Sunday, March 20, 2016

Panama - Altos del Maria

Mar 4

Being at a higher elevation, and with so many habitat types contained in a relatively tiny area, our birding pace in Altos felt very relaxed compared to some other parts of the trip, but that doesn't mean we took it easy! We started our day birding around Alf's garden - his personal project as when he moved in the yard was completely barren save for one or two large trees, and is now completely filled with native vegetation, flowers, feeders and water sources. Consequently, it is a great spot to bird, and has the added bonus of an observation tower right beside it! White-vented Plumeleteer and Rosy Thrush-Tanager quickly made the list (although we would go without a sighting of the latter for our entire trip and it remained heard-only). A short hawkwatch from the observation tower gave us some good raptor sightings (Gray-headed Kite) and allowed us views into the canopy - neat to have a different perspective! After breakfast we went off to visit a Chestnut-headed Oropendola colony which had a Giant Cowbird attending it.

 Chestnut-headed Oropendola with nest

Working our way higher (Alf's place is at about 900masl, the cloud forest starts at 1300-1400masl), we picked up Orange-bellied Trogon, Canada Warbler, Plain Antvireo, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, White-throated Spadebill and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet for the trip. Other highlights included Snowcap, Tawny-capped Euphonia and White-ruffed Manakin. We eventually ended up at another observation platform, this one right up on a high point along the continental divide. It provided awe-inspiring views of the surrounding landscape, and we could easily see both the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The view down the middle

 Josh made a friend

More importantly, it gave us another hawkwatching opportunity. Earlier we'd asked Alfred how many species he had for his Altos area list, and he said it was over 300, and he gets a few new ones every year now (the pace has obviously slowed since he first moved in!). While watching some of the more common species, a Hook-billed Kite flew over, the first of about 6 new Altos birds Alfred got in the couple days we were birding with him! Alfred had also been telling us a story of when he came up here on his birthday one time and had a close encounter with a certain raptor. As the hawks had slowed down, we were turning to leave when a pair of White Hawks made themselves known in the valley far below. A great species and a seen lifer for us, but not the raptor he was talking about. A movement off to the right at eye level caught our attention, and our collective mind said 'oh just a Turkey Vulture' before getting the bins up and having a minor heart attack. Ornate Hawk-Eagle! Just the bird Alfred was talking about, and like the last time, it came in rather close, made a few passes at eye level, and kept on its way over the ridge and out of sight.

 Ornate Hawk-Eagle, uncropped at 300mm!

With that sighting under our belt, we moved to some gardens at a lower elevation. After a while wandering around and not seeing much of particular interest, I heard a call off in the distance that sounded vaguely familiar. It took me a minute but then I realized what it was - "PARROTLETS!", I shouted, and took off running. Arriving in the area, it still took us a minute to pick them out in the tree in which they were perched. Tiny green birds blend in pretty well with green leaves!

Blue-fronted Parrotlet
With that high target rarity under our belts, we carried on with the afternoon, picking up Barred Forest-Falcon before finishing up at a little man-made lake. After birding it for a while we decided it looked like it had major potential as a vagrant trap, with the variety of habitats around it and the fact it was the only decent waterbody in the area. Not long after we discovered a Little Blue Heron, which was new for Alfred's Altos list! After dinner we went out for a night hike along a stream, turning up some enormous spiders and a few frogs but not much else in the dry conditions.

Playing with a giant spider
Running trip total: 757
Panama: 448

Mar 5

Another full day in the Altos area, we explored a few new spots with Alfred, including the continental divide trail, the cloud forest (which was being cleared for new lots) and several other sites, getting better views and photos of many of the birds we'd seen the day before. Given that we'd seen so much the day before though, our chances for new trip birds were pretty slim, and we only turned up two - Olive-sided and Bran-colored Flycatchers, both at the little man-made lake mentioned yesterday. A Rufous Mourner was also new for my Panama tally. We still managed a respectable 95 species on the day before heading back to Alfred's for some R&R in anticipation of another night hike. This one was in a slightly damper area and turned up more cool bugs but not enough herps for Josh!

The cloud forest at AdM

Glass frog sp.

One of two kinds of odd spiny katydids we found
Running trip total: 759
Panama: 451

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