Friday, February 17, 2017

What's a Cacomistle?

Greetings Everyone,
On the other side of Volcán Barú is the tiny town of Guadalupe, Panama, our next destination.  Although a mere 15 km away as the crow flies, it takes 2 hours to get there as you have to drive around the mountain.  The draw to this agricultural area was Los Quetzales Ecolodge and Spa.  We weren't interested in taking yoga classes or having a massage but wanted to stay in Cabin 8.  We had read on that to see a Cacomistle you must stay in Cabin 8.  We arrived at reception around 10:30 AM and were advised to have plenty of food with us as the drive up to Cabin 8 wasn't something you wanted to do more than once.  We had our trusty Toyota Hilux so how difficult could it be?  It started off on a paved road but soon turned to a bumpy dirt road.  Past a few village houses, the road became real bad, steep with wet, slippery rocks.  Marc put the truck in 4-wheel drive and we inched our way forward.  You didn't want to go too fast and bottom out but you needed enough momentum to get up the steep inclines.  The worst were the big holes.  Marc tried to go around the holes but the road wasn't wide enough and we'd slide in and had to crawl out.  I took a video of the drive when I didn't have my eyes covered.

We made it to the end of the road and saw a sign for Cabin 8 but there was no building to be found.  We followed a path by foot up into the cloud forest and finally found our abode!

Cabin 8

We settled in and later in the afternoon did a bit of exploring.  We were back in time to prepare for our anticipated evening guests.  We cut up some bananas and papaya to put on the railings of the upper level balcony to entice our nocturnal visitors.  It was now dusk and no one was arriving.  Maybe they didn't come every night but suddenly Marc spotted an animal on the railing.  It was a Cacomistle!


I had never heard of these mammals before and with good reason.  Being nocturnal and inhabiting deep cloud forest they are rarely seen.  But here at Cabin 8 they have become habituated and visit the cabin nightly for a free meal.  Normally I wouldn't condone feeding wild animals but I convinced myself that it was no worse than feeding birds and we were giving them only fruit, no processed foods.


The Cacomistle is a member of the Procyonidae family which includes raccoons and coatis.  They are also closely related to and often confused with the Ringtail found in the southern US and Mexico.  They are normally solitary and have large home ranges typically being seen in the middle and upper canopy of tropical mountain forests.  We were seeing at least two individuals and they visited the cabin throughout the night as I could hear them jumping on the roof and running along the railings.  It's always a thrill to see a new mammal!


We were up early the following morning to meet a local bird guide at 6:30 AM at reception.  This meant we had to negotiate the treacherous road again.  It was much easier going down and we arrived at the meeting point with time to spare.  Charlie, our bird guide, showed up and we drove to the Los Quetzales Trail.  We had explored the other end of this trail when we were in Boquete.  Not long after starting our walk Charlie heard a Resplendent Quetzal and spotted a male in a nearby tree.

Male Resplendent Quetzal

Two other males showed up chasing a female!  This is the start of the breeding season and the males are actively seeking and competing for mates.  We continued up the trail spotting many birds such as:

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher

Male Summer Tanager

We hiked about 3 km in to a ranger station where a surprise waited for us. A stunning Volcano Hummingbird was perched on a flowering bush alongside the trail.  These very tiny "hummers" are endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. They breed at elevations of 6000 feet and higher. We saw this magnificent male at around 8400 feet.

Male Volcano Hummingbird

We returned to the lodge where we had lunch before making the arduous climb back up to Cabin 8.  When we arrived it was drizzling.  Surprisingly a male Resplendent Quetzal flew in and perched in a tree in front of our cabin!

Male Resplendent Quetzal

The Cacomistles showed up again around 7:00 and we stayed up until 9:30 watching them.  The following morning we hiked Las Minas Trail to a waterfall.  While sitting on a bench admiring the view, a beautiful Fiery-throated Hummingbird perched nearby.  When the sun hit his throat feathers just right they came ablaze in a magnificent display.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

We returned to our cabin enjoying the warm sunshine and the birds visiting the feeder when the Red-tailed squirrels weren't monopolizing it.  My favorite are the Yellow-thighed Finches which also endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama.  Why would a bird evolve to have bright yellow pantaloons?

Yellow-thighed Finch

Tonight was our third and final night at Cabin 8.  Although I so enjoyed watching the Cacomistles, I still wanted to see a Kinkajou.  The Cacomistles arrived at the usual time and unlike the first two nights it wasn't raining so we got to see them with dry coats.


Around 9:30 PM I was getting ready to brush my teeth and Marc said we have a new visitor.  It was a Kinkajou!  He plowed through the food not concerned that we were within 6 feet of him taking flash photos.


He had his fill, leaped onto a tree and disappeared.  After I had gone to bed I heard an animal on the balcony so I got up to see who it was.  It was the Kinkajou again.  Yippee, we got to see him twice!  


The following morning it was time to pack up and leave magical Cabin 8.  What a special privilege to get such close views of two rarely seen nocturnal rainforest mammals!  We drove the infamous road our fourth and final time.  By now Marc had mastered how to avoid the holes and how to plow through the streams and gun it up the other side without getting stuck.  Our next destination was Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Ecolodge about a 2-hour drive away.  A 4-wheel drive is required for the last 9 km to the lodge but by now Marc was an expert at negotiating these steep, rocky roads.  The mountain views from this highest Ecolodge in Panama were glorious with unbroken cloud forest in all directions.

Mount Totumas Cloud Forest

We arrived just in time for lunch and had the afternoon to explore the Big Tree Loop.  A troop of Mantled Howler monkeys were scrambling in the trees overhead.  As we looked up to view and photograph one big male, he decided to pee on us.  Luckily we were able to avoid the shower.

Mantled Howler

The following morning we hiked La Amistad Trail from Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve to the adjoining La Amistad International Park which spans both Panama and Costa Rica.  It was cloudy and misty as we left the lodge so we didn't see many birds but ran into a few White-faced Capuchin monkeys.  The trail led to an old abandoned jeep now covered with moss and other vegetation.  Apparently a homesteader from long ago used this car as a temporary lodging.

Abandoned Jeep

We returned to the lodge and by late afternoon the weather had improved so we set off to explore the Cascades Trail.  The route climbed steeply down past newly planted coffee trees to a river and a beautiful waterfall tumbling over rocks.

Waterfall on Cascades Trail

We climbed back up to the lodge and were hoping to see the penumbral lunar eclipse but it remained too cloudy.  A brief interval of sun along with the rain did create a rainbow spanning the valley.

Rainbow over Mount Totumas Cloud Forest

The wind picked up and blew hard all night and into the next day.  In order to see birds we had to explore some of the lower trails sheltered from the wind.  We managed to see some good birds such as the Tyrant Tyrannulet and American Dipper.

On our last full day in the Reserve we opted to climb Mount Totumas.   We started off on the Big Tree Loop but veered off onto an unmarked trail into the forest.  Reinaldo, our local guide, said this was his first trip up the mountain this year.  The trail went up steeply and we encountered our first fallen tree.  They are quite a chore to get around or over.  There were about 3 of these fallen trees on the lower section of the trail and the going was steep and slippery.   Reinaldo spotted a Woodpecker that was new to him but very familiar to us.  It was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

We stopped for a break and Reinaldo said there was an animal high up in a tree.  Sure enough, a banded Cacomistle tail was hanging out from a clump of bromeliads.  We couldn't see the body but the tail was proof enough. 

Cacomistle Tail

The grade leveled out a bit then we hit the bamboo section.  Reinaldo had to hack his way through with his machete.  

Reinaldo Clearing the Trail

It took us a grueling 4 hours to climb about 2100 feet to the top.  There was no view on the treed summit but the forest was primeval with tall trees draped in red-hued moss.  

Marc in the Mossy Forest

We stopped on a log to eat our packed lunches and then headed back down.  It was much easier now that the trail had been cleared.  The Cacomistle was still sleeping in the same spot.  We hit the steep section and had to be very careful not to slip or twist an ankle.  Reinaldo caught a tiny brown lizard for us to see and placed it on a tree trunk.  It didn't look like anything special but we took photos. 

Anolis benidikti

Later I sent the photo to Peter (from the Reptile Database) and he forwarded it to Sebastian Lotzkat who is writing a book about the reptiles of Panama.  Sebastian said it is (with 90% certainty) A. benedikti, a species that he described only 5 years ago!  For 100% certainty he would need to see the dewlap.  Marc saw the dewlap but didn't take a photo of it.  You never know when you'll discover a new species or come close to discovering one!

We made it safely down to the Big Tree Loop and saw a new bird for us called a Spangle-cheeked Tanager.  We arrived back to the lodge in two and a half hours from the summit.  We showered and discovered we were covered with chigger bites particularly around the waist.  We've never had so many bites!

Spangle-cheeked Tanager

That evening our friend Fritz, whom we had met at Altos del Maria a couple of weeks earlier, arrived at the lodge.  We were able to go birding with him the following morning.  We ended up seeing more monkeys than birds.  We encountered our first Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys of the trip.

Geoffroy's Spider Monkey

All too soon it was time to return to the lodge and say goodbye to Fritz.  We drove to the city of David where we left our rental truck and flew back to Panama City the following day.  After spending an exciting month exploring Panama it was time to move on.  Our next destination is Chile so stay tuned for more stories from the field.
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our route map:

Western Panama

Los Quetzales Bird List:

1. Yellow-thighed Finch
2. Red-breasted Grosbeak
3. Chestnut-capped Brush Finch
4. Large-footed Finch
5. White-throated Mountain-gem
6. Magnificent Hummingbird 
7. Streak-headed Woodcreeper 
8. Prong-billed Barbet
9. Black Guan  
10. Black Vulture  
11. Green-fronted Lancebill  
12. Lesser Violetear  
13. Volcano Hummingbird  
14. Scintillant Hummingbird  
15. Resplendent Quetzal  
16. Collared Trogon  
17. Acorn Woodpecker  
18. Red-faced Spinetail  
19. Mountain Elaenia  
20. Tufted Flycatcher  
21. Yellowish Flycatcher  
22. Black-capped Flycatcher  
23. Rufous-browed Peppershrike  
24. Brown-capped Vireo  
25. Ochraceous Wren  
26. Gray-breasted Wood-Wren  
27. Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush  
28. Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  
29. Mountain Thrush  
30. Clay-colored Thrush  
31. Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher  
32. Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher  
33. Black-and-white Warbler  
34. Flame-throated Warbler  
35. Black-throated Green Warbler  
36. Black-cheeked Warbler  
37. Wilson's Warbler  
38. Slate-throated Redstart  
39. Collared Redstart  
40. Slaty Flowerpiercer  
41. Sooty-capped Chlorospingus  
42. Rufous-collared Sparrow  
43. Summer Tanager  
44. Flame-colored Tanager  
45. Yellow-bellied Siskin  
46. Fiery-throated Hummingbird 
47. Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner

Mount Totumas Bird List: 

1. Slaty Flowerpiercer
2. Flame-colored Tanager
3. Mountain Thrush
4. Red-crowned Woodpecker
5. Bay-headed Tanager
6. Torrent Tyrannulet
7. Dark Peewee
8. Rufous-collared Sparrow
9. American Dipper
10. Lesser Goldfinch
11. Boat-billed Flycatcher
12. Summer Tanager
13. Yellowish Flycatcher
14. Sulphur-winged Parakeet
15. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
16. Spangle-cheeked Tanager
17. Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher
18. White-tipped Dove
19. Black-and-white Warbler
20. Turkey Vulture
21. Band-tailed Pigeon
22. Common Chlorospingus 
23. Slate-throated Redstart
24. Black-faced Solitaire 
25. Blue-and-white Swallow

     Western Panama Mammal List

No.  Species Scientific Name Notes
 1 Geoffroy's (Ornate) Spider  Monkey  Ateles geoffroyi ornatu Mount Totumas 
 2 Common Opposum Didelphis marsupialis Los Quetzales (camera trap)
 3 Mantled Howler Alouatta palliata Mount Totumas
 4 Red-tailed Squirrel Sciurus granatensis Los Quetzales & Mount Totumas 
 5 White-faced Capuchin Cebus capucinus Mount Totumas
 6 Kinkajou  Potos flavus Los Quetzales 
 7 Cacomistle Bassariscus sumichrast Los Quetzales & Mount Totumas 


1 comment:

Unknown said...

Vicarious enjoyment, thanks.