Category Archives: Travel

Tanagers Galore!

Crimson-backed tanager (photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)
Crimson-backed tanager (photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)

Before I left for Panama I wondered, Would I see any new tanagers there?  I'd been to Costa Rica all the way to the Panama border so surely every tanager would be the same.  Not so!

60% of all tanagers (Thraupidae) live in South America.  Some of the southern birds have seeped into eastern Panama because it borders Colombia.  Those that prefer South America don't make it to Costa Rica because the topography and habitat change in western Panama.  Eight of my 97 Life Birds in Panama were tanagers.

Here are just a few of the most colorful tanagers we saw last week.   Some of them occur in Costa Rica and one of them, the bay-headed tanager, was a Life Bird for me last year.

The crimson backed tanager (Ramphocelus dimidiatus), at top, shows a flash of red from below.  His beak stands out because the lower mandible is bright blue-white.  He reminds me of Costa Rica's Cherrie's tanager.

In Cerro Azul we saw lots of shining honeycreepers (Cyanerpes lucidus) at the hummingbird feeders.  Check out those bright yellow legs!

Shining honeycreeper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Shining honeycreeper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Gray-headed tanagers (Eucometis penicillata) are even prettier than this.  Their backs are the color of green olives.

Gray-headed tanagers in Columbia (photo by Julian Londono from Wikimedia Commons)
Gray-headed tanagers in Columbia (photo by Julian Londono from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Bay-headed tanagers (Tangara gyrola) are as colorful as painted buntings. I first saw this bird in Costa Rica but he's worth a second look.

Bay-headed tanager (photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikimedia Commons)
Bay-headed tanager (photo by Dominic Sherony via Wikimedia Commons)

 

This flame-rumped tanager's (Ramphocelus flammigerus) yellow color is a regional characteristic in Panama.  He used to be called the lemon-rumped tanager for obvious reasons but he was lumped with flame-rumped tanagers because they interbreed. His Colombian relatives have bright orange-red rumps.

Lemon-rumped tanager (photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)
Lemon-rumped tanager (photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)

 

And finally, the white-shouldered tanager (Tachyphonus luctuosus) resembles a red-winged blackbird but his beak shows us he's not in the blackbird family.

White-shouldered tanager (photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)
White-shouldered tanager (photo by Francesco Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)

In Panama there are tanagers galore!

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

Only The Size of a Squirrel

Geoffroy's tamarin at a bird feeder at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy's tamarin at a bird feeder in Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

When I see photographs of monkeys I think they're at least the size of chimpanzees but this monkey, native to Panama and northern Colombia, is only the size of a squirrel.

Geoffroy's tamarins (Saguinus geoffroyi) are small colorful members of the marmoset family with bodies only 9 inches long but tails up to 15 inches.  They live together in family groups of three to five individuals, traveling through the trees to find their favorite foods of insects and fruit.  The brave ones visit bird feeders.

Bird feeders in the tropics are different from ours at home.  Pennsylvania birds are attracted to seeds, suet and mealworms but tropical birds eat fruit so Panamanians put bananas, mangoes and papaya in their feeders.  This inevitably attracts the monkeys.

At Cerro Azul we met a homeowner who feeds Geoffroy's tamarins in her backyard every day.  If she isn't quick to fill the feeders they whine at her from the trees, but they are shy and won't come down unless she is alone.

We all stood far away and Donna Foyle took pictures while the homeowner stabbed fruit chunks with the tip of a knife to hand it to the monkeys.  Later she handed fruit to them directly.

Homeowner feeding backyard monkeys at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Homeowner feeding Geoffroy's tamarin at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

Geoffroy's tamarin grabs fruit off the knife at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy's tamarin grabs fruit off the knife at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

Homeowner feeding backyard monkeys at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Homeowner feeding backyard monkey at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

Geoffroy's tamarin eating fruit offered by a homeowner at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)
Geoffroy's tamarin eating fruit offered by a homeowner at Cerro Azul, Panama (photo by Donna Foyle)

Squirrels are scarce in the Panamanian jungle.  We saw only one in Panama and it was at the airport hotel.  So Geoffroy's tamarins fill the niche of squirrels at the bird feeders.

These "squirrels" have thumbs!

 

Read more here about Geoffroy's tamarin and see a photo of one with a baby on its back.

(photos taken at Cerro Azul on 23 March 2018 by Donna Foyle)

Like a Bird From Home

Female crimson-crested woodpecker from behind (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Female crimson-crested woodpecker from behind (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

From behind this bird looks a lot like a pileated woodpecker, but when you see its face and belly you know it's something different.

Crimson-crested woodpecker (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Crimson-crested woodpecker (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Female crimson-crested woodpeckers (above) aren't as colorful as the males.

Male crimson-crested woodpecker (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Male crimson-crested woodpecker (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Native to Panama and northern South America, the crimson-crested woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos) resembles a pileated woodpecker but its closest North American relative is the ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis), a probably-extinct bird that was reported once in Arkansas in 2004 but never seen again.

It's like a bird from home, but not the one we thought.

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

p.s. At home in Pittsburgh, trying to catch up.

Not A Crow

Purple-throated fruitcrow, Panama (photo by Patty McGann via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Purple-throated fruitcrow, Panama (photo by Patty McGann via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

On a birding trip to Panama, coming home:

As I mentioned yesterday there are no crows in Panama but this bird tries to fill the gap.  He's black like a crow, he acts like a crow, and he's named like a crow but he isn't a crow.  So what is he?

The purple-throated fruitcrow (Querula purpurata) is a member of the Cotinga family but he doesn't act like one.  Many cotingas are solitary in their habits and secretive when they nest but purple-throated fruitcrows hang out with 3 - 8 members of their family and friends.

And they are loud!
(Xeno-canto: purple-throated fruitcrows, XC347621, by Fernando Igor de Godoy, Brazil)

They build their conspicuous nests in trees and breed cooperatively.  Everyone helps tend the eggs and chicks and all that activity makes the nest more obvious.  Somehow it works.

There are two more oddities associated with his name.  He's called purple-throated but in bright light the male's throat looks red.  What does he use his throat for?  Click here to see.

Purple-throated fruitcrow, National Aviary (photo by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons)
Purple-throated fruitcrow, National Aviary (photo by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons)

And finally he's called a "fruit" crow but he eats mostly insects.

Though he's full of surprises, he's not a crow.

 

(top photo by Patty McGann on Flickr, Creative Commons license. closeup by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

Day 7: Flying home to Pittsburgh

One Corvid

Black-chested jay (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Black-chested jay (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip to Panama:

There's only one corvid on our Canopy Tower checklist and it's not a crow.  It's the black-chested jay (Cyanocorax affinis).

Why are there no crows in Panama and South America?   Good question.

I don't know the answer but here's proof that it's true ...

crow text from Guide to the Birds of Pnama, Ridgely and Gwynne

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Text screenshot from a Guide to the Birds of Panama by Ridgely and Gwynne, 1992, Princeton University Press)

Day 6:  Canopy Tower, Summit Gardens, leave for airport area

Strange In Many Ways

Wattled jacana alighting, composite Pantanal Brazil (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Wattled jacana alighting, composite Pantanal Brazil (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip to Panama:

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.

Wattled jacana with young, Venezuela (photo by Gregory 'Slobirdr' Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Wattled jacana with young, Venezuela (photo by Gregory 'Slobirdr' Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Native to Panama and South America, the wattled jacana is strange in many ways.

 

(photo at top from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original.  Wattled jacana with chick by Gregory 'Slobirdr' Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Day 5:  Cerro Azul, waterfront at Panama Viejo

A View of Blue

Blue cotinga as seen from the Canopy Tower (photo by Patty McGann via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Blue cotinga seen from Discovery Canopy Tower, 2012 (photo by Patty McGann via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

On a birding trip to Panama:

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.

The Canopy Tower, Panama (photo from the Canopy Tower website)
The Canopy Tower, Panama (photo from the Canopy Tower website)

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.)

Blue cotinga in its favorite tree (photo by Billtacular via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Blue cotinga in an "umbrella" tree (photo by Billtacular via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

This blue cotinga was far away in Billtacular's photo, but Patty McGann had a closer look in the photo at top.  Both were taken at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center at Pipeline Road shown below. Click on the photo to read more about Pipeline Road.

View of Panama Rainforest Discovery Center Tower (photo from the pipelineroad.org website)
View of Panama Rainforest Discovery Center Tower (photo from the pipelineroad.org website)

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.

What a view of blue!

 

(photo credits:
close cotinga by Patty McGann on Flickr Creative Commons license,
Canopy Tower photo from the Canopy Tower website, canopytower.com,
distant cotinga by Billtacular on Flickr Creative Commons license,
Rainforest Discovery Center photo from pipelineroad.org
)

p.s. Yesterday we saw two members of the Cotinga family along Pipeline Road: purple-throated fruitcrow and rufous piha. Is there a blue cotinga in my future?

Day 4:  Canopy Tower, Plantation Road, Summit Ponds, night tour

The King

King vulture, pivoting on foot (photo by April M King via Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture, pivoting on foot (photo by April M. King via Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip to Panama:

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.

King vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If he came in for a landing you'd see that his bare skin is colorful -- yellow, red and orange.

King vulture, flying lower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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.

King vulture at National Zoo in DC (photo via Wikimedia Commons)
King vulture at National Zoo in DC (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

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

Tiny Rooster and Other Odd Names

Rufous-crested coquette (photo by Franceso Veronesi via Wkimedia Commons)
Rufous-crested coquette (photo by Franceso Veronesi via Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip to Panama:

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."

This female black-throated mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) is more striking than her iridescent mate.   Her odd name began with a mistake when naming the Jamaican member of her genus.  Mango fruit is native to India so the original name, mango-hummingbird, did not refer to food.  Instead it was a documentation error that began at Don Saltero's Coffee House in 1736.

Female black-throated mango, Panama (photo by vil.sandi via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Female black-throated mango, Panama (photo by vil.sandi via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

 

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).

White-vented plumeleteer, Pipeline Road, Panama (photo by Billtacular via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
White-vented plumeleteer, Pipeline Road, Panama (photo by Billtacular via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to Dr. Alexander Skutch, hermit hummingbirds are named for their brownish color, not their social habits. They are brown because they live in deep shade in the tropical forest.   Here's a long-billed hermit (Phaethornis longirostris).

Long-billed hermit, Costa Rica (photo by Juan Zamora via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Long-billed hermit, Costa Rica (photo by Juan Zamora via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

 

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.

Crowned woodnymph, Canopy Lodge, Panama (photo by Wendy R. Fredericks via Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Crowned woodnymph, Canopy Lodge, Panama (photo by Wendy R. Fredericks via Flickr, Creative Commons license)

 

(photo credits:
These spectacular photos were taken by Franceso Veronesi on Wikimedia Commons and vil.sandi, Billtacular, Juan Zamora, and Wendy R.Fredericks on Flickr.  Click on the images to see more of their work.)

Day 2:  Canopy Tower and Gamboa Rainforest Resort area along the Chagres River.

Gone Birding In Panama

Keel-billed toucan in Ancon, Panama (photo by Billtacular on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Keel-billed toucan in Ancon, Panama (photo by Billtacular on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

On a birding trip to Panama:

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.

Map of Canopy Tower visit, 19-26 March 2018 (from the Canopy Tower)
Map of Canopy Tower visit, 19-26 March 2018 (from the Canopy Tower)

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.