Monday, November 21, 2011

Poisonous Ants

Cindy and I don't get to Pipeline Road as much as we said we wanted to and vowed that we would. Our yard in Los Altos de Cerro Azul is too enjoyable. But, we made a date on a day trip to the city. The afternoon was for errands and recycling, and the morning was for BIRDS!

At the ammo ponds, Smooth-billed Anis were a welcoming sight. As always, we heard the descending, rattling chuuurrr call of the White-throated Crake. Near the entrance to Pipeline we spotted Nando, the former caretaker of Birder's View, now a guide for Canopy Tower. He was guiding two women from New Mexico and they were looking at a White-tailed Trogon.

For something different, we didn't drive all the way to the closed gate on Pipeline Road, but stopped at the always-open entrance gate and walked the first two kilometers. There is always plenty to see in this stretch. Several Western-Slaty Antshrikes made their usual appearance - they're always very cooperative. And I was able to audio record the "caw" call we hear them also make in our yard. Today was filled with common birds, but still held some surprises, including the hand lettered sign seen above.

We assume the sign poster was concerned about Bullet Ants. There were none visible for us that day. A column of leaf cutters was at work a short distance down the road. The "soldiers" had large mandibles and very light-colored heads. I couldn't resist trying to video their activities. The speed of the little critters is very impressive and, as you will see, makes it very difficult to keep them in the frame.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Turkey Vultures
Birders keep a lot of checklists.  We put little check marks next to bird names in a huge variety, such as life lists, yard lists and bucket lists. Well, perhaps we don't all have bucket lists, but there are birds we are dying to see. One of those wouldn't normally be the Turkey Vulture. But, after a day trip to Lake Bayano I feel like starting a bucket list and putting a big check next to TV migration.

One of four species of vultures in Panama, large numbers of TVs move through Panama in October and November and again in February to April. The birds are concentrated in an area of the country that can be as narrow as 36 miles. On the 27th of October 2011, the hawk watch on Ancon Hill in Panama City logged a new one-day record of 893,783 raptors!

We have seen Turkey Vultures in California, of course, and they are a feature of the Kern River Valley AUTUMN NATURE & VULTURE FESTIVAL. One of many facts I've learned is that a group of Turkey Vultures roosting is called a Wake.

The birds over Lake Bayano weren't waiting around to have a name put on them. They were making time! The video shows them climbing up the thermals and heading towards South America.  A very few Swainson's Hawks were sprinkled in the flocks.

The best intro to the video would be by Robert Ridgely in A Guide to Birds of Panama. "A masterful flyer, soaring for long periods without a flap, tilting from side to side to take advantage of every favorable air current....large (sometimes tremendous) flocks of migrants breeding in north pass overhead, providing the observer who is in the right place at the right time with a breathtaking spectacle..."

Monday, November 7, 2011


White-tipped Sicklebill is a much sought after species here in Cerro Azul, although it also inhabits other areas of Panamá, Costa Rica and northern parts of South America. So, it's not one of the 12 or so endemic species in Panama, but still a prize.

A few days ago, with our North American amigo Jorge, we visited a local heliconia grove with the hope of seeing a sicklebill. We've seen them several times at this location. Sometimes it's just a fly-by, and it always feels like a bonus if one of them hovers for even a few seconds at a flower or in front of our faces to check us out. This time, a sicklebill was sitting for several minutes on a vine just a few feet off the ground, no more than 20 feet from us. I managed some video in the shadows. Pollen is visible on the bird's crown. We watched it resting and preening, until a tree limb fell noisily behind us and the bird took flight. This interlude made our day and was a delight.