Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Separation Anxiety

I'll start packing for my upcoming Washington trip tomorrow, but I'm already feeling separation anxiety from Las Brisas Del Mar & Panama in general. I had the most magic bird walk this morning. It seemed like I was invisible or perhaps the birds have grown accustomed to me. They were everywhere... singing, posing, mating, fighting, eating. I even saw the elusive Gray-necked Wood-rail who "usually keeps to thick cover and not regularly seen; known in Panama as 'cocaleca' or 'cocle' because of its calls." I also saw 2 Bare-throated Tiger-herons! If you are wondering about this picture, it's a sea snake whose latin name is Pelanydrus platurus. Yes, it is highly venomous, but no one in Panama has ever been bitten. I saw him when I started my afternoon beach walk & had to run back to fetch my camera. He was still there when I returned 1.5 hours later, so I assume he's dead. Now he will become food for the vultures & yellow-headed cara caras.

When I return from the USA, I'll be coordinating a 2-day river trip for the Boquete Chicas (August 3 & 4), then I'm heading to Cartagena & Santa Marta, Columbia for a 10-day "vacation" with 2 of my Chica friends (Penny & Louise). I know, how can it be a vacation if I'm already on a permanent retirement vacation? Cartagena is billed as one of the most beautiful cities in South America. We'll spend 7 nights at the Mendihuaca Caribbean Resort near Santa Marta & Parque Tayrona (where I hope to see the fabled Lost City), then we'll go to Cartagena for 3 nights. Yes, Columbia is the land of "unmistakable dangers and forbidden fruits" (as another person's blog says). It's gotten better since 2003 & they are actually starting to cater to tourists. Still, don't tell my mother I am going there...! Copa Airlines is charging a ridiculous $500 to fly between Panama City & Cartagena (a 1-hour flight).

Wish me luck on the "express" 6-hour bus ride to Panama City on Friday 6/27. If you are reading this blog from California, Oregon or Washington, I hope to see you soon!


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Alanje or Bust

After my morning bird walk where I took these photos and a mid day (because the tide was low) beach walk, I couldn't resist a bike ride to Alanje.
Ajanje is the closest town and 7 miles away. My proper address is Las Brisas Del Mar #101, Alanje, Chiriqui Province, Republic of Panama. I had a delightful ride (especially after changing out my narrow, hard seat for a wide, cushy one). All around me was the sound of parrots (Brown-throated Parakeets, Orange-chinned Parakeets & Mealy Amazons). If I wasn't hearing parrots, I was hearing lively Latin music... especially as I neared the bars of Alanje. I crossed a river (Rio Chico) right before I got to town & noticed they mine the rivers for gravel just like we do in the USA. I passed many others on bicycles (the main form of transportation in Panama since only 25% of the people own cars) and people walking. Everyone said Hi, Hola or Buenas Tardes. I saw another White-tailed Kite (yes, I bicycle with small binoculars around my neck stuffed into a shirt pocket) and got to observe it hovering (watch out little animals below). As the bird book says, the White-tailed Kite "has a graceful flight with deep wingbeats; often hovers, the body then angeled at about 45 degrees (not horizontal as in kestrel)."

By the way, I did close on the condo... but it was one of the most painful experiences, ever! The bank made me hire a translator (a Boquete Chica friend named Mitzy who did a great job) since I'm not from Panama. Mitzy translated every word (13 page legal-sized document) & there was endless lawyer-eze. It took 3.5 hours & I paid Mitzy $70 (very reasonable fee but it was still painful). With any luck I'll pay the condo off in the next few years.

Tomorrow I'll spend the night in Boquete (with Penny B.) so I won't have to drive back after the June Birthdays (there's 2) dinner. The bonus is that I can take a bird walk up the substantial hill by her house. Just think, in another week I'll be landing in San Francisco, spending the night with long-time friend Paula, then heading on to PDX Sunday (June 29) afternoon. Another adventure! The real adventure will be taking the bus from David to Panama (a 6-hour ride on a modern, overly air-conditioned bus). Wish me luck!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chica Adventure on Isla Gamez y Isla Bolanos

Since I arranged dance camp weekends in my previous life, I decided to coordinate my first Boquete Chica event. I had been wishing for a boat ride out Chiriqui Gulf to visit the Parque Nacional Marino Golfo De Chiriqui (a 14,740-hectare marine park that encompasses two dozen islands). So I contacted Boquete Outdoor Adventures (an up-and-coming outfitter-guide business) who put together a great trip. It all came together yesterday & eight Chicas (including me) had a great time on two white sand beaches. As the Moon Panama guidebook says, "It's a bit of an adventure to get to the islands that start just off the coast east of David; that's half the fun of visiting this area". We definitely got the sense of being in the middle of nowhere. We spent most of our time on Isla Gamez. I got some great pictures of the island, but..... my computer died & I had to totally wipe it's hard drive. In the process, I lost all my recent pictures. Oh well, I'll just have to travel back to the Islands!! It was quite the location, though. Unsurpassed white sand beaches, calm/warm water for snorkeling, brown boobies flying overhead, hammocks in trees, home-made brownies for lunch! I'll be planning another Chica event that involves rafting a beautiful, easy river.

I close on my condo (finally) this Wednesday, so I'll be the official owner of #101. I'm still seeing great birds on my walks. My most recent "finds" include the White-tailed Kite (very cool bird) and immature cattle egrets. Tomorrow I head to David to get my multi-entry Visa from the Migrations office (fun, fun, fun). I'll need it for coming back into the country July 22. I'll be in WA from June 29-July 13 visiting my Mother, then in the Bay Area from July 13-21. So, I'll discontinue the blog for the next few weeks.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Mi Bicicleta es roja - Enter The Rali Eclipse

I had quite an experience just finding the Bicicleta Tienda in David last week. I was told the bicycle store was located near the bus terminal, so I drove my car into David, parked in my favorite parking lot by Hotel Gran National & walked to terminal location (according to the Panama Moon book). The bicycle store was not obvious, so I asked a friendly-looking man, "Donde esta bicicleta tienda?" Rather than just point me in the right direction, Armando decided to walk me to the store. After several blocks, we were in an appliance store that carried a couple of cheap bicycles. I said "No, solomente bicicleta tienda." He walked me a few more blocks in a different direction and we found "TOMY" - a true bicycle store. Armando waited around while I looked at bicycles, acting like he wanted a tip for his trouble. I have him $5 (probably too much) & promised I would call if ever I need a taxi ride from Las Olas to David (since Armando is a taxi driver). One of the salesmen spoke broken English, so I proceeded to find the right bike. I was considering a classic one-speed, but when I realized that it cost the same as the 21-speed Rali Eclipse mountain bike, I went with the Rali. After adding a few modifications (padded handle bars, front & rear fenders, & a gel seat cover), the total cost of the bicicleta was $250.00. It's definitely not a Bike Friday (nor is it a Raleigh), but it's a good bike for running around Playa Barqueta and Alanje. This morning I did a bird-ride rather than a birdwalk & saw 4 Roseate Spoonbills, a Red-breasted Blackbird (very bright), and a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, not to mention my old friends the woodstorks, herons and egrets. Bicycling is quite nice on these mostly flat roads that meander the agricultural countryside. Next, I'll ride to Alanje (where I have yet to drive) so I can sit by the river and watch the wildlife.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Talent in the Neighborhood

This has got to be one of the most beautiful stain glass art pieces I have ever seen. It was done by Sharon Sample who lives with her husband Ken just down the street in Barqueta Nice. It took Sharon about a year to complete this huge project. The crane stain glass hangs on the wall in their third-floor bedroom because it was too big to hang in the living room. The piece was assembled in Oklahoma (where they are from) and moved to Panama in a container. The good news for me is that Sharon is willing to give stained glass lessons. Maybe that will be my next hobby!

4 Male Quetzals and a Baby Howler Monkey All in 1 Day!

I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and started driving to Boquete at 5:40 a.m. -- all to arrive by 7:00 a.m. for the Boquete bird walk last Thursday. We were in search of the Three-wattled Bellbird, known to reside above 5,000 feet & seen a month before on the same trail. The presence of Mr. Bellbird is usually obvious from the male's call. However, they are much harder to see since they perch high in the canopy. The question on everyone's mind.....would we be lucky & see one? It was a drop-dead beautiful day as we walked up the steep hill. The first bird seen was a Flame-colored Tanager (muy bonito)! Such a wonderful group of birders. Everyone was extremely welcoming of me (the newby) and made sure to point out the birds. As we climbed higher, we got closer to the unmistakable sound of the male bellbird. Dale was the first one to see the bellbird high in a tree above us. I couldn't believe it! Talk about wattles! He flew off, so we climbed higher. Dale & I were in the lead and being drawn in by the sound of the Black-Faced Solitaire. It sounded like fingers rubbing crystal glasses. So magic! The rest of the group grew near and were talking about turning around before the rains hit. Just as we were about to leave, Dan said, "There's a Quetzal!!". All binoculars were trained on the Quetzal. Within a few minutes, we saw 3 more males... that's 4 total! Does it get any better than this? The bird photos and group picture was taken by Jack Doyle. He and his wife Shari retired in Panama after spending most of their lives in Kodiak, Alaska. Small world! The first picture is J.J. He is a 2 week old howler monkey who I met at Paradise Gardens after the birdwalk. J.J. was intentionally or unintentionally dropped by a mother in a group of howler monkeys near Panama City. An observer went to see what was dropped & found J.J. The family didn't come back, so he called Paradise Gardens & had them pick him up. He is receiving loving care from Jenny (Paul & Jenny run Paradise Gardens) so his changes of survival are pretty good.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Green Season is the Best Time to see Birds!!

I just bought a new 40" flat screen TV & hooked it up to a DVD player so now I can supplement my bird & wildlife viewing with the BBC Planet Earth Series (truly the best DVD series ever produced). Last night I was watching the "Water" part of the series & felt like I was in my own backyard when a Spectacled Caiman ate a juvenile Wood Stork (it feel out of a tree). The cameraman even got in the water with the caimans (because caimans less than 2 meters long & they consider humans too large to mess I won't panic if I fall into the water when I kayak the mangrove system). Yesterday I walked over to the flooded field area and saw a Roseate Spoonbill hanging out with the Wood Storks! Yesterday and today I walked into the Mangrove area (the dock and some of the mangrove trees are pictured above). As it turns out, the mangroves that are near my condo are part of a system that is the second largest in the world!! My, my!! Did I retire to the right place for a wildlife biologist/birder or what? Yesterday was pretty exciting, but today was even better because I saw a troop of White-throated Capuchin monkeys (5 swinging around the trees), saw & heard a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys, could barely make out a Crab-eating raccoon up in a tree, saw & heard a gazillion birds. Some of the birds I saw include: Great White Egrets (hundreds in trees), Green-backed Herons, one Bare-throated Tiger-heron (very lucky to see him because he's "rare to uncommon in Pacific coastal lowlands"), loads of Wood Storks (their cute babies have pink beaks), a few American White Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling-ducks (their local name is "wichity" because of their whistle-call), Mangrove Black Hawks, Yellow-headed Caracara (2 in the same lens of my binoculars), American Purple Gallinules, Common Moorhen, Northern Jacana, American Golden Plover, Rudy Ground-doves, loads of Orange-chinned Parakeets (they made as much racket as the Howler Monkeys!), Smooth-billed and Groove-billed Ani, Pauraque (friends call them dare birds because they don't move until the last minute), Green & Amazon Kingfishers, Red-crowned Woodpeckers, Social Flycatchers, etc. etc. On Thursday, I'm heading out with a Boquete Birdwatcher Group & we hope to find the Three-wattled Bellbird!! Wish me luck!