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.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Baby Woody

A pair of Red-crowned Woodpeckers built a nest in a Cecropia tree in our yard. We've been hearing a lot of churring coming from it for over a week, and just in the last few days we have been able to see a little head peeking out. We wondered if a steady diet of ripe bananas would stunt the chick's growth, since both parents spend a lot of time helping the tanagers, euphonias and honeycreepers empty the banana feeders. Upon closer observation, we discovered that the parents are making frequent deliveries of high-protein snacks such as insects and other invertebrates.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Our Only Endemic in the Yard - So Far

This is only the 4th time that we have seen a Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker in our yard. We haven't seen one here (or anywhere else) since January 2010, and this was the most cooperative one yet. I was outside reloading the banana feeders when I spotted it - Marco was inside on the phone conducting some business, and I whispered through the window screen that this beautiful endemic was back. We were both amazed when it returned a few minutes later, after the phone call was completed, and Marco was able to get this excellent video:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Cutest Thing Yet

Last week when we arrived home from a dinner party at about 10:30 PM, I noticed that something had made a small mess on the tiles of the front terrace. I looked up, and hanging from the wall near the ceiling of the terrace, its tiny claws hooked onto a peeling shard of paint, was a cute little bat. With white stripes on the face, a short but not "puggy" snout, medium-sized rounded ears and large dark eyes, it was beyond attractive - it was endearing and totally adorable. Marco shot some video of it, and about a half hour later when we checked to see if it was still there, it was gone.

The next morning, as soon as I got out of bed, I checked to see if it had returned, and it was there with another one. Marco got daytime video of them. We're pretty sure it was a mother and her offspring. One was smaller and had slightly darker-colored fur than the other. The day turned out to be drizzly & rainy, windy and notably cooler than usual. Several times, we saw the smaller bat huddled right next to the larger one, and a couple times, the little one was perched in the middle of the larger one's back. The little one slept a lot throughout the day, but I could never catch the larger one sleeping. She always had her big eyes open and watching me when I went to check - I could not sneak up on them. I felt guilty for making noise, and kept tiptoeing around, trying my best not to disturb their rest. But my efforts were probably wasted, since the bats chose a roosting spot directly below a nest of noisy House Wrens. (The zinc roof separated them.) The young wrens were fed by their industrious parents numerous times throughout that day, each time making a high-volume fuss. Despite the rambunctious wrens, the two Salvin's Big-eyed Bats (Chiroderma salvini) spent the day roosting there. (Although I've been referring to them as "little bats" throughout this post, the field guide describes them as large. My extremely limited experience with bats is apparent.) They departed sometime after darkness fell, and we have not seen them since.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Crowd Pleasers

Herewith is a video compilation of a few birds we saw last week in Los Altos de Cerro Azul during a couple of short (2-3 hours each) excursions not far from the casita. We think they are all crowd pleasers even though some are quite common here and we see them most times when we go into the field for half a day or more (Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Red-capped Manakin & Rufous Motmot.) The Yellow-eared Toucanet and Brown-hooded Parrots are less common and always a happy surprise when we come across them. Also included is a scenic waterfall, one of several up here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pipeline Road & Metropolitan Park

Our pal Oscar Johnson from Santa Barbara CA was in Panama a few days ago, so we took a little time off from household chores and went birding with him and his friend Ayla Reith, who currently lives and works in Panama City.

The first day we went to Pipeline Road and the Ammo Ponds. Highlights captured by Marco included Mantled Howler Monkeys, Black-breasted Puffbird, Spotted Antbird, a baby Green Iguana, Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana), Rufous Motmot, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Greater Ani and Anhinga.

The next day we went to Parque Metropolitano in Panama City. Marco's video highlights from here include a hummingbird building a nest, a Geoffroy's Tamarin carrying a baby on her back, a Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth and a Rufous Motmot.


The other day when we came home from birding with some friends, we found a serpent curled amongst the pillows of the loveseat on our front terrace. The beautiful creature was glossy black above and orange below, about 4.5 to 5 feet in length. It did not appreciate being disturbed from the comfy lair, and hurried around the side of the house, where it raised about 2/3 of its body up (like a cobra), appearing as though it wanted to get up into a planter box that is about 5 feet off the ground. Marco stepped toward it to get a better shot, it lunged at him, then raced across the lawn toward the cover of a flower bed, and thence down the hill toward the creek. A couple of hours later, it returned, cruised along the side yard, exploring here & there, checking beneath storage shelves at the back of the house, and eventually headed into the vacant lot next to us.

We have no field guides for herps of the region, although a nearby neighbor loaned us his (Reptiles of Central America by Gunther Kohler), and we think it is a Salmon-bellied Racer (Dryadophis melanolomus). The range map does not match, but we suspect a lot remains to be discovered in Panama.

Marco got some excellent video of it:

UPDATE: Marco sent a query to the author, Gunther Kohler, who replied that the scientific name has changed to Mastigodryas melanolomus. It is a Salmon-bellied Racer.