Archive for September, 2012

Catching canopy feeding butterflies

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The Magnificent Swallowtail Papilio garamas is one of those charismatic species of butterfly whose range is restricted to the highlands. It’s habitat is also high up in the canopy and rarely ventures to lower levels of the forest. It can most often be seen in the light gaps of the forest soaring slowly and effortlessly like a raptor in broad circles. One of our trails, the La Amistad Trail, ventures into the habitat of this species and recently we were able to catch a male specimen in pristine condition. After 10 minutes of watching this butterfly elusively out of reach, another male appeared and both males started spiraling and swirling in a combative struggle that brought them down out of the canopy and within reach of our net. The one male was caught and a visiting entomologist who wishes to remain anonymous, had the good fortune to secure this specimen.

When we showed these images to the next group of visitors, this inspired them to come up with a net to reach high up in the canopy where another male was spotted feeding on the orange tubular flowers of a mistletoe. With the help of a local stand of bamboo, an extension on the net was made gaining access to the lower blossoms of this mistletoe.

Bamboo net extension reaching up into the canopy…….a desperate move.

After 30 minutes of struggling without success, we then observed the butterfly soar out from the canopy of the tree and head lower toward the stream. In the hope that perhaps he would drink or feed on minerals in the mud by the stream, Kevin took off in hot pursuit and on the link you get to witness the high drama on video of the successful catch of this Papilio garamas. The video is short on detail but allows you to experience the high drama of the moment.

Here is a close up of the mistletoe blossoms visited by Papilio garamus

Mounted specimen of Papilio garamas

Another beautiful highland species is the Anetia thirza insignis, of the Danainae tribe and cousin to the Monarch. Recent visitors also secured the specimen showed on the photos here.

Anetia thirza insignis

Underside of Anetia thirza insignis

See the Milky Way at Mount Totumas Cloud Forest

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Rainy season in the cloud forest does often have nights like the above….when the clouds that drift up from the Pacific dump their rains and recede in the late afternoon and early evening. On such nights with no moonlight the air at 6500 feet becomes crystal clear and the milky way can be seen like some of us may remember in our childhoods before light pollution filled our living spaces.

The International Dark Sky Association is dedicated to the issue of light pollution, bringing awareness to the public about what is lost when we fill our skies with artificial light.

Once a source of wonder–and one half of the entire planet’s natural environment—the star-filled nights of just a few years ago are vanishing in a yellow haze. Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.

Here in Western Panama we are fortunate to have minimal light pollution. The small town of Volcan is 20km away and has very few street lights. West of us are the Talamanca mountains of Costa Rica with no notable large towns. Mount Totumas Cloud Forest is off the grid up a valley that has no artificial lights and we border the immense La Amistad NP where the night truly dominates.

Here are a few more pics from earlier in August with no moonlight…

Taken with a Nikon D90, ISO set at 1600, 28 second exposure with aperature at 5.6