Sunday, 30 March 2014

Panama 21.03.2014 to 28.03.2014

Its birding time again! This time I took a whirlwind road trip of Panama, birding in all the exotic rainforests and marshes it had to offer. Not just a birding tour - but a combination of travelling, exploring, hiking, birding and a whole lot of crazy adventures!

Bicolored Antbird
21.03.2014 : The adventure begins. I arrived in Panama at almost midnight, with no plan whatsoever. So, as
expected, there were several issues. Even before landing, I had to come up with a fake hotel name since they required one for the customs and immigration procedures. Having just watched a Mexican soccer game before heading for Panama, I made up the name Hotel Entre Dos Santos (Dos Santos is a soccer player) and the only other words in Spanish I could see in the flight were Entre (Entry) and Salidas (Exit). It worked, and I safely got into Panama!
I rented out a car at the airport from Budget Panama, who seemed quite unsure of the hotel name though it sounded completely legit. I got out onto the roads and it was deserted - I had no phone, no maps, no GPS and no sense of orientation. It was a while as I kept driving onto the largest roads I could find and finally (luckily) hit the Panama - Tocumen highway at about 2am. A couple of prostitutes were all I could find on the deserted streets and had no choice but to take directions from them. They were visibly upset when I sped away after taking directions to the nearest hotel.

Black Hawk-Eagle
22.03.2014 : I finally got a local sim with GPS and started driving to where I wanted. The first stop was
PIPELINE ROAD in GAMBOA. I birded there for the first morning with interesting new species as I describe later. A first for me was the creaky (swinging) bridge to Gamboa, which required careful maneuvering and navigation. The feeling of being back in India with driving through every road being a challenge began creeping in! Even the weather was the same - hot, humid and windy - a relief from the relentless cold at Berkeley. I explored Panama City the rest of the day and then headed towards Lago Bayano in the night. Crashed at a turnout in Canitas.

Black Vulture
23.03.2014 : I started the day with some interesting birding at LAGO BAYANO. There were no speciific
trails around the lake, but I created my own (again that Indian feel!) and birded along the way. There were to many new species and I found it hard to keep up with identifying them all. I left Lago Bayano early in the afternoon and headed towards DARIEN, the eastern end of Panama.
A single guy driving to Darien on the Columbian border is suspicious enough for the Border patrol, I guess. I was stopped twice at different checkposts and was grilled in Spanish. The interrogation was quite amusing with them angrily asking questions in Spanish and me replying in English (I'm pretty sure most of my answers were unrelated to their questions). After getting thoroughly frustrated with the Q&A session, they combed my car for drugs and even used a drug detector on me. Nope - no drugs. I'm a birdwatcher!

Black-Headed Nightingale-Thrush
I went around Darien, birded a bit and explored the entire region. The roads were not as good as the rest of the country, but the countryside was amazing! I went till the easternmost accessible point of the country before heading back. I thought the adventure for the day was over as I pulled by a gas station and crashed. Unfortunately, the army didn't think so. I was woken up with flashlights in my face and angry Spanish taunts. I staggered out of the car and was staring straight into what I think was a Uzi. The guy with the flashlight had cufflinks in his hand and another uniformed woman pulled out an even larger rifle. Come on, guys! I can't get arrested so early! A Spanish-English interrogation ensued followed by a thorough scouring of the car (again). I was getting so used to this now. They told me get out of there (that's what it sounded like) and got into two army vans and drove off. Cool! I drove to the next gas station and crashed. Big deal.

Blue-Crowned Motmot
24.03.2014 : The day had to begin crazily! I woke up with yet another flashlight in my face at 5am, this time coming from the police. I got my first police ticket for blocking the way and loitering (it seems) and yet another silly interrogation followed. I was bored of Spanish questions by now. I drove down to the mangroves of PUNTO CHAMES, and was delighted to see a humungous number of birds greeting me! I birded all morning up and down the mangroves and even some parts of the beaches around CHAMES. Satisfied by the morning, I sped off to CHITRE. The birding site was CIENAGA DE LAS MACANAS, and the target bird was the erratic Snail Kite. An amazing marshland next to a quaint village, and it is the best place to spot the Snail Kite. I found out quite quickly as I spotted two female Snail Kites within 30 minutes. A Crested Caracara sighting while exiting summed up the birding there.

Blue-Grey Tanager
Not enough adventure for the day - so I drove that evening to Santiago and down to MONTIJOS by the
coast. I reached Montijos, a naval port I didn't know of (obviously!), and began birding along the shores. I spotted an interesting species - an uncommon Gray-Headed Kite - on the other side, quite far away.  I climbed a nearby outpost to get a good view of the bird. Apparently, using a Navy command center tower for spotting birds along the shore isn't cool. Not cool at all. And I learnt it the hard way. A siren started ringing and five uniformed navy officers literally pulled me down the tower into their command center office. Yet another grilling session followed and I headed back happy with the Gray-Headed Kite sights I got. Of course, I crashed by a gas station that night (without any more struggle)

Bridled Tern
25.03.2014 : The previous day was the craziest it could get, right? Well, maybe not! I woke up at 4am and drove to SANTA FE National Park in the North of Panama. I birded all morning (questioned by the guards again - not worth mentioning any more) and had a wonderful hike along the unnamed trails through the rainforest. It was pure untouched Panama at its best!
I got back to my car by the afternoon and within an hour realized I had a puncture - and I was absolutely in the middle of nowhere, probably an hour away from any civilization in either direction. Dang! By now I should have just expected it. I changed the tyre with a weird-looking smaller tyre (I hadn't noticed the spare tyre was a motorcycle tyre when I rented the car) . But it worked. Worked well enough that I drove all the way from Santiago to David over the afternoon.
I drove down to the quaint fishing town of PUERTO PEDREGAL, near the mangroves of David, and tried to get some good views of the Magnificent Frigatebirds and Bridled Terns that were circling the area. A few other interesting species caught my eye, but - once again - I was stopped by an angry uniformed officer. What was it this time? It was the navy again (And remember the rule - never take pics at a military camp?) Well, since I had no idea I was at a Navy base, I never considered it. And they confiscated the camera. Now I wasn't pleased at all. Spanish interrogations are fine, but confiscating my camera is not! Not cool at all. I showed them the pics I had taken (every single one was a bird - they were quite aghast) and they had no choice but to let me go, muttering to each other in Spanish. I sped off as fast as I could, but that led to another police ticket - this time for overtaking. It was becoming a trend. Whatever. I crashed at a cheap hotel for the night since it was raining. Oh the luxury! :D

Buff-Throated Saltator
26.03.2014 : The next day I woke up at 4am again and drove to LA FORTUNA, the famous Cloud Forests of Panama! What could possibly go wrong today!? I birded along the Continental Divide trail and as I got back to my car, I found my silly spare "motorcycle" tyre was flat. In the middle of the Cloud Forests. Yes, I agree it can't get worse! I drove at 20 kmph with a flat tyre for an hour and a half to the nearest town and got my tyre fixed. Both of them. Not satisfied with the birding that morning, I returned with a fully functional car to the Cloud Forests again and birded along the side roads into the forests. It was absolutely amazing in the Cloud Forests with temperatures of 10C, strong winds and mist throughout the forests. It was probably the best view of the trip. Staggering!

Clay-Colored Thrush
27.03.2014 : Completely buoyed by the Cloud Forest hike the previous day (having forgotten the puncture), I drove to BOQUETE, near the VOLCAN BARU National Park. It was time to search for the most beautiful bird in the world - the Resplendent Quetzal. Yes, it is. And I found out quite soon. Within the first 15 minutes of scouring the Sendero Los Quetzales trail, I spotted my first Quetzal. It was truly the most magnificent bird I had ever seen since the Himalayan Monal in GHNP. It was charming, with an aura unmatched by any other species. Its long tail and splendorous colors stunned me as I watched amazed. I saw my second Quetzal an hour later, this time for a little longer than 6 seconds. Too beautiful to capture on camera. Too beautiful. If there was a bed behind me, I would have fallen backwards with an everlasting smile on my face. This was what I had come to Panama for. And I was  rewarded. I went through the Police, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Border Patrol, multiple punctures and a whole lot of driving to get to the Quetzal. And I got it!

Common Tody-Flycatcher
28.03.2014 : I drove back overnight from David to Panama City and went straight back to Gamboa. I
birded the rest of the morning without any more adventures. Really? Nope. The National Police didn't think it was right to give me a day of trouble-free travelling and birding in Panama. As I got back to my car, they were all there. Six of them. I was so unimpressed, to their bemusement, and walked straight at them as if it was the most common sight. I kinda was that week. I completely ignored them and opened my car. That was when one of them growled at me and I gave them a startled look - You here for me? After several interrogations, this one was nothing worse. They searched my car (it was stinking by now) and found nothing, as usual. I was bored. I just shrugged them off and drove back to the airport. It was time to bid farewell to a wonderful country. An unforgettable experience, with unmatched adventure. Thanks to the Law Enforcement at Panama, it was a trip I'd never forget. Ever.
The End, right? Nope. There's still immigration in the US. Border Patrol in the US. Which means more Law Enforcement - which means more adventure. Yes, I got detained for three hours in Texas, missed my connecting flight to San Francisco and got my Student F1 status cancelled. Not surprised. Not after this trip. It was possibly the most probable thing to happen. I went home to Berkeley by the next available flight and crashed for 14 hours straight. I deserved it.

Birds! That's what I was looking for in Panama amidst all the chaos. A list of the bird species spotted:

Crested Caracara
1. Great Tinamou - 1 in the Bayano region
2. Black-Bellied Whistling Duck - 2 in Lago Bayano
3. American Wigeon - 2 in Gamboa
4. Blue-Winged Teal - Around 15 in Gamboa
5. Grey-Headed Chachalaca - 4 in Punto Chames
6. Black Guan - 1 in Chiriqui
7. Marbled Wood-Quail - 2 in Bayano region
8. Least Grebe - 1 in Lago Bayano
9. Blue-Footed Booby - 4 in Pedregal
10. Brown Booby - several between Panama City and Tocumen
11. Brown Pelican - 4 at Punto Chames
12. Neotropic Cormorant - Plenty at all water bodies
13. Magnificent Frigatebird - 15 at Pedregal and Punto Chames
14. Rufescent Tiger-Heron - 1 at Punto Chames
15. Cocoi Heron - 2 at Lago Bayano
16. Great Egret - Several at all water bodies
17. Snowy Egret - 15 at a lake near David, common in all water bodies
Fork-Tailed Flycatcher
18. Little Blue Heron - 3 at Punto Chames
19. Reddish Egret - 3 at Gamboa
20. Tricolored Heron - 2 at Gamboa
21. Cattle Egret - Plenty in fields around Darien
22. Striated Heron - Many in mangroves of Punto Chames
23. Black-Crowned Night Heron - 2 in Punto Chames
24. Yellow-Crowned Night Heron - 1 in Punto Chames
25. White Ibis - 1 in Las Macanas
26. Glossy Ibis - 1 in Las Macanas
27. Green Ibis - 2 in Las Macanas
28. Roseate Spoonbill - 1 in Pedregal
29. Black Vulture - Abundant everywhere
30. Turkey Vulture - Several in Gamboa
31. Lesser Yellow-Headed Vulture - 1 in Punto Chames
32. Osprey - 1 in Pedregal
33. Gray-Headed Kite - 1 in Pedregal
Grey-Headed Tanager
34. Pearl Kite - 1 in Darien
35. Snail Kite - 2 in Las Macanas
36. Plumbeous Hawk - 1 in Gualaca, on the way to Santa Fe
37. Great Black-Hawk - 1 in Chiriqui
38. White Hawk - 1 in Santa Fe
39. Gray Hawk - 1 in Darien
40. Black Hawk-Eagle - 1 in Punto Chames
41. Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle - 1 in Pedregal
42. Crested Caracara - 1 in Montijos and 1 in Las Macanas
43. Yellow-Headed Caracara - Plenty in Punto Chames
44. American Kestrel - 1 in Darien
45. Common Moorhen - Plenty in all marshes
46. Southern Lapwing - 1 in Las Macanas, 2 in Darien fields
47. Collared Plover - Many along the coast between Panama City and Tocumen
48. Wattled Jacana - 4 in Las Macanas
49. Northern Jacana - 6 in Las Macanas
Grey-Lined (or Grey) Hawk
50. Willet - 1 in Punto Chames
51. Spotted Sandpiper - 1 in Gamboa
52. Semi-Palmated Sandpiper - 1 in Punto Chames
53. Long-Billed Curlew - 2 between Panama City and Tocumen
54. Marbled Godwit - Many between Panama City and Tocumen
55. Whimbrel - 5 between Panama City and Tocumen
56. Bridled Tern - 15 at Pedregal
57. Sooty Tern - 4 at Pedregal
58. Royal Tern - 2 at Pedregal
59. Rock Pigeon - Common in all towns
60. Ruddy Pigeon - 14 in Gamboa
61. Short-Billed Pigeon - 4 in Darien
62. Pale-Vented Pigeon - 2 in Gamboa
63. Plain-Breasted Ground-Dove - 2 at Punto Chames
64. Ruddy Ground-Dove - Several everywhere
Green Honeycreeper
65. Blue Ground-Dove - 12 near Gamboa
66. White-Tipped Dove - 2 in Darien
67. Chiriqui Quail-Dove - 2 in Volcan Baru
68. Orange-Chinned Parakeet - 12 in Gamboa
69. Sulphur-Winged Parakeet - 4 in La Fortuna
70. Blue-Headed Parrot - 2 in Gamboa
71. Red-Lored Parrot - 4 in Bayano region
72. Squirrel Cuckoo - 1 in Las Macanas, 1 in Gamboa and 1 in Chiriqui
73. Greater Ani - 4 in Darien
74. Smooth-Billed Ani - 12 in Darien
75. Groove-Billed Ani - 12 in Chiriqui
76. White-Collared Swift - Several in Boquete
77. Lesser Swallow-Tailed Swift - 4 in Pedregal
78. Green Hermit - 1 in Chiriqui
79. Pale-Billed Hermit - 1 in Bayano region
80. Garden Emerald - 2 in Darien
81. Snowy-Bellied Hummingbird -2 in Gamboa
82. Purple-Throated Mountain-Gem - 3 along Sendero Los Quetzales
83. Slaty-Tailed Trogon - 2 in Bayano region
Grey-Breasted Martin
84. Violaceous Trogon - 1 in Santa Fe
85. Resplendent Quetzal - 2 along Sendero Los Quetzales
86. Blue-Crowned Motmot - 1 in Santa Fe
87. Ringed Kingfisher - 2 in Lago Bayano, 1 near Punto Chames
88. Amazon Kingfisher - 1 on the way to Santa Fe
89. Green Kingfisher - 1 in Lago Bayano
90. Pied Puffbird - 1 in Bayano region
91. Red-Crowned Woodpecker - 1 near David, i in Gamboa
92. Red-Rumped Woodpecker - 1 in Darien
93. Pale-Breasted Spinetail - 1 in Volcan Baru
94. Buff-Throated Foliage-Gleaner - 1 in Gamboa
95. Long-Tailed Woodcreeper - 1 in Gamboa
96. Northern-Barred Woodcreeper - 1 in Bayano region
97. Red-Billed Scythebill - 1 in Darien
98. Western Slaty-Antshrike - 2 in Gamboa
99. White-Flanked Antwren - 2 in Gamboa
Grey-Headed Chachalaca
100. Bare-Crowned Antbird - 1 in Bayano region
101. Bicolored Antbird - 1 in Bayano region
102. Spotted Antbird - 2 in Bayano region
103. Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet - 1 in Gamboa
104. Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet - 2 in Gamboa
105. Yellow-Bellied Elaenia - Several in Gamboa
106. Yellow-Green Tyrannulet - 2 in Bayano region
107. Common Tody-Flycatcher - 3 in Gamboa
108. Yellow-Olive Flycatcher - 1 in Gamboa
109. Tropical Peewee - 2 in Bayano region
110. Rufous Mourner - 2 in La Fortuna
111. Panama Flycatcher - 4 in Darien
112. Lesser Kiskadee - 2 in Las Macanas
113. Greater Kiskadee - 4 in Gamboa
114. Social Flycatcher - 2 in Gamboa
115. Tropical Kingbird - 2 in Gamboa
116. Fork-Tailed Flycatcher - 5 near David
Groove-Billed Ani
117. Blue-Crowned Manakin - 2 in Gamboa
118. Lance-Tailed Manakin - 1 in Chiriqui
119. Green Shrike-Vireo - 1 in La Fortuna
120. Black-Chested Jay - 4 in La Fortuna
121. Mangrove Swallow - Many near all mangroves and coasts
122. Southern Rough-Winged Swallow - 2 in Gamboa
123. Buff-Breasted Wren - 2 in Bayano region
124. House Wren - 1 in Boquete
125. American Dipper - 1 along Los Quetzales
126. Tropical Gnatcatcher - 1 in La Fortuna
127. Black-Headed Nightingale-Thrush - 2 in La Fortuna
128. Mountain Thrush - 1 in Volcan Baru
129. Clay-Colored Thrush - Very common everywhere
130. Tropical Mockingbird - 2 in Gamboa
131. Yellowish Pipit - 1 in Las Macanas
132. Rufous-Capped Warbler - 2 in Las Macanas
133. Black-Cheeked Warbler - 2 in Volcan Baru
Magnificent Frigatebird
134. Gray-Headed Tanager- 4 in Bayano region
135. White-Shouldered Tanager - 2 in Bayano region
136. White-Lined Tanager - 1 in La Fortuna
137. Crimson-Collared Tanager - 2 in Santa Fe
138. Crimson-Backed Tanager - 3 in Gamboa
139. Flame-Rumped Tanager - 2 in Santa Fe
140. Blue-Gray Tanager - Several in Gamboa and Bayano regions
141. Bay-Headed Tanager - 2 in La Fortuna
142. Blue Dacnis - 1 in Gamboa
143. Green Honeycreeper - 2 in Gamboa
144. Red-Legged Honeycreeper - 2 in Bayano region
145. Streaked Saltator - 2 in Chiriqui
146. Buff-Throated Saltator - 2 in Bayano region, 1 in Gamboa
147. Variable Seedeater - 2 in Gamboa
148. White-Collared Seedeater - 1 in Chiriqui
149. Yellow-Faced Grassquit - 2 in Volcan Baru
150. Yellow-Green Finch - 1 in La Fortuna
Mangrove Swallow
151. Orange-Billed Sparrow - 2 in Gamboa
152. Rufous-Collared Sparrow - 4 in Volcan Baru
153. Black-Striped Sparrow - 2 in Gamboa
154. Red-Crowned Ant-Tanager - 1 in Chiriqui
155. Blue Seedeater - 1 in La Fortuna
156. Blue-Black Grosbeak - 2 in La Fortuna
157. Indigo Bunting - 2 in Bayano region
158, House Sparrow - 1 in Las Macanas
159. Red-Breasted Blackbird - 2 in Darien
160. Giant Cowbird - 2 in Bayano region
161. Bronzed Cowbird - 2 in Gamboa
162. Shiny Cowbird - 3 in Darien
163. Great-Tailed Grackle- Abundant near towns
164. Yellow-Billed Cacique - 4 in Santa Fe
165. Scarlet-Rumped Cacique - 3 in La Fartuna
166. Yellow-Rumped Cacique - 4 in Bayano region
167. Crested Oropendola - 2 in Bayano region
168. Chestnut-Headed Oropendola - 2 in Bayano region
169. Thick-Billed Seed Finch - 1 in Bayano region
170. White-Collared Seedeater - 1 in Bayano region
Northern Barred Woodcreeper
171. Grey-Breasted Martin - 4 at Punto Chames
172. Barn Swallow - 2 in Pedregal
173. Great Blue Heron - 2 in Las Macanas
174. Streaked Flycatcher - 1 in Santa Fe
175. White-Tipped Dove - 2 in Santa Fe
176. Ovenbird - 1 in Santa Fe
177. Bare-Crowned Antbird - 2 in Santa Fe
178. Black-and-yellow Tanager - 1 in Volcan Baru
179. Violet-Headed Hummingbird - 1 in Santa Fe
180. Silver-Throated Tanager - 2 in Volcan Baru
181. Chestnut-Capped Brush-Finch - 2 in Volcan Baru
182. Collared Redstart - 1 in Volcan Baru
183. Yellowish Flycatcher - 1 in Volcan Baru
184. Northern Scrub-Flycatcher - 1 in Bayano region
185. Russet Antshrike - 1 in Gamboa
186. Prothonotary Warbler - 1 in Bayano region

Along with a multitude of unidentified birds, this was not particularly the best "birding" trip in terms of species count within the checklist. Also, I didn't spend enough time birding with all the travelling and other "activities" involved. Will return to Central America soon, for a full-fledged "Birding" trip!

Orange-Chinned Parakeet

Plumbeous Hawk

Red-Breasted Blackbird


Red-Lored Parrot

Ringed Kingfisher

Royal Tern (rescued from the water)

Ruddy Ground-Dove

Rufous Mourner

Rufous-Collared Sparrow

Silver-Throated Tanager

Slaty-Tailed Trogon

Smooth-Billed Ani

Snail Kite

Snowy-Bellied Hummingbird

Southern Lapwing

Southern Rough-Winged Swallow

Squirrel Cuckoo

Thick-Billed Seed Finch

Tropical Mockingbird

Variable Seedeater

White-Winged Tanager

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Yellow-Faced Grassquit

Yellow-Headed Caracara

Yellowish Pipit

Yellowish Flycatcher

Social Flycatcher

Panama Flycatcher

Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet