more from day 1 – Canopy Camp, Darién province, Panama
After my restful period lounging on the deck, it was time to explore some of the surrounding areas in the nearby Yariva Forest. We had to drive the slow pot-holed road again meaning slower speeds as we passed a neat mix of habitats. First with small agricultural plots which provided additional views of Spot-breasted Woodpeckers mixing with more common widespread tropical species like Roadside Hawks, Ruddy Ground-Doves, Tropical Kingbirds, Blue-black Grassquits, Variable Seedeaters, and Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters. We saw a couple Blue-ground Doves flash across the road here as well.
We also passed and stopped at small marshy fields which held White-throated Crakes, Limpkin, and Rufescent Tiger Herons. A couple Striped Cuckoos sang on fenceposts here with Anis – we saw all three possible species here – Greater, Smooth-billed, and Groove-billed Anis. These were not the local specialty species that we were ultimately heading for though, so we continued on until we finally reached a patch of what appeared to be mature primary forest.
The difference in the birdlife here was dramatic, and we instantly began tallying new species. Gray-headed Chachalacas perched at roadside, a Plain-brown Woodcreeper popped out, Rufous-tailed Jacamar sang here, and a Streaked Xenops added some unique birds for our growing list here!
A co-operative Chestnut-backed Antbird allowed Moyo to point out how these local birds had more spotting on the wing coverts than those I’d seen along the canal zone. Then the stillness of the place was shattered by an alarmingly loud “CA-KOWW!” repeated over and over & getting louder as it approached.
When they finally appeared over the canopy they were perfectly lit and I was so blown away by the image of these birds as they slowly flapped across the road and passed right overhead. They beat their large paddle-shaped wings slowly and the shape reminded me a bit of another tropical forest species specializing in slower prey – the Hook-billed Kite. At the first call Moyo had named them… “Red-throated Caracara”. The lack of sleep, the heat and perhaps a bit too much lunch was taking a toll (evident by the comparative lack of images I took this entire afternoon & evening). Happily, after soaking in this personal “most wanted” species at length, I finally remembered I had the camera slung over my shoulder and nabbed a single photo as the bird flapped and glided back into the forest on the other side of the road. This photo leaves a lot to be desired as the bird was strongly backlit (shadowing the bird) after it had passed overhead, but it is at least identifiable. Happily, the views through Athena that are etched in my brain are positively exquisite.
Charged with adrenaline from this flurry of birdy goodness, I was once again rejuvenated despite the comparatively long day and short night which preceded it. However, the sunlight was fading now and a rich golden light washed the entire area. We’d have time for just one more stop and Moyo knew precisely where to go, another 2-3 miles down the rugged road.
I got out of the vehicle at our final stop and found myself surrounded by dozens of calling Oropendolas displaying and preening at a staging area here. Most were familiar looking Crested Oropendolas, large brown birds with a bright yellow tail, large yellow bill, and pale blue iris; each showing the distinctive head plumes for which this species is named. However, amongst these were also the amazing Black Oropendola. Nearly twice the size of the Crested’s with black body plumage, bright blue skin patches on the face and dark bill topped with a bright orangish bill shield, and bill tip. While not a great image visually, the video still above offers a very tangible size comparison showing a Three-toed Sloth at left, Crested Oropendola at center, and a massive Black Oropendola at right!
As was the rule rather than the exception this evening, I was unable to get good images of these birds at the distance they were at and due to the low lighting conditions here. However, the frozen frame of the video above illustrates the unique and colorful facial markings on this remarkable bird.
It was dark when we returned to Camp and dinner was waiting. I’d been traveling & birding for over 18 hours & in my tired state I honestly couldn’t even remember what I ate, but am certain I enjoyed it and fell soundly asleep shortly thereafter satiated from great food and fabulous day of birding! We’d tallied 177 species after this long day of which 153 were new birds for Athena’s list!