Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sticky in the Pipeline

Tuesday July 31
Breakfast at 6.00, first stop Ammo Dump lakes to try to view the White-throated Crake. Success. It was carefully building a nest, standing deep in a reed clump, pulling the reed fronds into a neat hole. Never wholly visible but good for a crake. Digiscoping practice again.

Michael  (guide) loves using my Powershot, it's a job keeping it to myself. Pam and I had him to ourselves to-day, in the open topped Birdmobile - blown to a mess as we drove along the main road and across the one way bridge before Gamboa.

Gamboa one way wooden bridge across Chagres River. Panama Canal and railway on left.

The Birdmobile parked  at the Ammo Ponds. Saw a 3 metre long Nile Crocodile there to-day.

Signs of storm damage everywhere after yesterday. Wet, muddy red puddles along the 'world famous' Pipeline Road. Why world famous? We'd never heard of it. Probably because it gives access to deepest rainforest ,otherwise inaccessible. To-day, it was very wet too. The pipeline was built by the Americans as an insurance policy in case the canal became unusable for some reason. It was never used. All we saw of it was a rusty metre long length hidden in leaf mould. It's only about 18 inches in diameter. Very good birding though.
The strategy was, walk a mile or two, Michael went back for the vehicle, we drove a mile or two and repeated the pattern. Michael doen't use a recorder, he whistles everything in himself. He's fantastic - especially at Howler Monkey noise. Ron recorded him doing it, wish I had. My baby recorder was another piece of equipment I didn't carry in the cause of lightness in the heat. My waistcoat with its myriad useful pockets was a layer too far, one small shirt pocket had to suffice - Powershot camera and tissues.
We saw some great birds to-day, including new ticks, Grey-headed Kite

Very dark in the forest. Sorry!
Slaty-backed Forest Falcon, Whooping Motmot, Black-breasted and White-collared Puffbird, Brown-capped Tyrannulet and Mangrove Swallow.
A chance to photograph Common Potoo to-day, high on a dead stump, peering down its nose at me.

Pam on the Pipeline Road
The afternoon expedition was to Gamboa Resort Village where we spent an enjoyable couple of hours wandering around seeing some lovely birds, lizards and bugs.
I think I'm going to have to finish this disjointed entry another time. We're both very tired, Pam's already retired to the bedroom - at 8.45 - we're leaving for the Lodge at 10 in the morning and have a roof top date here at 6 a.m. !
Some additional photos.

Gartered Trogon, split from Olivaceous.

Basilisk Lizard in tall grass but with erect crest and back.

Grey-breasted Martins and Bay-headed Tanager

Monday, 30 July 2012

Stormy Birding - Spasmodic

Monday July 30
It rained all night and, didn't ease until 8.45 when the ever optimistic Alex prodded us into action. We had been up since 5.30........... The Texas group was also leaving to-day, we were surprise when two of them joined us in the Shrike-vireo. After the seats were sort of dried, we climbed on board and made our way to the Pipeline Road, built by the Americans but the pipes were never used. Basically its a driveable track through rainforest. 
We were sodden by the time we got to the entrance. With some difficulty,  I'd put an umbrella up  against the wind on the open top, which helped a little. My right leg and back were the wettest bits. What were we doing? 
The first half an hour was wet, birdless and mosquito buzzing. We were eaten alive. Dozens of them sheltered under my umbrella with me so that had to be furled. Pam went back for the repellant and arrived back in a truck driven by Michael. He'd come to pick up the two Texans (Thank God) and drive them to the airport. Even the pair from Oregon disliked them. We've always liked previous US citizens that we've met birding.......They were loud and brash, filling every space. Pam objected to them eating all the nibbles before we returned each evening !!
Alexis also returned with them in order to drive our vehicle back to us and further up the road. 
Parking the vehicle in a small clearing, Pam spotted a Plain-brown Treecreeper and, under it a White-whiskered Puffbird. My first photographic opportunity.

The with flash shot shows the white whiskers viewable head on but, the colouring is odd.

The rain eased and we saw birds. Our first Mealy Amazon Parrots feeding avidly along with Red-lored in a fruiting tree. Good to compare them. A Double-toothed Kite hunched over a nearby bough. A Sloth hung on an adjacent branch. Seeing the Parrots well in the scope was a bonus, they usually fly  through overhead, squawking.
Most exciting of all was a very good and extensive view of a Northern Tamandua (Lesser Ant-eater) high up in a tree. I didn't expect that. They feed on the Termite nests found near the canopy. Lovely views as it made its way along a palm frond which they use as a bridge. Neither of us had our camera, we didn't want them to get wet. Fantastic.
After turning round, two new Hummers zipped by, Long-billed and Stripe-throated Hermits, the first large, the latter very small. Not exactly crippling views.
Pam found a splendid caterpillar on track-side vegetation. No-one knows its parentage but it's probably a moth. I broke off its leaf, carrying it part of the way before Pam took over, we were able to photograph it before returning it to a suitable plant.

Pouring with rain, we rode back inside again, did the morning's list with Alexis and made our farewells  before he left for a couple of days at home.
Over a solitary lunch, we're the only two left until to-morrow, a tremendous storm erupted. Torrential rain and a strong wind sent the staff scuttling to close all windows. Michael was due to take us out this afternoon but we politely declined. It hasn't stopped raining yet and it's gone 5 p.m.
I have spent the afternoon catching up with my Blog and photographs,  Michael helped me caption the latter.
Nowhere have I mentioned that we shared Norwich airport departure lounge with the entire Norwich City first team squad, trainers and Manager. Dressed in smart team Tshirts and track suit bottoms before flying to Glasgow for a friendly match against Celtic (they won 1-0).

Semaphore Hill and Ammo Dump

Sunday July 29
A late breakfast to-day after two 5.00 a.m. ones !! Lie-in until 6.30. We spent the morning 3 hours walking down the steep, moss -slippery, 2K track from the Tower to the road. After overnight rain, everywhere was dripping. We saw some good birds but, typical of forest birding, not often and not in any number.

It's steeper than it looks here.......
I'm so behind with writing this Blog that I'm having trouble remembering the day and what we did, let alone the birds. I need to consult my day list... I see that we added Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Checker-throated Wren, both Chestnut-backed and Spotted Antbirds, Olivaceous Flatbill, White-breasted Woodwren, Buff-breasted Wren, Grey-headed Tanager and Brown-hooded Parrot to the trip list. Fancy that ! Both Red-and Blue-crowned Manakins were disappointingly drab.

In the afternoon we drove to the Ammo Dump Ponds and its environs in the Shrike-vireo Birdmobile.

 It was - and still is - a real Ammo storage facility the other side of Gamboa, across a very rustic looking bridge across the river. the railway line running alongside between us and the canal.

 It was a very dull, murky afternoon

Another view

A short walk towards the forbidden entry, gated dump, birding as we went. A Yellow-tailed Oriole was a new trip bird, digiscoped a t least 200 metres away. Alexis' small Leica scope is good.

Returning towards the vehicle, a movement in the grassy verge became the normally shy and elusive Grey-necked Wood Rail, making the most of an ant swarm. It was very briefly joined by its mate and, briefer still, two chicks.

Amazing shots with my small point and shoot.
I really wanted to see a White-throated Crake found beside the small lake, it called well but remained hidden. A Rufescent Tiger-heron showed neck only, wading in the tall vegetation.

We saw several Flycatchers, including Rusty-margined, Panamanian, Fork-tailed, Lesser and Greater Kiskadees, Social and Streaked. The diminutive Common Tody-flycatcher which I saw in the lakeside bushes was a trip tick.

A Ruddy-breasted Seedeater female swayed atop tall railside reeds.
It started to rain so Pam and I turned down the open air option and hoicked ourselves into the truck for the short trip back for supper. It poured down all evening.
We spent their last evening here with Ron and Kate, laughing mostly, both very good company. They go on to the Lodge to-morrow, David went yesterday. We shall join them on Wednesday.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Hummingbird Profusion and Confusion

July 28
Another breakfast at 5 a.m., away at 5.30 day. Just Pam, David and I led by Alexis and driven by.....someone else.
We drove for almost two hours, the latter part a climb through pine forested hills to Cerro Azul. After a rest stop, the vehicle was parked and, we walked steeply downhill for the next hour and a half. A bit hard on the knees as there was loose gravel and an uneven surface. Good walking conditions, a lovely breeze. Not so good for birds, they were keeping low, plenty of good viewing though. Excellent views of Trogons, which we both love. I wish they wouldn't always sit with their backs to the light.....
Next stop was a surprise. A home amongst the trees -  the whole area is a private estate of houses set on steep, thickly treed and vegetated slopes . We were greeted by the owners, an American couple who had recently re- located from Florida for the perfect climate. We were comfortable all day in the relative cool.

Pam's photo
Taking a walk around the side of the house, we ended up sitting on their back porch, viewing the - at least  - a dozen hummingbird feeders surrounded by 30+ buzzing, quarreling, actively feeding, Hummers of twelve varieties. 

Pam's photo
The profusion and variety led to our confusion. This was all a surprise to me, I hadn't carried my long lens. I could only use my 275mm and no flashgun in the deep shade. I loved the whole experience but trashed most of my photographs. In addition to rhe hummingbirds, the feeders were visited by a Woodpecker, Blue Dacnis, Hepatic Tanager, Clay-coloured Robin and Bananaquit.

Hepatic Tanager - female
 They use pounds of sugar per week to make up the 5-1 sugarwater for the feeders.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Thanking them profusely we went on to our lunch stop. This turned out to be another house, an unoccupied holiday home this time, set amongst lovely gardens on the edge of a valley.Comfort birding again, sitting overlooking the feeders, gardens and valley beyond. Whilst our lunch was being prepared by the driver........
Highlights were White Hawk, King Vulture, Black and white Hawk-eagle (Alex only sees it once or twice a year) and a new Hummer, Purple-crowned Fairy. Pam and I were the only ones to see the latter on its first appearance, thank goodness it re-appeared briefly for Alexis to confirm the sighting.The endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker put in an all too brief appearance with some, partially obscured, scope views.

White Hawk

Newly Hatched Cicada

Whip Lizard
After a delicious lunch, during which Alex rescued a Hummer which had crashed into a window, by blowing on it and dipping its tiny beak into water, we left for the journey back.

Both rescue photos taken by Pam
He repeated this survival routine with one I found trying to get out of the house and, again, hitting a window. They are so tiny and vulnerable.

We were due to have a night drive and needed to be back earlier than usual. Then it rained, a lot. The roads were running with flood water. It stopped as we reached Panama City so we had a quick look at where the river estuary meets the sea. The tide was out but Laughing Gulls, Neotropic Cormorants, Willets, Marbled Godwit, Whimbrel, Black-winged Stilt, Western Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandplover, Least Sandpiper and Grey Plover were identified. We now take the Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds for granted.
Too much rain, the night drive was cancelled, can't say that we were too disappointed, not a lot is seen.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Historic Occasion, Crossing the Canal

Friday July 27
Breakfast 5 am !. Off at 5.30. Our guide Alex, David, Pam and I. We seemed to drive for ages before reaching the Panama Canal, which was exciting. We weren't held up long before crossing the low bridge, able to view the enormous ship in the Miraflores lock, waiting for the cascading water to fill it. I tried some photos through the  tinted bus window.

After a longish drive we parked roadside opposite a large cecropia tree which proved to be very productive. The Achiote Road is the site of Panama's largest 24 hour Christmas bird count, the 340 species seen  by the Panama Audubon Society. We saw over a 100 species in the day.

Collared Aracari
Many birds dropped in for a feed on the new shoots, including Purple-throated Fruitcrow, a beautiful lifer for us. Unfortunately, it didn't stay long nor was I able to see it well enough. I turned to Alexis and said 'Now I'd like to see it front on, through your scope, with the sun on it'. Five minutes later, my wish came true. Its plum purple iridescent throat patch glowed brightly. Fruitcrows are members of the Cotinga family. I was about to digiscope it ..............it flew away.
Snacks appeared from the boot of the minibus. Little cheese and ham rolls, cake, drinks and a jar of 'Tower special' - a mixture of salted peanuts, smartie type beans (MandMs I later discovered) and, dried fruit. Surprisingly tasty.
Who was daft here? An adult Red-crowned Woodpecker appeared at one hole with food, a youngster poked its head out of another hole below its parent. An impasse which went on for some time. 

I love Puffbirds, they sit still ! This is a Black-breasted.
The next stop - in the middle of nowhere - was a  turnoff onto a rough track which led past some houses, farming fields and scattered trees which was, again, very productive indeed.
We lunched near a Ranger Station rest room on the way to the old Spanish fortress of San Lorenzo, a World Heritage site. Table and stools were set up and we feasted on Chicken Sandwich, salad, potato salad, and fruit followed by cake. They cater very well at the Tower - and away from it.
A small troup of Howler Monkeys a short distance up the road, sprawled along branches in the shade were great to see but hopeless for photography. I bet David managed though. He uses a 500mm lens and is absolutely brilliant with it, slick, fuss-free, unobtrusive and very able.
It was sad to pass through a large number of  houses  abandoned by US forces when they moved out, en route to the fort. They still looked substantial, why weren't they passed on to locals? What a waste.
The fort itself looked like a ruined castle, sat on top of a knoll looking down onto the confluence of the Chagres river and the Atlantic. 

Pam's photo
The sought Hummingbird did not appear, just a few Brown Pelicans and Neotropic Cormorants. The Yellow-headed Caracara flew before I could photograph it.
It was a 30 mins wait before we could cross canal on the way back. Nor could we see what was happening. A horrendous traffic build-up from several directions and the crossing is single track. 
It was a slow drive to the train station at Colon for our  5 p.m. departure. Part of the trip itinerary is a train journey back to Panama City on the Panama Canal Railroad, the first transcontinental railway in the Western Hemisphere  when it was opened in 1855. Great engine and very high roofed carriages on what is a designated 'Tourist Train'. 
We had to wait to be directed to our seats by an officious young woman. We reckoned the power had gone to her head, we all got the giggles as she took us through two empty carriages before she pointed at a table for four towards the back of the third. Why? Everywhere else remained empty..........
Another control freak took orders for drinks. She gazed about as we ordered then took off before we'd finished. She only brought the three beers and not my water. She had to go back for that, walking off rather than liistening to Pam ask for 2 bags of potato chips. She brought one and had to go back again for the second. Then, she hadn't got any change and, short of frisking Pam to make sure she didn't have any small change about her person, did all she could to resist taking the notes proffered. All very entertaining.
Scenically, the one hour, 47 mile, ride was attractive, passing by lakes and the canal. Dave and Alexis were facing forward and managed a glimpse of Snail Kite, we didn't.
TRAFFIC. Absolutely horrendous in Panama City at this time of night, we didn't get back to the Tower until 7.30.
The Texan group has always eaten all the nibbles, would there be any dinner left? Just about.

Boy, Was it Hot

Thursday July 26

Our day started awaiting dawn on the top deck of Canopy Tower - 6 a.m.
Keel-billed Toucans greeted the light but we were too late for the Bat Falcon perched on top of a nearby tree. David from Yorkshire has wonderful photos and a video of it. He carries a giant lens and several cameras with him everywhere.

We set off at 7.30 with guide Alexis, David and a lovely American couple, Ron and Kate, from Oregon. They've already been here a few days. We all got on famously.
Metropolitan Park  was the first stop, a flurry of birds greeted us on the first flat, not so heavily wooded section. The track then climbed...and climbed...through dense forest. We saw some good birds but they were few and far between. This, added to extreme heat and humidity on our first day made it rather uncomfortable. But.. we coped. Pam and I stopped before the summit ,the others added nothing to the list for their efforts. They all said that it was all really rough and much more difficult than their first couple of expeditions. Good company made it bearable. Alex is a good guide and very knowledgeable.
The best bird for me was a Great Potoo, sitting quietly in the shade, as they do, and a juvenile Short-tailed Hawk. The latter was well hidden high in the trees, Alexis is a marvel with his scope.

Juvenile Short-tailed Hawk
Back to the Tower for pizza and salad lunch, then Summit Ponds and Old Gamboa Road. Still very hot and humid and now overcast. Michael, a newer guide, joined us for the afternoon session.

Kingfishers at the ponds, viewed from the bridge and digiscoped through Alex' Leica scope.

About a kilometre later, the object of the walk. A superb Spectacled Owl perched in the shade behind a palm.

 Digiscoped again.
On the way home, an apparently oblivious Nine-banded Armadillo snuffled and busily dug its way, along the road verge - it tried the tarmac but gave up.

We got back to the Tower tired but happy.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Panama 2012. Arrivals and Departures

Tuesday July 24
This could be a shortened account... I'd virtually finished the two day write-up when it all disappeared - and it wasn't in drafts. We have a 6 a.m start in the morning too.

Rai dropped us off in plenty of time at Norwich airport. Just as well, KLM have changed their baggage policy so that it's the number of pieces you have rather than the combined weight which counts. We had four between us, counting the slim tripod bag and the equally small one for the two stools. The staff were bemused by it all so it took ages to sort - and Pam got stroppy. 

After a long walk at Schipol, Amsterdam, we were straight onto the plane for Panama. Only to sit sweltering on the tarmac for nearly one and a half hours for various technical reasons e.g a blocked loo. Our first all body scan was an experience, I could see my knees shining silver bright.
Long flights are to be endured for what lies at the end, at least the meals were good.
Panama airport is weird. No signs for baggage reclaim when we got off the plane and all our luggage had to go through the xray machine again. At least it was fast and the Hotel Ruande Aeropuerto minibus was waiting for us outside. Most impressive, we were handed a bottle of ice cold water as soon as we sat and the hotel was only a three minute ride away. Efficient reception and luggage quickly whisked away to our very nice room.
We walked to the bar to exchange our complementary drinks tokens for a beer (Pam) and a soda, before retiring to our room to share one room service toasted cheese sandwich, which came with chips and salad.

Wednesday July 25

Up soon after dawn to explore the grounds. The hotel rooms are around a giant square gardens with pool, trees, bushes and flowers. 

We saw Clay-coloured Thrush ( we twitched one in Texas),  a Variable Seedeater and a Squirrel from our room. 

After an early breakfast of omelette, fruit, yoghurt and coffee, we sat in the gardens. A White-whiskered Puffbird was a tick, the Tropical Kingbirds, Tropical Mockingbirds common, the butterflies beautiful but resisting photography.
Canopy Tower minibus turned up promptly at 10 to drive us from north of the city, through Panama City itself to the south and the Tower.  The city has towering skyscrapers, right up to the seafront. 

Pam's photo
We saw Magnificent Frigatebirds, Great-tailed Grackles, Brown Pelicans, Great Blue Heron, Neotropical Cormorants and many egrets, herons and gulls too distant  to ID. 
Canopy Tower is at the top of a steep hill and a private road climbing through rainforest. It was an American radar station, ideally placed to look over the treetops towards the Panama Canal - another historic tick. It looks like a radar station, a 4 floor metal tower , bare metal interior and steeply climbing flights of stairs linking the floors.

Our room is on the second floor, the one above us is the comfortable Lounge/dining area/library and ........internet access.
Our room is basic but lovely, the en suite is great. We spent the rest of the day birding from the lounge, climbing to the open top floor with its magnificent views and down to the car park to watch the hummingbird feeders. 
Blue-chested Hummingbird

White-vented Plumeleteer

Really exciting was a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth in a nearby Cecropia tree, gradually - over two hours - making its way down with frequent rests for naps. 

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

We identified, Golden-hooded Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, White-vented Plumeleteer (Hummers have great names) Blue-chested Hummingbird and a swift sp.
Two Red-lored Parrots flew by, squawking loudly, as we went for supper.
A shower, before supper with a very pleasant group of two American couples and David from Yorkshire, exchanging stories. They'd spent all day walking the Pipeline Road.
Tired now, I'll add the photos another time, when I do not know.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Good Moth Trap Session

Sunday July 22
At last, a forecast dry night. We had a good selection of moths, none unusual but several beautiful. Hawkmoths are always breath-taking. The Poplar Hawk has legs like Velcro, they're difficult to get out of the egg box and often cling to one's fingers.
I always try to photograph them in the egg boxes first, in case they escape before I can pot them. It doesn't make for an ideal background but putting them on foliage often means, Bye Bye moth.
I'll name them sometime.....we're off to Panama on Tuesday morning and I may be busy to-morrow.

Oh oh.....will not upload pics, will have to try on my laptop to-morrow - I oftern have this problem on AOL. I wonder if Google Chrome will work.

Elephant Hawkmoth

Very small, 2 cms wing span. Un-named

Buff Arches

Poplar Hawkmoth

Peach Blossom

Large Emerald

Spectacled Moth

Peppered Moth