Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Bird Count Near Cerro Punta... Pure Joy!

I expected a good day of birding when I volunteered to help on the annual Panama Christmas Bird Count, but I didn't expect the day to be this extraordinary! Fifty of us met in the town of Volcan, then split off into smaller groups going to different parts of the Chiriqui Highlands. I lucked out and ended up in a small group (Chuck, Craig, Karen and I) with a professional birding guide named Chaly from Highland Adventures. We saw 54 species (many of them "Life" species for me). My favorite sounding bird was the Prong-Billed Barbet. I didn't realize that I had heard this bird for years on a CD titled "Simbiosis - Piano and Rainforest" by Manuel Obregon. As the Ridgely "Birds of Panama" book says, "Heard considerably more often than it is seen, its very distinctive far-carrying call being one of the characteristic sounds of the humid mountain forest; it is a deep cwa-cwa-cwa-cwa... repeated many times and often given by two or more birds at once, and which Slud describes as having a special character, like an Indian yell in which the palm of the hand is rapidly and repeatedly pressed against and removed from the mouth." Lucky for us, Chaly had a recording of the Prong-Billed Barbet that drew the "real" Barbets in. I happened to be the first to spot them... and I couldn't believe my eyes. Wow!! The most beautiful bird I saw was the Golden Browed Chlorophonia. A male and female were feeding on some in-season seeds. The Respendent Quetzal was not to be found because their favorite fruit (the wild avocado tree) won't be available for another month. I was on this very trail birding with Paul Bakke several months ago. Then, as now, I heard but did not see the Black-faced Solitare (lovely, watery sound) and did see the very cute Yellow-thighed Finch. Today, the weather was perfect and sunny. With Paul, it was foggy, rainy and cold. Please don't believe for a minute that I took any of these pictures. I took only binoculars and no cameras!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Navidad es muy especial en la playa!

Before Christmas is over for another year, I wanted to wish everyone love, peace and happiness. I continue to feel so blessed to live on this very special beach in Panama. I celebrated Christmas with a long morning walk and a longer afternoon walk with Miss Piggy and Chester. I've included a few parting shots from 2009: Dr. Jennifer Daniels and I behind colored posts in Aruba; Pauline holding a passion flower near her beach house on the Caribbean side; a long tailed hermit hummingbird trying to escape through Pauline's kitchen window (he escaped with help from Pauline); a showy pink hibiscus flower near Pauline's; the wonderfully fragrant and beautiful passion flower; me at the Juice Plus+ headquarters in Tennessee; mi casa en la playa; snake grass (where a huge boa was found); my friend Lora (from Hawaii) in my plunge pool. Feliz Navidad!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Beach Has Gone To The Dogs!

It all started when I agreed to take care of Jim Hatch’s dog named Miss Piggy. I didn’t mean to, but I fell in love with her. She is a very intelligent wild looking Panamanian dog (see the picture in her doggie bed before she ripped it apart the next night). Maybe it was all of those long beach walks that bound us together. Or was it the time she worked through her total fear of the ocean and plunged in anyway? Now she practically body surfs! When I realized that Jim would return in mid-January, and I would have to move to Colombia to keep Miss Piggy, I decided to start looking at the dog adoption sites. The only dog I was attracted to was Chester, a 2-year old male English Shepherd. Before I could act, he was scooped up by a family from Bocas del Toro. A week later, I found out that Chester’s adoption had fallen through. So, I adopted him! We’ve only been together 1.5 days, but already we have bonded. Of course he probably would have bonded with anyone. As the book says, “As far as your English Shepherd is concerned, you are the center of the universe. A desire to be with you is fundamental to his character.” He and Miss Piggy are getting along fine as the video shows.

On a different subject, Richard and Nina have returned to the beach from Alaska. They were my first visitors last year and bought a condo (on the opposite end from mine) a week after they got here. Richard will be here 2 months and Nina 4 months. So far, we have been having a ball: 60 mile bicycle rides; 11 mile mangrove kayak trips; rumba and bolero dance lessons; salsa dancing; long beach walks. Tomorrow, Chuck Frey from Montana (and former Forest Service colleague from Alaska) arrives. Maybe I’ll have a dance partner for a couple of weeks!

In case you are curious, the bird is a Brown Booby (male Pacific race) that Nina captured (with her camera) when we were biking on the beach. He didn't move and I wonder if he was injured. We also saw a Roseate Spoonbill flying high above the mangrove system. What a beautiful pink bird, especially in flight. Last but not least, above are olive ridley mama turtle tracks I captured this morning in front of my house!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm Back!

Did you miss me? I apologize for my long blog absence while I travelled around the US visiting friends, family and taking care of business. Highlights included attending my 40th Santa Rosa High School Reunion; spending a week at TrueNorth Health meeting new friends and eating gourmet vegan food; dodging snowflakes at Flathead Lake, MT during the River Management Society board meeting in October; spending precious time with my mom in Winlock, WA; attending the Juice Plus + conference in Memphis, TN (no, I didn’t make to Graceland); and finally spending my birthday week in Aruba with friends Pauline and Jennifer. Yes, I am a year older and still having loads of fun! I’ve included some pictures (mostly of Aruba and the Lower Salmon River) that shows the contrast between cold temperatures in Idaho and warm temperatures in Aruba.

I am so happy to be home at my beach in Panama. It is the tail end of the wet season. While we were in Aruba, Ville Escondido in Boquete (where Pauline's house is located) experienced several land and mud slides. They are still digging out! Another good reason to live at the beach.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Isla Paridita -- The Lost Island of Baru

OK...I didn’t exactly get videos of humpback whales breaching out of the water, but I did hear a very satisfied male humpback from Antarctica groaning after coupling with his girlfriend. Yes, Isla Paridita and Kristin Rasmussen (the research whale biologist who was our guide) provided high adventure for 2 nights & 3 days. After meeting Sandy and Dan Shepherd from Boquete (who joined Pauline & I), we left Boca Chica at 11 a.m. on the small boat named “Baru” (after Panama’s tallest mountain/volcano). Pauline & I planted ourselves on the front of the boat (our favorite spot) to enjoy the 40 minute ride to the Island. From the moment we stepped onto the white sand beach we were certain this was paradise. Isla Paridita (125 acres with 5 beaches) is the only island in Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park where accommodations are provided. We got settled into our Swiss-Family-Robinson style palapa on the beach then went for a walk with Jeff (the host extraordinaire of Isla Paridita). What a lovely island... complete with 2 lagoons, 2 kayaks and loads of hiking trails. After our hike, we showered in hot water while overlooking the ocean. And them I saw them... 3 humpback whales! They were very close to our palapa and appeared to be a cow, calf and one lone male (a distance from the cow and calf). They were playing (especially the calf)... smashing tails (also called flukes) and pectoral fins into the water and generally having a good time. We had a lovely dinner that included roosterfish (somewhat tough like sword fish), rice and veggies. The next morning (9/9/09...hard to forget that date) we left on Kristin's whale research boat about 8:00 a.m. and headed toward Isla Ladronas (Thieves Island). Very soon, Kristin dropped her hydrophone into the ocean, and we heard the lovely songs of male humpbacks (only the males sing). We saw a total of 9 whales throughout the day (the group previous to us saw 21 whales!). Often we followed whale "footprints" (slick circles on the water where whales dive) or looked for iridescent blue pectoral fins. Humpback whale pectoral fins are usually white and 1/3 the length of the body (the longest appendages in the animal kingdom). I found it very odd that pectoral fins turn iridescent blue when they are just under the surface of the blue Pacific ocean. After watching and recording whales for 5 hours, we stopped at Isla Gamez for swimming and lunch. A rainy, tropical storm was brewing, so we headed back to Isla Paridita and hot showers. What a fabulous trip! We returned to Boca Chica and Playa La Barqueta the next day. I can't wait until I return to the island with my next "company".
Footnote: The three lovely whale pictures at the top of this blog were taken on our trip by Kristin with her mega telephoto lens (thanks for sharing your pictures, Kristin).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Whale Watching Expedition Coming Soon

I can't wait!! On September 8, Pauline (you may remember her from previous blogs) and I will board a boat for a 2-day whale watch off Isla Paridita. The humpback whales are calving near the island! Plus, we will stay at primitive huts on Isla Paridita for 2 nights. On the Island, we will hike, kayak and snorkel. Check out these links for more information on Isla Paridita (a biologist's dream).

Stay tuned! I hope to have videos of whales doing their thing when I return from Isla Paridita September 10!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

House Hunters International Comes To Playa La Barqueta

It should be illegal to sit on my back porch as I eat delicious squash stew and stare into the ocean sunset. In case you haven’t gathered from my previous blogs, I absolutely LOVE my new beach house. I hung the hammock hooks, artwork and Hawaiian whale (who has been with me since the early 90’s), so my move is now official. Speaking of official, House Hunters International ( just filmed three houses on the beach here (see pictures above). The Playa La Barqueta episode is scheduled to air in fall. This is the third time House Hunters International has come to Panama (before they filmed in Boquete and Panama City). From what I understand, the crew was very impressed with the 16-mile long beach and the gorgeous beach houses. Also, once House Hunters International exposes an area to millions of the viewing public, prices and house sales tend to sky-rocket (i.e. buy my condo now if you want a good deal).

You might be wondering what this picture of a 5-foot long boa is doing on my blog. I had the pleasure of meeting him the other morning when I was learning how to clean Mike & Susan’s pool. Roadie (the gardener-worker) said there was a snake in the front yard. The boa constrictor was hidden very well in the “moanie” (snake grass). Roadie grabbed the boa with a stick & placed it on the driveway. The boa actually hissed a few times as he got more agitated with the tormenting stick. The boa was released across the street where he can continue eating unwary rodents, birds and lizards.

Life continues to be a total adventure as I learn the Argentine Tango, watch an unsuspecting Collard Forest Falcon swooping through the Las Olas canopy, spot 50 species of birds (including my favorite -- Violaceous Trogon) with Jacob Ortega ( on the Pipeline Road near Panama City (thanks Jim & Lora), learn Spanish (I’m finally devoting myself to that necessidad), and open my heart to all the new friends coming into my life.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Warm Turtle Eggs

This of course is turtle season, but I spaced out that fact when I walked the beach this morning. It was 6:15 a.m. and the tide was coming in (low tide was at 4:00 a.m.). I was enjoying the morning coolness and hunting for sea beans when I heard a low whistle (not of the bird variety). It was Marciel trying to get my attention. I had just walked by these huge tracks (Leslie & Doug's Villa in the distance) thinking they were tire tracks. He expertly dug up the Olive Ridley turtle eggs and needed a place to put them so they could be carried. He took off his shirt but was wearing only a thin tank. Hummm... I was wearing a double layer stretchy top hidden by my weight vest. So I whipped off my weight vest and top (yes, I was wearing a jog bra) and donated the double layer top to the cause. He dug up 63 eggs which were easily & safely held by the top. I carried the eggs (weighed over 10 pounds) back to the turtle nesting nursery (in front of Marciel's family restaurant) and waited a few minutes for him to return from the rest of his running beach patrol (he found no more nests). The nesting sanctuary that he constructs every year for the turtles is fenced with string designating individual nests. He's on his 7th nest hole. With any luck, the first turtle release will happen by the end of July with my friends Jim, Lora and Forrest are here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Amazing Connections

It's been exactly 1 month since I wrote the last Blog! Thanks for hanging with me in spite of long transgressions away from Mr. Computer. My iTouch iPod got me by (it still amazes me that I can drive up to a Winlock, WA gift shop, park outside & check/respond to my email). This trip seemed to be all about connections. Highlights were reconnecting with my Lady of the Lake dancing friends (since I was last there in 2004 right before Alaska's worst fire season); seeing Carlette and Larry in their beautiful new house near Rose Lake, Idaho (we worked together in Fairbanks); celebrating July 4 in Kelseyville, CA with my cousins (like Debbie Murphy who I hadn't seen since the 1960's). Yes, that's my official family picture with brother Michael, me, brother Neal & Mom. I'm the one without a beer. By far the weirdest connection occurred when I got Mom on the Horizon flight bound from PDX to Sacramento. As I boarded I belatedly remembered that I forgot Mom's medications. To complicate matters, the woman in the seat just in front of Mom looked deep into my eyes and said, "Elaine... Is that you? What are you doing here?" I recognized her but couldn't figure out the connection. Luckily, she started talking about Panama and I remembered (rather quickly for my age) that it was Amie Zawacki who shares a condo with her dad Ken in my condo development. I last saw Amie in March in Panama. And since Amie and her dad are both doctors (Amie in Portland & Ken in CA), they helped with the proper steps for getting Mom a 2 day supply of meds. My parting connection was a 2-hour cell phone call (this was the first time I had a sore ear from talking on a cell phone) with author Frank Romano who was on tour promoting his book "Storm Over Morocco" (a very good read by the way). Frank & I went to Santa Rosa HS together 40 years ago & will see each other "in the flesh" at the SRHS 40 year reunion on September 26.
Now I'm back to my "normal" fantasy retirement life... leading a bird walk for 10 birders (behind my condo) tomorrow, booking a few kayak adventures for next week, preparing to move into my beach house in a week and sharing Panama in all of her glory with friends from Hawaii starting June 20.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rio Chiriqui Nuevo

Wow! I had another wonderful adventure today when I joined forces with 3 new couple friends and fellow retires Phil and Susan, Joyce and Nick, Tammy and Mitch. We spent several hours floating the Rio Esti and Rio Chiriqui Nuevo near David. It was a lovely trip full of 1 spill (Joyce and Nick got sideways in their inflatable kayak & went for a swim), great weather (overcast with no rain), and green Panama scenery (I love the rainy season). When I opened Google Earth in search of where we had floated, I was surprised to see these pictures of the Rio Chiriqui Nuevo bridge when it failed in 1984. I couldn't find anything else about the catastrophe. I also had to include a picture of the beach house I am buying. Plans are to move in once I return to Panama July 8.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dancing with Turtle Tracks

Wow! I just missed Ms. Tortuga’s journey from the ocean to the Playa La Barqueta sands to lay her baby olive ridley turtles this morning. She timed it just right, emerging from the ocean around 4:30 a.m., pregnant with her 100+ eggs, swiftly digging a hole and laying the sexless eggs. Smartly returning to the ocean just before the tide changed, she hid her tracks with the incoming sea. According to the literature, Ms. Tortuga will return in 14 days to lay a second clutch. Besides sharing the beach with her, we have something else in common. We both dance. I love this quote from the book Sea Turtles by James R. Spotila: “The Olive Ridley is a beautiful dancer. On certain cloudy, moonless nights you can hear the female’s dance as she covers her nest of eggs. Long before you see her a series of thumping sounds can be heard in the night air. Then you spot a little (by leatherback standards) turtle bouncing on the sand, pounding it flat and hard with her plastron. Propped up on her front flippers and hind legs, she alternatively bounces her plastron side to side in a little dance that seals the site where she has just deposited her offspring. It strikes one as unusual and unexpected: Look at the silly turtle dancing on the sand.” Thanks, Leslie, for giving me this great book!

Speaking of dancing, I’m excited about returning to the US in two weeks so I can see family and dance at the weeklong Lady of the Lake Dance Camp in Idaho. I’ve had the pleasure of dancing there twice before and always enjoy the new steps, beautiful setting, music and new friendships.

Last week I accompanied my friends Sherri Ann and Ken to Panama City where we discovered the Granclement Gourmet Ice Cream & Sorbets shop in Casco Viejo (best gelato I’ve ever tasted made by a French couple who moved to Panama 4 years ago), a $5.00 dinner show (more dancing) at the Pencas Show Tipico on the Amador Causeway (see the video below), and the largest produce market I’ve ever encountered. I’ll be back…especially for the gelato!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

For Sale: My Beloved Condo

Where else in the world could you own a titled oceanfront condo on 16 miles of Pacific Ocean beach? As you know from reading my previous blogs, I fell in love with this breezy part of Panama's coastline several years ago. I feel privileged to live here and love sharing Playa La Barqueta with friends (known and yet to be known). Since I plan on spending the rest of my life here, I took the "plunge" last week and bought a beach house one mile west of the condo. By owning a bit of property around the house, I'll be able to landscape, plant a small garden, start a compost pile (to feed the garden) and gaze at stars from an enclosed porch. It sure seems like a good time to invest before Playa La Barqueta properties sky-rocket in price. I am offering the following two properties for sale:
1. Las Brisas Del Mar #101: It's a downstairs corner unit that is right next to the Las Olas Resort. Because it's so close to the Resort, it feels like I'm on vacation every day. It's totally furnished, monthly condo fees are $215 (includes high speed Internet, water, garbage, pool maintenance, maintaining condo grounds, etc.). The porch/side windows face the Resort gardens rather than another condo. My electric bill is around $60 (I don't use much AC). If someone bought this unit, they could literally rent it out or move in the next day. Two websites: and will give you an idea of what the Las Brisas Del Mar condos are selling for.

2. La Estrella Del Mar #3-7A with a pre-construction price of $250,000. I bought unit number 3-7A. It's in the middle building on the 7th floor (the middle building is 9 stories, side buildings are 8 and 7 stories). I have included a conceptual drawing above. Pre-construction prices on the 7th floor were $374,000 last year. With the drop in the economy, a 7th floor condo was offered to me for $250,000 in November, 2008. If you wanted to buy that same pre-construction condo 7th floor condo today, the price would be $300,000. I need to sell my interest ($37,500 down payment) ASAP in order to buy the beach house. Once they "break ground" in a few months, another payment of $37,500 would be due. After the building is complete (roughly 2 years), a third payment of $37,500 would be due along with securing a mortgage or paying it off with cash. My plan was to "flip" it at that point (for $350,000), and make around $237,500 (to pay off my Las Brisas Del Mar condo).
So my plans have changed.... perhaps to your advantage!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sherri Ann Feeds the Happy Monkeys

I just had to include this joyful video of Sherri Ann Bennett (of Juice Plus fame) feeding the red-backed squirrel monkeys at Mono Feliz. Tomorrow we head for Volcan, Cerro Punta and Sitio Barriles.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Punta Burica Adventure or Where is that Happy Monkey?

What I love about my “retired” life in Panama is that I can have wild and joyful adventures every day. That is exactly what happened the last two days on my second trip to Mono Feliz. If you want to follow along on Google Earth, go to Puerto Armuelles, Panama and follow the Burica Peninsula (go south) to Punta Burica. Fasten your seatbelts!
We (my guests Sherri Ann & Ken Bennett & I) left Playa La Barqueta at 8:00 a.m. in order to catch low tide at noon. To reach Punta Burica where Mono Feliz is located, you need three things: a high clearance 4WD vehicle with good suspension and a powerful engine, a lead vehicle (in this case provided by my great neighbor Ken Sample), and lots of adrenaline. Mono Feliz (happy monkey) is roughly 3 hours from my front door. This was my second trip to Punta Burica (my first trip was in January with friends Pauline & Bridget – see the January 3, 2009 Blog).
Timing and driving was perfect (only getting lost once in Puerto Armuelles), and we made it to Mono Feliz by 11:30 a.m. We didn’t see any monkeys right away, so we went for a beach walk. The Samples (lead truck) and their friends (in the third vehicle) had to return on the same low tide, so they stayed close to Mono Feliz and left by 1:30 p.m. Our beach walk was lovely. It was overcast and windy so we stayed nice and cool. We found many treasures (including one rare piece of blue sea glass). After two miles of walking toward Costa Rica, we reached Dave’s eco-hotel ( This was my second visit with Dave. Had we walked 20 more minutes, we would have reached Costa Rica. By-the-way, Dave is getting frustrated with the Panamanian Government and is willing sell the hotel, all buildings and 5 hectares of untitled land to an interested buyer for $1,000,000 negotiable. I’m sure he would take $500,000 or less if you have that kind of change lying around. Dave showed us his boarders: a very cute baby white-nosed coati, the older and more cantankerous margay (Sherri Ann was somewhat freaked out when she entered its cage to get pictures), and incubating black sea turtle eggs (a subspecies of the green sea turtle with the scientific name Chelonia mydas agassizii). On the return walk, we almost ran into the jaws of a baby Alston’s mouse opossum (don’t ask me how he ended up on the beach hissing at us). We returned to Juancho’s Mono Feliz by late afternoon and discovered that both the red-backed squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins had visited in our absence. They put on quite a performance for the Samples and their friends before they had to leave. Within the hour, thirtyish squirrel monkeys returned and put on a delightful show (see the video below). In the course of the afternoon, we met another group of adventurers: Costa Rican Mr. Rafael, surfers Amy and Emma (on vacation from Florida and California), and the Limones Police Chief Mr. Lopez. Amy and Emma finished up surfing after high tide rolled back in so it was too late for them to return to Limones. We got to know them as they waited for the tide to recede. Unbelievably, they made it back to Limones in the dark after a few cocktails!
We stayed in the same cabanas used by my group the last time I was here (perched above the crashing surf) and enjoyed a peaceful night. My 6:00 a.m. walk gave me several treasures including land crab pictures (above) and three species of feeding monkeys on the hillside trail. After breakfast, we did one last beach walk. As we were saying our good-byes, Rafael reappeared (minus the surfer-girls who had moved on or Chief Lopez who was back to his police work). He was there to take Juancho and his wife on a road-trip to his house located in Costa Rica (west over the Burica Peninsula from Limones). Lucky for us, we were invited to follow along… hence another adventure! First we drove along the ocean to Limones where we stopped at Rafael’s house (he has several). He loaded his truck with supplies for the Costa Rica house and we were off. Within 30 minutes, we were in a new country (at least for Sherri Ann and Ken, pictured above on Rafael's porch). We were treated to several views of playful chestnut-mandibled toucans before we had to leave ahead of the climbing tide. Once we left, heavy rains followed us home. We stopped briefly at the Frontera for some duty-free shopping and were home by 5:00 p.m. Sherri Ann and Ken summed up the adventure as a combination of Robinson Crusoe, Gilligan’s Island, Survivor and Lost!