Birds photos at Achiote, Colón, Panama

I received the invitation from Centro El Tucán (Facebook page, website),  a lodging facility at Achiote, Colón Province, owned and operated by CEASPA a NGO which focuses its action in social justice and sustainable development programs. The invitation was a real bargain: for US$20 we were receiving  lodging for one night, 3 meals, a toast, and a guided tour, so I did not hesitate and subscribed to the activity that was held during November 8th and 9th.



Achiote town and its Achiote Road, is known as  a birdwatching and ecoturism friendly community, and have an international reputation that precedes it.  The lodge is very comfortable, basic, clean quarters that are gender divided with fully equipped bunk beds, semi-private showers and bathrooms, also gender divided. Food service was provided  by a restaurant close to installations and is attended by the ecotourism group Los Rapaces, conformed by locals. The restaurant was clean and the food fresh and cheap, although we didn't have to pay for it since it was included in the fee. The good thing is that all the expenditures stay in the community, therefore they have learned to appreciate birders. 

At the Centro el Tucán facilities, we met its Manager, Marilo Castro, a very pleasant Spanish lady that fell in love with Achiote several years ago and now has moved in to take care of the premises and promote it.

She explained us what the usual costs are: the lodging alone is $US 12 per person per night, they also have rubber boots for rental at US$ 2, a guide from the community will attend to a small group for US$ 30 and it is paid directly to him. Food, as explained, is available at the restaurant but there is also a mini-market where you could buy basic stuff, and then cook your own meals at the El Tucán's kitchen.

The activity started on November 8th, unfortunately I arrived late, just in time for welcoming video presentation and dinner, which was included in the special tariff. Other participants arrived in the morning and had a whole day of birding and lunch at their own expense. After dinner we had a toast at the Center, with a glass of wine on hand we toasted and introduced ourselves to each other. Of course, my real name was not disclosed... Later on we went to the trail called Sendero El Trogon in search of nocturnal wildlife or owls but we were not "lucky", we only heard the common Tropical Screech-owl nearby the lodge. 

Early next morning, on November 9th, we started with the included breakfast and headed to Sendero El Trogón but first we made a stop in a wetland were I could watch White-throated Crakes, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Purple Gallinules, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and also searched for the elusive Limpkins that have been seen there. Once in the entrance  of the trail we saw a Broad-winged Hawk, a flock of Short-billed Pigeons, and a male Golden-collared Manakin.

The Short-billed Pigeon (Patagioenas nigrirostris) is a largish pigeon which breeds from southern Mexico south to northwestern Colombia. It is found in lowland forest canopy and semi-open woodland,  It is unpatterned and mainly wine-purple in colour, becoming browner on the belly and more olive-brown on the back. The tail and primary flight feathers are blackish, the bill is black, and the legs and eyes are purple-red. The female is slightly duller and browner than the male, and the juvenile bird has a greyish brown head, neck and breast, with cinnamon scaling on the head and upper parts. In Panama, it's common in middle and upper levels of forest on entire Caribbean slope, and on Pacific slope from eastern Panamá Province eastward. According to Angehr's guide it's often difficult to see as it perches in foliage high in trees but I've seen them both of the times I've gone birding to this area.


Then Felipe, our guide, gave us a short talk about the place and we started our tour. In this trail we saw various species, unfortunately some of them were in dark places or blocked by branches or leaves, and I had a bad time photographing most of them.



Felipe briefing us for our tour



A very bad picture of a Chestnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsul) 
due to the darkness of the site it was in




The Plain Xenops (Xenops minutus) breeds in moist lowland forests from southern Mexico south to western Ecuador, northeastern Argentina and central Brazil. It is a member of the bird family Furnariidae, a group in which many species build elaborate clay nests, giving rise to the English name for the family of "ovenbirds".  However, Plain Xenops simply places shredded plant fibres in a hole between 1.5 and 9 m high in a decaying tree trunk or branch. It is typically 12 cm long, and has a stubby wedge-shaped bill. The head is light brown with a buff supercilium and whitish malar stripe. The upper-parts are brown, becoming rufous on the tail and rump, and there is a buff bar on the darker brown wings. The underparts are unstreaked pale olive brown.

It is also the only lowland species in the genus. It is often difficult to see and therefore to photograph as it forages for insects, including the larvae of wood-boring beetles, on bark, rotting stumps or bare twigs. It moves in all directions on the trunk but does not use its tail as a prop. It regularly joins mixed-species feeding flocks. It's common on both slopes below 900 m altitude, and found in middle and upper levels of forest.



The Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides) is found in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama; also Colombia and Ecuador of northwestern South America. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. The male plumage is a distinctive combination of large black spots on a white chest, chestnut back, grey head with black throat. The female is dull, but also distinctive with large chest spots and two wide buffy wing-bars.  It's common in lower levels of forest on entire Caribbean slope, and on Pacific slope from eastern Panamá Province eastward, also wester Pacific slope only in foothills. 





Later we went to another trail were I only had opportunity to photograph butterflies, I tried for 15 minutes or so to photograph Bay Wrens and we were expecting to find White-headed Wrens, both without success. Out of the trail and in the asphalted main road we watched a lot of activity, Purple-throated Fruitcrows, White-tailed Trogons and Icterids but he best picture I could get was of a Black-cheeked Woodpecker.


The Menelaus Blue Morpho (Morpho menelaus) is an iridescent tropical butterfly of Central and South America. The adult drinks juice from rotten fruit with its long proboscis, which is like a sucking tube. It is a very large butterfly, with a wingspan of approximately 138 mm. The upperside of wings are metallic blue.The underside is brown with a line of large ocelli at the base of the postdiscal area.


An owl butterfly in the genus Caligo, known for their huge eyespots, which resemble owls' eyes. They are found in the rainforests and secondary forests of Mexico, Central, and South America. They are also very large, 65–200 mm, and fly only a few meters at a time, so avian predators have little difficulty in following them to their settling place.



The Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani) is a resident breeding bird from southeastern Mexico south to western Ecuador. This woodpecker occurs in the higher levels of wet forests, semi-open woodland and old second growth. It feeds on insects, but will take substantial quantities of fruit and nectar, as seen is the picture eating cecropia fruits. it's common in middle and upper levels of forest on entire Caribbean slope, and on Pacific slope from Canal Area eastward. 


Then we had lunch and after that I made a short walk through the road, between the Center and the restaurant, trying to get more pictures.



I saw a family group of these tiny birds that ended being Yellow Tyrannulets (Capsiempis flaveola). It is a very small bird in the tyrant flycatcher family which breeds from Nicaragua south to northeastern Argentina and southeastern Brazil. It is the only member of the genus Capsiempis, but its taxonomy is uncertain, and it has been allocated to at least three other genera in the past. The yellow tyrannulet is 10.5-11.4 cm long, weighs 8 g, and with its slender build and small bill resembles a tiny vireo or warbler. Its upperparts are olive-green and the underparts are bright yellow. The head has whitish or pale yellow supercilia. The wings and tail are dusky brown with weak yellow feather-edging, and there are two yellowish wing bars. In Panama it's fairly common on Pacific slope eastward to eastern Panamá Province and on Caribbean in western Bocas del Toro and between northern Coclé and western Kuna Yala. Found in scrub, young second growth and thickets in open areas.



Female Thick-billed Seed-finch (Oryzoborus funereus)


Then we stayed watching a lot of birds that arrived to the Center but due to light and angles I was not satisfied with the pictures. We saw Spot-crowned Barbet, Collared Aracari, Chetnut-mandibled Toucan, Crested Oropendolas, all sort of common tanagers, Bananaquit, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Tennesse Warbler, among others.  It was time to leave and return home, in the way home we stopped at Gatún Dam where I made more pictures.


 Blue-winged Teals


The Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima) is a bird of prey in the family Falconidae. It is found in tropical and subtropical South America and the southern portion of Central America. Unlike the falcons in the same family, the caracara is not a fast-flying aerial hunter, but is rather sluggish and often obtains food by scavenging. This is a bird of savanna, swamps and forest edges. Resident from Costa Rica south through Trinidad and Tobago to northern Argentina. It's very common on the Pacific slope, is less common on Caribbean but it's reported as increasing, as a matter of fact we found a family group of at least 4 individuals including an immature bird.
 





The Southern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx ruficollis) is a small swallow. It occurs in Central and South America from Honduras south to northern Argentina and Uruguay. It also occurs on Trinidad. Southern birds are migratory, moving north in winter, but the northern that occur in Panama are sedentary. It is brown above, with blackish wings and tail and a pale grey rump. The throat and upper breast are rufous with the lower underparts yellowish-white. The tail is slightly forked. It is similar in appearance to its northern counterpart, the Northern Rough-winged Swallow, but is more uniform in colour, particularly on the rump. "Rough-winged" refers to the serrated edge of the outer primary feathers on the wing of this bird; this feature would only be apparent when holding this bird. It is found in open areas and forest clearings were it forages for insects in flight, usually flying low with a slow deliberate flight. In Panama is common throughout the country, especially near water.


I left the special feature for the closing, this bird was in my first pictures of the day in Achiote, and it simply made the whole trip worthy because this species is "very hard to see" (quoting Angehr's guide), therefore it's also hard to photograph. As usual their presence was revealed by their calls. It was a group, and we were able to see them walking among a damp area, all my shots so far were frustrated by the difficulty of focusing a small bird (about 14cm)  between the minuscule windows in the vegetation. Then, one of them found a cockroach, and in the meantime it killed and eaten it, remained exposed in a larger window, I moved sideways to get the best angle and then was allowed to do a set of shots of which I chose the best ones below. This individuals were juvenil and their plumage and colors are not fully developed, the barred flanks were noted from other angles but do not appear in these shots. 





The White-throated Crake has occasionally been considered conspecific with the Rufous-sided Crake (Laterallus melanophaius), although most modern commentators have preferred to retain them as separate species, and indeed the present species might prove to be more closely related to Gray-breasted Crake (Laterallus exilis). The White-throated Crake occurs from southeast Honduras to Panama, thence south through western South America to western Ecuador. The White-throated Crake is a generally fairly common but difficult-to-see, resident of marshes, damp pastures, overgrown ditches and streamsides, as well as thickets and forest clearings. In Panama it's common on entire Caribbean slope, and on Pacific in Chiriquí and from western Panamá Province eastward. Found in wet grassy areas, including damp meadows and roadside ditches. Bottomline it was a great species to watch and record on photos.