Thursday, April 14, 2016

Birding in Panama, Day 4 - Laughing in the End!

This time Cynthia and I went to Metropolitan Park early. A little after 7 am and we were exploring the trails hoping to see more lifers. And we did! Not as many as the day before, but still we were happy with what had seen.

One of our target birds here was the Keel-billed Toucan. Although quite common - we've seen them at the hotel grounds - they were always high up in the trees and quite difficult to photograph. That puzzled me because we have seen pictures of this species that apparently were taken at close range here in Panama. Even some of the birders we met at the hotel told us that they have seen the Toucan quite close. Anyway, I finally was able to get a good enough shot of this bird. It was still high up in the trees but at least it was not backlit as those we've seen at the hotel.

Another prize catch and lifer we got here was the Lance-tailed Manakin. 

A Green Shrike-vireo was a welcome addition to our life list.

Despite its name, the Plain-brown Woodcreeper was still a beauty to behold.

In contrast, the aptly-named Orange-billed Sparrow was another lifer for us.

Finally, the noisy Yellow-backed Oriole called our attention to itself.

We returned to our hotel after lunch. Later in the afternoon we decided to make one final birding foray at the area near the pond. The "Tero" or Southern Lapwing was even more confiding. It came to just about a few feet from us as it looked for its dinner in a most interesting way. It would stand still and with one foot probe the grass beneath hoping to flush some insect or worm or even a frog or toad into the open.

At sunset, as we were approaching the area behind the hotel, we met some birders. One of them, a British gentleman, was taking photos of what I thought was merely the common Great-tailed Grackle. "Collared Aracari" the gentleman said. I quickly aimed my gear at the silhouetted bird and took several shots. Just like the Keel-billed Toucan, this similarly-shaped bird is quite common here, and also just like the toucan, it preferred the tall trees - at least at the times we saw it. The Collared Aracari was our "goodbye bird" here. Tomorrow, we will be transferring to a hotel closer to the airport.

The starbird of the day, however, was seen just before the encounter with the Collared Aracari.  It was the golden hour as the setting sun filled the skies with a yellow-orange glow. As we were going up to the parking lot, I saw a raptor fly from the golf-practice area to the main course. I managed to fire off only a total of four shots! Thankfully, one was clear enough for me to be able to identify this bird. It was a Laughing Falcon! 

Goodbye, Radisson Summit Hotel, and thank you for the many lifers we got at your premises.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Birding in Panama, Day 3 - Is it really Tero?

In one of the walls of the Radisson Summit Hotel where we were staying, there is a collage of photographs of wildlife found within its premises. All of the animals shown had English names, except for one - a bird that they labeled as "Tero".  It looked like a Lapwing and skeptical person that I am, I doubted that such species can be found here. Lapwings, because they are related to plovers, I believed were more into habitats that had water in them. Sure, there was a small pond in the area that had Jacanas and a Heron in it, but definitely not big enough (or salty enough?) to host a Lapwing. Perhaps there was one that got here by accident some time ago and would, I am quite certain, be long gone by now.

Our plan for the day was to go birding at the Metropolitan Park a few miles away. However, the hotel shuttle that will take us there doesn't leave until 10:30 am. Since we had a few hours to spare, Cynthia and I decided to explore the area in front of the hotel. You guessed it - that's where the small pond was located. As we were walking near the golf practice range, I noticed a big bird - about the size of a Green Heron (or Striated Heron in Asia). It was standing on the greens (or more accurately - orange brown grass) and greeting the morning. We slowly approached it and I was dumbstruck. After a few moments and recovering from my disbelief, "Tero! I can't believe it's really tero!" I told my wife. This Southern Lapwing was perhaps one of the friendliest birds we had encountered here. Sometimes a guy driving a golf cart would pass by to pick up the balls used by those trying to perfect their golfing strokes and the "tero" would allow the cart to go past it without even blinking an eye. (Note: "Tero" is the Spanish term for the Southern Lapwing, perhaps derived from its call.)

Across the street from the Lapwing, we saw some big birds again. This time whey were perched on some long skinny branches. The Grey-headed Chachalacas were a welcome addition to our lifelist.

As we were returning to the hotel to wait for our ride, we noticed the unmistakeable hovering of a hummingbird. Rufous-tailed was another lifer for us.

From our research we learned that a good birding place in the area is the Metropolitan Park which is quite close to Panama City. Again, skeptic that I am, I wasn't expecting to see much in an "urban" park. Parque Metropolitano, however, still has a lot of pristine forest within. Here we got 16 more lifers, the best being the Gartered Trogon and the Blue-Black Grosbeak.

Gartered Trogon
Blue-black Grosbeak
The starbird of the day, strangely enough, was seen not in the forest but near the parking lot. While Cynthia was negotiating with the taxi driver to take us to the nearby Albrook Mall, I saw a white bird alight on a tree near the gate (and close to the road!) I was curious as to what white bird could be found here. As I ran closer to where the mystery bird was, my mind was going through the list of Panamanian birds that could help me solve this quandary. When I focused my camera on it, then "bingo! Masked Tityra!". And I was thinking: Is this really true? A Tityra right next to a busy road?

That was an awesome icing on an already uber delicious cake.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Birding in Panama, Day 2 - More today than yesterday.

Yesterday we racked up 28 lifers. Today we added 46 more - thanks to the two best bird guides in Panama!

Generally speaking, Cynthia and I don't use bird guides when we travel abroad. That is because we watch our wallets as passionately as we watch birds. However having done some research prior to coming to Panama, we learned that having a guide would be a tremendous help especially if we intend to go to the Pipeline Road - one of the prime birding spots in this country. Cynthia contacted the WhiteHawk- a highly recommended Panamanian bird tour company - and made arrangements with them for a one day trip to the aforementioned Pipeline Road.

Angel and Jose were at our hotel at the appointed time of 7 am. Thus began one of the most thrilling and fruitful birding adventures we ever had.

We added our first lifer - Rufescent Tiger Heron - from our first stop by a roadside pond.

A few minutes later and we were gasping for breath as we climbed the tower next to the Rainforest Discovery Center. It was well worth the effort though. Raptors galore were dotting the clear blue skies above us. They were mostly Plumbeous Kites our guides told us.

Flying lower than these was another lifer for us - the Grey-headed Kite.

Although a bit far, a male and female Blue Dacnis showed off their beautiful colors.

Moving on and encountering lifer after lifer, this time we were rewarded by close looks at two kinds of Trogon at the Soberania Park.

Slaty-tailed Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
At the Rainforest Discovery Center, where we had our lunch break, they had some hummingbird feeders and we added three more species to our list.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird 
White-necked Jacobin
Long-billed Hermit
Our final stop was at a place they call "marina" perhaps because it has a huge pond connected to a river. We got three kinds of kingfisher here: The Ringed, Green, and Amazon - the last one being a lifer. Our prized catch here was the Limpkin, a bird that looks like a cross between a rail and a heron. We missed this when we visited Florida back in 2009.

A bonus bird, and totally unexpected, was a Yellow-headed Caracara walking on the road!

The star bird for today was another Motmot. We were all inside the car and going to our next destination when I spotted this bird by the road. "Motmot..out in the open!" I shouted. Angel stopped the car and we took photos of the Broad-billed Motmot without even having to get off.

By 3 in the afternoon, our  tour was over. My wife and I were both excited and exhausted. And extremely happy.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Birding in Panama, Day 1 - This could be the start of something big.

It was a red-eye flight from Los Angeles. We arrived at Panama airport around 7 am and was at our hotel at almost 8 am. Inasmuch as the check-in time wasn't until 3 pm, we had no choice but to leave our luggage with the concierge and explore the premises of Radisson Summit Hotel. We told the lady at the counter that we are bird watchers so we wanted to look around for birds until the time we would be able to get our room. She told us that there are some forest trails at the back near the pool. That was the beginning of our awesome birding adventures in Panama.

Even while we were being driven to our hotel from the airport, I already noticed birds along the way, the most common of which was the Great-tailed Grackle. This was their "trash bird" so to speak. I even saw what I presumed to be a Black Hawk perched by the roadside. Not knowing the traffic rules, I dared not ask the driver to stop so I can take some photos. We learned much later that Panamanian drivers don't really obey the local traffic laws, so much like in the Philippines.

Going back to the our birding at the hotel grounds - the very first bird we saw was a Tropical Kingbird. Ok, that was not a lifer. It was followed by what turned out to be the most common species in the area - the Plain-colored Tanager and our first official lifer in Panama. 

Next to the swimming pool was a flowering shrub. There a pair of Red-legged Honeycreepers were frolicking.

the more colorful male
For about three hours we birded the tiny patch of forest behind the hotel and we racked up lifer after lifer. By the time we were able to finally check-in to our room at 11:30 in the morning (thanks to the hotel management we didn't have to wait for the 3 pm official check-in) we already had 21 new species in our life list. A short afternoon sortie at the front of the hotel added 7 more.

Here are some of the highlights.

Crimson-backed Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator
Red-crowned Woodpecker
In the afternoon we had these:

Black-striped Sparrow
Variable Seedeater
Wattled Jacana
The star bird for the day. We were surprised to find this beautiful bird so close to the hotel building. Not only that, it was so trusting that it just perched only a few feet away from us.

Whooping Motmot
We didn't expect to encounter this many lifers on our first day. Somehow Panama does not flaunt itself as a birding destination so our initial expectations were a bit on the low side. Who knew that our first day would be such a great start to our birding in this Central American country.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Water Low

"The Boy" was supposed to bring a lot of rainfall to Southern California. El Nino is a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean that supposedly causes drought in eastern Asia and Australia and wetter winters in western North America. However since it is now spring, the rain apparently had abated and gave way to a warmer-than-usual weather. The absence of precipitation caused the water levels in the ponds and wetlands to drop significantly.

That was how it was when we visited the two prime birding spots in Orange County: the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary (SJWS) and the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Thankfully, and despite the low water levels, there were still quite a number of birds in these places.

At the SJWS all three species of teals were represented.

Blue-winged Teal
Green-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
The long-legged waders were up and about.

American Avocet
Black-necked Stilt
There were fewer birds than usual at Bolsa Chica because most of the migrants have returned to their breeding grounds way up north.

The uncommon Reddish Egret was performing its fishing dance.

The long-billed birds were already busy pursuing their morning meals.

Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Dowitcher
Marbled Godwit
The Belding's subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow is a sure sighting here.

The absence of the migratory duck species were compensated by these crested swimmers.

Horned Grebe
Red-breasted Merganser
It was spring break, so to speak, in terms of bird migration. That was why there weren't that many birds compared to the colder months of the year. 

All in all, we had a good birding experience, low water level notwithstanding.