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.