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.