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.

Knowledge, beauty and art to share – Part II

John James Audubon´s Birds of America is a really valuable contribution in the form of life-size watercolors and details about the behavior of birds. These compilations of 435 species of birds, over half of the species of United States, included 25 new species and 12 new subspecies. This work was printed between 1827 and 1838. After this project, he compiled a collection of 150 hand-colored lithographs “The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America”.

AudobonBrownPelican

Audubon´s watercolor plate of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)

One of the reasons I want to dedicate this series of blog posts to his work, is because, in addition to his incredible talent as an artist, he was a brilliant writer. Reading his very well documented journeys can transport you to the adventure as he experienced it, with exquisite detail of the landscape and the behavior of the birds (available at: http://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america , courtesy of the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, Audubon, PA, and the Montgomery County, PA, Audubon Collection). In each one of the up coming photo series, I will be posting some of his plates of our avifauna species, and quote some of his bird biographies.

Sources:
http://johnjames.audubon.org/john-james-audubon-0
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/john-james-audubon-drawn-from-nature/106/
http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon

Knowledge, beauty and art to share – Part I

John James Audubon was not the first person to collect, illustrate and record detailed information about the birds of North America, but the quality and significance of his work places his name and work as a remarkable reference of the ornithology world.

John Audobon Portrait

Image 1. Paint of John James Audubon, by John Syme (Source: http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon?_ga=1.144911732.1729398225.1484368019

Jean-Jacques Audubon was born in 1785, in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti). Later in 1803 when he was immigrating to United States, he changed his name to a more Anglicized form: John James Audubon.

During his first years in the new country he spent a lot of his time roaming this very different territory. He was captivated by the wildlife in this new area, a passion that took him from one end of the country to the other. Through the years he saw an extensive area of the country. He changed the way birds were illustrated, “putting the spectator within the natural environment”: accomplishing an extreme similarity with the characteristics of the bird, and the environment where the scene took place. And he also developed the first recorded experiment of bird banding in America.

Sources:
http://johnjames.audubon.org/john-james-audubon-0
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/john-james-audubon-drawn-from-nature/106/
http://www.audubon.org/content/john-james-audubon

 

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Variable Seedeater Song Mimicry

Today’s post is by Scott Viola.  Our children, as some of you may know, learned all 200 yard birds we have at Tranquilo Bay for their science class last year.  Scott truly took to the birds and was especially interested in their songs and sounds.  He has learned to identify many of the birds by sound as well as visually.  Here is a report he prepared for me about a strange phenomenon he encountered.

Panama Bird Song Mimicry

I have acknowledged a phenomenon on which I can find almost nothing: the Variable Seedeater mimics other birds’ songs.

For months after learning the Variable Seedeater’s song in Bocas del Toro, Panama, it made me think of rubbing a wet window with rubber. One day around New Years, I was walking in a semi-open area less than a hundred feet above sea level and heard a string of bird songs issued back-to-back from an elevated position. I was mystified, there being nothing that I could see. I considered that someone had put a playback speaker in a tree, but that was unlikely. After a few minutes, I saw a small, black bird exit the tree, and the calls ceased. I knew what it was, a seedeater or seedfinch, but I didn’t consider that it could have been the thing making the noise. A few days later, I heard it again in a nearby location. This time, I had a clear view and identified it as a Variable Seedeater.

I took two recordings of it singing, and later made videos with text on-screen notifying what bird song it was imitating. I have observed it mimicking Red-lored Parrots, Blue-headed Parrots, something that I believe is based on the Groove-billed Ani or the Common Black Hawk, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Blue-gray or Palm Tanagers, Tropical Gnatcatchers, Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Great Kiskadees, Boat-billed Flycatchers (probably), and Roadside Hawk, all of which are common in the area. The seedeater also has a “Brr brr Brrr” sound, and a distinctive, high-pitched “eaw.”

It doesn’t include all the birds every time it sings, but there is a loose order in which it tends to put them: parrots, the Ani or the hawk-like sound, and the rest, often with the Black-cheeked Woodpecker next to the flycatchers. The song lasts around seven to eight seconds, with 3-6 dedicated in the beginning to the parrots, the Ani-like song, and its own add-ons.

The song also changes depending on region, as can be seen on http://xeno-canto.org/explore?query=variable+seedeater. I believe this is caused by the birds it mimics, which are different everywhere. On Xeno Canto, I managed to identify a parrot in the midst of unfamiliar noises. The sounds don’t even make me think of birds; they are higher pitched and from a different place, making it sound like the song I had heard before my epiphany. The seeming randomness is stated in every Variable Seedeater resource I can find, except for one. At “The Sights and Sounds of Costa Rica” (http://www.naturesongs.com/CRsounds.html), the author wrote in the section for the Variable Seedeater that it mimics, and had two recordings that clearly contained mimicking. He was hearing the same thing I did. In them, I can tell that the seedeater mimics bird sounds. In one, I hear a Black-cheeked Woodpecker.

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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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

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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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.

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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