Sunday, February 3, 2013

Birding Darien National Park and Cerro Pirre

Rancho Frio
Rancho Frio/Pirre Station, Darien National Park
After a good sleep at Rancho Frio and delicious breakfast of patacones and tuna, we headed out on a trail from the station.  Isaac wanted to take us up as far as we could go on Cerro Pirre, a wide-sweeping mountain in far eastern Panama, bordering Colombia.  Near the summit, you can encounter some of Panama's endemic species found only in this area, including Pirre Warbler and Pirre Bush-Tanager.  Rancho Frio station sits at about 100 metres above sea level, and the initial plan was to hike up close to the summit, near 1400 metres.  So we started out on our upward climb.  It was quite light in the clearing of the station but as soon as we entered the forest, it was still dark, as the morning light was not yet coming through the dense canopy.  The first bird we encountered, only 30 metres into the trail, was a beautiful, large Spectacled Owl perched in perfect view not far off the trail.  Next, the call of a Black-crowned Antpitta caught our attention and was easily coaxed out on the trail.  I couldn't help but laugh as I watched my this life bird bounce across the wide trail!  

Cerro Pirre
Beautiful view from the foothills of Cerro Pirre, Darien National Park
The forest was full of birds singing - for the first part of our hike we stopped for great views of Streak-chested Antpitta, Great Curassow, Golden-crowned Manakin, Plumbeous Pigeon, and to try to see the Sirystes calling above us, but with no success.  We carried on our way, and the trail began to get more and more inclined upward.  After hiking uphill for quite some time, we made it to 430 metres where we had a beautiful view of the valley to one side of the ridge - as we grabbed a drink of water, a small group of Red-and-green Macaws flew by in the distance.  I felt very privileged to be in this special place, where large macaws and rare wildlife still are found.  Above our heads, a Yellow-eared Toucanet was calling and we got great looks of this beautiful bird.  We carried on up the ridge, and not too much further we passed through an area of tangled lianas, just before coming to a clearing.  We stopped here once again for spectacular views of the valley to the other side.  We were up in the foothills of Cerro Pirre now, and the air was cooler and the humidity had decreased.  Stunning Lemon-spectacled Tanagers and a Collared Forest-Falcon just metres away were some of the highlights in this area.  Jose recognized the call of a Barred Puffbird, a rare and exciting species to see in Panama, and not long after hearing its call Isaac found it sitting through a gap in the lianas... wow!  What a bird! 
Barred Puffbird
Barred Puffbird, Nystalus radiatus
Atelopus limosus
Limosa Harlequin Frog, Atelopus limosus
 We decided to slow down our hiking pace as we were seeing some great birds.  We made it up to the camp site at 650 metres above sea level by noon.  Now not heading all the way up, we could take our time and enjoy the birds.  We took a side trail down to a beautiful stream to look for a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, but with no success after searching for some time.  Instead we were rewarded with great views of Tufted Flycatcher and Tawny-throated Leaftosser.

We worked our way back down to the station, finally arriving around 5:00 pm.  Our legs hurt from climbing up and down, but it was definitely worth it!  On the way down we picked up more nice species including Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Red-throated Caracara and Golden-crowned Spadebill.  

The next morning we headed out along another trail, again heading up another ridge in the foothills of Cerro Pirre.  The bird activity today was surprisingly quiet, the highlight of the morning was a Great Green Macaw sitting in a distant tree along the river.  Unfortunately we encountered ticks, lots of them, of which are still causing discomfort days later!  

That afternoon we thought through our plans and decided it would be good to make our way back to El Real for the night, since the journey back is a long one and we wanted to make it back to Panama City in good time on our final day.  So we packed up our gear and hiked back out to Pirre Uno, where we met with a truck.  Along the way, I couldn't help but want to see that Harpy Eagle again, and after some searching we found it perched high up in the canopy of the tree.  Going around the back of the tree to search for the bird allowed for great views of the nest, as well!  Another nice bird along the way was an immature Agami Heron which flushed out of the riverside vegetation, and we got great looks of this super cool bird! 

Harpy Eagle nest
Harpy Eagle nest in a Cuipo Tree
 We continued and eventually made it to the road where we met the truck to take us back to El Real.  We had a fantastic time in Darien National Park, but our trip was not over yet.  The birding around El Real itself is great, so more to come about that!  

Saludos de Panama! 
~ Jenn 


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