My Second First: Clay-colored Sparrow

December 3, 2011 Afternoon
Historic Fort San Lorenzo with the Chagres River in the background.
I wanted to take advantage of my time with a car and I knew I could drive the almost traffic free
San Lorenzo Road without having a nervous breakdown, so at 4:00 p.m., I left Gene to play cards and drove to Fort San Lorenzo. It's 9K from the marina.  I have only walked it once and ridden a bike twice. If I had a good bike, I would do it more often, but it's not fun on the fold-up type. If I hadn't had the car, I wouldn't have been able to go at the end of the day and I wouldn't have seen the Clay-colored Sparrow at the ruins. A first for Panama, and my second first.  I got confirmation on Surfbirds. Thank-you, again, Chris Benesh.  It's a pretty distinctive bird and even though I had never seen one (#925), I knew I had identified it correctly, but I had to get confirmation; it's not supposed to be here.  After confirmation, I emailed George Angehr of the Smithsonian Institute here and Darien Montanez of Xenornis. The Southern range of the bird is Chiapis, Mexico, so given our location, the idea that the bird might have been a stow-away on a ship was mentioned. I got four terrible shots.  Here is the best one:
Clay-colored Sparrow

The Xenornis post:

Boat-billed Herons

December 3, 2011
Boat-billed Heron
Look at those beautiful 'night' eyes.   
We had to go to Cuatros Altos today to get gas and we stopped at a marshy area on the right side of the road as we headed back to the Gatun Locks. Gene does the grocery shopping and I have only been to town twice since returning to Panama at the end of September.  I was shocked to see the devastation of this area. It looks like they've mowed with bulldozers. Many big trees and lots of shrubs are gone, leaving red muddy banks with sparse vegetation.  The bird viewing was good because many birds were concentrated in the areas where trees and shrubs still stood. 
I got Lifer#924 with a Boat-billed Heron; a bird I was convinced I wasn't going to see before leaving Panama.  I was thrilled to see them, but seeing them so exposed took away some of the joy.  I felt sorry for them. They are nocturnal and sort of secretive and now their hiding spot was no longer dense. The place I was looking was like an island of trees and shrubs in the cleared area and it was teeming with easily seen life since so much vegetation around it was gone.  A Coati-mundi ambled around and a two Red-tailed squirrels ran up and down trees as if looking for something. There were two Two-toed sloths.  One was high in a tree and the other was low, caked with mud. It seemed to be hanging strangely on to a limb, but I don't know, the two-toed seem to hang differently from the three-toed which is the one I usually see.  It didn't look like it was doing very well.  I wondered if its tree had been toppled and it had fallen into the muddy water. The wildlife struck me as disaster victims. 
Yellow-crowned Night Heron

Achiote Road, Panama

Collared Aracari
click photos to enlarge
December 2, 2011

Gene and I plan to transit the canal in mid-January and last week it hit me that I only had about six weeks left in Panama and I still hadn't made it to Achiote or Pipeline Road!  As luck would have it, I broke a tooth and had to see a dentist. The dentist is in Colon and I thought as long as we had to go to Colon, we could rent a car at the Budget rental at the cruise ship port.  By the way, the dentist, Dr. Ida Herrera, was great and she's a birder! She has an eco-lodge. I haven't been there, but I will post the url for people checking out accomodations in Panama:

We got the car for a week and I am birding with four wheels rather than two feet.  What a luxury!
Ruddy-tailed Hummingbird
Yesterday we drove to Achiote Road, but I really didn't see much different than I see on San Lorenzo road.  To be fair, we were driving and checking out the lay of the land and I didn't get out of the car enough.  I told Gene I was coming back without him so I could park and walk!
Welcome to Achiote, an environmentally friendly community.
We did see a Green Kingfisher and I have only seen one once before, at the Linton anchorage. Oh, and I saw some Yellow-faced Grassquits at the Toucan Visitors Center.  I haven't seen one in Fort Sherman, but I did see them at the Linton Anchorage.
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
We both went back today.  I think Gene came mainly because I planned to stay late and he didn't want me out there alone. I wanted to be there at dusk in hopes that I might see a Potoo.

It was a great day!  We walked some of the Trogon Trail and I finally nailed down a Song Wren.  I have seen flashes of them twice in Fort Sherman, and I was pretty sure of the ID, but I didn't see them well enough to be positive. I had great views today and listed them as Lifer #921. It was too dark for a decent photo.  I got a quick view of a Flycatcher who I heard way before seeing.  I'm still working on the ID.  As we came back out, I saw a bird fly up into a big tree next to the car and I got my bins on it-- Black-striped Woodcreeper! #922.  I was whoo-hooing that when I heard some very vocal birds down the road.  I saw some black birds going from tree to tree and I walked down the road keeping an eye on them.  Achiote is very busy and the drivers drive like bats out of hell!  I had to keep stepping on to the shoulder as big trucks and Red Devils roared by, honking as they passed to make sure I knew they were there. Anyway, I finally could get off the shoulder long enough to see #923 Purple-throated Fruit Crows very well.

I saw a few birds that I don't see too often:  Ruddy Ground Dove,  Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked Woody, and Golden-headed Tanager.

We drove home in the rain after dark.  A night bird did fly right in front of the car, but I don't know what it was.  Thank God we didn't hit it!  No luck on the Montezuma Oropendola or a Potoo.

November 28, 2011 Species List Walk

I know it's just a Tropical Kingbird, but I liked the photo, and I am the writer, editor and publisher.

Went out today from 1:00 to 5:00p.m. and only got rained on twice.  I took the little recorder I bought years ago but couldn't figure out how to work to make notes of all the species I saw.  It's too much to try and take out a notepad and pencil everytime I see a bird, but it's easy to push a button and say a word.  I am not proficient with the recorder, but I muddled through. It was another slow day in the jungle.  I don't understand why.  You would think that with the rains, sometimes heavy, during the night and sporadically during the day, that the birds would be out feasting when it is clear.
Today's List:
Black Vulture
Short-tailed Swift
Turkey Vulture
Common Tody Flycatcher
Keel-billed Toucan
Social Flycatcher
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Tropical Kingbird
Great Kiskadee
Palm Warbler-- First I've seen since last year.  I expect that the lawns around the marina will soon be covered with them again.
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-headed Caracara
Clay-colored Thrush
Palm Tanager
Rusty Margined Flycatcher(heard)
Tropical Mockingbird
Blue-Gray Tanager
Streaked Flycatcher
Common Black-hawk
Cocoa Woodcreeper
wing snapping of Manakins
Plain-colored Tanager
Bay-breasted Warbler?
Summer Tanager
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Magnificent Frigatebird
White-tailed Trogan (heard)
Slaty Antshrike
Spotted Sandpiper
Indigo Bunting
Gray-breasted Martin
White-tipped Dove
Smooth-billed Ani
Greater Ani
Variable Seed-eater
Baltimore Oriole
Lineated Woodpecker
Lesser Elaenia
Royal Tern
Blue Grosbeak
American Kestrel
House Wren
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The recorder worked pretty well once I got the hang of it. I hope to be part of the Christmas count this year and I will use the recorder rather than writing the list.  Things happen too fast around here at times.

Broad-billed Motmot and Smooth-billed Ani

Broad-billed Motmot
click photo to enlarge
Happy Thanksgiving!
The forest was very quiet today, it seemed everybody was dozing. The birds were farther into the forest and away from the edge of the road. The Howler monkeys were close to the road in several spots but they were quiet even when the San Lorenzo park motorcycle went by. Usually, when they hear cars and especially the motorcycle, they go into a howling frenzy.  Today, they hardly twitched.
Howler monkey napping on a branch.
Below;  Smooth-billed Ani dozing. The jungle beings were quiet and sleepy today.
I saw a Broad-billed Motmot near El Diablo creek and that was the highlight of a pretty dull day I didn't walk the Diablo path to the beach because two cars were parked on the shoulder of the road at the entrance.  If there had been birds out on that trail, there probably wouldn't be now.
Broad-billed Motmot
The clearings near the marina were active with the usual Kisakadees, Social Flycatchers, Tanagers, Smooth-billed Anis, Tropical Mockingbirds, Varigated Seed eaters, Indigo buntings and Tropical Kingbirds.  Overhead Black and Turkey Vultures, and Magnificent Frigate birds soared.
The Smooth-billed Ani has always struck me as sort of reptilian.  Even the neck and nape feathers resemble scales.  Maybe it's a shrunken version of what some prehistoric birds looked like? Anis are cuckoos, but are not brood-parasitic. They live in groups and  build a large, communal nest.  A nest can contain over 30 eggs. The eggs and nestlings are cared for by all members of the group. They have multiple broods in a year and the juvenile of previous broods help with caring for the nest. We have the Greater and and the Smooth-billed in Fort Sherman.

Laughing Falcon Again

Went to Kennedy and Toro Point again today.  I wanted to find the Laughing Falcon again and get some photos.  I got some yesterday, but he was in the shadows and the photos were bad.  I found him today and he was perched farther away, but the light was decent.  I got a few ok shots.  I posted one on yesterday's post and saved the good one for today's. 
The fierce, snake killing raptor!  Doesn't he look like he was painted by an Italian Renaissance artist? The scientific name for this bird is Herpetotheres cachinnans.  I think Falco rafaelii or Falco cherubinii would be a better name. ;)  My 'favorite' birds are the White and/or Sulfur-crested Cockatoos mainly because of their soulful eyes, but this guy is threatening the status-quo. 
Laughing Falcons are 18-22 inches tall.  Their feet and legs are heavily scaled to protect them against poisons snakes.  They fall upon snakes or lizards and grab them from behind the neck, sometimes they bite the head off.  They are not really very common in Panama and even less so in my area. 
Beach on Toro Point
I also went to Toro Point today. I've only been there about half a dozen times, but since I saw the Peregrine I've been back a few times this month.  The tide was out so I walked on the beach.  I saw 3 or 4 Semi-palmated Sandpipers, a Spotted Sandpiper, 2 Willets, a Great Egret, the usual bunch of Royal Terns, a small flock of Black-bellied Plovers out on the reefs and an Osprey, Laughing Gull and  Frigatebird over Limon Bay.
Black-bellied Plovers out on a reef.
Royal Terns
Tern photos were taken on a different day.

Laughing Falcon

Isn't he beautiful! This falcons main diet is snakes, but it also eats bats. I have only seen a Laughing Falcon once before; when I entered it on my life list on February 5, 2011.  I was also in the Kennedy Loop area.
November 21, 2011
The Least Sandpiper was still around today and I saw two Black-bellied (Grey) Plovers in the flooded fields near the lighthouse at Toro Point.  I went back to the breakwater to try and get a picture of the upper wings of the Zebra-striped Hairstreak Butterfly, but I couldn't find it.  As I walked on the breakwater, three Whimbrel flew over, going from Toro Point into Limon Bay. Got caught in a downpour on the way back to the boat.
November 22, 2011  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, RHIANNON!
Went out about 10:00 to bird for a few hours.  I just went to Kennedy Loop because I couldn't stay out long; I had to get laundry done. Not much happening today. There was a group of noisy Keel-billed Toucans, a pair of Black-chested Jays, a Cocoa Woodcreeper, White-tailed Trogons, male and female Blue Dacnis and the usual Tanagers. The highlight of the day was a Laughing Falcon.  I love Raptors!

A Tale of Two Sandpipers

On October 23, the same day I saw the Bay-breasted Warbler and Blackburnian Warbler grazing in the grass near Toro Point, I saw three peeps on the cement slab the molds for the breakwater 'rocks' stand on.  I was standing on the slab watching the warblers in the grasses around it and when they flew away, I turned to walk off and saw the peeps.  My first thought was plover, but that changed in a millisecond when I got the bins up and registered a whole bird.  They were sandpipers.  I thought how weird it was that sandpipers were standing in the shallow rain water pools on a parking area. I realize that many 'shore' birds are found in fields, but being a Californian and a sailor, I don't often see them like that.  Well, there is the Spotted Sandpiper who lives here at the marina and often strolls the lawns, listening and picking as if he were a thrush. I've also seen Killdeer in Arkansas and a few peeps in Australia that were in flooded fields close to the beach--but I'm used to seeing peeps on the beach--where they belong.
These peeps had yellow legs. Ah, that would make ID easy, there are only a few with yellow legs.  I thought I would get a few shots, then move around the leg of one of the molds and get a better look and better shots.  I slowly lifted my camera and got a few shots but they took off with a call (which I couldn't define now) and headed toward Limon Bay.
When I got back aboard, I pulled out my books and learned that Pectoral Sandpipers looked like big Least Sandpipers. Oh good, a lifer!  Even if I only saw them for a few seconds, I saw them!  Except.... the illustrations of the Pectoral Sandpipers had a two-toned bill. These appeared to be all dark. Still, these were big birds on longish legs, they were simply too big to be Leasts.  I have seen lots of Leasts and these weren't Leasts. The words of a few of my cyber-space mentors came to mind, something like, "Size isn't a good indicator in the field."  I looked at the lousy shots of the birds.  They were fuzzy and the angles of the birds weren't good. They were fairly close when I saw them and I don't know why the shots aren't good. Well, yes, I do know why they're not  good; it's because I really needed them to be good.
The Pectoral is described to be upright all the time, and these weren't. They weren't slouched like some peeps, but they weren't exactly upright, and there was the bill.  But, they were too big and tall!  I saw them at the same time as the warblers and they were not warbler size, my first impression was plover...they had to be Pectorals.  In the end, I didn't list them.

Today, I was doing laundry and while the washer spun, I thought I'd wander and bird. I hadn't even gotten to the fork to the loop when I saw the marina Spotted Sandpiper in the road ahead.  Wait, that's not him! That's really little.  A Least Sandpiper.  I instantly knew what it was even though it was on a flooded road and not a beach. It was tiny and delicate.  I also instantly knew that what I had seen before were Pectorals.  It wandered around me, searching the flooded road for morsels of some kind. Sometimes it came as close as five feet of me.  It wasn't at all skittish and I got really good photos and views. I had to leave and transfer the wash to the drier and it was still hunting.
Least Sandpipers Below
Back aboard, I went over the field guides again and went online again.  I did find a few images of Pectorals with bills that appeared uniformly dark, but most showed two-toned. The bill on the Least was really dark, really black, and it wasn't that dark on the Oct. birds. If the birds hadn't flown off and I had been able to see them better, would I have seen a subtle two-tone to the bills? I wasn't able to find detailed information about the bills on Pectorals; specifically if they might show uniformity in some phases or cases.
Above and below, Least Sandpipers.
I am certain that the birds I saw in October were Pectorals, but I can't get that from my photos and the photos aren't good enough to use even if I could find measurements that distinguish Least from Pectorals.  One of the photos does show the clear line between the breast and belly that is often mentioned in the description of Pectorals, but is that enough?  Leasts can also show a line. I also think the knees and feet of the Oct. birds look big and clumsy next to the Least Sandpiper.
When I saw the Least today, I decided I could add Pectoral to my list, and yet, it still isn't there.

Gray-headed Kite and better photos of the Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler
It's raining now, but it was a nice morning and I birded from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
I refound the Blackpoll and took some better photos.  It was still distant but the light was much better this morning.  There was only one Blackpoll so I would guess that yesterday, whatever was jumping around on the other side of the creek was not another Blackpoll.  The Yellow Warbler was still hanging out with the Blackpoll.
I walked to the little river at the entrance to San Lorenzo National Forest and saw most of the usual birds.
Yesterday and again today, I saw Black-throated Trogons.  I don't see them as often as the Slaty-tailed and White-tailed.
Weird fungus on the shoulder of San Lorenzo road.
I walked down the Playa Diablo path to the beach. On the way back, the unmistakable whirr of a hummingbird came close from behind me.  I turned to see a beautiful Hummer.  It appeared to be slender and two-toned green and dark blue, with the normal white area around the top of the legs. It visited some trumpet shaped flowers at the side of the path and was quickly gone. I think it was a Crowned Woodnymph, but I am not sure enough to put it on my Life List.  I will go back and hopefully it will visit the flowers again.

Back out on San Lorenzo Road,  I stopped at one of the many creeks and peered into the forest. I scanned the trees above the water for a Potoo.  Actually, I'm always scanning for one, even if it's sub-consciously. ;) .  Through the corner of my eye, I saw a bird land on a tree about 10 feet down the road and about 20 feet in.  It was fairly high in the tree.  I saw the underside of the tail first and thought it looked spotted and cuckoo-like (it was spread a little when I first saw it because the bird had just landed). I walked down the road a bit and tried to find it and couldn't. I walked back to the original spot, found it and took better markers---back down the road, and got a good view of the whole bird--a Raptor! A delicate Raptor. It almost looked dove-like except for the bill which was definitely a Kite. Back aboard Peregrine it was an easy ID--Gray-headed Kite. Lifer #920 I was able to get a photo, but it isn't very good.  The bird was fairly far into the trees and it wasn't light enough to get a good shot.  It was a great way to end a very nice day in paradise.
Gray-headed Kite

Blackpoll, A Rare Warbler for Panama

Blackpoll Warbler
November 18, 2011
I was up all night last night reading, writing and playing on the internet. When 4:30 a.m. flashed on the digital clock I decided to have coffee, wait for the sun to come up and have an early morning walk.  This is the second time this week I've done this.  Insomnia stinks but I might as well make the best of it.

 Unfortunately, it started to rain as the sky began to lighten.  I changed back into my pajamas and had a coffee with Gene when he got up. The rain stopped after our coffee and I got re-dressed and went out.  I only got to the old Handball Bldg.before the clouds let loose.

I ran for cover under the dilapidated covered carport. The area is a ghost town of the old American military complex. I stood under the metal roof for about 30 minutes and watched and heard birds from there: Plain wren, White-tipped doves, House Wren, Clay-colored Thrush, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatchers, Eastern Pewee, Variable Seedeater, Crested Oropendola, Panama Flycatcher, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Female Violet-bellied Hummingbird(?), Plain Tanagers, Blue Grosbeak, Smooth-billed Anis, Black Vultures.  When a break in the rain came, I headed home because it looked like more was on the way.  As I passed the cut cane clearings where several fresh water creeks drain to the bay, I saw some warblers jumping around in the cut cane.  There was a Yellow Warbler and something else.  Another Bay-breasted?  No. Well, maybe?  It was still overcast and not the best light, but I took a few shots.  There appeared to be two.  The one closest to me finally flew to the other side of the creek and down into the grass and I couldn't see him anymore.  I would have hung around or tried to get closer, but rain begain to fall and I hurried home.  I had a coke and crashed. 
After my nap, I down-loaded my grainy photos while Gene made Spagetti with Italian sausages in a tomato sauce.
Notice the feet.
I decided I had a Blackpoll Warbler and went the Fort Sherman bird list I use and it wasn't there. I got out Ridgely and he says the bird is a very rare, but probably over-looked, visitor to Panama. I've sure had my share of uncommon birds the last month and a half!  Fall plumages of  Blackpoll and Bay-breasted can be similar so I went back to my photos and went online to compare and make sure I wasn't mistaken. The legs and feet are a good way to distinguish. Blackpoll are yellow and Bay-breasted dark. Unfortunately, my photos had the bird sitting on his feet or not showing!  Typical. Then I saw one photo of the bird in a face forward shot showing yellow feet! I remembered there was a least one Yellow Warbler in the mix, but Yellow Feet showed wing-bars and was clearly not a Yellow Warbler.  I'm convinced I have a Blackpoll.  It is rare enough that I will get confirmation before listing. Whoo-Hoo! Lifer #919.
(Photo at the top of this post was taken the next morning Nov. 19.  It is better than the original--it shows the feet too!)
Edit:  Thanks to the birders on Surfbirds for confirmation. Here is a link to the post:

Spectacled Owl!

I got an Owl! I was walking on the path to Playa Diablo when I heard a bird call.  I stopped to peer into the understory and this guy flushed from a tree near the edge of the path.  I watched where he landed and went to check him out.  What a beautiful bird! This is only my fifth owl and I was thrilled to see him.  #918 Spectacled Owl.

Beautiful Day and a Mystery Bird

Yellow-headed Caracara
November 14, 2011
It was an extraordinarily beautiful day in the rainforest today.  We had a few days of torrential rains and it was so good to have blue skies and sunshine. The freshly rinsed leaves shimmered in the sunlight as a gentle breeze blew.  Every breath took in the scent of flowers and damp leaves and barks of hundreds of species of plants and I felt elated.  Have I ever mentioned how much I love this place? Some of the forest was flooded and I could hear a multitude of miniature waterfalls as the water sought the lowest ground and I could see water moving and shimmering as I peered into the forest from the road.  The flooded shoulders brought out the Northern Waterthrushes I hadn’t seen the last few outings.
I got a video of a Three-toed Sloth as it transferred from one tree to another via a vine, and one of a Blue Morphos that had  landed on a newly cut branches from a recent roadside  trimming.
While I was investigating a very vocal bird, an Ovenbird popped up from the densely covered ground and perched at the top of the giant canes to find out what all the noise was about—Lifer #916. I caught only a half a second glimpse of the noisy bird because it stayed high behind leaves and branches.  My impression was pale rufous/buffy breast, grayish head and a supercillium of light gray or white, didn’t get bill shape.  I did take a video just to record the call so maybe I’ll be able to ID that way.  I only have, what? 950 something bird calls to listen to.  With my luck it will be the last bird on the list.  No doubt it’s something I’ve heard and seen but forgot. The call sounds like, “I don’t get you.”  Or, “Machu Pichu”.   I seem to remember someone using Machu Picchu as a call sound, but I have read volumes of bird stuff and can’t place this right now.  It will hit me at 3:00 in the morning one day.  
On the Playa Diablo path I saw movement in the dense mangrove and palm covered strip between the path and the small river that runs to the beach.  I focused and watched a Grey-Necked Wood-Rail pick its way around roots and stalks.  Of course, it had to be that rail rather than any of the other possibilities because I saw it in Costa Rica on our Visa run trip. Even so, it’s great to see secretive birds.  The Diablo path did give me a new bird though;  #917 Little Hermit Hummingbird. 
The biggest mystery of the day was a bird I call the ‘calico warbler’.  I have seen it a couple of times, but never well.  I thought it must be an American Redstart in blotchy plumage. Today it was more subdued than usual and it sat on the outer branches soaking up the sun for long enough to get a couple of photos.  I haven’t got a clue!  I kept going back to American Redstart, trying to make it fit because I don’t know where else to go to, but it doesn’t fit.  I’ve been through the Panama book and Sibley’s Western and National Geographic North America and I am at a loss.

Click photo to enlarge.
 The tail is fanned and shaped like a Redstart, and the held down wing position looks good, but the bill (at least in this photo) looks Tanager-like to me. The American Redstart would not have a black belly and it looks like the yellow is not just at the base of the secondaries, but covers all the secondaries and looks like the primaries as well. What about the yellow on the mantle? And the throat? Wouldn't a male Redstart at this stage show red rather than yellow? 
Terribly blurry shot, but I post it because it shows the yellow primaries and throat. So what is it?
EDIT:  November 18
I have decided it must be an American Redstart but I'm going to post it on Surfbirds to see what is said.
Thanks to Alex Lees on Surfbirds for solving my mystery. The bird is a juvenile White-shouldered Tanager.  My book doesn't show the juvenile phases and I would never have figured this out!  A link to the ID post on Surfbirds forum: