Thursday, March 17, 2016

Panama - Chiriqui to Coclé

Feb 25

I think Steve set a new personal record for getting ready today, and we were out the door bright and early in order to make it to the Volcan Lakes around sunrise. This is a fantastic middle-elevation birding area, but since it's lower down you really need to be there early before the activity drops off. One of the great things about the cooler highlands is that bird activity keeps up all day, especially if it's cloudy or a bit misty. This site was kind of interesting as you had to drive across an active runway to access it - luckily there were very few planes using this airstrip and the security was pretty lax!

The airstrip at the Volcan Lakes

We spent the morning meandering our way down the main trail/road, which starts off in a more open area before entering the forest and flanking two small marshy lakes. The main bird of interest in the area is the Chiriqui Yellowthroat, which is currently considered a disjunct population of Masked Yellowthroat, a South American species. Other species that were new for the trip were Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Lesser Elaenia, Least Grebe, Ring-necked Duck, Tropical Parula, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and my only White-winged Tanagers for the trip.

One of the two main lakes

By late morning the temperatures were quite high and bird activity was predictably low, but we remained entertained by the hordes of butterflies that emerged as the temperatures climbed. Some of them were pretty spectacular, such as the '88' butterfly and a Periander Swordtail, along with several species of daggerwing, metalmark and hairstreak among many others!

 A selection of the butterflies - I'll do a proper post with many more eventually!


Periander Swordtail


Eventually it was time to head out, and we slowly made our way toward our next stop - Cerro Colorado. Along the highway we picked up Fork-tailed Flycatcher, White-tailed Kite and Black-chested Jay for the trip. We unfortunately arrived a little late in the day to look for any target birds, and so we just found a good pull-off spot, had dinner and set up the car for camping. At some point in the night (around 2am) we awoke to bright lights and some noise, and looked up to see some guys with machetes/guns loading bags of something into a truck right behind us! We stayed low and they eventually loaded up and drove off - still not entirely sure what they were getting out of the bush but I assume something illicit given their choice of time-of-day to load the truck...

The view up on Cerro Colorado

The roads are fairly winding
Running trip total: 653
Panama: 181

Feb 26

The nice thing about sleeping in the car is that you don't really have to 'get ready' in the morning - you just throw your sleeping bag in the back, put your shoes on, and go! This meant we were at it bright and early this morning, with two targets in mind: Yellow-green Finch and Glow-throated Hummingbird. These two species are endemic to Panama, can only be found in this mountain range, and are both fairly rare. Thanks to some blog posts on the subject and the information in the Panama birdfinding book, we had a fairly good idea of where to look. The road here was newly paved and had distance markers every 100m - we spent the entire morning on the section between 8.5 and 11.5km. Steve was having some leg issues so we leapfrogged, with me walking the road looking for birds, and Steve driving along and getting out to look around every now and then. With walkie-talkies this proved to be an effective strategy, as it meant I didn't need to carry anything other than my bins and camera! The birding was fairly good and we picked up a number of the highland specialties (along with some mid-elevation species near where we had camped near the 4km mark - Black-breasted Wood-Quail was new for the trip) before we encountered our first target: a pair of Yellow-green Finches! The views were good and we heard them vocalizing to one another before they moved off over a ridge and out of sight.

A bad photo of a Yellow-green Finch

Continuing on, we found a number of Selasphorus hummingbirds (Scintillant/Glow-throated type), but they all seemed to be females which are generally thought to be unidentifiable. We eventually got to the end of what looked like decent habitat (finding another pair of Yellow-green Finches on the way), and decided to turn around and bird the section again. A stop for lunch netted us a calling Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, but it was down in a valley somewhere and went unseen. Our trek back along our previous route found us more hummingbirds, including one male! It eventually sat still, showing it to be a pretty clear Scintillant. Dang... A Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush was our only consolation, and at 12:30 we called it a morning as we had to make some headway toward our next stop.

Some views from up top!

Along the road we picked up a Great Black Hawk, and by early evening had made it to the Aguadulce salt ponds. Looking at eBird, this seemed like our best bet to pick up some shorebirds along our intended route, and the main highlight of 13 species was my lifer Collared Plover (also American Oystercatcher and Stilt Sandpiper for the trip). As we got here a bit late in the day, we didn't have a lot of light to check out the many ponds or do a very thorough scan of the mudflats, but there were a ton of birds out there and this would definitely be worth a stop! After a delicious fish dinner right beside the beach, we headed off in the dark toward Penonome, where there was a campground of sorts, according to Google. Due to the poor online directions, we ended up down some back road near Cocle, and after debating for a while as to what to do we pulled into what looked like an unused driveway and called it a night! Sleeping here was a fair bit more difficult for me as we were now in the lowlands, and with the windows closed the car got quite toasty rather quickly. With the windows open, mosquitoes found us. Eventually I must have managed to drift off but not before hearing a Barn Owl calling somewhere nearby! As you might recall we had an eventful night the night before, and tonight was no different as we both woke up around 1:30 in the morning to a giant fire raging on the other side of the road. It looked like the entire field/scrubby area that we had parked across from was ablaze. After a few minutes groggily trying to decide if we should be moving out of the way, the fire died down - just a farmer burning their field at 1:30am...
Running trip total: 662
Panama: 215

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