Sunday, February 3, 2013

El Real, Darien

Long-tailed Tyrant
Long-tailed Tyrant, Colonia colona, at nest
I have to admit, I was sad to leave Rancho Frio a little earlier than expected, it was such a special place!  But that passed as we arrived at Pirre Uno and the road that would take us back to El Real.  Before even getting in the truck, we spotted a pair of nesting Long-tailed Tyrants.  These cavity-nesting flycatchers were perched outside of their nest hole on a thin dead trunk.  Ok, I was feeling better about this already.  One bird I hadn't seen yet that I was really hoping for was the Black Oropendola.  This large icterid is similar in appearance to the Montezuma Oropendola of Costa Rica and western Panama, and is rather distinguishable from the Crested Oropendola which is also found commonly in this area.  As we made our way back to El Real in the open back of the pick-up truck (great for birding), I saw a large black bird fly over the road ahead.  Quickly getting my binoculars on it I saw its big blue cheek patch and realized yes, this is our Black Oropendola!  There's just something about these birds, their social community structure, their subtle yet striking plumage and rather outrageous calls, I can't help but love oropendolas! 

Great Potoo
Can you find the Potoo??
As we arrived in El Real, Isaac spotted a well-hidden Great Potoo on a pale branch beside the road.  It is amazing how well these birds can camouflage while sitting overly exposed on an open limb!  We stopped at a good spot to see a couple more target species, the tiny Spectacled Parrotlet and Rufous-tailed Jacamar.  Within minutes, Isaac had found us both, very impressive indeed!  We carried on through El Real, passing the primitive airstrip and eventually making it to our overnight destination.  There are apparently a couple hotel/hostels in El Real, but we had a better option.  Jose has connections in El Real through his wife, Yissel, who's family is from El Real.  Everyone was so friendly and I was convinced that anyone would have invited us to stay the night in this little jungle town.  We stayed with a lovely woman whom Jose knew - his wife's uncle's mother (how's that for connections!).  She seemed prepared for our arrival as if she knew we were coming back a day early, as was waiting for us.  She insisted on making us a lovely dinner and breakfast the next morning as well.  The hospitality I have experienced through travels in Latin America has been incredible, and again, I felt very welcome here.  

Cerro Pirre
Cerro Pirre in the distance

El Real Airstrip
El Real Airstrip
That evening, we met again with Isaac and went on a walk through the town to look for night life (animals, not parties, although El Real is known for its fiestas and was already preparing for upcoming carnaval festivities this weekend!).  Our night walk turned up a number of Common Pauraques, a Tropical Screech-Owl, Common Potoo eyeshine in the distance near the airstrip and a Common Opossum.  There were also large insectivorous bats flying around light posts, their size rather striking and I've been told they were probably Eumops spp. (Molossidae - the mastiff or bonneted bats - cool!).  

Rio Chucunaque Sunrise
Sunrise in the Darien
Tired from another long day, I went to bed early and slept very well in a comfortable bed in Ana Mu's house.  The next morning, we met Isaac at 6:30 in the plaza to start our journey back to Panama City.  The piragua ride on the river was very peaceful at this time in the morning, as we watched the sun rise over the forest canopy.  I spent most of my time snapping photos of the scenery.  Before I knew it we were back in Yaviza, our gateway to the Darien, this time to say adios to this incredible part of Panama.  After checking in with SENAFRONT in Yaviza to let them know I was departing the area, we grabbed a direct bus to Panama City, said our good byes to Isaac, and headed home.  

My experience in the Darien was memorable to say the least.  I already cannot wait to go back! Thanks to Jose Perez and Isaac Pizarro for a great experience in the wilds of the Darien! 

~ Jenn   

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