Tuesday, March 20, 2018

2018 Panama Journal - Day 4 - Part 1

Tuesday 2/13/18

Breakfast was at 5:30 this morning.  We were leaving the Camp for El Salto Road.  El Salto Road is about 4 miles north from the Pan-American Highway and ends at the Rio Chucunaque.  It is surrounded by dry forest.

Adjacent to El Salto Road is the property of the Tierra Nueva Foundation.  Fundación Tierra Nueva is a non-profit organization whose main mission is “working towards the sustainable development of people of the Darién Rainforest.”  The property is the home of a technical school focusing on applications in agriculture. We were able to walk the trails of this large forested property.

We had an unusual set of trucks and vans taking us out every day.  This open-air truck was great for birding but not for driving on the highway. 

It also did not hold everyone.  This truck held 11 people in the back, one guide and a driver in the front cab.  There was another truck that held 3 birders and one guide/driver.  The people in the open-air truck rode in a van until we got to our destination then transferred to the open-air truck.  Sound complicated?  Not to Mark and me.  We always road in the 4 person truck.  There was always one person from the other group in our truck.  For some reason they could only get 5 people on one side of the open-air truck and 6 people on the other side.  I think we had the best situation because 1: We weren’t all squashed together 2: We weren’t sitting out under the blazing sun and 3: We had air conditioning!  The open-air truck and our truck were 4 wheel drive.  The van was not.

Once we got to El Salto Road everyone was out walking.  

Birding El Salto Road.

We started our morning with a couple different species of parrots.

Brown-hooded Parrot

Red-lored Parrots

There are several different types of doves and pigeons in Panama. We saw this Scaled Pigeon as we walked along the road.

Collared Aracari's are members of the Toucan family. They are on the small side, but just as colorful.

Collared Aracari

We saw a couple of different species of Trogans this morning. 

White-tailed Trogan male

Black-tailed Trogan female

Oscar was the driver of the van and also the driver of the open-air truck.  As we walked and birded and got farther from the vehicles, he would run back to the truck and drive it to us then run back to the open-air truck and drive it to us.  He did this many times during our walk.

We didn't just see birds. The forests are full of mammals as well, with some being easier to see than others. Sloths are really tough to find, and we had to rely on our sharp-eyed guides to spot most of them.

Although from this picture it looks like one claw has 3 toes and the other has 2 toes, the black back saddle makes this a male Three-toed Sloth.

Three-toed Sloth

Howler Monkeys tend to make their presence know with both noise and movement. This group had a couple of babies on board. 

The "other" sloth is the Two-toed Sloth, which is a little bigger and much hairier. 

Two-toed Sloth

As we continued to walk and look we saw plenty more birds. Some were easy to spot, while others were small and sneaky. This Broad-winged Hawk sat quietly along the side of the road, giving us great looks.
Broad-winged Hawk

This Black-crowned Antshrike, on the other hand, stayed back in the bushes, appearing only briefly in openings here and there. Very tough to get a good picture when they're doing that!

Black-crowned Antshrike male

When it was time to head back, the trucks were there once again and we just hopped in.  When we got back to a major road, the people in the open-air truck had to get out and get back into the van.  We just stayed in our nice, air conditioned truck. 

Yet another Three-toed Sloth smirked at us on our way back. Doesn't he look pleased about something?

After a long, bird filled morning we got back to Camp for lunch about 12:30.

Next time:  Day 4 (afternoon) continued.

Birds seen on El Salto Road:

Brown-hooded Parrot, Blue Dacnis, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-lored Parrot, Black-tailed Trogon, Roadside Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Black-throated Trogon, White-tailed Trogon, Shiny Cowbird, Collared Aracari, Broad-winged Hawk, Keel-billed Toucan, Bananaquit, Bay-breasted Warbler, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Forest Elaenia, Crested Oropendola, Blue-headed Parrot, Plain-colored Tanager, Mealy Parrot, Pale-bellied Hermit, Black-bellied Wren, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Olivaceous Piculet, White-shouldered Tanager, Black-crowned Antshrike, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Marbled Wood-Quail (H), Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-winged Antwren (H), Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, White-necked Puffbird, Black Antshrike, Gray-headed Tanager, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Brown Pelican, Blue Cotinga, Yellow-backed Oriole, Cinnamon Woodpecker (H), Crane Hawk, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Blue Ground-Dove, Band-rumped Swift, Smooth-billed Ani, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Double-thoothed Kite, White-tailed Kite, Dusky Antbird, Choco Sirystes (H), Tropical Gnatcatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

World Birding Centers and Other Birding Hotspots

We are on the road again but before we left South Texas we hit most of the birding hotspots in this area.

Frontera Audubon is a 15-acre nature preserve in Weslaco.

Frontera Audubon houses a Visitors’ Center and the Texas Historic Landmark, the Skaggs House, a Spanish Mediterranean style house built in 1927. Florence Skaggs donated the property to Frontera Audubon in 1992 for conservation and preservation.

There is a very nice water feature right outside the back deck.

There are lots of trails and boardwalks on the property.

There are several feeding stations but we did not see a lot of birds.

We did see a Golden-fronted Woodpecker pretending to be a hummingbird.

Water-filled "ant moats" are used on the hummingbird feeders to keep ants out. Some Plain Chachalacas seem to think that they are tiny little bird bathes and like to drink from them.

Birds seen at Frontera Audubon: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Green Jay, Mottled Duck, Snowy Egret, White-tipped Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, Killdeer, Red-crowned Parrot, Mourning Dove, Great-tailed Grackle, Plain Chachalaca, Great Kiskadee, Black-crested Titmouse, Orange-crowned Warbler, Inca Dove, Black Vulture, Carolina Wren, White-eyed Vireo.

Valley Nature Center is a 6 acre park in Weslaco.  It is the oldest nature center in the Rio Grande Valley, and the only non-profit center fully dedicated to environmental education south of San Antonio and east of Eagle Pass.  

Their aim is for protection of local plant species diversity as well as to make diverse food and habitat available for resident and migratory wildlife.  They claim “Our park is a wonderful natural oasis in the middle of the city.”

We saw plenty of turtles in their pond.

Their new state of the art green facility was completed in October 2014. 

Birds seen at Valley Nature Center:  Plain Chachalaca, Couch’s Kingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Inca Dove, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-winged Dove, Black-crested Titmouse, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird.

Quinta Mazatlan (the name means “country estate” in Spanish) is one of the 9 World Birding Centers in Texas.  It is a 1930’s country estate in McAllen.  Besides a birding center it is also a conference and events center.  Trails wind through more than 15 acres of birding habitat.

Formal tropical gardens surround the 10,000 square-foot mansion.  There are also lots of water and bird feeding stations with native plants of Tamaulipan thorn forest. A well-camouflaged Common Paraque was a nice find. 

Common Paraque

There are 38 of these bronze sculptures throughout the grounds. 

Plain Chachalaca Sculpture

 Turtle Sculpture

Birds seen at Quinta Mazatlan:  Common Pauraque, Northern Mockingbird, Plain Chachalaca, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Olive Sparrow (H), Inca Dove, White-winged Dove, Great Kiskadee, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Jay, House Sparrow, Curve-billed thrasher.

The 55 acre Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is part of the Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Center.   

The active little Verdin is tough to get a picture of. Their round nest with side entrance is distinctive.


Verdin Nest

Curve-billed Thrashers are described as having a "striking orange iris". This pair seemed to have both orange and yellow eyes.

Curve-billed Thrasher pair

This one seemed to have a malformed bill, with the upper extending well beyond to lower. A little extra curve in the old bill...

There are lots of trails and native plants.

Birds seen: House Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Northern Mockingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Verdin, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Olive Sparrow (H),  Black-crested Titmouse, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, White-winged Dove, White-eyed Vireo, Brown-headed Cowbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Curve-billed Thrasher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Long-billed Thrasher, White-tipped Dove, Couch’s Kingbird, Green Jay.

We made another trip through Estero Llano Grande State Park and found many of the same species as the first time. We did get nice looks at flying White-faced Ibis. They won't get their "White Face" until they get a bit farther into breeding season.

White-faced Ibis

Birds seen: Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, White-tipped Dove, Killdeer, Green-winged Teal, blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, American Coot, Red-winged Blackbird, Black-necked Stilt, Cinnamon Teal, Least Sandpiper, Eastern Phoebe, Great-tailed Grackle, Snowy Egret, Great Kiskadee, Mottled Duck, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Blue Heron, Gadwall, White-faced Ibis, Vermilion Flycatcher, Neotropic Cormorant, Spotted Sandpiper, Lincoln Sparrow, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Mourning Dove, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Curve-billed Thrasher, Plain Chachalaca, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Great Egret, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Orange-crowned Warbler, Black-crested Titmouse, Black-and-White Warbler, Great Kiskadee.

We'll have more of our Panama Journal coming soon.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

2018 Panama Journal - Day 3 - Part 3

Monday 2/12/18 Continued.

After a short siesta after lunch we all climbed into the vans and drove a few miles to the Pan-American Highway. 

We’re only a few kilometers away so it didn’t take us long to get there.  We parked and walked to a bridge overlooking some wetlands.  

The Pan-American Highway through the Darien
is a very nice, new road.

Visiting a wetland habitat gave us a chance to see some new birds. A target bird for the visit was the Pied Water-Tyrant which is another bird found in northern South America, but occurring only in this small area of Central America.

Pied Water-Tyrant

Pied Water-Tyrant

Another interesting wetland bird is the Wattled Jacana. The "wattled" label comes from the bright red flesh surrounding the bill of the adult. Adults are black while juveniles are brown and white.

Wattled Jacana

Wattled Jacana adult and juvenile

Wood Storks circled overhead, but decided not to land.

Wood Storks

We enjoyed good views of the curious looking Smooth-billed Ani.

Smooth-billed Ani

After an hour or so we drove to Javiva Road to look for yet another species that can only be found in this region of Central America, the Black Oropendola. Like other Oropendolas they nest communally in hanging woven nests. The Black Oropendola has a more colorful face than the Chestnut-headed Oropendolas nesting back at our camp.

Black Oropendula

Black Oropendola


We got back to Camp in time for dinner at 7:00 pm.  It was another wonderful meal of salmon with pasta, carrots & cauliflower, rolls and salad.

Bird list for day 3:

Gray-headed Chachalaca, Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Ground-Dove, White-tipped Dove, Striped Cuckoo (H), Smooth-billed Ani, Common Pauraque, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Black-throated Mango, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Blue-throated Goldentail, Wattled Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Wood Stork, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turken Vulture, King Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Roadside Hawk, White Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle (H), Mottled Owl (H), Slaty-tailed Trogon, Black-tailed Trogon (H), White-tailed Trogon (H), Gartered Trogon (H), Whooping Motmot (H), Ringed Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar (H), Spot-crowned Barbet, Keel-billed Toucan, Yellow-throated Toucan, Olivaceous piculet, Black-cheeked Woodpecker (H), Red-rumped Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpeckeer, Red-throated Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Red-lored Parrot, Mealy Parrot, White-bellied Antbird (H), Black-faced Antthrush, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper (H), Brown-capped Tyrannulet (H), Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet (H), Yellow-bellied Elaenia (H), Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Southern Bentbill (H), Common Tody-Flycatcher (H), Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Pied Water-Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant (H), Bright-rumped Attila, Great Crested Flycatcher (H), Lesser Kiskadee, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher (H), Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher (H), Tropical Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Brack-crowned Tityra, Cinnamon Becard, White-winged Becard (H), Purple-throated Fruitcrow (H), Golden-collared Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, Black-chested Jay, Gray-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Scaly-breasted Wren, House Wren, Black-bellied Wren (H), Buff-breasted Wren, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, thick-billed Euphonia, Northern Waterthrush, Bay-breasted Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blu-gray Tanager, Palm tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plain-colored tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, Gray-headed tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager,  Bananaquit, Summer Tanager (H), Great-tailed Grackle, Shiny Cowbird, Giant Cowbird, Orange-crowned Oriole, Yellow-rumped Oriole, Crested Oropendola, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Black Oropendola.

Next time:  Day 4 - birds, monkeys, and sloths.  Another great day in the Darien.

Friday, March 16, 2018

National Butterfly Center

We wanted to visit the National Butterfly Center in Mission before we left the area.  Unfortunately, the day we went it was a little cool and overcast.  Butterflies were few and hard to find although we did see a couple. They spread a fermented mixture of over-ripe fruit, yeast, brown sugar, and ?? to attract certain species of butterflies. This Carolina Satyr found it delicious.

Carolina Satyr

This Duskywing preferred a good old-fashioned flower. 

Funereal Duskywing

More than 200 species have been seen on the 100-acre preserve including a number of rarities and U.S. records. While we didn't see many butterflies on this visit, we've recorded some beauties on previous trips.

Mexican Bluewing

Two-barred Flasher

Red-bordered Pixie

Blue Metalmark

The normal entry fee is $10 per person unless you are a resident, Winter Texan or fit under a few other categories they had.  We didn’t fit under any of the discount categories so they gave us the RGV (Rio Grande Valley) discount of $5 per person.

Entryway to the visitor center. 

This is Spike.  He lives at the Butterfly Center.

He seemed happy to be getting attention! 

Since we got such a large entry fee discount we made a contribution toward his care.

We walked around for a while and ended up seeing more birds than butterflies. Great Kiskadees were displaying to each other, and this one was showing how they can raise their yellow crown feathers.

Great Kiskadee

There is a bird feeding station that was getting a lot of business! The beautiful Altamira Oriole put in an appearance.

Altamira Oriole

Citrus is a popular choice at the feeding station. This Green Jay had a firm grip on an orange. 

Green Jay

This Eastern Fox Squirrel would eat bird feed then get a drink of water then eat some more bird feed then get a drink of water, etc.

Eastern Fox Squirrel

With all this bird seed around there was bound to be mice and rats.  The Hispid Cotton Rats were plentiful.  I guess they would be bird feeders too if a hawk happened to come by!

What do you think? Cute? Kinda cute? No?

Birds seen at the butterfly center:  Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Altimira Oriole, Olive Sparrow, Black Vulture, Green Jay, Plain Chachalaca, Northern Cardinal, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Inca Dove, Orange-crowned Warbler, Red-winged blackbird, Lincoln Sparrow,  Great-tailed Grackle, White-tipped Dove, Long-billed thrasher.