Monday, December 28, 2009

Marching Music at the Mall

On Sunday, December 27th, after participating in our second CBC in the Republic of Panama, we went shopping at the Albrook Mall. The mall situation in Panama seems the same to us as it did in the U.S.A. - they are everywhere, more are being constructed, and they are huge.

Albrook is one of the larger indoor malls, and it was crowded on this particular Sunday afternoon. As we were heading toward the exit near where our vehicle was parked, I mentioned to Les that the lower level was a sea of people. We heard marching band music, and it became louder and louder. It soon became apparent why there was a sea of people - all the shoppers on the lower level had moved to one side to make way for the Colegio Moisés Castillo Ocaña Marching Band that filled the aisle on the other side. The band was marching along as they played a rousing number, heavy on the brass. It was truly deafening - I was covering my ears - but also quite a spectacle to see and hear. Les used his Flip camera to get some footage - turn up your volume to max and then try to imagine it being 50x louder.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Honeycreepers

It was only a few days ago that we observed our first Red-legged Honeycreeper in the yard, a gorgeous adult male. Then a female appeared, then another adult male. Within a couple of days we observed 6. For Christmas Day we got 8 of them.

Ridgely says they are "The most widespread and familiar honeycreeper in Panama; comes to feeding trays." OK - but they are so cute and so beautiful - it's still breathtaking to see them at close range. Notice the bright yellow underwing coverts of the male in Les's shot above. As long we can afford to buy bananas, we will keep feeding the honeycreepers.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Type of Squirrel We Love

A Squirrel Cuckoo came through the yard this morning! We are very excited. Just yesterday when I saw one alongside the road as we were driving down the hill, I asked Les how long it would be before we saw one in the yard.

This one foraged its way through the trees for a few minutes before going deep and away, and Les captured some video of it:

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

An Olivaceous Woodcreeper has been a semi-regular in our yard. It comes to the pines near the feeders, always between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM so far, and climbs up a few trees before moving back into the forest. The only other woodcreeper we have observed in our yard has been the Cocoa Woodcreeper, a far more common and widespread species in Panama. It is surprising to us that the Olivaceous has made more appearances than the Cocoa.

This video is in slow motion.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Now that the two feeders have been claimed by one of the three (maybe more?) regular Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, we have not seen much of this cute Stripe-throated Hermit. (See Les's video below) It came to the Impatiens late one afternoon, and when it was immediately attacked by the bully hummer, it flew into the kitchen through the open doorway. The bully followed, but they both exited the house within a few seconds. Our ceilings are very high and it would have been impossible to catch them in a net or even try to herd them if they stayed near the top.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Snowy-bellied Nest

Early this morning (December 14, 2009) Les spotted another yard bird: Snowy-bellied Hummingbird. Later in the day, I spotted her on a nest. We determined that she is in the process of building the nest, and Les got some good video of it and her through my scope. (See below.)

Hummers have been in short supply in this yard so far. During our previous stays (a week in late September and 2 weeks from late October through November 11), we had only sporadic sightings of a female Crowned Woodnymph and a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. In November, Les even hung a feeder out, but nobody cared.

The Rufous-tailed is still around this month, as is the female Crowned Woodnymph. Les put up a feeder up again this time, a couple feet above some orange Impatiens flowers that both species favor. They both ignored it. Then he tied a long rope to the feeder so it could hang right amidst the flowers. It worked - the Rufous-tailed took to it immediately. About a day later, we saw a first-for-the-yard Stripe-throated Hermit fly directly in and start sipping from the feeder. Les took the rope off the feeder the next morning and both the Stripe-throated Hermit and the Rufous-tailed are now regulars at the feeder.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Having Your Washer & Dryer Outdoors Can Be A Good Thing

On Friday, December 11th, we were expecting a plumber and a cable guy to call on us, so we stayed home all day to wait. Neither of them could (or would) commit to a 2-hour or 4-hour time frame, as is common in the U.S.A. Here in Panama, we feel lucky if the person shows up on the scheduled day. The plumber showed up late in the afternoon. He brought 3 sizes of the part he knew he would need, but none of them would fit. So he had to return the following morning with the correct size.

The cable guy, who we hoped would be restoring our internet service (we had none since our return on the afternoon of December 9th), had not arrived by 3 PM, so Les gave him a call to see if he was still planning to come that day. Yes, he confirmed that he would be here. Five o'clock rolled around and Les and I began to have serious doubts. Six o'clock arrived but the cable guy did not. We gave up all hope for that day, and also figured he would probably not be there on Saturday, so we would go another few days without internet. About 8:15 PM, a truck drove up out front - the cable guy! After a quick check of cables and connectors inside the house, he roared off to locate the amplifier, and within 15 minutes he was back and our internet service had been restored.

So anyway, we were working around the house all day, and for me, that included several loads of laundry. Our washer and dryer are located outside, next to the house near the kitchen door and the laundry sinks, a common arrangement in Panama. While heading out to move a load from the washer to the dryer, I saw a large black woodpecker with a bright red head fly in to a nearby pine. It landed out of sight, but within a few seconds, another of the same type flew in and landed in plain view - a male Lineated Woodpecker! It was a yard bird, and I was able to run inside and interrupt Les from his vacuuming, so he got to see it too. Lineated Woodpecker is a common species in Panama, but we were excited to see a pair in our yard.

A few hours later, Les was watching the birds at the feeder, and he spotted a primo male Red-legged Honeycreeper going for the bananas. Another common and wide-spread species in Panama, but a fun new yard/feeder bird for us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pipeline +

Today, November 8th, we ventured again to Pipeline Road. We were caught in a lengthy downpour around 9:30 AM, but our umbrellas kept us dry from the knees up.

We enjoyed more fine views of Chestnut-backed Antbird and many other regulars. Les got excellent video of some Scarlet-rumped Caciques on the road to the Discovery Center.

On our way down from Pipeline Road, I spotted an owl on a telephone wire near the Soberania National Park headquarters. At first, I thought it was a plastic owl (in the U.S.A., people sometimes place plastic owls on rooftops in an unsuccessful effort to deter pigeons or starlings), but then I noticed that a couple of feathers were blowing in the breeze, and then I saw the owl turn its head. Les screeched to a halt at the side of the road, but the owl flew off the wire toward a tree. At my insistence, we pulled into the parking lot of the headquarters, and after a short search, I relocated the owl in a tree near the car. Les's video of the Striped Owl shows how cute it is, with the black outline to the facial disk and the prominent "ears". I have a new favorite owl.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rehab in Panama


Finding good, qualified workers here in Cerro Azul can be difficult, apparently. It is some distance from Panama City. The workmanship doesn't compare with U.S. standards and neither does the work ethic. Don't try encouragement with money, I've been told; it doesn't work. With information from other residents I went in search of a couple who just went through a major construction project and who who might have some good contacts for workmen.

At the end of a long downhill drive on the edge of the Chagras National Park there is a formidable stone wall and iron gate. Answering the intercom was Conchita Mueller. She and her husband, Bernd, have transformed an existing home and lots into an animal rehab center...and soon to be birders' retreat. Bernd gave me a tour of both.

They were not encouraging about local workman. Even when something is agreed upon, something else will be the ultimate reality. One should be onsite continually to supervise the work. It can't be done remotely to achieve your expected results. But the Muellers, in only a year, have transformed their property into a warm, welcoming place. This gives us encouragement to make a few small changes to our Casa Naranja.


Working with ANAM (Panama National Environmental Authority) they have taken in and cared for animals that have been abused or abandoned. We saw a young tamarin, coatis, night monkeys, and a spider monkey named Suzie Q.


Along with this helpful work, the Muellers are building a birders' retreat bordering the park and a flowing stream.

The two beautiful houses looking onto the park which promise to be a favored spot for birds and birders. When the grounds are open for rental we will post another notice.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Pipeline Road Again

To celebrate Panama's November 5th Independence Day (from Spain), we went to Pipeline Road. November 4th was mostly rainy and cool in Cerro Azul, so we were happy to be in the warmer lowlands, and it did not rain all morning on the 5th, although it was very cloudy until almost noon.

We had a slow start, but as the morning wore on, we racked up a lot of great birds and left wishing we had more time and expertise to discover what else was there.

Below is Les's video of some of our highlights.

Some other great birds, who managed to avoid the gaze of the camera lens, included Slaty-tailed Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Plain Xenops, Western Slaty Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Blue-crowned Manakin, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Canada Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Chestnut-headed Oropendula.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

They Found Us

The Geoffroy's Tamarins (Saguinus geoffroyi) discovered the bananas in our yard this morning. We heard from the gardener that the former tenants fed them, and we actually saw several of them during our first tour of the house back in August. But the house was vacant during all of August and until the end of September, so the tamarins stopped making this a regular stop.

Les got some great video of them. After they devoured the 2 banana halves on the table, they sat around (in the pines) waiting for more, but we offered no further servings. We don't think our budget can't support a tamarin feeder.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trouble Has Arrived

Trouble, in the fuzzy form of a Snookum Bear, has arrived in our Cerro Azul yard. He made his first appearance (to us) a little before 7:00 AM on November 2nd. We feel he's been here before, during the nighttime, since any banana chunks left by the birds at the end of the day do disappear by morning. It was foggy and not at all bright this morning, so maybe it was his last stop before retiring for the day.

He was undisturbed by our presence, casual, curious, and probably would have walked into the house if we hadn't been blocking the doorway. He patrolled the southeast side of the yard for about 15 or 20 minutes, often down the slope a bit, where his body was out of sight but we could still see his tail waving merrily along. Les finally banished him (temporarily, no doubt) by banging a shovel against a tree.

We like Coatis fine, but really do want the bananas to go to the birds (and maybe some to the Geoffrey's Tamarins, if they find us.)

Les got some video of the little bandit before chasing him off.

Note the coati's highly developed sense of smell. They can move their snouts around very expressively. This is a large, healthy-looking male. He's solitary, so at least two years old, since the females in the troop shoo them away outside of the breeding season. He holds his non-prehensile tail high showing his rights to the territory. But, that may not work for us in the house.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

First Sign of the Season

Things in Cerro Azul have changed since our departure a month ago. It is still tropical and green everywhere we look, but different trees are flowering and fruiting, and it has been a lot rainier.

One thing Cindy exclaimed about on the way up the hill was several poinsettia bushes in the beginning stages of being red and Christmasy. We like seeing them "in the wild"; she once tried keeping a potted one alive throughout the year in WY, and had no luck.

We're not trying to rush the season with this post - we saw a fully decorated Christmas tree in a pharmacy a couple days ago and did not care for it at all. It's just that even the wild plants are making preparations for the season.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallowe'en Birding

We are back in Cerro Azul and glad to be here. We arrived on October 28th and the following 2 days were consumed by meetings with our lawyer, the seller of the house, our facilitator, bank officers and their assistants, and shopping for more household items.

So today, October 31st, we ventured no farther than Las Nubes for lunch and then to a little store slightly further down the hill for a stalk of those small, creamy bananas we love (and which we share with the yardbirds.) At least a dozen more were on the stalk before Les took the photo, and we paid $1.50 for the stalk. Before lunch we tried to catch up on mail and organizing, but were distracted for almost 2 hours by birding. We stayed in the yard the whole time.

It all started when I looked out the window of the guest bedroom about 8:00 AM and spotted our first Bay-breasted Warbler for the yard. We scrambled outside, leaving our tea on the porch (where some tiny ants discovered it and were swarming all over and in the cup by the time I returned.) Bay-breasteds numbered at least 6, and we also saw several Tennessee Warblers, a Yellow-throated Warbler, a Blackburnian Warbler, a Northern Waterthrush, 2 American Redstarts, 3 Black-and-white Warblers, and a bright male Golden-Winged Warbler. As soon as the fog lifted, the Broad-winged Hawks made a strong push overhead - about 25 of them in groups of 2 to 8. Plain Xenops was another new yardbird, along with Green Honeycreeper, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet and Streaked Saltator.

We started our fruit feeder yesterday, and the tanagers discovered it the same day. When we returned from errands about 5:30 PM yesterday, several Plain-colored Tanagers were sitting in a pine tree staring down at the empty banana skins and chattering impatiently. Les restocked it first thing this morning (we feed the birds before we have breakfast), and tanagers took full advantage of it until about 10:30 AM. Feeder birds included Plain-colored Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager and Thick-billed Euphonia. Other tanagers in the yard today (but not at the feeder) included Bay-headed, Golden-hooded and Crimson-backed.

Another first for the yard was a visual on Keel-billed Toucan - finally!

During cocktail hour late this afternoon, as we sat outside enjoying life, Les spotted a Rufous Motmot near the back of the house - it was a great way to end a great day.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Going Birding in the Neighborhood

On Monday September 28th, Les walked up the road a few steps to make a cell phone call. While he was chatting, he spotted the Tropical Screech-Owl at its day roost. After Les finished his call to Alberto, he called me and said, "Come out, and bring your bins!" After viewing the owl, we saw a few warblers about, so we followed the flock up the road a little farther. We spent about 30 or 40 minutes with this flock (our most concentrated birding of the trip), and it was such fun for a couple of warbler-starved Californians. We saw multiples of American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, the usual tanagers plus Palm and Crimson-backed, and several Lesser Greenlets.

There were no vehicles on the roads during our mid-morning field trip. Later in the day a Cocoa Woodcreeper landed on one of the pine trees less than 20 feet from the kitchen door. We are liking this neighborhood more and more.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Our First Host

We spent our first night at the Cerro Azul house on September 24th, and a Rufous-capped Warbler was the first bird we saw the next morning. We heard and/or saw it every day until we left, and consider it our first host at the property.

We had precious little time for birding during the 5 full days we were in Panama on this trip.

Sunday morning I heard a little flock coming through the trees, so I went outside and a young female Canada Warbler popped out from behind a leaf. I called to Les, and he rushed out to check the action. Among the other species were at least 2 Black-and-white Warblers, a Red-eyed Vireo, a Tropical Gnatcatcher, several Golden-hooded Tanagers, a family group of Bay-headed Tanagers, a few Blue-gray Tanagers. It was a fun 15-minute break for us.

Other regulars in the yard this week are Red-crowned Woodpecker, Hepatic Tanagers and Yellow-faced Grassquits. Heard-only birds include Keel-billed Toucans and Western Slaty Antshrikes daily, and a Tropical Screech-Owl nightly - right outside the bedroom window. And we saw an American Redstart a couple days ago. We looked at several other houses that had far better habitat than this one has, and we felt a little sorry for ourselves that those houses did not work out for us. So we are heartened that the yard here is turning out to be productive for the birds and for us.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Another Step

We signed a contract and made a down payment for the house in Cerro Azul, so we feel more confident that we will actually be able to buy this house.

We arrived on Wednesday night, September 23rd, and spent most of Thursday and Friday meeting with the lawyer, the seller, the facilitator, the bank, and waiting for the Dollar guy who met us at the bank to replace the battery in the rental vehicle. A lot of our time was also spent shopping for items such as broom, mop, tools, groceries and other day-to-day essentials for living in a house. Since Thursday night we have been living in the Cerro Azul house.

Being back and actually being in the house has been great, although hectic is a mild description of our 5 full days here during this trip. So much needs to be done. The missionary family (who lived here most recently) vacated the premises sometime in August, and without regular attention, houses in the tropics are quickly claimed by geckos, termites, mildew, mold, musty aromas of various types, plus other insects and arachnids. We have been busy.

On the 29th we head back to SFO.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Panama Viejo

One August day we took some time to visit the arts and handicrafts market in Panama Viejo. There are so many little booths and shops that it's overwhelming - we ended up not buying anything from any of them, although they were all full of beautiful things. Numerous sewing machines were humming away that morning as the women made more molas. Les did buy a little Panama flag to display in our rental vehicle.

We also walked around the grounds of the old fort and up as high as we could go in the tower. The day in Panama City was sunny, blisteringly hot and muggy, but the upper levels in the tower put us into a rousing breezeway, where we cooled off while watching the Magnificent Frigatebirds and Black Vultures at eye level.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Casco Viejo

One day before the end of our trip in August Les wandered the streets of Casco Viejo. This is the section of Panama City built up after the sacking of the original location in Panama Viejo by pirate Henry Morgan. Les was waiting for a phone call to make an appointment with a Cerro Azul property owner. The call never came.

Casco Viejo is a great place to wait for something that doesn't come. The area is undergoing a revitalization which affects some aspects and not others. There are a lot of historic buildings, some restored and others in a state of extreme disrepair. There were a few birds.

Most captivating were the Blue Cranes on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. They wander around within the gates of the Palace, guarded by the National Police.

Overhead the Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites soar with Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans.

The Great-tailed Grackles patrol the streets for handouts.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Canopy Lodge Birding

On August 22 we arrived at the Canopy Lodge. It is wonderful to be back - Les and I were here with friends in December 2008, and it is the most luxurious birding accommodation we have ever experienced. Raul Arias took great care and put much thought into every detail of this lodge. His vision was to create a birding/eco-lodge from the ground up. He chose the location; the placement of the buildings, doorways, windows; considered every view from within; the placement and shape of the paths; the choice of rocks and building materials and much more. The food is excellent; the rooms are simple, elegant, and airy; the beds are comfortable; the amenities complete; the open terrace dining area is protected from the rain while retaining the feeling of being outdoors; the grounds are beautiful; and the birds - most importantly - are fantastic.

On Saturday afternoon, Danilo was our guide. We enjoyed our reunion (he guided us in December - he knows the birds of the area as well as anybody and is an excellent guide) and had a great afternoon of birding.

On Sunday August 23 through Tuesday the 25th, Tino was our guide. (Hey, Lodge - where is Tino's link?) Tino is yet another of the impressive guides here, and he is also an accomplished artist. We did not have the opportunity to bird with Tino in December, and are delighted to make his acquaintance and have his help this time. Les got some good video of a few of Monday's highlights.

Getting Around in Panama

I consider it a feat of extreme care, luck, and expertise that Les drove the little Yaris around for 22 days without getting a detectable scrape or a dent on it. (He might have gotten a teeny dent on the front bumper, but it was in exactly the place where dents had already been noted prior to our taking possession, so the careful inspection by a Thrifty agent came out fine. Most of the vehicles we see on the roadways have numerous small dents and scrapes and many have large ones. Vehicle rental companies here go over the car with a fine-toothed comb when you turn it in, and as a renter, it is wise to do the same when you pick it up. Drivers here are very aggressive, and they honk a lot. The type of honk conveys subtle information - I know you!; Hi, let me in.; Don't pull out in front of me!; Don't be an idiot!; You ARE an idiot.; Coming through.; Go ahead.; Take it.; Muchas gracias!; and more.)

Before we rented our first car in Panama, while we were still in Gamboa last month, we ventured out on buses and in taxis. It costs 65 cents to get from Gamboa to the Albrook terminal on the Coop Saca bus line. We took the Saca buses to the terminal a few times, and it takes about 45 minutes. From the Albrook terminal, you can get just about anywhere - buses run to the interior, to Costa Rica, to the Darien, and all over Panama City.

The Diablo Rojos are the city buses, they run all around the city, and the cost is 25 cents each ride - no transfers - we took a few rides on them too, sometimes being surprised when we were dropped off in sketchy neighborhoods. But we maintained our auras and came out unscathed. The Rojos are converted school buses from the U.S.A. The conversion consists of inventive and artistic paint jobs, and often they have fancy neon lights around the license plates and around the windshields. Some of the paint jobs have themes, such as Elvis, the Black Christ, Beyonce, various Latin pop stars, Betty Boop, Hello Kitty, Jimi Hendrix, Sting. Most of the buses belch diesel smoke, referred to as Devil Fumes. Sometimes the wheels fall off them, but we were fortunate not to experience such an event.

Photo © George Griffeth 2009
We also took taxis a few times. It's very inexpensive to get around town in taxis, although it's best to agree on a price with the driver before getting in. Some of them try to foist the gringo rate on visitors. One time in December, we got from our motel to Metropolitan Park for $5 (we now know that rate was probably a dollar or two more than it should have been.) Then, when we left the park, the driver (not the same as the first time) told us it would be $10 to take us back to the motel. I told him "No way - we got here for $5.", then turned on my heel and started to walk away. He promptly said, "OK - $5.", so we got in and went back to the room.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Melastome Eaters

Tomorrow morning we wrap things up here in Cerro Azul and head for the Canopy Lodge, where we will spend our last 4 nights in pure birding luxury before returning to San Francisco. So this morning (August 21), for our last birding hike in Cerro Azul (of this particular trip), we decided on the Maipo Trail. It goes right into Chagres National Park, and is teeming with birds, many of them the type we don't see in the less wild areas of C.A. Quite a few of the melastome trees were full of berries, and that's where we saw the most birds. Amongst the species eating these berries were Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Red-capped Manakin, White-ruffed Manakin, Olive Tanager (abundant, traveling in large flocks, and very noisy), Palm Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, White-vented Euphonia, Bay-headed Tanager (abundant), Emerald Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Yellow-and-black Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Blue Dacnis, Green Honeycreeper, Shining Honeycreeper. Carlos has told us from the beginning that planting melastome trees is the way to go - we are believers.

Two of the Red-capped Manakins were in full display mode, landing on a branch with lowered heads, wings held at an angle, fluffing up their ruffs and shuffling sideways along the branch. Sorry - no video - but it was quite a sight to behold.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Elation Followed by Disappointment

Well, we went inside the second orange house on Monday afternoon (August 17) and we absolutely love it. The owner has taken amazingly good care of it - all the wood is sealed, the ceiling is finished, the main level has new tiles on the floor, the windows fit tightly, the upstairs wood loft floor does not creak and bounce like all the other loft floors we have walked on. Both bathrooms have hot water in the sinks and showers (not cold-water sinks and on-demand hot water heaters in the shower only, with wires hanging out every which way.) It has a lovely tiled terrace running the full width of the house. It has a large, solidly-constructed gazebo with electricity, a built-in grill, a tile counter and a sink. It is being offered for a good price, and includes all the furnishings except for the kiddie toys and swing sets and play house. We had high hopes.

When we came to Panama in mid-July, we did not expect that our 6-week stay would result in a house purchase. Then we started seeing what we thought were some pretty nice-looking and affordable houses. Then we saw this house and fell in love. We hired a civil engineer to walk through our favorite houses with us to share his professional observations, and found it to be a really valuable experience. We now look at every house through Dirk's eyes, and most of them have a lot more problems than we suspected before we learned some of the skinny from Dirk. He saw no major problems with this house, and only a couple of very minor ones (for instance, one of the rain gutters had fallen off and needed to be replaced.)

So Mayra, our excellent attorney, researched the details of the property, and although the title is clear, she discovered a little glitch that will most likely prevent us from buying this house. The possibility still exists that we can work something out, but we no longer have much hope that this will be our Panama home.

If this wonderful house is not meant to be our home, we will return to Panama in a few months and search anew. Our friends and contacts here in Cerro Azul tell us that houses come on the market often, and you do have to be here to find out about them, especially the unadvertised ones, as we have already learned. That's our plan.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Romeo y Julieta

Today (August 17) we took our first walk along the Romeo & Juliet trail. It leads to a waterfall, and I don't think we made it that far. I stopped at the creek crossing where the water would have gone over the tops of my shoes. Les went a little farther, and he doesn't think he was quite to THE waterfall either. The trail is steep and slippery at this season. Going down was treacherous, and coming back up made us huff and puff and sweat.

Although it was not terribly birdy, we came across some great birds. The usuals were present, and we crossed paths with a few fun flocks. We also had some nice looks at little groups of Gray-breasted Wood Wrens and Song Wrens. We were surprised to find 3 more lifers on the walk. First was 2 to 4 Spot-crowned Barbets with a flock of tanagers , honeycreepers and dacnis. Nice-looking birds, and only the second species of barbet we have seen. Short-billed Pigeons were the next lifer - we had to work long and hard to get a decent though distant view of what we thought was such a skittish species. Then on the way back, we got to within 25 feet of one feeding on berries in a nearby tree.

The third was definitely the most exciting find - a young Barred Forest-Falcon. Les spotted it fly down to the side of the trail, where it walked around in the grass for a few seconds, then stood still for a minute or two. Then it flew up to a low branch in a bush, where it sat for several minutes. Les got footage of this beautiful, honey-buff-colored bird inside the bush as it watched a butterfly fluttering nearby.

After a couple minutes of watching the butterfly, the little falcon caught and ate the butterfly, and then flew off into the forest. In the species account in A Guide to the Birds of Panama, Ridgely says the Barred Forest-Falcon "Follows swarms of army ants persistently, then often terrifying the other the small birds in attendance, though it captures mostly large insects, only occasionally going after a bird." Another book we like to use in Panama is The Birds of Costa Rica by Richard Garrigues.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Double-edged Rainbow

Casas, casas, casas. Looking at them and thinking about them is mostly what we've been doing lately. We have been surprised and very happy with the combination of planning, coincidence and good timing that has broadened our network of connections here in Cerro Azul. Through the Internet (how, can anybody out there remind me, did we ever live without it??), we were fairly well-prepared to launch ourselves into the house-hunting project. We joined several yahoo group forums and combed through the archives and current posts for recommendations of real estate agents, lawyers, prices and warnings and such.

We already had a few friends here, mainly Carlos Bethancourt and Jose Soto (of Canopy Tower fame.) Once we were here in C.A., we (mostly Les) started talking to anyone and everyone we met. But I made a few contacts too, and remembered some people from our December trip when we just happened to see them up here. Panama is a small country, and everyone knows everyone, we keep hearing. It's turning out to be true. Word got around in the ex-pat community that we were hunting; from them we received tips on a few un-listed houses, and also leads on reliable contractors. We met gardeners, who connected us up with several houses for sale that were listed nowhere - not even a "se vende" sign on the fence. It really is who you know, not what you know.

Our real estate agent Yolanda, of Las Olas Properties, has been fantastically wonderful. She is a Woman of Action! On each trip up to C.A. to show us houses, she has brought along her husband Sergio. They are a great team - he offers pertinent observations and advice as we walk through the houses and around the lots. On Saturday, August 15th, Yolanda brought Sergio and her two children, Fernando and Sophia, all pictured here.

So today (August 16), after the early-morning fog lifted, and after he had fed the birds their breakfast bananas, Les pointed out a rainbow. He said it was a good omen, since we were to look at a couple more houses with Yolanda this afternoon.

We already had 3 favorites amongst the houses we had been inside, but felt we should view a few more before deciding on one. Today we looked at one more - the habitat was beyond wonderful - nary a pine tree on the lot. It was the only lot we have looked at that had nothing but native trees. We saw our lifer Scarlet-thighed Dacnis there a couple weeks ago, and Yolanda had contacted the owner, who sent his gardener over to open the place up for us. Every time Les and I went there (about 5 times since the Scarlet-thighed discovery), great birds were around - Violaceous Trogon, Masked Tityra, Streaked Flycatchers, Buff-throated Saltators, hordes of tanagers and honeycreepers. The house has a nice paint job on the outside, but heavy drapes over all the windows, so we had no idea about the inside. Today we gained access, and it was awful. Dank and dark upstairs - three rooms full of who-knows-what, since there were blankets and comforters covering the head-high stacks of whatever. On the main level was a tiny and sad-looking little kitchenette and living space, dark and in poor condition. We also heard through friends that residents in this area (the Frente district of C.A.) had not been able to obtain phone service, despite months of attempts. That's a deal-breaker for us - we must have our Internet.

Then we went back to what we have been calling Casa Roca (the Rock House.) We really like it. Rock walls, mucho character and personality, a lot of potential. But it would need a lot of work. No hot water in the bathrooms except the on-demand hot water in the showers, unknown if there is hot water in the kitchen, probably would need electrical re-habbing, bathroom on the main level needs to be completely redone. Could we endure the construction and rehab? We're not sure.

As we were leaving Casa Roca, Arturo, the gardener for Casa Roca, came along and told us that he had yet another house to show us, but not until Monday the 17th. From the outside, it looked clean and well-maintained, in great condition, and other than the bright orange paint job (popular up here in C.A.) we liked the looks of it. We will report on it later. He also showed us another FSBO (for sale by owner) home, which was in the most perfect condition we have yet observed. No mold, no peeling paint, no bugs anywhere inside, completely finished ceilings, tasteful wall colors and tiles, beautiful inside and out, perfect move-in condition. But it was surrounded too closely by large, somewhat ostentatious homes, some with indoor dogs that barked a lot, and we felt closed in when we were outside. The lot was kind of small, so there was no buffer zone. We want to have windows and doors open so we can enjoy our yard and the birds and the sounds - this perfect house was probably not for us.

A couple days ago we thought our top three choices were #1- Casa Roca; #2- a little orange house (Casa Naranja #1) on a mostly pines lot in move-in condition but nothing exciting; and #3- one we call Casa Termita (saw a few termite trails on the outside of the walls - but the habitat on the lot was great and the house was cute.) Now we had to think about #4- the Perfect House that we'd all but rejected, but it was within our price range and so perfect, and #5- the potentially great Casa Naranja #2 that we had not been inside. Decisions usually come easy for us - the right choice is so obvious. But now we have almost too many choices - any one of them could be the right one.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Couple More Terrace Birds

Three-Toed Sloth © George Griffeth 2009

Ok, the picture isn't of a bird. But, our amigo Jorge captured the essence of Three-toed Sloth. And we saw one yesterday from the terrace. Today (12 August 2009) we saw our first Squirrel Cuckoo in C.A., and it was just 10 feet off our terrace. A Thick-billed Euphonia chased it away, but not before we had a good view.
Also today we finally saw Swallow-tailed Kites from the terrace - we saw them every day we were at the big house on Castillo. We don't know why they don't pass over this house more often - there are plenty of odes for them.Vultures are also in short supply over this plot on C.A. Additional species for our Terrace list (since the original Terrace post)include Scaled Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Lesser Greenlet, Masked Tityra, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Buff-throated Saltator.

Gecko Feeder

Last night (11 August 2009) while climbing the spiral staircase to our internet room I spied something moving on the hummingbird feeder. Cindy held the flashlight while I shot videotape. There are several geckos around (but not in, so far as we've noticed) the house, but this is the first we've seen indulging in agua con azucar (sugar water). Hope she finishes off with a tasty gnatty tidbit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tayra and Mantid

The past couple of days we've done a little of this & a little of that, without much to report. Yesterday a short walk on one of the trails in the forest was fun, with nothing unusual, but we did meet up with a couple of large, fast-moving passerine flocks that challenged us - they were in the highest tree-tops and we were on the ground. It was fun, and walking through the tropical forest continues to amaze us. There is just so much to see, discover, hear, and try to identify.

Today we were driving back up the hill toward C.A. when I saw a Tayra (Eira barbara) on a hillside. He was headed for the road (which he crossed after Les screeched to a halt so we could watch this beautiful beast) and then he disappeared into the forest. He was very dark brown or black, without the lighter-colored head they attain when older. We were really excited - our first mustelid in Panama!

This afternoon Les spotted a really cool mantid on the terrace. It's about 3 inches long and looks like leaves - see Les's video. We think it is a Hooded Mantis. It was walking toward the shade of the terrace. When it came to the wall of the house it began searching for footholds and made it up about two feet before falling back down. It sat for a few moments and then continued on it's walk.

Toucan Terrace

Keel-billed Toucans
Below our terrace at Cerro Azul a large bare tree was ripe for being a toucan hang-out. We watched for several days with nothing. Then yesterday Cindy called out, "They're here!" We saw a total of 8 Keel-billed Toucans roosting and displaying around the tree. I grabbed a quick videoscope shot.

Then today I read The Birdchick note about how the birds regulate body temperature with the large bill.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

First Walk on the Xenornis Trail

Cerro Azul borders on the Chagres National Forest, which explains much about the richness and diversity of the birdlife here. In A Bird-Finding Guide to Panama by Angehr, Engleman & Engleman, a recommended hike is along the Xenornis Trail. This trail is within the Chagres N.F., and a road leading to the top of it is in C.A. We drove as far as we could up this muddy dirt road. Our low-slung little Yaris performed well considering that we have had rain on each of the last 3 afternoons, and one time it was torrential, first for about an hour from the SW (causing a small flood in the kitchen due to no grout at the base of floor-length windows and no awning above them) and then for another 40 minutes from the SE. Water was pouring off the corrugated tin roof in sheets, and would have filled several 50-gallon barrels, not just a few measly buckets.

After parking the vehicle we walked up the road toward the trailhead. We heard and saw several Western Slaty Antshrikes along the way, a Song Wren, a few tanagers, wrens and grassquits. We also heard a few songs that were completely unfamiliar to us. The singers remain a mystery - we could not see them. At the top of the road, we managed to find the Xenornis Trail - it was not obvious. It is overgrown, steep, muddy, slick, and we saw antbirds within the first 10 minutes. If you try it, we recommend the following equipment (other than bins): walking stick, sharp machete, laser pointer, sturdy hiking shoes with a good tread, mosquito repellent. We really enjoyed our hike - it felt wild in there with the Bicolored Antbirds,

Spotted Antbirds (Les's stills and video are of different individuals from Pipeline road), and a lot of ants. As we were hiking up and out, a seemingly curious Yellow-eared Toucanet (our 17th lifer of this trip) flew in and appeared to be carefully examining us from several perches just 8 to 10 feet above our heads. When we exited the forest onto the road, a kettle of 8 to 10 Swallow-tailed Kites was swirling above. Rain clouds were moving in, and not wanting to give any more challenges to the Yaris, we headed back to the car and drove to our apartment to replenish the bananas on the terrace.

Friday, August 7, 2009

House-hunting in Cerro Azul

We have looked at a few houses since our arrival in Panama. We saw two in Las Cumbres (a neighborhood on the edge of Panama City at a slightly higher elevation than the city) and have seen several in Cerro Azul, since we like the climate up here.

There is no Multiple Listing Service for houses in Panama - it's every man and woman for him- and her-self. An owner can advertise property for sale by placing an ad in a newspaper or online, or by a "Se Vende" sign at the front of the property, or through the use of a licensed real estate agent. We have heard that many of the houses in C.A. that are for sale are not listed anywhere, sometimes not even with a Se Vende sign. It's all word of mouth, through friends, neighbors, gardeners. So far, we have been using all the avenues mentioned above, and it is cumbersome. We have never searched for or bought a house before in any country - whether that makes it easier or more difficult, we do not know.

We have also been driving through the entire development up here in C.A. I think we have gone up and down every street, including every cul de sac, at least once. One place where we saw the Se Vende sign had fabulous habitat on the lot, but the house has obviously not been lived in for a long time. The paint on the outside is fresh, and there are tools and supplies strewn about that indicate efforts toward maintenance and upgrades, but much work would still need to be done to make it habitable. But the birds! Violaceous Trogon, Rufous-capped Warbler, Golden-hooded Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Plain-colored Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Palm Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, our lifer Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Masked Tityra. It was a goldmine of birds, undoubtedly due to the yard being full of native trees, several of which were in bloom or fruit, and not a single pine tree. (C.A. was planted with pine trees several decades ago. We have heard stories about why this was done, among which are: because Panamanians are fond of pine trees, the pines were used as stabilizers for the steep hillsides, and because the pines reminded the Swiss expats of their homeland.) Admittedly, we have seen quite a few woodpeckers on the pines, but other than that, we don't like the pines here and when we do buy property, we will chop the pines and replace them with cecropia or other natives that the birds love.

We have been back to the "Mega-habitat House" several times, at various times of the day, and it always impresses us with the birds. But we are not sure we have the stomach and patience for major remodeling. We have been warned away from it since before we even began exploring in Panama. Contractors from hell (some would say all contractors are from there) are legendary in the U.S.A., but in Panama, it's reported to be worse.

So there are other houses that are "move-in ready" - we have seen a few, and we wonder if we could quickly make the yards more attractive to birds, so we would not have to wait too terribly long to create our own mega-habitat house. We saw a small house on a lot with mainly pines, but the little Geoffrey's Tamarins still came foraging along through the pines. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be in a yard full of pines for a year or so. Cecropias grow fast - 6 or more feet per year - maybe we could have a cecropia forest in a fairly short time.