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Panama: Hawks in Migration Part 1

2005-04-03 - 9:09 a.m.

Raptor Migration in Panama

--and a few fiesty hummingbirds too

kettle of broad-winged hawks
And every mosquito in the cloud a Broad-Winged Hawk!

All photos © 2005 by Elaine Radford and Roger Williams
all rights reserved

March 19, 2005

swallow-tailed kites were easily seen We knew it was spring break, but we were greeted by the security line from hell at 6:30 A.M. Yikes! They had to keep calling for people whose flights were leaving to come to the head of the line. Somehow we braved our way through the crowds to board our plane without incident. I was upgraded to first class, so Roger quietly slid over to my "priority" aisle seat and generously left the middle seat for the lucky stand-by who got the last seat on the plane. I'd heard that Continental had a poor record for upgrading Northwest elites, so I was pleasantly surprised by my own upgrade. It just goes to show that you never know.

We had a long layover in Houston so we checked out Continental's so-called President's Lounge. It was hardly a quiet oasis, but the complimentary bar made it pretty easy to tolerate the thundering herds of humanity -- even when some awful child changed the channel in the TV room from the animal planet to some sports thing. What child doesn't like animals?

I was pre-boarded with the other Elites on the IAH to PTY leg, but there are no international upgrades for us long-suffering Northwest customers, so I was in a coach seat. After I'd settled in, a man came over and said I was sitting in his seat. I showed him my boarding pass -- 10D. He had 10F. He then said, straight-faced, that 10F was the aisle seat.

Oh please. Does that ever work? Peachfront was not born yesterday, but I'm not going to get in a wrestling match with some creep twice my size, so I suggested that we ask the flight attendant. At that point, he grumpily told his wife to sit in 10F and stomped off in a huff. Eventually, he got some other sucker to swap into that seat. I hope he asked her more nicely than he "asked" me!

detail of mural, airport hotel This was a Bill Clark "Raptour," so Bill met us at the airport, and Roger also had a chance to meet a couple of the people who came with me to Kenya.

Our hotel room in Panama City was super-nice, with a patio overlooking the pool where a Saturday night barbeque was taking place. I was too pooped to take advantage, but Roger stopped by the bar for a quick nightcap, and he said they gave him a sample of the barbeque, so I didn't spoil his fun. I'm not entirely clear on why flying makes me feel so full, but it really does kill my appetite.

March 20, 2005

Before breakfast, Roger and I paid a quick visit to the small aviary in the hotel where a pair of Great Currasow were copulating lustily away while a second male watched from a high perch. Afterward, the female cooed and leaned forward for more attention, but the vain male was too busy preening his feathers.

captive great currasow male
only my hairdresser knows for sure
An agouti that was part of the exhibit came forward and marked me as part of his territory. How rude.

There was a Keel-Billed Toucan in a tiny round cage that restricted his movement, which was a little upsetting, but later on I would see that he had a broken leg being set. No doubt it was the only way to keep him from hurting himself before it can heal properly.

After breakfast, our group went in search of good views of the spring migration, soon finding countless birds in many kettles surrounding us on all sides. Of course the majority were Turkey Vultures, Swainson's Hawks, and the ever-popular Broad-winged Hawks, but we kept a sharp eye out for others. A small kettle of around 12 Mississippi Kites was very well seen.

some garden steps at the cerro azul house We didn't overlook the resident birds either. Whether it was a Giant Cowbird sinisterly lurking around the Chestnut-Headed Oropendula nests or a Tropical Kingbird harassing a Yellow-Headed Caracara, we had plenty of color and action. One flock of Black Vultures had an entire dead donkey at their party. I don't even want to ask.

a friendly or at least patient plumeleteer In the afternoon, we visited the Cerro Azul area where we could look down on the mountains in the distance and also enjoy the beautiful flowering gardens close at hand. There was a White-Vented Plumeleteer to guard the hummingbird feeders on either side of the house, and multiple hummer species, including the Rufous-Crested Coquette, using the many colorful flowers. There was an amusing moment of confusion when Rufous-winged Tanagers and Bay-Headed Tanagers entered the same tree, but Bill realized that we were looking at two different species and explained the differences in time so that we could see it while still looking at these beautiful birds. I spotted the one Speckled Tanager that we would see on this trip. In front of the house, Golden-Hooded Tanager parents brought food to their babies in the nest.

And don't forget the raptors. I saw my life Black Hawk-Eagle displaying with his tail up and my first King Vultures with their handsome white feathers. A pair of Double-Toothed Kites showed off in a display flight and, later, the female came and perched in a nearby tree so that we could enjoy a close-up look. It just doesn't get any better than this.

the crested caracara dreams
one day all this will be mine, mine, MINE
March 21, 2005

Today we went to a rice farm to see the feeding grounds of the migrating Swainson's Hawks, of which there were dozens in one area and hundreds in another area. In the afternoon, we searched for the Pearl Kite but no hay. That's the short version. Highlights of the day include such events as:

countryside where we searched for pearl kites

  • A Fork-Tailed Flycatcher feeding two big youngsters in the parking lot of the hotel. As I mentioned in my previous trip report, even the parking lots are good in Panama.
  • A nice-sized caiman sunning.
  • In the rice field we spotted Merlins and Kestrels interacting cautiously -- at one point a male American Kestrel and a male Merlin perched a short distance from each other in a sort of macho face-off.
  • A Swainson's Hawk dived for a rodent, missed, and a "lucky" Great Egret caught the rodent instead. I put "lucky" in quotes because the hawk chased the egret and forced it to relinquish its ill-gotten prize.
  • Another rodent-catching GREG wisely flew to the road near the van so that he could swallow and digest his catch in peace.
  • A pair of Short-Tailed Hawks performed a courtship display
  • A highly skilled White-Tailed Kite stooped to catch a rodent in one try butterfly species on mistflower
  • A less skilled White-Tailed Kite stooped many times with no success. This one also noticed and chased off a Zone-Tailed Hawk.

You have just finished reading part 1 of my 2005 Panama trip report. Part 2 is coming soon.

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