Monday, March 21, 2016

Panama - Altos del Maria to Torti via El Cope

Mar 6

We initially had another morning planned in the Altos area, but seeing as we had cleaned the place out on our first day and were scrounging for scraps on day two, we figured a third day wasn't going to help us much. We bid farewell to Alfred in the predawn hours and made a beeline for the Juan Hombron Road, with Steve and I hoping for Mango redemption and Josh eager to score some grassland species which he hadn't been planning on seeing this time around. Our strategy was the same as on our first visit, drive the road and get out to check flowering trees. This time though, we spotted a side road which we had missed on the first go, and a quick check with binoculars showed a whole row of flowering trees a ways down it. Making our way to those trees, we didn't even make it out of the car before a rather large hummingbird zipped in - ka-ching! Watching the trees for a while gave us good looks and scope views of three Veraguan Mangos, and we'd only been at it for 20 minutes!

Veraguan Mango

An Orchard Oriole was also new for my Panama tally. We then cruised the road a bit more, again checking out the wetland area and stopping to look at grassland specialties before zipping over to the Cocle area. We again found the cooperative Aplomado Falcons and a few other new birds for Josh (plus White-tailed Hawk and Common Black Hawk for the Panama list). After a bit of a drive around Cocle it was time to go, and we made our way slowly westward to El Copé, adding Merlin and Wood Stork to the Panama list along the way. Due to the Carnival, traffic was insane and it took us most of the afternoon to get to our destination. As we still had a bit of time, we scouted out the road to the park a bit, but didn't see much of interest and called it a day.

The road in to El Cope
Running trip total: 760
Panama: 456

Mar 7

An early start (4:30am) saw us in the back of a 4x4 truck, bouncing our way up to the park entrance. This road is walkable, but to save time and energy we decided the extra expense was worth it. By dawn we'd arrived at the gates and paid our fee, and were off into the park proper. We spent the morning walking the road and doing a lap of every trail we could find, hoping to run into a few target species and some mixed flocks. We had good success with both, and encountered many mixed flocks throughout the morning! New species for the trip were Slaty Antwren, Slaty-winged and Lineated Foliage-gleaners, and Yellow-throated Chlorospingus. The park also added a lot of species for my Panama list, mainly Caribbean slope species which I had already seen in Costa Rica - highlights included Purplish-backed Quail-Dove, Green Thorntail, White-crowned Manakin, Russet Antshrike, Northern Schiffornis, Blue-and-gold Tanager and Stripe-breasted Wren. By midday the activity had slowed down considerably, and we wandered back to the (closed) visitor centre for lunch and a siesta.

El Cope (PN Omar Torrijos)

A gravid lizard of some sort

Keeping an eye out for raptors in the afternoon heat paid off when we had decent looks at a dark-morph Broad-winged Hawk, the first I'd ever seen! With that under our belts we set off to pound the trails again, seeing mostly the same stuff as in the morning. As it was getting late in the day, Steve decided he'd had enough and set off to walk back to our hostel. Josh and I stayed on for a bit, waiting for dusk as Josh was planning to do a night hike and I was debating joining him. As dusk settled, however, I decided I needed sleep more than I needed to look for herps, and headed back, catching up to Steve about halfway back. A few hours later Josh turned up with some excellent photos, which we enjoyed over a beer before hitting the hay.

Hiking all day is thirsty work

Cool leafhopper
Running trip total: 764
Panama: 478

Mar 8

An even earlier start (it started with a 3...) saw us loading up the car and making a mad dash for the open road, in order to be through Panama City before rush hour. We were successful in that venture, and were cruising the highway over Costa del Este shortly after sunrise.

 Downtown Panama City before rush hour

As there was nowhere to pull over, and we wanted to make time for points further east anyway, our birding here was limited to drive-by only. Luckily Josh had his camera on-hand and we did some drive-by shooting (photos, that is) of the masses of birds out on the flats. This added Herring Gull and American Golden-Plover to the trip, along with some new Panama ticks like Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Franklin's Gull and Black Skimmer. With that we were through the city, and after a quick stop for a much-needed break, got to our target for the day - Lake Bayano. We spent some time scanning from the bridge over the lake, picking up Cocoi Heron, Pied Water-Tyrant and White-ringed Flycatcher for the trip (and adding Neotropic Cormorant and Ringed Kingfisher for Panama).

Lago Bayano

Afterward we drove a bit further east, and checked out a few of the sideroads through the forest. Much of it is patchy, but the patches provide some pretty good birding! Highlights here included Black Antshrike, Orange-crowned Oriole, White-eared Conebill and Jet Antbird, all lifers! Other new Panama birds were Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Red-rumped Woodpecker and Cinereous Becard. By about noon the heat was driving down activity and we pushed onward to Torti, where we got checked in at the Hotel Avicar. The hummingbird feeders here were quite active, and added Scaly-breasted Hummingbird and Long-billed Starthroat for Panama. After lunch and a bit of a siesta we went over to a nearby road with Nick Athanas, one of Tropical Birding's lead tour guides, who we'd run into at the hotel. Despite missing our main target (Double-banded Graytail, which had been recorded here recently), we had a great time birding the road with Nick, adding Barred Puffbird and Pacific Antwren for the trip, along with Cinnamon Becard and American Redstart for the Panama list. Afterward we went for a drive westward, looking for a place that Nick had told us about, but didn't find it and decided to call it a day!

Birding near Torti
Running trip total: 775
Panama: 506

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