Monday, October 27, 2008

More Panama Cloud Forest Birding

There's a reason they call this the cloud forest.


On the morning of Day 2 in Panama we headed back up the mountain to the distant, off-the-grid cabins operated by Los Quetzales lodge. These cabins are inside the Volcan Baru National Park and are reached via a very rugged and rocky road, winding upward, crossing several streams. Our group loaded into two Range Rovers for the drive to the cabins. I am not sure I've ever been on a less vehicle-friendly road, and yet the Range Rovers got us there—over seemingly impassable rocks and through (literally) rushing streams.

Every stream on the mountain was rushing from the heavy rains.


These cabins are rustic but cozy and are on the Panama itineraries of several birding tour companies. Our very own trip companion Jeffrey A. Gordon had helped to lead groups here several times in the years he was working for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Jeff gave us an idea of what to expect.

One of the two cloud forest cabins operated by Los Quetzales in Volcan Baru NP.

The weather continued in its own rainy and cool way—on this day we would not get any sunshine, but the rain, at least, was intermittent. And despite the precipitation we got birds.

After arriving at a pull-off, we hiked up a narrow trail, across a couple more small streams to the cabins. There, our guides Ito and Abel opened up the doors, started a fire in the fireplace and spread out a mid-morning snack for us and some mixed seed for the birds. Within minutes we had slaty finch, large-footed finch, and yellow-thighed finch coming in for the seed. There was a pair of common bush tanagers in the —yes—bushes. And the hummingbirds started visiting the newly refilled feeders.
Large-footed finch.

Aside from a short hike up a nearby road, we'd spend the next several hours watching the hummingbird action at the feeders hung under the porch roofs of the two cabins. Both the birds and the birders were happiest under the sheltering roofs as the rain became heavier. Had the light been better, the photographers among us might have passed out from sheer image exhaustion. The birds were just feet (sometimes inches!) away when at the feeders, and most had favorite perches to which they returned repeatedly. Jeff Gordon, Mike Freiberg, Kees van Berkel, and I took turns at the best photo spots. I also bombarded my fellow shutterbugs with questions about camera settings and adjustments. [I know almost nothing about such things and realize that a photo workshop needs to be in my future.]

The lighting was a challenge for photography.

A couple of times, the rain let up and we'd organize a short walk down the trail. Someone would yell that they had a good bird, and we'd all hurry to get there in time. Among the other cool birds we found at the Los Quetzales cabins were prong-billed barbet (freaky!), and a warbler-meets-wren-meets-thrush-like bird called a zeledonia (sometimes also called wrenthrush).

The group scans the canopy for a long-tailed silky-flycatcher.

Birding was good right near the cabins.

We also had other birds, many of which I could rattle off here, but, frankly, I mostly remember the hummingbirds.
Male white-throated mountain-gem.

All the hummers we saw at the cabins were fabulous, but one was more fabulouser than the others: the fiery-throated hummingbird. I got lots of photographs of white-throated mountain gem, and a few of green-crowned brilliant, stripe-tailed hummingbird, and violet-crowned woodnymph. But my attentions were primarily focused on the fiery-throated and, thanks to good photo advice from Jeff and Mike, I actually got a few keeper images of this bird which is the very definition of iridescence. I will share those images with you in tomorrow's post.

I'll close out today's post with a few of my favorite non-fiery-throated shots.

Green-crowned brilliant, one of the many hummingbirds visiting the feeders at the cabins.


A closer look at the green-crowned brilliant's head.


Female white-throated mountain-gem—I like her reflected colors in the rainwater.

I took hundreds of bad shots of this male white-throated mountain-gem. Better flash gear needed.

He flew right at me (really at the feeder near me) looking slightly satanic.

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