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July 2013

"Birds Speckled and Spectacled, and now Whooping - and more"   


As it is now called, this bird is the Whooping Motmot


Birds & Other Nature during the FONT Panama tour in July 2013

A List of Birds in Panama     Panama Mammals     Central American Butterflies

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Panama


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

Among the more than 220 species of birds found during the week-long FONT Panama Tour in July 2013, there were, of course, some that were more fun to see than others, some more interesting than others, and some more unexpected than others. And some were "new" for us. Among them, were birds with the adjectives Speckled and Spectacled.

First, here, reference is made to the little Spectacled Parrotlet, no more than 5 inches in length. With not much a tail, and basically green, in a way it's not much to see, but in order to see it, one has to be at some mostly "out-of-the-way" places. 
And, that we were, at such a place near the border of the Darien province in eastern Panama.
That little Spectacled Parrotlet was at the bird-rich grounds of a small country inn, one might say, where we spent two nights. 
In the morning, a group of them flew about from tree to tree, continuously making their parrotlet chatter, as they seemingly wanted to be observed even they are only small and basically green.
To see them, one has to be, as said, at "out-of-the-way" places in the range of the bird with disjunct populations mostly in Colombia, and also in far-western Venezuela, eastern Panama, and possibly in southern Ecuador.

The Speckled Mourner, seen during our July 2013 Panama Tour, was seen at a place very much "along the way" traveled in the country by many birders. 
It was seen in the forest by the birding-famous Pipeline Road.
Although we've birded in Panama, and specifically along that road, a number of times, the bird was a "first" for us.
A bit like the parrotlet, in a way, to see it one has to go "where the bird is". In the case of the Speckled Mourner, into the tropical forest. 
It is bird about 6 inches in length, basically brown. Or in good light, it is brown to rufous. And the bird does have a fieldmark of spotting on its wing-coverts.   

However, when one says "a parrot, or a parrotlet" or other tropical birds such as a toucan, or a tanager, or a woodpecker, or many others, there's an image that comes to one's mind.
But a mourner  ...  What's a mourner?
Well, it's no so easy to say. Even with bird taxonomists, over the years, there has been uncertainty about it. 

There is in Panama, and elsewhere in the Neotropical forests, the Rufous Mourner. It looks a smaller version of the Rufous Piha.
But the Rufous Mourner is placed in the flycatcher family whereas the Rufous Piha is in the cotinga family.
The Speckled Mourner looks superficially like the Rufous Mourner. It was in the flycatcher family (and it has been in the cotinga family), but most recently has been placed in with the tityras, that is something "in between" the flycatchers and the cotingas.

The name "mourner" has really never been an exact fit for anything. Another bird in South America that has recently been called the Elegant Mourner, was prior to that called the "Shrike-like Cotinga" because it was, well, in some ways "like a shrike". 
Now, that bird is called a Laniisoma, with its common name matching that of its genus.
And what was the Elegant Mourner has been split to be the Andean Laniisoma and the Brazilian Laniisoma.
And if the name "mourner" does not convey much of an image, fearfully, if the truth be told, with "laniisoma", for most, the connotation is even less.    

Yet another bird, that was seen during our July 2013 Panama Tour, has been called a mourner. A few years ago, it was called the Thrush-like Mourner. 
Prior to that, it was called the Thrush-like Manakin, and more recently the Thrush-like Schiffornis. Again, "schiffornis" is the name of the bird's genus.
And, again, the bird was, in some ways, "like a ... in this case, thrush".
But the small, rather non-descript olive-brown bird, in addition to not being a thrush, was neither a manakin nor a mourner (whatever a "mourner" is).
And, throughout its range, it was not as olive-brown as other places, so, even though rather non-descript everywhere, it has now, very recently, been split into 5 species throughout Central & South America.

Two of the "new" species occur in Panama. The one that we saw in the Canal Basin was the newly-named Rufous-winged Schiffornis, Schiffornis stenorhyncha.
That species ranges from central Panama south (or east, when still in Panama) to Colombia and western Venezuela.
The other schiffornis in Panama is now called the Northern Schiffornis, Schiffornis veraepacis
It ranges from western Panama north to Mexico. And there are subspecies of it further south in South America in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

The Northern Schiffornis and the Rufous-winged Schiffornis have different sounds. The Northern Schiffornis has a three-noted rhythmic phrase. It is more drawn out than the four-noted phrase of the Rufous-winged Schiffornis.
And the "rather non-descript" plumages are different. The Northern Schiffornis is a darker olive-brown, while the Rufous-winged Schiffornis is overall a lighter brown, with, as you guessed it, more rufous on its wings.      

The three other species of schiffornis are in South America:
The Olivaceous Schiffornis, Schiffornis olivacus, is mostly in the Guianas.
The Foothill Schiffornis, Schiffornis aenea, is in eastern Ecuador and Peru, in the eastern foothills of the Andes.
And what continues to be called the Thrush-like Schiffornis, Schiffornis turdina, is elsewhere in South America, in Amazonia and other places in Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.

If someone has birded at various places in the Neotropics, now up to 4 "new species" could be added to a life-list.
And that brings us to the motmots:   

For years, those of us who have birded in the Neotopics have enjoyed seeing and hearing the Blue-crowned Motmot.
It has been a wide-ranging species, from Mexico to Brazil.
Yes, it "has been", as it has now been split into 5 species:

The bird, seen during our July 2013 Panama Tour, that has been the Blue-crowned Motmot, now has a new name.
Are you ready?
It is now the Whooping Motmot. Yes, that's like the Whooping Crane, or the Whooper Swan, both named after the sounds they make. Of course, the sound of the motmot doesn't resemble that of either the crane or the swan, but its call, often heard early in the morning, is like a "whoop".
Having said that, however, the sounds of the other birds that have formerly part of the Blue-crowned Motmot don't sound all that different.

The range of the Whooping Motmot, Momotus subrufescens, is from central Panama south into South America, west of the Andes, to Ecuador and Peru.
Further north in Central America, the bird that was the Blue-crowned Motmot is now called the Blue-diademed Motmot, Momotus lessonii
It is now one of two species in the grouping (of Blue-crowned alumni) in Panama, occurring in the western part of the country, in Chiriqui. It ranges from Panama north into Mexico.
In Mexico, there is the bird that retains the common name Blue-crowned Motmot, Momotus coeruliceps.
In South America, east of the Andes, the former Blue-crowned Motmot is now the Amazonian Motmot, Momotus momota, except what was the subspecies in Trinidad that is now the Trinidad Motmot, Momotus bahamensis.
That last scientific name not withstanding, there is not any (nor has there been any) motmot in the Bahamas.

Another closely related motmot in South America is the Andean Motmot (or the Highland Motmot), Momotus aequatorialis. It is so closely related that some say that it may actually be conspecific with the Amazonian Motmot, Momotus momota.     

In the opening paragraph here, I noted that some birds during our Panama tour were more "unexpected" than others.
In that category was the Uniform Crake that we saw at a small marsh in the Canal Basin, where the species is a rarity. We had just seen a little White-throated Crake, after hearing it for a while, and then the larger Uniform Crake made a quick but nice appearance in front of us in the marshy vegetation.    
Also unexpected later in the tour was a Pheasant Cuckoo that also made a quick appearance.
Staying in view longer, the morning that we saw the Spectacled Parrotlets, there was a pair of Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, a basically South American species that's said to be "rare and local" in eastern Panama, and was thus another bird that was unexpected when we saw it.     

Among the most "interesting" of our bird observations during our July 2013 tour were those where there both birds and ants.
Throughout neotropical forests in Panama there are many, many ants. One can not really imagine how many, or can a number actually be put (in the billions - whatever).
Leaf-cutter ants can be watched as they diligently go about their chores, moving along a forest trail and then continuing into the oblivion of the understory, always moving. Their chores often seem to involve carrying leaves or debris much larger than the ant itself.
Other ants are also present in massive numbers in the forest, also continually moving. 
And finding such a swarm can be a highlight of a birding day, as the ants cause small creatures of various kinds to move, as they must get out of their way. 
We saw such a swarm when we were along the Pipeline Road, where, on the road, small spiders and little insects jumped, as the stream of ants advanced. 
On the ground, and on branches in the lower foliage where the ants moved along, there were birds that habitually follow them to feast on little creatures getting out of the way, or on the ants themselves.
With a large swarm, among the birds we saw were attractive little Spotted Antbirds together with Bicolored Antbirds, both Plain-brown and Northern Barred Woodcreepers, and numerous Gray-headed Tanagers, with both adults and young of the last of these, like the others, being very well fed.

At another swarm of ants and other small creatures, a couple days earlier, in the Metropolitan Park (a gem of a birding place in Panama City), there was another cast of accompanying birds with the nifty White-bellied Antbird being one of them, along with other antbirds, various woodcreepers and wrens, and a gathering of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, as noisy as they were active.

Not many places in the world are as good as Panama for seeing masses of ants with other little creatures and the birds that either always or usually accompany them.      

Regarding antbirds, it's worth a comment that there are those called "antshrikes", "antwrens", "antvireos", "ant-thrushes", and "antpittas". 
All of these are "antbirds" in one family of another. 
"Antshrikes" are not shrikes. "Antwrens" are not wrens. "Antvireos" are not vireos. "Ant-thrushes" of course are not thrushes, and "antpittas" are not pittas (Pittas, by the way, are birds in Asian rainforests.) 
But, having said all this, "Ant-Tanagers", such as the Red-throated Ant-Tanager just mentioned, are NOT "antbirds", but they are, instead, actually tanagers.       

Reference has been made in this narrative to some name changes with taxonomic splits
One of the antbirds that we saw in Panama in July 2013 also got an official name-change that same month. Not with any taxonomic split or lump, but just a change of name:
What was the Western Slaty-Antshrike, Thamnophilus atrinicha, has become the Black-crowned Antshrike. Genetic evidence has shown that it is not related to the slaty-antshrikes in South America.

With whatever names they have, we saw many birds during our week in Panama, with over 220 different species each with names - common and scientific. 
As we saw those birds, surely all of those more than 220 names must have been said - some often, some less so. 
And, as we said those names, throughout the tour, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, having a good time observing of course the birds, and also the mammals and butterflies, as well as the sights and scenes around us, with good company, having good meals and accommodations, and, saying it once again, a most enjoyable time throughout. 

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