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Panama: Hawks in Migration Part 2

2005-04-04 - 8:43 a.m.

This is Part 2 of my March 2005 trip report to Panama. To start with Part 1, please click here.

March 22, 2005

all photos 2005 by Elaine Radford and Roger Williams

all rights reserved
common black hawk
common black hawk, head detail
note the white at base of bill--
a field mark of the common black-hawk
Today we got off to an early start by driving down a "dangerous" road guarded by police. I figured it was just a jobs program, but apparently there really are some gangbangers around -- but I'm getting ahead of myself, since we didn't observe any blatant bad guys until Saturday. A pair of Pearl Kites was sitting right out by the road, as pretty as you please. The large female sat particularly close and tolerated our admiration and even our photographic experiments. Digiscoping with the Epson AKA the oldest digital camera ever made and Bill's scope had less thrilling results than we might have hoped, but we did get better later.

female pearl kite For some reason as we rode through Panama City, I got to telling A. about my friends the car-wreckers from my trip last year, and I think I put the idea of car problems into the astral, because, boom, we hit a "gringo trap" along the side of the road and got a flat tire. The rental car company was super quick and efficient. I can't help remembering that it took -- what? -- three days for our friend's wrecked car to get towed in England. But I suspect that our friends' inefficiencies may have had something to do with that.

My biggest frustration at the break-down spot was the Euphonia I saw that I couldn't identity. I saw it well enough, but it moved too quickly, and I forgot just what pattern of yellow/black/yellow I was supposed to be looking for. I'm thinking Thick-Billed but I'm not counting it since I'm not certain. I looked at the throat but apparently I didn't see it.

male white-necked jacobin, canopy tower feeders Soon we were back on the road toward the Canopy Towers, where we were invited to enjoy a terrific lunch. It was a tuna casserole that didn't look good but which tasted fantastic, which is not necessarily the way it always works with tuna casserole. Apparently the owner's wife is the Martha Stewart of Panama, I think with her own TV cooking program. The rice was obscenely good also. I'm afraid I may have made a pig of myself.

Some highlights:

  • A bad-tempered Turkey Vulture chased a Black Vulture off its perch as we admired its white neck ridges, proof it was a local and not a migrant.
  • A humongous migration after lunch, with several waves including a wave of Mississippi Kites.
  • A Short-Tailed Hawk stooping on its prey with bright yellow feet down and ready to grab.
  • A non-bird guest star -- as we stopped by the Miraflores Locks to make dinner reservations for the next night, we had good looks at a wild agouti. They're still on my shit list though. female 
jacobin hummingbird
  • The hummingbird feeders at the bottom of the tower made for some tough choices -- run upstairs and watch the hawks, run downstairs and watch the hummers, lather, rinse, repeat. I think my new favorite hummingbird may be the Violet-Bellied Hummingbird.

March 23, 2005

En route to the Canopy Tower, we encountered a patient Bat Falcon who sat on an electrical tower near the road and tolerated our admiration.

We took a quick peek into the forest where we discovered a troop of Howler Monkeys as well as a flock of primping, preening Collared Aracaris. Those Aracaris were in a good tree -- Keel-Billed Toucan and the beautiful Cinnamon Woodpecker flew into that one as well to give us nice looks.

bat falcon At Canopy Tower, we were again torn between upstairs (the hawks!) and downstairs (the hummingbirds). At times huge waves of migrants pushed through -- thousands upon thousands of birds. A highlight of the hawk watch, if not the entire trip, was the displaying, calling Black Hawk-Eagles. They owned this forest, and they durn well wanted everyone to know it. One of the Black Hawk-Eagles was molting pretty heavily, and we got to recognize him whenever he popped up, but a few missing feathers didn't stop him from calling and displaying to beat the band.

A new hummingbird for the day was the odd-looking Long-Tailed Hermit. Bill said they don't normally use feeders, and this one seemed pretty nervous about it, but he did include two of the feeders on his rounds of the trees and flowers.

collared aracaris wouldn't stop fixing their feathers
don't know what the deal was with the collared aracaris, must have caught them fresh out of the bath or something, because they would not stop preening and primping so we could get a decent picture
We dined on the balcony of the Miraflores Lock restaurant while watching the big boats come and go. The sun actually set behind one of the huge ships. The Bat Falcon people sometimes see there didn't put in an appearance, but we were unworried because we'd had such a great look in the morning.

ship being guided through the miraflores locks at the panama canal
at miraflores locks before sunset
miraflores locks after sunset
after sunset--the fun never stops
March 24, 2005

from our boat in the panama canal
it isn't true that when you go boating on the panama canal the beach balls come up and try to capture you like in the prisoner but if it was true and i told you i'd have to kill you
In the morning, we took a boat ride in the Panama Canal. It was neat to see the Gamboa Resort area from a different perspective. Even more thrilling was the hunting Snail Kite. She dived, caught a large apple snail, checked it in the air, realized it was empty, and flung it down pretty much all in one smooth motion.

In the afternoon we explored the Colon area for additional raptors and other colorful birds. At a small cantina where Roger purchased a sixpack of beer, we spotted a good-sized flock of Wood Storks circling low.

rural panama cantina
hey, don't laugh, they had cheap beer and wood storks, can your local do that?
On the famous Achiote Road we found a puffbird, a barbet, and more colorful beauties. I don't know why, but I found something whacky in the idea of seeing a Scarlet Tanager and a White-Whiskered Puffbird only steps away down the trail from each other.

I can't eat three meals a day any more, not day after day, so Roger and I decided to take a break and just share a plate of bar food. We had the picada de pollo, which was some sort of grilled chicken, and it was really tasty. I bet it was healthy as well -- too bad about those French fries on the side! My Lonely Planet phrasebook says that picada is an Argentine word, but I figure Panama is pretty cosmopolitan.

oropendula bringing a pink shrimplike deal to the nest
chestnut-headed oropendula bringing a shrimp (?) to the nest, there were lots of howler monkeys with babies at this site also but the oropendula is cuter
As it happened, the Colon resort was having karaoke night in the bar. There is always something sad about karaoke -- and don't even pretend that you don't know what I'm talking about -- but the sad song is especially sad when sung by an 8 year old. Apparently going to the karaoke bar is a family event in wicked Colon. When I was darkly warned in Mandeville that I would be perfectly safe in Panama "as long as you never set foot in Colon," I didn't know that the crime they had in mind was drinking alcohol in the presence of juveniles.

The resort in Colon was pretty unique. They had incense burners everywhere, even in the rooms. Stained glasses, niches for figures of Mary and whatnot. I don't know if it was a deconsecrated former church or what the story was. Maybe the incense was for Easter but the stained glass looked fairly permanent.

detail, stained glass, colon resort
March 25, 2005

Roger took the morning off from birding to laze around by the pool. I suspect a rum and Coke may have been involved. In any case, the rest of us headed back to the Achiote Road. On the way, we had a long wait at the Gatun locks, which gave one of our party a chance to talk about Latin music with the people in the car behind us and which gave all of us a chance to add Gray-Headed Chachalaca, Saffron Finch, and Yellow-Bellied Seed-eater to the trip list. Perhaps the most touching moment for me was watching a male (OK, I'm assuming) Red-Lored Amazon tenderly feed his mate. And she was super-demanding of food, but he just kept producing more on request.

leafcutter ants
ah, leafcutter ants, the great moral lesson of panama, always rushing about carrying great weight and going great distance to do something which doesn't actually need to get done, hello, guys, there are leaves everywhere in this rain forest
Highlights of the day:

  • Finding out that the internet rumor claiming that alcohol is not sold on Good Friday in Panama is completely, totally, absolutely untrue -- at least in wicked Colon! My rum by the pool after lunch hit the spot.
  • Trogons aplenty, with my favorite being the male White-Tailed Trogon who sat boldly in the open and caught a huge walking stick insect. He even managed to eat some of it although it looked way too big and wiggly.
  • Howler monkeys and their cute babies.
  • Good looks at Three-Toed Sloth.
  • AT LEAST 7 Common Black-Hawks and I'm not talking dots in the sky, I'm talking up-close and personal
  • Both male and female Dot-Winged Antbird -- trust me, they don't make it easy -- but after much cuss and fuss, I finally saw the field marks on both birds although the female's red-breast took me by surprise.

    some of the thousands of broadwings overhead
    broadwings overhead--
    admit it, you thought part 1's picture was a hoax, it wasn't, people, we're talking serious thousands of hawks

    You have just read Part 2 of my Panama Migration trip report. I'll post the exciting conclusion soon.

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