Thursday, March 30, 2017

Forest Eagle Slam

So you want to see a Harpy Eagle do you?  Well, it's not so hard.  Get on any highway, take it south.  All the way south.  When you can't go any farther south, get on a different highway, keep going south.  Eventually you'll be on the Pan-American highway; take it until it ends and you can drive no farther south in "North" America.  Then get in a motorized dugout canoe, take it up the river until it's basically too shallow to go much farther and get in a truck that was ferried in to the village at some point in the past.  Take it down the two track leading to Darien National Park and go until it ends.  Then start walking.  Two miles through the hot humid jungle to reach the Rancho Frio camp.  Did I mention that the adult will likely be gone from the nest by 930 and only 4 people at a time can visit the nest site?  No pressure.  The group the day before us had gotten there too late and only saw some tufts of the scruffy chick.

We got up at 4am, and were on the road by 5am.  We were at the end of the road by 6am and dawn came as we motored down the river.  Cocoi Herons were pretty common along the river.

The boatman mentioned he'd seen a big raptor the day before and Domi had him slow down and then stop when this appeared 600 yards away atop a massive Ceiba tree.

It's a huge gray and black eagle with a single crown feather, a Crested Eagle, even rarer than our target Harpy.

Since only 4 people at a time would fit into the blind Domi suggested that half walk ahead and so 4 of us double-timed it an hour down the trail.  Did I mention that the rangers only speak Spanish?  It took a few minutes to explain when we reached the Rancho Frio camp that we didn't want to wait for the rest of the group, but eventually we figured it out and were escorted the last quarter mile to the blind.

The female was waiting.

The nest was probably about 125 yards distant, above is one of Rhoda's digi-scoped images, the following are mine.

It was very humid and overcast and photography (or even looking through the scope without fogging it) wasn't easy.  Our 20 minutes with the intensely-anticipated bird passed in what felt like one.  Maybe less.  It was a hard bird to walk away from.  We timed it about perfectly though, we arrived back at the camp just as the other half was ready to take the final spur.  The bird remained a similar amount of time for them and then flew off into the forest.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Uncommon Antbirds

After a break for drinks, snacks, and a chance to buy palm mask crafts from the local people (my kids loved theirs) we took a 2nd trail and despite the midday heat we saw a surprising number of birds.  There were a few small mixed flocks but the first bird to tee up well was a Black-tailed Trogon.

Domi picked up on Bare-crowned Antbirds calling in the thick brush beneath the trogon.  I think this species has been possible on every trip I've ever taken to Costa Rica or Panama, but a quick look at the female was the first I'd ever seen the species.  Domi taped in the male.

This honestly was one of the birds of the trip for me (not least because he's bald...).  Eventually I'll get some video up.

 The walk's goal was to get to a little lagoon where more kingfishers would be possible.  This was my closest ever view of Rufescent Tiger-heron and I probably should have spent more time with it.

Studying every little branch and twig projecting over the water turned up these Lesser Kiskadees

Eventually we were rewarded with walkaway looks of Pygmy Kingfisher.

Another antbird started calling and I recognized it as being different.  Domi knew it was a Great Antshrike.
For one of the largest antbirds this bird was very hard to see, singing sequestered deeply in a thicket with very few windows to offer views.  I understand now why Steven on our very first trip to Costa Rica announced a singing bird and made absolutely zero effort to find it.

Finally an 88 Butterfly, we saw this one a couple times...

Friday, March 24, 2017

Double Jacamar day

We spent the morning in (the?) Embera Vigia region where we had opportunity for some special birds.  One of the main targets was Dusky-backed Jacamar, a bird found pretty much only in Eastern Panama.  There's a few in Colombia, but a lot easier to get to here (it only required a ride in a dugout canoe).

Domi knew where there was a nesting pair though.

A female Blue Cotinga appeared in the next tree.

Not much farther down the trail Domi located a Gray-cheeked Nunlet, a similarly range-restricted bird.
It played hide-and-seek for a few minutes before tee-ing up in a location we could all get good looks.

We walked on, finding a pair of Crimson-crested Woodpeckers.

As we got into some deeper forest Royal Flycatcher appeared.

We found our 2nd jacamar of the day, the much more widespread Rufous-tailed

A nemesis of mine fell.  White-bellied Antbird was seen on last year's trip a couple of times by at least some participants.  They were commonly heard calling through this trip and I'd glimpsed one in pre-dawn gloom on the 2nd day of the trip.  This was my first daytime look.
 It was still hard to see through the leaves.
And speaking of leaves, this female Black Antshrike was completely blocked by a leaf.

Finally our best look at one of a few Orange-crowned Orioles we had.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ambiguous Grebe is apparently contagious.

It's that time of year.  The vultures are flying.  The blackbirds have made any attempts at shrike surveys impossible.  And the grebes are molting.  Some of the Horned Grebes are pretty much still in full winter plumage.
But very soon there will be plenty of muddy-faced birds that people will try to turn into Eared Grebes.  Look at the bills.  Horned has a fairly thick bill that tapers evenly at the tip (and that tip at close range is pale).  Eared's is much thinner with an upturn and is black its entire length.

Anyway, this swan threw me for a second.  It was just too cold to stand at Tiscornia and so I pulled up to the boat launch at North Lake at Grand Mere.  It has a plain black bill without a yellow pip but with a (fairly prominent at some sun angles) salmon gape line.  A trumpeter, right?
 It just didn't look right however and I actually pulled out Sibley to confirm I was remembering the facial feathering correctly.  In the above pic the interface between the bill and the feathering takes an abrupt downward turn while in the below pic the forehead is fairly curved.
 In Trumpeter the bill is longer and more sloped, the bill interface is angled smoothly rather than bending down, and the forehead is quite pointed.  This is a Tundra Swan that lacks the yellow bill pip.  It still has some grayish feathers in the wing coverts and is likely a first spring bird.  Trumpeter is also very similar in size to Mutes, this bird was a size smaller.

No such identification problems with male wood ducks.
 Twenty-five degree air above water in the 30's did not make for great photo conditions, there was a lot of heat shimmer even at close range.

Some flyby mergs in New Buffalo.

Finally a Red-shouldered that perched nicely along US-12.  Somehow it was well into fall before I found one last year.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pescadores y amigos

We took motorized dug-out canoes to the birding location on the 4th day of the trip.  As the canoes could only accomodate 4 of us (plus a poleman for the front of the boat for when the river got too shallow for the outboard in the back).  Our guide was in the 2nd boat, I was in the back of the first.  The boat operator was pretty good at spotting birds.  He only spoke Spanish however.  I picked up some new words pretty quickly, words like...

Pescador, which translates to fisherman, applicable to both Ringed Kingfisher, as well as...

Amazon Kingfisher.

We saw at least 2 kingfishers scarfing fish down...

Carza turned out to be the name for long-legged waders of which there were plenty.

I didn't catch the name for Neotropic Cormorant.

I suspect Southern Lapwing would have fallen into the "Pajaro" (generic small bird) category.

This "Pajaro" was pretty good, only the motorman was seeing it initially and was indicating it was low down, the front of the boat then found the Pied Water-tyrant, the only one of the trip.

There was a Yellow-headed Caracara (Agula, I think the word for eagle, applicable to any raptor) above it.

Finally a fun "Carpentero," Crimson-crested Woodpecker.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

El Salto road Blue Cotinga

We did a couple roads on the back of a half-truck type vehicle, basically a flatbed truck with a bench facing out on each side with a railing surrounding.  It was a pretty good set-up and allowed us to cover some road edges much quicker than we could have walking.  The birds also allowed a much closer approach; they saw us as a part of the truck and permitted a remarkably close approach.  We drove within feet of this White-necked Puffbird.

And even closer to a Roadside Hawk we didn't see until it was on top of us.

We did do some walking and it was on foot when a male Blue Cotinga appeared atop a tree.  The first one was a young male, and a nearby Blue Dacnis caused a little confusion when the two-bird theory turned out to be true.  A full adult Blue Cotinga then popped up and quickly absorbed the attention of the telescopes.  One of Rhoda's digiscopes...
A couple of us had briefly glimpsed a Blue Cotinga on the very first day and as localized as it was on the first Panama trip I was surprised we got another crack at it.  It turned out we'd see one most days though.

Cathy spotted this next bird.

It's a Streaked Xenops.  The Costa Rica book describes it as rare and the Panama book as very rare so I was really excited to see it.  I certainly didn't expect it.  I suppose though there's a ton of birds that are uncommon and you'll have your share of luck on a couple.

Not quite as rare would be Three-toed Sloth.
 He peeked over at us when Domi quietly whistled Harpy Eagle which would have found a pollen-dusted sloth quite appetizing.