Welcome to Birds In My Bins And Lens: Eyeing The Avifauna And Fauna Of The Americas. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to travel to the tropics. I vividly remember being nine years-old, thumbing through seemingly endless stacks of Ranger Rick, National Wildlife, National Geographic and International Wildlife Magazines, dreaming of visiting such wonderful places as: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Colombia, etc. in order to see all the great birds and animals that call these places home. Finally, after 40 years, I am fulfilling my childhood dreams.

Photo Above: Flame-faced Tanager (Male) Ecuador August 2014


_______________________________________________

Friday, June 14, 2013

PANAMA. JUNE 5-13, 2013


AN APPROACHING AFTERNOON THUNDER STORM, OVER THE PANAMA JUNGLE, PHOTOGRAPHED FROM ATOP THE WORLD FAMOUS CANOPY TOWER


INTRODUCTION

I recently returned from a very enjoyable, solo,  first ever trip to Panama (I will be returning to a different part of this beautiful country in September and I am making plans for a third trip next year). I had spent the entire trip in central Panama, mostly within the former Canal Zone.
 
I resided at the Canopy Tower for this trip and was very happy with the decision. For more information see www.canopytower.com.

The facilities are first rate as was the entire staff at the tower and main office. The food was fabulous and plenty of it. In other words, I didn't go hungry. I highly recommend this lodge to any birder and feel, that this would make a great introduction to some one's first tropical birding adventure.

Panama is a beautiful place.  I never once felt uneasy or  unsafe. The people I met were nothing but friendly. I can't wait for my return trip. For a little, brief history lesson about Panama, check out this link:  http://www.infoplease.com/country/panama.html


The Canopy Tower (a former US radar facility) is located within the Soberania National Park and is surrounded by quality forest. The birding atop the tower and along the road down Semaphore Hill and on the Plantation Trail, right out side the tower grounds, was nothing short of fantastic.

On my birding forrays, I visited the Ammo Dump Ponds in Gamboa, Pipeline Road (twice), Summit Ponds, the old Gamboa Road (twice) and the Metropolitan Park. All are within a few minutes drive of the tower.

Quality looks at many secretive species was easy at these locations. There were so many birds at times, in all directions, that it was difficult deciding what bird I wanted to look at.

My longest excursion was to Cerro Azul, which is basically a resort community, a two hour drive from the tower. Cerro Azul (Blue Hill) is where many people in Panama have vacation homes (basically a gated community) in the higher elevations, to escape the Panama heat. The birding at Cerro Azul was unbelievable.

My guides, Michael and Alex, were simply amazing! They are very friendly and have contagious personalities. These two gentleman, native Panamanians, knew their birds inside and out. They knew every call and squeak of every bird and where to find the birds. They are very patient with clients and work amazingly hard to get you on each and every bird. They made great birding companions and became quick friends.

The views from the tower are impressive. Each new sunrise is different than the one before. Some days, the low laying fog and clouds, envelope the hills. Other mornings, the sun lights up the Forest.

I would wake up every morning around 4:00am and make my way up the stairs through the tower, to open the hatch and spend a couple of hours alone atop the tower.

The night's wildlife was still active, as they were making way for the coming day shift. Kinkajou, Owls, Bats, Night Monkey and other nocturnal denizens could occasionally be seen in the beam of my spot light. Other creatures of the night, could be heard calling in the distance or scurrying through the canopy and forest floor below.

Most of all, I enjoyed just watching the sun come up over the jungle. It was peaceful beyond words. It has been a long time since I felt so relaxed. So stress free. No cares. No worries. Just total awe at what became visible with the coming light.



The fruiting Cercropia Trees that are right outside the tower and bedroom windows were animal magnets.These trees are just "outside arms length" and provide food and perches for many birds and mammals, which come to feed on the fruit and leaves each day, as well as predators, who come to feed on those who feed on these trees.



 

 
 

Bird species seen in and above these trees and surrounding forest, reads like a who's who of tropical birding. Keel-billed Toucans (the photo to the left), Plain Tanagers, Blue-gray Tanagers, Red-lored Parrots, Mealy Parrots, Blue-headed Parrots, Green-shrike Vireo, Golden-hooded Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Squirrel Cuckoo, Barred Antshrike, Rufous Motmot, Short-tailed Hawk, White Hawk and three species of Honeycreepers, to just name a few.
 

One of my favorite daily visitors to the tower's Cercropia Trees, were colorful and highly animated, Collared Aracari (seen to the right).

These crazy, yet beautiful, Toucans look fake and are one the more colorful (plumaged and personality) birds of the tropics.

Their beaks, about 4 inces long, are almost a quarter of the bird's entire body.

They are highly social, roaming the jungle in groups of up to 15 birds.
  
THE MAMMALS

Mammals like Mantled Howler Monkey, Geoffrey's Tamarin, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths and Jamaican Fruit-eating Bats are nothing short of daily events.
 
 
video
 
The above, poor quality video transfer from my iPad, is of a male Mantled Howler Monkey (I named Eugene) that came to visit the tower on a few days while I was there. He and I were "bonding". He grew bolder with me and seemed to want to come into the room with me, through the window. I felt bad for him, because he had a pretty hefty infestation of Botflies.
 
These botflies use mosquitoes as vectors in which to attached their eggs to. When the mosquito bites, an egg is deposited through that bite or onto the skin of a helpless victim. The egg hatches and the maggot burrows into the host's body, feeding on it's flesh. The maggot grows larger and forms a large, open tubular sore on the victim, called a "warble."  Examples of warbles, can be seen on this poor primate's neck in the photo above, taken with my cellphone..
These parasites rarely kill their host, but no doubt, makes them miserable. Poor, Eugene. Hopefully, I will not have this parasite from some of the mosquito bites I received...! Time will tell. If I do, I will post pictures!
 
As I said above, "Eugene" seemed to want to come into my room with me. What he would have done when/if he did, will remain a mystery...He seemed to grow frustrated that he couldn't get in, that the window was just "outside" his jumping range. He would grunt, pace back and forth on a limb, just feet from me at my window. He would break branches off the tree he was in. Probably out of anger since he couldn't reach me.
 
Eventually,  he calmed back down and would mimic me sticking my tongue out at him. It was rather comical made him appear more human than a wild animal. Obviously, these primates are rather intelligent.  I miss old Eugene and hope he recovers from his Botfly infestation fully and completely
 
 
 
 
The mantled howler monkey lives in Southern Mexico, Central and South America.  They eat fruits, leaves, and flowers. Compared to the humpback whale the mantled howler monkey is the second loudest animal in the world. You can hear them three miles away. Also if you listen very closely you would hear their warning call "HUH! HUH! HUH!"
 
I deeply miss hearing these guys each and every morning, outside the tower. There were at least five groups near the tower. They would begin their howls around 5:30am like clock work. Each group howling back to the next.
 
Besides Howler Monkeys, other mammals visited very close to the tower. One of my favorites was the Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. These guys will not break any land speed records, but what they lack in speed, most certainly make up for it with agility and strength. It is amazing watching them hang from three toes on one foot, high up in the canopy.


The three-toed sloth is an arboreal animal, inhabiting the tropical forests of Central and South America. Their algae-covered fur helps camouflage the sloth in its forest environment. Sloths spend nearly all of their time in trees, descending to the ground only once a week to defecate.
 

Sloths are herbivores (plant eaters), feeding on a low-energy diet of leaves, twigs and fruit. Because of their slow movement and metabolism, it can take up to a month for a sloth to digest a single meal.
 
Sloths are among the slowest-moving animals on Earth; they can swim but are virtually unable to walk. This makes them an easy target for jaguars, eagles and people that hunt sloths for their meat. The brown-throated three-toed sloth population is threatened by deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and human encroachment. In addition, their restricted diet prevents them from thriving in captivity.
 
Without a doubt, one of the cutest tower visitors, were the agile and beautiful, Geoffrey's Tamarin. This arboreal monkey was a great highlight of my trip.

Geoffroy's Tamarin is most active during the day and rests in the safety of the tree tops during the night. Geoffroy's tamarins are very sociable animals and inhabit their territory with their rest of the Geoffroy's Tamarin troop which generally have between 3 and 9 members. Geoffroy's tamarin troops are led by the eldest female and have predominantly male members.

The Geoffroy's Tamarin (right)is an omnivorous animal meaning that the Geoffroy's tamarin hunts both plants and other animals in order to survive. Fruits,insects and green plants make up the majority of the Geoffroy's tamarin's diet along with small rodents and reptile eggs and tree sap. Due to it's relatively small size, the Geoffroy's tamarin,  has a number of predators within it's natural environment. Wildcats, snakes and birds of prey are primary predators of the Geoffroy's tamarin, along with humans who are destroying their natural habitat.

I acquired a nice list of mammal sightings on this trip: Mantled Howler Monkey, Geoffrey's Tamarin, Agouti, White-nosed Coati, Collared Peccary, Capybara, Verrigated Squirrel, Red-tailed Squirrel, White-tailed Deer, Kinkajou, Western Night Monkey, Jamaican Friut-eating Bat, Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and a variety of unidentified bats that were seen nightly

I was really hoping to see an ant Eater on this trip. It wasn't for the lack of effort, that I didn't. I knew they were around and that I was close to them because their sign, like their scat (pictured right), were around quite frequently.

The mammals were impressive on this trip! Even so, the best for me, were the birds. As a birder, I love Central and South America. I have been to Costa Rica and Columbia and  I am totally hooked and addicted to these regions, the people, the food and the wildlife.

THE BIRDS: Vamos a observar aves!

The birding on this trip was amazing! I took very few photos of the birds, because the lighting for photos was not the best, seeing I have a relatively slow lens, for low light photography. Also, there were so many birds in mixed flocks, that taking photos would mean missing birds, and most likely, missing something rare.

I will start out with the bird of the trip for me. This bird was number two on my "most wanted to see" list. Second only to the Harpy Eagle (which I unfortunately didn't see. Next year's trip to Panama will hopefully change that. However, for now, I am more than pleased with this trip's results).

The bird of the trip, was a raptor. A cool raptor. Then again, all raptors are cool. I was fortunate enough to see three of my second most wanted bird: The large and impressive, Black Hawk Eagle. My first sighting was a bird high up in the sky, on Pipeline Road.

That sighting was nice and offered excellent views. However, my best sighting would come on my second to last day of the trip. When I found a perched bird right off the "trail."

He/she was very cooperative, allowing several close views. He flew off but returned again, after Michael, my guide, vocalized his call. Where the bird perched next to us once again, allowing us killer in your face, eye to eye views through the scope.



Though light and small compared to other eagles, this bird is a powerful predator that frequently hunts relatively large prey. It mainly eats large rodents opossums and monkeys as well as, occasionally, bats and birds. Its popular name in Brazil is "Gavião-pega-macaco", which means "monkey-catching hawk". The birds it takes can be quite large, such as toucans,and chachalacas

These pictures do not do this magnificent raptor justice. The pictures also do not impress the closeness of this bird while perched. It was an amazing experience having this bird, stare me in the eye. It's orange eyes seemed to burn right through me.
  
One of the neatest things finding while out birding, were a few large Army Ant Swarms. It is around these swarms that many hard to see, let alone find, birds are located. These birds rely on these swarms and are drawn to them like magnets. They catch and eat all the fleeing animals and insects that the ants don't get.

The Army Ants destroy and kill most every living thing in their path. Those creatures unfortunate enough to be caught on the ground have little hope for escape. If the ants don't get them, birds will.

I will attest, that Army Ants bite and they bite hard!

video

In this video from my cellphone, you can see just a very small fraction of an Army Ant Swarm

The list of Antbirds, Antwrens, Antshrikes, Antpittas, and Woodcreepers (these are birds)that were present at these swarms were awesome and added many lifers to my growing list of birds.from the trip


 One of the more common followers of these ant swarms, were Bicolored Antbirds. Not the most colorful bird, but beautiful in it's own right.

These guys took full advantage of gleaning the scurrying insects from the path of the advancing swarm. Sometimes, the antbirds ate the ants,






The Bicolored Antbird is one of four species of Gymnopithys antbirds, and is speculated to be an obligate ant-follower. Nine subspecies are currently recognized over the species’ relatively wide range, which encompasses Central America from Honduras south to Panama, then through northern Colombia south to western Ecuador.


 
My most favorite bird in the ant swarms, was the very beautiful Ocellated Antbird. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos of this absolutely stunning bird. Next time, I will! I did however, get awesome looks at 2-3 of these often hard to see and find birds.


Another follower of the swarm, was the beautiful Spotted Anbird (left). The photo is blurry, due to low light levels at the forest floor and that, this little dude wouldn't stop moving.
 
These little birds are known not only to eat the insects that flee the swarms, but they also eat the lizards that flee for their lives!


 
Another picture from my blurry collection, is a photo of number three of my most wanted birds for the trip, a Collared Forest Falcon.  This cool raptor was a treat to see. I have heard them in Colombia, but never, to my dismay, got to see one. Our sharp-eyed guide, Michael, saw this huge, beauty perched off the "trail" and allowed us great views. Even though the photo is blurry, my views through my bins, were razor sharp and are carved into my brain forever!
 
 
 

 
 
video
 
 

 

Hummingbirds, always a favorite, were impressive on this trip! Band-tailed Barbthroat,, Green Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Rufous-crested Coquette, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, White-vented Plumeleteer, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and Purple-crowned Fairy were all seen and seen well! (Birds in red are lifer hummingbirds).
 
The video above, was taken at a set of feeders from a private residence on Cerro Azul. It just shows a small sampling of the birds at their many feeders. The Banaquit in the video is pretty cool too.
 
The couple who live here, moved to Panama two years ago from Florida. Very nice people. got to visit with them a while. Of course, they had to share with me their yard bird Harpy Eagle story !! Man-O-man! That is  the number one bird I have wanted to see since I was nine years old! Someday!

 
  
 
REPTILES & AMPHIBIANS
 
 
One frog (above) that I found had some amazing "blending into the environment skills. I haven't identified the frog yet. He was small, about the size of our Chorus Frog here in Michigan.
 
 
Reptiles and Amphibians were abundant. Lots of frogs and lizards and a few snakes were seen daily. I did not see any poisonous snake, unfortunately. I wanted badly to see some. Colorful poison dart frogs were common. These critters are absolutely beautiful. The jungle was full of frog calls, most went unseen, but many were seen hopping across the trails.
 
The best reptile sightings, were the huge Alligators. One individual, was a massive beast, measuring well over 15 feet. Definitely gave me chills. I tried walking out on a dock in a lagoon to photograph a 12 footer, but got nervous when he submerged. My guide, Michael, who was standing on a hill behind me said, "Jeff, you know they can jump out of the water and grab you!"
 
I saw a trail of bubbles coming to the dock and I high-tailed it up the hill. Yup, the Croc was making his way to me on the dock. Fun times!!
 
 
The small puddles on the forest floor and on various leaves of large plants, were full of frog eggs, egg masses and tadpoles. It was interesting walking through the jungle and seeing several foamy egg masses in almost every puddle of water
 
ADDITIONAL PHOTOS
 
One of the cool signs I saw while on the trip. There are lots of signs to have people watch for wildlife. Kind of like our "Deer Crossing" signs here in the states. I think the Capybara sign  is better, personally.
 
 
My last sunrise of the trip. She was a beauty. I definitely miss these.
 
 
 
Of all the places I have been blessed to visit, Panama is thus far my favorite. I am looking forward to my return visit on September 3, 2013. I will be residing at the Canopy Lodge near the village of El Valle. This trip will produce a new set of birds, for the most part. There will be some overlap, of course. Until then, I will have to suffer through my bout of PPD (Post Panama Depression).
 
 
 
CHECKLIST  245 Species: (Only includes those birds seen and not heard)  Birds in RED are lifers, over 100 lifers in all.

Great Tinamou
Little Tinamou
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Wood Stork
Magnificient Frigatebird
Neotropic Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Rufescent Tiger Heron
Great Eget
Snowy Egret
Tricolored Heron
Green Heron
Striated Heron
Capped Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Gray-headed Kite
Pearl Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite
Snail Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Crane Hawk
Semiplumbeous Hawk
White Hawk
Common Black Hawk
Great Black Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Swainson's Hawk
Black Hawk Eagle
Collared Forest Falcon
Crested Caracara
Yellow-headed Caracara
Bat Falcon
White-throated Crake
Gray-headed Wood-Rail
Purple Gallinule
Common Gallinule
Southern Lapwing
Wattled Jacana
Laughing Gull
Royal Tern
Rock Pigeon
Pale-vented Dove
Scaled Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground Dove
White-tipped Dove
Gray-chested Dove
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Blue-fronted Parrotlet
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Greater Ani
Smooth-billed Ani
Spectacled Owl
Mottled Owl
Lesser Night Hawk
White-collared swift
Short-tailed Swift
Band-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Green Hermit
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
White-necked Jacobin
Black-throated Mango
Rufous-crested Coquette
Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-vented Plumeleteer
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
Purple-crowned Fairy
Slaty-tailed Trogan
Black-tailed Trogan
White-tailed Trogan
Gartered Trogan
Black-throated Trogan
Whooping Motmot
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
American-Pygmy Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Black-breasted Puffbird
White-whiskered Puffbird
Great Jacamar
Collared Aracari
Yellow-eared Tucanet
Keel-billed Toucan
Chesnut-manibled Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker (Endemic)
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Scaly-throated Leaftosser
Plain Xenops
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Ruddy Woodcreeper
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Spotted Woodcreeper
Fasciated Antshrike
Great Antshrike
Barred Antshrike
WesternSlaty-Antshrike
Russet Antshrike
Spot-crowned Antvireo
Checker-throated Antwren
White-tailed Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Jet Antbird
White-bellied Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Ocellated Antbird
Black-faced Antthrush
Black-headed Antthrush
Black-crowned Antpitta
Streak-chested Antpitta
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Southern Bearless-Tyrannulet
Yellow Tyrannulet
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Forest Elaenia
Gray Elaenia
Greenish Elaenia
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Lesser Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Paltry Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher
Brownish Twistwing
Olivaceous Flatbill
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Black-tailed Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila
Rufous Mourner
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Panama Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Rusty-marginated Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Sreaked Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Cinnamon Becard
White-winged Becard
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Blue Continga
Golden-collared Manakin
White-ruffed Manakin
Lance-tailed Manakin
Blue-crowned Manakin
Red-capped Manakin
Lesser Greenlet
Green-shrike Vireo
Black-chested Jay
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-bellied Wren
Bay Wren
Rufous-breasted Wren
Rufous-and-white Wren
Buff-breasted Wren
House Wren
White-breasted Woodwren
Scaly-breasted Wren
Song Wren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Clay-colored Thrush
Tropical Mockingbird
Rufous-capped Warbler
Common Bush-Tanager
Black-and yellow-Tanager
Rosy Thrush-Tanager
Gray-headed Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-backed Tanager
Flame (Lemon)-rumped Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Speckled Tanager
Plain-colored Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Bay-headed Tanager
Emerald Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Green Honeycreeper
Shinning Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Streaked Saltator
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Slate-colored Grosbeak
Blue-black Grassquit
Variable Seedeater
Yellow-belied Seedeater
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Black-striped Sparrow
Hepatic Tanager
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
Carmial's Tanager
Blue-black Grosbeak
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-backed Oriole
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Yellow-billed Cacique
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Thick-billed Euphonia
Fulvous-vented Euphonia
Tawny-capped Euphonia
House Sparrow