Chiriquí birds & wildlife March 2015 tour (part 2, highlands)

The second day of my March Chiriquí Tour I moved again to the highlands, I drove to Boquete where Rafael Gutierrez, local guide, birdwatcher and photographer, joined me. We decided to visit the Pipeline Trail in Bajo Mono, aka Camino de Pipa de Agua, Lost Waterfall, or Casacada Escondida. And not to be confused with the Pipeline Road in Soberanía National Park or the Transisthmian Pipeline Road I drove the day before which goes from Fortuna Dam to Chiriquí Grande. We expected to see and photograph Resplendent Quetzals that are seen over the place during the fruiting season of aguacatillo and bambito trees.

Once in the trail we saw a yellow bird that was singing, Rafael quickly identified it as a Black-thighed Grosbeak while I thought it was an oriole:
Black-thighed Grosbeak (Pheucticus tibialis) is a large seed-eater in the cardinal family, which is endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. This species breeds from about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) up to 2,600 m (8,500 ft) and is found in canopy, woodland edge and semi-open habitats such as pasture with some trees. It forages in shrubs or trees for insects, seeds and berries


It was drizzling and had to protect my gear with a rain cover, while a feeding frenzy started on the trees that were full of ripe berries. Mixed flocks were all over the place, and in moments I didn't know where to aim. During the walk through the trail I was able to make the following pictures.


Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus), is a medium-sized thrush, named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist. The breeding habitat of Swainson's thrush is coniferous woods with dense undergrowth across Canada, Alaska, and the northern United States; also, deciduous wooded areas on the Pacific coast of North America. These birds migrate to southern Mexico and as far south as Argentina. They forage on the forest floor, also in trees. Swainson's thrushes mainly eat insects, fruits and berries. In Panama is a common migrant found throughout the country.


Mountain Elaenia (Elaenia frantzii) is a tyrant flycatcher that breeds in highlands from Guatemala to Colombia and western Venezuela. The scientific name celebrates the German physician and naturalist, Alexander von Frantzius. The mountain elaenia breeds between 1,200 and 2,900 m (3,900 and 9,500 ft) in altitude in wet mountain forests, especially at the edges and in clearings and in adjacent second growth, semi-open areas, or pastures with trees. It moves lower in winter, down to 600 m (2,000 ft), and also appears to undergo seasonal movements. It perches on a shaded watchpoint from which it sallies forth to pick insects, spiders, and many berries and seeds from foliage or even the ground. All its food is taken in flight. In Panama it's a common resident of western highlands.


White-throated Thrush (Turdus assimilis) is a species in the Turdidae (thrushes) family. It is found in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests, subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests. There are 11 subspecies, some of which are treated as separate species by some authorities. It features a distinctive black and white streaked throat bounded by a solid white crescent. Breast is light gray to gray-brown, back is dark gray to gray-brown. It also has bold yellow eyerings, bill and feet. Some birds in eastern Panama have dark bills and ruddier upperparts. In Panama it's an uncommon resident on western highlands, southern Veraguas, wester Panamá Province and eastern highlands).


Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala)

Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus) is a tyrant flycatcher (Tyrannidae). It breeds from northwestern Mexico to western Ecuador, Bolivia and southeastern Brazil, and on Trinidad. It does not move when singing, so can be difficult to see. The bright-rumped attila has a big head, hooked and slightly upturned bill and upright stance. Head is olive-green streaked with black, the back is chestnut or olive, the rump bright yellow and the tail brown. The wings are dark brown with two pale wing bars and paler feather edging. The whitish or yellow throat and yellow breast are variably streaked darker. The belly is white becoming yellow near the tail. The iris is red. In Panama it's found commonly on humid and dry forest, second growth, and gardens from lowlands to middle elevations.

Golden-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes hemichrysus) is an endemic in Costa Rica and western highlands of Panama.
Orange-bellied Trogon (Trogon aurantiiventris) is a species in the Trogonidae family. It has been considered a morph of the Collared Trogon, but most maintain its status as a separate species. It is found in Costa Rica and Panama where it's common in highlands at middle levels of forest and forest edge.


Unknown fruit


Common Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavopectus) is a resident breeder in the highlands from central Mexico south to Bolivia and northwest Argentina. In the loose sense is a notorious cryptic species complex, and several of the up to 25 subspecies recognized in recent times are likely to be distinct species. Some populations in fact appear to be more distinct than several other members of Chlorospingus. It's common in Panama's western highlands in humid forest and second growth in middle elevations.

Traditionally, the genus Chlorospingus was placed with the tanager family, Thraupidae. More recent research suggests that they are actually aberrant brush finches in the Emberizidae and particularly close to Arremonops. Hence, as a common name "chlorospinguses" is better than the widely used "bush-tanagers".




Mountain Thrush (Turdus plebejus) is a large thrush which is found in Central America. The mountain thrush resembles other Turdus thrushes in general appearance and habits. The adult is uniformly dull olive-brown with faint white streaks on the throat. The bill is black and the legs are dark brown. Two superficially similar relatives share this species range: the Sooty Thrush is blacker with an orange bill, eye ring and legs, and the Clay-colored Thrush is much paler and yellow-billed. In Panama is a common resident of western highlands.

We reached the "Quetzal's spot" to find they were extremely shy, maybe due to the cold and rainy weather, we saw several male individuals but I couldn't get pictures. Then, we decided to move to Los Quetzales trail from Alto Chiquero in search of the next target: Three-wattled Bellbird. When we got into the trail we found a Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher and a Prong-billed Barbet.


Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher (Phainoptila melanoxantha) is a species in the Ptilogonatidae family. It is monotypic within the genus Phainoptila. They are found from Costa Rica to western Panama, in mountains from 1800 m (6000 ft.) to timberline, although they may wander lower after breeding season. In Panama is commonly found in western highland forests and adjacent second growth and gardens.


Later on the trail we started to hear the loud call of the bellbird, we continued walking until we reached a spot on which we could see him but was far, far, far away, the bellbird moved to a perch bellow and we were waiting him to return to his exposed perch, Then we saw a female bellbird but was even more far away. While we were waiting for the male bellbird we observed some raptors.


Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni), is a large Buteo hawk. As the thrush above, was also named after William Swainson. In USA it's colloquially known as the grasshopper hawk or locust hawk, as it is very fond of them and will voraciously eat these insects whenever they are available. Their breeding habitat is prairie and dry grasslands in western North America. but is a long-distance migrant, wintering in Argentina; when migrating, concentrations over locations like Cerro Ancón (Ancon Hill) in Panama City are spectacular. Therefore, in Panama is commonly seen migrating over any habitat. It has been recorded as a vagrant in neighboring Chile, in the island countries of the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago, and in Norway.

We saw another lone hawk soaring, another hawk perched far away (probably a Broad-winged Hawk), and a huge flock of migrating raptors, but we were unable to positively identify any of them.

Then I had to stack a 2x and a 1.5x Teleconverter for an effective magnification of 3x. That means that my 400mm lens was trasformed into a 1,200mm, which multiplied by the 1.6x crop factor of the camera gave me the equivalent of 1,920mm, and I was still far from filling the frame. Without image stabilization (IS) and with strong winds, getting a sharp image was almost impossible. This photo is the best I got, and I did it intentionally while the Bellbird had the bill open to producing his bell chime.


Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculatus) is a Central American migratory bird of the cotinga family. It's one of four species of bellbird that live in Central and South America, the three-wattled bellbird is between 25 cm (9.8 in) and 30 cm (12 in) long. The body, tail, and wings of the male are uniformly chestnut-brown; its head, neck, and upper breast are white; and it has a black eye-ring, eye-stripe, and bill. Its name comes from the three worm-like wattles of skin that hang from the base of the bill. These wattles can be as long as 10 cm (3.9 in) when extended during songs and interactions. The wattles remain flaccid even when extended. The male shakes the wattles, but otherwise they hang straight down; they are neither erectile nor under muscular control. The side wattles do not stick out to the sides and the central one is not extended directly skywards as shown on some old illustrations and specimens. The female bellbirds are smaller and less striking in appearance, being overall olive with yellowish streaking below, pure yellow vent and no wattles.

Famous for having one of the most unusual and distinct vocalizations of any bird in its range, the three-wattled bellbird exists from western Honduras south to eastern Panama. While little is known about the migratory behavior of these birds, they breed primarily in Costa Rican highlands (March–September) and return to lower elevations for the interim months. Because of the secretive behavior of this bird, it is often only detected by the distinctive bell-like call given by the males. In Panama it's found in high canopy in western highlands and southern Veraguas including Coiba island.