A record year!

We just finished another year of migration, with big kettles flying over the islands of Bocas del Toro, on their way to South America.  This year is not like any other year.  This year was the biggest migration of raptors in the 10 years that the Panama Audubon Society and its volunteers have completed a survey on Ancon Hill  in Panama City.  At last report, there were over 3,000,000 birds.  There were still more on the way, because we had some more small kettles flying over Tranquilo Bay, as late as November 9.   Of these three million birds, over two million were counted in one day, November 2, 2014. Great work by all the volunteers in Panama City.  Thanks to Fundacion Natura, who sponsors this initiative, the Panama Audubon Society and all the volunteers that helped to make this possible!

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute article about the 2014 raptor migration:

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

“What do the Birders Know?”

Brian Kimberling wrote an interesting op-ed piece for the New York Times this weekend questioning, “What do the Birders Know?”  Brian has a new novel, Snapper, that will be released on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 in the USA.

Birding Panama

He relates birding or bird watching to a form of prayer of thanksgiving for being alive at a certain time and place.  I get this.  When Jay and Jim moved to Panama years ago to begin building Tranquilo Bay, they were aware of the birds, but they didn’t know them.  Over time we all have come to appreciate the birds.  Over time we have all come to count on their company.  Over time, we all say our own prayers of thanksgiving for the birds that live with us or come to visit us on occasion.

5.8 million birdwatchers in the United States is a big number.  It is a bit higher than the number of residents in Wisconsin.  It is roughly two times the number of people in the country of Panama.  As we open our eyes and ears to the birds and the birding community it is interesting to see how many of these people are participating in some form of citizen scientist project.  Here in Panama the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has teamed up with iNaturalist.org as its database for citizen scientist related data.  This website also has an app for both iPhones and Android phones that allows you to post in the field.  We have hired an intern to help us get all the information we have collected over the years about birds and other animals supported by iNaturalist into their database over the summer.

Hopefully with information provided by citizen scientists we can learn what is happening to the bird population in Panama.  Kimberling points out that the Audobon Society has estimated that nearly 60% of the 305 species found in North America in the winter are shifting northward.  Until we have a body of information regarding our bird population in all of Panama, we cannot determine if we are seeing a change in behavior.  The information regarding the bird population is better documented in more populated areas and or areas that have been birded within Panama for longer periods of time.  Panama’s Western Caribbean Slope is relatively new territory.

There are birds that are bio-indicators that help us to determine the condition of a particular ecosystem.  Raptors do not appear by accident.  Watching what the specific ecosystem’s key bird does can help us learn about our back yard and possibly something about the world.  It is interesting to tie back to how birds have been used throughout history as an indicator of what is to come.  Modern science confirms this is absolutely true.

Rare are the instances when one can help science and complete a prayer of thanksgiving at the same time.  They do exist.  Keeping a bird list and putting the information into a citizen scientist database is one way of doing so.  It is a new practice for all of us, but one each of us can easily support.