April 7, 2018.

992 World Life Birds

On the trail back from Lake Calamito, unbeknownst to me, I saw my 1,000th world bird species!

I knew when I started the day that I was close to 1,000 and in fact I would reach this milestone because I was only eight species away. As I was ticking off birds, it was hard to keeps track of whether I had seen the species before. I had seen about 350 species the previous summer in Costa Rica and there is some overlap between the two countries.

As we recrossed the footbridge, some movement to the right caught our attention. Some drab birds were working under the dark understory. They were long-tailed birds, about the size of a California towhee. Alex identified them as the doubled hyphenated red-throated ant-tanager. These birds lacked the red throat because they were females, three in fact.

Now my 1,00th bird could have been tiny hawk, great black-hawk, or brown-hooded parrot, but if I counted correctly (an almost 20 year effort) then my 1,000th world bird species was a rather drab, towhee-sized bird that, in reality, is not a tanager but is related to cardinals.

A male red-throated ant-tanager later seen on Pipeline Road.

Somehow this seems fitting because while we place the larger or more colorful “sexy” fauna such as the harpy eagles, king vultures, or blue continga on a higher plane, it is the smaller, drabber birds that force us to look more closely and notice the details. Details that whisper in your ear instead of smacking you with full force in the face!

And the rain forest does not always give up it’s secrets, sometimes it’s a fleeting glance of a small brown bird, but to look at the three females foraging in the understory is to see a piece of the ecosystem and they will be such, whether I had a good look or a poor look, whether it was bird 999 on my life list or 1,001.


Rainforest Discovery Center

I headed out early with my guide Alex, to the Rainforest Discovery Center which is just down the famous Pipeline Road and to the left.

When we got out of the truck Alex immediately heard the call of the pheasant cuckoo. As we attempted to located the sulker, the bird shot out of the trees across the road and passed within feet of our heads. That certainly put a smile on the face of the morning!

Our first destination was the observation tower. At 40 meters tall, the tower put us above the rainforest canopy. No stiff necks here, trying to locate an elusive warbler or cotinga. Now we were looking down on them!

There was plenty signs of migration in the blue sky and among the treetops. Swifts and swallows passed by and an eastern kingbird perched up on a bare branch, perhaps a brief pause on its journey north. A long line of brown pelicans crossing over the verdant hills.

Eastern kingbird, resting on a snag. Taken from the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center’s observation tower.

You know when Alex, who birds this area frequently , gets excited about seeing a bird, then you know that bird is really special. The small accipiter flew into the top of a tree pursued by hummingbirds was the source of Alex’s excitement. This was one of the smallest hawks in the world: a juvenile rufous morph tiny hawk.

The tiny hawk, usually is concealed in the understory, was now sitting out in the open, sunning itself and preening. It’s hummingbird escorts perched nearby, but not too close because hummingbirds are a part of a tiny hawk’s diet. Now why would potential breakfast be perched so close to a known avian predator? The hummingbirds where calling attention to a threat in the area and the tiny hawk loses it’s advantage: it’s ability to ambush unsuspecting prey.

After sometime in the observation tower, we headed out to the Lake Trail that ended at a deck on Lake Calamito. There was a striated heron hunting in front of us and a rufescent tiger-heron devouring a water snake. Near the far shore, a large crocodile was moving on the waters. On the tree above was perched a male snail kite.

That’s not a log but an American crocidile!

A male snail kite at Lake Calamito. He is looking up over his shoulder at something in the sky. This interesting pose served as the model for my painting.