Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Panamá Markets

Crew cleaning up the tree that cut our power.
It's been a tough 2 months with intermittent telephone and internet connections.  Then we were without power for 2 weeks.  Learning the ins and outs of getting service restored has been our preoccupation.  But, mostly you learn to wait.

Now we are back with power and communications...starting to rebuild our daily routine.  A few weeks before our headaches started we visited the Panamá City markets: fish, meat and vegetables.  Our pals Steve and Michael were our tour guides and the video will give you a flavor of the day, right down to the meal at the fish restaurant that sits above the market.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mr.Toad's Last Ride

Fourteen feeders dangle from the rafters of the terrace, providing food for hummingbirds, tanagers, honeycreepers, bananaquits, euphonias, plus the seasonal and infrequent oriole, motmot or saltator.  There is a consistent cadence and level of sound as the birds get a portion of their daily nourishment.  On occasion, sometimes up to three times a day, the sounds from outside change abruptly becoming suddenly louder, faster and more full.  All of the birds explode with calls that are insistently warning of danger.

There have been Swallow-tailed Kites skirting the treetops and somehow flying with those long wings through the branches.  Strong talons pluck pigeon  and thrush chicks from their nests.

Also, an immature Broad-winged Hawk passed through the terrace behind our backs, made a double-take, as did we, and then flew up to perch in a pine tree in the yard.  There was no prey item that time.

When the male Hepatic Tanager calls are louder than usual and more insistent, a snake is in a tree, stretched out to its full length waiting to encoil the unsuspecting.  This past year, we witnessed several Boa Constrictors coiling around hummers, euphonias and tanagers. 

Last month, the alarm calls that went out were unusually close to the house.

Below is a description of the incident that Cindy wrote to some friends:

"It was the 25 Red-legged Honeycreepers in the little 'photographer's tree' directly off the terrace and straight out from the kitchen door that drew our attention to it.  Marco stuck a small tree into the ground near our birdfeeders, about 10 or 12 feet from the edge of the terrace.  It dropped all its leaves, of course, but retained lots of small branches for perching.  The feeder customers use it to keep an eye on the action, to wait their turn, and to sit and digest.

"The honeycreepers plus several Plain-colored Tanagers, the Hepatics, and a few other assorted tanagers and euphonias and Bananaquits were very upset and raising a ruckus.  We were eating lunch out on the terrace, and we got up out of our chairs and walked slowly over there to see what was the cause of their excitement.

"The birds were were looking down, not up.  Then we saw it - a 3' or 3.5' snake that we (wrongly) presumed to be a Tree Boa had a huge (3" to 4" in diameter) Cane Toad in his jaws.  Only barely, as the toad had gulped air and looked like a balloon with stubby legs.  But the snake had a good grip on the head and shoulders (we could still see all 4 toad feet and legs), and was maneuvering his jaws around the beast.  The toad was still kicking.

"Looking down on the scene, we could see a large, curved fang in the roof of the snake's mouth, which aided in getting the prey to go down the throat, and we wondered if it also helped to puncture the toad so it would eventually deflate. It is a rear-fanged snake, although there is really not much information on the Internet about this species.  It took maybe 5 to 8 minutes, and the toad did eventually deflate, and we continued watching until the last of his hind-foot toes disappeared into the mouth to become snake.  This all happened in the concrete canal below our first row of trees off the terrace."

Marco continues:

After a short rest the snake glided with agile speed off the edge of the canal , and wound its way down the hill, past the banana trees and into some brush below a fallen tree.

We were mistaken about the identity of the snake.  When our pal John Kleghorn from the Univ. of Panamá saw the footage, he needed no more than 2 seconds to identify it as a False Fer-de-Lance, He said they move more quickly and are much more aggressive than the real Fer-de-lance.
Fer-de-Lance / Equis

John drove up to our house with a colleague to fetch another reptilian - a real Fer-de-Lance, which appeared on the ramp leading to our terrace one morning.  That's a story for another blog post.  It is the first venomous snake we've seen in our yard in the almost 3 years we've lived here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gull in the Hood

Cindy and I wanted to show our pal Bob Behrstock the birds at high tide in Panamá Bay. He’s birded there plenty of times before while guiding tours going back to the 80’s. Whew, that’s in another century.

This day, we arrived well before the water hit its high mark. Costa del Este provided the usual waterbirds, shorebirds, and aerial hunters. We moved on to Panama Viejo. In short order, Bob asked for the scope and Cindy looked where he was looking. A gull with red legs and bill required a closer look.

It certainly was different than all the Laughing Gulls present. Bob thought there was a good chance it could be a Gray-hooded Gull. He remembered the white wedge through the primaries as diagnostic. So although the gull isn’t illustrated in The Birds of Panama, George Angehr wrote excellent text describing this and other key field marks. This individual is about the seventh record for Panamá.

We made several phone calls and waited a short while for Carlos Bethancourt to arrive and enjoy views through our scope. During the next few days, more of our friends were able to admire this rarity. The video has been previously uploaded and announced on Xenornis. It’s past time for a post here on the blog.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

One Minute from Cinta Costera

Waiting is a fact of life in Panamá.  Most anything can take longer than expected. Construction, processes for applications or permits or licensing, appointments, and driving all take their time.  Add delays, absences, and traffic to turn a timely project into a time waster.

One day last week, the people meeting me were running late, again.  With some time to kill I walked the coastal strip for half an hour.  Cinta Costera runs along a wide boulevard with green space next to the bay on one side.  On the other, city high rises crowd in close.  There is plenty to see and take in.  I watch the water, greenery, and sky for the common wildlife.  This day a treat lay in wait for me.

The introduced Saffron Finch feeds on the lawns throughout the canal area.   We don't see them in Cerro Azul.  The bright yellow plumage attracted my eye and filled the frame of the video camera.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dancing in the Darién

It was a total blast.  Our pal Bob Behrstock visited us for a week prior to leading his tour with the Canopy Tower Family.  Bob began leading Panamá trips in the 1980's, so he tells of some fine bird encounters.  Although all three of us had already visited the province, the allure of the Darién still beckoned with the possibility of something else exciting..  There were bugs and birds we all wanted a first or better look at.

We journeyed out east/south towards the Darién for a couple of days.  I was gripping the steering wheel and dodging potholes, while Bob and Cindy kept a lookout for roadside attractions.  They would call out and I would back us up for a better look.  There were side roads and walks too, of course. All in all, not a bad system, as Cindy and I added seven life birds and Bob added two.

The Black-capped Donacobius stands tall as a prize of the Darién as they are moving westward from Colombia. From the road alongside a marsh, we heard their wild duet.  Seeing them in full song and dance is a highlight for any nature watcher.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Fighting Owls" Invade Wetlands

Late last month, Cindy and I volunteered for a morning with Panama Audubon Society.  We aimed our scopes at the birds of Costa del Este for the benefit of students.  More than 70 youngsters of the Inter-American Academy participated in an educational seminar on the importance of the wetlands in the Bay of Panama. Rosabel Miró, executive director of PAS, guided the event and has a real knack for engaging young minds.  Her talk and walk let them experience the benefits of the mangroves and mudflats and highlighted many of the threats to coastal ecosystems. We all admired the flora and fauna of the place.

See the "Fighting Owls" in action in the short video. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Tale of Two Raptors

The number of bird species in the Republic of Panamá sends me staggering.  The country is compared in size to the state of South Carolina in the U.S.A. but is populated with more than twice as many bird species.  The Panamá checklist swelled to a phenomenal 985 entries with the latest revisions by the American Ornithologists' Union.  Along with the hefty number of birds, some species occur in a variety of color morphs and plumages.  The hawks are particularly confusing and not all plumages are illustrated in the field guides.

Needless to say, some of the birds visiting our yard have sent us scrambling for references.  In July 2011, a raptor put the feeder birds into a riot of alarm calls that drew us outside.   The ID kept us and most of the other locals perplexed until Ken Allaire identified it as a Barred Hawk by the vocalization I recorded.

Early this month another immature raptor gave us a few minutes viewing but didn't call.  Darién Montañez came through for us this time with an ID of Gray-headed Kite.  And he didn't know there was an adult of the species in the yard at the same time.  For me, the immature looked nothing like the adult it is related to; it had to be another species.  Our experienced friends are helping us sort out the vast array of bird life Panamá offers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Panama National Artisan Fair

Once a year there is a large artisan fair held at the main convention center in Panama City.  Our pal, Michael, has enjoyed it in years past.  This time he hopped into our truck and we three got to the site to walk all the aisles.  Each region of Panama is represented and there were hundreds of booths filled with crafts, trinkets, molas, and art.

In addition, groups present aspects of the diverse cultural life of Panama, both past and present.  The well-known polleras waved from the hands of dancers.  Wikipedia explains.

In Panama and Colombia, hand made polleras evolved during time to a very elaborate piece of clothing. Currently it is the National Costume of Panama. Girls and women would generally own two polleras during their life: one before age 16 and one at adulthood. A single pollera can cost from several hundred to several thousands of dollars and take up to a year to create. The gold and pearl mosquetas and tembleques that accompany a pollera are generally passed down as heirlooms through generations.
One other bit of cultural life in evidence was the drawing of the numbers for the national lottery.  This is televised weekly with thousands watching expectantly.  The cameras were set up on risers to catch the action as the young child reaches into the ball cage to make the selection.  An adult at full voice calls out the lucky numbers on the PA.  In Panama the volume on the amp is set to where the sound is distorted and then turned up one more notch to make listening painful and conversation impossible.

Michael explained that this year the show had expanded into adjoining side rooms.  One stage showcased dancers, wearing fascinating costumes with animal masks, acting out folk stories.  Some of the hundreds of handmade items were submitted into a judged competition.  And there was an extensive food court.  We three sampled the strawberry batido, a type of smoothie, which was ample enough to suffice for lunch.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Night Walk

We are enjoying a series of "chats" at The Club of Los Altos de Cerro Azul. PACAR, a group of local homeowners, organizes the events, everything from wine tastings to lectures on bird life in the area.
Students from the University of Panamá spent 3 nights here looking for venomous critters, then shared their findings with us at the talk. Additionally, Dr. Hildaura A. de Patiño related results of medical surveys of bites and stings throughout the country. Teams from many agencies are looking to create and improve venom antidotes for medical use. One of the scorpions that is toxic, Tityus cerroazul, is found primarily in Los Altos de Cerro Azul. Luckily it is very secretive, since there is no treatment for its sting.
courtesy: Roberto J. Miranda

A few homeowners went with students John, Carla, and Pablo around the development on after-dark night walks looking for snakes and scorpions. As you might suspect we didn't find a specimen of Tityus cerroazul. But, several other species of scorpion were present, both poisonous and non-poisonous. We learned the toxic ones have smaller claws that make it harder to handle prey, so they use the stinger in their longer tail to subdue them.

And we did find one snake: Bothrops asper, the fer-de-lance is also called "equis" here in Panama. The poisonous pit-vipers can be identified by their pointed heads and vertical eye slits. The UP students are collecting venom of these snakes to improve medical treatments.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Dennis Zechiel
The title of this post takes a long time getting there, but Bill is in the name of our recent yard resident. Ten months ago I asked Dennis, our good friend and neighbor, to help me suspend a tray feeder. I tied off a clothesline high and between some pine trees while standing on his long extension ladder. I wanted to lure some more reticent members of our community to savor the delights of ripe bananas.
Ramphastos sulfuratus

This past week we finally saw the Keel-billed Toucan that has been calling for weeks in our neighborhood. He is a wary one. It would appear that by size alone he could dominate, but instead, there are many minutes of watchful waiting until the tray is clear of competition before he makes a move. Now I hope the other customers leave some scraps for the new visitor. And of course, I pile on extra to help.

Along with the wait, there is a long period of croaking as he sizes up the situation, as the video shows. And I consider him a "he" based on the racket. He could only be advertising the bounty for a suitable mate.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Yard Bird

When Cindy and I drive up and down the hill here on errands, we often see small flocks of Ruddy Ground-Doves milling about in the road near the chicken fincas. But, they occur only down lower, at the guard station and below. We have been hoping to spy one of these cute things in our yard, which is just a few hundred feet higher. Note: As Bob Behrstock says, they are high on the Cuteness Scale.

After two years of waiting and hoping, we have our first! He likes the cracked corn I diligently scatter in the driveway and yard for the grassquits, seedeaters and other doves. Now, we hope he encourages some friends to join him in his foraging.

The video leads off with the Ruddy and then presents other recent yard birds and critters. In quick succession, there are Long-billed Starthroat, Lineated Woodpecker, Keel-billed Toucan, a furry thingy (I probably accidentally touched something similar last month and my left mitt swelled up large enough to catch a softball), and a sloth of the three-toed variety.