Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wedge-tailed Grass-Finches in Santa Fe, a report by Bill Adsett

On May 16, Charles Adsett, Fátima Hawthorne and myself found several individuals of Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch—and heard several more—on the grasslands of the upper southern slope of Cerro Tute. They were relatively easy to see since when flushed from their hiding places in the grass, they would often fly to low perches in bushes and elfin forest where they could be well observed. According to Ridgely, Francisco Delgado has reported them from two nearby sites, La Yeguada (surely not in the pine trees!) and Buenos Aires de Cañazas, so their presence on Cerro Tute is not that surprising.
Sadly, this is the exact site on which Santa Fe Energy plans to build a wind farm, under a concession to be signed with ANAM. This will cause considerable permanent disturbance to the area. Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch is known from only a few locations in Panama, always in undisturbed natural grasslands. Therefore, its days on Cerro Tute may be numbered, despite the supposedly protected status of its habitat within a National Park. Very likely this species is also present in the contiguous wind farm concession covering 72 sq km, belonging to Helium Energy
A couple of small hummingbirds whizzed past while we there, but we could not get an identification. They would be worth checking out.
Access to this area and to the summit of Cerro Tute is currently quite easy by dirt road, in a four-wheel drive vehicle. It is really worth going now both for the grass-finches and the spectacular unspoilt views, before they are (respectively) wiped out and ruined by the numerous wind farms planned for the area. To get there, from the Hotel Santa Fe drive south on the main road (towards Santiago). Just past a small bridge, at 0.7km from the hotel, turn right onto a dirt road. This gets quite rough further up, but is passable. Follow this road for 4.4km. At this point look for a path going up on the right-hand side, marked with an arrow painted on a rock. Walk up this path through the grassland where Grass-Finches can be found. Also note the curious and unique elfin forest in the gullies. If you find the path difficult to follow, head in the general direction of the saddle on the skyline just to the left of the almost bare rocky summit of Cerro Tute (that usually has a flag on it). This path eventually leads to the summit of Cerro Tute, but if you cannot make it that far, wonderful views towards the south can be seen all the way up, and from the saddle you get an excellent view of Santa Fe, the upper Santa María and Mulabá valleys, and other parts of the national park.
From the saddle, there is a path going down the other, forested side of Cerro Tute, but we have not explored this.
Regarding the road that goes through Altos de Piedra to El Guabal (see Where to Find Birds in Panama—page 168 onwards), the road is in good condition as far as Altos de Piedra itself where there is a short stretch that is in apalling condition. Lord knows why MOP did not fix this bit of road while they were fixing all the rest. A good reasonably high clearance 4WD vehicle is required to get through the deep mud at this point. Beyond that, the gravel road is fine again, all the way to El Guabal!
Also, we believe that Cerro Mariposa - referred to several times in the book - is in fact Cerro Delgadito.

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