Saturday 24 February 2024

PANAMA 2024 part 5: Pirre Ridge to Rancho Frio and Nusagandi (20-23 February)

PANAMA 2024 part 5: Pirre Ridge to Rancho Frio and Nusagandi (20-23 February)

Tuesday 20 February. We had breakfast at 06:45, packed and birded the clearing to 08:00 during which time we had our best views of Green-naped Tanager when it showed twice in the same tree as previously although it still wasn’t completely free of low cloud. We headed down towards Rancho Plastico, the first part of the trail very steep and slippery. Despite using my walking pole fully extended to reach down for firm ground and more often than not having a firm hold of a trunk or branch with one hand or the other I managed to slip over twice, once ending completely off the trail upside down with my legs in the air. No damage done but slight embarrassment. After about half an hour or so of descending we met two Czech travellers day-tripping their way up to the ridge from Rancho Plastico. Impressive. Soon after our crew overtook us on their way down with our bags. We arrived back at Rancho Plastico at about 10:00, there hadn’t been much to look for on the way down although I’d been too busy not falling over to do much looking. We birded the camp and down to the viewpoint below but it was quiet until we saw Rufous Piha, Sharpbill and 5 White-fronted Nunbirds when we returned for lunch. We left again at 13:30 slowly walking down to the lower viewpoint and back, the highlight being a pair of Wing-banded Antbirds. We were back for dinner at 18:00 and out spotlighting to 21:20, Barry eventually finding a roosting pair of Tawny-faced Quail. Also seen during the day were 2 King Vultures, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, 2 Cinnamon and a Splendid Woodpecker, 4 Red and Green Macaws and Barred and Black-crowned Antshrikes.

best views of Green-naped Tanager at Pirre Ridge

Green-naped Tanager at Pirre Ridge (photo: Barry Wright)
Green-naped Tanager at Pirre Ridge (photos: Paul Noakes)

striking camp, Pirre Ridge
Rancho Plastico

Rufous Piha at Rancho Plastico (photos: Paul Noakes)
White-fronted Nunbird at Rancho Plastico
 White-fronted Nunbird at Rancho Plastico (photo: Paul Noakes)
White-fronted Nunbird at Rancho Plastico (photo: Barry Wright)
 Sharpbill at Rancho Plastico (photo: Paul Noakes)
below Rancho Plastico

Wing-banded Antbirds at Rancho Plastico
apparent black throats suggest both were males
 we'd seen male and female around here on 17th
male Wing-banded Antbird at Rancho Plastico (photo: Paul Noakes)
Ruddy Quail-Dove at Rancho Plastico (photo: Barry Wright)
female Tawny-faced Quail at Rancho Plastico

female Tawny-faced Quail at Rancho Plastico (photo: Barry Wright)
male Tawny-faced Quail at Rancho Plastico (photo: Barry Wright)

Wednesday 21 February. We left the camp at Rancho Plastico at 07:00 and walked down to Rancho Frio. It was quiet until more than half way down when Nick heard antbirds calling not far in from the trail. They were attracted to an antswarm and the second bird he saw was a male Black-crowned Pittasoma! We soon realized there was a female in the area too then a juvenile briefly appeared and was fed, although they were generally keeping very well hidden deep in the vegetation. Also in attendance were Bicoloured, Spotted and at least one Ocellated Antbird. The antswarm moved further away from the path enabling us to sit beside it without fear of being over-run by ants. We watched the pittasomas, mostly the male, for well over two hours although none were on view more often than not, a lot more in my case. The autofocus on my camera was little use as the pittasomas were almost always behind leaves or branches. The male returned several times to a particular log which I managed to focus on manually but by the time I had it had moved further back and became more obscured. Part of my problem was probably due to my unfamiliarity with a new camera. No such issues for Barry and Paul who took good photos and continued down to Rancho Frio. I stayed on hoping for a halfway decent photo and Nick stayed too. After about 30 minutes the male appeared stood on a log about 15m away in full view and I managed some decent photos too. We left completely satisfied and feeling we probably wouldn’t get any better views if we stayed. We were back at Rancho Frio soon after midday. I had a welcome wash and did some laundry, had lunch and unwound in the clearing. We went out again at 15:00, Paul returned to the pittasomas where he took some superb photos of the male while the rest of us walked down the main track towards the entrance. We saw a smart Moustached Antwren but otherwise it was quiet. We returned to the camp clearing and at dusk taped a Spectacled Owl into the edge of the clearing where it briefly perched to look at us. After dark a Great Potoo called. Other birds I saw during the day were Ruddy Quail-Dove on the forest floor, Double-toothed Kite, Collared Aracari, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Yellow-winged Flatbill, Golden-headed Manakin and 3 Black-chested Jays.

Northern Barred Woodcreeper above Rancho Frio
Spotted Antbird above Rancho Frio
Black-crowned Pittasoma above Rancho Frio

Black-crowned Pittasoma above Rancho Frio (photos: Paul Noakes)

Double-toothed Kite at Rancho Frio
Crimson-crested Woodpecker at Rancho Frio (photo: Paul Noakes)
scary spider at Rancho Frio
Spectacled Owl at Rancho Frio

Thursday 22 February. We packed, dumped our main bags to be transported to the road by quad bike and left the Rio Frio clearing soon after 06:00. A fairly steady walk, interrupted by a superb Agami Heron in a dark creek, had us at the road at 07:30. We were half an hour early for the arranged 4WD so with the road passing through decent forest we started walking and were soon rewarded with a superb Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant. We continued to the Black Oropendola nests where 7 birds were in attendance. We also saw With still no sign of our ride, which was now late, Kilo phoned to discover they’d had a puncture which was being repaired. We continued walking, although through more open areas, and soon the 4WD appeared. It collected our bags then took us into El Real where Kilo checked us out of Darien National Park and on to the river at 09:00. Our dugout canoe “100% El Real” was waiting and 20 minutes later we were on our way to Yaviza. Arriving at 09:50. A good selection of waterbirds were seen along the river including 4 Greater Anis, 3 Wood Storks, White Ibis and Great Blue and 3 Cocoi Herons. Our minibus had been delayed by an hour or so giving us time to visit the Alaska road sign at the end of the PanAmerican Highway. We left Yaviza at 11:10, stopped for a take-away lunch and to collect the stuff we’d left at the Hotel Avicar in Rio Torti. We continued to the Sao Francisco Reserve arriving at 14:00. Panamanian endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet gave us a bit of a runaround before we had reasonable views but fortunately Bare-crowned Antbird was more obliging as were 2 superb Barred Puffbirds. Notable too were at least 250 Turkey Vultures which appeared to be part of a large movement of birds migrating north. We had a very superficial look for Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, a target for me, before leaving unsuccessfully at 15:30 despite the reserve staying open to 16:00 - disappointing. We continued on to Chepo where we stayed in the Aparta Hotel. It Wi-Fi wasn’t working but during a meal in town Kilo let us piggyback onto his phone connection to check in online for our flights the following evening and send messages home.

Agami Heron near Rancho Frio

Agami Heron (photos: Paul Noakes)

Choco Elaenia near Rio Frio (photo: Paul Noakes)
Black Oropendolas between Rio Frio and El Real

Black Oropendolas between Rio Frio and El Real (photos: Paul Noakes)

Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant between Rio Frio and El Real

Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant between Rio Frio and El Real (photos: Paul Noakes)

Panama Flycatcher between Rio Frio and El Real (photos: Paul Noakes)

El Real
young Grey-breasted Martin at Yaviza
more bananas arriving in Yaviza
me at the Alaska sign in Yaviza
Barred Puffbirds at Sao Francisco Reserve

Yellow-green Tyrannulet at Sao Francisco Reserve (photo: Paul Noakes)
Bare-crowned Antbird at Sao Francisco Reserve (photos: Paul Noakes)

White-vented Plumeleteer at Sao Francisco Reserve (photo: Paul Noakes)

Friday 23 February. We left Chepo at 05:45 and drove for an hour to Nusagandi where Tonio was waiting by the road to take us down to the river where we’d spent two days previously unsuccessfully looking for Spiny-cheeked Antshrike. It was our last roll of the dice - Kilo making the most of the trip’s flexibility (‘an extra morning to chase birds that we need’) - to hopefully rectify our earlier failure. I was not confident. But as we approached the river Tonio heard an antrshrike singing. We hurried down the muddy trail and were soon watching a male Spiny-cheeked Antshrike. Our return to Nusagandi had paid off, thanks to Kilo being able to take advantage of the degree of flexibility built into our itinerary. I later learned that Tonio had seen one here the previous day so my pessimism had been unfounded. At Nusagandi we also saw Choco Manakin, male and then female Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker looking out of their nest hole and a thermalled Olive-backed Quail-Dove sitting deep in the undergrowth. Just off the trail on our walk back up to the road was a very obliging Black-crowned Pittasoma which spent at least 15 minutes watching us from a low branch. I was rather slow to realise the photographic potential but fortunately it stayed long enough for me to get in on the act even if it was a bit more obscured by then. Also at Nusagandi I saw White-tipped Sicklebill, Pied Puffbird, 2 Plain Xenops, Golden-collared and Red-capped Manakins, Cinnamon Becard, 2 Bay-breasted Warblers and a Golden-hooded Tanager. Our four hours at Nusagandi had been a brilliant end to an excellent trip. We were back at the Aparta Hotel to collect our bags at 13:00, having had lunch nearby. Our long journey home followed. We were dropped at the airport at 15:00 and departed for Amsterdam at 18:45.

male Spiny-cheeked Antshrike at Nusagandi

male Spiny-cheeked Antshrike at Nusagandi (photos: Paul Noakes)

male Spiny-cheeked Antshrike at Nusagandi (photo: Barry Wright)

male Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker at Nusagandi 
male Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker at Nusagandi (photo: Barry Wright)
male Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker at Nusagandi (photo: Paul Noakes)
when we returned the female had taken over guard duty
female Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker at Nusagandi (photo: Paul Noakes)

Choco Manakin at Nusagandi

Choco Manakin at Nusagandi (photo: Barry Wright)

Choco Manakin at Nusagandi (photo: Paul Noakes)

Red-capped Manakin at Nusagandi (photo: Paul Noakes)
Black-crowned Pittasoma at Nusagandi

Black-crowned Pittasoma at Nusagandi (photo: Barry Wright)
Black-crowned Pittasoma at Nusagandi (photos: Paul Noakes)

Golden-collared Manakin at Nusagandi
Kilo and Tonio
with Nick, Barry, Paul and me
our ride back to Europe

Saturday 24 February. We arrived in Amsterdam on time at 10:50, Barry and me flying to Heathrow Terminal 4 under an hour later (Barry’s bag missed the connection by was delivered to his house 2 days later), Nick and Paul had longer waits for their flights to Newcastle and Norwich respectively. I caught the tube to Terminal 2/Central Bus Station, changed my National Express ticket for an earlier bus and was home soon after 16:00. A great trip, many thanks to Barry, Nick, Paul and our excellent guide Kilo for making it so enjoyable and helping me to get onto some of the trickier birds. It was well worth the wait but I'm glad there were no further delays. Tackling Pirre Ridge in one's 70s would not be for the faint hearted!

[blogged May 2024]

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