Watching them go.

We’ve been watching them go and, now at the tail-end of migration, our neotropical migrating birds are nearly all gone.

Fall Migration at Tranquilo Bay, 2018

It’s been a delight to work outside and be able to intentionally search out the mass migration of birds north for the spring and summer that is and has been occurring all around us lately.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern wood-pewees are still letting their existence be known, their high pitched calls whistling from the end of a twig that terminates a leafless branch high above, the birds searching intently for insects. Bay-breasted and Chestnut-sided warblers feed on melastoma berries (of which hopefully there are


enough of for all the migrant and nesting resident birds after that massive sequía—aka drought—here in the Bocas del Toro province). The male Scarlet and Summer tanagers proudly wing by in their spring finest and the Prothonotary warblers disappeared early without even saying goodbye while the northern waterthrushes seem reticent to go. The black terns didn’t stay for long, the eastern kingbirds came in mass and the barn swallows seemed to have both started and finished the migration with us here in Bocas.


Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 12.36.04 PM

Fall Raptor Migration 2018

Raptors-wise, our birds of prey are riding the cordillera late this year, with Pepper (aka Pepper aka John Spahr) and his Field Guides birding group this last week of April, we had some superb views of the Mississippi kites on the move, along with a just as tremendous an amount of Turkey Vultures along with a peppering of Swainson’s hawks, including dark phase. We didn’t see the big movement out here on the islands this season like we did in the fall because the nice weather keeps them following the mountains and not blown out over the sea.

It’s nearing six months this May since I started guiding at Tranquilo. I’ve been in Panama since August. The same time last year, I was in Costa Rica. I’ve been here in the tropics to witness the 2018 migratory movement last fall from temperate breeding zones of the US and Canada to the Arctic down to our tropical wintering locations in both Central and South America. After a winter in the tropical climes, these populations of songbirds, seabirds and shorebirds, as I’ve been so fortunate to witness here in the spring of 2019, wing back north to breed and raise their young.

Resident Red-capped Manakin comes in for his share.

They’re less territorial when they migrate. You will see a melastoma bush full of male, decked out in beautiful breeding plumage, blackpoll warblers shoulder to shoulder with a trio of gorgeous resident red-capped manakins as they all set to devour as many fruits as they can fit. There’s enough for everyone and why fight amongst each other when you need to save the energy for the next hundred miles?


By eBirding what we see in terms of birds is what we are representing Panama and more specifically the Bocas del Toro province. By sharing what migrants we’re seeing, when and where, to eBird, we are contributing scientific data that can show us what birds are where throughout the year. This is data that they can create visualizations through animated species maps that document the movement of a single species across the twelve months of the year through animated movement of points of location and species density (on a color gradient) data. Where they were spotted and how many over the course of the year is derived as a moving, multicolored graphic overlaying an outline of Central and North America.

Here are a couple of screenshots I got from the animation of movements of Baltimore Orioles the first in February and the second in Ma. As we know and as the data shows, you all up north have the pleasure of seeing these fruit-lovers now as they carry on into the breeding season.

This kind of data tells us where species of concern (basically all birds) are and when. This way we can determine critical areas and habitat that birds rely on so we can focus on what most urgently needs to be protected. I just read an article out of The Washington Post that pinpoints the benefit of this data. What researchers and citizens scientists have achieved in regard to migrating shorebirds and where they are at specific times of year is to develop an agreement that pays farmers a fee to flood their field for a few weeks out of the year to give habitat for migrating shorebirds like least sandpipers, whimbrel and pacific golden plover. Its rented habitat and we know know when to rent it. Read the article, it’s promising!

Least Sandpiper, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro


Screen Shot 2019-05-03 at 1.57.25 PM.pngGlobal Big Day out of Cornell Lab of Ornithology is at the end of this week, Saturday, May 4th. It’s like a “a Catch ’em All” championship between countries as we try to see as many species as possible. It’s not just a fun challenge but it also benefits from the data that is derived from these amplified efforts a mere pair of days a year over the two migrations.


eBirding resident birds helps document changes they might be undergoing right where you live.

Might as well contribute sightings to eBird all year! It’s fun because it brings back memories of the story behind all the various bird encounters over the course of your years. I’m doing a casual eBird Big Year (a practically happenstance or passive one) and I love adding new birds to the list, even if it’s “just” a ruddy ground dove. I would say I eBird a couple times a doesn’t have to take over your day job.

It’s pouring rain right now and we’re praising the sky gods after a long sequía (also known as drought). Hopefully this year’s fruit crop was productive enough for all the migrants and nesting residents birds. Perhaps our eBird submissions will help up find out. We need another “State of the Birds” report and this is a great way to produce the data for one with proposed or suggested changes in regard to sustainability and eco-mindedness. There needs to be more funding for looking into things like this. Easy solutions from eBird submissions leading to that farmers agreement are what make a huge difference. We can help!

It’s a time of year that tourism in the tropics slows down and Bocas del Toro’s real soul comes out. Raucous kids in Bocastown have filtered back statesward. Families and birders are enjoying the good weather in their own countries. Tranquilo will turn a little more tranquilo in the way of guest frequency and volume. I’m excited to experience another winter in the tropics but sad I won’t be accompanied by my neotropical migrants. Until next migration!


Goodbye Migrants! We’ll be here for your return!

About Stacey M. Hollis

Tropical guide and naturalist at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge on Isla Bastimentos set within Panama's Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago. My aim is to share my passion for birds and the awesome biodiversity of the tropics while spreading the word about the importance of environmental conservation.
This entry was posted in birds, birdwatching, eBird, migration, panama and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Watching them go.

  1. Barb Frank says:

    Great report Stacey I will try and use eBird more

    Liked by 1 person

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