Hummingbird or insect?

Nature is full of incredible adaptations – today I want to review one of many curiosities of nature, a moth that looks like a hummingbird. Known as Hummingbird moths, Bee Moth, Hawk Moth or Bee Hawk Moth, just to mention a few common names, this group of Sphinx moths, are an abundant group, with over 1200 species around the world.

Sphinx moth Pic. Sphinx moth (Aellopos titan) feeding.

The moths have received their name because they have many similarities to hummingbirds:

  • feeding in similar species of flowering plants
  • efficient pollinators
  • the shape of their bodies
  • the tip of their tail opens into a fan
  • some species have bright colors
  • the skill to fly sideways and backwards.

At this point sounds like they are very similar, and it will be hard to tell them a part, but there are also differences between those two sets of creatures – the hummingbird moths, are smaller, have antennae, and are not as aggressive as hummingbirds!

Stripe-throated Hermit Pic. Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) feeding.

If you are a new garden observer, be patient, and in a little bit of time you will be able differentiate one from the other.

Forest floor colorful cups

The world of the fungi is an unknown for many of us. But the truth is that this group of organisms are everywhere and have very important to humans.

The cup fungus group it is composed of many species of mushrooms.   Some of them are easy to recognize, by their cup appearance, but others need to be observed with a microscope for a positive identification.

Today I am writing about the Cookeina, a genus of a cup fungus. This is one of the must common and colorful mushrooms of this group, commonly known as Pink cup fungus (Cookeina speciosa). It grows on decaying wood on the rainforest floor.  It can be observed year round growing individually or in groups.

pink cup fungiiThere isn’t much information available about this species of mushroom on internet.   Mexico has completed the most studies with mushrooms for human consumption, and they report this species can be eaten. However, since there isn’t much information available about this colorful and attractive mushroom, I suggest enjoying them with your eyes.

Collared Aracaris – Colors of the tropics

Birding Panama

The colorful Collared Aracaris (Pteroglossus torquatus), feeding on the side of the road, during a birding trip to the mainland.

The toucans are a family of birds, characterized for its colorful, long and “heavy looking” beak. Probably many of us think in the tropics when we think in this family of birds, a very acquired thought, because they are only found in the neotropics. Aracaris and Toucanets are also members of this family of beautiful birds

Today I am going to tell you a little bit about the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), this species can be found in a wide variety of different habitats: primary and secondary growth forests, forest patches, and plantations.

As easy as they are to spot when they are flying, the are likely just as hard to find when they are quietly feeding in the mid-storey of a tree. When they feed, they swallow the entire fruit and then regurgitate several times, with the intention to get all the pulp from the fruit.

These birds usually move in groups, roost and nest in holes of trees. This species is not found on Bastimentos Island, but can be seen in many of the different locations where we go birding, mostly on the mainland.

A case of range expansion through the Birds of Panamá guidebooks

Birding PanamaIt seems that the wanderer likes Bocas del Toro:  A case of range expansion through the Birds of Panamá guides

The geographical areas occupied by bird species are not jails, that confine them through history and they can never leave, in fact, in many cases they change through time. The change in a bird’s range can be signaling an important change in their own habitat and also they might have important consequences in the communities of the habitats that are invaded. Nowadays, with technology and increased public interest in birding we have an extraordinary tool to see the changes in range expansion of bird species at almost real time.

I would like to expose a recent case of range expansion that happened in Bocas del Toro, Panamá, just by checking what they say about a particular bird with the different authors through time, in their bird guides of Panama.

The bird that I am going to write about was once described, by Alexander Wetmore in 1968 in his Volume 2 of his The Birds of the Republic of Panama, as “Small, long-tailed parakeet; green above, with a prominent blue band in the wing.” When he described it, it was only found in the “Tropical Zone of western Bocas del Toro. known only from Almirante, and the Río Changuinola”. At that time, the bird was called Aratinga astec astec, and the common name was Aztec Parakeet. Now we call this bird Olive-throated Parakeet and it´s scientific name is Aratinga nana aztec.

As a curiosity, “ the first specimen of this bird taken in Panamá was collected at Farm 3 on Río Changuinola April 15,1927, by Austin Paul Smith. This bird is in the Havemeyer collection in the Peabody Museum at Yale”. There were other specimens collected, all the same year, two males by Rex Benson at Almirante and a female by Hasso von Wedel at Changuinola. With very few historical records, he wrote: “ It is suggestive to note that the four specimens recorded to date (1968) from Panamá were taken between April and October in the same year. Possibly they were wanderers from further north.”

Some years later, Robert Ridgley, in the second edition (1989) of his A Guide to the Birds in Panama with Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras wrote, in the status and distribution section: ”Rare in lowlands of western Bocas del Toro (Almirante-Rio Changuinola area) where known from only six specimens, all taken within the April-October period (four in 1927; one 1961; one in 1963). Perhaps merely an irregular wanderer from Costa Rica; It´s too difficult to see why this species has not settled and even spread eastward along Panama´s Caribbean slope.”

He was very certain that the habitat conditions eastern to it´s range, were suitable for the establishment of this species and he was right, because the presence of Olive-throated Parakeet has been spreading east, passing Chiriquí Grande and, to the Islands, they are found in Isla Colon, Isla Popa and Isla Bastimentos (I have personally seen them on the last two islands).  We can find these changes in 2010 in George R. Angher´s The Birds of Panamá: A Field Guide where he describes the bird as “Common in lowlands of Bocas del Toro”.

In 42 years, the Olive-throated Parakeet has gone from being considered a wanderer to being completely established along the Bocatoranian coast and to being a common bird. We even had a nest at Tranquilo Bay some years ago.  The couple lived with us for more than a year on the grounds of the lodge. This is but only one little example how dynamic the world we live in is.

Panamanian Night Monkeys

The Panamanian Night Monkeys (Aotus zonalis) are one of the species of the Aotus genus. These genus are found in Central and South America. The Panamanian Night Monkey it’s restricted to different areas of the country and the North Western part of Colombia.

They sleep in hollow trees, during the day, and are active at dusk. The family in this picture was two parents and a sub-adult baby, they where sleeping in a dead peach palm tree near the cabins.

These monkeys live in small groups and are socially monogamous.  The female gives birth, usually, one baby at the time, and very sporadically twins. Once the baby is born the male plays a major role in the care of the offspring.

Much information regarding these monkeys is missing.  Many aspects of the species, including the major threats and status of the population are unknown.  They are currently  under the Red List Category and their Criteria is Data Deficient.  It is very likely that habitat destruction is one of the main threats for these beautiful creatures because of the significant forest loss within Panama in recent decades.

A very particular group of plants: Zamia

Cycad plants are found in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. Panama has the most diverse group of cycad plant in the Neotropics. The species found in Panama have a cylindrical trunk, with leaves that grow directly from the trunk, forming a “crown” of evergreen leaves, and a plastic texture, that sometimes could be confused with ferns or palms.

Within the forest of Bocas del Toro, we frequently find this plant defoliated by the larvae of the White-tipped Cycadian (Eumaeus godartii). The larvae can eat the entire plant, but do not kill it.

Eumaeus godartii

Larvae of the White-tipped Cycadian (Eumaeus godartii)

Cycads are gymnosperms (naked seeds), the unfertilized seeds are open to the air to be pollinated. Cones are the reproductive organs of the cycads and are composed by highly modified leaves.

Panama Flora

Female cones of a Zamia plant, at Tranquilo Bay grounds, Bastimentos Island.

Cycad plants are females or males; female cone carried ovules, and every male cone (is smaller in diameter, compared with the female) carries several pollen capsules. There are cases of cycad plants changing sex, but never producing male and female cones at the same time.

Cycad Zamia Male Cone

Male cones of a Zamia plant – Tranquilo Bay, Bastimentos Island

In the past the pollination of cycads was thought to be completed by the wind, but its been proven that it is completed by insects.

Thousands of this plant grow on the white sand beaches of Bastimentos Island.  Here it was observed and has been reported by researchers an unusual occurrence of salt water tolerance.  Cycad seeds can float in the water, allowing the plant to disperse from island to island within the archipelago – this was observed in this group of plants around 2004 in Bocas del Toro.

 

 

 

Dwarf squirrels in Western Panama

Fossil evidence proves that there were no squirrels in South America before the formation of Panama, the natural bridge that allowed migration in both directions, of a wide variety of species, known as the Great American Interchange.

Dwarf squirrels (Microsciurus), are found in evergreen tropical rainforest regions of Central and South America. Their small size, dull coloring, shy behavior and speed make them difficult to find. These are some of the reasons why not much is known about these little mammals.

Palo Seco Protected Forest

The home of the Pygmy Squirrel, evergreen tropical rainforest, Palo Seco Protected Forest, Bocas del Toro.

In Western Panama, two species of this group can be found, the Alfaro´s Pygmy Squirrel (Microsciurus alfari) and the Western Dwarf Squirrel (Microsciurus mimulus).

Both of the species look very much a like. The best way to differentiate them, is by the white ear spots on the Alfaro´s Pygmy Squirrel. However, the ear spots are absent on the animals found in Costa Rica and Western Panama, which makes it difficult to tell them apart in this part of the world, as their distribution overlaps and both species have similar behaviors.

Panama Wildlife

Pygmy Squirrel (Microsciurus spp.) photograph in the Palo Seco Protected Forest, Bocas del Toro.

None of the members of this genus are endangered, but it is hard to know the real numbers of their populations because of the lack of information and studies related to those cute creatures.

 

Coró-coró

The ibises have a very particular appearance overall, long and curved beak, long neck and legs and a chunky body, which makes them easy to recognize from a distance. Five species of ibises are reported in Panama, two of them have very few observations in the country, and are considered as vagrant species. In Bocas del Toro we can find the other three species: Green, Glossy and White Ibis, in this same order of abundance, with the Green Ibis the most common of the three, and the White Ibis the rarest one.

Birding Panama

Mesembrinibis cayennensis

In poor light, the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis), may appear as a black bird, but when you get the right light and angle, the beautiful iridescent feathers on the back of its neck may be appreciated. A green ibis is a very beautiful bird. The image of the green ibis is used in one of the best online casinos in Austria, which is very popular among players. When 3 pictures with green ibis appear on the screen, this means that you have a bonus.

In Bocas del Toro the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) is frequently seen near the mangroves and wetlands of the lowlands, where it feeds on aquatic invertebrates (worms, snails, insects, etc.) by walking slowly and digging with its long bill into the mud, dirt, and shallow water.

Easy to recognize and locate by its peculiar loud call, they actively vocalize at dusk and down. Flying calls are a series of corocoro… sound, which explain the reason of the local name in some regions: “the coró-coró”.

Green Ibis call. Downloaded from zeno-canto (http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/WNGXTLHREQ/GreenIbisDamani111028_26.mp3)

Birds are often seen in pairs or singles, but occasionally in small groups up to eight individuals (personal observations). Their nest is built with twigs, high in a tree over water, and separated from other nests of the same species.

Panama Birdwatching

Pair of Green Ibises

Typically, these birds vocalize on a high perch, in a clear area, at dusk or dawn. Notice the particular shape of these birds, it makes them easy to recognize from the distance.

Updated Bird List – Fall 2017

I recently finished updating our Western Caribbean Slope bird list, based on the August 2017 Clements List. This last version shows some significant changes, such as, removing from the Thraupidae family the Rosy Thush-Tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea) and the Dusky-faced Tanager (Mitrospingus cassinii) and putting them in to their own family, Rhodinocichlidae and Mitrospingidae respectively.

As of this update, we have a total of 522 species on our list.  It is very likely that during the year this number will change, owing to Bocas del Toro’s outstanding diversity.

One of the additions to our bird list, is the Forster´s Tern (Sterna forsteri), a rare species for the country; only one bird was observed, resting with a group of Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus), at the Changuinola River mouth, months ago. This species is easy to recognize in its winter plumage, by the black, coma type of shape, ear patch.

Birding Panama

©Brooke A. Miller

You can download the current Clements based bird list on our Birding page.

Beauty and diversity: Part 2

We all have encountered orchids in our lives, some species, such as the Phalaenopsis or moth orchids, are popular as a houseplants. In the tropics we find some plants of this group blooming throughout the year.

Fire star or rainbow orchid

A common orchid found on the roadsides or within the grasslands of the mountains of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui is the Epidendrum radicans, known in Spanish as a fire star or rainbow orchid.  Its bright yellow, orange, and red flowers gets everyone’s attention. The flower opens with two colors, yellow and orange, and when it gets pollinated it changes color to an uniform bright red color.

Slipper orchid

Not as common, but a good example to show the diversity of this group is the Slipper orchid or Lady´s slippers (Phragmipedium longifolium). It has a wide distribution in the temperate areas from Mexico down to South America. Insects pollinate all Slipper orchids. The insects are deceived because all the species in this particular group of orchids do not produce nectar or any other reward for its pollinators.