Saturday 9 January 2016

Panama - Day 7 (March 6, 2014)


We said our goodbyes to Alfred well before the sun rose and continued onward. Our destination for the morning was an unnamed road that cut through an area of  grassland, dry woodland and agriculture close to the Pacific coast. Shortly after beginning our descent from Altos del Maria towards the lowlands, a smallish owl flew across the road. It landed in a nearby tree, allowing us to train a flashlight beam on the Tropical Screech-Owl. This was our first sighting of this species, after hearing three of them on Pipeline Road several days previously. 

As the sun rose we entered the lowlands, continuing west along the main artery, the coastal Carrera Panamericana. Many of the locals were beginning their days, and the towns were already busy with the hustle and bustle. After passing several small towns, we eventually found our exist to the Juan Hombrón road to enter the Coclé Grasslands. This is one of the more well-known locations to find Veraguan Mango, a species of hummingbird endemic to the coastal Pacific regions from eastern Costa Rica to central Panama. This species was previously known as a Panama endemic, but in recent times it has been discovered in the Golfito and Puntaarenas region of eastern Costa Rica. 

This was my first time birding the dry, coastal Pacific region of Panama and I was looking forward to several lifers!

Groove-billed Ani - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Groove-billed Ani - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Groove-billed Anis and Fork-tailed Flycatchers were some of the first birds we came across, often perching on fences and small trees lining the road.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Prior to this day, I had only observed two Fork-tailed Flycatchers in my life, both during the descent to Altos del Maria a few days ago. We saw two birds from the car during the heat of the day and the looks were a little more distant. Needless to say I was thrilled to have such good views and photo opportunities of this iconic species.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Several Bronzed Cowbird groups were encountered, a long-overdue lifer for me. Small flocks of Brown-throated Parakeets were also new, and a few Mouse-colored Tyrannulets perched up on nearby bushes, yet another life bird.

A trio of Southern Lapwings standing in the middle of the road took us by surprise. They are more often associated with wetlands or dirt fields. There were a few cow pastures with muddy ponds in the vicinity, likely providing the reason why the lapwings were around..

Southern Lapwing - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

After about an hour of driving slowly in our rental car, occasionally getting out, and scoping the flowering trees that Veraguan Mangos prefer, we turned to the right (west) down the next sideroad. After a few minutes, a large flowering tree appeared, and a hummingbird darted away. We stopped the car and it reappeared soon after - a male Veraguan Mango! Over the course of the morning we had three sightings of Veraguan Mangos.
Veraguan Mango (male) - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

With our main target in the bag, we decided to get out of the car and explore a section of scrub adjacent to a large pasture. Several more new birds appeared - Southern Bearless-Tyrannulet, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Scrub Greenlet, a covey of Crested Bobwhite and a calling Striped Cuckoo.

Watching the Crested Bobwhite - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Crested Bobwhite - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

We continued further down the road, observing many of the same species, while adding a few more to our trip list, now well over 300. An Orchard Oriole was found, while a stop at some flooded rice fields turned up some wetland species new for our trip including Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Glossy Ibis, Lesser Yellowlegs and Black-necked Stilt. 

We did encounter a snake, though unfortunately it had recently been run over. It was over 4 feet in length and appeared to be an adult Mastigodryas melanolomus, a common racer species found in woodlands and nearby towns, farmland, and scrub. Not how you prefer to see them, but at least it provided a close study.

Masticodryas melanolomus - Coclé grasslands, Panama

Some of the more common roadside birds included Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Panama Flycatcher.

Yellow-bellied Elaenia - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Yellow-bellied Elaenia - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Despite its name, the Panama Flycatcher is not endemic to Panama, nor is it particularly more common in Panama then elsewhere. But Panama is located right in the middle of its global range, from Western Costa Rica east to Colombia and Venezuela.

Panama Flycatcher - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

A road-side pair of Aplomado Falcons was the next highlight, as the sun rose higher in the sky towards midday. One bird in particular perched low on a snag, allowing us to drive along side it for photographs. The lighting was harsh but it was still an excellent opportunity.

Aplomado Falcon - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Aplomado Falcon - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

Aplomado Falcon - Juan Hombrón Road, Coclé Grasslands, Panama

We had a successful day in the Pacific lowlands and Coclé grasslands, though we missed our last few target species in the coastal mangroves. Hopefully we would have a second chance at these species near the end of the trip in Panama City. We continued on as the heat of the afternoon really set in, making slow progress as the highway was jammed up in all the towns as Los Carnivales was happening across the country. Eventually we made it to our destination of El Copé in the mountains to the northwest, where we were staying for the night with a family. I was excited for what the next day would have in store, as it would be my only chance at species found in the mountains further west in Panama and Costa Rica. El Copé is right at the eastern extent of these mountains yet still has a wide variety of montane species.

Total bird species so far: 322

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