Archive for Panama
December is the end of the rainy season in Gamboa, but it wasn’t giving up without a fight; on my last afternoon, the skies opened and we had a downpour the likes of which I hadn’t seen in years. But as is apparently typical at this time of year, it lasted only a couple of hours, and so I still had time for a valedictory stroll around the incredibly bird-rich hotel grounds.
The lawns were covered with Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Southern Lapwings in search of invertebrates driven out by the rain; Wattled Jacanas, an unidentified juvenile Butorides (Green or Striated? not an identification problem I’d prepared for!), and Lesser Kiskadees were the motley crew feeding on one of the deeper ponds. The bird I most wanted to see again, though, was lurking on the river’s edge, where I’d seen it, or another member of the species, a couple of times during my visit: Rufescent Tiger-Heron, a great ruddy adult.
This genus, Tigrisoma, is actually named for the plumage of juveniles, which are boldly banded black and orange all over; but “tiger body” is apt, too, for the adults, whose barring is subtler but just as beautiful.
I spent a fair bit of time chasing seedeaters through the grass, but found, as in my earlier ventures forth, only chiggers and Variable Seedeaters.
This male was among the darkest individuals I saw, most of them showing rather more white on the underparts.
I was about to call it a day and a trip when I heard the long woodcreeper-like song of a White-bellied Antbird. While I paused at the river’s edge, pondering whether a good view of the species would be worth splashing through a little pond where I’d seen rather a large caiman the day before, a splendid little male flew in to perch on the branch right in front of me. He nearly burst my eardrums with that loud song, but I watched and listened until nearly sunset, glad to have made his acquaintance without risking limb and life to the crocodiles.
Pipeline Trail, one of the most famous birding sites in the world, disappointed me on my first visit, earlier this year. But the half day I spent there this month was spectacular, and I came away understanding why it should enjoy the reputation it does.
We started with a fine meal at Los Lagartos, where Great Kiskadees perched around our table and Greater Anis fussed at Purple Gallinules in the shoreline vegetation.
Royal Terns flew up and down the river from and to the Canal, and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, perhaps my “favorite” bird of the entire trip, worked the treetops and the shrubs nearby.
On then to Pipeline Road, where for more than 5 hours we were surrounded by constant avian action. It was the most amazing piprid day I’d ever experienced, with Blue-crowned, Red-capped, and Golden-collared Manakins rarely out of sight, and a couple of times all three species in a single binocular view! Normally shy and reclusive in their shady haunts, Dusky Antbirds and Western Slaty-Antshrikes gave excellent performances, and a Cinnamon Woodpecker, a bird that had offered only brief flight views earlier this year, tapped calmly at a nest hole while we watched. Blue-crowned and Rufous Motmots were utterly unconcerned, feeding just a few feet away from us just inside the foliage. Slaty-tailed Trogons were downright common, whistling as they perched right above our heads.
Too soon it was time to head back–and we suddenly realized that in the five hours we’d walked, we hadn’t made it even to the first bridge. Truly a miraculous day on the Pipeline Trail.
The view from the canopy tower at Gamboa is incredible: the hotel grounds, the Chagres, and the Panama Canal all at once. And birds to boot!
The most dazzling and least expected constellation of my entire trip was had atop the tower, where a fine Bay-breasted Warbler fed in the treetops at eye level while a trio of noisy Blue-headed Parrots flashed around beneath us. I’d seen the parrot, poorly, a couple of times before, but this was my first chance to really enjoy their beauty, with deep blue heads and glistening green wings.
We lingered as long as we could, enjoying the occasional bird and the snoozing kinkajou in the rafters, but when the cruise ship cruisers arrived for the climb, we ducked the crowds and headed back down, where the hotel grounds were as lively as could be. Crimson-backed Tanagers were abundant and conspicuous; this one was wearing a silver bracelet.
The Gray-headed Chachalacas were still feeding off my veranda; hardly appropriate behavior for a cracid, but they did manage to frustrate every effort at a good picture.
Less coy were the Southern Lapwings pacing off the lawns and tennis courts. This is a species on the move, and it won’t be long (depending on your time scale, I suppose) before they arrive here in southeast Arizona; there are already signs of the attempt to colonize the Atlantic Coast of North America, and they have appeared on the Pacific Coast in Mexico.
Not bad for birds seen on the walk back to one’s room!
Rainforest mammals are notoriously difficult to see, but the grounds of the hotel itself proved very productive. Red howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins were tolerably common, and agoutis were everywhere, like gawky squirrels on lawns.
I ate a red-rumped agouti in Guyana in November, and after that not entirely successful gustatory experiment, I was just as happy to admire these alive.
Capybaras were a terrific surprise to me, grazing on the hotel grounds and crashing through the brush on the river’s edge. I never got a good photo of the herd, but here at least is a heartwarming scene, if blurry, of maternal care.
The real mammalian prize was snoozing in the rafters of the canopy tower. A disheveled clump of fur came alive when two Black Vultures landed noisily on the roof: a kinkajou!
Far and away the cutest sight of the entire trip.
December shaped up to be a month of quick visits this year, and four days in Panama, though well worth it indeed, was hardly enough to do anything but whet the appetite.
After a great first morning of balcony birding, I met my guide and we headed out to the canopy tram and tower. The rain had started by the time we arrived, but that just gave us extra time to enjoy the several White-necked Jacobins that had set up vigorously defended territories at the feeders, chasing off anything, feathered or not, that dared approach too close.
The name of this dazzling little bird has given rise to a strange etymological legend, one that I’ve heard repeated many times recently: namely, that the white half-collar on the nape of the male recalls (it’s getting unpleasant now, beware) the cut of the guillotine that sent so many radical leftists, Jacobins, to their graves during the French Revolution. Too clever by half, unfortunately: the name refers quite simply to the cowl worn by the birds, which was thought to resemble the hood of Dominican (Jacobin) monks. The only connection is that the Jacobins (the human ones) met in a former Dominican monastery in Paris.
It’s still a good story, I have to admit: just wrong.