Sunday, December 16, 2007

Panama Trip - Day 4

November 20, 2007

An earlier departure this morning only allowed us to enjoy the sunrise briefly from the observation deck at the Canopy Tower.

As we were waiting to get into the vehicles that would take us to our morning destination, the Pipeline Road, a small skipper (Hyalothyrus neleus) was seen feeding on the Verbena at the base of the tower.

A nice new (?) feature of the Canopy Tower, that we did not enjoy on our first trip here in 2000, is the availability of vehicles to transport birders to and from birding destinations, and to pick up birders walking down Semaphore Hill road to bring them back up. There are two vehicles, the "Birdmobile" and the "Rainfomobile"; the latter has a larger bed and can carry more people.

So, we loaded up into the Rainfomobile and headed for the famous Pipeline Road, a few miles away. In Gamboa, a Collared Aracari on the sidewalk was definitely out of habitat!

More than 350 species of birds have been seen along the Pipeline Road, and we were going to walk the first two kilometers this morning, which is mainly through second growth and some open areas. Virgin forest occurs farther in and we planned to bird there later in the trip.

There were many great bird sightings this morning, and the rain held off for most of our walk in. We encountered a nice male Slaty-tailed Trogon right near the start of the road.

Some birds required more effort to see, and we occasionally had to close ranks to get views of birds skulking in the undergrowth, as in this photo where we're getting good views of a pair of Scaly-throated Leaftossers that Jose brought in with his tape. The bulldozer was here because a nice visitor's center is being built along this road, which should help educate many more people about this wonderful rainforest.

One of the highlights of the day was getting good views of Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant. This is one of the smallest passerines in the world, if not THE smallest. It is perhaps a little bigger than a bumblebee - definitely smaller than some hummingbirds - and has almost no tail (the Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant's tail might be slightly shorter!). Most of the time, this tiny bird stays in the canopy, but we were able to see it only a few yards away, and singing! In addition to these photos, recordings of its cricket-like song were obtained as well.

In addition to the birds, quite a few wonderful butterflies were seen along this road, including incredible Blue Morphos, and several Heliconias, a mostly tropical subfamily of the widespread Nymphalidae known for their bright colors. We found this Heliconius vestutus nectaring on a widespread tropical plant known as "Hot Lips" (Psycotria sp.).

Another interesting butterfly in the Hairstreak family, the Togama Stripestreak (Arawacus togarna) gave us good views near the bulldozer.

And another Skipper, this one currently unidentified, had an unusual approach to feeding on nectar. In most of the United States, Skippers are dull, brown, difficult to identify butterflies, but in the tropics there are also some fairly colorful species.

At the bridge, two kilometers from the entry gate, we found this Spectacled Caiman relaxing in the mud along the shore of the small stream. Caimans are fairly harmless to humans as they rarely attack and don't get very large (this one was maybe 5-feet long). I've never seen one in the midst of a rainforest before; always in larger wetlands. We turned around at this point and headed back out. We ended up having to walk about a mile in hard, steady rain, and ride in the back of the truck in the rain all the way back to the Canopy Tower.

It rained through the lunch and siesta time again, but had mostly stopped by the time we headed back out at 3 p.m. for the nearby El Carco Trail, which was rocky, steep, and muddy. The trail was through some good forest on the way to a nice waterfall.

We got scope views of a skulking Song Wren that sat still for us, as well as nice overhead views of both male and female Black-throated Trogon.

At one point along the trail, a White-whiskered Puffbird sat and watched as our group walked past, only 8-feet away. Dim light conditions, and very poorly timed dead flash batteries, prevented better photos of this cooperative bird.

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