Monday, December 31, 2007

Panama Trip - Day 9

November 25, 2007

The El Valle area is an extinct volcanic caldera surrounded by several peaks. One of those peaks, Cerro Gaital, has been set aside as a natural area. After breakfast, we got into the van and went up to the La Mesa area where we were seeing some open country birds, like this Ruddy Ground-Dove.

At the Cerro Gaital trailhead, the birding was quite good and we took a long time to even get started walking! We saw Blue-throated Toucanet, Orange-bellied Trogon, White-throated Spadebill, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, and many others.

On the ground, right in the open near where we parked, there was a common roadside orchid (Epidendrum radicans) that I had seen quite frequently in Costa Rica.

Many of the birds were seen well, but in fairly dense vegetation, and many of them were moving around a lot, like the fast-moving flock of Tawny-crested Tanagers. We walked about the first 1/4 mile of the trail, which was fairly easy walking though entirely up hill.

This female Orange-bellied Trogon was one of few birds this morning that cooperated for photos.

Interesting insects were in evidence, as they were most days. We got better views of a couple butterflies that we'd seen before. This clearwing (probably Ithomia diasa) was the same one we had seen at Cerro Azul on our first day.

And this Togama Stripestreak (Arawacus togarna) gave us better views than the one on the Pipeline Road.

Another butterfly that we'd been seeing, but which hadn't yet cooperated for the camera, was the Forest Giant Owl (Caligo eurilochus) below, named for its large eye spots on the hindwings. These butterflies were huge, with a 6-inch wingspan. We most often encountered them at dawn and dusk as they are more active at those times.

At the other end of the size scale, this leafhopper (Family: Homoptera) was surprisingly cooperative on a blade of grass. Many tropical species are called Sharpshooters.

A splash of color is always a pleasant surprise, and when it is on a small (1/2 inch) grasshopper it is even more unexpected. I have seen similar colorful grasshoppers in the tropics before, but have never been able to identify any of them. In Costa Rica, there is a similar species that some (on-line) have been calling the "Tutti-Frutti Grasshopper".

We returned to the Canopy Lodge for lunch. One of the testaments to how well Raul has designed this place is the bathroom he built right off the main lounge/dining area, which allows birders to use the facilities one last time before departing on a field trip without having to go back to their rooms. And I must say, I have to compliment his choice of plumbing fixtures too! If there had been one of these in the souvenir shop, I would have bought one for sure.

After lunch, I spent a little time chasing the local (and rather tame) Rufous Motmot around, trying to get a photo of him NOT on the feeder. But he liked the shadows, making photography difficult.

And I managed a few photos of one of the other common local hummingbirds, the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, which seemed to prefer the Vervain flowers instead of the feeders.

When the sun peeked out for a moment, this large dragonfly made an appearance, allowing me only a couple photos from the rear before it darted off to parts unknown.

With the brief moment of sun for encouragement, and a couple hours to kill before our afternoon field trip departed, four of us decided to get a ride down into El Valle to the famous Sunday market. The other three of us decided to walk back up the hill to Chorro el Macho to look for an owl that could sometimes be found on a day roost. We all should have known better, as the now dependable early afternoon rain came with a vengeance. Those who went to the market could stay dry under shelters. Those of us who walked got completely soaked and nearly got washed down the road in the torrential rain.
Our afternoon field trip departed late, as the rain continued later. With the rain letting up, we arrived at the Cara Iguana Trail just outside the town of El Valle. The birding here was slow, as the rain hadn't completely let up yet and the forest was dimly lit. But, sharp-eyed Stella saw one of our target birds, without the aid of a tape. She quietly asked, what is this bird on the ground with an orange breast, black back, and white eyeline? Rosy Thrush-Tanager! A male and female! These very, very shy terrestrial birds cooperated nicely for us by sitting a few feet up in a shrub allowing scope views for all. Another skulker was found along this trail, and Tino managed to coax one of the two Gray-necked Wood-Rails into running across the road in front of us. These great experiences will be etched in our memory, as they didn't get recorded in photos. All I managed was a photo of yet another toad, this one may possibly be a Southern Rough-gland Toad (Bufo coccifer). I'm open to corrections of any identifications here...

When we were at the Canopy Tower, a couple other guests who had come from the Canopy Lodge told us that bats could be seen at night at the hummingbird feeders. For some reason, since our arrival, they had been taking the feeders down at night, so I asked Raul if they could leave them up, which they did. It was an interesting spectacle during dinner to watch the bats come in and quickly take a drink from the feeder. After dinner, I set up my camera and tried to get a flash photo of the bats feeding. Raul has told me that these are Long-tongued Bats, and two species are possible here, Glossophaga commissiari and Glossophaga soricina. Based on information in books and on-line, G. commissiari would seem more likely in the denser forest surrounding the Canopy Lodge, but this is just a guess. I took about 50 photos, hoping to just get a bat in view during the fraction of a second that they came in. Their behavior was very similar to what is observed at hummingbird feeders in the daytime, with bats coming in on a schedule, and with disputes and chases. Below is the one useable photo I managed to obtain.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Panama Trip - Day 8

November 24, 2007

We spent a fairly leisurely morning on top of the Canopy Tower, well into late morning, allowing us to finally see Blue Cotinga (two distant males in the scope). We noted a Snowy-bellied Hummingbird sleeping in the canopy.

And a Violet-bellied Hummingbird perched up fairly high as well.

Although we had seen many of them on the trip so far, the White-shouldered Tanagers only allowed photos this morning from the observation deck, an adult male and an immature male.

A Summer Tanager, probably an immature male based on the amount of orangish on his crown, had been a daily fixture from the observation deck.

He came over and landed on the railing, as if to say goodbye to us. But in reality, I'm sure the rail just provided a good perch for him to watch for the flying insects that he was catching, sometimes in mid-air like a flycatcher.

As if to prove this was a good perch, and nothing more, a Palm Tanager came in close as well.

A large butterfly in the canopy, which we had seen on previous mornings as well, was this swallowtail which has variaously been called Thoas Swallowtail and King Swallowtail, but the scientific name is stable; Papilio thoas. It is very similar to the Giant Swallowtail we have in Michigan, but it doesn't occur this far south, and there are minor differences in wing markings as well.

We then went down to ground level and spent a few final moments with the hummingbirds at the feeders down there. Of course, vying for our attention as always were the Blue-chested Hummingbirds.

Another low observation deck, which is apparently used for barbeques (rained out for us), provided better opportunities for photographing hummingbirds as there was more natural surroundings (the painted turquoise walls of the building are in the background of most of my hummingbird photos from here). Hummingbird feeders should be hung around the perimeter of this lower deck as well, as it gives a much more pleasing background and different lighting, as with this Blue-chested Hummingbird.

Just before we departed, a male Fasciated Antshrike made an appearance. And, contrary to its normal shy behavior, it wasn't well up in the trees but on the ground right below us! The reason soon became apparent as it was attacking a very large grasshopper, which is visible below its tail in the first photo, and near its head in the second and third photos. The grasshopper has a wing pattern that is similar to the antshrikes finely barred upperparts. The antshrike is about 7-inches long, which would make the grasshopper nearly 3-inches long. What a way to end our stay at the Canopy Tower!

Our bus arrived and we made the two-hour drive through mainly agricultural areas and human settlements west toward El Valle, and the Canopy Lodge, arriving just before lunchtime.

The Canopy Lodge is in a beautiful setting, at a slightly higher elevation than the Canopy Tower, and adjacent to a wonderful mountain stream. It was not as hot here, but every bit as humid.

On the steps leading down into the gardens, this large (12-inches) Common Amieva (Amieva amieva) lizard was reluctant to give up his sunning spot.

And an even larger (2-foot) male Common Basilisk (Basiliscus basiliscus) was sunning on a rock on the edge of the stream. This is one of the species of lizard that escapes by running along the surface of the water, though the really big ones like this tend to sink and start swimming after a few feet.

Before lunch, we watched the banana feeders for a while. This Dusky-faced Tanager made a welcome appearance. We had seen a group of this species along the Achiote Road, but they didn't show themselves very well.

And the beautiful Thick-billed Euphonias were frequent visitors to the feeders as well.

By far the most common bird at the feeders were the Clay-colored Robins, but there were several less frequent visitors including both Crimson-backed and Flame-rumped Tanagers, White-lined Tanagers, Bananaquits, Tennessee Warblers, Black-striped Sparrow, and even Rufous Motmot among others.
We became acquainted with the new hummingbirds in this area, though it was more difficult to see and photograph them here as the feeders were spread out around the grounds, and many species seemed to prefer the flowers (mainly vervain). The first new hummingbird was the small Garden Emerald. It gave good views early, allowing me to quickly get the photo below, and although we hoped this would be a regular occurrence, it was not to be and not everyone got to see this bird (a male Violet-headed Hummingbird took over this perch for most of our stay).

One of our favorite birds of the trip, seen daily at the Canopy Tower, was the Violet-bellied Hummingbird. Although we weren't going to see them at the Canopy Lodge, another green and purple hummingbird was a good replacement here. The Violet-crowned Woodnymph seems poorly named, but if you look carefully you can see a purplish-tinge on his forehead.

After lunch, and the now expected brief rainshower, most of us took a short walk up the road to the Chorro el Macho area. There was a waterfall here, which required an entry fee of $3 per person and which also gave access to the zip line adventure. Stella took advantage of the zip line on her own the next day, while the rest of us went birding.

The trail crossed the stream on a wobbly rope bridge and entered a nice forest with trees covered with epiphytes. This Social Flycatcher is perches on a branch between two species of orchid, the smaller one in bloom and the larger one recently finished blooming.

There were plenty of flowers for hummingbirds, especially hermits, including this member of the Acanthidae family (Razisea spicata).

Sloths were becoming routine, but this female Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth had a baby in tow. If you look carefully, you can see part of the baby sticking out below her left arm.

One objective of walking this trail was to find the shy Tody Motmot. Our guide, Tino Sanchez, put a lot of effort into trying to whistle one out for us. At one point, we had up to four of them calling back all around us, but none of those was interested enough to approach closer. Then, one individual at another nearby location responded well, and we all got good views of this diminutive motmot. A great way to end the day.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Panama Trip - Day 7

November 23, 2007
The Canopy Tower prepared a 4:30 a.m. breakfast for us so that we could depart at 5:00 for our destination for the day, the Caribbean slope of the Panama Canal near Colon, Achiote, and Fort San Lorenzo. The Caribbean slope gets more rain than the Pacific slope (the Canopy Tower is just over the Continental Divide on the Pacific slope), and when we arrived in Colon around 7 a.m. we weren't surprised that it was raining. North of Colon, we had to wait at the Gatun Locks for a large ship to pass through.

There had been so much rain that they were releasing massive amounts of water so that the canal didn't overflow!

Once we crossed over to the other side of the canal, on a one-lane bridge, we saw a few Red-breasted Blackbirds in some open grassland areas. Other birds in this area included the resident Panamanian subspecies of Eastern Meadowlark, Fork-tailed Flycatchers, and even one Eastern Kingbird which is an uncommon to rare winter resident in Panama.

And along the roadsides, there were Yellow-headed Caracaras, including this immature.

We arrived at the Achiote Road at around 7:30, and the rain was letting up some. The habitat along this road is somewhat similar to that along the Pipeline Road, but the road is paved so the forest does not close over the road. There are also intermittent human settlements, creating open areas with the result that some species were more difficult to find while others were easier as they perched in the open. We had good looks at Yellow-backed and Yellow-tailed Orioles, and one of our targets the White-headed Wren. A pair of Red-lored Parrots were scoped in a bare tree as they dried their wings.

A female White-tailed Trogon sitting in the open on a wire seemed unconcerned by our approach.

Another "wire bird" was a small, and cooperative, Pied Puffbird.

Another puffbird, the near-endemic Black-breasted Puffbird cooperated nicely, though it didn't come out onto the wires.

And a Greenish Elaenia gave us good looks at the edge of an agricultural area.

As the morning progressed, the sun came out for a while and along with it the raptors began soaring, like this distant Gray-headed Kite, one of two seen.

And of course butterflies became active. One of the commonest butterflies in the tropics is this Heliconius erato here feeding on Lantana, and it is sometimes given the uncreative English name of Erato Heliconian.

Near a small wetland where we heard White-throated Crakes (again!) and saw a rare Green Ibis fly in, we also saw the first orchids of the trip in a lone tree in a cow pasture. This photo was taken through the telescope, as the orchid was perhaps 30-feet up, and unfortunately the distance will probably prevent an identification.

We then stopped in briefly at the visitors center and Jose paid our entry fee. Most of this area falls within the San Lorenzo National Park. From there, we backtracked to the short Trogon Trail where our target trogon was Black-tailed. We didn't find one there, but did have a very close encounter with both male and female Black-throated Trogons. Neither of these photos has been cropped!

Other than these cooperative birds, the trail was rather quiet and the attention of some of us turned to other critters, on the ground. This Common South American Toad (Bufo margaritiferus) showed us yet another variation in pattern. The red warts are particularly interesting.

For some reason, Jeff turned over a large leaf of a Heliconia plant that was laying on the ground, and underneath found this truly spectactular spider. It is undoubtedly some species of Wolf Spider, but the span of the legs was 3-4 inches and the body was nearly 2 inches long!

From here, we went toward Fort San Lorenzo where we had planned to eat lunch. We ended up sheltering underneath a small overhang near the contact station and eating our lunch inside the van because it had started to rain. It rained extremely hard, harder than most of us had ever seen, for more than two solid hours!

We guessed that 5-7 inches of rain fell in about two hours! It began to let up some, so we drove out to the fort itself, which was right on the coastline.

We walked the grounds a little bit in the light rain, and had brief looks at a new hummingbird for the trip, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, and a small group of Chestnut-mandibled Toucans was seen. A brief history of the fort was summarized on a sign on the grounds.

From the fort there was a commanding view of the Chagres River and the Caribbean.

There were lots of Black Terns flying around in the river mouth, and when we drove a short distance to a dock at sea level we had better looks at them, as well as a group of Sandwich Terns and a single Royal Tern.

Along the road down to the dock, we saw an unfortunate female Indigo Bunting that seemed to be weakened, perhaps from the prolonged torrential rain. We also managed to find our target Trogon, the Black-tailed, which gave us a brief but memorable view. And perhaps the highlight of the afternoon, our driver Edgardo pointed out a Northern Tamandua (an anteater) in a tree right over our heads.

We then had to hurry back to Colon to catch the late afternoon train back to Panama City.

It seemed that every seat in every car was reserved for some business person traveling from Colon to Panama City, so even though we were early, we had to wait until a few minutes before departure to get seated. The cars were nice, with large windows that allowed us to get good views of parts of the Panama Canal not visible from the road. We also saw about 25 Snail Kites along the way, before the sun set about half way back to Panama City.

We got off the train and met our bus driver from the Canopy Tower, who took us back just in time for dinner. Jose and Edgardo had driven through the bad Friday afternoon traffic back to the Canopy Tower, and arrived after we did. As this was the last time we'd see Jose, we thanked him for several wonderful days of birding. Today's total of 136 species was the highest of the trip.