Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Birding and Barú

Greetings Everyone,
After our exciting trip to the Darien Province of Panama it was time to strike out on our own.  We rented a 4x4 Toyota Hilux pickup truck for our explorations to the west.  We left Panama City on January 22 and after getting lost in the maze of the city's streets, we found the Pan-American Highway and cruised to our first destination, Altos del Maria.  We visited here 6 years ago and I always wondered what it would be like to own a home nestled in a tropical cloud forest.  So we rented a casita for 9 nights to find out.  We finally found our new home on a quiet side street and settled in.

Our Casita

We connected with resident birders, Alfred and Fritz, who showed us the best local birding spots and helped us identify many birds.  Thanks, Alfred and Fritz!

Marc, Alfred and Fritz

Although it is a massive planned residential community, less than 50% of the homes had been built so there is still plenty of intact forest to explore.  We spent most of our time in a gated community called Valle Bonito (Beautiful Valley).  All the infrastructure, roads, street lights, electricity had been put in but no houses had yet been built.  We could wander the empty streets looking for birds.  Our favorites were: 

Silver-throated Tanager

Tufted Flycatcher

Orange-bellied Trogan

One morning we visited nearby Altos de Campana National Park.  Although quite close to Panama City it's rarely visited.  We hiked La Cruz Trail.  It was very steep and eroded in places but we made it to the top where a large cross had been erected on a rock (hence the name of the trail).

Altos de Campana National Park

On another day we left Altos del Maria and drove to nearby El Valle de Anton.  We had arranged to visit Canopy Lodge and have lunch with the owner, Raúl Arias.  We had stayed here 6 years ago and fond memories flooded back just as soon as we entered the property.  We met Raúl and his wife Denise and had a pleasant lunch while enjoying the birds visiting the feeders.

Collared Aracari at Canopy Lodge

Raúl told us we should also visit the Amphibian Rescue Center just outside of town and we're glad we did.  The center is now the only place you can see a Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki), a species of frog endemic to Panama.  Panamanian Golden Frogs used to inhabit the streams along the mountainous slopes of the Cordilleran cloud forests of west-central Panama.  While the IUCN lists it as critically endangered, it may have been extinct in the wild since 2007.  Here at the Amphibian Rescue Center individuals have been collected for breeding in captivity in an attempt to preserve the species.

Panamanian Golden Frog

The Panamanian Golden Frog began vanishing from its high mountain forests in the late 1990s, prompting a scientific investigation and rescue process that continues today.  It was filmed for the last time in the wild in 2006 by the BBC Natural History Unit for the series "Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough".  The Panamanian Golden Frog suffered major declines possibly due to the fungal infection chytridiomycosis and habit loss.

After spending 9 nights at Altos del Maria it was time to move on.  Once all the planned homes, town homes, shops, tennis courts, mini golf course and restaurants are built the area will be changed forever.  For now it remains a peaceful place with stunning mountain views and ample birding opportunities.

Cerro Picacho in Altos del Maria

We continued our road trip west toward the town of Boquete.  Nestled in the mountains it has become another popular retirement community.  We rented a tiny casita at La Hacienda Bed and Breakfast as a base to explore the area.  Again birding was the main draw and we hired a local guide, Cesar, to show us the birding hotspots.  He took us to Finca Lerida, the oldest coffee plantation in Panama, founded by Norwegian engineer Toleff Bache Mönniche after he retired from working on the Panama Canal in 1924.  Today the Finca continues to produce high quality coffee as well as hosting guests with trails for birding.  The ornamentals planted on the grounds attract many hummingbirds and flowerpiercers.

Slaty Flowerpiercer (Female)

Sulphur-winged Parakeets swooped in to feed on a nearby guava tree.  

Sulphur-winged Parakeets

We climbed past rows of coffee trees to a lookout over the farm.  

View of Finca Lerida

Near the top Ngöbe Buglé indigenous people were harvesting coffee.  It's tough work on these steep slopes picking the coffee cherries by hand.  We stopped to say hi to a woman and her two daughters picking coffee.  They earn $3.50 for every 30 pounds of cherries picked.  It's not a lot of money and many pickers go to Costa Rica where they earn more money making it difficult for Panamanian coffee plantations to get enough workers to harvest the coffee.

Coffee Picking

As we entered the forest, I spotted a Central American Agouti foraging in the trail.  He was too busy to notice Marc creeping closer for a photo.

Central American Agouti

In the higher elevation forests were different birds such as Golden-winged Warblers, Slate-throated Redstarts and Red-faced Spinetail.  Cesar spotted our first Resplendent Quetzal, a female perched silently on a branch above us.

Resplendent Quetzal (Female)

The town of Boquete sits at the base of Volcán Barú.  At 11,398 feet it is the highest point in Panama. 

Boquete and Volcán Barú

I asked our host Quincy how do we go about getting to the top.  He suggested we book a guide through Boquete Outdoor Adventures.  We visited their office and arranged to climb the volcano on Thursday night.  That's correct, Volcán Barú is typically climbed during the night so you can arrive at the summit for sunrise when the weather is clear.  We set off around midnight with our two guides, Alex and Christian.  We donned our packs and switched on our headlamps.  From this point we had to climb a mere 4100 feet to get to the summit, much more doable than 7500 feet above Boquete!

Night Hiking!

We climbed in darkness up a rutted road filled with rocks.  We made steady progress stopping occasionally to take layers off or put them on and to drink and eat.  It was surprisingly calm.  The wind had been howling around La Hacienda.   We were making good time and realized we'd be at the summit too early so we slowed our pace which caused us to get cold.  We stopped below the summit and Alex and Christian built a fire to warm us up.

Warming by the Fire

We resumed our climb at about 5:30 AM.  We arrived at the main summit with some buildings and lots of communication towers.  Alex and Christian stopped here but I could some of the younger hikers climbing higher along the crater rim so I followed them.  Christian came running up saying it was too dangerous to continue but I wanted to reach the true summit.  Alex caught up to us and when he saw that we wanted to go all the way, he helped me up the scrambly bits.  We reached the true summit around 6:15, about 35 minutes prior to sunrise.  

Volcán Barú Summit

We climbed lower down on the rim where we stopped to watch the sun rise.  It was very impressive with liquid gold spilling over the Pacific Ocean to the southeast.  We could also see the Caribbean Sea to the northeast.  This is only one of a few places you can see both on a clear day at the same time.  

Summit View of Sunrise

We headed back down and reached the pick up point just before 11:00 AM.  

The next day we arranged to go birding with Cesar again.  This time we went to the Pipeline Trail.  We were seeing some new species like Elegant Euphonia, Black-cheeked Warbler, Collared Redstart, Brown-capped Vireo, Blue-throated Toucanet, Yellow-thighed Finch and Red-headed Barbet.  

Elegant Euphonia

Blue-throated Toucanet

Collared Redstart

Cesar heard a Resplendent Quetzal and I spotted a male sitting in a nearby tree.  Marc was able to photograph him as he flew from the branch.

Resplendent Quetzal (Male)

After spending 2 weeks in central and western Panama it was time to continue our journey further west near the border with Costa Rica.  Stay tuned to see what lays in store for us.  We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Altos del Maria Bird List (Canopy Lodge in El Valle):

1. Gray-headed Chachalaca 
2. Great Blue Heron
3. Green Heron
4. Black Vulture
5. Turkey Vulture
6. Roadside Hawk  
7. Broad-winged Hawk  
8. White-throated Crake  
9. Spotted Sandpiper  
10. Squirrel Cuckoo  
11. Green-crowned Brilliant  
12. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird 
13. Crowned Woodnymph
14. Snowcap
15. Rufous-breasted Hermit
16. Snowy-bellied Hummingbird 
17. Green Hermit
18. Brown Violetear
19. Orange-bellied Trogan 
20. Lesson's Motmot
21. Broad-billed Motmot
22. Belted Kingfisher  
23. Amazon Kingfisher  
24. Green Kingfisher  
25. Emerald Toucanet  
26. Collared Aracari
27. Keel-billed Toucan  
28. Red-crowned Woodpecker  
29. Smoky-brown Woodpecker   
30. Crimson-bellied Woodpecker
31. Lineated Woodpecker  
32. Orange-chinned Parakeet  
33. Brown-hooded Parrot  
34. Blue-headed Parrot  
35. Cocoa Woodcreeper 
36. Spotted Woodcreeper
37. Chestnut-backed Antbird
38. Plain Xenops 
39. Red-faced Spinetail
40. Yellow-bellied Elaenia  
41. Lesser Elaenia  
42. Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
43. Rufous-browed Tyrannulet
44. Paltry Tyrannulet  
45. Panama Flycatcher  
46. Boat-billed Flycatcher  
47. Social Flycatcher  
48. Streaked Flycatcher  
49. Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant  
50. White-throated Spadebill  
51. Bran-colored Flycatcher  
52. Tufted Flycatcher  
53. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
54. Great Kiskadee  
55. Tropical Kingbird  
56. White-ruffed Manakin  
57. Lance-tailed Manakin
58. Northern Schiffornis  
59. Philadelphia Vireo  
60. Black-chested Jay  
61. Gray-breasted Martin  
62. Scaly-breasted Wren  
63. House Wren  
64. Rufous-and-white Wren
65. White-breasted Wood-Wren  
66. Gray-breasted Wood-Wren  
67. Pale-vented Thrush  
68. Clay-colored Thrush  
69. Louisiana/Northern Waterthrush  
70. Golden-winged Warbler  
71. Tennessee Warbler  
72. Mourning Warbler
73. Blackburnian Warbler  
74. Black-and-white Warbler
75. Yellow Warbler
76. Canada Warbler
77. Black-throated Green Warbler  
78. Rufous-capped Warbler
79. Tawny-crested Tanager  
80. Blue-gray Tanager  
81. Golden-hooded Tanager  
82. Bay-headed Tanager  
83. Silver-throated Tanager  
84. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis  
85. Black-and-yellow Tanager  
86. Bananaquit  
87. Yellow-faced Grassquit  
88. Common Chlorospingus  
89. Hepatic Tanager  
90. Red-crowned Ant-Tanager  
91. Common Chlorospingus 
92. Chestnut-headed Oropendola
93. Plain-colored Tanager  
94. Red-legged Honeycreeper  
95. Green Honeycreeper
96. Summer Tanager  
97. Yellow-backed Oriole  
98. Tawny-capped Euphonia
99. Black-striped Sparrow
100. Buff-throated Saltator 
101. Greenish Elaenia 
102. Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher 

Boquete Bird List (Finca Lerida, Los Quetzales Trail, Pipeline Trail & Finca El Velo)

1. Black Vulture  
2. Broad-winged Hawk
3. Lesser Violetear  
4. Magnificent Hummingbird  
5. White-throated Mountain-gem  
6. Scintillant Hummingbird  
7. Stripe-tailed Hummingbird  
8. White-tailed Emerald  
9. Snowy-bellied Hummingbird  
10. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird  
11. Resplendent Quetzal  
12. Red-headed Barbet
13. Emerald Toucanet (Blue-throated supspecies)
14. Acorn Woodpecker  
15. Sulphur-winged Parakeet  
16. Spot-crowned Woodcreeper  
17. Red-faced Spinetail  
18. Dark Pewee  
19. Yellowish Flycatcher  
20. Brown-capped Vireo
21. House Wren  
22. Ochraceous Wren  
23. Clay-colored Thrush  
24. Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush 
25. Tropical Mockingbird  
26. Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher  
27. Golden-winged Warbler  
28. Black-and-white Warbler  
29. Tennessee Warbler  
30. Blackburnian Warbler  
31. Chestnut-sided Warbler  
32. Wilson's Warbler  
33. Black-cheeked Warbler
34. Slate-throated Redstart  
35. Collared Redstart
36. Blue-gray Tanager  
37. Palm Tanager
38. Cherrie's Tanager
39. Silver-throated Tanager  
40. Slaty Flowerpiercer  
41. Yellow-faced Grassquit  
42. Buff-throated Saltator
43. Chestnut-capped Brushfinch  
44. Rufous-collared Sparrow  
45. White-naped Brushfinch  
46. Summer Tanager  
47. Flame-colored Tanager  
48. White-winged Tanager  
49. Rose-breasted Grosbeak  
50. Baltimore Oriole  
51. Lesser Goldfinch
52. Thick-billed Euphonia
53. Elegant Euphonia
54. Common Chlorospingus
55. Yellow-thighed Finch
56. Paltry Tyrannulet
57. Black-faced Solitaire 
58. Red-tailed Hawk
59. Tufted Flycatcher 
60. Flame-throated Warbler
61. Gray-breasted Wood-wren
62. Slaty Antwren
63. Orange-bellied Trogan 
64. Golden-crowned Warbler
65. Black-thighed Grosbeak
66. Barred Becard
67. Black-throated Green Warbler
68. Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
69. Streak-breasted Treehunter
70. Hairy Woodpecker 
       Central Panama Mammal List:

No.  Species Scientific Name Notes
 1 Varigated Squirrel  Sciurus variegatoides Altos del Maria
 2 Forest Rabbit Sylvilagus brasiliensis  Altos del Maria 
 3 Common Opossum  Didelphis marsupialis Altos del Maria
 4 Red-tailed Squirrel Sciurus granatensis Altos del Maria, Finca Lerida, La Hacienda 
 5 Central American Agouti  Dasyprocta punctata Finca Lerida

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