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

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.

Panama Eco Adventure – Episode 8

It’s Monday, so its time for a video.  Panama Eco Adventure Episode 8 highlights the bat cave near Bahia, Honda on Isla Bastimentos.  This cave is an amazing formation in itself and then you add several bat species, an awesome kayak (not shown in this video) and a short hike through an indigenous owned farm and it makes for a very unique excursion.  Enjoy.

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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Panama Wildlife – Episode 5 – 2016

Daniel Dickinson prepared an episode of Panama Wildlife for us focusing this week on butterflies and moths.  All of these spectacular winged creatures are found on site at Tranquilo Bay.  Many of our guests enjoy combing the grounds for the multitude of species that may be found here.  Take a look.

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.

Do you know what bird parasitism is?

Birdwatching Panama

Bird parasitism is when one bird lays her eggs in the nest of a different bird species, with the intent that this other bird, the host, will take care of the laying bird’s offspring.  This is  definitely a very smart strategy for the parasite birds, because thanks to this behavior, the parasite birds, do not have to spend all the time and energy raising their chicks.  This allows parasitic layers them to produce more eggs per year.

Around Tranquilo Bay, is one specie of bird that is a parasitic layer of eggs in the nests of other birds.  I´m talking about the Giant Cowbird (Molothrus oryzivorus) who lays her eggs in the Montezuma Oropendola’s (Psacolius montezuma) nest.  In other areas, cowbirds parasite lay in the nests of several other species of oropendolas and caciques.  All those species nest colonially (several nest in one single tree) and build long hanging nests.

Birding Panama

Cowbirds are calm and quiet birds that like to spend time on grassland, looking for insects which is their main diet. The distribution range of the species goes from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.

Another example of parasitic nesting birds is the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), that lay its eggs in other species nest, and when the chicks hatch they pull out of the nest the eggs and/or chicks of the host.  In the case of the Giant Cowbird, the offspring do not destroy the eggs or chicks of the host specie (the photo at the top shows a Wren (left) feeding a chick of Common Cuckoo), source:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/0407/03-moth-06.html )

The tower is perfect place to see the oropendolas flying by, and sometimes is possible to see a few cowbirds flying with them. I took this picture of a Giant Cowbird a while back, when a group of Montezuma Oropendolas stop on the balsa tree near the observation tower, and this cowbird was with them.

Parasitic bird nesting in Bocas del Toro

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Surprises that come with the rain

We all love sunny days.  Everything is pretty, you can do all type of outdoor activities, but, we’ve got to face it: without rain, we would not have all the green we have at Tranquilo Bay year round, and associated with that, all the diversity that comes with it.  Well, all this explanation in order to tell you about a little inhabitant of the rain forest, the mud turtles!

Mud Turtle Panama

The Kinosternon genus is only found in the Americas.  With 25 species, it has one of the highest numbers of species for mud turtles, and from those, three are found in Panama. These turtles are small animals in comparison to other fresh water turtles.  They have an oval shape shell, usually dark brown, which helps to camouflage themselves.  A particular characteristic of this genus is the presence of one or two “hinges” in their plastron (bottom part of the shell),  This adaptation allows them to close themselves completely to keep them safe from most predators.

They are often found in ponds and other habitats associated with calm fresh water and a muddy soft bottom. They feed on a variety of things, being mostly carnivorous, but sometimes they eat fruits and/or plants.  Some mud turtles can burrow themselves in to the mud or underneath dead leaves during times of drought, and stay “semi-dormant,” until the rain comes.

At Tranquilo Bay, we usually get to see one of these after a strong rain, sometimes crossing the side-walk, moving from one temporary creek to other, or just there, with their head sticking out, like enjoying the rain.

Mud Turtle Panama