Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Panama - Lake Bayano, Nusagandi, Cerro Azul, homeward bound

Mar 14

We left the hotel quite early this morning, in order to be in the Lake Bayano area near sunrise. We picked a road a little further east than the two we'd checked out on our way into the Darien a few days previous, and this paid off! After a few hours of walking the road and checking the flocks, we'd added Forest Elaenia and Golden-fronted Greenlet along with Eastern Wood-Pewee, Olivaceous Woodcreeper and Wood Thrush. Also in the area were some of the Darien specialties like Orange-crowned Oriole and White-eared Conebill. Arriving back at our car, we discovered the two guys who'd walked by us a little earlier had parked directly in the middle of the road, right behind our car, completely blocking us in! As they were long gone, we debated what to do - luckily Steve had a couple machetes with him and after a few minutes of hacking and swearing we had a makeshift passing lane made. This was just enough to get us around them, and we were off to our next stop at the Rio Mono bridge.

 Clearing a path

Just made it by!

Looking down from the Rio Mono bridge

This is a great spot to get a look at some canopy species, and there seemed to always be something happening while we were there. The highlight of our stop was a pair of Sooty-headed Tyrannulets; other goodies included Rufous-winged Antwren, Cinereous Becard and Cinnamon Woodpecker. A quick stop at the Bayano bridge gave us looks at the same species as our previous visit, again the Pied Water-Tyrants were showing well.

 Lago Bayano

In the midday heat we made our way to Nusagandi, with one particular target in mind. After four hours of walking the trails and sitting patiently in an area where we knew the birds were (Nick Athanas had seen them a few days earlier), we had to cut our losses and leave Xenornis-less (Spiny-faced aka Speckled Antshrike). We didn't add anything new for the trip or Panama here but it was nice to get Northern Schiffornis singing and see a few more Blue-crowned Manakins at close range. Afterward, we made our way through the crazy traffic in 24 de Diciembre, stopping at a bank en route (my bank had put a hold on all of my cards just before we went into the Darien, and I ran out of money and had to borrow from Josh and Steve for the duration of our time there!). Our final destination for the night was a nice little hotel with a restaurant and a pool near the entrance to Cerro Azul.

View from the road into Nusagandi
Running trip total: 841
Panama: 597

Mar 15

My last morning in Panama, and we had some work to do. On our way out of the Darien the day before, I'd stopped at a pay phone to call a guy who was apparently the owner of Cerro Azul. This gated community can only be accessed with permission from this guy, or if you know someone who lives in it who can let you in. Anyway, the pay phone kept eating my quarters and cutting off the call so I wasn't entirely sure if we had permission or not. We showed up at the gate shortly after 6am and hoped for the best. After talking to the guard in broken Spanish, he eventually let us in after I said I'd spoken with the owner, and told us to go to the visitor reception area. We stopped in, and it turned out they offer day passes for the community (which, if I recall correctly, were rather expensive), but they don't have them until after 8am. We said we'd stop in on our way back which seemed good enough for them, and made our way into Cerro Azul! Our first stop was at the very top, where it was pretty foggy but after walking the road a ways we'd connected with our main targets - Tacarcuna Chlorospingus and Violet-capped Hummingbird (#600 for Panama!). We also heard some Tawny-faced Quail which were new for the Panama tally and picked up Slate-colored Grosbeak for the trip.

Birding in the clouds above Cerro Azul

On our way back, we were anxiously watching the clock as we figured 9:45 was the absolute latest we could leave Cerro Azul and make it to the airport in time for my flight. This left us just enough time to check out a side road which is mentioned in the book as being a good place for the other major target here - Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. Driving down the road, we figured we'd have time for maybe a five-minute look at the end, where the book says to go. Lucky for us, we came across some birders about halfway down the road. They turned out to be the same British guys we'd shared a room with in Gamboa two weeks earlier! After swapping some quick stories, we discovered they'd already been down the road to the spot mentioned in the book, had spent over an hour looking and turned up exactly zero woodpeckers. This was definitely a disappointment, but at that moment I heard an odd call. I noticed one of the guys had a speaker in his hand, and asked him to play the woodpecker. Two seconds later a bird flew in - score!

 A backlit Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker

It was soon joined by three others on the same tree, and they gave us a great show. After admiring the birds for a minute, we definitely had to make tracks, and bid our farewells to the Brits before racing back down the mountain. We ended up making it to the airport with time to spare, and my flight back to Canada went without a hitch. Josh and Steve continued on for one last day in Panama, check Josh's blog for details on that. It was certainly a great last morning in the tropics, birding right down to the wire! I saw far more species than I'd been expecting and had a fantastic time doing it!
Final tally: 845 (225 MX, 171 BZ, 239 GT, 400 CR, 602 PA)

Note on the final tally: In going through my photos I found one I'd missed in CR, bringing the Costa Rica total to 401 and the trip to 846!

 Til next time, Panama!

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