Bird photography at Altos del María

Almost two months ago we were invited to Altos del María by the now local Alfred Raab. Altos del María is a gated community located at the mountains of the newly created Panamá Oeste province (referred in old birding bibliography as western Panama province), it is located between 500 and 1,000 meters altitude in the eastern part of the Cordillera Central, the extension of the Talamanca Mountain Range.

Disregarding the development of the residential areas of the project, a huge part of the natural environmental is still preserved almost if not completely intact, providing great opportunities to observe wildlife, especially species that inhabit foothills and lower highlands. Keep in mind that this is a private project and access to the areas is restricted to owners and their guests, and you will need to be invited or have special permit to enter and hang around.

We do not know if the abundance of natural environment is planned or simply a result of the project being under-developed but for sure it's a great place, and in the short time we stayed were able to photograph excellent species.

Our host, Alfred, knows the place very well, showed us the best places to observe birds and provided us a map with marked places and a check list of species found in the area. Following his suggestion we arrived just in time (not so early) to see the fog disappear from some areas allowing us to make photos. If you want to know more about birdin Altos del María we recommend this webpage run by Alfred: www.birdinginaltosdelmaria.com.

Some of the species below have already been featured on this blog. Therefore, we won't spend much describing their life history even thou we did not spare opportunities to get better photos.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer), we observed a couple of these tyrants perched in the low canopy making their characteristic mournful whistle, it was still a little foggy but we were able to make some photos. This species flies out from a perch, hovers for a moment while taking an insect from the leaves or twigs, then lands on another perch to eat it, and sometimes catches insects in mid-air. 

Our host spotted a small flock of Emerald Toucanets (Aulacorhynchus prasinus), a small toucan of highlands in Central and South America. It is green overall with a black bill and varying amounts of yellow on the maxilla. This species consists of at least seven well differentiated groups, which differ in plumage and to some extent in bill color over its large geographic range, from Mexico south to the central Bolivian Andes; however further investigation of geographic variation in the Emerald Toucanet is recommended and the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) do not recognise the split into different species.

While we were making the picture above, Alfred, went ahead walking on the road and spotted two Crimson-bellied Woodpeckers, a rare species for Panama that is restricted to relatively intact forest. He was even able to make a cool picture but when we arrived to the place we were only able to see them without having opportunities for pictures. Fortunately, the next finding settled the missing opportunity with these woodpeckers.

Yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis) - male

Yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis) - female

Yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis) - female (L) & male (R)

We were also able to spot a couple of Yellow-eared Toucanets (Selenidera spectabilis), we can tell the different sexes because the male has a yellow auricular streak, while the female has a brown crown. For a moment the male showed us his "ears" after scratching.



One of the flycatchers that we usually encounter at highlands is the Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus). It draws the attention due to its habit of perching bolt upright on an exposed branch, periodically making sallying flights to seize a passing insect. Sometimes returning several times to the same branch before changing to another one. Providing great opportunities to get clear shots like these ones.

The Rufous Mourner (Rhytipterna holerythra) is a tyrant flycatcher family member that breeds from southwestern Mexico to northwestern Ecuador. It was formerly believed to be a cotinga, but well-supported anatomical evidence has shown it to be related to tyrant flycatchers of the genera Myiarchus, Sirystes and Casiornis. Its plumage is entirely rufous, brighter on the underparts, and with darker brown wings. The base of the bill is pink or horn-coloured. 

This bird is found in lowlands and foothills up to 1200 m altitude in wet forests, adjacent old second growth, semi-open areas and shady plantations. In Panama it's uncommon only in foothills on entire Caribbean slope, eastern Pacific slope and western Chiriquí, and found at all levels of forest.


Then we entered a trail that runs besides a stream where we were able to photograph this Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher (Myiobius sulphureipygius) another species in the Tyrannidae family. It is found in Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. It has an olive-brown head and upper back, blackish wings and tail, and a tawny breast and sides. The face and eye ring are grey while the throat is whitish. The namesake rump patch is light yellow and extends to the mid-back. The belly is also yellow, as is a small crest.

Often found near streams, this bird often displays its rump patch by fanning its tail and dropping its wings. In Panama it's fairly common only in foothills on entire Caribbean slope, eastern Pacific slope.


Lastly, we had an encounter with a female White-ruffed Manakin (Corapipo altera), another resident of foothills and lower highlands


As usual, the photos are just a portion of the complete observations during the tour. Among the species we observed were: Bay-headed Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Golden-hooded Tanager, Rufous-capped Warbler, Silver-throated Tanager, Philadelphia Vireo, Keel-billed Toucan, Squirrel Cuckoo, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Plain Xenons, Crowned Woodnymph and Snowcap hummingbirds, Brown-headed, Blue-headed and Orange-chined Parrots, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Gray-breasted Wood-wren, Red-crowned Ant-tanager, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Summer Tanager and Buff-throated Saltator, just to name what we recall.