Saturday, September 5, 1998

Blue Seedeaters in Cerro Campana

Dannie George et al saw the male Blue Seedeater at Cerro Campana. A pair of White-tailed Hawks and a few warblers were also reported.

Our crew of four went to Cerro Campana on Saturday, September 5, looking for the Blue Seedeater, migrant warblers, the Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, and the red-crowned Ant-Tanager. The latter species was on Mark Letzer's hit list. Mark was visiting from Baltimore, and has birded extensively in Panama, but had never seen the tanager. The others in the party included Maria Allen, Sue Follett, and Daniel George, the undersigned.
The real objective of the trip was the Blue Seedeater, last spotted by Sandy and Wally Murdoch, and Maria Allen, Saturday afternoon, August 8, 1998, along the road beyond the INRENARE office. This was the weekend of the PAS fieldtrip to Cerro Campana. The group was also armed with information from the former Fieldeditor, Dodge Engleman, with precise instructions where to find the Blue Seedeater in the park gardens. His instructions follow: "Go to the Quonset hut HQ up there in the forest at C. Campana. From there there used to be a short cut trail back to the road that comes from Wolf's place. It's overgrown now but you can find the start and just wonder around in there going by to check out any fairy bamboo you see. Listen for the little sparrow like chirps. If you have a tape recorder, play the Black-crowned Antpitta tape as well, as one lives in there too. That's where we used to see the seedeater and the last time we were up there we had a "probable" fly across the road at that place."
By 7:00 A.M., the group was standing at the Park office, signing the log and enjoying a second cup of coffee. With the widened highway, it is possible to be at the Campana turnoff in 50 minutes. The road up the hill (seven kilometers) is another matter: it is as rough as ever. A high-clearance vehicle is a must. To reach the park entrance beyond the microwave towers, a 4WD vehicle is required. However, the alternate entrance from the highway at the whimsical sign, "No Estoy", on private property, could be used by anyone not having 4WD capability.
Maria and Mark had thought they heard the finch in the area immediately below the park office, in the grassy fields that slope down and away from the road. So we retreated to that area and began playing the call. No luck. Then Mark spotted a Buteo land on the rocks below and commented on the white tail. Soon we were all enjoying good views of the White-tailed Hawk. After several minutes the hawk lifted off into a breeze and was joined by another one. So we watched two White-tailed hawks soaring out of sight. This is only the second sighting for me from this area. We all agreed that this was a good start to morning birding. There was no response from the finch, and in spite of our best efforts at several other spots, we did not see it on this trip.
We continued on to the area where the Blue Seedeater had been seen along the road, and made seveal stops. Finally, at 0.8 km from the park office, at about 2,000 feet elevation, chipping noises turned into a male Blue Seedeater, seen by all from 20 feet away, flitting in an out of dense foliage in a forested area adjacent to the road. My advice to anyone looking for this bird ("Rare and very local") would be to counsel patience, as I had returned twice before to look for it. It was seen first in the afternoon, then almost a month later in the morning. It is possible that it is resident in this area. After getting good looks at it I do not believe it would be possible to confuse the male with any other species. The female however, is another matter as Ridgely states that it "resembles the female Lesser Seed-Finch in color"
We proceeded on to the park, leaving the cars at the entrance by John Wolff's house. There was not much activity at the pine trees near the road. We walked into the park, enjoying the cool morning. On the lower trail, near the garden driveway, we espied several Red-crowned Ant-tanagers, including both the male and female. Final tally of migrants in the park, in order of sighting, included the American Redstart, Black-and-white warbler, Ceruelean Warbler, and Canada Warbler. These were all single sightings. The American Redstart (female) was seen on a previous visit on August 29, 1998. No Blue Seedeater was seen in the park.

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