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:

Juvenile Hawks at Fort Sherman Panama

Juvenile Savanna Hawk
Juvenile Savanna Hawk
Juvenile Common Black-Hawk

So I go on BirdForum to post some migration stuff and the post meanders. One of the members posts a vacation report he wrote for Panama after I had asked some questions about Pipeline Road.  In the report he mentions a Savanna Hawk he sighted between Colon and the Gatun Locks.  What? 
Last year, I saw what I thought was a juvenile Savanna Hawk on one of my walks.  I got fairly good shots of it and after reading my field guide, went on line to see images of juveniles. They were similar in many ways to juvenile Common Black-hawks, a very common bird in my jungle yard.  The Savanna would be unusual, so I conned myself into believing I had a Common Black-hawk. Now, someone says he saw one close to my neck of the woods.  I go through my photos and find last November's photos.of the bird. I search images again and read the guide again and think I do have a Savanna! I wanted confirmation though, so I put some photos on the ID forum and got confirmation. Lifer#915 Many thanks to the knowledgeable birders on the site.

Common Yellowthroat

It rained all day today so I went through pictures and caught up on some things I had questions about.  One of those things was a bird I saw yesterday while watching a pair of  Common Yellowthroats. It looked like a Common Yellowthroat, but I didn't see any white around the mask. I looked up Common Yellowthroats and was surprised to find that it is rare here.  I have seen them three times that I remember; once last year and twice this year. Last year I saw a pair a Playa Diablo. I really didn't think much of it. They are common at home, and I just added it to my Panama list without looking anything up--Oh, that old thing? At the time, I thought they were building a nest. If memory serves, I think he had nesting material in his bill. I'm kicking myself now, but then, I was too interested in other things. I remember they were noisy and seemed to want to distract me.  I don't even know what the date was. I did try to get a picture or two, but they were bad.  I don't know if I deleted or not.  I'll go through and hopefully I'll find them and I will get a date.  EDIT:  Found the photos--December 29, 2010.
Ridgely mentions that small numbers are regularly seen on both sides of the canal.  My book is a 1984 edition so I thought maybe the Yellowthroats aren't so rare anymore?  I went online and found a Panama bird list on Wikipedia.  It lists them as A (accidental).  That can't be right.  I looked at the bottom of the page and it was updated April, 2011.

There is a Yellowthroat without white--Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, but it is only known in Bocas Del Toro.  I wanted to go back today and see if I could find it again, but it rained all day.  I saw it in the evening yesterday so most likely I just didn't see it well enough to see the white. I saw a male Common Yellowthroat at the same time a few feet away very well. The female was across the road near the other little run-off creek.

Confounding Empids IV

November 8, 2011
The Empidonax seem to have gone.  I saw what I believe was a Pewee at the little river today.  Even though I didn't hear the bird call, it just didn't behave like my little unidentifiable friends. It sat lower on it's feet and sallied out to return to fairly high and exposed preferred spots. When it returned, there was no wing shuffling and it didn't lift it's tail except once; a slight tail lift for a second. Balancing rather than a lift?  Now that I am a bit educated on the Empids here, I will keep an eye out this winter.  The Alder is supposed to be gone from Panama in winter. The Acadian is supposed to winter here and is the most common Empid in the canal area.  I guess I just must have missed them last winter.
I really believe that what I have been seeing so much of every day this month was the Alder. I have not seen one since the 28th and I miss them. I have also not seen or heard a Northern Waterthrush my last few outings.  Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks seem to have filled the void.
This guy was perched higher than usual and more exposed,although he came from a shrubbier area and flew up into the palm after he saw me.
When  I put some photos up on BirdForum for help, a few birders came back saying that depending on the photos it might be possible to ID a Willow/Alder with images. They gave links to a very complex formula for measuring wings and bills. However, it was pointed out somewhere that measurements of the birds could be overlapping and extreme birds of either species could measure as each other. It seemed too complex for this simple naturalist's pea-brain and I ruled that ID method out.
That was then.....I have a fairly good shots of a few Emps now with tail feathers spread and bill at a measurable angle. Of course it couldn't be the wings spread. 
As I was contemplating editing the photos and getting out the micrometer, some Arlo Guthrie words popped from the folds of my aging grey matter:
'8x10' glossy, color photos with circles and arrows on the back of each one.'  The Imps have driven me over the edge.  I will wait for ID.  There are no Alders in California and I'm pretty sure there are areas in the East where there are no Willows. Patience is a virtue.

Here is an October 28, 2011 note that I never posted (written on 29th):
The Empids are still here, still silent.  I have come to terms with the fact that I will not get to list them and I am just enjoing watching them.  Yesterday, I was watching one perched on a chain link fence.  I was willing him to talk when left his perch and flew across the field the fence surrounds.  I watched him as he dive-bombed another Empid sitting on the fence on the other side. There was loud bill-snapping and wings flapping as they fell toward the ground locked in battle.  They broke apart before hitting the ground.  One flew into the trees of the forest and the second was in hot pursuit.