica.
It was more similar to our Eastern than I expected.  We heard Black-and-white and Crested Owls though I'm not sure we ever completely settled whether it was Black-and-white or Mottled that would give single hoots that we heard most nights in camp.  The Black-and-white started coming it to his speaker but pretty quickly lost interest.

Looking for eyeshine revealed a couple of Kinkajous, the first of 3 lifer mammals.

I'd never even heard of the next two.  First is a Central American Wooly-opposum.

And finally a pair of Night Monkeys that were considerably higher up in a cecropia than the other creatures.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

El Real

Spot-breasted Woodpecker is another bird that's probably reasonably findable in South America, but for Central America can only be found in Panama's Darien, and not in a ton of spots either.  I was happy to hear that Domi had a spot for this bird, traditionally found around El Real.  We didn't really have to wait very long either, the bird teed up pretty quickly in an isolated tree allowing distant but clear views.  We moved down the road to see what else could be found and one ended up landing right above my head.

This has to be one of the prettier woodpeckers I've seen, combining an (inverse) acorn woodpecker face with the gold of a flicker (only with the saturation of the gold boosted way past what any of our birds would show).

Domi picked up a Striped Cuckoo by ear.  It was actually one of the songs I'd learned prior to going down, but it didn't stand out until he pointed it out.

We soon moved a few miles down the road, picking up my lifer Zone-tailed Hawk in the process.  I checked my settings out on one of the abundant Rusty-margined Flycatchers...

... and was rewarded for having them zeroed in when another target, Black Oropendola flew by.
For me oropendolas were more difficult to identify on this trip than perhaps they should have been.  Their names aren't awesome since both Crested and Chestnut-headed have wispy crests and both birds can look quite brown overall.  Black Oropendola is the only local one that has the harlequin face shared with the Montezuma Oropendolas that are fairly widespread in the rest of Central America, so it was nice to have at least one that was easy to ID.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

courting cranes

I was hoping to spend some time at Tiscornia this morning, but steady light rain made driving cornfields more appealing (we ain't in Panama anymore!).  There were scattered groups of Canadas in a lot of places, but 2 roadside cranes drew the eye.  Initially they were just standing there, but soon they started dancing about.

I'm going to assume it's the male initiating the dance.  He stretched and strode over with his neck stretched up, bill pointed down, and wings held loosely behind his back.
It then proceeded to stretch at attention and flash its wings back and forth a few times.

You can see how these big birds don't get all their flight feathers molted in one season.  The outer two primaries are a couple years old, the next 3 fresh this spring, and the remaining 5 about a year old I suspect.

The (potential?) mate then reciprocated the wing flashing.
She (?) has molted fewer of the outer primaries and still has a few rust-stained wing coverts.

They followed that up by jumping some and dashing about flicking water with their bills.  I was enough taken aback by the scene that I couldn't decide which to track with the camera and whether to switch to video and just watched instead.

Towards the end I took a couple of the dash-about phase, though missed the focus.
Unfortunately there was no encore; they ran ostrich-like up to drier ground and resumed preening.

A flooded field on Warren Woods road held a large disparate flock of White-fronts.  They were hard to count in the stubble.
 Eventually most flushed, this next shot is the biggest group.  There were some other sub-flocks out of the frame though.

Finally a pre-dawn Glaucous Gull shot from Tiscornia last week.
I should probably make more of an effort to play around with the early light.

Monday, February 20, 2017

of Graytails and Geckos

It wasn't just manakins that Domi led us to as we circled the grounds and trails at Canopy Camp.  We found a mix of birds both common and uncommon, familiar and unfamiliar.

Anyone who has birded the tropics has seen Blue-gray Tanagers.  At one point these had been introduced to southern Florida and Peterson includes one in his main tanager plate.  I'm a little surprised they haven't been re-established as widespread as they are farther south.

Double-banded Graytail is far less cosmopolitan, limited to tall second-growth forest of the Panama-Colombian border.
We saw a pair of these quite excitable birds.  They had a very intense buzzing trill somewhat similar to a chipping sparrow, but with far more inflection and probably quadruple the rate of notes.  They moved about equally frenetically, holding their perch for a few seconds and then bugging out not just to the next branch, but to the next tree as often as not.  Domi actually showed us a nest as well, though it didn't seem to be active.  Somehow I didn't take a picture of the quite large sticky structure.

The first of many Roadside Hawks teed up appropriately alongside the road.

Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, like the graytail, is first encountered in Eastern Panama.  Unlike the graytail, its range includes most of South America.
The photo gives a somewhat fore-shortened look and this pic gives more the gestault of Yellow Tyrannulet.  In life though, its posture was much more like a typical flycatcher.

Birds weren't the only thing we saw, and while butterflies are less abundant in the dry season we were impressed by what we did see.  This is probably some kind of Heliconius.

and finally what is a Golden-headed Gecko if I remember the name right.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I don't think there's any sound that I more associate with the tropics than the snaps of lekking manakins.  Orange-collared Manakins seem to be fairly common in Panama and the trails around Canopy Camp were no exception.

The lek covered about a 50 foot length of trail as it elevated out of camp.  The birds were mostly on the darker side of the trail but a few would display on the brighter side as well.  Their presence was heralded by a bright 2 noted Ee-berr, Ee-berr.

  They would thrust out their little beards as they changed perches.

The subject of their displays?  The plain gray-green females that would sometimes put in an appearance.

The males would then go berzerk, snapping their wings together above their backs to produce the electric "Ssnap! Snap! Snap!" sound so unique to the neotropics as they rocketed back and forth from perch to perch.

Golden-headed Manakins were also present in smaller numbers.  These cousins of the more widely-distributed Red-capped were lifers for all of our group and don't actually make a wingsnap.  They also tended to stay a lot higher in the trees, usually about 15 or 20 feet up.  A couple of us found a few much lower as they came down to bathe in the stream as dusk fell on one of the evenings.  First is an adult male.

Next is an odd little bird which looks to be an immature male molting into more adult like plumage.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Snowy-bellied vs Rufous-tailed hummer ID

Looking at the pics in the Costa Rica and Panama books, a person wouldn't expect Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird to be difficult to tell apart.  That assumes of course that a person sees the gleaming white belly of the Snowy which is prominently displayed in the plates.  The problem of course is that hummingbirds are happy to turn their back to you and don't show much of their belly while nectaring at flowers.  The first time a guide called out Snowy-bellied in Costa Rica I was really confused since it looked like a Rufous-tailed to me.  Even after more experience with the bird, I still initially mis-called these Snowy-bellied's at our lunch stop on our first full day in Torti.

What would you call this bird?

Or either of these next 2?

 All have extensive brownish on their back and tails, but all are Snowy-bellied.  There's actually more dorsal brown on Snowy-bellied than this next Rufous-tailed.

The Rufous-tailed has much more intense rufous than the browner Snowy-bellied.  This next Rufous-tailed shows some extra terminal dark with the tail spread that the Snowy-bellied's don't have.
That would be hard to see in real life without the bird frozen by the camera's shutter though.

So how to separate them?  The bill is helpful.  If you look carefully, the Snowy-bellied's looks a little shorter and straighter.  It's also blacker.  Rufous-tailed at most angles shows a quite pink bill; Snowy-bellied has limited pink to the lower mandible.  First Rufous-tailed...
 ... then Snowy-bellied.

As mentioned earlier, Snowy-bellied has some pink to the underside of the bill, but any view of the underside of the bill reveals the brilliant white belly.

One last look at Snowy-bellied in reasonable light.

The first take-home is to be aware that these two birds at many angles look quite similar. The 2nd is to study Rufous-tailed closely; it's way too easy to not look carefully at this common species in the excitement of looking for new birds in the tropics.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Panama II !!!

Well the long blogging hiatus is over.  Our group returned from Eastern Panama yesterday.  It was a great trip.  The combination of some really good birds and the best guide I've ever met (Domi Alveo) created the best experience that many of our group had ever had in the neotropics.

I'm early in the process of organizing photos and figuring out the narrative for the blog (I know I know, when has it ever had a narrative in the past?).  But there will be birds.  Lots of birds.  Camoflaged birds like a Common Potoo that materialized at our very first stop.

Striking birds like Banaquits.

Hummingbirds like this adult Black-throated Mango.

 A smattering of butterflies like this (presumed) cracker?

And viewings of the biggest baddest bird in the American Neotropics?  Yes.  Yes there will be.