Saturday, July 9, 2016

Birds so close, birds so far - Nova Scotia edition

Yeah, yeah... there'll be more relevant/travel stuff here eventually. For now though, there's this.

This post is basically a rip-off of my friend Brandon Holden's series from 2011-2013 - see here: and scroll down to the "Rarity Hunting" section. The idea is to look at the states/provinces surrounding oneself and see what's on their lists that is missing from ours. If you were thinking of what to look for if you want to find a first for the province, this may be a good place to start! I'm limiting this to one post, so it's a combined list of all of our neighbours. To be thorough, I've included the northeastern US coastal states, Atlantic Canada other than NS, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and a few records from eastern Quebec. The more sane among you may be asking "Why?" - well it's a long story (but it's basically for a bet). Anyway, here's the list! I've excluded extinct/extirpated species as they're rather unlikely to turn up again... Species names reflect the 2016 taxonomy, order does not.

Whooper Swan - ME, NF, NH, NJ (escapes??)
Common Shelduck - MA, NF, NH, QC
Steller's Eider - MA, ME, QC
Masked Duck - MA
Smew - NY, RI
Wild Turkey - up to ME/NB border region - may invade eventually
Northern Bobwhite - up to northern MA - failed introductions to NS
Yellow-billed Loon - ME, NY, QC
Arctic Loon - VT
Clark's Grebe - ME
Trindade Petrel - ME, NY
Mottled Petrel - NY
White-chinned Petrel - ME
Buller's Shearwater - NJ
Gray Heron - NF
Wood Stork - CT, MA, ME, NB, NH, NJ, NY, QC, RI, VT
Lesser Frigatebird - ME
Neotropic Cormorant - NJ, NY 
Anhinga - CT, MA, NJ, NY, RI
Roseate Spoonbill - NJ, NY
White-tailed Kite - CT, MA, NJ, NY
Azure Gallinule - NY
Eurasian Coot - NF, QC
Eurasian Oystercatcher - NF
Pacific Golden-Plover - MA, ME, NF, NJ, NY, VT
Mountain Plover - MA
Lesser Sand-Plover - NJ, RI
Terek Sandpiper - MA
Gray-tailed Tattler - MA
(Wandering Tattler) - ON/NY border so close enough
Wood Sandpiper - NF, NY, RI
Common Redshank - NF
Red-necked Stint - CT, MA, ME, NJ, NY, QC, SPM
Surfbird - ME
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - CT, MA, NJ, NY, PE, QC
Jack Snipe - NF
Common Snipe - NF
Eurasian Woodcock - NF, NJ
Gray-hooded Gull - NY
Yellow-legged Gull - MA, NF, QC
Glaucous-winged Gull - NF, NH
Brown Noddy - MA, NJ, RI
Large-billed Tern - NJ
White-winged Tern - MA, ME, NB, NF, NJ, NY, QC, VT
Whiskered Tern - NJ
Elegant Tern - MA, NJ
Long-billed Murrelet - MA, NF, NJ, NY, RI
Ancient Murrelet - MA, ME, NB, NY, VT
Tufted Puffin - ME, NB
European Turtle-Dove - MA, NF
Common Cuckoo - MA, QC
Groove-billed Ani - NJ
Lesser Nighthawk - NJ
Black Swift - NJ
Common Swift - MA? (Apus sp.), QC, SPM
Mexican Violetear - ME, NJ, QC
Anna's Hummingbird - NF, NY, QC
Broad-billed Hummingbird - CT, MA, NB, NY
Allen's Hummingbird - MA, NJ
Williamson's Sapsucker - NY
Red-cockaded Woodpecker - NJ
Red-footed Falcon - MA
Eurasian Hobby - MA, NF
Prairie Falcon - VT
Gray Flycatcher - MA
Variegated Flycatcher - ME
Tropical Kingbird - CT, MA, ME, (NB), QC - NB bird last year was reported as COKI/TRKI but looked like a TRKI to me??
Thick-billed Kingbird - NB
Black-capped Vireo - QC
Cassin's Vireo - NJ, NY, VT, QC
Yellow-green Vireo - MA, QC
Steller's Jay - QC, VT
Brown-chested Martin - CT, MA, NJ
Common House-Martin - SPM
Tufted Titmouse - every northeastern state plus NB, QC
Brown-headed Nuthatch - NY
Siberian Stonechat - NB
Eurasian Blackbird - NF, QC
Song Thrush - QC
Sage Thrasher - MA, ME, NB, NJ, NY
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - NY
White Wagtail - NF, QC, SPM
Phainopepla - MA, RI
McCown's Longspur - MA, QC
Lucy's Warbler - MA
Kirtland's Warbler - MA, ME, NY, QC
Grace's Warbler - NY
Painted Redstart - MA, NY
Bachman's Sparrow - NJ, NY
Black-throated Sparrow - MA, ME, NB, NJ
Hepatic Tanager - QC
Hooded Oriole - QC
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - ME, QC
Eurasian Siskin - ME, SPM
Lesser Goldfinch - ME
Eurasian Tree Sparrow - MA, NJ

So there you have it - 96 species which have occurred somewhat close to NS, but not within our borders. Let's break it down a bit here...

Insanely unlikely (but never say never)

Steller's Eider - old records and a declining species, but with the NW passage opened up who knows?
Masked Duck - what???
Mottled Petrel - old specimen from interior NY (surprisingly the TYPE specimen for this species!!!)
White-chinned Petrel - southern hemisphere species
Buller's Shearwater - pacific species
Lesser Frigatebird - surprisingly 4 inland records for NA of this south pacific seabird
Azure Gallinule - could happen, but not likely... there are also Spotted Rail and Paint-billed Crake records from PA and VA respectively showing that these south/central american rallids do turn up here!
Mountain Plover - I could see this turning up at Grand Pre...but probably really unlikely
Terek Sandpiper
Gray-tailed Tattler
Wandering Tattler
Surfbird - this whole group of Pacific shorebirds are unlikely as individuals but the chance of any one of them turning up probably isn't too bad?
Eurasian Oystercatcher/Jack Snipe/Common Snipe/Eurasian Woodcock - NF probably catches the majority of these, along with Gray Heron
Gray-hooded Gull - the NY bird was probably a ship-assist, so maybe not as unlikely as you'd think in the Halifax area...?
Large-billed Tern - old records from OH/IL/NJ
Whiskered Tern - Delaware Bay/Cape May has the monopoly on this one
European Turtle-Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Lesser Nighthawk
Common Swift
Williamson's Sapsucker
Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Red-footed Falcon
Black-capped Vireo - 3 relatively recent Canadian records now...
Steller's Jay - I have no idea on details of those 2 records
Common House-Martin
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Siberian Stonechat
Eurasian Blackbird
Song Thrush
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - these last 4 plus the House-Martin, Common Cuckoo, Common Swift and Turtle-Dove represent a 'group' of Eurasian passerines/near-passerines of which I'd almost expect at least one to turn up...but individually probably not
Bachman's Sparrow - decline in population

So that leaves us with 61. Of these, here are the ones I think are overdue/actually somewhat likely to turn up in the near future. The others not covered are in between possible and unlikely.

Common Shelduck - like many Eurasian waterfowl, seems to be gaining acceptance as an actual vagrant rather than an escapee - with records in 4 other states/provinces it's just a matter of time? Late fall/winter

Yellow-billed Loon - keep seawatching... most likely in winter/spring

Trindade Petrel - need a good hurricane or some very lucky seawatchers/pelagic-goers

Wood Stork - just about everyone else has one, why not us? most likely Jul-Sep (aka now!)

Neotropic Cormorant - this species is rapidly moving into the midwest, and has started to appear on the Atlantic coast - flyby in April or October

Anhinga - quite a few records up the coast, and I had one fly over my yard in Ontario! May-June

White-tailed Kite - we can get a Zone-tailed Hawk or two, why not this? anytime it's warm out really

Pacific Golden-Plover/Red-necked Stint/Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - how?? overdue! Jul-Sep for all 3

Yellow-legged Gull - with records from QC and MA and annual in NF, just a matter of time - Sep-Nov

White-winged Tern - again, everyone else has them... May-June or August

Long-billed/Ancient Murrelet - Oct-Dec in a harbour somewhere

Hummingbird sp. - we should get one of those 4 eventually with all the feeders in the province - Jul-Nov

Gray Flycatcher - we've had the other 3 western empids in recent years, eventually this'll turn up - Oct-Dec

Tropical Kingbird - well overdue - Sep-Dec

Brown-chested Martin - keep an eye on those swallows... Aug-Nov

Tufted Titmouse - may already be on the list? Amherst in Dec/Jan

Sage Thrasher - Oct-Jan skulking around a backyard or a thicket on Seal Island...

Black-throated Sparrow - that Beaubassin bird probably went into NS with the WTSP...

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch - irruptive into the east in winter just like TOSO, VATH, etc - bound to happen eventually, at a feeder in Feb/Mar

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - this species seems to be irrupting/expanding NW and NE recently - keep an eye on those HOSP flocks around Yarmouth

The next addition to the NS list? Probably not, but one never knows... (pic taken from internet to give this post some colour)

In addition, there are some birds which turn up in Iceland, but haven't made it over here yet - including quite a few waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds, Mediterranean Gull, Caspian Gull, Alpine Swift, Meadow Pipit, Yellow-browed Warbler and all kinds of other Eurasian passerines. Might be worth studying a European field guide or two...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Panama - Lake Bayano, Nusagandi, Cerro Azul, homeward bound

Mar 14

We left the hotel quite early this morning, in order to be in the Lake Bayano area near sunrise. We picked a road a little further east than the two we'd checked out on our way into the Darien a few days previous, and this paid off! After a few hours of walking the road and checking the flocks, we'd added Forest Elaenia and Golden-fronted Greenlet along with Eastern Wood-Pewee, Olivaceous Woodcreeper and Wood Thrush. Also in the area were some of the Darien specialties like Orange-crowned Oriole and White-eared Conebill. Arriving back at our car, we discovered the two guys who'd walked by us a little earlier had parked directly in the middle of the road, right behind our car, completely blocking us in! As they were long gone, we debated what to do - luckily Steve had a couple machetes with him and after a few minutes of hacking and swearing we had a makeshift passing lane made. This was just enough to get us around them, and we were off to our next stop at the Rio Mono bridge.

 Clearing a path

Just made it by!

Looking down from the Rio Mono bridge

This is a great spot to get a look at some canopy species, and there seemed to always be something happening while we were there. The highlight of our stop was a pair of Sooty-headed Tyrannulets; other goodies included Rufous-winged Antwren, Cinereous Becard and Cinnamon Woodpecker. A quick stop at the Bayano bridge gave us looks at the same species as our previous visit, again the Pied Water-Tyrants were showing well.

 Lago Bayano

In the midday heat we made our way to Nusagandi, with one particular target in mind. After four hours of walking the trails and sitting patiently in an area where we knew the birds were (Nick Athanas had seen them a few days earlier), we had to cut our losses and leave Xenornis-less (Spiny-faced aka Speckled Antshrike). We didn't add anything new for the trip or Panama here but it was nice to get Northern Schiffornis singing and see a few more Blue-crowned Manakins at close range. Afterward, we made our way through the crazy traffic in 24 de Diciembre, stopping at a bank en route (my bank had put a hold on all of my cards just before we went into the Darien, and I ran out of money and had to borrow from Josh and Steve for the duration of our time there!). Our final destination for the night was a nice little hotel with a restaurant and a pool near the entrance to Cerro Azul.

View from the road into Nusagandi
Running trip total: 841
Panama: 597

Mar 15

My last morning in Panama, and we had some work to do. On our way out of the Darien the day before, I'd stopped at a pay phone to call a guy who was apparently the owner of Cerro Azul. This gated community can only be accessed with permission from this guy, or if you know someone who lives in it who can let you in. Anyway, the pay phone kept eating my quarters and cutting off the call so I wasn't entirely sure if we had permission or not. We showed up at the gate shortly after 6am and hoped for the best. After talking to the guard in broken Spanish, he eventually let us in after I said I'd spoken with the owner, and told us to go to the visitor reception area. We stopped in, and it turned out they offer day passes for the community (which, if I recall correctly, were rather expensive), but they don't have them until after 8am. We said we'd stop in on our way back which seemed good enough for them, and made our way into Cerro Azul! Our first stop was at the very top, where it was pretty foggy but after walking the road a ways we'd connected with our main targets - Tacarcuna Chlorospingus and Violet-capped Hummingbird (#600 for Panama!). We also heard some Tawny-faced Quail which were new for the Panama tally and picked up Slate-colored Grosbeak for the trip.

Birding in the clouds above Cerro Azul

On our way back, we were anxiously watching the clock as we figured 9:45 was the absolute latest we could leave Cerro Azul and make it to the airport in time for my flight. This left us just enough time to check out a side road which is mentioned in the book as being a good place for the other major target here - Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. Driving down the road, we figured we'd have time for maybe a five-minute look at the end, where the book says to go. Lucky for us, we came across some birders about halfway down the road. They turned out to be the same British guys we'd shared a room with in Gamboa two weeks earlier! After swapping some quick stories, we discovered they'd already been down the road to the spot mentioned in the book, had spent over an hour looking and turned up exactly zero woodpeckers. This was definitely a disappointment, but at that moment I heard an odd call. I noticed one of the guys had a speaker in his hand, and asked him to play the woodpecker. Two seconds later a bird flew in - score!

 A backlit Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker

It was soon joined by three others on the same tree, and they gave us a great show. After admiring the birds for a minute, we definitely had to make tracks, and bid our farewells to the Brits before racing back down the mountain. We ended up making it to the airport with time to spare, and my flight back to Canada went without a hitch. Josh and Steve continued on for one last day in Panama, check Josh's blog for details on that. It was certainly a great last morning in the tropics, birding right down to the wire! I saw far more species than I'd been expecting and had a fantastic time doing it!
Final tally: 845 (225 MX, 171 BZ, 239 GT, 400 CR, 602 PA)

Note on the final tally: In going through my photos I found one I'd missed in CR, bringing the Costa Rica total to 401 and the trip to 846!

 Til next time, Panama!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Panama - The Darién Gap

Mar 9

This post is going to be a bit of a long one, I'm afraid!

After two early mornings in a row, we had a bit of a sleep-in (relatively) this morning, and hit the road sometime around 730, headed eastward into the sunrise after adding Shiny Cowbird to the Panama tally. After a few hours on a steadily deteriorating road, passing through several military checkpoints, we reached our destination of Yaviza. This town marks the southern end of the northern portion of the Panamerican Highway, and the beginning of the Darién Gap, which was listed on the travel.gc website as a 'no-go' zone (and still is). Of course we ignored this and after meeting up with Isaac (our guide for the next few days, and necessary to enter the region), picking up some supplies and dropping our car off at the police station, we loaded up our pirogue and were off down the Rio Chucunaque.

Our driver had excellent eyes, and we made a few stops along the way to El Real, picking up Black-collared Hawk and Black Oropendola for the trip. Other highlights on this stretch included Blue Cotinga (a nice male this time!) and a Collared Forest-Falcon which flew across the river right in front of us. Arriving in El Real, we loaded up on chicken, rice and beans and packed ourselves into a rather large van which was full of locals. It turned out that most of them were just along for the ride as they had nothing else to do that day, and a few (many) beers later the bus was quite a party with the reggaeton blasting. We eventually made it to Pirre Uno, the jumping-off point for the trek into Darién National Park, and waited for a while until a guy showed up with a horse. We loaded our big packs onto it, and he took off southward down the trail. We followed a little more slowly on foot, birding our way into the park. Along the way we added Pale-bellied Hermit, White-fronted Nunbird, Choco Sirystes (at the time it was just Sirystes) and Scarlet-browed Tanager for the trip, and I picked up White-winged Becard for Panama.

Huge trees in Darien NP

A few hours later we arrived at a little side trail, where Isaac wandered off and motioned us to follow. A minute later, we were all staring up at a gargantuan avian predator - a Harpy Eagle!!! This two-year-old chick was at a nest site which Isaac had been monitoring - unfortunately the parents weren't around but we were all understandably excited nonetheless. This was definitely one of the trip highlights, seeing such a spectacular bird in the giant primary forest.

Harpy Eagle!

With that success under our belts, we pushed onward to the ranger station at Rancho Frío (no idea why it's called that as it's certainly not cold there!) which would be our base for the night. After getting settled in to the basic accommodations and getting some food into us, we went out for a bit of a night hike along the stream, turning up a good assortment of night critters! Josh has some better photos up on his blog, but we encountered quite a few frogs, lizards, giant spiders and other bugs before packing it in for the night.

Glass frog sp.

Josh with a Smoky Jungle Frog

Running trip total: 783
Panama: 517

Mar 10

We were all pretty eager to get going this morning and see what the Darién had to offer! Right away we picked up Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Red-throated Caracara and Plumbeous Pigeon from our cabin, and Isaac and I heard a Double-banded Graytail calling, although we were unable to track it down or call it in. After a quick breakfast, we went off down a trail across the river, where Isaac knew of a Crested Eagle nest. Unfortunately for us, much searching and playback of the area failed to produce the youngster or either of the adults, and we had to console ourselves with our other eagle sighting the day before. Other birds of interest along the trail included Golden-headed Manakin and Stripe-throated Wren (trip birds), along with Great Curassow, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Great Green Macaw and Ocellated Antbird for the Panama portion. Around 10 it was heating up and we needed to make tracks for our next site, so we packed up and headed off up the mountain. The hike took us the rest of the day, partly due to exertion (carrying our packs up 8km of narrow path, gaining 600m elevation in 35+ degree heat!), but mostly due to the birds! The path provided us with some great birding, and spectacular views at a few miradors.

 It was a hot and steep climb!

 View from the first lookout

 From the second lookout

Along the way up we scored Yellow-eared Toucanet, Black-breasted Puffbird, Red-and-green Macaw, Russet-winged Schiffornis, White-headed Wren, Rufous-winged and Lemon-spectacled Tanagers and Central American Pygmy-Owl, all lifers. Barred Hawk and Rufous Piha were also new for Panama. We eventually arrived at our campsite for the night, Rancho Plastico (called that for the tarps that researchers used when they camped there). This was basically just a wide spot on the ridge (about 5-6m across!).

 Camp at Rancho Plastico

Of course, the birding didn't stop there, as we had heard Choco Tinamou calling off down the slope on our arrival. Ditching our stuff, we headed off after it, and after a bit of a search we eventually had good but brief looks at it! Back at camp, we set up our tents (well, Isaac and I did; Josh and Steve set up their hammocks) and birded around the site for a bit, picking up Tody Motmot, Wing-banded Antbird and Sharpbill. With all those great birds seen and the light almost gone, we made a dash down the opposite slope to a stream, ostensibly to get some water for the night but also to look (unsuccessfully) for Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. Josh and I stayed until after dark, finding more herps and bugs to photograph before calling it a night!
Running trip total: 799
Panama: 541

Mar 11

This was arguably my most-anticipated day of the trip, as we were heading to the top of Cerro Pirre, a spot not too many birders had visited! Expecting an early start, and due to excitement, I was up well before dawn (before my alarm even) and packed up/ready to go before anyone else had even rolled out of their sleeping bags. Unfortunately not everyone was so organized, and we missed a few hours on the ridge because of this... While waiting, Josh and I did a bit of birding around the camp, adding Speckled Mourner to the Panama list and seeing/hearing a number of the birds we'd had on the way up the day prior. Eventually Steve had his things in order and we were off, about two hours later than planned for. The hike up to the top took us about three hours, although 'hike' is maybe not the right term. The trail here is sort of half-visible in the undergrowth, and you gain 600m+ of elevation over a one-kilometre or so stretch! This means that a good chunk of the time you are hauling yourself up near-vertical slopes on all fours...

The 'path' to the top!

 Steve crawling up

The birding, however, is nothing short of fantastic, and we quickly racked up many new birds amongst the mixed flocks. First up was a White-whiskered Hermit which buzzed by me and landed right in front of Josh and Isaac, giving me ok looks while the other two had fantastic views (#800 for the trip!). At the time I don't think there were any accepted records for Panama (or North America for that matter), although now there appears to be a few on eBird, including one from near this spot. Other new birds on the walk up included Gray-and-gold Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Green-fronted Lancebill, and our first endemic - the Pirre Chlorospingus. Nearing the top, we came across a mixed flock with a pair of Green-naped Tanagers in it (another endemic), unfortunately Josh and I only saw their tails as they disappeared into the fog, never to be seen again. Once we got to the top (where there is a campsite that looking back, I wish we'd camped at!), we had a water break and then ditched our packs to walk along the ridge.

 Made it! Already birding during our water break

 Walking the ridge

The third mirador, looking out toward Colombia which is about 35-40km away

All along the ridge was great birding, and we saw a lot of new birds, although we didn't find the rare Beautiful Treerunner. Highlights included Choco Tapaculo, Tooth-billed and Pirre Hummingbirds, Sooty-headed Wren, Varied Solitaire, Pirre Warbler, Yellow-backed Tanager, Yellow-green Grosbeak and Yellow-collared Chlorophonia.

 Pirre Hummingbird

We also heard a Dusky Pigeon calling from up there, another species with only a few records for North America but which is probably regular in parts of the Darien. As the day wore on, we needed to make tracks for our camp if we were to have time for a few other specialties. Heading back down (mainly sliding down the steep trail), Isaac's keen eyes picked up a Russet-crowned Quail-Dove hiding in the undergrowth, providing nice views, and further on a Sapayoa!

 If anything the descent was more difficult!

Arriving back at camp around 4:30pm, we made a beeline for the stream just down the ridge, and quickly picked up Red-headed Barbet along with Dull-mantled and Zeledon's Antbirds. After a lot of searching, we eventually had quick views of a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, this being one of the few sites in North America for it. As darkness was falling, we managed to squeak out one last good bird near the stream with a Black-crowned Antpitta that skulked around in the half-light. After dinner, Josh and Steve were busy setting up their hammocks (we had taken most of our stuff down as Isaac had told us we'd be camping on top of the ridge, only to cancel this plan in favour of coming back to bird the stream), and I was grabbing a bite to eat when the first raindrops started falling. I quickly shoved my gear in my tent, and Josh and Steve managed to split their priority gear between mine and Isaac's tents, just in time for the deluge to begin. Unfortunately Josh didn't get his rain tarp up in time, and spent the night more than a little soaked. Luckily this rain (the first we'd seen for quite a while) had held off until after we'd descended the ridge, as hiking that beast when it's wet would be a nightmare.
Running trip total: 823
Panama: 571

Mar 12

Once again we were up early, and spent some time packing up our gear and eating breakfast while enjoying our last hours on the mountain. This allowed us to pick up Black-eared Wood-Quail and Rufous-winged Antwren, albeit both heard-only. As we had a fair ways to go, we didn't linger long at the camp and started making our way hastily back to Rancho Frío. Of course, we made a few stops for birds along the way, picking up a heard-only Plumbeous Hawk that was frustratingly flying circles around us just above the (rather dense) canopy and a rather more cooperative pair of Gray-cheeked Nunlets.

 Isaac raising a Panamanian flag at the lookout

A funky grasshopper

Back at Rancho Frio we broke for lunch and then made another assault on the Crested Eagle nest (not literally), once again coming up empty. Others who were there later in the year got the bird so not sure what it was doing while we were around! Our consolation prize was a Rufous-breasted Hermit before we made the long walk back to Pirre Uno. On the way we saw another of my most-wanted birds in the area - Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, one of the smallest passerines in the world! They are like tiny balls of energy bouncing around in the canopy constantly emitting their little tick notes. Back at Pirre Uno we waited around for our truck to show up (the party van wasn't available this day, but some nice cold beers were still had - essential after hiking >50km in 3 days) and then got a ride to the El Real airport. The driver paused long enough on the return journey to let us admire the ridge we'd just climbed over the past few days.

Cerro Pirre

Our ride! and beer

Josh and I discovered the roof was a good vantage point

At the airport, we had barely arrived when our first target showed well - Spot-breasted Woodpecker. Next up were some Spectacled Parrotlets at a nearby spot that Isaac knew, and on our drive back to the hotel a White-thighed Swallow flew overhead. After crushing two plates of chicken, rice and beans (what else?), Steve and I were pumped to go look for some owls near the airport, while Josh was feeling the 50k we'd just walked. We struck out on owls but got distant spotlit looks at a perched Great Potoo calling away in the darkness. A fantastic final day in the wilds of the Darien!

The El Real airport

Sunset on our last day
Running trip total: 833
Panama: 582

Mar 13

Our last morning in the area, we went for a bit of a walk around town, checking out the airport and a few other spots that Isaac knew, picking up more Spectacled Parrotlets along with Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Gray-capped and Willow Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Laughing Falcon and Mississippi Kite. Then it was time to load up the boat and head back to Yaviza, picking up Yellow-crowned Night-Heron for Panama along the way.

 Soaking up some sun on the way back to Yaviza

The river was quite busy with people and livestock!

In Yaviza we retrieved our car from the police, paid Isaac, said our goodbyes, and made our way back through the checkpoints to Torti, where we stayed at the same hotel we'd been at before. We made another trek down the sideroad a little ways from our hotel, seeing mostly the same stuff as before but with the added bonus of my lifer Royal Flycatcher. Unfortunately it wasn't doing the whole crest-waving thing, that'll have to wait for a future encounter! Today was mostly a travel day so not too much to write about; we celebrated our Darien success back at the hotel with some beverages!

Momma sloth with baby near Torti
Running trip total: 837
Panama: 591

Monday, March 21, 2016

Panama - Altos del Maria to Torti via El Cope

Mar 6

We initially had another morning planned in the Altos area, but seeing as we had cleaned the place out on our first day and were scrounging for scraps on day two, we figured a third day wasn't going to help us much. We bid farewell to Alfred in the predawn hours and made a beeline for the Juan Hombron Road, with Steve and I hoping for Mango redemption and Josh eager to score some grassland species which he hadn't been planning on seeing this time around. Our strategy was the same as on our first visit, drive the road and get out to check flowering trees. This time though, we spotted a side road which we had missed on the first go, and a quick check with binoculars showed a whole row of flowering trees a ways down it. Making our way to those trees, we didn't even make it out of the car before a rather large hummingbird zipped in - ka-ching! Watching the trees for a while gave us good looks and scope views of three Veraguan Mangos, and we'd only been at it for 20 minutes!

Veraguan Mango

An Orchard Oriole was also new for my Panama tally. We then cruised the road a bit more, again checking out the wetland area and stopping to look at grassland specialties before zipping over to the Cocle area. We again found the cooperative Aplomado Falcons and a few other new birds for Josh (plus White-tailed Hawk and Common Black Hawk for the Panama list). After a bit of a drive around Cocle it was time to go, and we made our way slowly westward to El Copé, adding Merlin and Wood Stork to the Panama list along the way. Due to the Carnival, traffic was insane and it took us most of the afternoon to get to our destination. As we still had a bit of time, we scouted out the road to the park a bit, but didn't see much of interest and called it a day.

The road in to El Cope
Running trip total: 760
Panama: 456

Mar 7

An early start (4:30am) saw us in the back of a 4x4 truck, bouncing our way up to the park entrance. This road is walkable, but to save time and energy we decided the extra expense was worth it. By dawn we'd arrived at the gates and paid our fee, and were off into the park proper. We spent the morning walking the road and doing a lap of every trail we could find, hoping to run into a few target species and some mixed flocks. We had good success with both, and encountered many mixed flocks throughout the morning! New species for the trip were Slaty Antwren, Slaty-winged and Lineated Foliage-gleaners, and Yellow-throated Chlorospingus. The park also added a lot of species for my Panama list, mainly Caribbean slope species which I had already seen in Costa Rica - highlights included Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Green Thorntail, White-crowned Manakin, Russet Antshrike, Northern Schiffornis, Blue-and-gold Tanager and Stripe-breasted Wren. By midday the activity had slowed down considerably, and we wandered back to the (closed) visitor centre for lunch and a siesta.

El Cope (PN Omar Torrijos)

A gravid lizard of some sort

Keeping an eye out for raptors in the afternoon heat paid off when we had decent looks at a dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk, the first I'd ever seen! With that under our belts we set off to pound the trails again, seeing mostly the same stuff as in the morning. As it was getting late in the day, Steve decided he'd had enough and set off to walk back to our hostel. Josh and I stayed on for a bit, waiting for dusk as Josh was planning to do a night hike and I was debating joining him. As dusk settled, however, I decided I needed sleep more than I needed to look for herps, and headed back, catching up to Steve about halfway back. A few hours later Josh turned up with some excellent photos, which we enjoyed over a beer before hitting the hay.

Hiking all day is thirsty work

Cool leafhopper
Running trip total: 764
Panama: 478

Mar 8

An even earlier start (it started with a 3...) saw us loading up the car and making a mad dash for the open road, in order to be through Panama City before rush hour. We were successful in that venture, and were cruising the highway over Costa del Este shortly after sunrise.

 Downtown Panama City before rush hour

As there was nowhere to pull over, and we wanted to make time for points further east anyway, our birding here was limited to drive-by only. Luckily Josh had his camera on-hand and we did some drive-by shooting (photos, that is) of the masses of birds out on the flats. This added Herring Gull and American Golden-Plover to the trip, along with some new Panama ticks like Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Franklin's Gull and Black Skimmer. With that we were through the city, and after a quick stop for a much-needed break, got to our target for the day - Lake Bayano. We spent some time scanning from the bridge over the lake, picking up Cocoi Heron, Pied Water-Tyrant and White-ringed Flycatcher for the trip (and adding Neotropic Cormorant and Ringed Kingfisher for Panama).

Lago Bayano

Afterward we drove a bit further east, and checked out a few of the sideroads through the forest. Much of it is patchy, but the patches provide some pretty good birding! Highlights here included Black Antshrike, Orange-crowned Oriole, White-eared Conebill and Jet Antbird, all lifers! Other new Panama birds were Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Red-rumped Woodpecker and Cinereous Becard. By about noon the heat was driving down activity and we pushed onward to Torti, where we got checked in at the Hotel Avicar. The hummingbird feeders here were quite active, and added Scaly-breasted Hummingbird and Long-billed Starthroat for Panama. After lunch and a bit of a siesta we went over to a nearby road with Nick Athanas, one of Tropical Birding's lead tour guides, who we'd run into at the hotel. Despite missing our main target (Double-banded Graytail, which had been recorded here recently), we had a great time birding the road with Nick, adding Barred Puffbird and Pacific Antwren for the trip, along with Cinnamon Becard and American Redstart for the Panama list. Afterward we went for a drive westward, looking for a place that Nick had told us about, but didn't find it and decided to call it a day!

Birding near Torti
Running trip total: 775
Panama: 506

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Panama - Altos del Maria

Mar 4

Being at a higher elevation, and with so many habitat types contained in a relatively tiny area, our birding pace in Altos felt very relaxed compared to some other parts of the trip, but that doesn't mean we took it easy! We started our day birding around Alf's garden - his personal project as when he moved in the yard was completely barren save for one or two large trees, and is now completely filled with native vegetation, flowers, feeders and water sources. Consequently, it is a great spot to bird, and has the added bonus of an observation tower right beside it! White-vented Plumeleteer and Rosy Thrush-Tanager quickly made the list (although we would go without a sighting of the latter for our entire trip and it remained heard-only). A short hawkwatch from the observation tower gave us some good raptor sightings (Gray-headed Kite) and allowed us views into the canopy - neat to have a different perspective! After breakfast we went off to visit a Chestnut-headed Oropendola colony which had a Giant Cowbird attending it.

 Chestnut-headed Oropendola with nest

Working our way higher (Alf's place is at about 900masl, the cloud forest starts at 1300-1400masl), we picked up Orange-bellied Trogon, Canada Warbler, Plain Antvireo, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, White-throated Spadebill and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet for the trip. Other highlights included Snowcap, Tawny-capped Euphonia and White-ruffed Manakin. We eventually ended up at another observation platform, this one right up on a high point along the continental divide. It provided awe-inspiring views of the surrounding landscape, and we could easily see both the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The view down the middle

 Josh made a friend

More importantly, it gave us another hawkwatching opportunity. Earlier we'd asked Alfred how many species he had for his Altos area list, and he said it was over 300, and he gets a few new ones every year now (the pace has obviously slowed since he first moved in!). While watching some of the more common species, a Hook-billed Kite flew over, the first of about 6 new Altos birds Alfred got in the couple days we were birding with him! Alfred had also been telling us a story of when he came up here on his birthday one time and had a close encounter with a certain raptor. As the hawks had slowed down, we were turning to leave when a pair of White Hawks made themselves known in the valley far below. A great species and a seen lifer for us, but not the raptor he was talking about. A movement off to the right at eye level caught our attention, and our collective mind said 'oh just a Turkey Vulture' before getting the bins up and having a minor heart attack. Ornate Hawk-Eagle! Just the bird Alfred was talking about, and like the last time, it came in rather close, made a few passes at eye level, and kept on its way over the ridge and out of sight.

 Ornate Hawk-Eagle, uncropped at 300mm!

With that sighting under our belt, we moved to some gardens at a lower elevation. After a while wandering around and not seeing much of particular interest, I heard a call off in the distance that sounded vaguely familiar. It took me a minute but then I realized what it was - "PARROTLETS!", I shouted, and took off running. Arriving in the area, it still took us a minute to pick them out in the tree in which they were perched. Tiny green birds blend in pretty well with green leaves!

Blue-fronted Parrotlet
With that high target rarity under our belts, we carried on with the afternoon, picking up Barred Forest-Falcon before finishing up at a little man-made lake. After birding it for a while we decided it looked like it had major potential as a vagrant trap, with the variety of habitats around it and the fact it was the only decent waterbody in the area. Not long after we discovered a Little Blue Heron, which was new for Alfred's Altos list! After dinner we went out for a night hike along a stream, turning up some enormous spiders and a few frogs but not much else in the dry conditions.

Playing with a giant spider
Running trip total: 757
Panama: 448

Mar 5

Another full day in the Altos area, we explored a few new spots with Alfred, including the continental divide trail, the cloud forest (which was being cleared for new lots) and several other sites, getting better views and photos of many of the birds we'd seen the day before. Given that we'd seen so much the day before though, our chances for new trip birds were pretty slim, and we only turned up two - Olive-sided and Bran-colored Flycatchers, both at the little man-made lake mentioned yesterday. A Rufous Mourner was also new for my Panama tally. We still managed a respectable 95 species on the day before heading back to Alfred's for some R&R in anticipation of another night hike. This one was in a slightly damper area and turned up more cool bugs but not enough herps for Josh!

The cloud forest at AdM

Glass frog sp.

One of two kinds of odd spiny katydids we found
Running trip total: 759
Panama: 451