Birds of Bucaramanga – Or Why Bird Identification Is Like Dating

Welcome to another Colombia post! I have to admit that even though getting to encounter new bird species with every move is exciting and thrilling it also presents its own challenges. Its always hard to leave an area where you’ve grown fairly comfortable with identification and all of a sudden realize you have no idea what you are looking at. In my frustration, this week I came to the odd conclusion that bird identification shares a lot of parallels with dating. Figuring out what some birds are is simple. Its like love at first sight – you just know. Other times bird identification is like online dating and you find yourself scrolling madly though heaps of pictures and descriptions until you find something that could potentially work. But first, before I get into the intricacies of my half baked analogy an important announcement! I saw two migrating warblers in the last week! So allow me to share this PSA form of a Game of Thrones meme for all Central and South American birders. If you cant tell by this opening paragraph this post is going to be insanely random! 

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My first migrating warbler was seen at a day trip to Finca El Carajo just outside of Bucaramanga. This ended up being one of my favorite stops Ive had in Colombia yet. It was easily and fairly cheaply reached by cab (30,000COP there and 20,000COP back) and it took about 45 minutes for me to get there from my apartment. Things got off to an amazing start right off the bat when I ran into a mixed species foraging flock within the first half hour of my walk. As luck would have it, a Blackburnian Warbler had decided to join the feeding party for the day. 

Blackburnian Warbler Colombian Migrant

The other members of the foraging flock were impressive but for solely superficial reasons. Beryl Spangled Tanager, Green and Black Fruiteater, Black Capped Tanager and Blue Capped Tanager all greeted me with a swirl of bright and insane colors. There were shades of neon and vivid reds, and everything people would associate with Neotropic birding. In a true example of what it was like to watch a foraging flock I had no idea where to look next! My eyes darted in excitement from one beautiful and vivid bird to the next! 

Beryl Spangled Tanager - Bucaramanga

Beryl Spangled Tanager

Beryl Spangled Tanager - El Carajo Bucaramanga

Beryl Spangled Tanager

Green and Black Fruiteater - Colombia

Green and Black Fruiteater

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Female Black Capped Tanager

I pulled away from the cacophony of color for a minute and turned my attention to a pair of very small little birds hopping around the bushes nearby. They stayed mostly hidden but every now and then they allowed me a small glimpse, showing off a very very red little head atop their little bodies. They also emitted a really strange CROAK! sound as they were flitting about. Even though I made it my mission to grab a photo the rest of the day I could grab nothing but blurry excuses for photos. On returning home I put on my Detective Hercule Poirot mustache  and sat down to solve the mystery. 20160830-IMG_5281When I got home I had one or two blurry horrible pictures of the birds but the call was etched firmly in my brain.  As I still have no hard copy bird guide I found myself scrolling aimlessly through my app on my phone until I sorta-kinda found something that resembled what I was looking for. Much like a superficial online dater I decided I needed to see more pictures before I could be sure.  As many online daters will tell you a lot of times what you see in person is nothing like what you see in the picture, but in my case it was a perfect match. I realized what I had seen was a Rufous Crowned Tody Flycatcher! Its really an interesting little species and Im sad I didnt get to see more of. One species I def. saw in spades that day was the Blue Capped Tanager! These were basically everywhere at Finca El Carajo: 

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Probably the hardest part of birding at El Carajo was the Hummingbird identification, particularly because it was an overcast day and the light was so low. I spotted 3 new species of hummingbirds, and I got that special tingle in my brain when I knew that these were birds I have never seen before. But alas I was unable to get that special spark where I knew exactly what they were. I had been going over the characteristics of one of the unknown Hummingbirds in my head when it decided to plop down and land right next to me in the forest. Since it decided to grace me by landing right in front of my face and sitting still, I was able to determine it was a Bronzy Inca. 

Bronzy Inca El Carajo Santander Colombia

The other two have been added to my ‘yet to be identified’ file and will most likely stay there til my brother arrives from the States at the end of the month with my field guide.  The last bird that required a bit of detective work for the day was a loud wren that I was lucky enough to see right before I left. It foraged in the bushes near me for a good 15 minutes, enough for me to get familiar with this fascinating liquid call it was emitting. From what Ive been told it seems that the process one goes through identifying a wren is very similar to the process one goes through identifying that you are dating a sociopath.  The whole of the bird/person is obscured, you are only allowed to see bits and pieces, and you dont know what you are really dealing with until BAM! It hits you and you realize what exactly it is that is right in front of you. In my case I was not looking at a sociopath but a Whiskered Wren. 
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Overall the birding that day was really great, and I also appreciated the infrastructure and price of El Carajo. It offered everything I really want in a good birding spot which is (besides birds) that they serve food, have clean bathrooms and that the trails are well maintained. It was also nice to see that the forest area was protected and seemed to be in very good shape. The cost was agreeable too. They have a small day fee that is waved if you eat lunch. I had been hearing how good their trout was, so I decided to go that route. The reviews were correct! It was delicious! For a large lunch of trout and 2 beers my total was around 30,000COP (roughly $10) which I found to be worth the price. I would imagine it would have been much cheaper if I didn’t indulge in the two beers but they ended up being a perfect compliment to my overcast afternoon! This lovely Golden Faced Tyrannulet still looked stunning in the dark: 

El Carajo Santander Colombia Golden Faced Tyrannulet

Golden Faced Tyrannulet

Golden Faced Tyrannulet El Carajo Santander Colombia

Golden Faced Tyrannulet

This week I was also able to do some city birding. On the 31st I had a doctors appointment in Floridablanca, and so for some stress relief (and because I was right nearby) I decided to spend a bit of my afternoon in the Botanical Garden. This also brought another migrating warbler and a lifer to boot! To continue with my reaching analogy this was just like in the fantastic song “Short Skirt Long Jacket” where he meets a beautiful woman at the bank when she asks to borrow his pen. While exploring the park I randomly ran into a Cerulean Warbler! While I was excited to see this beautiful bird, it also signaled that my little city park will be filled with the sounds and sights of migrating warblers soon!

Female Cerulean Warbler - Colombian Migrant - Bucaramanga

Female Cerulean Warbler

Another true highlight of the day, and a very restorative one at that, was getting to watch this beautiful Sloth for a while. I had been dealing with a bit on anxiety and there was nothing better than sitting on the cool cement ground and watching this sloth slowly eat and move around its basically bare tree. There is something about watching their languid movement that is very relaxing. 

Unhurried Sloth Beauty –

Sloth Floridablanca Botanical Garden

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One of the stranger identification queries Ive had recently was also at my local park two days later. It was a dark and overcast day (yet again!) and after my luck with the warblers I wanted to keep working the park for migrants. The beautiful sloth was there in its favorite tree right on the ‘zen garden’ but the best treats of the day were in a tree near the aviary area. For some reason there was an almost bare tree that was attracting basically every bird in the park. Sadly it was in horrible light and everything in it was staying fairly high, and as I strained my neck I cursed the birding gods for blessing this horribly placed tree with such a numerous amount of birds. Since this tree was apparently the place to be that day I decided to sit put and see if anything new would show up. What would you know! After a short period of time something did. I knew right away from the shape it was a Vireo. 

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For some reason there ended up being at least 2 (most likely 3-4) of these Vireos in the tree, and the most stand out thing to my naked eye was this little black stripe on their chin. When I went home and decided to do a bit more research on Black Whiskered Warblers I realized the pictures I was finding did not exactly match what I had photographed. There is a different coloration with the face, but its the only Vireo that possesses the distinct black whisker. At the end of the day (like a lonely singleton) I have decided to go with Black Whiskered Vireo until something better comes along, because there is really nothing else that works. 

If you look at the lists I have included below the fold you will realize each one has two or three yet to be identified birds. Quite frankly I have gotten sick of searching for them and so I have left them for a later date. I have heard that Justin Bieber has started using a strange tactic for dating – he posts pictures of women and simply asks his followers to tell him his name and how he can get in contact with them. Well dear readers, you have gotten this far through my odd post, so lets just take it a bit farther shall we? Pretend I am Justin Bieber and tell me the name of this bird!

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Overall the last week was fairly interesting from a bird watching perspective. I have a German friend coming to visit on Sunday and we have quite a few days planned out in nature. Hopefully Ill be encountering more warblers and Ill be continuing my task of becoming familiar with Colombian birds. Ill be back next week with another post that does not have a cheesy and far reaching theme! Until then readers! 

Lists, Lists and More Lists after the fold. 

Huzzah! Risk Versus Reward in Colombia.

Huzzah! I cannot explain how amazing it is to be sitting down to type out my first Colombian post! Ive been here around three weeks now and I feel like I really made the right decision in relocating to Bucaramanga! Its a beautiful city, the people are insanely friendly, and so far Ive had some decent bird watching experiences. At heart I am really more of a city person and Im enthralled to have so many great restaurants and things to do right outside my door. Another thing I have right outside my door?  Yellow Crowned Parrots:

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Yellow Crowned Parrot

Since Im now a city girl again I knew that my day to day birding would be in the cities parks. Of course, being an obsessive bird watcher, I was dressed in my baggy bird watching pants and off to scout within the first few days of being here. The two parks I needed to test out were Parque La Flora (closest to my house) and the Botanical Gardens roughly 20 minutes away in Floridablanca. When trying to find a new local patch I am also checking out a few things besides just the quality of birding. I need to see how easily I can get there, how crowded it usually is, and way down at the bottom of the list is how safe the park is. Ive never actually worried that much about my personal safety, but I do get a bit worried sometimes carrying around my camera and my lens. Of course, all of these other concerns are things  I weigh after I weigh the quality of the birding. My first impression of both parks is that there were a lot of crossover species from Panma. This Rufous Capped Warbler was a familiar find for example:

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Rufous Capped Warbler

As I mentioned everyone in Colombia has really been very kinda and caring. They have left me with the impression that when you are a guest in their country they treat you like they would treat a guest in their own house. Ive felt that the people here want to make sure you have a nice time and things go well for you. This led to me ending up having what (at first) came off as two very strange encounters at the Parque La Flora, but ones I am very grateful for. My second time birding there I was actually approached by two separate people who cautioned me against birding on my own there with my camera equipment. They recommended that I either come with someone or leave the equipment at home because it could make me a target for being mugged. Both of them imparted the same message to me, ‘Be careful because you never know’. I opted to temporarily heed their warnings and spent the next couple of days collecting some more information from friends and weighing if I should return or not. Usually when you’re deciding where to bird the only risk versus reward scenario you need to analyze revolves around the amount of species you could potentially see. I decided to take extra time to process if I would go back since this time my camera gear was what was potentially being risked. In the mean time decided to spend more time birding the park in Floridablanca.  The Botanical Gardens in Floridablanca are bit further but I immediately was happy with my decision. The park really feels safe – there is only one entrance with a security guard and you have to pay a small fee to enter. Most importantly there were some wonderful birds there and I saw some cracking species on my first two visits. Olivaceous Piculet was a particular favorite I had been trying to track down for a while in Panama: 

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Olivaceous piculet

I still had a bit of an itch about returning to Parque La Flora though. The species list on Ebird looked very tempting and I was teetering about returning at some point. I was engaged in some serious analysis when a few days later I was text messaged by a friend and my questions were answered. I found out that over the weekend (during the middle of the day no less) someone was stabbed to death after being mugged for their cell phone. When I heard this news I was super sad and shocked, and I was super grateful to the people who had took time out of their day to look out for me and give me advice. As they both said, you never know. This situation has made me be a lot more cautious about where I will be going on my own, and also very thankful that the Botanical Gardens exist. As I wrote, I feel very secure there and its really a wonderfully maintained city park. Orange Chinned Parakeet from the Botanical Gardens below:
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Since one cannot subsist on city park birding alone,  I also had planned my first short 2 day 1 night trip for a bit of country birding. On a whim I decided to head to the La Pacha Hostel which is slightly outside San Gil, about 2 hours from Bucaramanga. While I was going to explore some trails, what I was most excited about is that they allowed you to rent tents there! I have been yearning to go camping for several years now, but the fact that I didnt own a tent always got in my way. When I read on their website that they rented tents with bedding I was immediate sold! The Hostel was in an area that had zero birding reports out of the immediate area, and very few reports out of the surrounding area. I knew it was going to be an interesting time exploring and I set off not knowing what to expect or what I would find! I packed my red birding backpack and off I went in search of new species! 

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Female Black Throated Mango

The La Pacha Hostel was offered up a very unique experience, delicious food and some fairly interesting birding. The price tag was also very attractive and I ended up paying $56,000(COP) total which included my tent rental and 3 large and tasty vegetarian meals. But back to the most important aspect… the birding. Much like the Bucaramanga area my stay at San Gil offered up some Panamanian repeats (Blue Gray Tanager, Crimson Backed Tanager, Golden Crowned Warbler) but there were also a lot of really interesting new species to be had. Two of the highlights I knew right off the bat were Black Capped Tanager and Colombian Chacalaca. I also managed to eke out a few decent photos of one of the more stunning Colombian common species – Saffron Finch. There is nothing I can write to explain how awe inspiring this shade of yellow is to the naked eye. No photograph can truly capture it, but I can sure as hell try!

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Saffron Finch – Male

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Saffron Finch – Female

One of the most embarassing confessions I have to make about my time in Colombia is that I have been operating without a field guide this whole time! Sadly when I arrived in the country all the places I could find that sold the English Language version of the two most reputable field guides were sold out, so Im waiting on a copy to come from the states. I recently downloaded the App ‘All Birds Colombia’ by Helm Field Guides and Sunbird. While the app has a few flaws it will be better than nothing. I didnt manage to download this app until after my San Gil trip, so for the first 3 weeks here my technique for iding birds has been a bit slapped together to say the least!

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Bran Colored Flycatcher

Basically, my plan of attack was to figure out the family of the unknown bird and then pull up the ebird list and Google every bird in the family that I did not know. This ended up working out fairly well for some birds, and not so well for others. For example in a real ‘DOH!’ moment  I somehow forgot what Roadside Hawk looked like and emailed one of my internet contacts to ask for help with an ID. But even though this technique was inefficient (and sometimes led to embarrassing situations) it did manage to be fruitful for several other identifications. For example with one of my favorite birds from the La Pacha Trip – Grassland Sparrow:

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Grassland Sparrow

As I alluded to, there were some birds I was absolutely stumped on without a field guide. One of the most confusing birds to identify was a Wren that I had gotten up close and personal with in the shaded coffee area behind the hostel. It was loud, large, and super confiding. It let me get extra close to take pictures of it and let me sit and photograph it while it foraged in different piles of twigs and leaves. Whenever any species of Wren makes itself visible Im pleased and so I had a really great time watching and photographing this singular bird for 10 minutes.

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I ended up posting it in a Colombian birding Facebook group (RNOA) and someone was kind enough to confirm for me that this was a Niceforo’s Wren!  This is an endemic bird to the area, and to top it off is listed as Critically Endangered. Its population is estimated at 250 individuals but as Birdlife says this needs to be confirmed. It really gets me thinking to one of the reasons I love birding so much, you really never know what you will find when you go out. The world is really surprising and wonderful place and just by poking around a bit you can stumble across some truly spectacular things. Im super glad I took a gamble and ended up birding here.  Birding here was a really classic example of  a risk (seeing nothing) versus reward (seeing spectacular things people didnt know were there) when deciding to bird somewhere new, and in this case my gamble paid off.

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Seeing this bird really reinforced to me of how important it is to get off the beaten path when birding. A lot of people will only head to the most known hot spots and forgo heading to new places and in my opinion, are being a bit too risk averse. New spots are only found by people who get away from the well trod areas and try something different. When Im out birding I really do feel like Im exploring, and even more so when I have no idea what species I will be seeing. Seeing this Niceforo’s Wren was just a reminder to me that its something I need to continue doing. Overall my short birding trip to San Gil turned out pretty well and Ill most likely be heading back there around migration time! On that note, I have a few more of these one night/two day trips planned and I cant wait to report back with everything I find! A few lists to as a parting gift below the fold!

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Ciao Chiriqui!

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Once again birdwatchers, hold onto your floppy hats because this is going to be one hell of an all encompassing post. In this post Im going to share all the last little odds and ends before I start blogging from Colombia. There will be Ornate Hawk Eagles! GPS Tracks! And not to be left out one gigantic Chirqui list that really no one will appreciate but myself. Yes. I know this no one gives a fig about this, but I put it undera ‘read more’ tab in case anyone feels like doing some lurking. 

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From a bird watching perspective I really enjoyed my time in Chriqui. The bird watching, particularly what was accessible by fairly cheap cab rides and public transportation, was really what made it for me. As we all know though, some of the best bird watching does sadly require a car. For this last Panama post (until I visit again!) I wanted to share some photos from a visit to the Fortuna area of Chiriqui. Provided you have your own transport, Fortuna can be easily made into a semi long day trip from Boquete, and I highly recommend it for anyone in the area. All the way back in May I was lucky enough to be invited along to hop in the Big Red Birding Bus (also known as the Birders Chariot for its high level of comfort in rough terrain) for two trips to bird the STRI station and the surrounding Fortuna area. If you are looking for the rare Chirqui birds this is one of the best areas to go to find them, and we ended up turning up gems with every visit. Even people who have been birding Chiriqui for years can scrounge up a new bird when they up this way!  Besides straight up new birds, one of the highlights of going to Fortuna is getting to get better acquainted with birds that are seen less back in Boquete. 

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White Lined Tanager – Female

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Black Faced Grosbeak

Both the birds above were seen at the Tower Road, which can turn scorching but can also offer some decent road birding and fun species. Some of the highlights during my time there were Azure Hooded Jay, Green Thorntail and the acrobatic Bat Falcons that can be seen there regularly. We were also lucky enough to get great views at this sleeping Sloth on one of our trips. I hope I look this peaceful when I nap!

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One of the undeniable highlights of May’s Forutna’s trips was an Ornate Hawk Eagle seen on another stretch of road birding. The road slightly past STRI (on the right) offers fairly decent birding and on top of that offers a really nice view of the Reservoir down at the bottom. On this day I was lucky enough to get some in flight photos of this badass bird.

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In addition to the two road birding areas, the area around the Fortuna Resevoir is also home to the STRI research station. We were fortunate to be their guest on both of our May trips. STRI has a short trail system that is fairly easy and fun to bird, but they also have many beautiful species that walk right up to the cabins. One of the treats for me was seeing a family of Black Breasted Wood Quail out in the open multiple times. I have only caught fleeting glances at Quails in the Boquete area and it was spectacular to see a whole family shuffling around the leaves at such a close distance. Another beautiful surprise was being able to see the White Bellied Mountain Gem visit the feeders there.

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Black Breasted Wood Quail

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White Bellied Mountain Gem

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Eye Ringed Flatbill

Even though the Fortuna area needs to be birded by car, there are tons and tons of Chiriqui birding gems that are accessible by public transport and cab. Three of my favorites were: the Pipeline Trail – also known as the Waterfall Trail, The 3 Waterfalls Trail, and The Quetzales Trail. Before I fully switch to Colombia bird posts I wanted to share a few GPS tracks that I made with the View Ranger App. I have had tons of success with this free App and you dont need to be connected to wifi or data for it to track a perfect trail for you. Please pay no attention to the times connected with these tracks, these are not indicative of how long it would take to walk or even bird the trails. Each of my maps Ive shown includes heavy doses of me sitting and waiting for birds, eating lunch and other variables. I did share these because I feel that these are a pretty accurate gauge of the distance and altitudes found at these spots. If you click the link you can explore the data a bit more in depth.

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Green Crowned Brilliant

Pipeline Trail GPS Map

Type of Trail? Walk in and walk out via same path. Terrain has fairly slight uphill slope in parts.

The map shows the distance to walk in to the end of the trail and walk out again.

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Green Crowned Brilliant

Quetzales Trail – See Full Post of hiking to Cerro Punta here!

Max Elev . – 8234 – Min Elev. – 6063

Type of Trail- Can be walked through to Cerro Punta or simply walk in as far as your comfortable and return.

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Green Crowned Brilliant

Three Waterfalls GPS Trail Map 

Min. Altitude – 5454 Feet. – Max. Altitude – 6240 Feet

Type of Trail – Basically hike in hike out. There is one offshoot loop trail to the first waterfall that returns you to the main trail afterwards. Steep and challenging in parts. To avoid these parts you can walk in and head directly to the second waterfall area and then return back. This is still very scenic and less challenging.

This map shows hiking from the 3rd waterfall and returning to the start of the 3 waterfalls property. It does not include the 1st waterfall. 

Well. Thank you to the loyal readers who have made it this far though this disjointed ramble of a post. I will always truly value my time birding Chiriqui and I hope I can make it back in the near future to visit friends and tick off a few species! 

And for anyone who is curious please click Page 2 (below related posts) to see my Chiriqui list according to Ebird 🙂 

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Boquete Birders in El Valle and More!

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Well forgive my absence! Im actually posting this from my new home in Bucaramanga, Colombia! But more on that at the end of the post! First, I have some much needed Panamanian house keeping to tend to. So why the blogging hiatus?  I started writing a book and  (surprisingly) made some decent progress on it. Whenever I felt even semi creative I harnessed my energy into this and then my blog got as much attention as a hamster six months after being given to a spoiled child. In the month of June I also ended up travelling and vacationing in Colombia, different parts of Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico.   Lastly considering blogging is not my job but my hobby,  I vowed when I started all of this never to force myself to blog for the sake of filling an arbitrary monthly quota. The surest way to end up resenting something is to force yourself to do it, so Im pleased to have a bit of a break every now and then.

Sometimes its best to have a break with 40’s and pizza. 

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July was spent with me mostly recuperating from Junes insanity and dealing with a heaping plateful of personal drama. One of the things Ive realized recently is how powerful bird watching can be for me. Even though this is going to make me sound like a crazy person, Ive realized recently that bird watching has turned into something I actually need to do in order to have a grasp on my stress and sanity. It really has the power to dig me out of any funk, no matter how deep it is. One of the common reactions we all have to depression/personal problems is that for whatever reason it makes us forego a lot of the activities that make us happy. Sadly in July I lost sight of the things that made me happy, and had to reintroduce myself to them. Hence why I am posting this blog 😉

How can anyone not be happy when looking at this adorable Chestnut Naped Brush Finch?

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One of the birding trips I did do in the last two months was in June to the Respingo Ranger Station in Cerro Punta with the Boquete Birders. I want to dedicate this post to the Boquete Birders and cover the two last trips I did with them. Joining this birding group was one of the best things I did in Boquete, and it not only provided me with great birding experiences and new species, but with fascinating and intelligent new friends as well. Boquete was the first place I ever birded with a group, and I can say that I honestly will genuinely miss it. I wanted to take this post to offer a sincere thank you to all the BB members (past and present) who have worked so hard to make this such a welcoming group no matter what your experience level.  It was a wonderful resource for learning about birding hotspots I would not have visited on my own and for meeting other people to bird these locales with. So first up for blogging catch-up! In June I joined the birding group and headed over to Cerro Punta where we stayed at the wonderful Cielto Sur Bed and Breakfast.

Fiery Throated Hummingbird seen at the Respingo Ranger Station area:

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Cielito Sur was an excellent place to stay and it really inspired me regarding my very distant pipe dream of one day opening up my own bed and breakfast for birders. Glenn and Janet somehow managed to make a place that is both homey and elegant. They have also succeeded in providing everything you could ever need at a B&B at close reach without making anything  feel cluttered. They made an art out of the saying ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’. We all particularly appreciated that there was a coffee maker (to brew their in house grown coffee no less) in the room.  We spent the night with some great members of the birding group, and it was a wonderful reminder of why I joined the group to start with – its simply amazing to talk with people you share a passion with. At the end of the day you cant have conversations about the differences between Moths and Butterflies, how to bait insects using excrement, or the biodiversity of South and Central American countries with just anyone. The birding on the way up to and at the ranger station was a bit slow, but I managed to get some great pictures of a favorite Panamanian hummingbird of mine. Strangely enough this hummer has been sitting in the exact same bush since March, and it was as easy to find as ever!

Fiery Throated Hummingbirds sans tail feather – Respingo Ranger Station

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The next monthly outing with the Boquete Birders was an overnight trip to  the El Valle area on the other side of Panama. Id been to El Valle previously, but only to area immediately around the town so I was super excited to explore areas mostly accessible by car.As Ive covered in previous posts there are many different kinds of bird watchers,  and everyone on this trip was super relaxed and enjoyable to spend time with. I really do enjoy a regimented-balls-to-the-wall birding experience but sometimes its nice to take things at a more relaxed gait and let the weather and everyone’s mood dictate things.  Instead of having a strict schedule we had more of an informal to-do list for this trip and it proceeded at a fairly tranquil and insanely enjoyable tempo. We saw lots of amazing species, almost everyone ticked off a couple of new ones, and we found some places I would be sure to visit again if I was in the area.

Barred Antshrike – Female – Hotel Campestre Grounds

20160721-IMG_227220160721-IMG_2224El Valle is hands down one of my favorite towns in Panama and it was wonderful to spend a bit more time there before I left. We stayed at the Hotel Campestie which offered some decent bird watching and photographic opportunities on the grounds. Dee, the group hotel coordinator and one half of the infamous ‘Kiskadee’ duo, did a really good job picking this hotel particularly due to its location and the surrounding environs.  A note for bird watchers though! The hotel does not offer an earlier packed breakfast option. Even though this could have been less than ideal, it ended up jiving pretty well with our ‘take it as it comes’ schedule and we just ended up returning towards the end of the breakfast hours for our meal.

From the hotel grounds – Belted Kingfisher: 
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Also on the grounds? Tropical Peewee in the rain. 

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When it came to birding outside the town we decided to follow the birding loop listed in Where to Find Birds in Panama and I would highly recommend this for anyone. The loop road provided excellent road birding with my highlights being Rufous Mot Mot and Tawny Crested Tanager . The road ended at the Cerro Guital trail which we all really enjoyed and I would highly recommend to anyone in the area. It was wide, easy to walk, and could be traversed by anyone. Most importantly it provided us with some looks at interesting birds. One of my favorites was the Plain Xenops, and we also spied Bronze Tailed Plumeleteer.

Plain Xenops: 

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Bronze Tailed Plumeleteer. If you look close you can see the pink feet!

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Our last morning we headed to Canopy Lodge and did a quick morning walk around. This ended up being a really nice treat and I understand why so many people travel to come visit. The lodge was very beautiful and the guides we encounter were very knowledgeable. We were all very impressed by the uncanny Tody Motmot whistle the guides did! Sadly we did not get to see it but we can definitely put it down as a definitive heard due to the talents of the guides at the Lodge.  Due to our semi large number we didnt have that much luck on the smaller trails, but we did spy this beautiful spider weaving its web. We also saw Red Crowned Ant Tanager and got great overhead looks at Collared Aracari. For me, the highlight of Canopy Lodge was watching the Aracari eat this gigantic insect.

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Collared Aracari with its meal:

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Overall I am happy to leave Boquete but very sad to leave behind the amazing friends Ive made there, and most of these were from the Boquete Birders. It really is a wonderful group of people and (again!) I wanted to thank everyone who was instrumental in founding and sustaining this wonderful group and also wanted to thank everyone who I met through it. Now! As usual I will end my post with a preview of the future!

As I mentioned in the first paragraph of my post, Im penning this from my new home city of Bucaramaga, Colombia! Our trip to Bogota ended up with us deciding to go another route for where we will be living, and we settled on moving to Bucaramanga which is in the North East of the country. Lucky for me its next to several great bird reserves and I will have lots of great options. Ive decided to dedicate more time to poker, and most likely I will be going back to a schedule where Im working for 4 or 5 days a week followed by a 2 or 3 day trip to the nearby bird reserves. On top of that BUcaramanga has a really large city park with great birding habitat and I plan on birding that on a regular basis. We ended up finding a great apartment in record time and we should be all moved in and enjoying it by Sunday the 7th!

Species Seen From El Valle and Volcan Baru

PN Volcán Barú–Estación El Respingo, Chiriquí, PA
Jun 10, 2016 8:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.0 kilometer(s)
Comments:     Boquete Birders Respingo trip.
27 species

Black Guan  X
Cattle Egret  X
Black Vulture  X
Ruddy Ground-Dove  X
Green Violetear  X
Magnificent Hummingbird  X
Fiery-throated Hummingbird  X
White-throated Mountain-gem  X
Volcano Hummingbird  X

Scintillant Hummingbird  X
Resplendent Quetzal  X
Red-headed Barbet  X
Prong-billed Barbet  X
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper  X
Ruddy Treerunner  X
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren  X
Black-faced Solitaire  X
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  X
Mountain Thrush  X
Clay-colored Thrush  X
Flame-throated Warbler  X
Black-cheeked Warbler  X
Collared Redstart  X
Slaty Flowerpiercer  X
Yellow-faced Grassquit  X
Rufous-collared Sparrow  X
Yellow-thighed Finch  X

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S30861103

Boquete Birders El Valle Total Trip List

Please note this is a list of all the birds seen by the group. It includes the drive from Boquete and our entire time in the El Valle area and back.

Gray Headed Chacalaca

Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Wood Stork
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Swallow Tailed Kite
Roadside Hawk
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Gray Necked Wood Rail
Southern Lapwing
Northern Jacana
Ruddy Ground Dove
Blue Headed Parrot
Smooth-Billed Ani
Crowned Woodnymph
Snowy Bellied Hummingbird
Rufous Tailed Hummingbird
Blue Chested Hummingbird
White Vented Plumeleteer
Bronze Tailed Plumeleteer
Purple Crowned Fairy
Rufous Motmot
Tody Motmot (heard only)
Whooping Motmot
Ringed Kingfisher
Collared Aracari
Keel Billed Toucan
Black Cheeked Woodpecker
Red Crowned Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Plain Xenops
Barred Antshrike
Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
Tropical Peewee
Black Phoebe
Panama Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Masked Tityra
Black Chested Jay
Southern Rough Winged Swallow
Gray Breasted Martin
Bay Wren
Rufous Breasted Wren
Rufous And White Wren
Plain Wren
House Wren
Clay Colored Thrush
Rufous Capped Warbler
Buff Rumped Warbler
Dusky Faced Tanager
White Lined Tanager
Crimson Backed Tanager
Flame Rumped Tanager
Blue Gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Plain Colored Tanager
Tawny Crested Tanager
Bay Headed Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Red Legged Honeycreeper
Bananaquit
Buff Throated Saltator
Blue Black Grassquit
Variable Seedeater
Yellow Bellied Seedeater
Yellow Faced Grassquit
Orange Billed Sparrow
Red Crowned Ant Tanager
Shiny Cowbird
Great Tailed Grackle
Yellow Rumped Cacique
Chestnut Headed Oropendola
Yellow Crowned Euphonia

Thick Billed Euphonia

 

Birds and Their Babies in Boquete, Panama – May 2016

This month is shaping up to be a banner month for blogging! It’s only the 10th and Im churning out my 2nd post with another one on the way in the next few days. The main reason I wanted to hit ‘publish’ on this post as soon as possible is that I wanted to dedicate it to my blog’s biggest fans – my parents. Initially the idea for this post was to tie it into Mothers Day. Coincidentally many birds are hatching and raising their young right around the same time as US Mothers Day and I was lucky enough to witness/photograph many things that fit in perfectly with this theme. After typing the post out I realized that almost any heartfelt thank you I could give my mother would also be applicable to my father. Most likely as the result of 29 years of my parents stressing everyone should be treated equally I started feeling guilty. So behold! In the spirit of my parents who worked tirelessly to never prioritize one member of the family above the other I give you my Parents Day Post. 
 
How does this bird fit in with my Parents Day Post? You’ll find out! 
 
In the last week I hit the trails with a vengeance. I was rewarded by great looks at species I had seen before and was graced by the presence of birds I had been trying to see for quite some time!Holding fast to  my rule of getting good photographs of one bird when I am actually looking for something else, I had fantastic luck when I was looking for a Hummingbird called Green Fronted Lancebill. I headed to the stream at the beginning of the Culebra and Three Waterfall’s trails where my target bird had been spotted recently. This stream is also a known haunt for many of the other stream birds of the area such as Torrent Tyrannulet, Black Phoebe and American Dipper. I decided to practice my favorite birding method – finding a great spot and simply sitting down and relaxing. After a few minutes I was rewarded with intimate views of American Dipper. 
American Dipper is a bird that resides on streams of the west coast of the US and select parts of Central America. Impressively, it acts as an environmental barometer. It will not reside in polluted waterways and has become known as an indicator of water quality. On top of that its a very entertaining bird to watch. According to AllAboutBirds.org “American Dippers can wade, swim, and dive either from the water or from the air, and can move rocks on the stream-bottom to get at food” As I watched the two Dippers flit about on a sun lit (and due to the birds presence most likely unpolluted) stream, I noticed one was being very noisy and spread its wings in a way I had never seen before. It sat on the rock and called, and called, and called again for something.
After a while I realized that even though it was the same size as the other,  the screaming bird was a juvenile and it was calling for its mother to feed it. Even though the birds looks very similar if you look closely  you can see there is a slight difference with the coloration. The adult is more of a uniform gray and the juvenile has more white. Their shapes are also just slightly different. Watching this display between the parent and the child reminded me of a scene that plays out at my own house when I come home to visit the States. When I visit home my parents will usually answer my hungover cries from the couch and pour me a glass of water after I have way too long of a night spent catching up with friends. The only way if this bird could illustrate this relationship any better would be if there was a washing machine somewhere nearby and the juvenile had some laundry hanging around. A special shout out to my brother Eric for the inspiration for that last sentence 😉
Adult American Dipper heading to feed its offspring: 
While seeing the Dippers was the behavioral and photographic highlight of the day, there was also a great new bird to be had! I was enjoying the beautiful vista from the Cabin area when I spied a Flycatcher in a nearby bush. My motto with Flycatchers is usually ‘shoot first ID later’ as a lot of times they are impossible to distinguish in the field. I reeled off several shots, but right away I noticed the buffy and brownish wing bars. I had been pining after White Throated Flycatcher for quite a while, and immediately checked The Birds of Panama to see if that was what I was looking at. The pictures I captured fit perfectly with the description of ‘buff wing bars … white throat contrasts with brownish chest’. The pictures in the book and online were a match to boot. Huzzah! A new bird!
White Throated Flycatcher: 
 
Another recent new highlight of Boquete has been the Blue Seedeater. I was foraging around Finca Lerida for birds when I came across this little nondescript brown bird scampering around bamboo. As is typical of when I see many new birds, I had no idea what it was I just knew I had never seen it before. The bird ended up being a female Blue Seedeater. As you can see, regarding the female, its name is quite misleading since its not actually blue. The female is quite obviously brown. Even though this bird has a very non-descript look to it, it is known as a “bamboo specialist” which actually makes it quite special. This interesting group of birds that subsists solely on bamboo . This can be a bit problematic as many species of bamboo only flower once every 30-40 years and then die. This leaves the bamboo specialists out of luck and in need of another food source, which means they need to relocate. Due to this nomadic-bamboo-based lifestyle, they can be quite hard to locate and I was quite excited to stumble upon one. Maroon Chested Ground Dove (another bamboo specialist) has been residing in the area recently so the logic would be that there is bamboo flowering (or recently flowered) somewhere in the area.
 
Female Blue Seedeater:
Since bamboo is known to seed all at once over a semi large area I decided to head to a property right near Finca Lerida to try my luck there. I didnt have much luck finding bamboo specialists, but it didnt matter much as it was an enjoyable day none the less. I ended up finding a bird I had been hunting for quite a while – Streak Breasted Treehunter. The day was filled with other interesting things as well! After months of seeing Bellbirds only from far distances I was also lucky enough to find one right above my head:
 
Male Three Wattled Bellbird-  
Also photographed!
Ruddy Capped Nightingale Thrush: 
White Naped Brush Finch: 
 
 
Chestnut Capped Brush Finch: 
 
Next to Finca Lerida I was also lucky enough to find more fodder for my  continuing Parents Day theme when I encountered this fledgling. It displayed some interesting behavior basically in its lack of any behavior at all. It just sat stationary and did not move a muscle or make a peep for for over 25 minutes. Once I found it within 10 feet of a main trail I stuck around for about 5 minutes to see if anything would approach it. Black Faced Solitare hopped around madly making an odd rasping sound I had never heard before, but it never came within 5 feets of the paralyzed fledgling. I was unsure if the Solitare’s frantic hopping was due to my presence, or if I was could be distressing this motionless baby bird, so I decided to err on the side of caution and leave the scene for a while. When I returned 20 minutes later the bird was in the exact same spot, with the Black Faced Solitare still displaying the same behavior without ever approaching. Im still unsure what type of bird this is, but the one thing everyone I have showed the photo to agrees on is that it looks ‘thrushy’. 
Now that Ive shared one of my last photos of baby birds, its time to bring the post home. Ive always joked that if I chose to build sculptures out of horse manure as a hobby my parents would be there with a shovel to help me collect my materials. They would have lots of practice because raising me during my teenage years was probably about as unbearable as shoveling mountains of horse manure day in and day out, but they have never stopped loving me or being supportive. One of the main tenants of our household has been to embrace and go after whatever it is that makes you happy. When you look at my brother, my sister and I one of the strongest things we have in common is that we all cultivate and are proud of our passions no matter how eclectic or strange. This is not by accident. Its because we were raised by two people who encouraged us to be open and creative and who taught us there is no shame in pursuing the things that satisfy you. At the end of the day knowing your parents just want you to be happy is a reassuring and beautiful feeling, and I have never doubted it for a minute. They have always worked so hard to ensure the happiness of everyone in our entire family.  So cheers to you mom and dad! Thank you for everything! I love you more than any blog post could express.
Silver Throated Tanager with nesting material:
Adult Dipper: 
Baby Dipper: 
Lists, Lists and More Lists:
Lost Waterfalls Trail, Chiriquí, PA
May 6, 2016 7:30 AM – 12:30 PM

Protocol: Traveling
0.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Walked to 2nd waterfall and back. Focused on photography.
27 species

Black Vulture  X
Barred Hawk  X
Scintillant Hummingbird  X
Violet Sabrewing  X
White-tailed Emerald  X
Prong-billed Barbet  X
Acorn Woodpecker  X
Ruddy Treerunner  X
Mountain Elaenia  X
White-throated Flycatcher  1
Golden-bellied Flycatcher  X
Three-wattled Bellbird  X     Heard Only
Yellow-green Vireo  X
Blue-and-white Swallow  X
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren  X
American Dipper  X
Black-faced Solitaire  X
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  X
Black-cheeked Warbler  X
Slate-throated Redstart  X
Silver-throated Tanager  X
Yellow-faced Grassquit  X
Sooty-capped Chlorospingus  X
Common Chlorospingus  X
Rufous-collared Sparrow  X
Flame-colored Tanager  X
Yellow-bellied Siskin  X

Finca Lérida, Chiriquí, PA
May 8, 2016 7:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Protocol: Traveling
0.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Easy and relazed morning at a slow pace. No idea how far I walked. Mirador trail -> looped back through coffee fields and back to the hotel area
32 species

Green Hermit  X
Green Violetear  X
White-throated Mountain-gem  X
Scintillant Hummingbird  X
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird  X
Resplendent Quetzal  2
Blue-crowned Motmot  X
Emerald Toucanet  X
Mountain Elaenia  X
Dark Pewee  X
Yellowish Flycatcher  X
Tropical Kingbird  X
Three-wattled Bellbird  X     Heard
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren  X
Black-faced Solitaire  X     Heard
Swainson’s Thrush  1
Clay-colored Thrush  X
White-throated Thrush  X
Tropical Mockingbird  X
Golden-crowned Warbler  X
Slate-throated Redstart  X
Blue-gray Tanager  X
Silver-throated Tanager  X
Slaty Flowerpiercer  X
Yellow-faced Grassquit  X
Streaked Saltator  X
Chestnut-capped Brushfinch  X
White-naped Brushfinch  X
Flame-colored Tanager  X
Blue Seedeater  1     Female
Elegant Euphonia  X
Lesser Goldfinch  X

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29490540

Bajo Mono, Chiriquí, PA
May 9, 2016 7:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Protocol: Traveling
0.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Slow paced and relaxed mission to EV for Streak Breasted Tree Hunter!
36 species

Black Vulture  X
Turkey Vulture  X
Band-tailed Pigeon  X
White-throated Mountain-gem  X
Scintillant Hummingbird  X
Resplendent Quetzal  X
Blue-crowned Motmot  X
Emerald Toucanet  X
Acorn Woodpecker  X
Hairy Woodpecker  X
Sulphur-winged Parakeet  X
Streak-headed Woodcreeper  X
Streak-breasted Treehunter  X
Mountain Elaenia  X
Dark Pewee  X
Yellowish Flycatcher  X
Three-wattled Bellbird  X
Brown-capped Vireo  X
Rufous-browed Peppershrike  X
House Wren  X
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren  X
Black-faced Solitaire  X
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  X
Clay-colored Thrush  X
White-throated Thrush  X
Flame-throated Warbler  X
Black-cheeked Warbler  X
Blue-gray Tanager  X
Silver-throated Tanager  X
Blue-black Grassquit  X
Yellow-faced Grassquit  X
Chestnut-capped Brushfinch  X
Rufous-collared Sparrow  X
White-naped Brushfinch  X
Flame-colored Tanager  X
Yellow-bellied Siskin  X

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S29527108