26 February 2008
Today was the first full day of the conference and there wasn't much time to get a lot of birding in. Fred, Anthea, and I awoke early to squeeze in a few of hours at Metropolitan Park, which would be their first visit, and my fourth. The goal was to try and show them as much of the local wildlife as I could, which included a previously-scoped out Two-toed Sloth and several Jesus Christ Lizards. This was my earliest visit to the park at 6:45am, and when we arrived the forest understory was still very dark, which initially made spotting birds more difficult than usual. On the plus side, however, we did manage to spot a litter toad in the deep shade.
We decided to hike the main trail to the Mirador so that Fred and Anthea could see the city from the viewpoint. Along the way we spotted many of the commoner species I had seen during each of the previous visits, such as Orange-chinned Parakeet, Social Flycatcher, Blue-gray Tanager, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. My first new species of the day was near the turtle pond, where a pair of Yellow-backed Orioles briefly perched atop an exposed branch, providing excellent views in full sun against a deeply saturated morning blue sky. My second new species of the day followed almost immediately after, when a Masked Tityra flew in and perched just overhead.
As we continued past the nursery we spotted numerous White-shouldered Tanagers, a Cocoa Woodcreeper, a small flock of Lesser Greenlets, and several other species. Near the information kiosk another new species, Paltry Tyrranulet, was seen. Each of us had an excellent view of this little flycatcher, and at the time I remember thinking that in its own special way, it deserved a better name; perhaps Gray-capped Tyrranulet, or Olive-backed Tyrannulet, but not Paltry.
Beyond the kiosk we began our climb to the Mirador - not a terribly strenuous climb, but in the tropical heat and humidity, any hike that isn't flat seems exponentially more exhausting. About half way up the hill we spotted a Coatamundi foraging on the trail, and a few feet further ahead we had a great look at a Lineated Woodpecker. Once at the Mirador there was very little bird activity, with only the usual Black and Turkey vultures soaring effortlessly overhead. After soaking up the view, we descended from the Mirador and joined La Cienaguita trail for the return trip. We saw a good variety of species along this trail, including Scarlet-rumped Cacique, White-bellied Antbird, and another new species, White-vented Plumeleteer (hummingbird).
By the time we returned to the park visitor centre we had been out for three hours. We returned to the hotel, quickly changed, and arrived at the conference for 11:00am where we spent the remainder of the day listening to the various presentations. That evening we had the conference banquet dinner at the Miraflores visitor centre, where we were able to watch ships passing through the locks at nighttime. We returned to the hotel at about 9:00pm, where I compiled the days notes and was in bed by 10:30pm.
Total number of species seen today = 40
Total number of lifers seen today = 4
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 131
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 99
Total number of species seen at Metropolitan Park today = 40
Total cumulative species seen at Metropolitan Park = 76
27 February 2008
Today was the conference field trip, and together with Fred and Anthea, the three of us joined about 12 other participants to go to Barro Colorado Island, also known as BCI. In its original state, BCI was not an island at all. Instead, it was the top of a hill surrounded entirely by land. When the Panama Canal was constructed and Gatun Lake was created (which at the time of completion in 1913 was the world's largest man-made lake), the hill became a 1,500 hectare island, which is now part of the 5,400 hectare Barro Colorado Nature Monument. On the island, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has a large research facility where more than 200 students from around the world visit every year to study various aspects of tropical forest ecology. To get to the island, visitors must register in advance, and arrange to take a boat that departs from the Gamboa boat dock located almost immediately adjacent to the start of Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park.
Our field trip began at 7:00am, which required travelling by bus from the hotel to the boat dock (35 minutes), and then by boat from the dock to the island (also about 45 minutes). From a birding perspective, the boat trip was generally unrewarding, although I did spot a Neotropic Cormorant among the more ubiquitous Black Vultures, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Snowy Egrets, Mangrove Swallows, and Gray-breasted Martins. Perhaps the most stunning visual aspect of the boat trip was the contrast of bright yellow Tabebuia trees in bloom against the dark green forest. When I had arrived in Panama just five days ago virtually all of these trees appeared lifeless, but during the return trip from Pipeline Road to the hotel with Guido, a heavy rain set in for about two hours. At the time, Guido mentioned that it was these early summer rains that trigger the Tabebuia trees (among others) to blossom. I didn't give the notion much thought at the time as it made perfect sense. The surprise was seeing just how quickly it happened.
Upon arrival at BCI we had to divide into roughly equal groups among three leaders, each of whom were students. Picking my leader was easy, as he was the only one studying birds, and thus for me had the greatest appeal. Each group went their separate ways, and to this day I'm convinced we took the most strenuous route. Our hike began with a climb up 187 steps to the book and gift store, which at the time was closed, but scheduled to open after lunch. From the store we walked a loop trail for about 1-km where our guide discussed various research projects and basic history and ecology of the island. Along the way he also pointed out various birds, including Crested Guan and Great Tinamou, both of which were new species for me. After the hike we returned via the 187 steps to the main building where the cafeteria was located. We enjoyed a nice buffet-style lunch in the comfort of an air-conditioned room, and then watched a short presentation on leaf-cutter ants.
After the presentation I reluctantly climbed the 187 steps back to the bookstore because I was keen to browse the book and gift collections. I arrived at the doorstep, sweating profusely, only to find that the store was still closed, so back down the steps I went, to try and find out if it would be opened. I located my guide in the main building and asked if the store was going to open, and immediately he announced to everyone that he was going to open the store now, and for just a half hour. So, back up the 187 steps again, and if you`re keeping track, that's 561 steps UP! In the end it was worth it, as I was able to purchase a beautiful iguana carving made by the native Embera Indian tribe from the wonderfully rich, blood-red, cocobolo wood.
We arrived back at the hotel at 5:00pm. It had been a great day, and an excellent learning opportunity.
Total number of species seen today = 23
Total number of lifers seen today = 3
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 135
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 102
28 February 2008
Today was another full day of conference presentations, and as a result this was the least "birdy" day of the entire trip, with only four species observed for the day: Clay-colored Robin, Rock Pigeon, Turkey Vulture, and Black Vulture. We got back to the hotel around 6:00pm, and the amount of time I had spent outside today, in daylight, was minimal. The conference was a wonderful success, and personally very rewarding from the perspective of getting to meet some wonderful people from throughout South America. For example, discussing the ecology of Swainson's Hawks in Argentina was wonderfully refreshing from the more typical North American perspective.
Back at the hotel I compiled my notes for the day, and while it only took about 5 minutes, I couldn't help but be excited for what tomorrow might have in store. Based on my previously excellent experience with Advantage Panama Tours, I had decided at the end of my last tour to book a second trip to Pipeline Road, this time with Fred and Anthea. While the tour was confirmed to begin at 6:30am, Fred unfortunately was invited at the last minute to a climate change meeting that he didn't want to pass up, and so in the end it was Anthea and I that were slated for an intense day of birding. I went to bed by 9:00pm in anticipation of a good day of birding to follow.
Total number of species seen today = 4
Total number of lifers seen today = 0
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 135
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 102