Wildlife photos from Panama's tallest mountain, Pt. 2 - Featured species: Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps)

As we continued our tour to the highest points of our country, held some months ago, we made several stops at strategic points descending the road, searching and waiting for more of our highest land's targets.

One of these targets was the Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps), a very small passerine bird in the tyrant flycatcher family, endemic to the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama. Amongst the relatively difficult-to-identify group of Empidonax species, the Black-capped Flycatcher is a rather distinctive bird, it's easily distinguished from migratory Empidonax flycatchers by its blackish head and generally dark appearance.

Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps)

This species is found in the high canopy of mountain oak forest, coming lower at the edges and in clearings, and also in second growth and bushy pastures. It breeds mainly in the highest forested areas, from 1850 m to 3300 m altitude (6,100 to 10,800 ft), with some evidence of seasonal altitudinal migrations.  In Panama is fairly common in its range.

Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps)

Most of its head and the rear of its neck are sooty black, the upperparts are olive-brown and the underparts are paler brown, becoming whitish on the throat and yellower on the lower belly. Also has a broad white eye ring. The wings and tail are blackish, the former having two pale brown wing bars

Black-capped Flycatcher (Empidonax atriceps)

Like other Empidonax, it feeds on insects often taken in flight, usually selecting an exposed perch  to make short sallies from. We witnessed this habit while making these shots.


Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) - immature

Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) - adult

During this trip the Rufous-collared Sparrows (Zonotrichia capensis) were common, even at the summit. They were often encountered hopping on open ground as they forage for seeds and insects, but we took advantage when they perched on shrubs to make the pictures above. Other birds we found on open ground, particularly on the road, were a couple of Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes (Catharus gracilirostris).


Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus gracilirostris)

As a matter of fact we discovered the nest, a bulky lined cup inconspicuously constructed about 1 m (3 ft) high inside the scrub, just beside the road. The nest contained two nestlings. The black-billed nightingale-thrush (Catharus gracilirostris) is also a small endemic bird to the highlands of Costa Rica and western Panama. It's restricted to wet-montane forest and paramo areas from 1800 m (5,900 ft) up to timberline where it prefers to forage in the ground or at low vegetation, both in forested areas as well as human-disturbed habitats. In Panama it's fairly common in its range, mostly above 2100 m (7,000 ft).

Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus gracilirostris)

The Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush has a chunky body, short rounded wings and long skinny legs. The plumage overall is dark in color. Upperparts, including the wings and the upper surface of the tail, are olive-brown. The face and forecrown are slate-gray; the same color dominates most of chest and belly, except for a olivaceus band across the chest.


Yellow-billed Cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus)

Other nest we found was of Yellow-billed Cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus) which surprisingly, given that this icterid is in the cacique-oropendola group, was a classic cup-shaped nest, and not a hanging pendulous nest as the rest of the group does. The nest was at about 2 m (6 ft high) on a dense branch of a small tree, and we couldn't tell if it was occupied by nestlings. This bird is identified by it all black plumage, it's ivory white bill and yellow or yellow-orange eyes. The understory's dense habitats are preferred by this species as shown above. This bird feeds by pecking at twigs, branches and bamboo to get access to insects within. It is found in Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. In Panama it's fairly common in forest thickets, woodland edge, second growth, and nearby clearings throughout the country but it's often in dense vegetation, and difficult to see.


To be continued...