More news about the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

Panama Migrant Birding

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the first observations, for this year, of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), a migratory hummingbird that it is uncommon in this part of the country.

So far we know that its been around, since the end of February, and we have photographed three different Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a male, a female and an immature male. Christine Warren, one of our guests, got a picture earlier this month of the young male.  You can just see the first red feathers coming in on its throat.  Thanks a lot Christine for sharing your picture with us!

The winter visitor is back

Migrant Hummingbird PanamaTwo days ago, Ramon and a guest saw a male and female of an uncommon but quite punctual migrant hummingbird at Tranquilo Bay, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). This observation is the third we have had of the species in the last four years, with very few days of difference between observations.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is an uncommon migratory species in this part of the country. The day Ramon and the guest saw the elusive migrant they saw a female and a male.  So, of course the next day, as soon I got a chance I went to wait for the visitor.  After a little more than half an hour waiting, a female Ruby-throated showed up for a quick visit to the same plant the two birds visited the day before.  I patiently continued waiting and the female bird came again.   I got to take some decent pictures to share with you.   We will keep an eye on the bird and keep you posted about the extent of this 2016 visit.

Bird Island – an all-time top ten

Something that it repeats in time, through the years and with an established pattern that joins us around an idea, can be called a tradition. On every VENT (Victor Emanuel Nature Tours) tour group that comes to visit us at Tranquilo Bay, the participants are asked by Tour Leader (and dear friend) Jeri Langham, to make a TOP TEN list of their experiences during the week-long tour.  Anything goes on the top ten list: a person, situation, color, smell or anything that calls our attention.

Panama Bird WatchingThrough the years I have seen and heard many top ten experiences. We have had many good moments to choose from, but there is one experience that is always highlighted is the visit to Bird Island (Swan´s Cay or Isla Pájaro).

This magical place is one of the few “all-time top ten” experiences such that is a traditional top ten experience. It is not hard to understand why it is so special, but it is really hard to explain the experience with words.

Birding by Boat

When you are traveling in the boat in front of the north point of Isla Colón you begin to recognize the massive “Swan with a submerged head” shape rock in the middle of the ocean. It is hard to believe that it could survive the exposure to the open ocean’s strength when other rocks around, like the “Sail Rock” are loosing their fight against time and elements.

Birdwatching Panama As you get closer, you see some white dots start circling around the jungle rock. Then as you are approaching closer still, the white specs become a white bird with an extraordinary long tail, the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). This rock has the only-known nesting colony in Panama.

Magnificent Frigatebird But that is not the only neighbor on the rock. Tropicbirds share the island with Brown boobies ( Sula leucogaster), Magnificent Frigatbirds ( Fregata magnificens), Pale-vented Pigeons (Patagioenas cayennensis ), and many other visitors like Kingfishers, Common Black Hawk (Beteogallus anthracinus), Green Heron (Butorides virescens).

Panama Birding

Mentioning their names cannot bring to your mind the spectacular display of sounds, jiggling feathers, interactions or just, the breeze of the ocean cooling you down while witnessing the natural piece of art that Bird Island is.

And that is why, we all share our Bird Island memories as some of the most precious souvenirs from Bocas del Toro.

Symbols of Bocas del Toro

Wildlife PanamaProbably the species most representative of Bocas del Toro are the Poison-dart Frogs (Oophaga pumilio), with all the different colorations found around the archipelago, but another very representative specie is the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), a graceful specie found in the some areas of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Birdwatching PanamaThese birds are found in tropical and subtropical seas, they feed mostly on fish, caught plunge diving. They lived almost their entire life in the Sea. During breeding season they used rocky crevices on remote islands, cliffs are prefer, because it makes easier take of, this birds can not walk much. Both parents share the parental care of their descendants, which is usually one single egg.

Birding Bocas del Toro

Adult and chick of Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus), in their nest

In Bocas there is a small Island, known as Bird Island (Isla pajaro) or Swans’ Cay, which is known for its elegant white birds with long tails.  Everyone who sees them stare with an open mouth at their beauty. Bird Island is a limestone island. Next to it are two smaller islands that offer Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) palm trees to rest and nesting grounds to Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster).

Birdwatching Panama

Juvenile Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) begging to one of its parents for food

Magnificent Frigate Bocas del Toro

Males of Magnificent Frigategird ( Fregata magnificent) in their resting spot.

Worldwide the population is declining, mostly for the introduction of invasive species, as rats and cats, which predated the nests. Let hope this Caribbean treasure stays safe of predators and human pressure for the join of all of us and the future generations.

Canopy Observation Tower Bird List

Tranquilo Bay’s canopy observation tower was opened in 2014 and since then it has been a great addition to the different alternatives the lodge place offers.  The amazing view along with the nightly Red-lored parrot (Amazona autumnalis) commute are some of the guaranteed experiences.  Some times, we see different species of animals, like White-faced capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capuchinus) or the raptor migration, when Broad-winged Hawks (Buteo platypterus) and Swainson´s Hawks (Buteo swainsoni) fly over Bastimentos Island by hundreds or thousands.

Parrot Commute at Tranquilo Bay

This is a common scene that can be observed every morning and evening from different points of Tranquilo Bay, but for me, the observation tower is the ideal place to do it, and proof of that is this great picture that Ramon got of these colorful and noisy birds from the tower.

At Tranquilo Bay we have seen and heard over 200 different species of birds, from those 126 have been seen or heard from the tower. Ramon and I put together a list of the different bird species we have seen and/or heard from the tower, to give you an idea of how diverse and abundant the tower can be.  Download it here:  TowerBirdList

Bird Watching Panama

Tracy Curran took this pretty shot of a Montezuma Oropendola, while she was at the tower. This species is a common visitor to the balsa tree next to the tower, allowing to get really nice views and if you have a camera, the possibility to take a great picture.

New sightings for our Western Caribbean Slope bird-list

Last month while I was birding with some guests we had the great fortune to find two species of bird in areas out of the range reported for these species. While we were birding around Tranquilo Bay’s grounds, we observed two hummingbirds on a tree, I got to ID the first one with my naked eye, it was a Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii), then, when I look through my binoculars, a bright red beak of the other hummingbird stand out, and immediately knew it was a “lifer” for me (lifer: specie of bird never seen before by the observant), it was a male Blue-throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae) for a moment it perched on a little branch and then flew to fight the Green-breasted Mango, that was perched on the same tree. Fortunately one of the guests had a camera, and got some good pictures for identification, thanks a lot Chris for the pictures!Hummingbird PanamaPhoto credits Christopher Ng. Male Blue-throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae)

Panama HummingbirdsPhoto credits Christopher Ng. Male Blue-throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae) fighting a Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii)

The following day, we went birding on the Snyder Canal, at the San San Pond Sak wetland, and there we had the other unusual encounter (another lifer for me). In front of us a big bird flew from the forest to the edge of the forest, so we slowly approached with the boat and to our surprise this bird perched on a branch, out in the open.  It was a gorgeous Black-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis).

Birding PanamaBlack-collared Hawk (Busarellus nigricollis)

After enjoying this hawk for some time we continued the boat ride, and I noticed a strong smell of dead fish, which I probably had not noticed previously due to the excitement with the Black-collared Hawk.  Looking around, and for the next 100 meters, along the canal, there were hundreds of small dead fish. Jay helped me to ID them (back at the lodge), they are commonly known as shad, and apparently are very susceptible to changes in their environment.

deadshadOne of the many groups of dead fishes at the Snyder canal

If you want to know the different species of birds we saw during the two birding experiences, you can check on my e-bird:

Species seen while we where birding around Tranquilo Bay:

Birding trip to the Snyder Canal (this excursion includes different locations):


Mouth of the river:

Bird Island:

Next generation in the backyard – Striped Basilisk

One of the things I love of living surrounded by forest is that you often get unexpected neighbors; the last one was a pretty female of Striped Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus). A while back I had a pretty male of the same species sunbathing in front of my bedroom window every day for weeks.   Now we have a nesting female right in front of our bedroom door.   We were able to see her digging the nest, near our habanero pepper plants and covering the eggs afterwords.  She laid six eggs which is an impressive number for this small animal.

I leave you with some pictures of the pretty mama and her clutch of eggs.

Panama Wildlife Lizard Nesting Bocas del Toro

Chili 3 – La bomba!

Afro Caribbean Spice At present, there are a lot of hot peppers around the world to choose from.   Many of us  at Tranquilo Bay are big lovers of spicy things, so Ramon and I have been trying through the years to grow different varieties of hot peppers.  The one, so far, to give us the best results is the habanero pepper (Capsicum chinense).  This pepper also has a bunch of varieties.

Bocas Hot SauceThe reason for the name of this blog post is that La Bomba is the name we all gave to the first batch of my home-made hot sauce.  This hot sauce includes the hot peppers and culantro (the native version on the cilantro or coriander) that we grow in front of our apartment. Many of our guests have tried this hot sauce during their stay at Tranquilo Bay and often the fall in love with La bomba.   For spice lovers, many enjoy the hot sauce and my regular experiments with the chiles!

Home-made Hot SauceWe have a new group of beautiful plants growing that is a new variety of chile.  In my experience eating chilies it is one of the spiciest I have ever tried, so, we will see how it gets incorporated into La Bomba.

Chili 2 – A bit of science

All the peppers, from the sweet bell peppers to the hottest chili, now the Nāga chilli, belong to the Solanaceae family.  This family includes potatoes, eggplants, tobacco and another common plant from the New World, the tomato. The spice of the chilies comes from a chemical, capsaicin, which produces the burning sensation in our mouth.  The Scoville Heat Unit Scale (SHU) is a way to measure the level of hotness of the chilies, or  the concentration of capsaicin in the chili. The scale is divided into multiples of 100, and goes up to 16,000,000,000.  To put it into something meaningful, jalapenoes are in a range between 2,500-5,000  SHU.

Capsaicin does not dissolve in water.  So because it doesn’t dissolve in water, you cannot eliminate the burning sensation of the chili by drinking water, but drinking something rich in fat, such as milk, does help with this situation.

Chilies are also an extraordinary condiment.  They have a high nutritive value, rich in vitamins (specially C and A), and are the vegetable with the highest concentration of ascorbic acid.

Panamanian Food

Chili 1 – A bit of history

This week I am doing a series of three blog posts about one of the most widely dispersed spices of the world: the chili pepper, hot pepper, or chile (as we call it in Spanish in many countries of Latin America), to mention just a few of the common names of this spice.

The chilies have been an important part in the life of many cultures. The chilies are original from the Americas, the archaeological research led by Linda Perry, of the Smithsonian Institute reveals that harvesting of chilies began approximately 8,000 years ago.  People have been cultivating and trading them for over 6,000 years.  Yes, 6,000 years!!!

This spice traveled from the New World to the Old World between 1498 and 1549, and was spread eastwards over the silk route in about 50-year period.  At that point, the chili was known as far away from the New World as Japan.

Flora Panama