Coiba Island and National Park wildlife photography (pt. 3)

San Juan River

We moved to San Juan River entering through the river mouth with the high tide. At the estuary we observed Osprey, Whimbrel, Willet, Royal Terns, Black Terns, Sandwich Terns, Great Egrets, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Snowy Egret and a Crocodile; sometimes it was difficult  to get good shots because birds were scared away when we tried to approach on the boat.

Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus)

Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) 

Going upstream we started to see other birds at the edges of  the mangrove forest. We entered the river as much as possible and then turned back, having oportunities with species like Green Kingfishers, Mangrove Swallows, Red-crowned Woodpecker (endemic subspecies), Black Iguana, Tropical Pewee (endemic subspecies), several Common Black-Hawks and our main target there, Scarlet Macaws.

Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana) - male


Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a large, red, yellow and blue parrot, a member of a large group called macaws. It is native to humid evergreen forests of  southeast Mexico, Central America and tropical South America in lowlands up to 500 m (1,640 ft). Throughout its range it has suffered from local extinction through habitat destruction and capture for the parrot trade, but it remains fairly common were localized. It is the national bird of Honduras. In Panama it's just about extinct from its entire former mainland range; thus nationally endangered. It can be commonly found only on Coiba Island, with very rare reports on mainland in southwestern Azuero Peninsula, and a recent report in Chiriquí that could be either individuals from Costa Rica or individuals from the reintroduction program at Eco Agro Centro Batipa with the support of Universidad Tecnológica Oteima. Photos were not great because they are mostly found in upper levels of forest with tall trees, they were more easily heard than seen.


Then I was able to photograph this Coiba endemic subspecies of  Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus aithalodes). The tropical pewee is a tyrant flycatcher that breeds from southern Mexico and Trinidad south to Bolivia and Argentina. This pewee is found at the edges of forests and cultivated areas with tall trees. The upperparts are dark brown or grey with a blackish crown and two whitish wing bars. The throat and centre of the breast are whitish, the abdomen is pale yellow, and the sides of the flanks and breast are grey-brown. There are large variations in the overall darkness of the plumage. The beak is short, with a black upper mandible and orange lower mandible. Tropical pewees perch on a high watchpoint from which they sally forth to catch flying insects, returning to the same exposed perch. In Panama it's fairly common on parts of both slopes.


Los Pozos trail

We continued our adventure walking Los Pozos Termales trail. We entered the trail at a small rocky beach by the name of Playa Venado where we left the boat. This is a flat, one way in and out trail that is 750 meters from start to the end where thermal pools are found.

The main attraction here as certified by our guide Kees is the endemic Coiba Spinetail, more often observed here than anywhere else on the island. Also the endemic Brown-backed Dove (which I didn't see) is also found on this trail as well as both Howler and White-faced Capuchin monkeys.

At this trail I was able to observe Coiba endemic species and subspecies with not so great photographic results due to the usual suspects we tropical wildlife photographers already know (lack of light, interfering vegetation, back light, and far away or non-collaborative individuals), as a matter of fact my European colleages were not even interested in trying to photograph these endemic subspecies of birds: Tropical Gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea cinericia), White-throated Thrush (Turdus assimilis coibensis), Tropical Parula  (Parula pitiayumi cirrah),  Rufous-capped Warbler  (Basileuterus rufifrons actuosus), Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus eremus), Scrub Greenlet (Hylophilus flavipes xuthusand) and Crimson-backed Tanager  (Ramphocelus dimidiatus arestus), and the Coiba endemic species Coiba Spinetail (Cranioleuca dissita). We also saw lots of Lance-tailed Manakins but I have to admit I didn't bothered so much making pictures of them.

Most of these birds were only seen, being able to get good shots exclusively of the Coiban Tropical Gnatcatcher and one decent enough of the Coiba Spinetail.

I had a great chance with the Coiba endemic subspecies of the Tropical Gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea cinericia). The tropical gnatcatcher is a small active insectivorous songbird which is a resident species throughout a large part of the Neotropics. In Panama it's common on both slopes on canopy, edge of forest, woodland, sometimes on shrubby areas and scrub. It's very active, frequently cocking or flicking its tail. Making it very difficult to get good shots of.

The Coiba Spinetail (Cranioleuca dissita) is considered a Coiba Island endemic due to its restricted range to this island, and therefore a national endemic too. Disregarding this, it is considered by the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) as a subspecies of Rusty-backed Spinetail (Cranioleuca vulpina). Some authorities have argued for species status for the Coiba Spinetail based on differences in habitat, voice, and plumage, and the large distance between the range of it and the South American rusty-backed spinetail. In Coiba Island it's fairly common in middle levels of forest and woodland. They forage either singularly or in pairs in dense tangles of vines. It rarely comes out into the open, making it hard to photograph. We were able to observe a pair.

We got to the end of the trail were hot water pools are located, these small pools are nurtured by hot springs, and were visited and used by General Manuel Antonio Noriega in days of yore, now they are practically abandoned and filthy, even with dead toads inside. Here I saw a Common Black-Hawk, getting much better opportunities that the ones I got from the boat.

Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) breeds in the warmer parts of the Americas, from the Southwestern United States through Central America to Venezuela, Peru, Trinidad, and the Lesser Antilles. It is a mainly coastal, resident bird of mangrove swamps, estuaries and adjacent dry open woodland, though there are inland populations. In Panama it's common on both coasts, sometimes occurring inland along large lakes and rivers, usually found near water.


On our way out we found a small troop of White-faced Capuchins (Cebus capucinus) also known as white-faced capuchin/monkey or white-throated capuchin/monkey. A medium sized monkey native to the forests of Central America and the extreme north-western portion of South America.


Back to the camp

A storm was approaching providing me just enough time to get a shot of this Coiba Island Howler Monkey (Alouatta coibensis coibensis) that was howling while the tree was shaken by the wind. Later, I saw a Green Kingfisher sheltering from the rain.

Coiba Island Howler (Alouatta coibensis coibensis)

The Coiba Island Howler (Alouatta coibensis) is a species of Howler Monkey endemic to Panama. Although generally recognized as a separate species, mitochondrial DNA testing is inconclusive as to whether it is actually a subspecies of the Mantled Howler. The reason for treating it as a separate species is the dermal ridges of its hands and feet differ from those of the mantled howler. This species has two subspecies:
  • A. c. coibensis (pictured)- endemic to Coiba and Jicaron islands is smaller than other Central American howler monkeys and has duller pelage than the Azuero Howler.
  • A. c. trabeata- Azuero Howler, endemic to the Azuero Peninsula, distinguished primarily by its golden flanks and loins, and browner appearance on the rest of its body.

Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana) - female

Another afternoon was spoiled by rain but the following day we decided to return to Frijoles islets, where two great surprises were waiting for us. In the meantime I leave you with this Sea Hibiscus flower (Hibiscus tilliaceus or Talipariti tiliaceum) that I photographed at the beach. This is a species of flowering tree in the mallow family, Malvaceae, native to the Old World tropics. It's a coastal plant that has become naturalized in parts of the New World, such as Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and obviously Coiba Island. It's well adapted to grow in coastal environment, tolerating salt and growing in sand, marl, limestone, and crushed basalt.



To be continued...