The wattled jacana looks pretty strange but that's only the beginning.
Though related to shorebirds Jacana jacana has a wattle on his face like a chicken, and very long toes that are longer than his 'nose' (beak).
His toes are long because he spends his life walking on floating vegetation, a habit that's given him the nickname "lily-trotter." When his footing is submerged he looks like he's walking on water.
The jacana's social life is even stranger. Like a phalarope, a female jacana mates with multiple males and never takes care of her young. She lays four eggs in a floating nest but it's up to one of her mates to incubate the eggs and protect the young after they hatch.
Weirdest of all, the father bird doesn't incubate by placing his belly against the eggs. Instead he puts two eggs under each wing and keeps them warm against his body.
Later, when the newly hatched chicks are too small to walk alone, he tucks the chicks under his wings and walks away with them. Their little legs dangle beneath his wings. Click here and look closely at the photo to see what I mean.
Female wattled jacanas are larger than males but the birds otherwise look alike. How do you identify a male wattled jacana? Because he's babysitting.
Here's a father with a chick in the background. If you can't see the chick, click on the photo to see the original that has a box around the chick.
Native to Panama and South America, the wattled jacana is strange in many ways.
When I visited Costa Rica in 2017 the hardest bird to find was the turquoise cotinga (Cotinga ridgwayi). We checked every "umbrella tree" on our way to San Vito until our guide, Roger Melendez, found a family of three for us to view. What a thrill!
Based on that experience I thought that all cotingas were hard to find -- and they are -- but at Canopy Tower we have an advantage. We're perched where the birds are.
The Canopy Tower was built as a radar installation so the roof deck is above the trees and the windows on each floor look into the forest at different heights. We're at eye level with the birds.
This is an advantage when it comes to cotingas who perch high to show off their flashy feathers in the sun.
There aren't any turquoise cotingas in this part of Panama but there are blue ones -- literally blue cotingas (Cotinga nattererii). Shall we look for them in Cecropias and other umbrella-shaped trees?
Yes. Here's one! (I don't think this is a Cecropia tree but I don't know what it is.)
I have since learned that turquoise cotingas really are rare. Endemic to a small region and with a small population, they're considered Vulnerable by the IUCN. Blue cotingas are more plentiful with a wider range that extends from Panama to Ecuador. In any case it's a treat to see them.
In the skies over Central and South America you may see The King soaring overhead.
As large as a bald eagle, the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) can weigh up to 10 pounds with a wingspan seven feet long.
From below he's unmistakable -- all white with black flight feathers, a black tail and a dot for his head. His head looks small because he's bald.
If he came in for a landing you'd see that his bare skin is colorful -- yellow, red and orange.
Though the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is related to condors and our familiar turkey and black vultures, he's the only surviving member of his genus. His last name, papa, is Latin for pope and was chosen because his white and black feathers resemble a pope's vestments.
No matter his title, king or pope, the King is in charge at the dinner table. His powerful beak tears open carcasses. When he arrives on the scene other vultures move away.
Like royalty, the King eats first. When he's finished everyone else can dine.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
Day 3: Pipeline Road on the border of the Soberania National Park
Near the Canopy Tower there are more than two dozen species of hummingbirds but that's not what most of them are called. Their fanciful names include mangos, plumeleteers, hermits, woodnymphs, emeralds, fairies and coquettes. Here are just a few of the brilliant gems with odd names.
The rufous-crested coquette (Lophornis delattrei), above, seems to be named for a woman who flirts but that is not the case. His flamboyant reddish crest reminded someone of a rooster so he's a "tiny rooster." The cock or "coq" became "coquette."
When it comes to "plumeleteer" I can only guess how the name began. A plumelet is a small feather, so if an auctioneer is a person concerned with auctions, then a plumeleteer is a bird concerned with small feathers. There are only two species in the plumeleteer genus Chalybura. Both occur in Panama. Here's the white-vented plumeleteer (Chalybura buffonii).
And finally, it doesn't take much imagination to guess why a hummingbird would be called a wood nymph. Here's the crowned woodnymph (Thalurania colombica), photographed at Canopy Tower's sister location, the Canopy Lodge.
This morning nine friends and I are on our way to a week-long birding trip at the Canopy Tower in Panama. I'm sure to see many Life Birds including this colorful resident with blue feet, the keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus).
Panama is best known for the Canal that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans but there's a lot more to it than that. Directly south of Pennsylvania, it's the narrow land bridge that links North and South America though the country itself runs east-to-west.
Smaller than South Carolina, Panama hosts a population of 4 million people and 987 species of birds. Its biodiversity comes from its location as the crossover zone where north meets south, and its elevation change of 11,400 feet from the mountains to the sea.
The Canopy Tower is well situated to see a rich variety of birds, butterflies, mammals and plants. Located on the Pacific (southern) side of the country near Panama City the tower was built in 1965 for communications, air traffic control, and defense of the Panama Canal (the Panama Canal Zone was a U.S. territory until 1979). The FAA and the Panama Canal Commission abandoned it 30 years later but Raúl Arias de Para had a better idea. The tower is so tall that you can see above the canopy of trees. And that's where the birds are. In January 1999 he made it a birding destination.
The checklist for our short trip contains more than 470 species of birds. I can hardly wait! Here's a preview.
Video of Canopy Tower 2017 courtesy of Victor Castroverde.
I'll be too busy to blog at the Canopy Tower so I've left my laptop at home and written all 7 days of articles in advance. I'll check my blog once a day but I won't login to Facebook. (Note! As always, if you want to reach me the best way to do it is to leave a comment on my blog.)
This week I'm mostly off the grid while my husband holds down the fort at home. I'll see you when I return to my computer on Monday morning, March 26.
(photo and maps from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals.)
Day 1: Fly to Panama City. Birding at the Canopy Tower and Gamboa.
More than 20 people turned out this morning for the Duck Hollow and Lower Frick Park outing.
We were hoping to see the northern shovelers, green-winged teal, and pied-billed grebe reported on the Monongahela River yesterday, but all of them had departed overnight. Best ducks were two very distant hooded mergansers. The red-winged blackbirds, northern cardinals and local red-tailed hawks put on a show.
As we started up the Lower Nine Mile Run Trail we heard that someone saw a peregrine on the Homestead Grays Bridge. Is it there? Could more than 20 people quickly run downhill and under the trestle to see it before it left? The report was confusing/conflicting so we didn't go. Later I saw Michele Kienholz's photo of the peregrine. Erf! Wish we'd seen it.
Best bird was a sharp-shinned hawk. Best bug was a mourning cloak butterfly that flew by and best flower -- the ONLY flower -- was this single coltsfoot still with frost on its edges.
Spring seems to be coming slowly. Nonetheless we've seen changes in the bird population since February.
Just over a month ago -- February 9 to 13 -- birders typically saw 7,000 ring-billed gulls assemble on the river every evening at the Head of the Ohio in Pittsburgh. By February 20 that number had dropped to only three. Yes, there are still ring-billed gulls in the area but the bulk of them are gone.
Meanwhile, common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) were very uncommon over the winter but individual birds showed up in the last week of February. I saw my first common grackle in Schenley Park on March 1 and more than 40 yesterday at Moraine State Park.
Common grackles have just begun to arrive and will stay to breed. Additional ring-billed gulls will pass through Pittsburgh on their way north but they'll keep going.
Grackles come, Gulls go in early spring.
(photo credits: grackle from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Ring-billed gulls by Shawn Collins)
p.s. I noticed the ring-billed gull population change by looking outside my window. Twice in February I watched for 20 minutes at 5pm while I waited on hold on the phone. On February 9 I saw thousands of gulls fly over my house on their way to the Head of the Ohio. On February 22 the number was about 10. Interestingly, I now associate the music-on-hold with flying gulls.
Did you know the shamrock used to be easy find in suburbia, but now it's not?
The shamrock is one of two species: lesser clover (Trifolium dubium) or white clover (Trifolium repens). We don't have much lesser clover in the U.S. but we used to have lots of white clover. You could find it in any lawn.
White clover was so common that as a child I searched our lawn for lucky four leaf clovers and found them!
With all these advantages, what happened?
Broad-leaf weed killers came into use. Intended to kill dandelions, English plantain, etc. these chemicals kill white clover, too. Ever since the weed killers took over white clover hasn't been mixed with grass seed. Not for a very long time.
Good luck finding a four-leaf clover today.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)
The Downtown peregrines haven't been at the Gulf Tower since March 1 and we think we know why. Though no one can see the nest, the peregrines' behavior indicates they have eggs at Third Avenue this year.
Maria Ochoa, who lives in the "Rescue Porch" apartment in Point Park's Lawrence Hall, has seen peregrines frequently outside her window. One of them stared at her this week (above).
Downtown peregrine monitor, Lori Maggio, says that activity at Third Avenue ramped up on March 2 and intensified as the days went by. She and I both visited the area on March 8 and saw the pair mate repeatedly. And Lori has seen them doing nest exchanges since March 10.
A nest exchange is when one peregrine goes into the nest to relieve his/her mate who is keeping the eggs warm or guarding the chicks. Lori photographed a nest exchange at Third Avenue yesterday, 15 March.
At this point in March the Downtown peregrines will have chosen a nest site and will be staying near it.
The pair is only seen at Third Avenue now and never at the Gulf Tower.
Dori has made her choice. It's Third Avenue this year.