Posts Tagged ‘Panama’

By Heather Moir, fourth grade teacher at Summit School

The Clay-colored Thrush is a tropical bird whose northernmost range extends to southern Texas. My fourth graders can tell you from first-hand observation that it is an aggressive bird (“a bully”), who won’t share bananas with any other birds. They know this detail about tropical bird behavior from watching Cornell’s Panama Fruit Feeder Cam – a live camera feed from Panama that shows a fruit feeding station that brings in tropical birds.

A Clay-colored Thrush at the feeder

A Clay-colored Thrush at the feeder

I began putting the Panama fruit feeder cam on the Smart Board as the children arrived in the mornings. The live camera feed also includes audio, and the tropical bird sounds were calming first thing in the morning. But the camera served as background and nothing more.

Then one morning the Toucans arrived. They were big. They were colorful. They were impressive. The children were excited. I was pretty excited myself. From then on, we began paying closer attention to the fruit feeder camera. That’s when some of the kids noticed the tawny-colored bully bird who chased the smaller colorful birds away from the bananas. They asked what kind of bird it was. I had no idea. We checked out a field guide to the birds of Panama from our library and discovered it was a Clay-colored Thrush.

A big, beautiful Yellow-throated Toucan in the trees above the feeders

A big, beautiful Yellow-throated Toucan in the trees above the feeders

A few days later, one boy was intrigued with the bird with the bright yellow feathers at the base of its tail. He paused the computer so he could look it up in the field guide. The field guide was set up with pictures and numbers that had to be cross-referenced to find the bird’s name. So he asked me for help. When I pointed to the bird’s name in the book, his eyes got big and I could see the wheels turning. The bird’s name was almost too much for a fourth grade boy to handle – it was a Flame-rumped Tanager. “Seriously?” he asked. Then, because he couldn’t help himself, “You mean his name means “fire booty?” He couldn’t be expected to hold it in after all. Yes, I confirmed, that’s its name.

A male Flame-rumped Tanager enjoys a banana

A male Flame-rumped Tanager enjoys a banana

Since then, the Flame-rumped Tanager and his mate have made repeat appearances at the fruit feeder. We have also seen a flock of Gray-headed Chachalacas (at least a dozen), who throw the bananas around carelessly as they feed. We are still hoping the Toucans will come back.

Mrs. Flame-rumped Tanager bathes in a nearby stream

Mrs. Flame-rumped Tanager bathes in a nearby stream

I am hopeful that somehow an interest in birds and nature has been sparked. I am grateful to Cornell for these wonderful webcams that make nature watching so accessible. And I am especially grateful to whoever named some of our birds with names that are so appealing to ten-year-olds. One day soon I will let the children know that they may be able to find Yellow-rumped Warblers right in their own backyards!

All photos by Shelley Rutkin


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Bird Songs in Panama

I have a confession to make, and it might be birding sacrilege.

Here it is: I would rather hear a bird than see it. On a recent trip to Panama – my first time birding amongst toucans, parrots, and hummingbirds galore – my favorite birds, the ones I dream of returning and getting to know intimately, were the Gray-breasted Wood-wren and the Black-faced Solitaire. No turquoise, red, or purple feathers on those birds. And not even a hint of iridescence.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Glenn Olson.

Yes, I saw the Resplendent Quetzal, six of them actually, and I thought it was gorgeous. Maybe it is the most beautiful bird in the world, as some proclaim. But it was the bird singing backup for the quetzals that really got my attention. An ethereal, ringing, almost metallic song floated through the forest. At first I hoped it was a Wood Thrush. After all, the Wood Thrush was the whole reason I got to go to Panama in the first place (more about that in a blog post next week), and I had been hoping to see one since I got off the plane in Panama City. Guido, our omniscient guide, immediately set me straight: “No, no, Black-faced Solitaire,” he pronounced.

Listen to the song of the Black-faced Solitaire here (this will open a new window on the Xeno-Canto website).

No one in our group of 15 birders, not even Guido, saw the solitaire that day in Volcan Baru National Park. The next day, I did see it, at nearby La Amistad National Park.

It wasn’t what I expected. No brown, no rust, no spots: it did not look at all like our spotted thrushes, though it is in the same family. Silvery-blue-gray all over, except a black face and surprisingly bright orange beak. It flew up to a perch by the trail just long enough to look over our group – and give me time for one good look – and then it was gone.

It turns out that the Wood Thrush does not sing in the winter. My new friends from Panama Audubon Society told me they had never heard one sing – just like I have never heard our winter-resident Hermit Thrush sing. George Angehr, author of The Birds of Panama, told me he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen a Wood Thrush, either. The entire winter range is in Central America, and they have been recorded at Important Bird Areas throughout Panama, but apparently they are more numerous in Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and southern Mexico.

Green Violetear

Green Violetear.  Photo by Glenn Olson.

In case you are wondering, I got 135 life birds during 6 days in Panama, split between Gamboa (yes, we went to world-famous Pipeline Road) and the Chiriqui Highlands, in early February. Most were sbnh, seen but not heard. The visuals were everything that tropical birds promise – brilliant colors, generous doses of iridescence, hardly a drab feather among the bunch, except for the tyrant flycatchers, but I thought their interesting names made up for their lack of dazzling color: Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Scrub Greenlet, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Paltry Tyrannulet. I had to make tough choices constantly: Blue-crowned Motmot or Red-legged Honeycreeper? Keel-billed Toucan or Purple-throated Fruitcrow? Crested Woodpecker or Red-crowned Woodpecker?

I want to go back to hear the solitaire again, and the ebullient songs of the tropical wrens, too, especially the Gray-breasted Wood-wren. It was hard for me to look for this bird because I couldn’t stand still while it was singing with its bouncy beat. I finally got a good look and loved its stripy throat and its gray breast. Riverside Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Plain Wren (heard but not seen) – they too are calling me back.

Listen to the song of the Gray-breasted Wood-wren here (this will open a new window on the Xeno-Canto website).

Thank goodness it’s only a few more weeks until we all get to hear a Wood Thrush sing.

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