Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ebanisteria Enrique, S.A.

Enrique, the master furniture maker introduced to us by our friend Carlos Bethancourt of the Canopy Tower, delivered our new bookcase a few days ago. This beautiful one-of-a-kind corner unit bookcase appears to be built-in and we are very pleased with the results. We are surprised at how many books we managed to haul down here, and also at how nearly full the shelves are. (We have a lot more books besides the ones in this bookcase.) Perhaps we should order another one.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rufous-crested Coquette

Yesterday afternoon, our friends Bill and Claudia alerted us to the presence of a male Rufous-crested Coquette (Lophornis delattrei) foraging in their yard. It was toward the end of the day and Marco's cellphone was misbehaving as it often does, so we did not receive the message in time to rush over to their house before dark. They were kind enough to phone us this afternoon when a female of the species showed up. We were just about to head out on an errand, so the errand got delayed and we drove directly to their house. After about 10 minutes, the little gal made her first of several appearances during the 90-or-so minutes we stayed. She returned each time to a verbena bush and methodically worked her way around each little cluster of flowers. When the local Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds tried to chase her off, she held her ground, usually turning to face them down, and promptly returned to finish her feeding session at the verbena. Marco got some nice video of her:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Short Vacation in California

We spent a mid-May week in California, U.S.A. The trip fulfilled our every-90-days departure from Panama to renew our tourist visas and allowed us to pick up more of our stuff and bring it back to Panama, we took care of a little business in San Francisco, and best of all, we got to see some of our California pals. Friends in Kensington and Occidental hosted us in their homes, and we also reconnected with many other friends there and in Marin County. It was a great trip!

While in Kensington we took a late morning walk with our friend Jorge on an East Bay Municipal Utilities District property, where we heard the rich and glorious spring birdsong typical of this mixed redwoods & oak woodland with grasslands along the edge.

It was quite a treat for us to recognize each bird sound and song we heard and to know by name nearly all the trees, flowers and bushes we saw. (This is unfortunately not the case in Panama - we are at the bottom end of the learning curve on our home turf.) We enjoyed listening to Warbling Vireos, Wilson's Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Brown Creepers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-shouldered Hawks, White-breasted Nuthatches, Ash-throated Flycatchers and all the other species common to the area during the breeding season. How many do you recognize?

We also saw the little beauty in Jorge's photo and Marco's video:
a Ringneck Snake (Diadophus punctatus.)

Photo by George Griffeth

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Road Trip! (Chapter 2: Driving the Backroads)

After visiting the mercado in Penonome and making a few purchases, we drove into the countryside. The elevation is slightly higher, and the verdant terrain is remarkably scenic.

We saw a few cattle ranches, a few farms, a good number of small villages, and a lot of peaceful-looking little habitations with a half-acre to several acres of land surrounding them. Typical for much of Latin America, one must drive slowly and be alert for dogs, chickens, and pedestrians in and alongside the country roads.

Several times (maybe 5) Arturo or Saturnino told Marco to stop and pull over to the side of the road, or pull into a dirt driveway, where one or both of them knew the residents. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Arturo and Saturnino would walk off into the forest out of sight to harvest a large stalk or two of bananas. David, Marco and I were instructed to look at the pajaros while waiting for them to return.

We picked up a few pedestrians along the way, most of them known to Arturo and Saturnino. We slowed to chat many times at various houses and shops - this adventure was not one that involved rushing. Chatting and exchanging pleasantries at some length seems to be a way of life here - nearly everyone has time for it. Impromptu visits to a friend's house is also standard. They almost always invite you in (at least onto the terrace) to sit down and usually offer beverages and snacks. We have easily adapted to this friendly custom.

Our last stop was at a finca where Saturnino's elderly sister lives with other family members. One of the structures there had a penca, or palm-thatched roof, typical of the Cocle province, we were told by Berta. The thatching is intricate and beautiful as well as functional in offering protection from rain and sun.

After conversation and a short rest beneath the penca, the guys loaded up still more bananas into the back of our truck. These fruits are thick-skinned and squarish in cross section. We wonder if they are plantains, although the plantains sold in the markets are much longer and slimmer. Elia, who is Panamanian and one of our Cerro Azul neighbors, calls them "Chinese Plantains." In any case, the birds love them just as much as bananas (guineos), and they have had an abundant feast this week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Road Trip! (Chapter 1: Sombrero Quest)

On May 1st, we drove to Penonome with Arturo, his son David, and Arturo's wife's father Saturnino. Arturo's wife, Marizin, could not join us because she had to work.

Among our goals on this adventure were to see Marizin's sister and a few other family members, to find a sombrero for Marco, to get a bunch of bunches of bananas, to buy some plants for the yard, and just to take a road trip. (We had planned to do this last month, but car troubles delayed things.)

We picked up Arturo and David at 6:00 AM and then scooped up Saturnino about 6:30. A not-so-quick stop (it's a very popular place, even at 7:30 on a Saturday morning) at Quesos Chela (on the west side of Capira) for coffees, colas, Pringles and scrumptious cheese empanadas saw us through to Penonome. Saturnino directed us through the traffic- and pedestrian-choked streets of the village to the mercado. We're not sure if it's typical only of Saturdays, but the joint was totally jumpin'. Everything from pig tails still attached to the rear end of the pig, to local woven crafts, to 50# sacks of red beans, to rooty vegetables that we still don't know the names of - all this and more were available in the bustling mercado. Saturnino walked purposefully through the lower level and upstairs to a hat vendor. Marco tried on several "Panama" hats at the first stall, most of which perched high on his large head. One of the hats fit, but it was scratchy and didn't feel good to him. Arturo bought a new hat at this stall. Then Arturo and Saturnino wandered to another stall, and I noticed that there were more hats there. Marco found the hat of his dreams at this stall, one that fit and was not scratchy. First goal accomplished.

The rest of our day was spent going to several fincas and accomplishing the other goals of the trip. To be continued . . . . .

Monday, May 3, 2010

Panama Audubon

We joined Panama Audubon in April. An announcement of a shorebirding trip to Costa del Este arrived by e-mail, so we went along for the fun. The tide was very good for mudflat birding, but the highlights were gulls, not shorebirds. A large gull kept us all speculating and discussing through the trip. Later, Darién Montañez consulted Howell & Dunn and concluded it was an immature Kelp Gull. The video was shot through my scope and later stabilized with software. Sharp-eyed viewers will see another rare gull at the end. A Ring-billed Gull is standing on the left.

Passers-by stopped to see what all the fuss was about.

Rosabel Miro, Executive Director of Panama Audubon, was able to keep them thoroughly engaged and motivate the youngsters with views of all the birds.

They really enjoyed the Black Skimmers.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sudden Change

Without transition, the rainy season has arrived in a big way. February and early March were wetter than usual, but most of March and almost all of April were breezy, dry and warm. Then on Saturday we had a real rain storm. It did not last long, but it was a lot different than the little spritzes we have gotten lately. Sunday we had another substantial rain (we recorded about 1.5 inches.) Today at about 11 AM we had returned from a hike with our friends Claudia and Bill. The rain began about 11:30 and has kept going for hours. It has rained buckets and barrels - it's impressive. On the plus side, I'm glad we won't have to keep watering some of the plants in the yard. On the not so plus side, now it begins - the season of mud, mildew and mold.