PAS fieldtrip to El Real, Darién

A group of hardy Panama Auduboners spent last weekend braving weather and lodging and birding around El Real, Darién. After waking up at an ungodly hour on June 12 we made a quick stop at the bridge over Río Mono in the Bayano, where we heard a Barred Puffbird and nothing more. The Pan-American Highway is in excellent condition, and most of the 260 km from the Riande Hotel to Yaviza are freshly-asphalted, thus making it a pleasant four-hour drive. A stop at the marsh just out of Yaviza that had Large-billed Seed-Finches last November was also futile. After a quick lunch at the always-sweltering Yaviza we hopped on our boat and headed for El Real under a light drizzle. Ten minutes later we were being pounded by the heaviest of rains, that didn't stop until we walked into our hotel. During a lull in the storm, about halfway from Yaviza to the point where the Chucunaque River meets the Tuira River, Jan Axel Cubilla looked up from under his raincoat and saw a Black-collared Hawk. Not to be outdone, Guido Berguido's Advantage Tours group saw two of these while making their way from Yaviza to El Real later that day.
After settling down at humble Hotel Nazareno, most of the group walked out to the airstrip in search of Darién lowland specialties. The flooded field to the left of the road to the airstrip had a single male Yellow-hooded Blackbird (the only one seen during our stay). When spotted by Jan Axel, the blackbird was perched on the far side of the field, but that did not stop two birders in wellington boots from taking a closer look. The airstrip itself had two or three male Large-billed Seed-Finches singing from exposed perches, many Plain-breasted Ground-Doves (perhaps first records for Darién), a number of heard, unseen Gray-breasted Crakes, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (perhaps second record for Darién, first for El Real), and a voice-only Bran-colored Flycatcher. Then we went to the cemetery, where we had another voice-only bran-colored, Spot-crowned Barbet, Orange-crowned Oriole, a flock of Spectacled Parrotlets feeding at a Cecropia patch, and a male Lesser Goldfinch (perhaps first record for Darién). At dinner that evening we were serenaded by the calls of a Limpkin, locally known as la escandalosa, "a brownish kind of heron".
After a stormy night (metaphorically speaking) we hopped onto the car graciously arranged by Advantage Tours for our thirty-minute drive to Pirre 1, en route to Rancho Frío and the forests of Darién National Park. Fourteen years ago, this was a six-hour walk—and that was when the road was not as mucky as the one we tried to walk last November—but, again, this road is now in excellent conditions. Before we headed out we met Guido's group, which had the first of many Yellow-breasted Flycatchers, and then on the way we saw Crane Hawk and Laughing Falcon. Before hitting the trail we stopped to study a pair of Pied Puffbirds working a nest hole from a termite nest a few centimeters from the ground (and about a meter from the road) and a Red-rumped Woodpecker. A pair of mystery parrots that flew in the mist overhead might have been part of the two flocks of Saffron-headeds that Guido saw two weeks ago, but nobody got good enough looks to call them out.
The first half of the trail was full of puddles and devoid of birds, with a few notable exceptions: more orioles and barbets, plus a small flock of Yellow-backed Tanagers. Things got even more quiet once we entered the forest: the only thing that springs to mind was a male Green-crowned Woodnymph (plus a ten-minute dip in the Río Peresénico). We walked back to the road, had our lunches, and hopped back in the car for our ride back to El Real. Again we stopped when we met Guido's group, which at this time was taking naps and tending to their lists. The highlight of their day had been a Harpy Eagle carrying off a sloth, perhaps to a nest. Then we walked back to the airstrip, where we had more seed-finches, two Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, and a pair of Donacobius (courtesy of Guido).
Our last morning in El Real was spent on the road to Pinogana, which was also in prime condition. Not much of note: female Black Antshrike, Black Oropendola, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, Laughing Falcon... same old, same old. We returned to town for a hearty late breakfast, packed our bags and hopped on our boat back to Yaviza. Thankfully, this time the light drizzle remained a drizzle.