Chiriquí & Bocas del Toro birds & wildlife September 2015 tour (pt. 1)

This time we were accompanied by the new member of our staff and photographer/collaborator, Rafael Gutierrez (soon we expect to share some of his work), who has being with us in previous occasions. We started our tour early, departing from Boquete trying to be at dawn at Bosque Protector Palo Seco in the mountain range between Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro provinces, in the area known as La Verrugosa, also sometimes referred as Fortuna. Unfortunately, there was not much to photograph, although we saw some good birds. Among the species observed were: a lot of Contopus species, being at least confirmed Eastern Wood-Pewee and Olive-sided Flycatcher, Paltry Tyrannulet, a lot of Barn Swallows and some Blue-and-white Swallows, and mixed flocks of tanagers containing Emerald, Crimson-collared, Blue-and-gold, Black-and-yellow Tanagers. 

We moved to an area known as Willy Mazu to have breakfast and make some observations. While having breakfast we observed Band-tailed Barbthroat, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer and Stripe-throated Hermit hummingbirds but we didn't have our cameras ready. On the other hand, we were able to get these birds in pictures:

Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) - non-breeding male, or female


Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)

We continued our travel to lowlands, arriving to Chiriquí Grande where we stopped at the Petroleum Tanks Road and explored the area until lunch time. There we were able to observe  Empidonax sp., Slaty-tailed Trogons (heard), Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black Hawk-Eagle and Osprey (soaring high),   Little Tinamu (heard), Gray-headed Chachalaca, Montezuma Oropendola (heard), White-throated Crake (heard),  Brown Jay, among others; and  obtained the following photographic records:

Black-striped Sparrow (Arremonops conirostris) which breeds from northern Honduras to western Ecuador, northern Brazil and Venezuela. It is a mainly terrestrial species and feeds on insects, spiders and seeds taken on the ground, and also picks berries and invertebrate prey from low bushes. It could be seen in pairs but never in flocks, and is a shy and retiring species. Therefore, we were highly surprised that he decided to pose for us.

Again, we saw lots of individuals of the Contopus sp., which could be the result of local populations complimented by migrants. The genus Contopus is a group of small to medium-sized Tyrant flycatchers.

These birds are commonly known as pewees, from the call of one of the more common members of this vocal group. They are generally charcoal-grey birds with wing bars that live in wooded areas.


While following one of the pewees I noticed a group of birds resembling house sparrows, but one of them looked different with more dark wings. When trying to get the picture, I noticed yellow markings on the face.  It was close for a great picture but the bird flushed. The word "Dickcissel" came to my mind but I didn't want to rush the identification.

They retreated to a higher perch and finally we have a good sight to positively photograph and ID them. Indeed they were Dickcissels (Spiza americana), at least 10 of them. This is a migratory bird in the family Cardinalidae (Cardinals). It is the only member of the genus Spiza but in older works, it is often placed with the American sparrows in the Emberizidae family. Their breeding habitat is fields in midwestern North America. They migrate in large flocks to southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. 

Dickcissels forage on the ground or in fields. They mainly eat insects and seeds. Outside of the nesting season, they usually feed in flocks. They are considered a pest by farmers in some regions because flocks can consume large quantities of cultivated grains. This could explain why they acted so nervous with our presence, specially when we aimed them our photographic guns.

Dickcissels have a large pale bill, a yellow line over the eye, brownish upperparts with black streaks on the back, dark wings, a rust patch on the shoulder and light underparts. Adult males have a black throat patch. Females and juveniles are brownish on the cheeks and crown and are somewhat similar in appearance to house sparrows; they have streaked flanks.

In Panama this species is a common transient and rare winter resident on entire Pacific slope, and a rare transient on the Caribbean slope. It's found on grassy and open areas.

Cocoa Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus susurrans)

After lunch we repeated our stops, first at Willy Mazu and finally at Palo Seco, observing other species like Brown Violetear, Slate-throated Redstart, Dusky Antbird (western race),  Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, Tawny-crested Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia,   and obtaining the following shots:

The Plumed Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) also called a Green Basilisk, Basilisco Verde or Double crested basilisk, is a species of corytophanid native to Central America with its natural distribution ranging from eastern Honduras, through Nicaragua and Costa Rica, to western Panama. 

Plumed basilisks are one of the largest basilisk species. Including the tail, they can reach 3 feet long (91 cm). Adult lizards are brilliant green with bright yellow eyes and small bluish spots along the dorsal ridge. Males have three crests: one on the head, one on their back, and one on the tail while the females only have the head crest. Juveniles are less conspicuously colored, and lack the characteristic crests. Plumed basilisks are omnivorous and eat insects, small mammals (such as rodents), smaller species of lizards, fruits and flowers. Their predators include birds of prey, opossums and snakes.

Cinnamon Becard (Pachyramphus cinnamomeus)


The Phasmatodea is an order of insects, whose members are variously known as stick insects, walking sticks, stick-bugs and leaf insects, or in Spanish "Bicho palo" or "Bicho hoja" depending of they resemble a stick or a leaf. Their natural camouflage can make them extremely difficult to spot, in this case we show a side shot so you can clearly observe its form, since it mimics so well the mossy wood in which it was placed, it can be hardly differentiated if it's seen from atop.


The Dusky-faced Tanager (Mitrospingus cassinii) is a species formerly placed in the Thraupidae (Tanagers) family. Currently, in Incertae sedis (Latin for "of uncertain placement"), a term used for a taxonomic group where its broader relationships are unknown or undefined.

It is found in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forest. In Panama it's fairly common on entire caribbean slope and Pacific slope from eastern Panama province eastward to Darién. It's found on lower levels of forest, especially in dense vegetation along streams or edges.

It's combination of pale eye on blackish face and olive crown and underpants is distinctive.


Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)


The Crimson-collared Tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus) ranges from southern Veracruz and northern Oaxaca in Mexico through the Atlantic slope of Central America, to the highlands of western Panama. In Panama it's uncommon in lowlands and foothills of Caribbean slope eastward to Coclé, and on Veraguas foothills. Found in lower levels of forest edge, woodland edge, shrubby areas, and second growth.

Orange-bellied Trogon (Trogon aurantiiventris) - female