Monday, November 1, 2010

More from Chiriqui and Bocas, a report by Ken Allaire

After my family hopped the bus back to El Valle early last week, I spent a few long days chasing some target birds from the Burica Peninsula through Fortuna to lowland Bocas del Toro. The first major highlight was a male Yellow-billed Cotinga found at the end of the road at Chorcha Abajo on 24-10; the bird was present but distant even for a scope view when I arrived, but I waited almost two hours for it to come in closely enough for a clear i.d. Thank you to Kilo Campos for his reports for this area, which gave me the faith to keep waiting!
On the 25th I visited the Burica Peninsula, but bad weather early in the day, combined with confusion as my Charco Azul access, served to limit my success. Nonetheless, the road leading uphill just before the Petroterminales access yielded a male Common Yellowthroat and a female-plumaged Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The water level on the Quebrada Mellicita was very high, so I could walk in for 100 yards or so (even with good boots), but still a Golden-naped Woodpecker was found.
On the 26th I made several stops in the Fortuna area en route to Bocas. Unfortunately the Verrugosa Trail was inaccessible due to major road work in the immediate area—all markers for this trail (excepting mileage) have been wiped out. Willy Mazu was slow, in part due to my late arrival, and in part due to my unfamiliarity with the area, but I did find a pair of Ashy-throated Bush-Tanagers. The best spot turned out to be the unnamed trail 900m beyond the Continental Divide Trail, where a pair of Ochre-breasted Antpittas repsonded quite nicely to playback (I collected audio). On the road edges I found more regular species such as White-bellied Mountain-Gem, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Rufous-breasted Antthrush, and Silvery-fronted Tapaculo.
Later on the 26th I visited Two Tanks Road near Chiriqui Grande a couple of times, and made a couple of passes on the Punta Peña/Almirante Road, each of which earned me a Snowy Cotinga (probably the same bird) near the 21km marker. A side road leading to the coast at Punta Robala found male and female Indigo Buntings (seen separately). The road leading to the left off Two Tanks as described in the Birdfinding Guide now leads through a garbage dump and a squatter’ colony, and gunshots were heard from the marsh beyond—it did not feel safe to me and I did not proceed. But the main road itself was productive, with two stops combined yielding Olive-throated Parakeet, Brown Jay, Band-backed Wren, Crimson-collared Tanager, Montezuma Oropendola, and Olive-backed Euphonia.
The 27th was spent entirely in the Changuinola area—I found the roads to Guabito and El Silencio largely unproductive, as what little forest remains is disappearing rapidly, and finding places to pull off the road is quite difficult in any case. There is a new bridge at the end of the El Silencio road that apparently supports a logging operation across the river, not a good sign for the forest that adjoins Wekso. The forest on and around the Sendero Ecologico and Finca 79 was by far the best area I visited, yielding Green-breasted Mango, Northern Bentbill, White-collared Manakin, Canebrake Wren, Gray Catbird, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Grayish Saltator, and Black-cowled Oriole. The bird of the day was a Palm Warbler flushed off the road as I drove through Finca 79—the bird and I both came to a stop in fits and starts, and it perched in a bush not 7 meters away from me and pumped its tail constantly while I watched from the car—it was in non-breeding plumage. I believe this is a first report of this species from Bocas del Toro. Later in the day a Nicaraguan Seed-Finch was seen on a side road while looping around the rice fields west of town.
A pre-dawn departure on the 28th earned me a Short-tailed Nighthawk, heard first and then seen in my headlights, a few km east of Changuinola. The area around the Continental Divide yielded a pair of Lattice-tailed Trogons (audio of two distinctive contact calls collected), two Black-and-white Becards, White-crowned Manakin (a Panama first for me), several Blue-and-gold Tanagers at point-blank range, and a Sooty-Faced Finch, which was becoming something of a nemesis bird. Kilo Campos recommended the spot for this (thanks Kilo!), at the bend just after the turnoff for the road to the Divide- it took repeated attempts but I finally got a response a bit further up the hill, and was able to call it in just before heavy rains started.
My last good find as I headed home was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that came off the road just east of Cerro Batipa, a molting bird that was lacking the long tail feathers.

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