Birding Paradise - the best place for Panama Birds & Wildlife Photos of 2016 (pt. 4) - Featured species: Masked Treefrog (Smilisca phaeota)

To be selected as the best place for Panama Birds & Wildlife Photos it’s important to be a good place for wildlife photography in general, and Paraíso has proven to be so. So far we have shown an interesting lot of birds photographed there but this time we improvised a frog-hunt after we finished our birding trip.

We were not really prepared for the occasion (we usually use a macro photography configuration for this kind of photos) but given some frogs were willing to contribute we took the opportunity. We armed ourselves with a loaned Canon EF 100-400mm IS II USM lens, and a Canon Speedlite 600 EX flash (which we were supossed to use with the saw-whet owls) with a white card as reflector, and proceeded our search for interesting nocturnal subjects.

But first we will start with some avian and diurnal targets of our visit:


Gray-cowled Wood-Rail (Aramides cajaneus) is a large Rallid distributed from Argentina north to Costa Rica. It is usually secretive but occasionally roams in the open near the edges of forests, wetlands or mangroves. The species is quite vocal in the early morning when it makes its presence known with a crazed series of squealing, yelping phrases. They are quite striking in appearance: the head and neck are medium-grey, blending into a brown patch at the back of the head, the eyes are red, the chest and flanks are rufous, the belly, rump and tail are black, legs are coral-red. In Panama it’s fairly common throughout the country.


White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus) - male

White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus) - female
White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus) is a resident breeder from Costa Rica south to northern Argentina, and on Trinidad and Tobago. It occurs in semi-open areas including gardens. They are long-tailed and with a mostly black stout pointed bill. The adult male is glossy black, apart from white underwing coverts and a small white patch on the upperwing. These white areas are conspicuous in flight but otherwise rarely visible. Females and immatures are entirely rufous in plumage, somewhat paler below. They usually forage in pairs and it is not usually found within mixed-species flocks, usually keeps low within shrubby vegetation. In Panama it’s fairly common in lowlands on entire Caribbean slope, uncommon in lowlands on Pacific slope from Panama Oeste province eastward to Colombia, and rare in western Chiriquí


The several subspecies of Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides) differ somewhat in appearance and there is often a considerable variation between the appearances of individuals in the same population. The variation observed in Paraíso is way different than the paler one we are used to watch in Panama City.


Black-hooded Antshrike (Thamnophilus bridgesi) - male


Smoky-brown Woodpecker (Leuconotopicus fumigatus [BirdLife] or Picoides fumigatus [AOU]) - female


Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy) - female


Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) 


Wild flowers


Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala)


Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)


Slaty Spinetail (Synallaxis brachyura) breeds from northern Honduras to western Ecuador and east-central Brazil. This species is a widespread and common resident breeder in lowlands and up to 1500 m altitude in a range of scrubby habitats, including second growth, road and river edges, and overgrown pasture. It is a slender bird with a long, pointed wispy tail. The plumage is mainly dark grey-brown becoming dark grey on the head. The crown and shoulder patches are rich rufous. It is an insectivore which is difficult to see as it forages for beetles, caterpillars and other prey deep in tangled thickets, but may be located by its call. In Panama it’s uncommon locally on both slopes, in lowlands and lower foothills, including western Chiriquí.


Wandering spider (Ctenidae)


Drab Tree Frog or Veragua Cross-banded Tree Frog (Smilisca sordida) is a species of frog in the Hylidae family found in Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests, subtropical or tropical moist montane forests, rivers, plantations, rural gardens, urban areas, heavily degraded former forests, and canals and ditches.


The Masked Tree Frog also known as New Granada Cross-banded Tree Frog (Smilisca phaeota) is a relatively large hylid frog with adult size reaching up to 78 mm. This frog can be easily be distinguished, since it is a large tree frog that has both a silvery white stripe on the upper lip and a dark, masklike stripe from the nostril to the insertion of the arms. Coloration can range from pale green to tan, and the frog may either be uniform in color or have dark olive green to dark brown dorsal blotches. It has a relatively flattened body and a smooth dorsal surface . The head is as wide as it is long, with a snout that is bluntly rounded from above (Savage 2002). It has skinlike webbing between the toes and fingers and an enlarged disk on each finger that is adhesive. The eardrums (tympana) are visible. The eyes are large, with horizontal elliptical pupils and copper colored irises.

This species occurs on the Atlantic slope of northeastern Honduras, through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to northern Colombia; and on the Pacific versant from central Costa Rica to southwestern Panama and from El Valle de Anton, Cocle Province, Panama, to Colombia. In South America, it occurs in the Pacific lowlands of Colombia and western Ecuador, and around the northern slopes of the Western and Central Cordilleras in Colombia to the Middle Magdalena Valley. It occurs from sea level up to at least 1,600m (Costa Rica).

It inhabits humid lowland forest, where usually they are found in secluded sites at the edge of, or in, shallow temporary pools and occasionally at the edges of streams or large ponds. It tolerates substantial forest disturbance, and lives on forest edge and in open country, even where there are few trees. It breeds in small, usually temporary pools, even in footprints of cattle, and avoids larger ponds as breeding sites. Can be found in lowland forests, rivers, freshwater marshes, intermittent freshwater marshes, plantations, rural gardens, urban areas, heavily degraded former forests, ponds, and canals and ditches.

When Masked Tree Frogs are breeding, males can be found at nighttime calling from mud puddles or swampy areas. Their call is a very loud "wrauk!" and they are normally floating on the surface of the water while calling. But we found males calling in vegetation as shown here, actually on a heliconia close to a little pond we found 3 different subjects, even what seemed to be couple ready to mate. We decided to leave them alone, and not disrupt the ritual. Usually the male climbs onto the female's back and grasps her near the armpits, she lays as much as 2,000 eggs as he fertilizes them, and then the eggs then float on the surface of the water until tapdoles hatch during the following 24 hours. It will take 60 to 80 days to develop and complete metamorphosis into frogs.


To be continued...