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July 2013

"Anis, Aracaris, Anhinga, & also an Agami"


Collared Aracari


List of Birds during our Panama Tours - February '06

A List of Birds in Panama

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Panama


The following account written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:

Panama is an isthmus, that is a "land bridge" between two major continents. Birds, mammals, butterflies, and plants of those two continents, South and North America, mesh together in the relatively small, and certainly narrow country of Panama. 
During our tour, February 3-9, 2006, we traveled from the link between the two oceans, the Panama Canal, east into Darien Province
As we went east along the Pan American Highway, toward and in Darien, we were going closer to South America. The birds we saw reflected that. 

(By the way, one can not drive on the Pan American Highway, or any road, from Central America into South America. There's quite a gap in the highway in the region where Panama and Colombia meet. As one drives eastward in Panama, the Pan American highway dead-ends.)

Among the South American birds that reach their usual northern limit in Panama are the Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Black-chested Jay, and Greater Ani. These species, and some others, are routinely seen as far north, or west (depending how one views Panama) to the Canal Basin. 
Some other South American species are more likely to be seen in eastern Panama and the province of Darien. Those in that category that we saw included: Cocoi and Capped Herons, Red-and-green Macaw, Golden-green Woodpecker, One-colored Becard, Pied Water-Tyrant, and Orange-crowned Oriole

Some of the birds that we saw in eastern Panama are restricted, with a limited range, only to eastern Panama and adjacent Colombia. 
Such birds are: Double-banded Graytail, Black Antshrike, White-headed Wren, Black Oropendola, and White-eared Conebill. The last of these was one of our favorites. The species was in a small flock, active in the trees, rather reminiscent of chickadees, or bushtits. 
Their plumage was also somewhat similar to chickadees, with their black-caps. Nearby on a treetop branch, a black-and-white Pied Puffbird sat, as still as could be.      

One of the unique features of the Darien landscape, along the Pan American Highway, are the large Cuipo Trees. Easily distinguished, and with huge trunks, they are spread out across the countryside.

Not only is there that big tree in Darien, there are some big birds too. We saw, for example, Wood Stork, Red-and-Green Macaw, and King Vulture
And we also saw an assortment of other raptors, including: Gray-headed Kite, Hook-billed Kite, Pearl Kite, Great Black Hawk, Gray (-lined) Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Crane Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel, as well as one particular raptor that is quite rare in Panama, the Bay-winged Hawk (known as the Harris' Hawk in North America). We saw one, and we had a good look at it, perched in a tree quite close in fact to the road. In the book "A Guide to the Birds of Panama" by Robert Ridgely, it's noted that the species in Panama is "apparently rare", and that there have been 3 "old specimens", one of which, incidentally, was taken years ago near where our bird was seen in February 2006.

One could surely say that the best raptor (and certainly one of the best birds) of our Feb '06 Panama Tour was the Red-throated Caracara. That species probably has the unfortunate distinction of the being the Central American bird that has declined the most in recent years. It's been in all the Central American bird books, including those for Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama. But sightings in countries north of Panama lately have either very rare (in maybe Costa Rica), or non-existent (north or west of there). 

In "A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America" by Steve Howell & Sophie Webb, published in 1995, it's written that there have been "no reports (of the Red-throated Caracara) in over 20 years west of the Sula Valley (in Honduras)". That goes back to the early 1970s.
In the "Birds of Guatemala", Hugh Land, published in 1970, it was written that the bird was rare in the Pacific lowland of that country. Since that time, suitable habitat there for the species (forest) has completely disappeared. Also, in that book, it noted that the subspecies from Mexico to Panama was Daptrius americanus guatemalensis
More recent taxonomy (in "The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World") is different. 
The only species still in the genus Daptrius is the Black Caracara of the Amazonian region of South America. The Red-throated Caracara is now the only member of its own genus. It is Ibycter americanus, and, according to the recent literature, there are no subspecies. If that subspecies guatemalensis were still valid, it would be close to extinction.
In "A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica" by F. Gary Stiles & Alexander Skutch, published in 1989, it was written that the Red-throated Caracara "is only in that country where forest remains intact in the Golfo Dulce lowlands (of southwestern Costa Rica)". It had been, according to that book, at one time, "widespread and fairly common in moist and wet forests of both slopes from sea level locally up to 4,000 feet".   
In "A Guide to the Birds of Panama" by Robert Ridgley, published in 1989, it's said that the Red-throated Caracara only "seems to remain in Panama in any numbers in part of the eastern Panama province and in Darien". It's also stated that the bird "disappeared from the Canal Zone area during the 1950s and 1960s" and that it "was formerly known to occur in the Chiriqui province of western Panama".   
In South America, the Red-throated Caracara occurs where forest continues in the Amazonian region.  

Where there are Red-throated Caracaras (they're normally in groups), they're often heard before they're seen. They are loud and raucous. At a distance its call can be similar to that of a macaw
The most common call of the bird is a trumpeting and hoarse "khaaow", that is sometimes varied to "ca-ca'-o". That's what Stiles & Skutch wrote. 
Land wrote "the loud and harsh call sounds like the Spanish word 'cacao' with the first syllable repeated several times".       

During our Feb '06 tour in Darien, as we were in a boat traveling down a remote river, it was first the loud call of the Red-throated Caracara that caught our attention (as noted, at first sounding rather like a macaw). We continued further along the river, and then we both heard and saw the birds (there were a few) in trees on the west bank. At first, not everyone had the clear view they wanted of the species in the foliage. But evidently, the birds themselves wanted to be better seen, as they stayed still in the trees, even as our guide and boatman cleared away some lower branches that impeded the view. After a few moments of that "clearing away" activity, a wonderful view was miraculously had by all of that most-desired bird.              

The Crane Hawks during that boat-ride, on the other hand,  were seen very easily, as they were down low on the dirt banks of the river, probing for food. That unique hawk (the single member of its genus), with its long body and red legs, was of course a treat to see as closely as we saw it.     

Among other birds seen during that river boat-ride in Darien, there was an Agami Heron (that one is always a treat to see!), both Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers, Blue Ground Doves, a group of Purple-thraoted Fruitcrows, Cinnamon Woodpecker, White-headed Wren, and both Yellow-backed and Yellow-tailed Orioles
In the lower foliage, Greater Anis were by the river. 
In the upper branches of the trees, there were Collared Aracaris
On branches out over the river, and in the river itself, there were Anhingas

All 3 of the birds just mentioned, are with names (as you may have noticed) beginning with the letter "a", (ani, aracari, and anhinga). All of those names are from the language of the Tupi tribe of indigenous people in Brazil. Our boatmen, along the remote river in Darien, were indigenous people, not Tupi of course but the Embara tribe
It was all really quite an experience in a wild area - and the "good birds" of course enhanced it.
That Agami Heron, during our ride, that was stalking along the riverbank, could not in any way ever be mistaken for an Anhinga, but it is true that the long neck and the slender and angled head of the bird does bear a resemblance. One can also wonder if the derivation of the name "Agami" for that bird along the forest river is, like the Anhinga (and the Aracari & Ani), from the Tupi tribe of Brazil, in the area of the biggest of American rivers, the Amazon.                      

Yes, the Darien province of Panama is wild, just about everywhere. 
As one travels about, a good barometer of that are the constant calls of Tinamous (both Little and Great). Generally, throughout Central America, it's been that as the "wildness" of an area diminishes, the melodic calls of tinamous decrease.

After nightfall, in the Darien countryside, there were many calls of Pauraques. And, as we went along a dirt road after dark, there were both Barn and Striped Owls. The stars and planets shined brightly in the ever-so-clear sky overhead. Even though we had driven from Panama City, the noisy and bright accompaniment of the city seemed (and really was) so very far away!

Back when we were in Panama City, earlier during the tour, we saw two rarities for Panama: a Long-billed Curlew and a Ring-billed Gull.

Also earlier in the tour, when we in the Canal Basin, among the many birds there, maybe our best sight was that of the strikingly attractive male Golden-collared Manakin, as it was perched close to us. There are good birds to see and enjoy just about anywhere in Panama!

But back again in Darien, this summary will conclude in a small town, where twice we spent the night. 
By the road into town, in a field,  there was Crested Bobwhite, and in a marsh, there were Purple Gallinules. Further down the road, in large trees, there were Black-chested Jays
In the town, itself, in trees near the streets and houses, there always seemed to be birds. 
A number of them were common, yes, but it was nice to have that number of them. 
As we had breakfast, on a table outside by the sidewalk, among birds in view there were: Black-throated Mango, Streaked Flycatcher, other more-common flycatchers, Tropical Mockingbird and Tropical Gnatcatcher, Bananaquits, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, and Tanagers including Blue-gray, Palm, Plain-colored, Crimson-backed, and Lemon-rumped
And don't let that name "Plain-colored" fool you. They're nice to have, too, as all the other birds were. 

Also, as we were having breakfast by the sidewalk in that town that morning, with the birds about, people of the indigenous Kuna tribe somehow came along (they learned we were there), in their colorful attire, selling some also-colorful small sculptures of the more dramatic, big birds that occur in eastern Panama, away of course from the small town. Their ceramic sculptures were of birds such as the Harpy Eagle, the toucans, and parrots and macaws.

When we were there, we didn't have to pinch ourselves to realize that we were somewhere so "far away" and very different from what it would have been in our "normal lives", as we were in the remote countryside of wild Panama, in Darien. 

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