Sunday, February 28, 2010


Last week we cleaned up the final details related to buying the house. We met with our lawyer to pick up the deed (and to pay her for her outstandingly excellent representation throughout the process.) We also met with the former owner to transfer the accounts for the phone/internet service and for the electric service. We are not sure this is the only way to get our name on the accounts and begin to receive the bills, but we figured it would be a lot easier for us than going to the offices and trying to find someone who spoke enough English to accomplish this.

First the phone & internet: Cable & Wireless is the service most folks have in Cerro Azul. With the former owner accompanying us, we went to the C&W office, where we took a number and waited for about 10 minutes to see a customer service representative. Although my understanding of Spanish is rudimentary, I got that the rep was demanding the presence of the former tenant (whose name was on the account), not just the former owner, for the transfer to be made. The former owner held his ground and told her that we were the current owners, and that in order to be paid, C&W would be well-advised to change the account into our names. C&W proceeded to take down all our contact information and confirmed that the account had been paid to date, but eventually, the former owner did telephone the former tenant, who showed up after a short wait. C&W took his passport # and had him sign a form, and then they were satisfied.

Next was to get the Elektra (electric utility) account into our name. Again, the former owner accompanied us to an office, where we took a number and waited for about 20 minutes to be called. What followed was a mind-numbingly arcane process performed by an obviously experienced and efficient young clerk. First he photocopied our passports, the promissory contract for the house (why, why, why?), and the former owner's ID. Then he printed a few forms and filled them out by hand! Next he had me write my name and my passport number, followed by my signature, about 5 times on 5 different pages. After that he made notes and asked for my initials on a couple sheets in a couple of notebooks. Finally, he verified that there were no outstanding monies due from former owners or tenants, and in the end, he made photocopies of all the forms I had signed and gave the copies to me. The process took about 30 or 40 minutes. We are thankful that this young clerk was not a trainee - we might still be there!

The Elektra account will be in my name in order for us to receive the jubilado discount. Discounts for certain services are available to women aged 57 and older, as well as men aged 62 and older. I qualify, but Les does not.

Costa del Este

One of the premier birding spots in Panama City is Costa del Este. This area on the Pacific Ocean is filling with high-rise condo/retail buildings. To the south away from the construction, the rising tide brings in a large number of wading and water birds.

Cindy and I counted the birds here during the 2009 Panama Pacific Christmas Bird Count. And we got lifer Collared Plovers, to boot.

On a February day we stopped for a few moments on our way to other appointments in the city. There had been reports of Black-skimmers seen here earlier and we were hoping to see these graceful flyers in action. We were happy to find 17 of them roosting on the mud-flat. As we were leaving, Cindy saw one arcing over the water, floating on the air with long wings. The shaky-cam video of roosting birds was shot through my binoculars. But, you can see a bird stretch a wing, showing how far they reach out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Flocks & Rocks

It has finally happened. We closed up our apartment in San Francisco, CA (where we had lived for the past 28 years - our landlord must be dancing in the streets, since the place was under rent control) and took a one-way flight to Panama City, Republic of Panama. We feel unbelievably fortunate on so many levels - we had the means and the perseverance to make the move, we had each other for help and support, we had friends and family who encouraged us (both in the U.S.A. and in the Republic of Panama), we did not have a house to sell in this difficult economy, we found a great lawyer to guide us through the purchase of our house in Cerro Azul. And on top of all that, our good friend Gail, who lived upstairs from us in our S.F. apartment since before we even moved in, decided to move downstairs into our apartment. Her willingness to buy several of our appliances and items of furniture made our last few weeks in S.F. so much more comfortable than they might have been. Right through the day of our flight, we had a full kitchen, chairs to sit in, lamps, and most of the other comforts of home.

So here we are - we and all our bags made it on time and with nothing missing, and our friends Bill & Claudia collected the lot of us (the bags filled the whole bed of their truck) at the airport and even took us shopping for some groceries before delivering us to our casita.

Unpacking and getting organized has occupied much of our time since our arrival on Wednesday February 18th, but we have spent some time observing the birds in the yard and elsewhere. Today we added two new yard birds. First was a Prothonotary Warbler who made a pass through the yard with a small, fast-moving flock that included several Tennessee Warblers, 2 Black and White Warblers, 2 Bay-breasted Warblers and a few small tanagers. Later, while hauling some supplies to the back yard, Les noticed a White-necked Jacobin at one of the feeders. We have no idea why it took so long for this species to show up. We hope for many more of his kind, and have budgeted for the sugar it will require.

This afternoon we drove up to a ridge in Cerro Azul for the purpose of collecting some rocks for our yard. It was foggy and misty and occasionally rainy up there, as it often is, making for an abundance of epiphytes on the tree trunks and water droplets on our eyelashes.

We got out of the truck hoping for a roving flock, and were happy when a small band of Black-and-Yellow Tanagers came along. Accompanying them was a smashing Emerald Tanager and a brilliant Rufous-winged Tanager. None of the printing in the field guides manages to do them justice.

We got good and muddy up there gathering rocks, and we know we will have to return for more. Arturo always uses them as fast as we can supply them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Birds We Will Miss

Birds are one of the big reasons we chose to move to the Republic of Panama. We have been ardent and active birders for 23 years. Most of our birding adventures have been in the 58 counties of California, but we have also traveled to Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Missouri, Kansas, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Nevada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Belize, the Galapagos Islands, Argentina, South Georgia Island, the Falkland Islands, the Antarctic peninsula, New Zealand, the Sub-Antarctic Islands of Australia & New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago specifically to see birds. Our first visit to Panama was in December of 2008. We knew then that the birdlife of Panama could keep us occupied and excited for decades. It is almost like starting our birding lives over again.

Nonetheless, we are going to miss the birds in our Northern California neighborhood. On February 1, 2010, we took a spin around Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with our friend Lisa Hug. Lisa has shared some of her photos with us - below are a few common, familiar birds that we will really miss when we leave California.

All photos © Lisa Hug 2010

The most colorful bird we saw was this Townsend's Warbler - he glowed from within and was a flash of pure brilliance amongst the muted tones of his Bushtit companions.

The only other warbler species we saw were Yellow-rumped Warblers.

In the wintertime here, when there is not much around, the Yellow-rumps keep things lively.

Sparrows are hard to come by in Panama. California is rich with them by comparison. The local winter sparrows include

White-crowned Sparrow,

Golden-crowned Sparrow,

Lincoln's Sparrow,

Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow. The latter two did not cooperate for the photographer.

Ducks! Panama is really short on ducks. Ridgely lists barely more than a dozen species, including winter visitants. By contrast, one Christmas Day a few years ago in Marin County, California we managed to see about 25 species. Ducks love California in the winter, and who can help but love ducks?

This male Hooded Merganser was in excellent plumage.

Ring-necked Duck - another handsome guy.

We will just have to return to coastal California for a duck hit every so often - ducks will be the bonus when we return to visit our human friends.

All photos © Lisa Hug 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Something a Little Different

This post has nothing to do with Panama, but a Costa Rican Rainforest is featured in it. We thought that connection was close enough.

Last week we went with our friend Jorge to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California. The Academy underwent a rebuilding project beginning in 2005. It was made possible with public bond funds approved by voters in the city of San Francisco, as well as State of California and Federal funds, and private donations - all totaling something like $500 million. The project took about three years, with the re-opening date in late September 2008. We had heard from other friends that the new Academy was worth seeing. And several years ago, well before the 2005 ground-breaking ceremony of the new Academy, Les worked on a video documentary about the design teams and Renzo Piano, the architect of the structure. We were both curious to see the results and how they compared to the vision discussed in the documentary.

So we spent the bucks ($25 each for adults, which seems extremely steep to us) and found it to be an educational and enjoyable experience. And in spite of the high price, we admit it is an experience not to be found elsewhere in the area at any price.

The Steinhart Aquarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum and the Morrison Planetarium are still there, along with the trusty Foucault Pendulum. Some of the new exhibits include the Living Roof, a Philippine Coral Reef, and Rainforests of the World.

For us, Rainforests of the World was the most engaging exhibit. Visitors entering the 4-story living rainforest are given instructions not to open hand- or shoulder-bags, use flash photography, or eat or drink while inside. (And upon exiting, there are numerous exhortations to make sure you have no butterflies hitchhiking on your clothes, head, or bags - please brush them off gently before you leave!) The temperature and humidity inside felt great (and familiar) to us, and the croaking and chirping and chattering of the birds, amphibians and insects were a welcome escape from the California winter outdoors. In addition to the many animals and plants in small terrarium-type enclosures, there are birds and butterflies flying free amongst the trees and lush tropical plants in the tall glass dome. Four rainforests are represented - from Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica and the Amazon. The birds in the tall trees at the top of the dome (the Costa Rica section) were bright and beautiful - just what we have become used to in Panama. Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) was the only species present that was familiar to us. But the little Paradise Tanager (Tangara chilensis) was the star of the show. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, with brilliant and contrastingly-colored plumage, they have the personality I associate with the Tangara tanagers - sprightly, energetic, sociable, rowdy, and just plain cute. One of them was collecting moss from a planter box for a nest-building project on a girder high above. Les got some nice video of this beautiful bird.