Fate to the winds: Fall Migration at Tranquilo

Fall is upon us again, as the birds from our temperate northern latitudes of United States and Canada fly south for the winter to spend the long months (and thus, the majority of the year) in the tropics. A combination of photoperiod, the tilt of the earth, genetic predisposition, temperature and food availability determines this period of mass departure.

Migration Birdwatching
Hooded Warbler, Florida, Fall 2019

After a short spring and summer packed with staking out new territories (or returning to ones claimed in previous years as is the case with various warblers that return to the same nesting territory year after year), the birds find a mate, build nests and raise the next generation of migratory birds. These hatch-year birds, upon fledging, join the southward-flowing river of migrant songbirds, waterfowl and raptors to wintering grounds they’ve never seen before, yet once occupied by their ancestors.

Eastern Kingbirds Birding Panama
Eastern Kingbirds pausing in the treetops off Tranquilo Bay’s deck. October 2019

The birds funnel down the vast continent of North America where they finished out the breeding season to the narrow stretch of Central America, some residing here for the winter while others continue to fly as far as South America.

Birding Migration
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Maryland Fall 2019

So why would a bird care to make such a journey? Throwing its fate to the wind and relying on abundant yet sometimes uncertain resources that provide a bird’s fat stores to fuel the tiny little muscles that can project a tiny sprite across wide open seas, country borders and continental divides?

Well, a combination of factors: the lush tropics burgeon with fruits, seeds, and invertebrates that become unavailable up north after the fall harvest is over and the cold sets in. The plentiful supply of food in the tropical south allows for our temperate nesting birds to feed shoulder to shoulder with toucans, trogons, honeycreepers and others that make up the vast array of Central and South American species of the avian persuasion.

Fall Migration Panama
The tanagers are headed this way! Florida, Fall 2019

This is an exciting time, not just for birders but anyone interested in nature– it’s hard not to get drawn in by the wildly impressive spectacle of such a mass migration!

Have you noticed changes in the birds around your home? What’s it like where you life? Who stays and who goes?

Black Terns refueling at the mouth of the Changuinola along their journey south. Snyder/Changuinola Bay Excursion, Tranquilo Bay

2014 Migration: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Today I`m going to highlight a couple of pictures I took during the fall migration, of one of our migratory birds: the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus).
Panama Birdwatching
This species is monogamous and breeds in the East and Midwest of North America. During winter they migrate to the north of South America. During the winter migration the male molt to a more dull color pattern.

Adult males have an unmistakable black head, throat, back, wings (with two white wing bars and one white spot on the wing, visible during flight), and tail.  Their underparts and rump are white with a bright red chevron that goes from their black neck through to the middle of their breast.  Females and immature males are brown and heavily streaked with white stripe over the eye. A very distinctive field mark for the ID of this bird on flight is the white patches in the wings.

Wildlife PanamaRose-breasted Grosbeaks are most active during the day, but, like many other migratory songbirds, they migrate during the night. If you want to learn more about this amazing bird you can check:


Ruby-throated Hummingbird Two

Panama Birdwatching

A couple of days ago we had a visit from one of our rarest migratory birds, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  This bird is very rare for the Western Caribbean Slope, where we are located.   Very few reports have been made for this species in this part of the country.  There are more reports for it as a rare migratory species for the Western Pacific Slope of Panama.

Panama Bird Migration

This time we got to see both a male and a female.  Ramon saw a male exactly one year and 2 days ago.  Last year was the first time we saw this hummingbird in this part of the country. This little visitor is one of the many migratory birds we are seeing now. So far we have seen the male each day for almost a week around the same general area.

Unfortunately the glowing red color of the throat is not visible in my pictures.  In person it is possible with the right angle of sun hitting the ruby patch in his throat.  Even without the sun hitting his throat he is a very pretty bird.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reproduce in Canada and the United States, and migrate to Mexico and Central America during the winter.  If you want to learn more about this amazing little bird you can check on:



Worm-eating Warbler 2013

In March of 2011 I saw for the first time a Worm-eating Warbler at Tranquilo Bay.   Since then I have been hoping to see another one because it was a fast, jumpy look.  A few days ago, when I was walking back for lunch, after finishing a wonderful morning of nice birds and a great opportunity to get a nice picture of poison frogs, I saw the behavior of a bird that definitely could be a Worm-eating Warbler.  So I put down the tripod, camera, and water bottle to check with my binoculars and… yes!!!  It was a Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum).  I had an opportunity to enjoy it for a while and have a proper look at this uncommon bird.  It was of course like they always are, jumping, climbing or hanging from branch to branch, and looking in the dry leaves for insects.  It was so gentle, this bird, that it even gave me a chance to make a few pictures.

Wildlife Panama

Red Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio).  Photo by Natalia Decastro Gonzalez.

Panama Birding

Worm-eating Warbler at Tranquilo Bay.  Photo by Natalia Decastro Gonzalez.

Western Caribbean Slope Migration

Worm-eating Warbler during fall 2013 migration.  Photo by Natalia Decastro Gonzalez.



Fall Raptor Migration – Bocas del Toro, Panama

The fall migration is heating up right now with new groups of Raptors showing up everyday.  Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous kites were the first to arrive in Bocas del Toro this year, forming beautiful kettles over the Western Caribbean Slope of Panama.  Large numbers of Barn Swallows and Lesser Nighthawks have also been drifting through for their long winter vacation.  A few Blackburnian and Canada warblers got here early with more to soon follow.  We need some rain down here in the tropics and I am sure hoping the rest of our feathered friends that are on their way bring some of the wet stuff with them.

Birding Panama

Bird Watching Panama

Photos by Jennifer G