Friday 28 March 2014

Update from Portugal

Laura and I have made it to Faro, on the southern coast of Portugal today! I`ll make this brief since I don`t have a lot of time, but here is an update of my time in Europe so far.

I arrived on Saturday, March 22 after a red-eye flight via Paris. Laura met me in Edinburgh and we spent a relaxing day and a half together in the city. We did get out for a nice walk to Duddingston Loch, at the base of Arthur`s Seat, in beautiful spring weather! I was happy to finally see my first ever Great Crested Grebe, a species that had eluded me previously on my Scotland trips (mainly due to time of year that I visited).

From Edinburgh, we flew to London Gatwick on March 24, where we met with friends of mine from Pelee, Paul and Liz Hunter. They welcomed us into their home and showed me some of their top-notch birding locations in the southeast of England! Unfortunately the weather did not co-operate, but in about two full days of birding we came up with over 100 species - not bad considering the cold, strong wind, sleet, and general lack of migrants! Out of those species, the following were lifers:

-Red Kite
-Spotted Redshank
-Pied Avocet (or as the Brits say, just "Avocet")
-Red-legged Partridge
-Arctic Loon (I mean...Black-throated Diver)
-Bearded Reedling
-Cetti's Warbler
-Northern Wheatear
-Water Pipit
-Rose-ringed Parakeet
-Wood Lark

A major highlight for me was finally seeing a Northern Wheatear that Liz had spotted, just moments after Paul had found a Water Pipit (also a lifer). The Northern Wheatear was my 1000th bird! :)

Northern Wheatear - Rye Marsh, England

Our time in London was over all too soon, but Laura and I were off to Portugal next. We arrived in Lisbon on the evening of March 26 and spent the 27th doing the touristy thing and checking out the city. Portugal was my 6th country in 10 days, after Canada, Panama, USA, France, and the UK! Despite not really birding that day, I added a lifer in Common Swift and found another good bird in the form of a Yank - a Ring-billed Gull! Luckily Laura had her point-and-shoot camera with her so I could document it.

3rd calendar year Ring-billed Gull - Lisbon, Portugal

On March 28 we walked around part of the city for the morning then took a train to Faro, located on the sunny south coast of Portugal where we are currently. Unfortunately our seats on the train weren't the best but I still added a lifer in Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Faro is located immediately next to the Ria de Formosa, a large and productive coastal estuary. As we were getting off of the train, a White Stork flew in and landed in the marsh; yet another lifer! And to top it off, several Pallid Swifts hawking for insects at dusk was my 3rd lifer of the day.

Tomorrow we have plans to take a boat through the estuary and to a barrier island, so I am hoping to see some shorebirds and maybe some seabirds if I am lucky. We have almost 5 full days in Faro so lots of time to see some awesome wildlife!!

Sunday 23 March 2014

Stalling for time...

I know that some of you who read this blog are "eagerly" anticipating some photos from Panama, but that might still be a few days away from happening. After returning from the tropics I had 3 full days to organize my life, then on Friday I left for Europe. This will be my 3rd consecutive year visiting my girlfriend Laura in Scotland. Laura is in her 3rd year studying veterinarian medicine in Edinburgh, which is a great excuse for me to come visit and explore with her. It just so happens that flights within Europe are quite inexpensive as well. On my first trip (in 2012), we visited Barcelona, Spain for 3 days. Last year, it was a week in Paris, France. This year we will be in the London, England area for several days with some British birding friends that I know from their annual Point Pelee visits in May. Following that, Laura and I will fly to southern Portugal for about a week. It will be a lot of fun seeing some new birds, feeling the sun again, and maybe catching a chameleon or two! Hopefully by the time I return back to the frozen wasteland known as Ontario in early April, some of the snow will have melted and migrants will have returned. Even now, it is encouraging to see the reports of early migrants back into Ontario....

While I may not actually edit the majority of the Panama photos for a while, I have great plans of putting up day-by-day summaries, complete with many photos. In the meantime, David Bell has done the arduous task of uploading all of our sightings to ebird. Here are a few of my bird stats from the trip:

Total days: 17
Total ebird checklists: 63 (relatively few!)
Total species: 495
Total "lifers": 308
species in Panama Province: 342 (in 5ish days; compared to the 363 I've seen in Ontario all time)
species in Darien Province: 270

One of the highlights of the trip was definitely seeing two Rufous-vented Ground-cuckoos on Pipeline Road on our first full day. This "tropical roadrunner" can be very difficult to find as they are present in very low densities and often are only seen around army ant swarms. Luckily these ones had been staked out at a very productive swarm along Pipeline Road, and after an absence of a week, they re-appeared just in time for our visit!

Thursday 20 March 2014

Back from Panama!

I recently returned from just over 2 weeks birding in Panama. I was there for almost the entire trip with David Bell and Steve Pike and we rented a car and birded across the country from El Cope east to the Darien Gap. Before meeting up with me, Dave and Steve had already birded the western highlands, seeing over 100 species that I wouldn't have a chance at this trip. However, in our time birding together, we visited a wide variety of habitats and saw quite a few interesting birds, including a number of endemic species to the Darien and the mountain ranges found in it. At the end of the trip my total was around 480, with the exact number unknown until we have all the checklists in ebird. Some of the main bird highlights of our Panama trip include:
-Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo
-Blue Cotingas
-Gray Elainea (in Canal Zone)
-40 species of diurnal raptors/falcons/vultures including Ornate Hawk-eagle, Black Hawk-Eagle, Black-collared Hawk, Plumbeous Hawk, and Aplomado Falcons
-killer looks/photos of a Harpy Eagle
-3 species of Quail-dove
-Black Antshrike
-2 macaws
-the thiree "Pirre" endemics (hummingbird, bush-tanager, warbler)
-Dusky Pigeon
-White-whiskered Hermit (possibly only one documented record for the country)
-Green-naped Tanager
-Choco Tinamous and Tapaculos
-8 owl species
-Tody Motmot
-Wing-banded Antbird
-Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper
-Spot-breasted Woodpecker
-Yellow-hooded Blackbird
-Black-crowned Antpitta
-Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager
-Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker
-Bonaparte's Gull (very rare vagrant to Panama)
-Yellow-green Tyrannulet
-plus many more!

Before I get into the daily summaries, here is a photo of an Ornate Hawk-Eagle that buzzed us on the hawk-watching tower in Altos del Maria.

Monday 17 March 2014

Panama: January 2010 (part 11)

Part 1 - Gamboa lowlands and Pipeline Road
Part 2 - Road-cruising and night-hiking at El Valle de Anton
Part 3 - More from El Valle de Anton
Part 4 - Creek-walking in El Valle de Anton
Part 5 - A brand new species for science!
Part 6 - Snakes and interesting frogs at El Valle de Anton
Part 7 - Night-hiking at El Valle de Anton
Part 8 - El Cope
Part 9 - El Cope, again
Part 10 - Back to El Valle de Anton
Part 11 - Night-hiking at Pipeline Road

On our last night in Panama before our flight back, Jon and I ventured over to the Gamboa area, home of the world famous Pipeline Road. This stretch of road travels through Soberania National Park and is considered to be one of the best birding locations in Central America. It is possible to see several hundred species along this stretch in a day - I think some people have seen close to 300 in a single day here! We weren't there for the birds, though the following morning I did see about 100 species in five hours or so.

We were there to do some night hiking! Most of our night-hikes had taken place in El Valle and El Cope, areas containing mid to high elevation Pacific slope species. Pipeline Road runs through lowland Caribbean slope tropical forest. 

It was hot and humid as we set out on our long trek down the road. Almost immediately we began to notice frogs including many species that were new for our trip list. 

Colostethus panamensis - Common Rocket Frog

Colostethus panamensis - Common Rocket Frog

Colostethus panamensis - Common Rocket Frog

Bufo margaritifer

Bufo margaritifer

While the road was mostly straight without any major elevation changes, it was still tiring in the heat. I'm not sure how many kilometers we walked that night but it was probably well over 10.

We encountered a single snake on our night-hike. It was a common species but new for our trip list (and a lifer for me!).  Coniophanes fissidens is a common species throughout Central America and northern South America.

Coniophanes fissidens - Brown Spotbelly

Coniophanes fissidens - Brown Spotbelly

Like most colubrid snakes, Coniophanes are harmless to humans but are technically "rear-fanged". When they catch their prey, they will work in the venom - enough to incapacitate a lizard, but hardly enough to cause a bit of local swelling in people. Jon decided to test it out...

Coniophanes fissidens - Brown Spotbelly

Craugastor fitzingeri

Silverstoneia flotator - Rainforest Rocket Frog

We came across several birds while out hiking as well. Three species of owls were heard calling including Black-and-white Owl, Mottled Owl, and Crested Owl. Common Pauraques were abundant along the road. We quickly discovered that they were almost too easy to approach! If we had tried we probably could have easily caught one by hand.

Common Pauraque 

Bufo haematiticus 

Hyalinobatrachium fleishmanni

Hyalinobatrachium fleishmanni

Near the end of our hike we stumbled across this turtle, out and about for a crawl along the road.

Meso-American Slider - Trachemys venusta

Norops limifrons - Slender Anole

Smilisca sila - Panama Cross-banded Treefrog

Rana warszewitschii - Brilliant Forest Frog

Rana warszewitschii - Brilliant Forest Frog

Sunday 16 March 2014

Panama: January 2010 (part 10)

Part 1 - Gamboa lowlands and Pipeline Road
Part 2 - Road-cruising and night-hiking at El Valle de Anton
Part 3 - More from El Valle de Anton
Part 4 - Creek-walking in El Valle de Anton
Part 5 - A brand new species for science!
Part 6 - Snakes and interesting frogs at El Valle de Anton
Part 7 - Night-hiking at El Valle de Anton
Part 8 - El Cope
Part 9 - El Cope, again
Part 10 - Back to El Valle de Anton
Part 11 - Night-hiking at Pipeline Road

As our trip neared its finale, Jon and I left El Cope and made our way back to El Valle and a few other areas for a last day or two of hiking.

One area we checked out was located on the road into El Valle. It was lower in elevation and consisted of the fairly dry riparian corridor flanking a moderately sized stream. It was here that we found two species of parrot snake.

There are three species of parrot snake in Panama and two found in this part of the country. The Satiny Parrot Snake (Leptophis depressirostrus) and the Green Parrot Snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) can both be found in the same habitat. We ended up seeing a total of five parrot snake in a few hours!

Leptophis ahaetulla - Green Parrot Snake

Comparison shot of the two very similar species. Note the six sub-ocular (below the eye) scales from the eye forward to the rostrum in the larger L. ahaetulla, compared to only five in L. depressirostrus. It gives the latter the appearance of a shorter head, with the eye located closer towards the front.

Leptophis ahaetulla on left, L. depressirostrus on right

Leptophis ahaetulla - Green Parrot Snake

Leptophis scalation

One afternoon, Jon and I checked out a stream in an area that we hadn't thoroughly herped yet.  It was just a quick stop as we traveled from El Cope back towards El Valle if I recall, and we were only going to check a few hundred meters of stream. That is, until we found some salamanders! The below species is Oedipena complex, the common species of that genus found in this part of Panama.

Oedipena complex - Gamboa Worm Salamander

Oedipena complex - Gamboa Worm Salamander

Towards the end of the trip, Jon and I were invited to the wedding of a herper that we both knew. While at the wedding we met some of the other guests, including two herpers from the southern US (Arkansas, I think?). We invited them out to a place that we had visited earlier in the trip, a.k.a. Jon's Green-and-back Dart Frog locale. We had also seen a False Fer-de-lance and Speckled Racer here.

The visit was a success and we saw a wide diversity of species, though no snakes of any kind.

Norops oxylophus - Stream Anole


Engystomops pustulosus - Tungara Frog

Norops limifrons - Slender Anole

Norops limifrons - Slender Anole

Basiliscus basiliscus - Brown Basilisk

Friday 14 March 2014

Panama: January 2010 (part 9)

Part 1 - Gamboa lowlands and Pipeline Road
Part 2 - Road-cruising and night-hiking at El Valle de Anton
Part 3 - More from El Valle de Anton
Part 4 - Creek-walking in El Valle de Anton
Part 5 - A brand new species for science!
Part 6 - Snakes and interesting frogs at El Valle de Anton
Part 7 - Night-hiking at El Valle de Anton
Part 8 - El Cope
Part 9 - El Cope, again
Part 10 - Back to El Valle de Anton
Part 11 - Night-hiking at Pipeline Road

Continuing in El Cope...

The rain let up close to midnight, though the air remained humid and fairly warm. We quickly found a few reptiles taking advantage.

Norops humilis - Forest Anole

This Ringed Snail-eating Snake (Sibon annulatus) was picked out crawling through some shrubbery. The white spots were noticeable from the trail. Just like that, we had our second snake!

Sibon annulatus - Ringed Snail-eating Snake

Sibon annulatus - Ringed Snail-eating Snake

Tink Frogs, of which we saw three species on the trip, are widely distributed in many forests throughout Panama. This is the Common Tink Frog (Diasporus diastema).

Diasporus diastema - Common Tink Frog

Diasporus diastema - Common Tink Frog

The highlight of the night, for me at least, was this large Craugastor tabasarae that we discovered in a stump away two feet off the ground. This species was only described in 2004 here in El Cope, and it can be apparently very tough to find.

Craugastor tabasarae

Craugastor tabasarae

Craugastor tabasarae

Our third snake of the night, in the form of a Dipsas temporalis. Three snake species on the night!

Dipsas temporalis

After walking through the forest for a good four or five hours, we emerged and began the long walk back to the vehicle. Fortunately the wind had died down, the rain had abated, and the gravel road was mostly downhill. Several Marine Toads were seen!

Bufo marinus - Marine Toad

We finally arrived at the vehicle and passed out for the night. I had a surprisingly good sleep, which may have been due to the cooler air temperature as the night wore on. By 8 or 9 in the morning we were up and getting ready to go. I walked a little bit up from where we had parked for the night and found this impressive Green Tree Anole (Norops biporcatus). It stook its ground and was easily photographed in the mid-morning sun (more of a haze).

Norops biporcatus - Green Tree Anole

Norops biporcatus - Green Tree Anole

Norops biporcatus - Green Tree Anole

The last herp of the El Cope section of the trip was this rain frog, whose ID I have forgotten.

The El Cope portion of the trip, while quite short in duration, was well worth it as we saw a ton of quality herps.

By the time this is posted, I should have checked out El Cope for another two days on my current trip! Hopefully I'll have a real-time update on the blog soon!