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.