In search of the Boat-billed Herons (Cochlearius cochlearius)

The Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) is an atypical member of the heron family, and was formerly thought to be in a monotypic family, Cochlearidae.  It lives in swamps from Mexico south to Peru and Brazil. It is a nocturnal bird, and breeds semi-colonially in mangrove trees, laying 2-4 bluish white eggs in a twig nest.

The boat-billed heron is about 54 cm long. The adult has a black crown, long crest and upper back. The face, throat and breast are white, and the lower underparts are rufous with black flanks. The wings and lower back are pale grey. The massive broad scoop-like bill, which gives rise to this species' name, is mainly black. Immature birds have mainly brown upperparts and brown-tinged whitish underparts, and lack the crest.

This species feeds on fish, rodents, eggs, crustaceans, insects and amphibians. Its calls include a deep croak.


Last year I observed a couple of immature individuals at Parque Natural Metropolitano.


Some weeks ago when I was at Tortí, I saw a Boat-Billed very close but it was so nervous that flew away. I was very disapointed of not getting the shot but then my friends of Advantage Tours (http://advantagepanama.com)  told me about a "magical"  trail that is not very known in which I could find a lot of them at that moment. 

So, as soon as possible, and after a morning at PRDC, I went to said place. It was past noon when I observed a colony of this species, including three occupied nests. The noise of my footsteps on the dry leafs on the ground was enough to alarm the herons, and therefore they flushed, but one individual stayed very visible, soon I learned it was guarding a nest so I get the shots I needed and left it alone. The light was not very good, shadows were against me, but in the end I was very happy to finally get shots of an adult individual.




This time I managed to get better shots of a breeding adult.

Then I moved ahead and found another individual perched on a palm tree, took a couple of shoots and finally arrived to where the other two nests were located. Then I went away and confirmed that all three nests were occupied again, making sure that my visit didn't make birds abandon the nests.




Some weeks later I returned to see any progress with the nests, the result was: two nests were apparently not occupied, one nest was occupied by a nestling and one youngling was in the same mangrove tree, the same adult was still there; I heard several other individuals around. Apparently, nesting was succesfull, at least partially.

This time I just took photos of the cute nestling that remained unstressed in the nest, and got shots of the proud parent before I walked away.






During my visits to this magical place I also managed to photograph these species:


Scarlet-rumped cacique (Cacicus uropygialis)

Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana), male

A male American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea). This species occurs in the American tropics from southern Mexico south through Central America to western Ecuador, and then around the northern Andes cordillera in the east to central Bolivia and central Brazil. The species occupies the entire Amazon basin and the Tocantins River drainage adjacent in Pará state Brazil. It also occurs on Trinidad.

This tiny kingfisher occurs in dense forests and mangroves along small streams or rivers with heavily vegetated banks, in Panama is uncommon in lowlands on both slopes.

The American pygmy kingfisher is 13 cm long and weighs 18g. It has the typical kingfisher shape, with a short tail and long bill. It is oily green above, with a yellow-orange collar around the neck, rufous underparts and a white belly. The female has a narrow green breast band. Young birds resemble the adults, but have paler rufous underparts, no breast band, and speckled wings and flanks. It gives a weak tik or stony cht cht call.

Rusty-margined Flycatcher (Myiozetetes cayanensis)

Common Basilisk (Basiliscus basiliscus) is a lizard found in Central and South American rainforests near rivers and streams. It is also known as the Jesus lizard, Jesus Christ lizard, or lagarto de Jesus Cristo for its ability to run on the surface of water. Both sexes are brown to olive, and have a white, cream or yellow stripe on the upper lip and a second stripe along either side of their bodies; these stripes have higher contrast in juveniles and fade as the lizards age.

The Meso-American Slider (Trachemys venusta) is a species of turtle belonging to the family Emydidae with a distribution from Mexico to Colombia. The "slider" part of their name comes from their ability to slide off rocks and logs and into the water quickly.


Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), male