Sunday, July 18, 1999

Brown-chested Martins beyond Chepo

Large flocks of Brown-chested Martins were seen on the transmission lines besides the Interamerican Highway beyond Chepo.

The Brown-chested Martin is the only austral landbird that migrates to Panama on a regular basis. Therefore, it is a shame that many birdwatchers still need that check on their life lists. But now, and for a limited time only, you can add this tick to your list.
This morning, Loyda Sánchez, Judith Anguizola, Karl & Rosabel Kaufmann and Darién and Camilo Montañez went east of Chepo to see if they could find the species and, sure enough, their effort was rewarded with not one or ten, but about a thousand individuals on large flocks. The first one, of about 200 birds, was seen perched on the wires beside the road about halfway between El Llano (just past the turnoff to Nusagandi) and Polin (the next town on the Panamerican Highway).
That flock flew off after a short while and joined an even larger flock (maybe 300 birds) on the high voltage transmission lines on the distance. Further along the road, a few more flocks of various sizes were also seen on the wires, while a few extra individuals were detected in flight. The Brown-chested Martins are similar in shape to the more common Gray-breasted Martins (of which very few individuals were seen on the trip, and only one mixed in with a flock of Brown-chesteds), but is brown, and not glossy purple, on the back. They are white below, with a distinct brown band across the chest and brown spots extending down the center of the breast. They look like a large version of a Sand Martin (a.k.a. Bank Swallow), a species that normally would not be in the country this time of the year.
So, hurry and get your martins before they depart to their breeding grounds on southern South America sometime in September. It shouln not be a difficult task, as the huge flocks would be hard to miss.

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