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Christmas Trip 2003

Part 11: The Caribbean Side

All photographs (except where noted) © 2003 Mary Beth Stowe

The next day was another early riser, as we were off to Achiote Road on the north side of the country (when you think about it, Panama actually runs east-west, so the Pacific Ocean is actually on its south side while the Atlantic is on the north, and it only takes a couple of hours to traverse the section). The area was great, except for the traffic! Before we got there we stopped for a cruise ship going through the Gatun Locks, where there were tons of frigatebirds and a Greater Ani that gave scope views, as well as a cooperative Fork-tailed Flycatcher. In the fields on the other side we picked up lovely Red-breasted Blackbirds and a singing Eastern Meadowlark.


A cruise ship pokes through the famous locks while Magnificent Frigatebirds (female center, immature at right) sail overhead.


Left:  Fork-tailed Flycatcher; right:  Greater Ani

I was anticipating a long walk with nowhere to sit, so I brought my stool, which turned out to be more useful for a potty stop! Highlights along this road included a group of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, a Zone-tailed Hawk fooling everyone except Tony, a posing Double-toothed Kite, and a distant King Vulture which made everyone’s day! We also finally saw a Purple-throated Fruitcrow (we had been hearing plenty of them daily), and, boy is that purple flashy when the sun hits it! We also had wing-snapping Golden-collared Manakins and cooing Gray-chested Doves. Some guys in a pickup truck had run over a Bushmaster, which they collected, so everyone wanted to get a safe look at this notorious snake!

The routine was to walk for about 20 minutes, and then the bus would catch up with us, so it was never too far away. But you could see the rain coming and we piled on just in time, pulling in to a bus stop where several people still unloaded snacks and ate outside! The rain didn’t last long, and before long I ventured outside where a Smooth-billed Ani posed on a wire and a Northern Waterthrush poked around a puddle. On the way out of the area Tony found a beautiful Blue-headed Parrot (he agreed with me that whoever gave it its specific name of menstruus had a sick sense of humor) and some Ruddy Ground Doves, but the star was a territorial Long-tailed Tyrant! Tony was disappointed that we missed some of the endemics, such as White-headed Wren (I would have liked to have seen that one), but at least the Pied Puffbird came through for us! On the way out we straddled a Vine Snake, which unfortunately wasn’t so lucky with the next truck...


Surprisingly busy Achitoe Road was great for Caribbean-side specialties such as Pied Puffbird and Zone-tailed Hawk


Chestnut-headed Oropendolas; the seldom-seen crest feathers turn the bird at right into a comic!


L-R:  Oropendola nest, male and female Fulvous-vented Euphonias, and Double-toothed Kite


L-R:  Smooth-billed Ani, Blue-headed Parrot, and a deadly Bushmaster that some locals ran over...  

After that we headed up to San Lorenzo National Park, where we again poked along the roads, picking up great White-tailed Trogons (that we showed some other tourists; their response was pretty much, "Oh, that's nice...")! We had lunch at the old fort, where we were joined by Thick-billed Seedfinches, Variable Seedeaters, the local chickens, and very hungry dogs! I wandered around on my own and found nice Southern Rough-winged Swallows on the rock face, Yellow-bellied Elaenias flopping around, and finally a good look at the Plain-colored Tanager! I wandered over to where the crew had been, overlooking the sea (they were now up at the fort), where I pished up a Barred Antshrike! (Unfortunately that was the only one we had the whole trip, and I was the only one to see it...) Charles and Mary wandered over and pointed out a Crimson-backed Tanager the crew had found, and found out that Jose et al had also found Brown-hooded Parrots, which were quite unusual. Oh, well; can't see 'em all!


Jose leads the way in San Lorenzo NP while we check out a creek for goodies


Not being able to scare up a Bay Wren, we move right along...


Spectacled Caiman and the aptly-named White-tailed Trogon (male center, female right)


We break out the lunch food at the site of the old fort


Male Variable Seedeaters are indeed variable, having anything from largely white underparts to barely a speck of white on the belly; females (two right photos) are uniformly dull brown.

Here a female seedeater is joined by a wintering Yellow Warbler (lower right)


Yellow-bellied Elaenia; the white central crown stripe typical of all elaenias is quite evident on this species.


Southern Rough-winged Swallow


Barred Antshrike looking out onto the Caribbean

Back down the road we went where we spotted a Squirrel Cuckoo, and ran into a feeding flock that included Olivaceous Flatbill, Ocellated Antbird (wouldn’t come out, though), Slaty Antshrike, Plain Xenops, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Lesser Greenlet, and a Yellow-margined Flycatcher (I recognized the vocalization but couldn’t remember if it was Yellow-margined or Yellow-olive; a quick listen to the tapes that night confirmed it to be the former). We really had to scoot to ensure we made it across the locks in time to catch the train (Tony had been telling us horror stories of the times previously where they almost hadn‘t made it for one reason or another), but we kept stopping for goodies like Streaked Flycatcher, Blue Dacnis, and my personal favorite, the Savannah Hawk back in the fields! We made it across fine, but then got stopped briefly at a checkpoint, but we made it in plenty of time. It was a lovely little commuter train, started in 1855, and went through beautiful habitat where I think the final tally was 42 Snail Kites! After that we came home and crashed (and marveled at our driver who drove all the way back to CT with our gear, dropped it off, then drove all the way back to his home in Colon!).


Savannah Hawk at the Gatun Locks   


Black Vulture pair near the colorful commuter train (built in 1855) going back to Panama City!

Here are some first real shots of some of the gang, so I hope I don't get sued... ☺


The interior is quite elegant!  Meanwhile Tony poses in front of a mural depicting Panama’s national bird, the Harpy Eagle.


Left:  Jan Stull and Louise Owen enjoy the ride.  Right:  Carolyn Lofrano and Jan’s hubby Bob


Charles and Mary Wilcox (with Winnie in the background) enjoy the wetlands that are Snail Kite heaven!

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