Random Barred Antshrike

Going through some photos for upcoming presentations at Hawk Ridge and Berkeley Springs, I came across this bird, a barred antshrike from my trip a couple of years ago from Canopy Tower in Panama.  I suddenly feel a huge ache to be back in Central America, specifically to this lodge. I always try to plan a mid winter trip...think Panama must be it in 2013.

Digiscoped with a Swarovski scope and Nikon D40 (with a DCA adapator).

Random Lineated Woodpecker

Going through photos of last year and I found a Panama woodpecker that I didn't post:

This is a Central American cousin of the pileated woodpecker and about the same size.

I ended up seeing them on field trips based both from Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge.  They weren't super common but, like a pileated, if you hang out a bit in the places they are most likely to be found, you'll see one.

2 Caracaras In 1 Year

Winter and lots of snow brings with it cabin fever. We have lots of modern conveniences that help ease that tension, like Netflix Watch Instantly and Amazon Streaming and alcohol! You don't have to go to a rental facility, you don't even have to wait for Netflix to arrive in the mail--you can have most any movie...even things you shouldn't watch like Dagmar's Hot Pants delivered right to your tv with the press of a button. But that leads to things like watching Inception several times in a row, which for me leads me to vexing states: either I need a more exciting job or I have no idea what reality I'm living in.  Bwaaaaaa. But being cooped up is a great time to go through photos and put them in storage since I'm running out of space on my laptop.  I have so many birds that I have not blogged!  Holy crap, I completely forgot the caracaras!

One species was observed during the Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival at Laguna Atascosa.  I remember looking at their images in field guides as a kid and thinking, "How cool would it be to see one of those?"  They are one of the birds that attract me to Texas.

Man, stick a cigar out the side of this bird's beak and you could confuse it with Groucho Marx. I'm not sure if you can make it out in the above 2 photos, but there's a yellow bulge on the caracara--that's a full crop.  These birds eat quite a bit of roadkill and will forage for insects too.  Man, what must it be like to get a nice big fat food baby in the middle of your chest and then have to fly around.

I have to admit, it kind of grossed me out to watch the bird preening around the bulge.

The second species of caracara I saw in 2010 is a yellow-headed caracara on one of the field trips with Canopy Tower in Panama.  I didn't get the weird crop/saggy yellow boob view on this one, but it was cool to see nonetheless.

So random bird blogging coming soon.

More Panama Birding

Wow, what a great Monday--we might hit 40 degrees (do I dare take out my bike), I'm going to learn how to ice fish today and I just came off a fun weekend.  I have to put in a plug for my Twin Cities readers: Non Birding Bill's birthday was the day I flew to Panama. To make up for it, I scheduled a party with Virginia Corbett who taught us how to do couple's dancing like the cha cha, foxtrot, and hustle.  It was fun and easy going and you have to love a woman who can teach you to fox trot to Jonathan Coulton.  I think even our friends who were horrified at the idea of learning to dance had a good time.  If course, the Lambic and cupcakes helped.

And speaking of Panama, I am SO not finished blogging about it.  What fertile blogging ground that place is.  And I am planning a ten day tour there next year.  Carlos was going to get me the itinerary late last week but his computer died.  But it is on in mid to late February and it will happen at both Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower.  Start calculating your frequent flyer miles and saving your pennies now.  This will be an unforgettable winter getaway in 2011.

One of the fun things about birding in another country is that the vehicles they use to transport you are a bit more exciting than what would be allowed in the US.  Here we have a truck and the bed is fitted with padded benches that allow us to watch for birds and mammals unfettered by a roof and seat belts.  If we were traveling and saw something worth stopping for, all you had to do was pound on the roof of the cab and the guide would stop the vehicle.  Fun!  Some of our best birding was the road to and from Canopy Tower called Semaphore Hill.  One morning we walked it, but often when we were tootling down to hit the highway and on to birding adventures elsewhere, we would have the driver stop for monkeys or motmots.

Coatis were frequently seen along the road and when the drivers stopped the vehicle so we could get photos, I noticed the familiar smirk.  It's the same one I would give if I were leading a US tour and we stopped for a raccoon.  But the guides are smart and they know that people love an animal with a nose that appears to swivel around of its own accord.  Oh, coati, how can you be so cute munching your palm fruit and not allow me to scratch your belly?

I did get to see a celebrity bird.  Does this species look familiar to you?  It's actual name is the red-capped manakin but I would wager that millions have seen this bird and not know its name, but they do know it as the Moonwalk Bird--here's a collection of videos I've found on the web. There's actually a second male in this photos but he is obscured by the branch.  I did get to see a hint of the display but did not get to see the manakin in his full Moonwalking glory.  Writer Laura Kammermeier has an article a fun video of the manakin mating dance.  Her video also includes a bit more graphic bit that tends to be left off of the nature programs and her color commentary that goes along with it is hilarious.  I never grew tired of seeing these cute little birds, I had to resist asking for an autograph.

All kinds of birds lurked in the lower canopy like this dusky antbird and as much I love a gray bird, the female of this species appeals to my love of brown birds:

All kinds of cool birds hid in the lower foliage. One bird I was really looking forward to was the tinamou--it was also a requested bird when I asked what people wanted me to try and photograph.  We heard them quite a bit and one day when we were driving up to the Tower, we saw a couple on the side of the road.

But tinamous like this great tinamou above like to lurk and hide in dark places--probably because this chicken like bird also known as the mountain hen has a body built for food.  Being cagey and secretive is their key to survival.  I brought along a video camera because some of those dark areas are not good for digiscoping and here is a video of the great tinamou:


You can hear Carlos doing the great tinamou wavering whistle and another tinamou answering back from deeper in the forest.

Outside the tower itself were a few hummingbird feeders.  Above is a photo I got of a white-necked jacobin (a type of hummingbird) with the Wingscapes BirdCam. They can't have banana feeders here like at Canopy Lodge because the coatis.  They raid the feeders and will try to get into the tower and as cute as they are, the last thing I want in my room (apart from a fer de lance or bushmaster) would be a coati.  But the hummingbird feeders are enough to entertain.

Great Potoo Madness

There are some birds who are celebrities to me--one would be the potoo.  I was into birds as a kid, I had a ton of books and I remember sitting in my room looking at bird books and there were certain birds that were iconic that I hoped to see one day when I got older and had the means to travel.  The potoo falls in that category.

Potoos are nocturnal birds in the order of Caprimulgiformes and that includes nightjars (like nighthawks and whip-poor-wills) but are in their own family. Nighthawks are also active at night and will roost horizontally on the ground or a branch to hide from potential predators. Potoos do it upright and kind of look like a broken off branch.  If you go to Google Image Search, you'll find a ton of photos of potoos in action.

When we were birding our first day at Canopy Tower, I asked my guide Carlos Bethancourt if there were any around.  I wanted to see a potoo and when I asked people for bird requests, someone requested that I try and get a photo of a potoo.  Carlos said that they have them but they are not always at the same roosting spot.  During lunch he came up to me and said that a potential potoo has been spotted near the entrance gate to Semaphore Hill (the road that leads to the tower). He was going to check it out to see if it was there and show people on the afternoon field trips and wanted to know if I would like to come along. So I did!

The best part was that Carlos took me to the general area and then had me look for it.  My first attempt turned out to be an ant nest but I found it the second time and we set up our scopes on the cool bird.  I was so excited to see this bird, I wanted to ask for its autograph.  I love when I birds doing what I have read about for years--there was the great potoo perched and erect, looking like a piece of branch like all the guides and online photos show.  And this was a great potoo--it was huge!  The great potoo was nothing like a dainty nighthawk, it was the size and shape of roughly a red-tailed hawk.  As Carlos watched me take photos with my Nikon D40 on my Swarovski ATM 80 scope, he asked to try the camera on his Leica scope.

He got a pretty cool photo of it stretching its wings and I was stunned at how long they were.  The wings were not pointed like a nightjar and I wondered what it must be like to see something like that fly.  They don't zoom around like a nighthawk.  They grab insects like a flycatcher does.  The potoo will perch out on a prominent branch and fly out at night to grab beetles, moths, grasshoppers and other large insects.

While Carlos used my camera, I handheld an HD video camera to my scope and managed to get a few stills.  Look at that floofy face! And notice all the wispy feathers around the head.  I bet it would be so soft to touch.  Alas, like so many birds, not a good pet but such a cool bird to see up close.  I'm glad Carlos took me out during the break time, I was able to get some gratuitous photos of this great potoo without the rest of a birding group getting irritated that I wanted to lolly-gag. I could have stayed and watched this bird all day.   And that is the sign of what a great place this is.  If you have a birding/wildlife request at Canopy Lodge or Canopy Tower and you tell them what you would like to do, they work very hard to accommodate that request, while still be respectful to the wildlife and environment.  I've been to a lot of places that wanted me to cover how great they are for birding, this is one organization that has truly lived up to the hype.

Canopy Tower offers night excursions (which I'll blog about soon) and while we were out we got to hear a common potoo.  Here's a link on Xeno-Canto of what a common potoo sounds like (do follow it, that is one of the coolest bird songs ever).  I remembered hearing that on the Biodiversity of Animal Sounds CD from Cornell and always thought, "What must that be like to hear in the wild?" Answer: Pretty damn cool!  We were on Semaphor Road in the dark, no lights, hearing crickets and no traffic.  Then that lonely call (almost like a child on a pipe) comes from overhead and another echoes far in the distance. It was beautiful and I haven't felt chills like that down my spine since the first time I heard a brown-backed solitaire.

Anyway, I was hopeful that since we heard the common potoo's haunting song at night that the great potoo would have an equally touching call.  Not exactly.  Here's a great potoo calling on Xeno-Canto.  It's rather reminicent of Barney Gumble on the Simpsons.  Ah well, I guess that is the sound would expect an odd bark looking bird to make.

Here's a video of the great potoo and you can see how well it is hiding in the branches.  It's only about a minute and a half long:


Did you hear the cars in the background?  The potoo was not bothered.  One of the things I love about my videos from Panama is that you can hear Carlos in the background of some of them and he seems just as genuinely happy to see the bird as you are.  He's a very enthusiastic guide.

It's a once in a lifetime bird to see...and I just realized the type of bird that makes my husband shake his head.  I saw all these colorful birds and the one that I'm super excited about is brown and gray.

Canopy Tower

As much as I enjoyed my time at Canopy Lodge in Panama, I was really looking forward to Canopy Tower. I have heard so much about this place from other birders and from one of the guides--Carlos. It has always stuck in my mind as a place I need to go.  It did not disappoint.

This was the view out of my bedroom (I had the Collared Forest-Falcon for those who have gone to the Tower before) I'm glad I started at Canopy Lodge, its cooler temperatures gave my body time to go from the extreme cold and dry air of Minnesota to the humidity and hot temperatures of Panama.  The tower is not air conditioned but is well ventilated. I found it easy to feel comfortable in my room, in the dining area and especially on the deck.  I pitted out totally on the field trips, but they were divided up throughout the day so I didn't get exhausted.

The tower was built in 1965 by the US Air Force for a RADAR to monitor traffic along the Panama Canal. You can read it's full history here but after it was closed in 1995 it was turned into an ecolodge to give people a unique change to enjoy the flora and fauna of Panama from up high.  It's not glamorous, but adventurous. You must ascend stairs (no elevator) to your room and the dining area is on the top floor. Above that you take a steep set of stairs (practically a ladder) to get to the deck where you are literally in the tree canopy and can look down at tamarins or be eye level with the passing bat falcon.

This is sunrise from the Canopy Tower. The deck goes around 360 degrees and you can have a view of the forested mountains, the Panama Canal or of Panama City in the distance. I preferred the forested view. You could go up any time of day and while I was there a breeze or shade always kept you cool.  I enjoyed sunrise the most, listening to the keel-billed toucans sing their creaky song while sipping coffee.

In the evening, tiny bat falcons cruised around the tower grabbing and eating insects on the wing.  As if bat falcons buzzing your head wasn't cool enough, you could hear crazy and mysterious sounds coming from the darkening rain forest below, like the eerie great tinamou (and I insist that you follow that link and listen to that call) or a lone collared forest-falcon.

I couldn't help but notice the ear plug dispenser right outside my room. There were reminders all over about how easily sound travels in the tower--it was built for the military not for luxury.  Birders take note--as cool and awesome as this place is (and will especially seem after a few more blog posts) this would not be the ideal spot for a bird watching honeymoon (wink wink, know what I mean). But human noise is not the only reason for the ear plugs.  It's also quite noisy at night and I don't mean just the crickets, frogs and owls.

I'm talking about this dude specifically--the howler monkey. The above howler is male...if you couldn't tell already.  Good grief, how do they swing around from branches so deftly without hurting themselves?

Unlike the red-bellied woodpecker, this mammal is aptly named. They say the sound of the howler monkey can be heard for three miles. They generally sing during the day, using their loud booming call to alert other groups of howler monkeys where their group is. However, the howler monkey day can start before dawn. One morning, I was fortunate enough to have them right outside my window. It worked out well, this was a morning when I needed to get up early and little did I know the night before that it was not necessary to set my alarm...the howlers were alarm enough.  Here's a video of what they sounded like in the morning followed by some footage of one that was noshing on some leaves outside the tower during one of our lunches (do at least listen to that terrifying sound).


I wonder what early explorers thought when they came to Central America and they heard those crazy howler monkeys? How could you not think that Armageddon is about to descend upon you?

So, that is a taste of the Canopy Tower...more soon!

Birding In Fog

Believe it or not, it can be a tad humid in Panama leading to a great deal of fog in the upper elevations early in the morning. It was like walking in a strange dreamland and were surrounded by strange sounds. One of them was a bird that excited our guide Tino (the Human iPod) and he said, "Thrush like schiffornis" and casually walked toward the sound strumming air guitar and whistling back at the bird. He whistled, the bird called back and after a few moments at medium sized ball of brown streaked above our heads across the trail and that was it.

Now this bird is something of a mystery. It goes by many names in the guides because ornithologists appear to not know exactly how to categorize it. You mind find it in a guide as thrush-like mourner or thrush like manakin or thrush-like schiffornis. So, if you haven't gathered, it has characteristics of a thrush, it's kind of a manakin, well maybe not so let's just call it by its latin name schiffornis who knows.  You would think a spectacular mystery bird like this would be something to behold.  Here's a photo of one.  It's worthy of some Non Birding Bill brown bird ridicule.

I giggled later in the day when I read my Panama bird guide about the schiffornis--it said that the only looks you are going to get is of the bird flying away unless you are lucky enough to snare one in a banding net. Ah well, those brown birds, always the heart breakers.

One of our targets was the orange-bellied trogon which was very cooperative despite the fog. That bright belly was a beacon in the haze.

Another most awesome bird that we got to see was a toucanet or more specific a blue-throated toucanet.  Alas, the clouds steal thunder from how mind bendingly beautiful a small green toucan can be. It was awesome to see this little dude (there were actually three) doing their thing and plucking fruit from the trees...and for the record, the little green guys show no interest in helping you find Fruit Loops or Guinness.

And while we were watching some great birds we got to see some interesting bugs. I have no idea what this is, some sort of millipede? I asked someone in our field trip group if they would put their hand next to it for a size comparison because it was huge.  He hesitated...I guess I can't blame him, who knows what creepy defense mechanisms Central American bugs have?

Oh and speaking of bugs--check out this trail.  Any guesses as to what made this trail?  If you said leaf cutter ants, you'd be correct.  I have lots of video of those dudes.  Not only do they cut up pieces of leaves for their little farms, but they clear the path for their trail by removing debris to make it easier for the ones carrying the leaves. There was something ominous to me about see the cleared and well worn trails unused.  Where were the ants and what were they plotting?

Here was a wonderful discovery in the mist--a hummingbird nest.  This time my friend was happy to use their hand for size comparison--no worries at a hummingbird nest as there might be next to an unknown millipede.  The nest had at least one egg in it.  We're not sure of the species, the female didn't fly in while we were there and we didn't hang around so as not to keep the female away from incubating the egg.

So even if fog, there are interesting things to see in Panama.