Caterpillar of the Tetrio Sphinx Moth

One look at this magnificently showy caterpillar gives warning to any potential predator by way of its brightly patterned body: Don’t eat me, I’m toxic!

Wildlife PanamaThe frangipani hornworm, also called plumeria caterpillar, can be found crawling around on the clean, elegant branches of its namesake the plumeria tree (genus Frangipani). Oblivious to the world, this munching on the broad, fleshy leaves that form clusters at the end of otherwise bare branches.

The flowering plumeria tree might be best known for that gloriously delightful fragrance that wafts off of the famous Hawaiian flower necklaces (called “leis”) made with strings of these crisp, beautiful blossoms. While plumerias are native to various parts of the world, the white plumeria we have growing here at Tranquilo is indeed native to Central America.  

Birding Panama

The frangipani caterpillars hatch from clusters of 50-100 eggs lain under the broad, fleshy leaves of the plumeria which provide the caterpillars with an ample supply of food which they waste no time getting right to work on.

The leaves of the plumeria produce a white, toxic latex that the caterpillar is unaffected by and can sequester into its body as defense. This “aposematic” or warning coloration signifies that this creature is dangerous to eat while allowing it to go about its showy business in full view without fear of attack. Humans would be wise to leave them alone as well, not just for the fact of their toxicity, but they’re also known to bite and the small hairs on their bodies can cause irritation when inadvertently rubbed in one’s eyes.

As the tiny caterpillars methodically eat their way through leaf after leaf they can, in their efforts combined, ultimately ingest the entirety of leaves on the host tree, leaving bare sticks in their wake–in as little as a week! While this might seem as if these caterpillars are a pest and are harming the tree, this is a natural cycle created by co-evolution, the tree is not dead and the leaves and flowers will return, so don’t fear! Once the caterpillars have gorged themselves, reaching a hefty length of about six inches, they will descend to the ground below and bury themselves beneath the leaf litter.

So what comes next? From the ground emerges the Tertio Sphynx Moth, an aerodynamically formed, fast-flying moth from a family known for its ability to hover, allowing it to easily feed at flowers. What’s interesting is that, upon hatching, the moth is of course attracted to the delicious scent of the oleiferous plumeria flowers above. Well, wouldn’t you know that the tree that this caterpillar not long ago obliterated in its quest to gorge itself silly has now fooled the resulting moth into searching for nectar from a flower that produces not a lick of the sugary liquid! In fact, that intoxicating smell actually comes from scent nodules below the bud. Nonetheless, in its probing, the sphinx moth is carrying out the act of pollination that the plumeria tree needs to reproduce.

Just yet another wild and complex drama in the wonderful world that is the tropics!

 

Day Tour @ Tranquilo Bay

Bocas Day TourWe are really excited to be offering a day tour @ Tranquilo Bay starting this week.  People in the community and a number of visitors to the archipelago have contacted us over time and asked us about providing use of the grounds and facilities to travelers within the archipelago.  We have worked through all the challenges so that we may offer an awesome experience to our day tour participants without effecting our wonderful guests.  So, we begin offering day tours this Wednesday.

Kayaking PanamaWe have coordinated with a botero to provide transportation to and from Tranquilo Bay from Isla Colon at a reasonable price which makes it easy for people to sign up and head out to Isla Bastimentos for a jungle and ocean experience.

Bocas del Toro SnorkelingWe have added a new Day Tour page on our website for you to learn all about it.  As of today, the tour will be available on Wednesdays and Thursdays for up to ten people each day.  Please contact us if you have any questions or have a larger group that would like to visit.

 

One of those special moments in nature

Birding Panama

Two Double-toothed Kites perched, on the same tree, can you see them?

Some time ago I was at the observation tower, looking for raptors, with a raptor specialist, and suddenly I spotted a Double-toothed Kite  (Harpagus bidentatus) near by, and we started enjoying the great views of this relatively common raptor (in this part of the country).

The name of this bird refers to the two teeth like shape structures on the edges of both sides of the upper mandible.

Then, a second Double-tooth Kite shows up, near the first one.  They were a pair – that’s not so common.  We were enjoying (even more) the time we got to spend in their presence. And a few minutes later the first bird flies down to the ground grab something with its feet.  Then it flew to another tree in front of us again which definitely made our day!

Canopy Tower Bocas

One of the Kites dive in to the ground and catch something

 

Western Caribbean Slope Birdlist Update

Fall Migration

From left to right: Short-billed Dowitcher, Red Knot, Greater Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilt.

I am happy to share with all of you the updated Clements list for the different locations where we go birding along the Western Caribbean Slope of Panama.  At this point we have a total of 541 species in our list, and for the Tranquilo Bay grounds, a total of 221 species (+1 subspecies, the Yellow “Mangrove” Warbler).  The updated bird list may be downloaded below.

One of the last additions to our list was the Red Knot (Calidris canutus), a migrant shorebird that can nest as far as the North of Canada, and pass through Panama during its winter migration to southern South America. These birds can go through distances up to 15,000 km, between circumpolar breeding areas and winter grounds in South America, Africa, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Last fall, during birding trips, we observed this species on two occasions, but only one individual, at the same area, the mouth of the Changuinola River.

Sources:

https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/redkno/introduction

https://www.avesdechile.cl/374.htm

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red_Knot/lifehistory

TBWCS918

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.

Hummingbird or insect?

Nature is full of incredible adaptations – today I want to review one of many curiosities of nature, a moth that looks like a hummingbird. Known as Hummingbird moths, Bee Moth, Hawk Moth or Bee Hawk Moth, just to mention a few common names, this group of Sphinx moths, are an abundant group, with over 1200 species around the world.

Sphinx moth Pic. Sphinx moth (Aellopos titan) feeding.

The moths have received their name because they have many similarities to hummingbirds:

  • feeding in similar species of flowering plants
  • efficient pollinators
  • the shape of their bodies
  • the tip of their tail opens into a fan
  • some species have bright colors
  • the skill to fly sideways and backwards.

At this point sounds like they are very similar, and it will be hard to tell them a part, but there are also differences between those two sets of creatures – the hummingbird moths, are smaller, have antennae, and are not as aggressive as hummingbirds!

Stripe-throated Hermit Pic. Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) feeding.

If you are a new garden observer, be patient, and in a little bit of time you will be able differentiate one from the other.

Collared Aracaris – Colors of the tropics

Birding Panama

The colorful Collared Aracaris (Pteroglossus torquatus), feeding on the side of the road, during a birding trip to the mainland.

The toucans are a family of birds, characterized for its colorful, long and “heavy looking” beak. Probably many of us think in the tropics when we think in this family of birds, a very acquired thought, because they are only found in the neotropics. Aracaris and Toucanets are also members of this family of beautiful birds

Today I am going to tell you a little bit about the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), this species can be found in a wide variety of different habitats: primary and secondary growth forests, forest patches, and plantations.

As easy as they are to spot when they are flying, the are likely just as hard to find when they are quietly feeding in the mid-storey of a tree. When they feed, they swallow the entire fruit and then regurgitate several times, with the intention to get all the pulp from the fruit.

These birds usually move in groups, roost and nest in holes of trees. This species is not found on Bastimentos Island, but can be seen in many of the different locations where we go birding, mostly on the mainland.

A case of range expansion through the Birds of Panamá guidebooks

Birding PanamaIt seems that the wanderer likes Bocas del Toro:  A case of range expansion through the Birds of Panamá guides

The geographical areas occupied by bird species are not jails, that confine them through history and they can never leave, in fact, in many cases they change through time. The change in a bird’s range can be signaling an important change in their own habitat and also they might have important consequences in the communities of the habitats that are invaded. Nowadays, with technology and increased public interest in birding we have an extraordinary tool to see the changes in range expansion of bird species at almost real time.

I would like to expose a recent case of range expansion that happened in Bocas del Toro, Panamá, just by checking what they say about a particular bird with the different authors through time, in their bird guides of Panama.

The bird that I am going to write about was once described, by Alexander Wetmore in 1968 in his Volume 2 of his The Birds of the Republic of Panama, as “Small, long-tailed parakeet; green above, with a prominent blue band in the wing.” When he described it, it was only found in the “Tropical Zone of western Bocas del Toro. known only from Almirante, and the Río Changuinola”. At that time, the bird was called Aratinga astec astec, and the common name was Aztec Parakeet. Now we call this bird Olive-throated Parakeet and it´s scientific name is Aratinga nana aztec.

As a curiosity, “ the first specimen of this bird taken in Panamá was collected at Farm 3 on Río Changuinola April 15,1927, by Austin Paul Smith. This bird is in the Havemeyer collection in the Peabody Museum at Yale”. There were other specimens collected, all the same year, two males by Rex Benson at Almirante and a female by Hasso von Wedel at Changuinola. With very few historical records, he wrote: “ It is suggestive to note that the four specimens recorded to date (1968) from Panamá were taken between April and October in the same year. Possibly they were wanderers from further north.”

Some years later, Robert Ridgley, in the second edition (1989) of his A Guide to the Birds in Panama with Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras wrote, in the status and distribution section: ”Rare in lowlands of western Bocas del Toro (Almirante-Rio Changuinola area) where known from only six specimens, all taken within the April-October period (four in 1927; one 1961; one in 1963). Perhaps merely an irregular wanderer from Costa Rica; It´s too difficult to see why this species has not settled and even spread eastward along Panama´s Caribbean slope.”

He was very certain that the habitat conditions eastern to it´s range, were suitable for the establishment of this species and he was right, because the presence of Olive-throated Parakeet has been spreading east, passing Chiriquí Grande and, to the Islands, they are found in Isla Colon, Isla Popa and Isla Bastimentos (I have personally seen them on the last two islands).  We can find these changes in 2010 in George R. Angher´s The Birds of Panamá: A Field Guide where he describes the bird as “Common in lowlands of Bocas del Toro”.

In 42 years, the Olive-throated Parakeet has gone from being considered a wanderer to being completely established along the Bocatoranian coast and to being a common bird. We even had a nest at Tranquilo Bay some years ago.  The couple lived with us for more than a year on the grounds of the lodge. This is but only one little example how dynamic the world we live in is.

Coró-coró

The ibises have a very particular appearance overall, long and curved beak, long neck and legs and a chunky body, which makes them easy to recognize from a distance. Five species of ibises are reported in Panama, two of them have very few observations in the country, and are considered as vagrant species. In Bocas del Toro we can find the other three species: Green, Glossy and White Ibis, in this same order of abundance, with the Green Ibis the most common of the three, and the White Ibis the rarest one.

Birding Panama

Mesembrinibis cayennensis

In poor light, the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis), may appear as a black bird, but when you get the right light and angle, the beautiful iridescent feathers on the back of its neck may be appreciated. A green ibis is a very beautiful bird. The image of the green ibis is used in one of the best online casinos in Austria, which is very popular among players. When 3 pictures with green ibis appear on the screen, this means that you have a bonus.

In Bocas del Toro the Green Ibis (Mesembrinibis cayennensis) is frequently seen near the mangroves and wetlands of the lowlands, where it feeds on aquatic invertebrates (worms, snails, insects, etc.) by walking slowly and digging with its long bill into the mud, dirt, and shallow water.

Easy to recognize and locate by its peculiar loud call, they actively vocalize at dusk and down. Flying calls are a series of corocoro… sound, which explain the reason of the local name in some regions: “the coró-coró”.

Green Ibis call. Downloaded from zeno-canto (http://www.xeno-canto.org/sounds/uploaded/WNGXTLHREQ/GreenIbisDamani111028_26.mp3)

Birds are often seen in pairs or singles, but occasionally in small groups up to eight individuals (personal observations). Their nest is built with twigs, high in a tree over water, and separated from other nests of the same species.

Panama Birdwatching

Pair of Green Ibises

Typically, these birds vocalize on a high perch, in a clear area, at dusk or dawn. Notice the particular shape of these birds, it makes them easy to recognize from the distance.

Updated Bird List – Fall 2017

I recently finished updating our Western Caribbean Slope bird list, based on the August 2017 Clements List. This last version shows some significant changes, such as, removing from the Thraupidae family the Rosy Thush-Tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea) and the Dusky-faced Tanager (Mitrospingus cassinii) and putting them in to their own family, Rhodinocichlidae and Mitrospingidae respectively.

As of this update, we have a total of 522 species on our list.  It is very likely that during the year this number will change, owing to Bocas del Toro’s outstanding diversity.

One of the additions to our bird list, is the Forster´s Tern (Sterna forsteri), a rare species for the country; only one bird was observed, resting with a group of Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus), at the Changuinola River mouth, months ago. This species is easy to recognize in its winter plumage, by the black, coma type of shape, ear patch.

Birding Panama

©Brooke A. Miller

You can download the current Clements based bird list on our Birding page.