Coiba Island and National Park wildlife photography (pt. 4)
It was our third and final day, as explained on previous posts we returned to the group of rocky islets known as Frijoles. We were able to get more shots of the boobies and bridled terns but we also met two pleasant surprises.
We observed a sandpiper running on a very small rocky island. Honestly, we didn't pay too much attention to it but I was able to make some shots, immediately I thought it was a Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana), as indeed it was. The waves were hard and we didn't try get too close to avoid damage to the boat, the tattler was moving pretty fast too but in occasions stopped, and then I made the two pictures above.
When the northern hemisphere is in summer, this sandpipers are found in far-eastern Russia, Alaska and northwestern Canada, where they nest in rocky areas along mountain streams. At other times, they are found on rocky islands in the southwest Pacific and on rocky Pacific coasts from California to South America, and as far as Australia. In Panama it's a very rare transient, and possibly a winter resident.
Almost immediately on the following rocky island, Kees shouted "Inca Tern". I couldn't believe it, I couldn't even see it but there it was, and then we completely forgot about the tattler. We were so excited because this is a beautiful and unique bird which I only dreamed about because it's not seen very often in Panama.
The Inca Tern (Larosterna inca) is a seabird in the family Sternidae and only member of the genus Larosterna. It breeds on the coasts of Peru and Chile, and is restricted to the Humboldt current. It is an erratic, rare visitant to Ecuador, and even more rare northbound to Panama and Costa Rica. According to records, a large number invaded Gulf of Panama during the strong El Niño event of 1983, and since, it have been reported a handful of times (09-2010 Punta Mala observed by Jan Axel Cubilla, Darien Montañez, Rafael Luck; 06-2014 Coiba National Park observed by Kees Groenendijk, who by the way organized this trip, and now 05-2015 again in Coiba NP.
It can be identified by its dark grey body, white moustache on both sides of its head, and red-orange beak and feet. This species is listed as Near Threatened because its population has apparently experienced a moderately rapid decline.
Open sea again
As we were returning to mainland, crossing open sea, we saw a bird feeding. Our guide Kees identified it immediately as Galapagos Shearwater, we spent a lot of time following it as it glided, flew low and dived, probably catching small fish or squids. It allowed us to get an amazing set of pictures. In the beginning I had a lot of problems keeping track of it because it was so fast but later I learned how to anticipate its movements.
The Galapagos Shearwater (Puffinus subalaris) is a small shearwater. Until recently it was considered to be a subspecies of Audubon's Shearwater. It has dark brown upperparts, undertail and underwing flight feathers, the rest of the underparts plumage being white. It is an endemic breeder of the Galápagos Islands, and is largely sedentary, although individuals are commonly seen as far as the Oaxacan coast of Mexico. It's a gregarious species and will feed at sea with other shearwaters and boobies. It flies low over the water and feeds on squid, fish and offal. In Panama it's a fairly common transient species in the Pacific, reported in both Gulf of Panama and Gulf of Chiriqui.
We observed other birds on our way, like Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, the usual terns, and a lone Blue-footed Booby.
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii)
Unfortunately, as everything in life this adventure came to an end. To wrap it up, it was an amazing experience, Kees and Loes from Heliconia Inn (http://hotelheliconiapanama.com) and Tanager Tourism (the tour operator sister of the B&B) (http://tanagertourism.com) were very good hosts, everything was well planned, we had more than enough beverages and food all the time, I particularly loved the home-baked bread made by Loes, and Kees knew were to take us to get awesome shots and also enjoy what the park has to offer. I only regret not having enough time due to time constrains (i.e. my real job), besides weather was not all that great.
I was very pleased with the tour that I plan to make some more tours with Tanager Tourism in search of new targets in the Azuero area and even repeat Coiba sometime soon but for now I have other plans in the agenda. As a matter of fact, I am returning in July in search of an endemic species (or subsepecies, depending on who you ask).
I thank Kees and Loes for everything and recommend them if you want to make tours in the area.