Natalia

About Natalia

Colombian biologist guide at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge

Bocas Shorts #4: Two-toed Sloth Commute

Sloth CommuteAfter its nap, the two-toed Sloth start crawling up higher, looking for branches that connected, and using the palm leaves to get to the power line.  At least that’s what we thought, that he was planning on going across the power line, because we have seen this species use the wire as a way to get access to to some of the trees where they feed near the main building or just to move from one patch of forest to another, but…

In the end the sloth had something different in mind.  He successfully accessed the power line and then went on to the next palm tree.  Why? We are not sure, but we chose to move away and let it make its way alone.  A few minutes later I went back to look for it and could not find it.

Introduced Species

Today, I am going to talk about a couple of birds that were introduced by humans in Panama (and other countries): House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and the Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus).

The definition of an introduced species or non-native species (plant or an animal) is that it (said species) does not naturally belong to a specific area. We, humans, have been moving plants and animals around the globe for a very long time. There are many reasons why introduced species are moved from one place to another.   To mention a few: as a source of food, to control pests or simply because its pretty. Sometimes the introduction of this species goes well, and solves a problem, but the completely opposite can happen, and it turns into a pest that messes up the order the ecosystem.

It is very well documented how the House Sparrow was introduced in to the United States, but not on the rest of the continent. Since 1850 or 1851 the attempts to introduced the species in Brooking, New York began, and in a period of about 50 years, the species was found around the entire country.

Introduced Species Panama

Native to Eurasia, the House Sparrow was brought in to North America, apparently for a few different reasons: 1) to control a pest of canker worms that was affecting the trees of Central Park, 2) to bring birds that were familiar to the immigrants, or 3) just because they are pretty. In Panama, this species is usually found in the lowlands, near humans, often in small flocks.

Escaped and released pet birds are another way that a species makes its place in a country. Now, I am taking about the Tropical Mockingbird (Mimus gilvus), a species introduced from Colombia around 1932. It was first documented at the Canal zone after 1928 (one report in 1932 by Deingnan (Wetmore et al. 1984)). Now it’s found in both urban and suburban areas.

Birdwatching Panama

This species it is not common in Bocas del Toro. We have only seen a few individual birds in over 10 years birding the province, but just a few days ago, Scott Viola (Jay’s son), told me about a Tropical Mockingbird he saw on Isla Colon, which might be the first observation on that island for the species.

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Frog Trip

Poision Dart Frog Tranquilo Bay

Not long ago we had some guests that wanted to look for frogs. They were specifically looking to find some other variations of the very famous Poison Red Frog (Oophaga pumilio). So, we went to Popa, a nearby island in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago

At the Tranquilo Bay we have two morphs, that are quite similar, the bright orange, almost red with light blue toes and fingers and the bright red with tiny dots on the back.

Frog Photo

One of the morphs of the Poisonous Red Frog (Oophaga pumilio) found on Popa Island.

During this trip to Popa Island we got to see some nice variations in color of the Oophaga pumilio, and we also got great looks and pictures of some other species.

Poison Dart Frog Bocas del Toro

Another coloration of the Poisonous Red Frog (Oophaga pumilio) found in Popa Island.

I have to admit that I never get tired of watching the incredible variation in color of O. Pumilio. It isn’t every day that we get a photographic opportunity to capture a photo of the elusive, and very fast amphibian, the Lovely Poison Frog (Phyllobatrs lugubris).

Frog Morphs Panama

Lovely Poison Frog (Phyllobatrs lugubris)

And if the morning could not get any better, we also found another small inhabitant of the rainforest, a Talamanca Rocket Frog (Allobates talamancae), that showed up and stayed calm for us to photograph him as well.

Frog Photo Safari Panama

Talamanca Rocket Frog (Allobates talamancae)

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The Panama Hat

Panama Hat

Picture of Pijipaja or panama hat (https://www.worldguide.eu/t5/Lifestyle-Events-Articles/All-you-have-to-know-about-Hats/ba-p/15386

Probably some of you know the Panama hat is hand-made in Ecuador, a traditional product that began in the 1600´s and was declared by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2012. The fibers of the leaves of the Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata), are known as iraca, bellota or toquilla in Spanish. The young leaves of this plant are boiled, cut in narrow strips and bleached to get the pale color fibers used to weave the Panama hat.

Panama Plant Story

Leaf of the Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata)

There are different versions of the story about why this Ecuadorian hat, also known as Jipijapas, took on the name of “Panama hat”, I am going to share just a few.

  • In the 1830`s and Spanish man, Miguel Alfaro, was the person who changed the industry of these hats. He established a plant in the town of Montecristi and organized a “system of production” with the intention of exporting the hats to Panama, and from there to the rest of the world.  By the 1850`s, with the California Gold Rush, the United States was a big buyer of these hats.
  • Another version says that in the 1880s, when the Panama Canal was under construction, with the famous Frenchman, Ferdinand de Lesseps, in charge of the revolutionary project, he and many of the workers of the Canal wore this hat.
Panama Hats at Panama Canal

Picture. Members of the technical commission with Ferdinand de Lesseps, in Panama, February 1880. http://www.pancanal.com/esp/photo/historicas/ingenier.jpg

  • Years later, in 1906, when the Panama Canal was under management by the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, president of the United States at that time, came to inspect the progress of the Panama Canal, he was wearing a black-banded straw hat, and a picture of him was taken and published.
Roosevelt Panama Canal

Picture. President Theodore Roosevelt siting down on the steam shovel, with his Panama hat, during the construction of the Panama Canal, 1906. http://www.czbrats.com/PicWk/picwk008.htm

 

Which one is the real cause of why the Panama hat goes by this name?   I do not know, any of them seem pretty likely to be accurate, but what is important is the history, and how valuable is to preserve it and share it.

If you want to learn more about the very interesting history of the “Panama hat” you can visit:  https://www.brentblack.com/pages/history.html

 

2016 Bird Retrospective

Birding Panama

Jabiru (Jabirumycteria) observed in the Chiriqui Grande area, Bocas del Toro lowlands.

Personally 2016 was a very exciting year. It brought me one of my “dream birds,” the Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria), which was another addition ro our Western Caribbean Slope Bird list. We ended 2016 with a total of 514 species, a very impressive number, and hopefully this new year will bring some more species to our list.

Some of you are probably wondering what is included in our Western Caribbean Slope Bird list.  Basically it is a compilation of all the birds we have seen in the province of Bocas del Toro and the neighboring area of the Chiriqui province, near the continental divide. Or more simply, the birds we have seen in the areas where we go with our guests for birding excursions.

The elusive Limpkin (Aramus guarauna), an uncommon species in this part of the country, was also a new addition for our list. I still remember, as if it was yesterday, how exited I got. Not many words would come out of my mouth, but enough to put everybody on the bird and enjoy the beauty of it. Do you remember Jennifer Wolcott? What a great birding day we had!

We also added another species that is very common in other parts of the country, but not in Bocas del Toro. In over a decade of birding in Bocas del Toro, we saw the Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) for the first time.

Panama Birdwatching

Not a good picture, but a very happy moment of my first Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in Bocas del Toro, next to a Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius).

Here is the updated list of the Western Caribbean Slope which is also available on the website:  TBWCS117

Exciting new specie for our Birdlist – Jabiru

The latest addition to our Western Caribbean Slope Birdlist, is a specie I have been hoping to see since I was a little girl. This bird is often seen in the nature documentaries of Latin American tropical birds, I am talking about the spectacular Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria).

Birding PanamaThe Jabiru is the biggest stork found in the Western Hemisphere. They can reach a hight of 131 cm (52 in) with a wingspan of 256 cm (102 in). It’s found from Mexico to Argentina. Besides its size, the best way to recognize this species is the entirely white plumage in flight with the bare black head and neck, and a pink or red ring around the lower part of the neck.

Panama BirdwatchingThe populations of this species in some countries of South and Central America are abundant, but the situation is completely different for countries like Panama, where the specie is vagrant. A vagrant species means the bird is hundreds of miles from its familiar territory, and that is what makes this observation a very special and exciting encounter.

Underwater Chorus

Snorkeling Bocas del ToroPhoto. Juvenile Caribbean Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus)

Historically birds have surprised and filled the life of humans with their calls.  In the past, mostly as pets in cages, where some species were more desired than others because of their songs or the ability to speak.  Parrots are very well know for the last skill.

Caged Bird Graphic

Source: http://krutishah0703.blogspot.com/p/caged-bird.html

More recently people are interested in enjoying these melodious creatures in their natural habitat.  Bird watching is growing around the world, year by year.

Golden-collared Manakin

Photo. Male Golden-collar Manakin (Manacus vitellinus) displaying on its lek

We (humans) always have related the songs in nature to the birds. What if I tell you fish sing? A few days ago I was reading an article about singing fish.  They have proven that fish do sing.  It make sense, living creatures need to communicate, animals as different as insects, frogs, birds, whales … do it, so, why not fish?

This study occurred in Western Australia, and during a period of 18 months they recorded and identified seven different choruses, from different species of fish, happening at dawn and at dusk. Those choruses are used by the fishes to regroup, settle territorial disputes or find food.

If you want to read the full article, visit: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2106331-fish-recorded-singing-dawn-chorus-on-reefs-just-like-birds/

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A bird-watching day: target Red-billed Tropicbird

Birding Panama

Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) floating in the waters near Bird Island.

Early this year, we made a bird-watching trip to the mainland, to see some species of birds that we do not have on Bastimentos Island, but the main target of this trip was the elegant Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus).

We all had a blast, with big groups of herons, ducks, pelicans and terns, in addition to some local and migratory beauties along the Snyder Canal.
Birding Panama
After a gorgeous day and several new species for our guests, we headed to Bird Island. Unfortunately the sea was a little rough and the conditions where not ideal, but that didn´t stop the guests in their desire to see, what is for me, one of the most elegant birds I have ever seen.  We made it there, and enjoyed some Red-billed Tropicbirds flying near the island, then on our way back, we had several floating birds in the water.

Seabirds Panama

Fishermen in the mouth of the Changuinola river mouth surrounded by birds (Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), Laughing Gulls (Leucophaeus atricilla), Sandwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis) and a Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)).

With these links you can see the species we saw that day:

Snyder Canal: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26655839
Changuinola river mouth: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26656713
Bird Island: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26653094

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A furry resident of the Tranquilo Bay grounds

Three-toed Sloth at Tranquilo BayOne of the most “desired” tropical species that everyone wants to see, when they visit the tropics, is the species I am going to talk about today.   It’s easy to understand why, the sweet face, the lazy and extremely slow reputation attracts everyone’s attention.  I am talking about the Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus).

The truth is that they are not as slow as most people think, and they do more, than most of us think they do. Some studies with animals in captivity show they can sleep an average about 16 hours a day, but studies with wild animals have shown they sleep about 9 and half hours, spending most of their time moving around looking for food, eating and scratching.

Three-toed sloths are found in Central and South America. At Tranquilo Bay this species is abundant and easy to find most of the year.  On site we also have the Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni), which is a nocturnal species. On an island of the Bocas del Toro archipelago, is possible to find another specie of sloth the Pygmy Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus), an endemic specie, found in one special location on Escudo de Veraguas Island.

Sweet little ball of feathers

Birding at the Chocolate Farm

Today I am going to talk about a pretty and elusive ball of feathers, the Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant.  This bird is one of those species that you can hear many times, but see only a few.  Its size and the places where it likes to spend the most part of its time make them a little hard to see.

Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant  (Myiornis atricapillus) has a large range of distribution, found from the south of Nicaragua, through western Colombia down to the north Pacific coast of Ecuador. Often found in the canopy of the humid forest, its easy to lose this 2.5 inch bird. And like living in the canopy wasn’t enough to make it hard to find, its call is like an insect.

Birdwatching PanamaThis adorable little bird is one of the species we can easily hear, not so easily see, as I mentioned before, on to the excursion to the chocolate farm. Green Acres Chocolate Farm is located on the mainland, and is home to many species that we do not have on the islands of the archipelago.

The pictures are not the best ones, but good enough to show this tiny beauty.

Western Caribbean Slope Birding