Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Birding Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican Tody
Following our 3-week tour of Panama, Bill and I were joined by Sandra and Glenn for a month-long Caribbean sojourn. We flew to San Juan via Bogota for a six-day stay on the Greater Antillean island of Puerto Rico, where we would see all 22 possible target species. For convenience due to late arrival, our first night was spent in the overpriced Airport Hotel. We drove for just over 2 hours on our first morning to our accommodation for the next 3 nights – the delightful Mary Lees by the Sea apartments near Guanica in the island’s south-west.

Black-faced Grassquit
In the afternoon we drove a short distance west to Parguera, where we tracked down without much difficulty the small store where the owner puts out bread for the endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird. Black-faced Grassquits were present in numbers and we soon located a flock of 8 Yellow-shouldered Blackbirds high in a tree in the adjacent vacant lot. The blackbirds did not come down to feed, however, and soon flew off over the mangroves.

Maricao State Forest
We left early the next morning for higher elevation forest in Maricao State Forest, where we would spend most of the day. A Puerto Rican Nightjar flew across the road at the 3.9km marker on Route 333 soon after we left the hotel. In Maricao, a feast of island endemics and specialties was in store. One of the first birds we saw was Elfin-Woods Warbler; we had a couple of pairs at the turnoff to the Forest Reserve headquarters (where we spent most of our time) and another pair 1km south of the turnoff on the main road.
Puerto Rican Tanager
We soon found a Puerto Rican Tody, seeing several that day. Puerto Rican Tanager proved to be common.

Puerto Rican Spindalis
We had good views of Puerto Rican Spindalis (8 in total), Puerto Rican Bullfinch (5), Puerto Rican Vireo (6) and Puerto Rican Woodpecker (4). Poorer views were had of Puerto Rican Emerald and Green Mango. A Key West Quail-Dove was an unexpected sighting on one of several tracks that we negotiated. Black-throated Blue Warbler was common.

Maricao State Forest
 Loggerhead Kingbird was on a roadside wire and back at Mary Lees, Pearly-eyed thrashers were all over the place.

Guanica State Forest
Our third morning saw us at the 3.5 marker on Route 333 where we called in a Puerto Rican Nightjar for better views.

Pearly-eyed Thrasher
We then hiked 3km north from the road along the Ballena trail in Guanica State Forest through the arid coastal thorn scrub that was in stark contrast to the lushly vegetated hill forests of  Maricao.

Caribbean Elaenia
We added Adelaide’s Warbler, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Caribbean Elaenia and Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo to our specialty list. Another Key West Quail-Dove was on the track.

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody again showed well. We visited another trail very early on our third morning at Guanica to search unsuccessfully for Puerto Rican Screech-Owl. We saw a Puerto Rican Peewee at first light, a Mangrove Cuckoo then more of some species seen previously. The odd local race of American Kestrel was common.
American Kestrel
Several White-cheeked Pintails were on a pool as we returned to Mary Lees. We left our comfortable apartment and drove across the island to the eastern side, where we visited Humacao Reserve.  Here we saw Crested Antillean Hummingbird and Green-throated Carib feeding in the same trees along banks between the pools.

White-cheeked Pintails
There were plenty of very large iguanas about.

Iguana - Puerto Rico
We moved on to the Ceiba Country Inn for a one-night stay. That evening we had a brief flight view of Puerto Rican Screech-Owl but early the next morning we enjoyed excellent views of an owl after quite a bit of coaxing.
Mangrove Cuckoo
Other good birds about Ceiba included Red-legged Thrush, Scaly-naped Pigeon and Puerto Rican Oriole - the last of the possible specialties and endemics for the island that I needed (we did not try for the endemic parrot; we missed Antillean Euphonia but I had seen that in the Dominican Republic).
Red-legged Thrush

Our last night on the island was spent in San Juan at the Coral by the Sea Hotel.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Panama, Final Chapter: Boquete to Cerro Santiago

White-bellied Mountain-Gem
After visiting the Volcan area of Panama’s Chiriqui province (see following post) we transferred to the delightful town of Boquete on the eastern side of Baru Volcano. On our way up the steep road to the hotel, we encountered a party of Sulphur-winged Parakeets and the first of several Dark Peewees we saw in the area, along with niceties such as Elegent Euphonia, White-tailed Emerald and American Dipper.
Sulphur-winged Parakeet - Pic by Ketil Knudsen
 A large Mussurana snake was encountered; these snakes evidently feed on poisonous pit vipers.

Mussurana snake
The next morning we left very early for a 2.5-hour drive to the Continental Divide in the area where the borders between Chiriqui and Bocas del Toro provinces  define the Pacific slope to the south and the Caribbean slope to the north. We spent the day birding trails and roads on both slopes.

Fortuna Reserve - Continental Divide
We were fortunate that many trees and shrubs were flowering; we had hummingbirds in abundance. White-bellied Mountain-Gem and Purple-throated Mountain-Gem were present in small numbers along our first road on the Pacific slope, along with a pair of unexpected Snowcaps (a third was seen later).  Also unexpected were 6-8 Black-bellied Hummingbirds – a difficult species in its limited range. Green-crowned Brilliant and Violet-headed Hummingbird were among other hummers seen this day.

Green-crowned Brilliant
An Anole lizard created a brief diversion from the birding.

Anole Lizard
A highly vocal Costa Rica Pygmy-Owl  attracted large numbers of hummingbirds and other species, notably a much wanted endemic - Blue-and-gold Tanager.  Other birds buzzing the owl included Tawny-capped Euphonia, Black-and-yellow Tanager and Common Bush-Tanager.

Black-and-yellow Tanager
Tawny-capped Euphonias
On the Caribbean slope, a male Lattice-tailed Trogon was a sight for sore eyes; the last of the neotropical trogons for my list. Soon after, an Ochre-breasted Antpitta – a species I had dipped on in several countries - showed brilliantly. And soon after that on another path, a Black-headed Ant-thrush showed very well.
Lattice-tailed Trogon - Pic by Ketil Knudsen

Ochre-breasted Antpitta - Pic by Ketil Knudsen
Our second morning at Boquete was spent wandering the very pleasant local road and trails at a leisurely pace.

View from Boquete Tree-trek Hotel
A Hercules Beetle found by Tau was very nice.

Tau with Hercules beetle
Brown Violetear and Philadelphia Vireo were among the birds that were about.

Brown Violetear
In the early afternoon we moved east to  San Felix - our final destination before returning to Panama City.  We made a return visit to Las Lajas (seeing following post) in the late afternoon. Early the next morning we headed north to Cerro Santiago, our third big birding site for the trip in the west Panamanian mountains. We had a Dusky Nightjar calling right by the car as we stopped before dawn, with the bird showing well enough and another calling nearby. It was not long before we connected with our main target hear – the endemic and endearing Yellow-green Finch.

Yellow-green Finch - Pic by Ketil Knudsen
Streak-breasted Treehunter was another nice find and there seemed to be quite a few around.

Streak-breasted Treehunter - Pic by Ketil Knudsen
In beautiful conditions in the pleasant early morning we saw other birds including Golden-browed Chlorophonia and Ruddy Treehunter. Then we embarked on the long return drive to Panama City for the final leg of our three-week sojourn.

Cerro Santiago
This trip was not without challenge. The Darien and Cerro Pirre in particular were never going to be easy for a large group and we had our share of ups and downs. There were unfortunately one or two significant personality issues; these may be pursued in less public forums so that other groups may learn from our experience. The organisation by Birding Panama was first-class and a credit to them, notwithstanding a few hiccups along the way. Our guide Euclides (Kilo) Campos was superb and is highly recommended. Our driver Francisco was always happily up for the very early starts and long drives.

White-bellied Mountain-Gem
Most importantly, we had great success on this trip birdwise with a total list of about 600 species. Star birds included: Black-eared Wood-Quail, Agami Heron, Crested Eagle, Plumbeous Hawk, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Costa Rica Pygmy-Owl, Dusky Nightjar, Tooth-billed Hummingbird, Veraguan Mango, White-bellied Mountain-Gem, Snowcap, Black-bellied Hummingbird, Pirre Hummingbird, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Resplendent Quetzal, Tody Motmot, Barred Puffbird, Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Spot-crowned Barbet, Tody Motmot, Speckle-faced Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Wing-banded Antbird, Black Ant-shrike, Black-crowned Antpitta, Speckled Antshrike, Streak-breasted Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Black-headed Ant-thrush, Sapayoa, Brown-billed Scythebill, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, Beautiful Treerunner, Speckled Mourner, Double-banded Greytail, Yellow-green Tyrannulet, Ochraceous Peewee, Russet-winged Schiffornis, Blue Cotinga, Sharpbill, Silvery-throated Jay, Sooty-headed Wren, Stripe-throated Wren, Varied Solitaire, Pirre Warbler, Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), Green-naped Tanager, Blue-and-gold Tanager, Pirre Bush-Tanager,Viridian Dacnis, Orange-collared Manakin, Green Manakin, Yellow-green Finch, Black Oropendola.

Thanks to Ketil Knudsen for the use of some of his superb pics after I drowned my camera. Six more blog posts from the trip follow. A full trip report will be published in due course.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Western Panama & Chiriqui Highlands

Ochraceous Peewee
After our visit to El Valle in Panama (see following post) we continued heading west on a long drive to the village of Las Lajas on the Pacific coast. Here, in tall trees lining a road, after some effort we  connected with one of the Panama endemics – a male Veraguan Mango, spotted by our driver, Francisco.

Veraguan Mango
Birds seen from the beach at Las Lajas included Black Tern, Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Booby. We continued westward, leaving the province of Veraguas and entering the far western province of Chiriqui. At around sunset, we arrived at the delightful Hotel Dos Rios - our accommodation for the next three nights - at an altitude of 1100m in the highlands town of Volcan.

Las Lajas 
Our first morning was occupied not far from the town at a site called Cuesta de Piedra. This place was very birdy and scenic to boot.

Ravine at Cuesta de Piedra
Some of the nice birds here included Eye-ringed Flatbill, Cherrie’s Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Fiery-billed Aracari, Speckled Tanager and Costa Rica Brushfinch.  In a patch of scrub nearby we had a fine male Orange-collared Manakin.

Fiery-billed Aracari
In the afternoon we visited some pasture and secondary scrub on a coffee plantation near Volcan lakes, seeing the distinctive Chiriqui race of Masked Yellowthroat. My camera is stuffed as a consequence of my dropping it into a creek, so apart from some images from my iphone through the scope (thanks to our guide Kilo for helping with that), some of Ketil Knudsen's lovely images appear here. 

Scarlet-thighed Dacnis - pic Ketil Knudsen

Speckled Tanager - pic ketil Knudsen
We spent our next full day walking the Los Quetzales trail from 1700m to 2500m in Volcan Buru National Park. Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher was one of the first birds of the day at the start of the trail; later we saw Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatcher. 
Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher
Black-cheeked Warbler, Flame-throated Warbler and Flame-coloured Tanager were among the birds in the early morning flocks. Scintillant Hummingbird fed in flowering bushes and higher up were plenty of Volcano Hummingbirds. The cloud forest of the surrounding mountains was looking good on a perfect October morning; this is the wet season, but fingers crossed, to date we have lost hardly any birding time to rain.
Volcano Buru National Park
Other hummingbirds included White-throated  Mountain-Gem, Fiery-throated Hummingbird and Magnificent Hummingbird. Townsend’s Warbler was a Panama tick for Kilo. We were soon onto a Zeledonia (Wrenthrush), a much-wanted oddity that is likely to be given its own family; most of us secured satisfactory views of this skulker. Not long after we enjoyed fine views of another skulker – Silvery-fronted Tapaculo. Yellow-thighed Finch and Large-footed Finch were both seen well. A Black Guan was flushed.

Ochraceous Peewee
The track was very birdy. Good birds in the flocks included Buffy Tuftedcheek, Ruddy Treerunner, Yellowish Flycatcher , Black-thighed Grosbeak and Red-faced Spinetail. We were happy to connect with a flock of about 8 Silvery-throated Jays – a difficult species to score within its limited range.
Soon after we found another tricky specialty of the site – an Ochraceous Peewee near the track.

Costa Rica Pygmy-Owl 
We found a juvenile male Resplendent Quetzel early on the walk but some of the group later saw a group of five, including an adult male, When we returned to the vehicle in the afternoon we tracked down - with a good deal of difficulty - a calling Costa Rica Pygmy-Owl.

Resplendent Quetzal - Ketil Knudsen
Our final morning in the Volcan area was occupied in secondary scrub and a patch of rainforest in the Volcan Lakes area.

Volcan Lakes

Nice additions to the list included Ruddy Foliage-gleaner and Violet Sabrewing.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Panama: Burbayar Lodge to El Valle

Blue-crowned Manakin
Following our extraordinarily successful visit to Cerro Pirre and the lowlands of Darien (see the following two posts) we headed to Burbayar Lodge for a 3-night stay in the Caribbean foothills of Kuna Yala Province. This is a well-known destination for birders which has been difficult to access in recent years. Burbayar is a rustic but charming family-run lodge; after the challenges of Cerro Pirre, it was luxury.

Nusagandi Forest
We cleaned up so comprehensively in Darien that there were few targets left at Burbayar. Our first morning saw us on a trail that runs up and down steep, muddy hills in the Nusagandi Reserve, a large area of forest owned by the Kuna Indians.

Broad-billed Motmot
We were pleased to see a couple of impressive Crimson-bellied Woodpeckers, while Tawny-capped Euphonia was another welcome addition to the list. Striped (Western) Woodhaunter was among the birds seen along the trail.
Ocellated Antbird - Pic by Ketil Knudsen
An impressive antswarm (the first of any substantive size for the trip) was attended by some showy Ocellated Antbirds along with Plain-brown Woodpecker, Broad-billed Motmot, Chesnut-backed Antbird, Dull-mantled Antbird and Bicoloured Antbird.

Green Manakin
A Green Manakin was found in some dense streamside vegetation. We spent a fair bit of time relaxing around the lodge. Blue-crowned Manakin was among the many birds in the grounds (see first image).  A Plumbeous Hawk showed nicely but distantly from the lodge grounds.

Plumbeous Hawk
We visited another area forest on our second morning which had recently been acquired by the owners of Burbayar.  Here we had several Sapayoas showing well. This species, the last of the world’s bird families for my list, had eluded me for years, but on this trip I saw between 12 and 15. It was interesting to compare them with the Green Manakin (see above) a species with which Sapayoa is often confused.


As we were leaving the forest we saw several Sulphur-rumped Tanagers – a localised target, along with a Laughing Falcon.

Laughing Falcon
Mammals included Geoffroy’s Tamarin and a cute Alfaro’s Pygmy Squirrel.  In the afternoon, some of the group ventured to a third forest patch to finally connect with a key target bird for this area – Speckled Antshrike.

Alfaro's Pygmy Squirrel
The food at Burbayar was excellent and this place is highly recommended, though many birders have expressed frustration in recent years at their inability to connect with the owners.

Dinner at Burbayar
We departed Burbayar and continued our journey west, again crossing the Panama Canal before arriving at the delightful hill town of El Valle in Cocle Province for a two-night stay. The town is located in the caldera of an extinct volcano and is surrounded by steep, forested slopes. Our accommodation, the Anton Valley Hotel, ticked the boxes.
Forest at Cerro Gaital

Forest orchid, El Valle
We enjoyed a morning stroll through the misty forests of Cerro Gaital, seeing plenty of Pale-vented Thrushes. Also of interest was the distinctive local race of Common Bush-Tanager. Garden Emerald was finally encountered in a shrubby field not far from the hotel.