Christmas Bird Count on Pipeline Road

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The forest was completely quiet. There were no sounds, everything was quiet. It was dark and there was still some time until the sun would rise.

A loud and clear whoOOobroke the silence! We listened expectantly, but there was only the sound of silence. Again a whoOOo! It was not a Black-and-white Owl we heard. It was Kent, imitating the species. After another few attempts with no response, we tried with a play-back of Mottled Owl instead. This time there was response right away and the first species of the day was “in the book”.

We were “owling” or in layman’s terms, listening for owls. That was why we were up and about so early and standing in the forest imitating owls with play-back. As it turned out, this was the only owl we heard.

På vej til Julefugletælling ved Panamákanalen.

Early morning at the Panamá canal on our way to Christmas Bird Count.

Christmas Bird Count

We were traveling up Pipeline Road by the Panamá Canal together with Kent, Nancy, and Evelyn. It was getting light and the birds were starting to stir

It is not our first time birding on the famous road. It is in fact only little more than a year since we were here last (read about that in The famous Pipeline Road). Pipeline Road is a hot spot for birds and a place we wanted to visit again. When we a few days earlier were offered to join the team that would cover Pipeline Road in Audubon Panamá’s yearly Christmas Bird Count, we immediately said yes.

Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

The Christmas Bird Count is primarily a North American event, but several Latin American countries participate – including Panama and Ecuador. It is the National Audubon Society that is organizing the event, which this season is being held for the 119th time.

The counting takes place from December 14 to January 6 and thereby also during Christmas, hence the name. In short, the idea is to register as many bird species as possible within 24 hours within a radius of 15 miles (24 km) of some selected spots. You can read a lot more about the event on the Audubon’s website under Christmas Bird Count.

Julefugletælling på Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Christmas Bird Count at Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

A swarm of army ants and antbirds

We have mentioned this before, and we will do so again. When you are birding in the tropics you generally hope to encounter a mixed species flock. The forests, whether lowland rainforest or a cloud forest in the mountains, can seem very quiet and devoid of birds. This changes significantly if a mixed species flock appears. All of a sudden the forest can be swarming with many different birds and then you have to be quick. The flock can disappear again almost as quickly as it appeared in the first place.

It will take too much explanation to go into details of the different types and compositions of mixed species flocks but another thing that you are hoping to find is a swarm of army ants, This can mean that a mixed species flock and antbirds within it could be around!

This was exactly what we encountered on Pipeline Road. We were lucky enough to encounter a swarm of army ants! And these ones were some fairly large ants which you do not want to tangle with – the have a nasty bite!

En hærmyre havde valgt at bide sig fast i Evelyns bukseben. Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

An army ant had chosen to cling to Evelyn’s trousers. Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

We left Pipeline Road and quietly followed the swarm into the trees. There were a lot of ants and birds as well. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go very far before we were in the middle of a mixed flock of birds  – and there were antbirds! There were Bicolored Antbird and Spotted Antbird and then there were one of our target speciesOcellated Antbird. There were even two of them that we got a very good look at before they disappeared.

However, the other birds were in no way shy. They were so occupied by snatching insects trying to escape the army ants, that they hardly noticed our presence. From a distance of only a few meters, we could enjoy birds that are normally quite difficult to spot.

In addition to the above-mentioned antbirds, the flock also consisted of among others Grey-headed Tanagers and Plain-brown Woodcreepers.

Bicolored Antbird (Tofarvet Myrefugl), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Bicolored Antbird, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Plain-brown Woodcreeper (Brun Tyrankryber), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.


A Red-capped Manakin called out. We stopped but we couldn’t see it. We have previously seen the species in Panama and Costa Rica, but we have never seen it dance! Yes, dance – just like many other birds the manakins “dance”. And if there is a species who know some moves – it is the Red-capped Manakin – it is known for its moonwalk!

“You have seen it before?” – asked Kent. We had, but we said that we would like to see it again. And very appropriate there was a lek not far from where we were. Again we left the road and disappeared into the forest.

There were about six manakins at the lek. They were flying all around us and none of them perched long enough to get a proper view. But against all expectations, there was one manakin who “felt like dancing.”

It didn’t last long, but we were treated to a dance show that we will not forget anytime soon. There were sidesteps left, sidesteps right, small jumps, wing-snapping and there was moonwalking on a branch! Watch the video below.

Moonwalking. Red-capped Manakin (Hættemanakin), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Moonwalking. Red-capped Manakin, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

The moonwalk – bird dance like Michael Jackson

DK//ES//ENTror ikke der er mange fugle der kan moonwalke! Men på juletællingen med Audubon Panamá, var vi så heldige at se Hættemanakinen (Red-capped Manakin) der i særklasse mestrer "the moves". En rigtig god dag, hvor vi så mere end 100 arter på Pipeline Road og Gamboa området.//¡No creo que haya muchas aves que puedan hacer el moonwalk! Pero en los conteos navideños de aves con Audubon Panamá, tuvimos la suerte de ver a Saltarín cabecirrojo norteño (Red-capped Manakin) que dominó "the moves". Un día realmente bueno donde vimos más de 100 especies en Pipeline Road y Gamboa.//Don't think there are many birds that can do the moonwalk! But on the Christmas bird count with Audubon Panamá, we were lucky to see the Red-capped Manakin who mastered "the moves". A really good day where we saw more than 100 species on Pipeline Road and Gamboa area.

Slået op af Albicilla Explorer i Mandag den 17. december 2018


The result

It was a really good, fun and educational day where we got to see and hear a lot of birds. In addition to this, we got the opportunity to meet and spend the day with local birders.

But what was the final tally of the day? At this moment we do not know the final result of the day, but it was a minimum of 115 species. Because that was the number of species our team saw and/or heard from 5:45 AM to 1:30 PM.

We won’t give you the whole list here (maybe we will update with a link to eBird later), and it is difficult to choose a few species in favor of others. But it was a broad spectrum of species and in addition to the ones we have already mentioned, there were, for example, Great Tinamou, Short-billed Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Band-rumped Swift, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Black-throated Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot and Black-breasted Puffbird, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and Song Wren.

Black-throated Trogon (Sortstrubet Trogon), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Black-throated Trogon, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Cinnamon Woodpecker (Kanelspætte), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Cinnamon Woodpecker, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Black-crowned Antshrike (Vestlig Skifer Myretornskade), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Black-crowned Antshrike, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

White-shouldered (Hvidskuldret Sorttangar), Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

White-shouldered Tanager, Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

We registered the vast majority of species from Pipeline Road before lunch. The remaining species were added to the list, when we after lunch visited some of the spots nearby, in order to fill in “missing species”.

Den foreløbige liste gennemgås før de forskellige teams skal ud og finde "missing species". Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Panamá.

The preliminary list is reviewed before the teams are going out after the “missing species”. Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Panamá.

We ended the day at Pipeline Road, where we continued birding until 4 PM together with one of the other teams, which unfortunately didn’t add any further species to the team list.

Der lyttes efter fugle. Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Listening to birds at the Pipeline Road, Soberania NP., Panamá.

Nogle steder kan man se de to ubrugte olierørledninger, der er årsagen til Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto)

In some places, you can see the two unused oil pipelines that cause Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto).

Post updated 24th December 2018 due to some minor editorial corrections.

All photos and video © Bente Steffensen & Uffe Damm Andersen, unless otherwise stated.