Saturday, December 26, 2015

Panama - Chiriqui

Feb 23

After a (somewhat later than planned) breakfast, Steve and I spent the entire day at Los Quetzales, hiking from the main lodge up the trail past the continental divide (which actually put us into the province of Bocas del Toro), birding the whole way. Two of the first birds we saw were a pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves winging across the lodge grounds - unfortunately I didn't bother taking a photo since I had seen many at the start of my trip in Mexico. Why is that unfortunate? Turns out the doves would be a first record for Panama, but the Panama records people don't accept records without a photo or a specimen... This species is expanding in Central America though so I imagine in 10-20 years the Panamanians will have more collared-doves than they care to. Anyway, despite a nearly continuous light mist we had a great hike, adding a good chunk of the highland specialties to our Panama list and also finding four new trip birds for myself (Prong-billed Barbet, White-tailed Emerald, Brown-billed Scythebill and Spotted Barbtail).

The constant wind at this elevation causes the trees to rub against one another and form cool 'puzzle' patterns

Freshwater crab

Flame-throated Warbler

Many good plant photo ops in the tropics!

Once again I'll let the eBird checklist do the talking, but I will summarize and say that this is a great place to bird if you're in the area! Since we had planned ahead and ate a monster breakfast, we were able to stay out pretty late into the afternoon, and didn't get back until nearly dinnertime! As nice as the lodge and its grounds are, the food there isn't great and is very expensive (as I discovered the previous evening), so we opted to eat elsewhere. There are some great (and cheap) restaurants in Cerro Punta and Volcan - if you have a car and can get around it is well worth the extra driving!
Running trip total: 639
Panama: 98

Feb 24

Our original plan for today was to do another hike up above Los Quetzales to clean up anything we'd missed on the previous day, but since we had done quite well there we opted to head a little farther afield. Our trail of choice was El Respingo, in the Volcan Baru National Park, which turned out to be a very good decision! To get there, you have to park along the main road (unless you have high clearance?) and walk in a few kilometres to the headquarters. That didn't really bother us though as this road turned out to be great for birding, highlighted by Three-striped Warbler, Costa Rican Brush-Finch and no fewer than 9(!) Resplendent Quetzals, three of which were adult males with the big tail streamers.

The bottom of the road up to El Respingo

Along the way we ran into a guide and his two clients, and after pointing out a few of the Quetzals to them, he gave us some tips on a reliable spot for Spangle-cheeked Tanager, one of only a few PA/CR highland specialties I had left to see. Farther up the road we ran into a backpacker, and after chatting for a few minutes we actually found a pair of Quetzals to show him! Although not a birder, he was impressed with these birds, but who wouldn't be? We eventually made it to the top, where we talked with the friendly ranger and took some pictures around the garden for a while.

The view from the ranger station

Volcan Baru from El Respingo

Eventually I went off to find the trailhead for the tanagers (also finding Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Sulphur-winged Parakeet in the process), and Steve managed to wander off in the opposite direction (up the mountain). After retrieving Steve, we headed down the trail and found a mixed flock right where the guide had told us to look for the tanagers. Sorting through it, we managed to find exactly 0 tanagers, and the flock moved off up the trail. At that point we were a bit discouraged but I heard a call that sounded tangara-esque, so we chased down the flock again. This time, a group of 7 Spangle-cheeked Tanagers had joined the party! We spent a while getting awesome looks at this spectacular tanager, along with some mediocre photos before the flock once again moved off.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

As that was the last of our targets recently reported in the area, we slowly birded our way back to the car and went for lunch in Cerro Punta before heading back to the lodge. Near Los Quetzales there is an orchid garden called Finca Dracula that Steve wanted to visit, unfortunately we got there just as it was closing and so weren't allowed to go into the actual nursery. We did take a quick walk around the garden though, accompanied by one of the town dogs that ended up following us around for several hours, even sleeping outside the dorm room! After dinner we settled in to make a plan of attack for the next few days. You may have noticed that the running trip total has sort of stalled-out at this point - this is mainly because the species makeup in the western highlands of Panama is extremely similar to that of the highlands in Costa Rica. This is about to change as we head further east though!

Scenic flowers above Los Quetzales

A cool plant at the orchid garden

Steve with his entourage of local beasts
Running trip total: 642
Panama: 118

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