Ramon

About Ramon

Spanish biologist guide at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge

Birding Isla Colon

Birding Bocas del ToroSome days ago, Natalia and I were visiting some friends on the neighboring island of Isla Colon (known also as Bocas Isla or, simply, Bocas). We got there after a bus trip from Panama City (and a short water taxi ride), so after 12 hours in a close quarters and some more hours performing as the walking dead, we knew there was an antidote to our situation, as always, go birding.  So we went! Nothing fancy, just on a road around the Y (la Y griega), and some short entrances to farms and pastures. The weather did not look very cooperative but, as we went out, everything started waking up, and so did the sun.

Hiking PanamaAs soon as we stepped out of the house, parrot couples and some small groups of parakeets started flying over.  Calls and sounds were everywhere:  a singing green and yellow “Red frog” (Oophaga pumilio), howling Howler Monkeys, a posing Roadside Hawk model.  We started to feel that this was not going to be a usual birding morning for us.  A group of five Masked Tityras with a Black-crowned Tityra couple, Bronze Hermit feeding four feet away from us, a female White-winged Becard and many migrants that were joining us like Blue and the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Prothonotary, Yellow, Mourning, Chesnut-sided Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Gray Catbird, Baltimore Oriol, kept showing up in our binoculars.

Reptiles & Amphibians Bocas del ToroWe experienced sustained bird activity through the whole time we were birding without much variation. Different species of Flycatchers were calling and flirting around. We even had a coconut water drinker, a Black-cheeked Woodpecker.  A friendly Dusky Antbird couple entertained us with their sporadic appearances outside “their” thick clump of leaves.

BIrdwatching PanamaAll this and more we saw during one of the most intense mornings we ever experienced in that area. It is just another example of one of the beauties of birding, you have to be there to catch these good days because you never know when or where it is going to happen.

If you are interested in any more detail of our morning you can access : http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S32557965

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Ayuama River

During the last week of October, Natalia and I had the opportunity to explore, with the kayaks, the Auyama River mouth.  Where the Auyama River pours it´s water into the Chiriqui Lagoon. Jay was going fishing  with a guest in the area, there was space for the kayaks, so we got some water, our cameras in a backpack, and we were ready to go.

Ayuama RiverThe boat ride was beautiful, the sun was helping to bring all the colors up, the breeze and the excitement to discover a new place, all were drawing a smile to our faces.

Birding by KayakWhen we got there, the tide was rising but it was still very low so we had to find our way over a sand bar, between dozens of logs covered in Neotropic Cormorants and some shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones, Semi-palmeated Plover and sandpipers. Flying around we could see some Brown Pelicans and Royal Terns while we were getting into the river itself.

Ayuama River Kayaking

Once we got into the river, both sides were covered in Black Mangrove at the entrance and on the first hundred meters. Vegetation grew thicker as we were going up the river, and after enjoying a pair of Pied Puffbird, we heard an unknown sound so we stopped our kayaks and waited.  Just a few seconds after we began alert mode, a Boat-billed Heron flew from one side of the river to the other perching in a thick clump of branches and leaves.

Panama BirdingIt was time to start heading back to the boat, so we left it resting on it´s perch, and we headed out.   It felt like we needed more time to discover the wonders that the Auyama River holds, but for an introductory trip … we could not complain.  It was a wonderful morning surrounded by interesting birds in beautiful scenery.

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Three-wattled Bellbird Species Overview

Birding Panama

Let me introduce you to one of the most interesting birds of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

It´s name … Three- wattled Bellbird or, as we call it here, Campanero o Pájaro Campana (Procnias tricarunculata). This species is within the suboscine passerine family of Cotingas (Cotingidae). The English name comes from the three black skin wattles that the adult male has, one in the base of the upper mandible, the other two find on the corner of the gape. I guess the Spanish name is because the male Procnias produces one of the loudest of all animal vocalizations. Its main sound is a thunderous, electronic bell or gong-like note … so … “campanero” is a great name.

Three-wattled Bellbirds are only found from Southeastern Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to Western Panamá. It has one of the most complex migration patterns registered for tropical species, including altitudinal movements. In Panama, from March to Mid-August, breeding season, it is found in the upper levels of the forest in the western foothills and highlands (from 3000 to 7000 feet). In nonbreeding season, September to February, it descends to the lowlands and foothills on the Western Caribbean Slope, which means you can enjoy them here at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.

Bocas del Toro Birding

It is one of the biggest fruit-eating (frugivorous) birds in Central America. It feeds on stone fruits that all contain a relatively high percentage of protein and fat and not much water within the fruit’s flesh. A big percentage of them are Lauracea and Rutacea, but it also eats other fruits.

Unlike other birds of the suboscine division, the Three-wattled Bellbird is capable of vocal learning. Vocal learning was supposed to have evolved in three clades of birds: parrots, hummingbirds and oscine passerines; and three clades of mammals: whales, bats and primates. However, behavioral data indicates that the Three-wattled Bellbird is capable of vocal learning, This data, in the form of a genetic study carried out in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, shows that the weak genetic variation shown between the four populations is not congruent with variation in vocal behavior of the four.

Panama Birdwatching

Three-wattled Bellbirds have a very particular display practice. They always choose an exposed perch above the canopy or a special broken-off branch, or visiting perch, beneath the canopy. The special branch has to have particular aspects to qualify as a “visiting perch”. The ideal specifications for the branch are:

  • 10 to 22 meters above the ground
  • 25-50 mm in diameter
  • 45 to 60 cm of the broken-off branch must be uncluttered by side branches
  • grows upward at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees above horizontal

As you can see, it is a very particular animal. It is very special in it´s perch requirements which makes it a natural wonder. This makes us feel very lucky to enjoy it´s presence in this little corner of the Earth.

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Longsnout Seahorse

Snorkeling Bocas del Toro

One of the most intriguing, secretive and unknown species of the Bocatoranian marine wildlife is also one that occupies a privileged place in everyone’s personal wildlife universe: Seahorses. The Longsnout Seahorse, Hippocampus reidi is the species found in Bocas del Toro.

Many of us have enjoyed seahorse cartoon characters, bathroom stickers, pictures, and documentaries. We have seen them in aquariums or dried out in local market as souvenirs.   In some cultures they use them as a traditional medicine.

For many years I believed that they were just a Bocatoranian myth, but local neighbors remember the times where they were often seen under their docks or attached to sponges on the dock posts. I have never seen them on Isla Colon, yet I was lucky enough to find one some time ago. What makes it more incredible is that the one I found is within swimming distance of Tranquilo Bay’s dock.

In the very same area in which I found it, I continue to see it from time to time. One important thing that I have learned is that the times I have seen it are when I am choosing to have a very slow mode snorkeling experience. Because seahorses are not good swimmers they have an amazing camouflage system in the bony plates covering their bodies. This is their only defense against predators.

Panama Seahorse

There are many interesting facts about seahorses; I am just going to give you some of them that I believe curious enough to be shared.

Their unusual reproductive strategy is one of them, the males are the ones that will carry the eggs after the female lays them in a special abdominal pouch on the male (where they are fertilized). He will incubate them and 14 days later he will give birth by opening the pouch to the tiny (0.2 inches) young seahorses that are identical yet smaller than the adults.

They are generally believed to mate for life, but what scientist have confirmed through the data collected is that some seahorses do have monogamous relationships in which they stay together for several mating seasons in a row.

Seahorses are considered an important species in the aquarium trade. They are one of the most exported marine ornamental fish species in Brazil.

With all that interest and curiosity that seahorses awaken in the human mind, many sea horse populations are on the decline given that they have been collected as aquarium fishes, used in folk medicine, and sold as souvenirs.

Another important threat is that they are included in the by-catch of shrimp boats in the USA, Mexican and Central American ocean waters.

Even with all this pressure on seahorse populations, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) the species are considered “data deficient” so they are not included in the IUCN red list of endangered species.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (C.I.T.E.S) includes our Longsnout Seahorse in their list as “Threatened”, in the Apendix II CITES 2004.

This is a good example of how important it is that scientists continue to study the Longsnout Seahorse in order todeterminewhether or not its population is stable and what conservation measures might need to be initiated. If we do not even know if there is a problem … how are we going to fix it?

Chestnut-backed Antbird

Birding Panama

One of the common resident birds here at Tranquilo Bay is the Chesnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsul). It is one of the most common ant-bird of the tropical zone forest, which lives from sea level up to 2000 feet (600-700 meters). Its range is good size, reaching from the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, both coasts of Costa Rica and south to Western Ecuador and Northern Colombia.

In Panama, this species has some color variation throughout the isthmus and four subspecies are recognized. The subspecies found at Tranquilo Bay (Bocas del Toro and eastward through northern Veraguas to eastern Colon) is Myrmeciza exsul exsul.

They are almost always found close to the ground, generally in pairs moving relatively close together, on the undergrowth of the forest floor.

While hiking Tranquilo Bay’s trails you will often hear a double note whistle followed by the same call but in a slightly different tone. The first one is the male calling and the “changed tone” call is the female answering.  These calls and the movement on the forest floor are the best way to find them due to the lack of light in the places they like to inhabit and their own dark coloration.

The Chestnut-backed Antbird can show up anywhere in the forest, but the best close-up views, are usually obtained on the path that joins the cabanas to the main building of the lodge. It surprises you, if they are not calling and you walk on this path, because the male will make a purring sound while he moves away from you. An amazing forest bird found on a comfortable cement path.

Emerald Basilisk

Wildlife PanamaAnother species of Basilisk lizard we see during some of our excursions is the Emerald Basilisk or Basiliscus plumifrons.

It is, as the striped basilisk, a very large lizard with diurnal, semi-aquatic, semi-arboreal behavior. The Emerald Basilisk is shier than it´s cousins and it´s range of movement is always closer to the water. As with the Striped Basilisk, juveniles appear to be primarily insectivorous, starting an omnivorous diet with a considerable ingestion of plant material like seeds, stems, etc. as grow(they get to 135 mm in standard length).

Their reproductive season is somewhat shorter that the Striped Basilisk, starting in May and finishing in September. During this time, they will lay from 4 to 17 eggs per clutch. In captivity, the hatching time is 55 to 75 days.

Basilisk Panama

This Emerald Basilisk’s distribution range is different in the Caribbean and the Pacific. On the Atlantic it ranges from the humid lowlands of Eastern Honduras to Western Panama, while on the Pacific slope it will be found only in Southwestern Costa Rica and Southwestern Panama.

There are several different excursions where we have found these amazing lizards, ranging from sea level, in the lowland forest of Almirante, to 2400 feet, close to the Bocas del Toro continental divide. Every time we see one, it seems brighter and more striking than the time before. Judge for yourself.

Kayaking near Tranquilo Bay

panoramicocean

Due to Tranquilo Bay’s location in a nearly untouched forest area within the Bocas del Toro archipelago, and the fact that it is surrounded by protected waters that hold an incredible collection of coral and sponges, we have almost an unlimited range of things to do and discover right off of the dock.

One of things we can do is take a kayak into the Caribbean Sea.   We often do this directly from Tranquilo Bay’s dock. It is an excellent summary of Bocas del Toro’s many possibilities.

Panama Birding

We start early to avoid paddling under the harshest sun. We glide over calm waters into a mangrove channel. It is here that we can see some interesting wildlife: from cushion starfishes under our kayaks to the beautiful Snowy Cotinga flirting with the top of the trees; or a Keel- billed or Yellow-throated Toucans flying over our heads in the wider areas of the canal; or the Yellow Mangrove Warbler calling at the dense mangrove edge.

bluejeansfrog

If we feel like it, we stop at Isla Popa and check for different color morphs of the famous Strawberry poison dart frog, with their green and orange tones, to the light blue legged ones.

After experiencing the richness of our “over the water” world, on the way back we discover what the underwater world has to offer.

kayaksnorkel

Endless platforms of coral reef covered in life and color, playful shining fishes, countless brittle stars, mysterious feather-dusters, sponges, crustaceans, ascidians are all visible under the ocean. Each of these animals lets you witness their daily life. Textures and shapes curving underwater are a colorful live work of art.

snorkel

On the end of our kayak trip, it is a good time to compile and archive our memories of all the amazing things we saw within a kayak distance from Tranquilo Bay.

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Striped Basilisk Lizard

Basiliscus vittatus adult maleOne of our most common neighborhood lizards is the Basilisk lizard, also called Jesus Christ Lizard because of it´s ability to run short distances over the water.

The species of Basilisk lizard that we have in the Tranquilo Bay gardens and sidewalks is the Basiliscus vittatus, a large lizard that we usually find sunbathing while perched on a branch or laying over a rock or a sidewalk.  The males of this brown/grayish/olive coloration lizard, are unmistakable because they “wear” a single cephalic crest with a triangular outline. Juveniles and females may be distinguished from their relatives because of the dark cross bands and longitudinal light stripes.

Jesus Christ Lizard

This lizard is much more terrestrial that Congeners B. basiliscus and B. plumifrons and is strictly diurnal, at night it sleeps under leaf litter near the ground or in vegetation up to ten feet above the ground.

During the main reproductive season, from mid February through October they will lay 4-5 clutches with 2 to 18 eggs per clutch. Incubation time ranges from 50 to 70 days depending on weather and nest location conditions (full sun/shade …) Then, young basilisks (32 – 50 mm) will feed on insects and spiders.  At around six month’s old they will reach their sexual maturity and change their diet to include a considerable amount of seeds, grasses, fruits, stems, in addition to the insects and spiders.

Lizard Panama

Basilisk lizards are large lizards so they are also a valuable prey for many predators like White Hawks, Boas and juvenile vine snakes. Campbell’s Amphibians & Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatán & Belize reports that only about 2% of hatchlings survive for two years.

Boa eating lizard Panama

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Bocas del Toro Orchids

In Panama extraordinary biodiversity is not a secret. It´s a privileged location on the Earth. It is in a tropical area, joining two formidable masses of land (North and South America) and separating the Atlantic and Pacific oceans at the same time.

But these facts are not the only reason, its topography, result of the dramatic geological events that lead to its formation, created so many micro-habitats.

From the Pacific and Atlantic shore to the summit of Volcan Baru at 11,398 feet above sea level (3374 meters) many micro-climates occur.   They all hold many different forms of life for such a small area of the world.

So, what do you think it happens to the most numerous family in the Plantae Kingdom … the orchids? Well, of the more than 20,000 species that exist in the world, Panama hosts 1,200 of them.   Bocas del Toro as a province holds it´s share!

Here are some pictures of common orchids that surround us:

Bocas del Toro Orchid

Orchid Panama

Orchid Plant Panama

Blue-winged Warbler

Birding Panama

One of the times I went birding on Snyder´s Canal last year I was lucky enough to have Jan Axel Cubilla as a birding partner.  We birded under intermittent rain through the morning and we reached the Changuinola river mouth, trying to see the shorebirds that cross this area during migration.

After enjoying some Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstones, collared plovers, sanderlings, and many more we were heading back to the boat when, suddenly, a movement in the bushes that cover the upper part of the beach, caught our attention. The second I focused my binoculars on the bird that was causing that movement I heard Jan Axel saying excitedly, “It is a Blue-winged Warbler.”  There it was, the bright yellow, the white wing bars and the unmistakable black line over the eye.   A very handsome male was showing himself while searching around the bushes for his next meal.

Jan Axel was surprised by this observation of the Blue-winged Warbler because every time that he has found the bird it was in the canopy of a closed forest. This time it was in an open space, one meter (three feet) over the ground working some bushes. I guess after a while, we all know that the “strange” seems to be the norm if we talk about birds’ behaviour. We probably should just thank this beauty for being there, enjoy the moment, and, if possible, take a picture.

We shared a great birding day at the canal. This lifer, for me, made it even greater.