Chiriquí birds & wildlife April 2015 tour (Part 2, Pipeline Trail)

On the second day of the tour I decided to go to Pipeline Trail in Bajo Mono area, near Boquete. I was informed that Resplendent Quetzals were nesting in the area so I had expectations to find them.

I spent the night in Volcán and had to drive to Boquete through the Cuesta de Piedra - Potrerillos road. While passing the area of Cordillera I saw a blackbird foraging on the road, near to pasture land, later I saw other 2 individuals, I slowed down and recognized the Bronzed Cowbird by the red eyes. This was a lifer for me and only member of the Molothrus genus  that was missing in my photo collection of Panama's birds.


The Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus), is a small icterid. It breeds from the southern U.S.A. states south through Panama, with an isolated population on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, sometimes treated as a separate species (bronze-brown cowbird (M. armenti)). Like all cowbirds, it is a brood parasite: it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. The young cowbird is fed by the host parents at the expense of their own young. In Panama it's fairly common on Pacific slope  eastward to eastern Panamá Province and on Caribbean slope in Bocas del Toro, found in grassy fields and open areas.

I got to The Pipeline trail which is one of the most popular short trails in Boquete. Most of the path is an easy ascent that follows along a water pipe, hence the name. There are areas where you can find aguacatillo and bambito trees, both favorite foods for quetzals and they are known to be occasionally in the area during certain season, and to nest there repeatedly. The first part of the trail is an open area with lots of fruiting trees, an sometimes large feeding flocks are seen. This time lots of Long-tailed Silky-Flycatchers were around but light was not good at the moment, the sun was too harsh and directly above these birds.

Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) (female or juvenile pictured) ranges from the southwestern United States to Venezuela and Peru. In Panamá it's common in lowlands and foothills eastward to Darién, in open areas with some shrubs or trees, woodlands, and gardens.  

Once in the closed part of the trail I saw a quetzal family of at least four individuals but they did not collaborated for pictures, later I found two interesting things: a nest of Slate-throated Redstarts and a shrub with flowers in bloom filled with butterflies. I took the opportunity to use my now retired 400mm f/2.8 lens to make some "fake macros", this lens is so versatile because it can focus as close as 4 meters and with a 2x extender and flash I can make awesome pictures of subjects this size.


I spent a lot of time with the redstarts as you can see below, I observed their behaviour from a safe distance and, of course, without obstructing their chick-feeding process. To be honest they didn't even care about my presence but in any case my own rule is: "if the animal starts acting non-normal, I am too close". They sallied to catch flying insects, sometimes they went far and returned after several minutes to the area with the prey in the bills, then they carefully, changing from branch to branch, approached the nest on the sly. I assume this behavior is a way to deceive possible predators, taking all those precautions to enter the nest which was located on a small bank just beside the trail. It was curious to me that they did not catch any of the butterflies that were just on the other side of the trail in large quantities. maybe because they are toxic. Instead, their favorite preys were damselflies, dragonflies, crane flies and wasps. Both parents were active in the feeding but the one with the orange crest was more shy for pictures.

Odonata were among their favorite prey

Entering the nest

 Fanning it's tail while approaching the nest. They never entered the nest immediately.

On my walk out I stopped in the quetzal area, and this time I was "luckier". Unfortunately the biggest male was between a lot of vegetation, he decided just once to get out the woods right into the trail but was scared by moron tourists that yelled at me: "it's right there!", and so I lost my only opportunity of a clear shot.

 Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno)


I was out the trail, and again in open areas were I had a revenge with the Silky-Flycatchers, I saw Red-crowned Woodpeckers building a nest, an Emerald Toucanet was approaching the same tree, and since this bird is known to predate nests and chicks was attacked by the woodpeckers, and forced to perch on other place which was not very good for the picture, it then started his croaking call. Other common birds were observed in the area and finally find a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers, a female was perched on top of a dead tree, later a male came out of nowhere (I believe they were also building a nest), and both flew away together.


 Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher (Ptiliogonys caudatus)


The Emerald Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus) (caeruleogularis subespecies pictured) occurs in mountainous regions from Mexico, through Central America to northern Venezuela and along the Andes as far south as central Bolivia. It has been suggested that the emerald toucanet actually should be split into 7 species. In which case this would be Blue-throated Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus caeruleogularis), found in Costa Rica and western Panama. In Panama is common in foothills and highlands in western Panama. While another subespecies (or species), the Violet-throated or Nelson's toucanet (Aulacorhynchus cognatus), is rare in foothills and highlands of western Panamá Province, like Altos del Maria (where I have photographed it), and common in Darién.


Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) (female pictured). Their breeding habitat is forested areas with oaks and foothills of California and the southwestern United States south to Colombia. This species may occur at low elevations in the north of its range, but rarely below 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in Central America, and it breeds up to the timberline. In Panama it is common in western highlands, mainly above 1,200 m (4,000 ft), and found in upper levels of forest and in clearings with large trees.