Thursday, December 13, 2007

Panama Trip - Day 3

November 19, 2007

The morning from the top of the Canopy Tower was foggy to start, but was a little better for birds than yesterday. The fog burned off and we could see the Panama Canal in the distance, but there were no monkeys or sloths today.

We left after breakfast for the Old Gamboa Road and Summit Pond, only a few miles away. The weather was great, in fact it was hot and sunny all morning. The birding was great too, especially at the small ant swarm we ran into. Right at the start of the walk, we had an excellent look at a Forest Elaenia, a small flycatcher which is almost never seen well and is usually detected by voice. This one was quite low and allowed good photos to be taken.

At the Summit Pond we got good scope views of Boat-billed Herons on the far side, and another American Crocodile swimming toward the shore. A Green Kingfisher cooperated nicely for photos.

Birders in the Neotropics always search for Army Ants (Eciton burchellii) in order to see some of the more secretive bird species, especially those that habitually follow the ant swarms to feed on the insects flushed by the hunting ants. One species that is often seen at these ant swarms is the Spotted Antbird, and a female came close enough for photos, though she stayed mostly in the shadows.

Jose managed to grab one of the soldiers of the Army Ants and I was able to get a photo of its impressive jaws before the ant deciced to bite him. This ant swarm was engaged in moving the colony from one locale to another, not hunting, so there weren't a lot of birds around this swarm other than many Gray-headed Tanagers.

Other ants we encountered were the Leafcutter Ants (Atta sp.), which can defoliate a tree in a matter of days, carrying the green bits underground to their nest to use as fertilizer for the fungus that they feed on.

And we encountered some termites entering a tunnel they'd created across the road, which had been damaged by the rain allowing the termites to be seen.

The insects almost stole the show today, and one other interesting insect we saw was the Helicopter Damselfly (Mecistogaster linearis), which is the largest damselfly in the world...perhaps 4-inches long.

Just past the ant swarm, we came upon one of our targets for the day, a nice Spectacled Owl at its day roost. It soon flew a short distance and joined its mate a few yards away.

Back at the vehicles, a female Violaceous Trogon posed nicely for photos.

Back at the Canopy Tower, we took a little time for hummingbird photography before the rain started, and I got lucky with this male Violet-bellied Hummingbird.

And this female Blue-chested Hummingbird stopped chasing others away long enough to be photographed.

It rained during the entire lunch/siesta time, but mostly had stopped by our departure at 3 p.m. for the nearby Summit Gardens and Zoo. The open habitats here, along with the surrounding woodlands, made for some good birding.

The facility here is part of the captive breeding program for Panama's national bird, the Harpy Eagle. There are apparently about 200 breeding pairs in Panama, some of which were raised in captivity within the country. They had two individuals on display, which were both more than 30 years old! As a bird bander, I was impressed by the size of the band on the bird's leg (note the red band on the bird's left leg). It was almost big enough to be a bracelet for me, and certainly twice as big as is used for a Golden Eagle!

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