CENTRAL PANAMA, JUNE 12, 2010 – One of the many features that make the Canopy Tower one of Panama’s finest birding locations is its proximity to Gamboa. While this town may be known best for the perfection that is Pipeline Road, another famous stop on the Gamboa birding circuit is Ammo Ponds. This name is something of a misnomer since the ponds are really open pools in a broad, grassy marsh. Ammo, on the other hand, can be found in abundance at the highly secure munitions dump!
Rolling through Gamboa, we picked up the same scrub birds observed earlier in the day (seedeaters, grassquits, grackles, anis, kindbirds, etc.) when we visited Pipeline Road. A new addition was Southern Lapwing, a resplendent member of the plover family, lurking around the railroad tracks running along the Panama Canal. The first bird to meet us at the Ammo end of the ponds was a Rufescent Tiger Heron, on a nest no less. While few birds lurked in the mosquito-infested waters below us, they flocked to the grounds of the munitions facility. A flight of flycatchers queued up in the concertina wire, including Panama, Piratic, Rusty-margined, Social, and Common Today-Flycatcher.
Rain was falling so my skilled guide Alexis and I walked around towards the trusty White-throated Crake part of the ponds. This crake is, like so many rails, both skulky and sought after in equal measure. Before we could find it though, we worked through a variety of tanagers (Crimson-backed, Plain-colored, Blue-gray, and Palm) and other treetop birds like Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, and Red-crowned Woodpecker. Anhingas and Red-lored Amazons passed overhead.
Rufescent Tiger Heron on a nest
A Black-striped Sparrow stood sentinel at our desired vista, from which the marsh spread out like a green sea of grass. In the distance worked more tiger herons along with Lesser Kiskadees and a single immature Little Blue Heron. Closer to us were the Wattled Jacanas and Purple Gallinules. Alexis worked a little magic and then, voila, the crake! Actually, the experience was nowhere near that easy and the resulting looks were meager to say the least but such is the way of crakes!
As good a look as you or I will likely ever have of White-throated Crake!
A quick run up the Chagres River resulted in a comparison of close, nearly indistinguishable relatives Green and Striated Herons along with Common Moorhens, Greater Anis, and more gorgeous jacanas.
Interestingly, as Alexis described, the narrow road and rail bridge we’d been crossing was essentially the Continental Divide. On one side of the bridge ran waters from the Atlantic or Caribbean while on the other side they were considered connected to the Pacific. Perhaps this division was arbitrary but I just thought it was cool. Such is life in the tropical paradise of Panama!