Friday, December 31, 2010


Once the terrace was completed, we realized there was one teeny addition that would have a huge impact on our quality of life. The railing across the balusters is a generous 9" wide, so we set drinks on it, peel bananas and slice oranges and refill feeders on it, stand on it, the birds sit and make messes on it, the squirrels (cussed little critters) run around on it, the Woolly Opossums traipse across it, the monkeys jump on it - it's a regular highway of activity and a work area to boot. The white paint that the crew applied remained white for about a day. The stains quickly became unsightly, the paint began peeling due to frequent precipitation, and I made it worse by spraying it with water in semi-successful attempts to clean things up.

So we contacted Oscar, who returned in mid-December (with an assistant) to tile the top surface of the railing. It looks fantastic! Marco commented this afternoon that it was the best thing about this whole place. Truly, it is a dream to simply aim the hose at whatever falls on the railing, give it a quick blast, and once again it looks like new. The birds struggle to get traction on it, but that doesn't stop them from continuing to consider it part of their world. Check Marco's video, shot on a rainy day when the birds were bedraggled, disheveled and focused on getting their share of the White Plate Special:

Thursday, December 30, 2010


We thought summer had arrived a couple of weeks ago, but it was just a tease. Around December 14th the daily rainfall decreased dramatically, and we even had a few sunny days. But many of them were heavily overcast and windy. The 26th, when we did our second Christmas Bird Count, it was another downpour. There was even more rainfall the next two days, along with continued chilly and windy conditions. Many parts of the country had disastrous flooding and mudslides, with some people losing their homes and unfortunately, a few lost their lives.
We are lucky that we have had no damage, and we can sit inside our house or on our covered terrace, safe and dry, and watch the storms rage. Marco shot some video of what it's like here during some of the downpours. It's impressive and exciting. We wonder how long it would take to fill a 1000-gallon rain barrel with what comes shooting out of just one downspout.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Woolly and the Bats

Central American Woolly Opossum
One night Marco left a terrace light on just outside the kitchen door when he came back inside. A few minutes later, we noticed that a lot of bats were careening up and down the length of the side terrace, back and forth, veering wildly and flitting every which way for insects. We have plenty of insects around here, and at night, we see a lot of moths outside the kitchen door. We had been leaving a bit of banana in a feeder out at night for the moths, but that night we forgot and left several bananas in several feeders. The bats were also feasting on the bananas left in the bird feeders. Some of the bats hang on the feeders, licking at the bananas for 3 or 4 seconds, while others perform touch-and-go maneuvers. Due to the rapid movements of the bats, combined with the low light levels, we do not have video of them.

But there was someone else interested in the bananas - a Central American Woolly Opossum (Caluromys derbianus). We thought we had one of these a few months back, but it turned out to be a Common Opossum. The faulty ID was made before we received the excellent and invaluable "A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico", written and beautifully illustrated by Fiona A. Reid. This Woolly is for real - long, woolly fur, large pinkish (and very expressive) ears, dark median line on forehead. The very long tail is thickly furred for half its length, the naked midsection has dark brown freckles and splotches, and the rest of the (also naked) tail is entirely bright white. The combination of parts and markings make it quite a cute little beast. Once I walked outside with the intention of shooing a Woolly away from one of the feeders that the bats were using. (The opossum had already emptied two other feeders that night.) I moved slowly toward it, expecting it to make an exit, but it held its ground. It did stop feeding and looked intently at me, waving its big ears back and forth. Then it resumed licking the bananas. I was about a foot away from it. The fur does look woolly and remarkably thick. I probably could have touched it, or even brushed it, but I resisted.

Marco shot some video of one of the Woollies. We now have a minimum of three who have visited the feeders. Two of them do not have a nick in their ears, as does the one in the video (named Nick.)

One night I saw a Woolly lunge at a bat who came in for a nibble at the feeder where it was feasting. We have not seen Nick lately, but there are still two regulars who compete for the bananas. Sometimes they tangle and a chase ensues, complete with nipping, squealing and squeaking. They sound a little like a Blue-gray Tanager.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

The rain gauge has moved from inside storage to an open-air spot in the front by the truck port. Yeah, it works better outside.

Just in time, since we recently had a couple days of non-stop rain. November was a little dry even though it is supposed to be the rainiest month. One neighbor told us the 10+ inches we got early this month (in a 24-hour period) is double the amount for any day since they've lived here (3 years.)

Another neighbor keeps an online tally of daily rainfall. We have just begun keeping our records and have patterned them after his. My spreadsheet will be online for anyone to take a look at. It's a bit spotty on coverage to start. The electronic device blew several gaskets along the way. Then the latest (low-tech) model was waiting for construction to be completed. Starting in December, our records should be more consistent and provide some interesting comparisons with those of our neighbors.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Overcast, Drizzly & Shining

Shining Honeycreeper
We have had (endured, at times) days and days of cold, wet weather this month. Wet is no problem, but we're having more trouble with the cold. The "dry" season has definitely not begun, although it usually does so in early to mid-December. But since most of November was much dryer than normal, I'm happy that my new plantings are beneficiaries of this month's continuing rain.

One day last week we woke up to yet another dark day. But late in the morning, we had a special visitor - a Shining Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes lucidus). For months we have been hoping this species would visit our yard, so we are quite pleased. This makes 3 species of honeycreepers at the feeders so far. It has returned to sip sugar water 5 or 6 times that we have noticed, though we were not watching the feeders most of the time. Marco shot some footage:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Brown Violet-ear

Brown Violet-ear
As noted by Jan Axel on his blog, the rare (in Panama) Brown Violet-ear (Colibri delphinae) has been a regular at Toucan Villa (aka/Rachelle and Smitty's place) for a few days this December. We drove up to give it a try and were graciously invited by Smitty to watch for it from their comfortable, covered terrace. Smitty works hard (as do many of us) at keeping the wildlife on his lot happy, and he enjoys remarkable success attracting hummingbirds and others in spectacular numbers. While we watched for the target hummer, it was impossible not to be distracted by the dozens of other hummers, the tanagers, honeycreepers, thrushes, seedeaters, grassquits, the motmot, and more.

Ridgely ungenerously describes the Brown Violet-ear as being a "drab" hummingbird, but we'd like to give the species a little more credit. Although the day was (yet again) dark and rainy, Marco got footage that shows the pertinent field marks and the subtle beauty of this hummingbird, with its warm brown and beige tones, accented by splashes of iridescence on the gorget, and those flashy violet ears.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Finding Clarity

When we first began, we had mixed results in our attempts to attract hordes of hummingbirds to the yard. We had a few Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, nothing more. The numbers of this species built a little, and we had an occasional Stripe-throated Hermit try to sneak in for a few sips. One Rufous-tailed was quite a bully, and he managed to intimidate the little guy and most of the other Rufous-taileds as well. We also had a Snowy-bellied, a Blue-chested once in a while, a couple of infrequent and irregular Long-billed Starthroats. And yet a friend who lives only about one-quarter of a kilometer as the hummer flies was getting swarms of hummingbirds, including at least 7 White-necked Jacobins. What was he doing that we were not? All his feeders were larger - could that be it? He was using the same proportions of sugar to water as we were - we confirmed that.

One day, I ran out of sugar and we bought some turbinado sugar from a little shop not far down the hill. Our hummer traffic plummeted - even the Rufous-taileds lost interest. The sugar we had started with (I just grabbed the first 5-pound bag of sugar I saw in the supermarket) produced sugar-water that was not quite clear; it had a slight beige hue. The turbinado mix was a notably darker tan. And apparently not very tasty. So the next sugar I bought, completely by accident, was a different brand than my original. It dissolved to make very clear sugar-water, and the hummingbirds voted with their tongues - they gave a five-star rating to Santa Rosa white. They drank toasts to us, fought with each other over it, glugged it down by the bucket-load, attempted to defend as many feeders as they could from all other hummers, and in every way, they have voiced their approval. The yard is alive with a chittering, chattering, squeaking, whirring, buzzing, quarreling mass of tiny feathered warriors.

If Marco leaves a feeder on the floor so the juice can warm up (he doesn't want to traumatize their tummies with ice-cold juice directly from the refrigerator), they will go down to the ground to get a sip. They dive into the outdoor sinks to make sure there's not a stray feeder in there. They detour a few feet into the kitchen to investigate the counter and sink area for any red items. We're now getting several White-necked Jacobins, an occasional Long-billed Starthroat, two Blue-chested Hummingbirds, a Violet-capped Hummingbird, two Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, and the regular mob of Rufous-taileds. (For a few weeks, we had a White-vented Plumeleteer. Then the Boa ate it.)

This is a mob of Rufous-taileds in the video. There are only 4 flowers on the feeder. Sometimes the fifth bird has to take a number. Extra points if you can find anything but a Rufous-tailed. We can't.

"Revolve" by hisboyelroy is licensed under a Noncommercial Sampling Plus
Creative Commons License

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Most Delicate Berry Eater

Our friends Rosabel and Karl have many native trees and bushes on their property, among which is Ortiga, which translates as "nettle." Ortiga is a Spanish name given to numerous plants with irritating hairs, most of them in the stinging nettle family, Urticaceae. The Ortiga tree near their house appears to be Urera baccifera, and the birds are wild for the tiny, pale pink fruits that began to appear on it in late October. Among the species we have seen feeding on these fruits are Tawny-capped and Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Blue-gray Tanager, Palm Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Emerald Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Summer Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Clay-colored Thrush, Red-legged Honeycreeper and Green Honeycreeper.

Jan Axel's blog mentions an even bigger bonanza of birds that he and some friends saw in the Ortiga and Ortiguillo earlier this month, and he captured some great shots of many of them.

Marco concentrated his video efforts (see below) on just one bird for this blog post - the female Yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis.) As Jan Axel observed, she was not even a little bit shy. She was "confiding", as birders like to say about birds that allow prolonged observation from very nearby. We were enthralled watching her meticulously and delicately pick the small fruits off the Ortiga with her sizable bill.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pointy-headed Sprite

Violet-headed Hummingbird

Another post featuring a hummingbird - this time, just one hummer. A Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti) has set up shop in the yard of our friends Rosabel and Carl. While we were there, it was feeding exclusively at the flowers of several low-growing Verbena bushes. We were completely won over by the little fellow - who wouldn't be?! Marco was able to capture great recordings of the vocalizations, as well as nice video showing the short, pointy crest:

Sunday, November 21, 2010


During another trip to California (the state of, in the U.S.A.), we were fortunate to spend a glorious day at sea with some of our favorite people in the world. The swells were mountainous at times, but far apart, and the wind did not come up until the afternoon. It was a comfortable ride. We motored from the harbor in Bodega Bay, CA toward the Bodega Canyon and to the Cordell Bank. The Cordell Bank is a mountain range beneath the ocean, approximately 25 miles offshore, and it has an abundance of wildlife around and above it. There were seabirds and marine mammals around us from beginning to end - it was the kind of day every true pelagic enthusiast loves. Below is a report of the day, written by our pal Rich Stallcup. Marco had his video-camera at the ready and documented a few salient scenes and species of the trip, including a look at the array of chum available. He was able to shoot some excellent seabird footage in spite of the swells and low light levels. Not all the species on Rich's list are in Marco's video. And be prepared for a long wait to download if you are on a slow connection. (Marco wanted to edit the video down to 3 minutes or so, but I talked him out of it.)
Subject: [NBB] 10/3/10 Cordell Bank trip
GOOD MORNING!Yesterday I accompanied a group of 35 friends and colleagues on apelagic trip to and beyond CORDELL BANK achieving 1000 fathoms.The "weather" started out more promising than any of us (who had beentracking) expected but it did deteriorate the farther and deeper we wentuntil there were towering swells and deep troughs. It was good that theduration between mountainous waves was 13 seconds.The seabirds and marine mammals were most excellent and there was NOlet-up in the action or obvious mal-de mer.Here is the list, conservatively estimated or carefully counted by me.An * means only a few of us were involved. Otherwise, most everyonewas seeing and being inspired and humbled by the majesty of it all.

Black-footed Albatross-11
Northern Fulmar-20
Pink-footed Shearwater-300
Flesh-footed Shearwater-4
Buller's Shearwater-430
Sooty Shearwater-35
Short-tailed Shearwater-5
Wilson's Storm-petrel-1*
Fork-tailed Storm-petrel-1
Leach's Storm-petrel-1
Ashy Storm-petrel-25
Black Storm-petrel-9
Red Phalarope-30
Red-necked Phalarope-8
Pomarine Jaeger-22
Parasitic Jaeger-11
Long-tailed Jaeger-2
South Polar Skua-3
Sabine's Gull -2200 !! (there was one swirling flock flushed by the loud exhalation of a Blue Whale)
Common Tern-2
Arctic Tern-6
Elegant Tern-18
Common Murre-940 (many well offshore)
Pigeon Guillemot-3 (near Bodega Head)
Marbled Murrelet-4 (off Pinnacles Beach)
Cassin's Auklet-20
Rhinoceros Auklet-95
Blue Whale-14
Humpback Whale-12
Gray Whale-1
Meslopodon (sp.?)-1*
Harbor Porpoise-3
Dall's Porpoise-10
Pacific White-sided Dolphin-4
Minke Whale-2*

The only lost migrants were a Long-billed Dowitcher , an after-hatch year "Audubon's" Warbler(identified this morning from Gil's digital photo) and a Wilson's Warbler.
Peace, love and GO GIANTS RICH

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Terrace Revisited and Completed

We've been writing a lot about the terrace for many months now. Getting it built has been a major focus of our lives since mid-July. It has been mostly done for a few weeks now, and as of late last month, only a little painting of foundations, balusters, rails and driveway remains to be done. The rain has thwarted the crew during more than one attempt to complete the painting. Not that it rains buckets every day - but so far, it has rained buckets and barrels on the days they've painted the areas mentioned above, thereby washing away gallons of newly applied paint. So we wait. But meanwhile, we are luxuriating in life on the terrace.

The other night we hosted our contractor, Adam Haney, and his wife Katiana for champagne and dinner.

It was a fun celebration of a job well-done and well-appreciated.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Starring the Starthroat

We enjoyed seeing at least two Long-billed Starthroats (Heliomaster longirostris) at our feeders a while back (see previous blog post), but the one featured in Marco's video below gets top billing. Maybe he is the now-grown-up male we saw previously. He visited us for four days running (3 through 6 November 2010); the video is from 6 November. We were gone all day the 7th and a good part of the 8th, so we don't know about those days.

Extra points for identifying the other two birds in the video...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crake in the Mist

On November 7th we left the house early with our pals Bill & Claudia, headed for Pipeline Road. Coffee in Albrook was our first destination, followed by a short stop the Summit Ponds, and then the Ammo Ponds, where we all enjoyed wonderful views of a White-throated Crake (Laterallus albigularis.) When I first saw it, I thought it was a mouse or other small rodent - all I could see was its back as it moved through the vegetation on a patch of mud at the edge of a puddle in the marsh.

As noted by Ridgely in his always excellent text ("A Guide to the Birds of Panama"), it is "The most numerous small rail in Panama, though it is usually secretive and hard to more than glimpse." We all hear it far more often than we see it, and when we see it, it's usually a rather unsatisfying glimpse. So Marco's video is pleasing, and not the usual crake experience. It was early morning, misty and beginning to rain when we were there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tricky Tanager

The tanager starring in Marco's video (below) has been a regular at the feeders for about three weeks. At first glance it appears to be a Palm Tanager, but the plumage is dull gray with only a few hints of the iridescent olive-green that Palms show. It is more the color of a Plain-colored Tanager, but much larger than a Plain-colored and even a bit larger than a Palm. It shows none of the blue tones of a Blue-gray Tanager. It most frequently comes to the feeders with the Plain-colored Tanagers, but always appears to be a little lost and not really a member of the pack. There are numerous accounts and photos on the web of hybrids between Blue-gray and Palm Tanagers, but all the photos of them show blue coloration in the plumage.

This is probably a Palm x Blue-gray hybrid, the obvious choice. But we're not comfortable with that based on what we've seen elsewhere. Particularly, non-phaeomelanin schizochroism under Abnormal Plumages at:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween !

Also, on our drive to Portobelo for lunch we saw one witch at the restaurant.  And no, she wasn't the waitress!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

How It Was Done

The crew is gone now. I sort of miss them - but it is nice to have the place all to ourselves again, and the birds seem quite excited to be rid of the many disturbances that prevented them from chowing down at the feeders all day long. We are enjoying our new terrace even more than we could have imagined. For the past week, we have been putting things back in place, getting everything set up just as we want it, planting some trees and greenery in the formerly devastated areas of the yard, building a trail, and moving some feeders around. Next month we'll share video of the finished scene. Meanwhile, here is some footage that Marco shot while the crew was pouring the rails on the balusters.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rufous Motmot Trains Cindy

A Rufous Motmot frequents the yard and comes quite close where Cindy has been able to throw pieces of banana as a treat. The bird sits quietly, keeps an eye out, and pounces when a morsel is offered. Usually only one bite is sufficient. Cindy is learning fast.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Magnolia Warbler

On the 2nd of October 2010 we saw this little beauty in the U.S.A. during a visit to Bodega Bay, California. It was so cooperative while the camera was rolling, we decided it deserved its own post.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pectoral Sandpipers

During fall migration, Panama is treated to thousands, or more probably millions, of birds traveling on the way to their winter habitats. One of the best represented groups of travelers is shorebirds.

A local construction site for a residential/golf course development contains a couple of depressions holding shallow water. Which looks like perfect mudflat and there can be flocks of birds proving it. Cindy and I have stopped by a few times and seen individuals of different herons and sandpipers. The video shows a good sampling of those we've seen including two confiding Pectoral Sandpipers.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hungry Sloth

The day before we left Panama for a visit with friends in California, our Cerro Azul friends Bill and Claudia stopped by the casita to wish us safe and happy travels. As we stood on the terrace chatting, Claudia casually said, "You have a sloth." Sure enough - a Three-toed Sloth was in the Higueron tree not more than 10 feet from the terrace, hungrily munching on the fresh, new leaves. Marco's video shows what a cute and cuddly animal this is (if you don't mind the algae growing on and the bugs in its fur.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sit Sightings

On Sunday, October 10, 2010, we participated for our first time in The Big Sit.

It turned out to be a pretty good day to stay home and watch the activity in the yard. We had a strong start (Canada Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler and Bay-breasted Warbler!), slowed during the morning, and languished throughout the afternoon. Although it could hardly be considered bad, the weather was not cooperative for high bird activity. It started with rain, continued with overcast, clouds, fog, and a few more rain showers through the day. We did have occasional patches of blue sky and several periods consisting of a few minutes of sun.

But we had a good time - this is the first full day we have ever stayed home and done nothing but keep an eye on the wildlife activity in the yard. So many chores and projects beckon during the usual day at the casita.

Marco shot video to document some of our sightings:

In order:

Crimson-backed Tanager
Baltimore Oriole (we had seven of them with us all day)
Palm Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Thick-billed Euphonia
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Clay-colored Thrush
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Rufous Motmot
Hepatic Tanager (it's Psycho Daddy!)
Summer Tanager
White-tipped Dove
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Tennessee Warbler
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Lineated Woodpecker (notice how he has to continuously renew his grip on the slick Cecropia trunk)
White-necked Jacobin

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who's Your Psycho Daddy?

He's not our Psycho Daddy, but we have one in our yard. He's a Hepatic Tanager who earned his nickname by attacking his own evil image wherever he could find it "in" our house. This all began in May with his attacks on the mirror we put up over the outdoor laundry sink. We covered the mirror. So he went to the front windows. We tried opening the sheer curtains, closing the sheer curtains, but of course neither strategy worked. It was the reflection on the outside of the window where he could still see that bad guy. Unsightly as it was, we taped a black plastic garbage bag over the outside of the window. (Can anybody tell me why not a single one of our visitors ever asked us why we had a garbage bag taped over our front window?) He went to the other front window, but I didn't care so much if he bashed his head against that one, since he was no longer perching on and soiling terrace furniture nor making a mess on the terrace floor. After a few weeks, we noticed a chick following him and his mate around at the banana feeders. We took the garbage bag down - he seemed cool, so we took the covering off the mirror. All was calm for a couple of weeks, but then he resumed his efforts with gusto: come in for a snack at the feeders, go to the laundry sink and perch there in between fluttering jumps a couple of feet up to the mirror, peck the hell out of his reflection, have a few more bites of bananas, go to the front window and mount another assault.

He had his routine and so did we. We covered the mirror and window for a second and then a third time and waited for him and his mate to raise another chick, which they did. We uncovered things during the calm periods. There has been a lot of construction activity on the front and side terrace lately, and now there is a roof over the side terrace where the laundry sink is located. We wondered if he would be intimidated by the new structure, but we need not have worried. He continues to feel completely at home here, roof or no roof, and has found opportunities for occasional attacks between disruptions by the crew.

To his credit (and with the help of his level-headed and hard-working mate; she's the one who usually feeds the begging chicks, although we have seen P. Daddy pitch in occasionally) he has been a highly successful father over the past 4 months. And he has kept all other male Hepatic intruders out of the yard. But he just can't seem to get rid of the one who lives inside the house.

If you would like to see the well-honed technique, here is Marco's footage of P. Daddy in action. Note that only a corner of the mirror is exposed, but that's all he needs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tino Sanchez: Bird Guide & Bird Artist Extraordinaire

Paintings by Tino Sanchez
While we were at the Canopy Lodge, we were fortunate to be guided on two of the mornings by Tino Sanchez.

We have known Tino since August of 2009. We were initially impressed by his knowledge and abilities with the birds, but now there's more. He is also a talented artist. He gave us a look at some of his work, and we think he should have a gallery of his own. Most of what we saw was bird art. He uses watercolors, then finishes with colored pencils.

Some of his paintings are displayed in the common area of the Lodge, and he created the Tody Motmot image on the t-shirts sold there. Next time you are at the Lodge, ask to see his work - you will be glad you did. Or, you can contact him through the general e-mail address at the Canopy Lodge.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Protection for the Hilux


The truckport has a roof! It's not completed yet, but it provides shelter from the rain. It's a lot more than we expected, unlike the terrace roof, which is exactly as we envisioned. Adam, the contractor, decided to make the truckport with the same type of peaked roof as on the casita. It has style and we like it. It also has mucho headroom.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Raising the Roof

Side Terrace
When the crew put the first sheets of zinc roofing on the side terrace, their timing could not have been more perfect - they screwed them in at the end of their workday, just as a moderate rain began to fall. It was heaven to walk out from the kitchen during a steady rain and not get drenched. This is what we've been waiting for!

Underside with carriolas

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another Canopy Lodge Adventure

Canopy Lodge
While returning home from Costa Rica, we decided to treat ourselves to three nights at the Canopy Lodge.

It was our third stay at this marvelous establishment. Our first visit was in December 2008, the second was in late August 2009. Each visit is different in some ways, such as meeting and going out with a new (to us) guide, seeing some different birds even if it is about the same time of year, and experiencing the always-variable weather. But one thing is exactly the same every time - the continuing excellence throughout the operation. From the talents of the guides to the unobtrusive attentiveness of everybody on the staff to the delicious and beautifully-presented food and well-appointed rooms, the Lodge is a class act.

The first morning we went into the field with guide Tino Sanchez. We met Tino last year, and he's better than ever. First he took us on a walk along the road outside the Lodge gate, where some of the highlights were a cute male Green Thorntail, a molting Violet-crowned Woodnymph, and a Sepia-capped Flycatcher. Then we walked up above the Canopy Adventure, where we found two cooperative Tody Motmots; we heard two others nearby. We also enjoyed great cooperation from a Scaly-breasted Wren, not a common occurrence.

In the afternoon we went out with Danilo Rodriguez, a pal since 2008 and another superb guide. Danilo has been associated with Raul since the Lodge's inception. The weather was soupy, but we walked around enjoying the tropical clime, renewing our friendship with Danilo, and seeing some birds, including a soggy Tropical Screech-Owl and a drippy Ruddy Quail-Dove on a nest.

The following day, we went out with Eliacer, Danilo's younger brother. It was our first time in the field with him and a complete pleasure - he is another of the impressively talented guides at the Lodge. Like Tino and Danilo, he recognizes all the calls and songs of the local birds and can imitate them perfectly. In the morning we went up to La Mesa and found a Black-headed Saltator as well as the beginning of what turned out to be quite a bonanza of Blue-throated Toucanets. Throughout the day, we continued to see more toucanets at several locations, with a final total of 8, all at close range for careful observation and enjoyment. Mid-afternoon we walked a trail partway up one flank of Cerro Gaital. Near the start, we encountered a Green-crowned Brilliant, another lifer for us. But the "best" bird of the trip was yet to come. By about 4:30 PM, we had been walking for over an hour in drizzle and rain, with not very much light in the sky - conditions were challenging. We admit to wondering why Eliacer had kept going up the mountain. Then he spotted something moving in the trail ahead. We slowly crept up on it, and discovered that it was a Scaled Antpitta! Eliacer, a little breathless from the excitement of such a find, deemed it a Rad Bird, which we took to mean it's a kick-ass bird. Marco is not pleased with the video he shot, but considering the conditions, I think it will do just fine:

After descending Cerro Gaital to the vehicle, we made one last stop before returning to the Lodge for cocktails and a hot meal. On the first morning of our visit, Tino had told us about a night roost of a White-tipped Sicklebill. Eliacer took us to the spot, below the El Macho waterfall, and Marco spotted the little bird sitting on a twig just a few feet in front of us. It was a very satisfying way to end a great day of birding.

On our final morning, Tino took us out again, to a nice trail along a watercress "farm" in a rushing creek. Tino found some White-thighed Swallows for our life list, we watched a family of Long-tailed Tyrants, and enjoyed the many other birds and butterflies, themselves out enjoying the sunny morning.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sparrow Lovers Listen Up!

During our visit at the Canopy Lodge last month, Marco was fortunate to have an extended connection with a Black-striped Sparrow (Arremonops conirostris.) I convinced him that this fellow was worthy of a blog post all his own.

Sparrows are difficult to come by down here. Near our former home in California (U.S.A.), we had many species and big mixed flocks of them to sort through in the winter. Here, although we have a number of finches, grassquits, seedeaters, seed-finches, and brush-finches, the field guide lists only seven birds with the word "Sparrow" in their names. Two of those are accidental and one is casual. The Black-striped Sparrow is the only one we regularly see.

As is so often the case, Robert Ridgely's appreciation for the avifauna shines through in his species account of this sparrow: "Though not brightly colored, this neat dapper bird can be easily recognized by its black-striped gray head with contrasting olive back." (A Guide to the Birds of Panama by Ridgely & Gwynn)

Marco let the camera roll for an extended take and that is what we see here: one shot that allows us to delve into the simple vocalization and hear how it changes in time. With three notes, the Black-striped Sparrow varies the song and does morph into the phrase that sounds like a "bouncing ball."

The inspiration for this example comes from Music of Nature, a site chanced upon while surfing the internet. This is a nature-driven presentation from the real world, not a fast-cut hyper narrative to fill the minutes until the next titillating exploitation.

Enjoy the music for both eyes and ears:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Boa with a Bird Habit

It has happened for the third time in less than two months. On Saturday, August 28, we spotted a Boa constrictor in the process of swallowing a bird. As always, we were alerted to the incident by a bird - not the bird who was caught, but by one of our local Hepatic Tanagers. He really lets loose with the audio when this happens, and I noticed that he was going full strength as I was rinsing the breakfast dishes. When I finished, he was still scolding excitedly, along with approximately 40 other birds perched and hovering near the scene. They were agitated, flitty and chipping incessantly.

We grabbed our bins and scanned the branches in the area where the birds were directing their attention, and sure enough, there was the Boa constrictor, his jaws clenched around the neck area of a bird; the head, tail, and body were still to be swallowed but were all neatly wrapped in the coils of the serpent. Every so often, a hummer would dive at the Boa. We set up the scope for a bigger view, and invited the guys on the crew to have a look. They expressed great interest in it, and one of them (Eugenio) was the first to put a name to the victim - Azulejo, the local name for Blue-gray Tanager. We left the scope trained on the serpent, and throughout the day each of the four guys returned to the scope several times to check the Boa's progress, which was understandably slow with a bird of this size.

I am about to publish this post on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 31, and the Boa has moved only a few feet since the big meal - up one branch and out a little farther from the trunk. It still looks notably lumpy.

When a similar incident happened last week, the victim was a White-vented Plumeleteer. He had been a steady customer at our feeders, and we have not seen another of this species in the yard since.

We are convinced that we have two Boas coming to our snake-feeder. One is medium-sized and has taken a Crimson-backed Tanager (on July 9th) and the Blue-gray Tanager. The one who took the Plumeleteer was a smaller individual.

Speaking of snake-feeders, we also have a cute Common Cane Rat coming to the seed that Marco throws out for the seedeaters, grassquits, doves and squirrels. Marco predicts that one of the big Racers we saw will make short work of it.

Marco's video shows one of the repositioning sequences.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Carriolas Effect

David lifting carriola in front of carport
Things feel like they are moving faster now on our project. It's actually two projects - the terraces (side & back) and the truckport. Holes had to be dug, blocks & rebar placed, floors & driveway & steps poured, columns built. The crew (Oscar, Mauro, Eugenio and Alquilino started the project, then after about 3 weeks, Alquilino disappeared and was replaced by David) is so hard-working and reliable we can hardly believe it. Still, it took several weeks for all the prep to be done.

View from carport

In Marco's shots, you can see the columns already standing, and the crew lifting the beams (called carriolas) up and welding (that's Oscar) them in place.

White dress shirt required for welding!

And there is still much to do - put on the roof, pour the ramps, apply an outer layer of cement to smooth the columns and foundations (called parging), install the balusters and make the railing across them, finish the half-bath, paint everything, install the lights, lay the tiles. What have I forgotten?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

El Cantar Trail

El Cantar Trail

This week we took a morning walk on the El Cantar trail. As usual, it wasn't particularly birdy, but we really like the forest there. It is thick and overgrown and tropical, full of bromeliads and palms and other plants that seem exotic to us. Our best sightings were a group of very cute fledgling Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrants (they were too close for video), and an active family of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers. Marco got some nice video of one of the fledglings as it snapped up and ate a few flies, completely without parental assistance.

El Cantar Trail

This was also a day when we noticed tens of thousands of migrating dragonflies overhead. In Marco's video below, the stunningly beautiful Emerald Tanager is from another day on the Xenornis trail. We think the first butterfly is a Diasia Clearwing (Ithomia diasia.) The second butterfly is commonly called a Banded Peacock (Anartia fatima.)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Park Limit

One morning last week as we were driving down to town, I noticed something odd about one of the "Parque" signs alongside the road. We were traveling too fast for me to be sure what it was, but some sort of dark mass appeared to have grown across most of the sign since we were last by it. I suspected insects or fungus, so I vowed to try to remember to look for the sign on our way back.

Fortunately, I remembered to look for the sign that afternoon, and the mass was still across the sign, so Marco stopped in the road so we could have a look through bins. We decided it was a congregation of termites, but we can't figure out what they were doing there or why they chose the sign for the activity. They were also teeming all over some vegetation beneath the sign. We wondered if they were eating something, but could not determine either way. So there is nothing illuminating in this post, only an observation of a curious sight.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pure Enjoyment

A few days ago when we had yet another huge rainstorm (it's that time of year), and it had been pouring for about an hour, I glanced outside to see four hummingbirds sitting on the wires near the feeders. When I looked through bins, I could see that they (all Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds) were taking long, luxurious showers. It was extremely cute - Marco's video gives you the picture:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wilson Botanical Garden

Since we had to leave Panama for a few days because of our tourist status, we decided to spend two days at the Wilson Botanical Garden near San Vito, Costa Rica. Robert and Catherine Wilson collected tropical plants from the world over (after a failed attempt to get their tropical plant export business off the ground), and their Garden is heaven for anyone who is tropical plant-enthused. My head was nearly spinning as we walked around there - although I tried, it was impossible to take it all in, plus keep birding, look at the butterflies, and avoid tripping over the baby Agoutis. Palms, cycads, cacti, bromeliads, gingers, begonias, orchids - it was total overload. I've been doing some landscaping in our yard, and I wanted to take one of each from this magnificent Garden home with me. But I knew Customs would not approve.

One field trip within the grounds was included as part of the price of the room. Our guide was an impressive young woman named Ariadna (again, sorry - we did not get her last name.) We asked if she had a special area of interest, and she said she considers herself a generalist. She really knows her stuff - she can identify all the birds by sight and sound, give short (and probably long - there wasn't time) interesting talks on biodiversity, the history of the Wilsons and their Garden, she knows the trees and other plants, what the Agoutis like to eat, she explained the losses incurred when a rainforest tree is felled (it's a whole universe up there, not just a hunk of timber), and additionally, she is a fun, energetic, positive, interesting human being.

Here is a slide show of a few plants that Marco shot:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Las Mariposas

Confused Amberwing (Methona confusa)
Photo copyright
Scott Hein

We know the names of a few butterflies back in the U.S. of A., but did not make much of a study of these attractive and fascinating creatures. Here in the Republic of Panama, we have seen so many flying about lately that we feel compelled to make a serious effort to learn at least some of the common ones. There is no field guide to the butterflies of Panama or for this area of Central America, although Kim Garwood and Richard Lehman are currently working on a two-volume set, "Butterflies of Central America" - we can hardly wait! So we are using the two-volume set, "The Butterfles of Costa Rica", by Philip J. DeVries. We hear that both volumes are out of print and somewhat to very difficult to obtain. We were fortunate to procure a copy of Volume 1 through our friend Janet, who volunteers at the PRBO (Point Reyes Bird Observatory) library. While on a recent visit to Costa Rica, we bought Volume 2 of the DeVries at the Wilson Botanical Garden bookstore. Now we are running out of excuses for complete ignorance.

During our stay at the Wilson, we took a couple of baby steps toward butterfly ID. One of the other guests was a scientist named Chris (sorry - did not get his last name) who was conducting a study to determine what plants are pollinated by butterflies. He theorizes that there may not be that many, if we understood correctly. And two of the other guests (Nancy Gallaugher and Larry Simkins, from Gilbert, Arizona) were serious and well-versed butterfliers, as well as experienced birders.

One morning we heard Larry shouting for Nancy to bring the camera. He was standing in the street in front of our room looking at a male Blue-frosted Banner (Catonephele numilia), known also as a Stoplight Catone in the Glassberg "A Swift Guide to the Butterflies of Mexico and Central America", the book Larry was carrying. We ran out to have a look, and Marco got some good footage of this beautiful butterfly.

After the Costa Rica adventure, we stayed 3 nights at the Canopy Lodge (more blog posts on that forthcoming), where Tino Sanchez, one of their excellent guides, helped us take a few more butterfly ID baby steps. He also found a few lifers and many old friends for our bird list.

Below are the butterflies caught on video by Marco; first is the one at the Wilson, followed by those in El Valle near the Canopy Lodge.

We believe the IDs are:
1- Blue-frosted Banner or Stoplight Catone (Catonephele numilia)
2- Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)
3- Clara's Crescent (Eresia clara)
4- Sisamnus Dartwhite (Catasticta sisamnus)
5- Ardys Crescent (Anthanassa ardys)
6- Three-banded Crescent (Eresia eutropia)
7- Sara Longwing (Heliconius sara)

Help us out if you know these things and have some better ideas!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pot-bellied Potoo

Panama Audubon tours Parque Metropolitano

Common Potoo & chick
Yesterday morning, we joined a small group from Panama Audubon for a short field trip in Metropolitan Park in Panama City. A stake-out Common Potoo has been there, roosting in the same area for weeks, so of course we stopped to say hello. Marco commented on the pot-bellied appearance of the bird, so I took another look at it. I quickly realized that this was not a pot belly at all - it was a fuzzy baby! Marco got a shot through bins with the Flip camera. The mom potoo looks a bit ragged, the result of keeping the little one warm and dry through a night and morning of rain, but everyone was quite charmed by the fluffy chick.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Mostly hand labor with a few power tools

Projects - it seems that everyone in Panama has them. I'm referring to construction projects. No matter where you walk, ride or drive, you see evidence of projects.
On-going project...for weeks
Bags of cement, stacks of concrete blocks, piles of rocks and gravel, mounds of sand, boxes of tiles, bundles of rebar, pallets of bricks - materials are stacked in the yards of such a high percentage of houses and condos that you'd think nobody has a finished residence to live in. Trucks filled with sand and dirt, trucks with cement mixers mixing as they roar down the highway, flatbeds full of lumber and steel and roofing materials - they're delivering in every neighborhood of the city and in the countryside. The number of vendors of construction materials is staggering. We see everything from small specialized stores selling only paint or hardware, to large warehouse-type stores that have everything you might need to build and outfit the house, from when you first stick a shovel in the ground to when you are ready to cook your first meal and serve it on a perfectly set table.

Just a small project

Maybe it's the low cost of manual labor. Maybe it's the tropical climate (heat, humidity, bugs, frequent torrential rainstorms, mold & mildew) taking a toll - when you finish one project, you discover another one that needs to be done.

Many want a view

Whatever the reasons for other projects, the reasons for ours include expanding our living space with a covered terrace along two more sides of the house, and a carport (known as a garage in this part of the world.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Red-crowned Fledgling

The "baby woody" that we wrote about fledged a few days after we made that post. We continue to see this young Red-crowned Woodpecker follow its parents around the yard, churring as it begs to be fed. Yesterday I saw the youngster peck a few flakes of bark off a nearby pine tree while it waited for another food delivery. Marco shot some footage of the kid:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pre-Construction Destruction

Earlier this month we received our permit from ANAM to cut down the four pine trees that stood in the way of our future terrace. A few days after that, during a very heavy rain storm, our contractor arrived with a chainsaw and a two-man crew. Two men and one chainsaw made short work of the four trees. All the trees fell where they were meant to fall, without landing on the house or any of the flowers and bushes we have planted.

The yard looks a lot different now. Marco had to re-string several lines and wires for birdfeeders. This is, of course, only the beginning. Once the construction commences, chaos will reign for a few weeks. We hope it does not drag out to more than a few.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Must Be the Season of the Snake

Last Friday morning we were readying ourselves to head down the hill and run a bunch of errands in town. At about 8:30 we heard a big ruckus across the creek, in what we call the "wild section" - it's a hillside on the east side of our property, a little finger of the Chagres National Park extending into the development, with many native trees and the creek at the bottom. Some of the native trees there are usually either blooming or fruiting, attracting quite an interesting variety of wildlife. On this particular morning, approximately 25 birds were chipping and scolding in one area of the wild section, very agitated by something. It took a few minutes, but Marco finally espied a serpent (our third for the week!) that had captured a bird. It was immediately apparent that the serpent was a Boa constrictor, since it had the recognizable pattern on its back and had coiled itself around its prey, slowly tightening its grip. At first we thought the bird was a large one, and since it was in a rather unusual posture in the "clutches" of the snake, we had a little trouble with the ID. It turned out that the boa was rather small, and the bird wasn't so big after all - it was a member of the Crimson-backed Tanager family that had been partaking at our feeders. One of the chicks that had fledged about 10 days prior was now breakfast for a boa.

Marco set up his camera and captured some interesting footage of the boa as it slowly suffocated the young tanager and continued the process of constriction, repositioning, and swallowing.

Our departure was delayed by over an hour, but you just can't walk away from experiences like this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Beautiful Serpent

One recent afternoon I went outside to shoo the Psycho Tanager off the front terrace (long story, but we have a Hepatic Tanager who attacks his own evil image in our windows, and we cannot persuade him to stop without completely covering the windows, but we're not willing to live in the dark, etc.) When I turned on my heel to come back inside, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that something was different about the foliage in front of the living room window. A black and yellow snake, approximately 4 to 4.5 feet in length, was draped about 4 feet off the ground, suspended between two bushes. Marco was out on an errand and had taken the little Flip camera with him. (I called him to confirm this when I was unable to find the camera.) He said the "real" camera (his video camera) was here, so I fumbled around with it and the tripod and got a bit of footage before Marco roared up in the truck. (Most of the footage in the video below is Marco's.)

We think it is a Yellow-bellied Racer (Liophis epinephelus.) It was a lot slower and calmer than the Salmon-bellied Racer we saw a few days before. This snake allowed me to place the tripod within 2 feet of it - it did not even flinch, let alone make any threatening moves toward me. Like the Salmon-bellied, this one went around the side of the house and raised up in an attempt to climb into the planter box. Unlike the other snake, this one seemed interested in going inside the house. First it raised up and looked intently through the living room window (behind the bushes where I initially found it.) It did this a couple of times. Then it continued onto the front terrace and toward the front door. I am certain it would have entered the house if I had not closed the door.

Until we saw the Salmon-bellied and this Yellow-bellied Racer, I did not think a lot about snakes. Marco says he maintains a level of alertness for them whenever he's working in the yard. I know we're in the tropics and they're around. But now, having these two appear so close to the casita, I have become more watchful. Even in the house I find myself looking in corners and checking beneath furniture. Life will never be the same, or at least not until a few weeks pass without seeing a serpent.