Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Little Ant Swarm

Bicolored Antbird
On our first try for the Blue Cotingas in Cerro Azul, late one afternoon in January, we didn't find them. But we did find a small ant swarm with some followers.

Our first clue that an ant swarm was in the vicinity was the excited calls of the Bicolored Antbirds. We have never seen an ant swarm in Panamá that was not accompanied by several individuals of this species. Ridgely, in "A Guide to the Birds of Panamá" says that the Bicolored Antbird (Gymnopithys leucaspis) is "An inveterate follower of army ants and rarely seen away from them; in such assemblages, it is usually the most numerous of the several attendant species."

My second clue about the ant swarm was being bitten on the tops of my feet by a couple of ants. I was standing at the edge of the road in my flip flops, and the ants were coming out of the forest to cross the road right across my feet. After a few seconds of foot-stomping, I returned to the truck and put on some shoes and socks. Fortunately, the bites of these army ants produced a mild stinging sensation for only about five minutes, and that was the last of the effects (except that I now look down at my feet a little more often when I'm standing still for any length of time.)

Marco shot some video of the more cooperative individuals with this swarm:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Snake Charmers

Mexican Vine Snake
Our good friend and neighbor Dennis brought another snake to show us a few weeks ago. All three of us have been keeping our eyes peeled for Vine Snakes on vines and branches around here whenever and wherever we take a walk. No luck. But on this particular day, Dennis found a Vine Snake in the middle of the road just up from our house. It was a beautiful and delicate-looking little thing, about 4 feet long and pencil-thin, with a bright chartreuse throat and a curious eye. It was quite docile. At no time while we were handling it did it even open its mouth or struggle to escape, nor did it engage in the common snake strategy of releasing a foul-smelling secretion from its vent. It just kept watching us.

We think this is a Mexican Vine Snake, aka/Brown Vine Snake (Oxybelis aeneus). Dennis shared the following information from his field guide with us:

Here is what Gunther Kohler (Reptiles of Central America) says:
"...They are rear-fanged snakes, with mild venom that does not pose a serious threat to humans, but can lead to localized swelling and itching. Large specimens need to be handled with particular caution. When a vine snake is handled, it will react with a threatening gape, exposing the blue-black interior of is mouth; it will also bite without any warning. As a defensive reaction, this colubrid will continuously hold its outstretched tongue rigid with the two tips of the tongue pressed together. The precise adaptive advantage conferred by this unusual behavior remains a mystery to scientists.... "

Based on the docile behavior of this animal, which was contrary to information we were able to find for the species, we figure we were snake charmers for the few fascinating minutes that we spent with it. We were charmed as well. See Marco's video below:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Panamá Audubon February Meet

The monthly meeting of Panamá Audubon promised to be full of valuable information and good times. Many of the birders Cindy and I have met in the field were in attendance. And several were presenters in the evening program.

We attended earlier Christmas Bird Count organizing meetings. But, this was the first more normal program for us. We drove down with our friends Bill & Claudia Ahrens. It is a long drive from our home to the city, so that is the reason for our sparse attendance record.

The venue is the meeting room at Metropolitan Park headquarters building. A large open room with rows of chairs gave good views of the computer projection for the different segments.

Karl Kaufmann was up first with his effort of establishing eBird Panamá. This is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology database project of bird records. It will store personal lists, as well, which looks to be very valuable. Cloud computing of your information can give a bit of safety from personal disk crashes. Plus, your sightings are added to the public record. With enough time, this database can be used by scientists for on-going research.

Darién Montañez is the creative force behind the rare bird website, Xenornis. He scrolled through the new sightings on the page. And, most excitingly, told of the Cape May Warbler first found by Rosabel Miró.  Prior to the night's meeting, they had seen it again at the Panamá Audubon office.  This is quite a rarity in Panamá and was a life bird for Darién.

Jan Axel is a dedicated birder with an active blog detailing his exploits. He was the inspiration for last year's "600 Club", motivating birders to get out and try to see 600 birds in one year in Panamá. Even with 978 birds on the country's list, still not an easy task. Bill & Claudia worked throughout the year, with the difference that they BOTH had to see the bird. And they made it. They got coveted 600 Club patches and certificates.

Finally, there was a book signing by George Angher of his new "Birds of Panamá" field guide. His powerpoint outlined the differences with the earlier book we all use, while describing the layout of the new book. The impetus for the project was from a Costa Rican publisher with a guide for that country. Many of the illustrations could be used in a Panama guide. The artist for both books is Robert Dean and his work is fantastic. Plus the layout in the new guide is very convenient with art, text and maps side by side. Asked how long the writing took, George said it was three years of 3-day weekends, plus 33 years of experience! We are very pleased to have our copy and to take advantage of his hard work.

The video below will give just a flavor of the event.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Stopover in Volcan

Rufous-collared Sparrow

On a recent journey to Costa Rica, we stayed over in Volcan while we enjoyed a little birding in the Western Highlands of Panama.

We spent the night at Cabanas Reis, on the outskirts of Volcan. The owner, Marisol Miranda, was friendly and helpful and has done a lot of nice work with the rooms and grounds. The location was quiet, the rooms were clean and comfortable, there was free wifi, and the shower had hot water. A large field next door was full of singing Rufous-collared Sparrows, a species seen in Panama only in the Western Highlands.

The cabana was a two minute walk from Dalys's Restaurante, where we ate dinner and breakfast. It's an unusual restaurant with a mix of gringo and Panamanian influences and even some Irish. The menu is large in both size (see Marco's video below) and the variety of offerings.

Ruth and Peter have made this diner a hub of the community, hosting movie nights, Italian nights, rock 'n roll nights, accepting air freight deliveries for residents of Volcan, using some of their space for a book exchange and a video exchange. In addition to all the food on the menu, they sell baked goods, coffee beans, coconut oil, plants, and a number of other specialty items.

They plan to open a B&B near the restaurante. Keep on eye on their website for updates and more info soon.