Yep, it’s true. The migratory birds are on the move, leaving the tropics in droves now. Our prothonotary warblers left immediately, without giving me a chance to say goodbye, the chuckling call of the summer tanagers have faded away, but the northern waterthrushes seem hesitant to leave, their bobbing tails still evident among the garden grasses. And now migrants who spent their winter even farther south are moving through Panama on their northward trajectory.
Chestnut-sided, Tennessee, Bay-breasted Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo are feeding at our fruiting melastoma bushes and trees, Black-and-white and Blackburnian Warblers in their finest spring plumage search for insects nestled in the bark and leaves among the high branches, Baltimore Orioles join our resident Black-cowled Orioles in their search for sustenance and Scarlet Tanagers touting the brilliant feathers that give them their name contrast brightly against the greenery and Eastern Kingbirds fly overhead in droves not unlike the waves of barn swallows sweeping low across the Caribbean waters.
With the spring also comes spring break crowds to Bocas del Toro and that’s when we start to get more families with school-aged kids. The days have been filled with snorkeling excursions, bat caving adventures and mangrove exploration via kayak. Beach days have resulted in grand sand castles and an impressive beach casita made of bamboo and a palm thatch roof built by yours truly and a determined nine year old while her parents walked around the island. We were pretty darn proud of ourselves. It’s been a busy but fantastic season and I can’t begin to believe I’ve already been in Panama for eight months!
And for a quick respite, I recently had the pleasure of a few days off between spring breakers and so made for some higher latitudes. From Bocastown on Isla Colon I took the ferry to the mainland and hopped onto a shuttle that took me up a winding road to the highlands Boquete. I rented an Air BnB and was blown away by my luck, it was a single room with a little patio where I could sit down with my binoculars and journal while enjoying a perfectly magnificent view across a valley on to the facing foothills of Volcan Baru. For $20/night, I was getting a private room and bathroom when a hostel of the same price in town would have been a dorm with multiple bunks (aka roommates) and a shared bathroom. I was very content with my little hidden paradise.
While I was in the mountains, I was able to see a lot of species I’d enjoyed discovering last year when I was visiting the other side of the volcano here in Panama with the parents. I wasn’t out to get new birds, although I was enjoying adding to my ever-so-casual eBird “Big Year” since I hadn’t gotten any of these highland species yet in 2019. Big Year is when an individual “attempt to identify as many species as possible within a single calendar year.” My year is casual because I’m not in any rush nor am trying to get every single species when I’m in a new area, I’m simply adding to my eBird list when I encounter new birds and am looking forward to seeing how many species I end up with. In Boquete I added about 20 new species for a year total of 216. It’s fun!
So as the migrations carries on, I wistfully wave goodbye to my beloved neotropical migrants as they carry on in their hundreds or even thousands of miles journey northward. It’s incredible that these tiny feathered beings rely on those very feathers to transport them massive distances all while hoping that along the way there is enough food to sustain them in their great energy expenditure. That means habitat, termed “stopover sites” where birds can refuel and rest or possibly take shelter in adverse weather conditions before taking wing onward. Not only that, they’re also relying on there to be sufficient area for setting up nesting territory in their breeding grounds in preparation for the next generation of migrants.
Many birds lose their lives along the way and even once they get there and find a mate and a suitable place to build a nest and bear young, life never seems to get any easier. What hearty little sprites, these tiny long-distant flier are. So in farewell, I stand in awe of our neotropical migrants and wish them well on their journey.
And, we have such an important part in the future of these birds and all the other creatures that must struggle through life in the wild, we must respect and honor Mother Earth so she can continue to support all wildlife. It is my hope that we can not just continue to enjoy the multitude of species that inhabits this pale blue dot but also concede to the fact that as we lose species to extinction, that reduction in biodiversity has ripple effects that in turn hurts us. Wildlife is like the canary in the coal mine, what does that mean about the wider environment if that bird dies? Earth Day isn’t just today..let’s look out for her and all the beauty of life that relies on her to be healthy every day.