Tranquilo Bay at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival

What a delight to help Jim Kimball represent Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge this past month for the 23rd annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Florida!

Tranquilo Bay Owner Jim Kimball and Stacey M. Hollis, Tranquilo Bay Guide (sporting a signature Tranquilo Bay Tree Hugger shirt), in Tranquilo’s booth at this year’s Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

This annual festival, held along Florida’s Atlantic coast is one of connecting folks within the bird and nature-loving community while inviting them to explore and learn about birds and wildlife in a multitude of ways and across a diverse variety of destinations worldwide. One such destination represented, by Jim Kimball and yours truly, was Panama’s own Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge located on the enchanting island of Bastimentos set in the sparkling Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro!

Surrounded by vivid and colorful photos of Tranquilo Bay birds and nature, I helped Jim man our booth at the festival. The bustling event was rife with birders, photographers, travelers, outdoor enthusiasts, nature guides, wildlife artists and all manner of nature travel-related vendors.

And the atmosphere was lively and ebullient as festival-goers and vendors alike shared stories about what they’d seen birding that morning (the festival puts on a plethora of guided nature excursions each day) in addition to many jovial renditions among outdoor enthusiasts attendees as they shared nature and wildlife experiences had both nationally and abroad, and there was, of course, plenty of discussion about future travel ideas and possibilities.

Some of the many colorful viewing possibilities at Tranquilo Bay Lodge!

An aisle down from us at the festival were our friends the Bethancourt family, members of the beloved Canopy Family, which encompasses a set of three lodges from central to eastern Panama that offer spectacular diversity in birding in a variety of key locations and ecosystems around the country. For folks who want a more complete idea of Panama’s abundant nature and diverse culture, we partner with Canopy Family to offer a joint package that seamlessly interlaces to provide a paired Tranquilo/Canopy experience that provides a robust display of true, wild Panama, a country with so much to offer from each of its many colorful corners.

The Bethancourt kids, Cristy and Roberto were looking stunning in their traditional Panamanian garb, ready for a folkloric dance performance at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.

For Jim, it’s fun to reconnect friends and colleagues that he knows through previous bird fairs and the business itself. I also really enjoyed seeing folks I’ve met while guiding at Tranquilo Bay and I was pleased to make many new connections with a lot of very passionate people dedicated to sharing nature with others. 

The festival also featured some wildly talented nature artists who displayed and sold all manner of bird-centric paintings which captured the eye of each and every festival-goer that passed by…including mine! I was especially drawn to and enamored with Christina Baal’s lively and colorful work in her Drawing Ten Thousand Birds endeavor and I simply fell in love with a piece I bought from Kate Dolamore, an American Kestrel, which was my spark bird back in 1990.

Art by Kate Dolamore and Christina Baal

 

It was great to meet up with Eliana Ardila Kramer of Birding by Bus, also one of the founding members of Phoebes Birding, a group dedicated to getting women and girls out into nature for birdwatching and shared outdoor experiences with like-minded ladies. Now that I can get behind!

Eliana, Jim and Luisa Conto (Nature Colombia)
For every donor that contributed $20 , Eliana would lay a red-lipstick smooch of thanks!

Eliana is raising money this year for the Champions of the Flyway birding competition. The competition was created in an effort to raise awareness around the decline of migratory raptors illegally hunted along their migratory pathways in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

This annual event is hosted by Birdlife International and partners, and the funds raised will be directed toward putting identified measures into place to combat this global issue. We at Tranquilo Bay along with many other folks at the fair thought it was a very worthy cause..and it showed on our cheeks!

While it was a busy festival and we got a lot done, Jim and I did manage to get out to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a couple of times to enjoy the richness of Florida’s coastal environments before heading back down to our Caribbean island home..

So all in all, we had a blast, met some really great folks and enjoyed reconnecting with old friends. I’m really looking forward to encountering many of the nature lovers I met at the festival again in the future, perhaps greeting them as they arrive to Tranquilo Bay, set here in this lush, tropical corner of Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Dock Fishing, Tranquilo Style

Dock Fishing

While the majority of guests who stay with us here at Tranquilo Bay want to explore the surrounding forests, delve deep into dark bat caves or enjoy some serious snorkeling above our impressive coral reefs, we also happily invite those outdoorsy fishermen and women who come through now and again hoping to cast a line!

While the more serious tarpon fishing season includes a couple short seasons over the course of the year when the waters are calmest–a highly recommended time to come for ya’ll who dream of hooking these monumentally impressive, dinosaur-like fish–snapper, barracuda and jacks swim our calm, protected bay all year long.

Sometimes the there’s nothing better than the opportunity to jump in a kayak, either early in the morning or late afternoon when the sunlight is turning that beautiful late day sheen off the water, and drop a line, content to spend a couple hours in the peace that Tranquilo Bay offers.

Capitan Sanchez fillets a mutton snapper caught by a summer guest.

While the majority of fishing is catch and release, should you hook a good sized snapper or care to wrangle a barracuda off your line, the kitchen is happy to prepare a meal of it! One ambitious (and lucky!) guest got a mutton snapper right off the dock and was proud to share a bite with everyone in the dining room that evening!

Another perk is what fun this activity can be for our younger Tranquilo guests: we can easily get them set up and fishing off our service dock where the boats are kept. You’re almost always guaranteed to catch one of the smaller snappers hanging out under the dark safe nook the hanging boats provide. With mangrove crabs for bait, thanks to Captain Sanchez here, this mutton snapper was on the hook within seconds!

Rockin’ the “Green Season” at Tranquilo Bay

While people may call our green season, the low season, we’ve been busy here at Tranquilo Bay on the lush green island of Bastimentos surrounded by mangroves, rainforest, beach and the rich Caribbean Sea. 

Nothing really stops here at the lodge, even if there happens to be a lull in guests. In fact, this time of the year (we call it winter, here in the tropics) is the time of some of Tranquilo’s hardest, most intense work. Jay runs his team of wildly strong and tireless workers: our own Sanchez, Alvaro and Gustavo, our indigenous N’gobe muchachos who double as captain and triple as landscapers, builders and all around renaissance men. These are the same sweet guys who you’ll see on their knees in the sand, shoulder to shoulder with our youngster guests, helping dig holes and build sandcastles on any Zapatilla beach day.

Some of what they have been working on includes many projects around the grounds and one of which includes preparing a space, sifting, hauling and tamping tons of sand, and installing the 20-some thousand gallon bladder, which was a backbreaking achievement that will give us more rain catchment and put us in a good position for the next drought. Who do we have to thank? 

These guys! 

As far as the the rest of us, Everyone has gone on some pretty wonderful adventures, in some cases wanderings abroad because we use the low season to travel. Guides Ramon and Natalia spends a couple months traveling to see their families in Valencia, Spain and Medellin, Colombia. The Kimballs, (Jim, Renee, Tres and Boty) visited the states and their ol’ homeland Texas, road-tripping all over to see friends and family.

Luis of Quebrada Enrique

Together with the Violas (Jay, Scott and Patrick), back here at the lodge, we have gone on various adventures, including a reconnaissance excursion to a little-trodden section of trail owned and maintained by Luis, a local restaurant and landowner. Luis invited us and guided us onto his stunningly beautiful property. We had toucans and trogons peer at us from the greenery overhead and countless tiny, brilliant strawberry poison dart frogs hopped on the trail around us, yet another array of beautiful color morphs and patterns. Beautiful flowing marañon trees dropped their wispy, vibrant pink petals as ground decoration, a small bodied, large eyed ruddy tailed flycatcher wagged on a branch above us and even a rufous and green kingfisher fished in the same secret forest pond that we cooled off in. 

Hugo Santa Cruz, Lic. in Tourism and Protected Areas Management

Since going with the Kimballs before they left, we’ve been back to this new trail twice, the Violas and I along with intern hailing from Bolivia, Hugo Santa Cruz. We had a blast, as each visit we saw new and different wildlife. This is definitely going to be a new favorite to add to our array of off-site adventure excursions!

 

In addition to all that’s gone on, our “low season” has also resulted in about six weeks straight of visiting guests! We’ve had families (including my own parents and longtime family friends of the Kimballs, the Moseley’s who visit annually), birders, wildlife photographers and even a huge multi-family reunion that chose Tranquilo Bay for their special event. Some might think that since it’s so hot up north where it’s summertime now, it must be boiling down in the tropics, but we truly only endure a range of about five degrees difference in temperature year round! While we’ve had some rainy adventures (as is possible during anytime throughout the year), our gung-ho guests know that this beautiful rainforest would be nothing if not for the precious moisture that makes the lush greenery of beautiful Isla Bastimentos the true wildly productive and biodiverse rainforest that it is.

 

 

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!

 

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.

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.

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