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.

Frog v. Robot

Frog v. Robot

We invite scientists from the Bocas del Toro Research Station of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to come out to Tranquilo Bay and do their research.  On March 9, we had a group of three scientists come out to take some photos and videos of the poison dart frogs interacting with robot frogs.  They put a number of colored robot morphs in play with our resident frogs to see the interaction between the real frog and the robot.  The real frog did not enjoy any other frogs moving in on his territory.  We hope you enjoy the video they shared with us as much as we have.

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.

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

Building a StoryBrand PodCast

StoryBrand is a great group of people who help business clarify their message. Donald Miller began the company some years ago as he learned how to simplify his own message.  I have been interested in his books and other products for some time.  I signed up for his newsletters, emails, etc. and watched as his company grew.

StoryBrand did grow and it offered a live workshop to help other companies clean up the information they offer to prospective clients.  Given our location, heading to Nashville for a live workshop wasn’t in the cards so I hoped they would offer an online workshop as they have done for other products.  They did.  Yet, I still didn’t discuss it directly with Jim and Jay.  I kept absorbing all the information the company put out publicly and incorporated it as best I could.

Fast forward to spring 2016.  It was time to update the website and I knew it really needed an overhaul.  StoryBrand offered the online workshop again so I talked to Jim and Jay about it.  We decided to make the investment.  As soon as I finished the school year with the kids I dug into the class.  Then I edited the website and edited it some more.  It was a challenging process, but absolutely worth every dollar and hour spent.

In December, J.J. Peterson gave me a call and we talked about how StoryBrand had made a difference for Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.  Now, to be fair, the numbers we discussed with regard to growth of our business are so much more so than just changing our messaging.  This has helped immensely, but 12 years in business, trade shows, work with groups, and increasing our available units has also had a significant impact.  The increase in individual travelers rather than groups or people booking through travel professionals is the number that ties most closely to our work with StoryBrand.  And I must say that the investment in the StoryBrand workshop has paid off more so than any of the other marketing related tools (SEO assistance, business listings, etc.) we have used in the past.

The Building a StoryBrand Podcast is live now.  Its feature guest is John Lowry who discusses negotiation skills with Donald Miller.  I learned a few new things to consider that I didn’t learn in law school or years practicing law – always a nice bonus.  The phone call between J.J. and me is at the end of the podcast.  Take a listen.  Look out for a sloth and a little bit of Van Halen.

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/

Save

Looking for a chef/cook

Chef / Cook Bocas del ToroWe are looking for a chef/cook.  We are looking for someone, preferably a Panamanian woman, to begin working with us as soon as possible so that we can do the training during what remains of low season.

Position:

This position is responsible for managing the kitchen and meals in their entirety. Menu planning is not the chef’s responsibility; however someone with the right experience may have this responsibility. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for up to 30 in the dining room and up to 12 staff each day. Our hotel is secluded – access to other islands is limited. Approximately 8 other staff members live on site in the staff dormitory. Our boat goes to town twice weekly for supplies, etc. Due to our secluded location and since our staff is housed on the premises, the environment is very much like being on a ship. It is vital that our chef is secure, friendly and teamwork oriented. It is key that our employees get along with others well, both guests and staff. We need a person who is healthy and highly dependable. English is not necessary (we have this job description in Spanish if you need it). We prefer a Panamanian for this position. This position calls for an individual who is professional and presentable. The chef position is a challenging yet rewarding one. Split shifts combined with a busy high season require a self-starter who is dedicated and remains focused on the job. Because of our location, it is very difficult to replace any of our crew. We do expect a commitment from our employees to stay at least a year. It is important that our applicants understand the operation and what responsibilities will be required of them. Under normal circumstances, our staff works a six or seven-day week for five weeks with a week off at the end of the five-week period. This schedule is dependent upon guest reservations. It is possible during high season that the leave week be delayed due to guests on site.  During green season, employees may have extended periods of time off to travel the country or to relax after a busy high season.

We do not allow “partying” or dating within the staff living on site. We require that all staff abide by posted rules and regulations.

Generally there two people (who take turns) in the kitchen to help this person with meals and dish-washing, etc. following each meal. We need a person who is ready to work and does not have specific lines set about what is and is not a part of the job. This position is a great one for someone who thinks they are ready to have their own restaurant but does not yet have the funding to do so. This position allows someone to save money as it is impossible to spend money here. We do not need someone with experience. We will manage the responsibility level based upon the applicants and the ultimate hire.

Compensation:

The salary will be between $800 and $1200 a month and is completely dependent upon the applicant’s experience, etc.  We pay transportation costs to and from this person’s home at the end of the five-week period by bus. We pay all social security and other governmental requirements. The person who fills this position will live on site. On site all meals are provided. Personal expenses are limited to mobile phone and personal toiletries. We do have internet which are available to this person during their off hours until 10:00 pm each night.

If you know of anyone who might fit this position, please have them contact me at info @ tranquilobay .com. Thanks.

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.

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