Friday, December 21, 2007

Panama Trip - Day 5

November 21, 2007

We enjoyed another wonderful, rain-free sunrise atop the Canopy Tower. But the birding was slow again and after breakfast we headed down to the base of Semaphore Hill Road to walk the Plantation Trail.

The Plantation Trail runs for several miles, often along a stream, with fairly level terrain making it an excellent birding trail.

Although we had seen them already, this trail is a good place for Blue-crowned Manakins and we had a close encounter with this female.

And although we had heard several and glimpsed a couple, we had our best views so far of the near-endemic Southern Bentbill, a tiny flycatcher with a croaky insect-like voice, an an odd downcurved bill.

Antbirds are normally skulky and difficult to see, but the Dot-winged Antwren is not only quite common in many areas of the Canal Zone of Panama, but are not very difficult to see. This male, with his tail cocked up like a wren and out of view, gave us great looks.

Other than the omnipresent ants, mainly Leafcutters with a few Army Ants, insects were not much in evidence this morning. One exception was this colorful, unidentified wasp.

The toads, however, were quite in evidence along this trail. Panama has 16 species of toad, of which 7 are in the genus Bufo which is familiar to everyone in the northern hemisphere. Among the Panamanian species there is quite a bit of individual variation and, a shortage of good identification references makes it difficult to put a name on any individual with certainty. The two species shown below may or may not be correctly identified! If anyone can identify them, I will happily correct this blog entry.

The first (Bufo haematiticus), also called "rain toad" locally, is quite similar to many North American species.

The two photos below show color variations of what I believe is the South American Common Toad (Bufo margaritifer). This species seems to show a more angular head and more pointed snout than some other toad species.

As we continued our walk, we were beginning to see so many sloths that we noticed the various strategies for clinging to their trees overnight. We had already seen one that a couple days ago that was simply cowering in a ball, and one that we called the "tree hugger". I thought the one reclining in the photo below was in the perfect position to have a TV remote control and a beer! It was definitely a sloth day, and our count was 8 which included both Two-toed and Three-toed species.

By the end of the morning, everyone agreed that it was also a Motmot day. Along this trail we saw several Rufous Motmots and even more Broad-billed Motmots. At least two pairs of Broad-billed Motmots were excavating nests in the banks alongside the trail. Note the ball of mud in the bill of the bird in the photo below.

Due to their apparent nest building activities, they allowed fairly close approach and good photo opportunities. As they dig out burrows deep in the muddy bank, the "rackets" at the end of their tail tend to get a bit worn.

This individual apparently is not involved in nest-excavation as its tail rackets are still in good condition.

And with such cooperative birds, we got a good look at why the Broad-billed Motmot deserves its name.

We got back onto the Rainfomobile and Jose drove us the one-mile back up to the Canopy Tower. We arrived literally seconds before the sky opened up in a torrential rain shower! As has been the norm on this trip, it rained all through lunch and up until our departure time of 3 p.m. The afternoon field trip was back to Gamboa, along the Chagres River. We experienced some rain and quite overcast conditions. The most interesting aspect of the birds this afternoon was what appeared to be a mixed species flock of mainly flycatchers. Such mixed species flocks are common in the Neotropics, and flycatchers are often with them, but this is the first time I've seen such a flock composed almost entirely of flycatchers.

We returned to the Canopy Tower earlier than usual so that we could have an early dinner, allowing us to go out in the evening for night birds and mammals. On the way down Semaphore Hill Road, we got a brief look at a Paca, a rarely observed mammal similar to an Agouti but larger and entirely nocturnal. Along the main road in the vicinity of the small town of Summit, we encountered only a single Pauraque and no owls. We found a single Great Potoo on a dead snag where it was waiting to sally out after large insects, and on another snag we found a Common Potoo. No owls. At one point, we heard a SPLAT! on the road in front of us, and when we got out to look, found a rather large frog sitting there.

It was a Gladiator Frog (Hyla rosenbergi) and had jumped (fallen?) out of a tree along the side of the road. This is one of the largest of the treefrogs, being nearly the size of my hand (and nearly a foot long with the legs extended). The expansive webbing between the toes, which had large round sticky tips, was impressive, especially as he splayed his webbing wide when he jumped.

As we tried to force him back off the road, he hopped up onto my leg! My guess is that the thought I was a tree.

We got him safely off the road and returned to the Canopy Tower, owl-less despite Jose's considerable efforts.

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