Birding Update January 2010

The avifauna at Mount Totumas in January had some striking differences when compared to my last visit in August. The forest was comparably silent, strong winds held up most of the month. Band-tailed Pigeons, numbering in the hundreds during the spring and summer, were absent. Resplendent Quetzals and Three Wattled Bellbirds were essentially also absent although Roberto and Carlos both spotted a couple of lone individuals. Black Guan on the other hand were more likely to be seen on some of the lower forests, probably escaping the strong winds that were raging on the upper slopes of Mount Totumas where we usually found them last summer.

Northern Migrants are present in the forest often joining resident mixed species flocks. Warblers; Black and White, Blackburnian, Mourning, Golden-winged, Black-throated Green, Wilson’s, Tennessee. Northern Orioles, Summer Tanagers, Swainson’s Thrush, Broad-winged Hawks.

The first week of February is ending and I heard the first Three-Wattled Bellbird making a single call at sunset. Resplendent Quetzals are also starting to arrive as we are hearing their squawking calls more frequently. It will be interesting to observe both these species early courtship behavior as March approaches.

The Panama Field Guide mentions two hummingbird species, White-throated Mountain Gem and Purple-throated Mountain Gem as being possibly conspecific but with distinct separate ranges. The Purple-Throated Mountain Gem inhabits lower elevations and supposedly is found in Central and Eastern Chiriqui no further west than Fortuna according to the field Guide. Well this hummingbird is here at Mount Totumas and I observed them twice along the Rio Colorado river drainage at around 1600m. Maybe they have been expanding their range or only seasonally are present but this could be a contact zone for these two species since the White-throated Mountain Gem is common here starting around 2000 meters.

Yesterday was one of those moments that happens occasionally when bird watching where everything seems to come together; the weather, time of day, fruiting trees and where you happen to be standing at a place that puts you right on the front row as a mixed species flock, a riot of diversity comes rolling through and keeps on coming. It reached a point bordering on ridiculous until my head was reeling but it felt so good I just didn’t want it to stop. Mixed species flocks in the neotropics can be very rewarding but very frustrating if your in the dark forest floor craning your neck looking up 120 feet at the underbellies of distant birds. At around 1700m  above the Rio Colorado River walking along the edge of pasture and forest looking down and across at the canopy of trees, some of which were fruiting, I fell into that sweet spot. The weather suddenly shifted as dark clouds rolled in and dropped the temperature which seemed to awaken the forest. Tanagers; Silver-throated, Golden Hooded, Bay-Headed, Summer, Crimson-Backed, Flame-colored, Common Bush. Warblers; Slate-throated, Flame-throated, Black and White, Black-throated Green, Golden-winged, Blackburnian. The list is only a list and doesn’t describe the rush of surprise as what seemed to be another Flame-colored Tanager suddenly emerged from the foliage as a spectacular Red-Headed Barbet. A Northern Oriole, dozens of Mountain Thrush, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper,  Dark Pewee. A pair of Common Tufted Flycatchers, golden brown, sticking to their perches as the rush of species past by.  A Green Violet Ear Hummingbird was calling incessantly the whole time as a pair of Scintillant Hummingbirds were chasing each other in what seemed to be early courtship. A Snowy-bellied Hummingbird popped up green with white belly and disappeared. Topping it all off were large flocks of Sulpher-Winged Parakeets restlessly cruising just above the canopy. Swirling in front of the dark clouds and sweeping down and across the pasture was a large gathering of White-Collared Swifts. It was all inspiring.

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