Featured family: Stilts & Avocets of Panama (Recurvirostridae)

A couple of weeks ago excitement invaded Panama's birdwatchers when a pair of American Avocets were reported in Panama Viejo's mudflats, in the upper part of Bay of Panama, east of Panama City.

I was alerted when pictures reached social networks, then I went to the place they were reported to try my "luck", honestly, thinking it was too late and without expectations. Unfortunately, at that moment the tide was high and therefore birds were not in the shore. As a matter of fact I am really intrigued about where all these birds go when water completely covers the mudflat and waves enter the area, since there's practically no beach.

So, I checked the tide tables and decided to return later with the low tide. This time I could see one Avocet but it was about 500m (1,640 ft) away, therefore a good picture was not possible.

In the end I had to return several times until finally one of the Avocets was close and reachable to my lens. The excitement was such that I decided to go down to the small beach, walking down a rock slope with dress shoes and business clothes because I was on my way to a business meeting.

I returned another day, now well prepared with proper boots and clothes, and it was there again, this time I even managed to capture it on video and finally saw the second individual. Of the several times I tried to picture the avocets I also got other new (for me) species and new pictures of older species.

Below is a photographic summary of these excursions, and then a special feature on the American Avocets and their family.



 
Adult

Immature eating a muddy crab
Yellow-crowned Night Herons (Nyctanassa violacea)



Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)





The Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola), also known as the Black-bellied Plover, is a medium-sized plover breeding in Arctic regions. It is a long-distance migrant, with a nearly worldwide coastal distribution when not breeding. In Panama it's a common transient and winter resident with a few present in summer; occurs along the coasts, mostly on mudflats but sometimes in beaches and grassy areas.



The Wilson's Plover (Charadrius wilsonia) is a small plover, and a coastal wader which breeds on both coasts of the Americas from the equator northwards. Its range extends north to include much of the U.S. eastern seaboard, and the Pacific coast of Mexico on the west. Breeds in Panama with numbers augmented by migrants in winter. Fairly common in Panama's Pacific, uncommon in Caribbean; found on beaches and mudflats. It is distinguished by its exceptional thick bill.



The Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa) is a large shorebird. Adults have long blue-grey hairy legs and a very long pink bill with a slight upward curve and dark at the tip. The long neck, breast and belly are pale brown with dark bars on the breast and flanks. The back is mottled and dark. They show cinnamon wing linings in flight. Their breeding habitat is the northern prairies of western Canada-(Canadian Prairies), and the north central Great Plains, United States near marshes or ponds. They nest on the ground, usually in short grass. In autumn, they migrate in flocks to the coasts of California, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico and South America.

These birds forage by probing on mudflats, in marshes, or at the beach. In short grass, they may pick up insects by sight. They mainly eat insects and crustaceans, but also eat parts of aquatic plants.

Their numbers were reduced by hunting at the end of the 19th century. Although they had recovered somewhat since that time, their population has declined in recent times as suitable habitat is used for farming.

In Panama it's an uncommon transient and winter resident; rare in summer. Recorded mostly from upper Bay of Panama, mainly east of Panama City. Found in coastal mudflats and nearby wet grassy areas.




The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a wader. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Europe and Asia as far south as Scotland. This is a migratory species wintering on coasts in Africa, South America, south Asia into Australasia and southern North America. It is also a coastal bird during migration. In Panama it is a very common winter resident, rare in summer. Occurs on both coasts, though more common on Pacific. Found on beaches and mudflats, sometimes also in nearby wet grassy areas.



 Willet (Tringa semipalmata)



Stilts & Avocets - Recurvirostridae family

Recurvirostridae is a family of birds in the wader suborder Charadrii. It contains two distinct groups of birds, the avocets (one genus - Recurvirostra) and the stilts (two genera - Himantopus and Cladorhynchus); only one species of each group occur in Panama. All the species possess long, thin legs, necks, and bills. The bills of avocets are curved upwards, and are swept from side to side when the bird is feeding in the brackish or saline wetlands they prefer. The bills of stilts, in contrast, are straight. These species feed on small aquatic animals such as mollusks, brine shrimp and other crustaceans, larval insects, segmented worms, tadpoles, and small fish.






The Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) is an abundant shorebird of American wetlands and coastlines. It is found from the coastal areas of California through much of the interior western United States and along the Gulf of Mexico as far east as Florida, then south through Central America and the Caribbean to northwest Brazil southwest Peru, east Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands.  In Panama it's fairly common on both coasts; relatively more common on Pacific. Found in coastal mudflats and in shallow brackish and freshwater habitats near coast. Occurs all year, but more numerous (as shown in the picture above) in certain months, probably due to presence of migrants. Breeds locally around Gulf of Parita. 









The American Avocet's (Recurvirostra americana) breeding habitat is marshes, beaches, prairie ponds, and shallow lakes in the mid-west as far north as southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and on the Pacific coast of North America. They form breeding colonies numbering dozens of pairs. When breeding is over the birds gather in large flocks, sometimes including hundreds of birds. This species is migratory, and mostly winters on the southern Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and the United States.

The American Avocet forages in shallow water or on mudflats, often sweeping its bill from side to side in water as it seeks its crustacean and insect prey. In Panama it's a vagrant species, previously recorded on salt ponds at Aguadulce (Coclé Province) and in Western Panamá Province.