Chestnut-backed Antbird

Birding Panama

One of the common resident birds here at Tranquilo Bay is the Chesnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsul). It is one of the most common ant-bird of the tropical zone forest, which lives from sea level up to 2000 feet (600-700 meters). Its range is good size, reaching from the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, both coasts of Costa Rica and south to Western Ecuador and Northern Colombia.

In Panama, this species has some color variation throughout the isthmus and four subspecies are recognized. The subspecies found at Tranquilo Bay (Bocas del Toro and eastward through northern Veraguas to eastern Colon) is Myrmeciza exsul exsul.

They are almost always found close to the ground, generally in pairs moving relatively close together, on the undergrowth of the forest floor.

While hiking Tranquilo Bay’s trails you will often hear a double note whistle followed by the same call but in a slightly different tone. The first one is the male calling and the “changed tone” call is the female answering.  These calls and the movement on the forest floor are the best way to find them due to the lack of light in the places they like to inhabit and their own dark coloration.

The Chestnut-backed Antbird can show up anywhere in the forest, but the best close-up views, are usually obtained on the path that joins the cabanas to the main building of the lodge. It surprises you, if they are not calling and you walk on this path, because the male will make a purring sound while he moves away from you. An amazing forest bird found on a comfortable cement path.

Emerald Basilisk

Wildlife PanamaAnother species of Basilisk lizard we see during some of our excursions is the Emerald Basilisk or Basiliscus plumifrons.

It is, as the striped basilisk, a very large lizard with diurnal, semi-aquatic, semi-arboreal behavior. The Emerald Basilisk is shier than it´s cousins and it´s range of movement is always closer to the water. As with the Striped Basilisk, juveniles appear to be primarily insectivorous, starting an omnivorous diet with a considerable ingestion of plant material like seeds, stems, etc. as grow(they get to 135 mm in standard length).

Their reproductive season is somewhat shorter that the Striped Basilisk, starting in May and finishing in September. During this time, they will lay from 4 to 17 eggs per clutch. In captivity, the hatching time is 55 to 75 days.

Basilisk Panama

This Emerald Basilisk’s distribution range is different in the Caribbean and the Pacific. On the Atlantic it ranges from the humid lowlands of Eastern Honduras to Western Panama, while on the Pacific slope it will be found only in Southwestern Costa Rica and Southwestern Panama.

There are several different excursions where we have found these amazing lizards, ranging from sea level, in the lowland forest of Almirante, to 2400 feet, close to the Bocas del Toro continental divide. Every time we see one, it seems brighter and more striking than the time before. Judge for yourself.

Beauty in Purple

purplegallinulendgThe beautiful bird I am talking about today, often catches the attention of the observer, because of its attractive color.  It has a purplish blue plumage accompanied by the bright colors of its beak.  When someone sees this bird’s feet for the first time the feet immediately take all the attention. Their very long claws help them to walk on top of the floating vegetation.

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The juveniles’ coloration is somewhere between pale brown and green and it helps them hide camouflaged in the vegetation.

Purple Gallinules (Porphyrio martinicus) are omnivores.  Their diet includes invertebrates, plants, and sometimes small frogs and fish that they catch in floating plants and shrubby areas.

This species has a large distribution range.  It is found from the south-east of United States to the north of Argentina and Chile. This species breeds during spring and summer in North America and may breed almost year round in the tropics (from May until November). The habitat of this species is swamps and wetlands.  Habitat loss is the main threat for this species, but it isn’t in endangered at this time.

Blue-winged Warbler

Birding Panama

One of the times I went birding on Snyder´s Canal last year I was lucky enough to have Jan Axel Cubilla as a birding partner.  We birded under intermittent rain through the morning and we reached the Changuinola river mouth, trying to see the shorebirds that cross this area during migration.

After enjoying some Black-bellied Plover, Ruddy Turnstones, collared plovers, sanderlings, and many more we were heading back to the boat when, suddenly, a movement in the bushes that cover the upper part of the beach, caught our attention. The second I focused my binoculars on the bird that was causing that movement I heard Jan Axel saying excitedly, “It is a Blue-winged Warbler.”  There it was, the bright yellow, the white wing bars and the unmistakable black line over the eye.   A very handsome male was showing himself while searching around the bushes for his next meal.

Jan Axel was surprised by this observation of the Blue-winged Warbler because every time that he has found the bird it was in the canopy of a closed forest. This time it was in an open space, one meter (three feet) over the ground working some bushes. I guess after a while, we all know that the “strange” seems to be the norm if we talk about birds’ behaviour. We probably should just thank this beauty for being there, enjoy the moment, and, if possible, take a picture.

We shared a great birding day at the canal. This lifer, for me, made it even greater.

Do you know what bird parasitism is?

Birdwatching Panama

Bird parasitism is when one bird lays her eggs in the nest of a different bird species, with the intent that this other bird, the host, will take care of the laying bird’s offspring.  This is  definitely a very smart strategy for the parasite birds, because thanks to this behavior, the parasite birds, do not have to spend all the time and energy raising their chicks.  This allows parasitic layers them to produce more eggs per year.

Around Tranquilo Bay, is one specie of bird that is a parasitic layer of eggs in the nests of other birds.  I´m talking about the Giant Cowbird (Molothrus oryzivorus) who lays her eggs in the Montezuma Oropendola’s (Psacolius montezuma) nest.  In other areas, cowbirds parasite lay in the nests of several other species of oropendolas and caciques.  All those species nest colonially (several nest in one single tree) and build long hanging nests.

Birding Panama

Cowbirds are calm and quiet birds that like to spend time on grassland, looking for insects which is their main diet. The distribution range of the species goes from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.

Another example of parasitic nesting birds is the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), that lay its eggs in other species nest, and when the chicks hatch they pull out of the nest the eggs and/or chicks of the host.  In the case of the Giant Cowbird, the offspring do not destroy the eggs or chicks of the host specie (the photo at the top shows a Wren (left) feeding a chick of Common Cuckoo), source:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/0407/03-moth-06.html )

The tower is perfect place to see the oropendolas flying by, and sometimes is possible to see a few cowbirds flying with them. I took this picture of a Giant Cowbird a while back, when a group of Montezuma Oropendolas stop on the balsa tree near the observation tower, and this cowbird was with them.

Parasitic bird nesting in Bocas del Toro

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The importance of the word “almost”

Birding PanamaWhen arriving at Tranquilo Bay, each person has their own expectations on what kind of wildlife they can find here – which species of mammals, birds, reptiles.  And, as you know, anything is guaranteed when we are talking about wildlife viewing, but there are some particular species that you can find all year round, no matter if a certain plant is fruiting or flowering, if we are in a dry or a rainy pattern, … they are “almost” always (you never say always with wildlife) here.

Hummingbird Watching Panama

Panama BirdwatchingOne such species is the Crowned Woodnymph (formerly known as Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Thalurania colombica) which can be found “almost” anywhere on Tranquilo Bay’s grounds, but there is one particular area that they really seem to like and you can find them “almost” daily.

Baths of Tranquilo BayIf you have ever been to Tranquilo Bay, you probably have already figured out the place.  The “hummingbirds’ creek,” a portion of a creek in the forest that they like to use to cool down by bathing in it.  It is only a little stretch of the creek that they use, which allows us to sit on benches, waiting comfortably for their explosions of activity.

Hummingbirds PanamaMale and female Crowned Woodnymph, Purple-crowned Fairy and Striped-throated Hermit bathe throughout the year in those waters.  Other visitors will show up from time to time like White-necked Jacobin, Band-tailed Barbthroat and the omnipresent Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and many other birds out of the Hummingbird group. “Almost” every person that witness this behavior, never forgets how graceful they are suspended over the water, submerging their whole body in a glimpse, repeatedly, dipping themselves in the calm water of this section of what we call the ” The Baths of Tranquilo Bay.”

 

Panama’s Interesting Natural History

View of Volcan Baru from BocasGeologically, Central America is one of the most complicated places on the Earth. A place where the fundamental forces at work on Earth over the last 15 million years created a land bridge that changed the world.

This new bridge not only connected the Northern and Southern terrestrial biota but changed the global oceanic circulation separating Pacific from Atlantic oceans which produced dramatic changes in weather patterns and oceanic conditions on both sides. The separation of the two oceans provoked the appearance of the Gulf Stream which warms the East Coast of North America and the Western European coasts, resulting in precipitation increases and intensification of the northern hemisphere glaciation.

This land bridge, that is also a separation wall between two oceans, happened progressively over the last fifteen-million years. As such it allowed changes that normally happen after big catastrophic events. The movement of species through the new land-bridge is known as “Great America Biotic exchange”. This exchange occurred in waves.

Species Migration across PanamaThe first migration wave happened eight-million years ago and included raccoons and sloths which where able to hop and swim from island to island within the existing island chain. Ocean foraminifera fossil data indicates a certain degree of connectivity in oceans until 3.1 million years ago.   Three-million years ago is the moment, when abundant emigrant remains are found on both sides which is considered as evidence of a continuous land bridge. Dozens of families and several dozen genera passed in both directions.

A massive migration was led by grazers in large groups (horses and llamas from North America and ground sloths from South America) which had a heavy impact on the landscape. They were followed by carnivores … at least 6 families of North American carnivores spread South with catastrophic impact on native southern grazers (since they had never met such efficient hunters).

Natural History Species MigrationOne of the last species to arrive North from the south is the opossum that reached Florida 1 million years ago.

The piece of land we now call Panama, was the last part closing the bridge that joined the two big land masses and at the same time separating the Atlantic from the Pacific Ocean forever. This makes this particular spot on Earth one of the most interesting places to study speciation, migration patterns, adaptation processes, competition, and extinction. We could say that Panama is an open air natural evolution laboratory.

Scott’s Thoughts on Learning the Yard Birds

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Bananaquit by Scott Viola

Last week, we heard from Tres about the kids’ science class for the school year 2015/2016.  This week we hear from Scott:

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Blackburnian Warbler by Scott Viola

We started the bird class at the beginning of this school year because a family was planning to come in the summer, and we (the kids) were to be the guides. We have sketched and studied every bird on site, except for the most recent additions to our list.

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Yellow-crowned Night-Heron by Scott Viola

Every week, bird flashcards were created to tell us which birds to look into. Usually, five were assigned every week, but once it varied to seven! We designate common names, Latin names description, size, food, habitat, and location for each bird. We may draw or insert a picture of the bird. I’ve always drawn them.

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Black Skimmer by Scott Viola

As I went through the school year, I began to notice the bird life surrounding me. I never saw the thrushes, hummingbirds, warblers, flycatchers, seedeaters, and more before we studied them. I picked up many calls and songs, which are as helpful as sight, too.

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Magnolia Warbler by Scott Viola

Today, I recognize many of our birds by sight and sound. I locate some birds, especially flycatchers, by sound. I’ve acquired a pair of binoculars (Mr. Jeri says “a binocular”) of my own. I use them whenever I go birding, or even just walking or playing outdoors. I never know what will appear.

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Stripe-throated Hermit by Scott Viola