White Pelican – a New Year’s Surprise

New Species Bocas del Toro

American White Pelican, near the mouth of the Changuinola River. Photo: Ann Fleck

On the first of January we had a great site, while we were birding at the Snyder Canal, two American White Pelicans were resting near the mouth of the Changuinola River. This is the first time the species was observed and reported on this side of the country.

In Panama, the species is vagrant, with a few reports on the Pacific coast of Panama, in Herrera and eastern Panama, and recently one single bird has been observed, for over 3 years, at the Bay of Panama.

Birding Panama

American White Pelican, near the mouth of the Changuinola River. Photo: Ann Fleck

These birds are the heaviest flying birds in the world; they feed on fish and other aquatic organisms, dipping their beaks into the surface of the water. They do not dive like Brown Pelicans do. Almost the entire plumage is white, except the primary and outer secondary feathers are black.

This species often travels long distances in large flocks. They are common and abundant in North America; breed at inland lakes, rivers or marshes, in Canada and United States; and migrate during winter to southern coastal areas.

Panamanian Molas

The mola is part of the traditional dress of the Kuna women.  These indigenous people live both in Panama and Colombia.  In Panama their land is called the Kuna Yala and is located on the Caribbean coast near Panama City and the canal area.  Kuna people have migrated to other parts of the country over time and as such there are Kuna living in Bocas del Toro. This video describes how they make their molas.  It is a beautiful work of art that takes quite some time when completed by hand.

Tarpon Working Baitball

So, we received a drone for Christmas and have spent some time learning how to fly it and capture footage around the neighborhood over the past month after the end of high season.

Jay called back on the radio from the boat as he headed out to pick up guests recently telling Jim he needed to go check out the tarpon rolling around a large baitball near the lodge.  Fortunately for us the baitball was near the lodge for a few days.  Check out this footage of the tarpon, sting rays and snapper corralling the bait fish.  The change in shape of the baitball is all due to predators working the smaller bait fish.  Nature at its finest.

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.

Save

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)

Save

Introducing Bocas Shorts

Sometimes we capture some pretty cool little clips that we would like to share with you, but we are not ready for a full video.  So, to pass on the cool stuff, we are introducing Bocas Shorts – a video series that is well under a minute yet gives you a quick glimpse into some thing uniquely Bocas del Toro, Panama.  Here is episode 1 where we show you how a Ngabe woman begins processing the leaves she uses to ultimately make a chacara.

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