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.

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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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)

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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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Panama Wildlife – Episode 7

Panama Wildlife Video

Wasps are insects that can bring mixed feelings, but having a close look at them, proves they are very interesting creatures. This video shows the way they take care of their offspring. By flapping their wings to reduce the temperature inside the nest, they protect the young inside the nest. Animals are not as dangerous as we night think. Respect and distance are the key to living in harmony with all the Earth’s creatures.

Birding Panama – Episode 10 – Berries

tanagerphotoDaniel collected a number of birds from Ramon & Natalia’s video collection that enjoy eating one specific berry.  Six species – one tree all within less than a minute.  We have planted many of these trees around Tranquilo Bay because the birds love them.  Enjoy.

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