In search of the Whistling Heron (Syrigma sibilatrix)

The Target

January 9th, 2015, a national holiday. I had programmed this day for a full day of bird photography. The main target I had this day was the Whistling Heron, a relative new species for Panama that has been recorded in different locations since a couple of years. I understand they were always observed on single numbers but this time we have a report of a couple in a location about 1 hour driving from Panama city. They have been reported there from several months ago but somehow the hype about this beautiful herons increased in December 2014.

Last year this species was also reported in a pastureland in Chepo, eastern Panamá Province, and I tried several times to get it without success. I was only able to see it flying above me but it never cooperated for pictures. 

Finally, it seemed like I had a good chance for great pictures, and so it was. I'll show it below and explain why it is special.

My program

First thing in the morning I drove to Antón, Coclé Province (about 4 hours drive forth and back), to visit my friend Hakaw. During the visit, I got from him a 180mm macro lens featured in the previous post. Then I went to Juan Hombrón a beach on Pacific slope in Coclé, close to Antón, to try for Maguari Stork (another new species for the country) , Glossy Ibis (observed previously by the hundreds) and Crested Bobwhites, and anything else I find in the way. Then to Gorgona, Panamá Oeste Province to get the Whistling Heron, and then visited the Pipeline Road, Colón Province in the Caribbean slope.

Juan Hombrón

There were no Maguari Storks, as a matter of fact no Storks, Ibis and Bobwhites at all. There were lots of egrets, herons and other wading birds like Jacanas and Stilts. I made several stops in the road trying to photograph the elusive Ground-doves, a soaring Common Black-Hawk, a calling Lance-tailed Manakin, and also the locals: Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Savanna Hawks, Crested Caracaras, Yellow-headed Caracaras, etc.., the road was traveled by so many cars that  it was mission impossible. Passing cars scared my subjects sometimes.

Finally I reached the end of the main road to the beach and observed an Osprey, apparently I scared the s*** out of him, and then he went away.


The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is unusual in that it is a single living species that occurs nearly worldwide. It is the sole member of the family Pandionidae. It's also known as fish eagle, sea hawk or locally as águila pescadora. It's a common transient and winter resident but few birds are present during summer too, found along coasts and inland on larger bodies of water countrywide.


Then, in the garden of  one of the "beach houses", I heard a House Wren singing and a couple of Barred Antshrikes making the sound I describe as "crow-like", and also a  Common Tody-Flycatcher.

The House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) is a very small songbird of the wren family, Troglodytidae. It occurs from Canada to southernmost South America, and is thus the most widely distributed bird in the Americas. It occurs in most suburban areas in its range and it is the single most common wren. In Panamá it's common and you can see and hear it almost anywhere specially around houses and other human made structures.



The Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus) is a passerine bird in the antbird family. It is found from Tamaulipas, Mexico, through Central America, Trinidad and Tobago, and a large part of South America east of the Andes as far south as northern Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. It is found in a wide range of wooded habitats (even gardens and parks) in both humid and arid regions. Throughout a large part of its range, it is among the most common antbirds. This species exhibits marked sexual dimorphism. The male is barred all over with black and white, and has black crest that is raised in display. The female is rufous above with a chestnut crest. The sides of her head and neck are streaked with black, and the underparts are rich buff. In both sexes, the legs are grey, the bill is black and the iris is pale yellow. In Panama it's fairly common on Pacific slope and central Caribbean.



 Common Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum cinereum)

Later I heard some parrots inside a leafy tree, I knew this was a lifer for me since I couldn't recognize the sound but I was not able to see them. After many minutes looking, I was able to see them and made some "record shots" (photos that are not artistically good but are useful for keeping records of what I saw) of these Veraguas Parakeet, like the one below.


Fortunately, patience is a virtue and mine paid off when these guys got out from the tree and went to a another one and started eating flowers. It was not an easy task, I had to go through a very tall and dense scrub to get good distance and angle, and had to wait until they returned for a second time to eat flowers to get this magnificent shots, because in the first sets of shots they were blocked by leaves, these are not  perfect shots, and maybe could have been better If I stayed more time, but main target of the day was waiting for me.


The Brown-throated Parakeet (Eupsittula pertinax), is a species of parrot in the Psittacidae family. It is found widely in woodland, savanna and scrub in northern South America in Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, the ABC islands in the Netherlands Antilles, and northern Brazil (mainly the Rio Negro/Branco region) with a disjunct population in south-western Pará. Another disjunct population is found in southern Central America in Panama and Costa Rica, and is sometimes considered a separate species, the Veraguas parakeet (Eupsittula pertinax ocularis). Also has been introduced to Puerto Rico (where now possibly extirpated), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and various other islands in the Lesser Antilles.

The brown-throated parakeet is mostly green, with the lowerparts being a lighter green than the upperparts. Black/grey beak. Some blue in the wing feathers. Head and face colours depend on the subspecies. Panama's sub-especies has a prominent ornage patch below eye, hence the "ocularis" taxonomy. In Panama it's common and found in lowlands in the Pacific eastward to Panama City area; rare in Caribbean on Canal Area.

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea) in one of the rice fields in the road to Juan Hombrón

Savanna Hawk (Buteogallus meridionalis) standing on the roadside

 

Gorgona

I headed to Gorgona where I found my friend Rolando Jordán, we went to the pond where the Whistling Herons are staying and I was able to spot them right away disregarding how well they blend with the habitat.

When we were getting closer to the herons I spotted some not so common ducks and water birds like Lesser Scaup, Masked Ducks, American Coots and Least Grebes.

I was able to get a "record shot" of this female Lesser Scaup, but I never saw she again. While the Masked Ducks concealed in the vegetation:


Then I enjoyed photographing these beauties, the main target of the day:






The Whistling Heron (Syrigma sibilatrix) is a medium-sized, often terrestrial heron of South America. There are two subspecies, the southern S. s. sibilatrix and the northern S. s. fostersmithi. The subspecies fostersmithi inhabits the Llanos and the Orinoco basin of Colombia and Venezuela. The subspecies sibilatrix inhabits eastern Bolivia, Paraguay, western and southern Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and northeastern Argentina. Recent records suggest that it may be expanding its range northward and eastward in Brazil. As well as recent records in Panama suggest the range expansion of the northern subspecies.

It occurs often in drier grassy situations than other herons, but also in a wide variety of open waterlogged or shallowly submerged terrain. Because it roosts in trees, it particularly likes regions where open areas are mixed with woodlots. It has no objection to human-altered habitats such as pastures and roadsides, and it often perches on fenceposts.

There are no breeding records yet from Panama but that might change if this couple meet all the conditions for succesfull breeding in the habitat they are living right now.


Then I got wet, getting inside the pond with the water up to my hips to get these shots:

A Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) was very close behind the scrub, it was not disturbed by my presence, and I wasn't scared at all, but I shall recommend to respect all animals and keep prudent and safe distance always.


 Least Grebes (Tachybaptus dominicus)



 American Coots (Fulica americana)

Light and shadows were so harsh due to the sunny day and the hour (past noon), so I left the place and moved to Pipeline Road to try my luck. I didn't find anything special over there but I share the pictures anyway.

Pipeline Road

It was afternoon and I stayed around the entrance to Panama Rainforest Discovery Center just looking around, there I was able to get these pictures:

The Whooping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens) is the most widespread motmot of the lowlands of eastern Panama and northwestern South America, where its hooting call is a familiar sound in forests. Birds often perch on a favored branch, where they cock their long tail back and forth like a clock pendulum and occasionally sally after a insect. It's fairly common on Pacific slope in forest edge, gallery forest and thickets and hedgerows in open areas. Uncommon on Caribbean slope in Canal Area and eastern Kuna Yala.



Brown-throated Sloth protecting her baby (Bradypus variegatus)


The Purple-throated Fruitcrow (Querula purpurata) is a species in the Cotingidae family, the cotingas. Therefore it's not either a real crow nor related to them. It is found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela; also in southern Central America in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests. In Panama it's common on entire Caribbean slope and on Pacific slope from Canal Area eastward. It's found in upper and middle levels of forest usually in noisy flocks.



The White-tailed Trogon (Trogon chionurus), (formerly considered conspecific to T. viridis)  is found in tropical humid forests ranging from Panama, through western Colombia, to western Ecuador. It's fairly common on entire Caribbean slope and on Pacific slope from eastern Panama Province eastward. In comparison to smaller Gartered Trogon note blue orbital skin present in males.

The Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri) is is a resident breeder in the Caribbean coastal lowlands from southern Mexico to central Costa Rica, both slopes of southern Costa Rica and Panama, and the Pacific lowlands of Colombia and north-eastern Ecuador. The scientific name of the species commemorates Johann Georg Wagler, who established Psarocolius, the oropendola genus. It's common in Panama in middle and upper level of forest, woodland, and clearings with large trees.



The White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis) is a resident breeding species from southeastern Mexico to central Ecuador. Like other puffbirds, this species hunts by a watch-and-wait technique, sitting motionless before darting to catch large insects, spiders, small frogs and lizards. These are taken back to the perch and beaten against it prior to consumption. Despite its size, this species is easily overlooked as it sits motionless in the foliage. In Panama it's fairly common in lowlands and uncommon in foothills in lower levels of forest of both slopes.