Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Trip Report - Panama Part 6 - 10 and 11 April 2019

10 April 2019
Canopy Lodge - Altos del Maria - Canopy Lodge

     We were looking forward to a full day out to Altos del Maria, with Moyo as our guide. Two four wheel drive vehicles were used for this journey, and we were joined by Joseph, a guide in training if I am not mistaken, and Aidan the manager of Canopy Lodge.


     Before leaving the lodge, we were treated to a range of insects, none of which we are able to identify as to species!

     We stopped at various point along the way, birding in areas that were known to be productive, based on Moyo's past experience. For the most part the terrain was open woodland, very attractive indeed.

     We were fortunate to have a Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus) approach very closely providing us with the best looks we have ever had of this species.

     It is a singularly attractive little bird in my estimation and I was very pleased to observe it at close range.
     A pair of Blue-throated Toucanets (Aulocorhynchus caeruleogularis) was almost as cooperative.

    The taxonomic ranking of this species seems to be in a constant state of flux and it may be classified by some authorities as Emerald Toucanet or Northern Emerald Toucanet (A. prasinus).
     The neotropics are renowned for the number of wrens in a wide range of genera that coexist there.  Grey-breasted Wood Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys) is quite common, but not always easy to view in the open, so we were very happy with this encounter.

     Among the many species of Euphonia to be found in Panama, Tawny-capped Euphonia (Euphonia fulvicrissa) is among the most distinctive, especially the male, and is easily identified.

     At one point, we all saw a raptor fly in, and it perched in a relatively good position for viewing. It turned out to be our only Double-toothed Kite (Harpagus bidentatus) of the entire trip.

     The two tomial "teeth"of this oddly-named bird, are formed by notches on the upper mandible, but are of little use as a field character.
     Following on the heels of the Double-toothed Kite, Moyo became very animated, and pointed us in the direction of a Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aureus). Never common, this species was outside its normal range, and Moyo had never before encountered it at Altos del Maria.
     For a really superb picture of this species I am indebted to my friend Masaru who took this picture in the Darien area of Panama.

     Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) is a small compact falcon, widespread throughout Central America, and fortunately not shy.This pair was not perched in an ideal spot for pictures but Miriam did her best.

     Despite its name, bats are not its main source of food, and one of the birds above can be seen consuming what is probably a large insect. Where bats are taken the bird is generally a crepuscular hunter.
     Anyone who has visited Central America has probably at one time or another seen a Helicopter Damselfly in the family Pseudostigmatidae, a family that specializes in feeding on web-building spiders, and in fact seems to be the prototype for the flight style of a helicopter. Some members of the family are very large indeed. 


     A Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naeviodes) is a very attractive inhabitant of the lower levels of the forest.

     Antpittas, as a general rule are very difficult birds to see. They skulk in the densest parts of the forest understorey, often on or close to the ground in gloomy, thick vegetation. Moyo was determined that we would see Black-crowned Antpitta (Pittasoma michleri), a lifer for everyone, and he worked at it for about twenty minutes until we had one in view, in fact at times in full view, albeit for brief intervals.

     The genus Pittasoma indicates the family known as Gnateaters, sometimes even referred to as "Gnatpittas!"
     It was a stellar sighting by any standards.  Moyo wryly commented that he enjoys most of all finding difficult birds, and one can easily understand that a fellow who earns his living taking people out to see birds every day, would embrace that challenge, especially if he is with people who really want to see them. I was very, very happy to have the opportunity to observe Black-crowned Antpitta! It is also quite wonderful that Miriam managed such a good picture of an elusive bird.
     Following this splendid success we repaired to a lovely area, next to a pond to have lunch.

     Lunch in the field was always very agreeable. We so much enjoyed the curried tuna sandwiches prepared by the staff at the lodge that we asked Aidan to provide the recipe to us, which he did, and we will now to be able to make it at home. There was lettuce and tomato to add to the sandwich, and to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth cantaloupe, water melon, pineapple and carrot cake. 
     Trogons came to visit, Kiskadees serenaded us, Joseph amused us......we were happy birders all.
     After lunch, in another display of dogged determination, Moyo, spent a good deal of time and effort finding Snowcap (Microchera albocoronata) for us. We were unable to get a picture of this diminutive, fast-moving little hummingbird but we were delighted to see it.
     A Plain Brown Woodcreeper ( Dendrocincla fuliginosa) proved to be much easier to observe - and focus a camera on too!

     This must surely be known as our "Toucanet day" in Panama. We had already seen one species (and there are only two in Panama) and we came upon the second. A pair of Yellow-eared Toucanets (Selenidera spectabilis) were plainly visible and we were all elated to see them.

     As we returned to the lodge we enjoyed driving through the various habitats of the region and seeing small towns and villages along the route.
     Moyo joined us at Happy Hour to complete our checklist, followed by a splendid dinner of garden salad, chicken in cilantro sauce, cauliflower au gratin and squash soufflé. There was chocolate cake for dessert for those who wanted it.
     Just before dinner it had started to rain and the intensity increased. The ferocity of the winds through the valley had caused the power to get knocked out and the lodge was plunged into darkness for a few minutes before the emergency generator was pressed into service. 
     It had been another great day in Panama enhanced in no small measure by Moyo's excellent knowledge of the avifauna of Altos del Maria and his superb skill at finding the birds.

All species 10 April: Grey-headed Chachalaca, Black Guan, Pale-vented Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, White-collared Swift, Stripe-throated Hermit, Snowcap, Crowned Woodnymph, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Black Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Double-toothed Kite, Common Black Hawk, Barred Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Collared (Orange-bellied) Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot, Great Jacamar, Blue-throated Toucanet, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Caracara, Bat Falcon, Blue-headed Parrot, Barred Antshrike, Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Spotted Antbird, Black-crowned Antpitta, Plain Brown Woodcreeper, Spotted Woodcreeper, Spotted Barbtail, Red-faced Spinetail, Eye-ringed Flatbill, White-throated Spadebill, Tufted Flycatcher, Rufous Mourner, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, White-ruffed Manakin, Black-chested Jay, Grey-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, House Wren, Ochraceous Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Song Wren, Swainson's Thrush, Pale-vented Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Common Bush Tanager, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Great-tailed Grackle, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Buff-rumped Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Plain-coloured Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Black-and-Yellow Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager.

11 April 2019
Canopy Lodge - Candelario Trail - La Mesa - Mato Ahogado - Canopy Lodge

     We had been advised that we would be going out with Danilo Sr. at 07h:30 but by 08h:00 he was nowhere to be seen and we checked with Aidan as to what might have happened. Apparently there had been some confusion as to which period he was supposed to work and he had thought it was in the afternoon.
     Tino Sanchez was assigned to us and based on the birding which ensued we lost nothing in the trade.
     As was often the case a Red-crowned Woodpecker (Melanerpes rubricapillus) was on the feeder as we left.

     Miriam decided to stay behind this morning so the photographic record for the outing is scant.
     Our principal target on the Candelario Trail was White-tipped Sicklebill (Eutoxeres aquila), a bird known to feed there on its favoured species of heliconia. I was looking forward with great anticipation to the possibility of locating this species, for on three trips to Costa Rica, a prior trip to Panama, two visits to Ecuador and one to Colombia I had failed every time. To make a long story short, at the end of the morning I had still not seen a Sicklebill! I think this is destined to become my nemesis of all nemeses. 
     But there was more than adequate compensation in the form of two Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoos (Neomorphus geoffroyi), a highly sought after species. I have no pictures to memorialize the event, but we saw the birds at varying intervals for several minutes and the experience is indelibly etched in my mind. Sighting of this species verge on mythical. 
     A couple of Isthmian Wrens (Cantorchilus elutus) put on quite a show for us, far more concerned with each other than the human observers close by.

    Shiny Cowbirds (Molothrus bonariensis) are a constant threat to their host species, but they were quite numerous.

     Tino, clearly feeling bad that he had been unable to connect us with a Sicklebill took us to another location nearby where there was a stand of heliconia known to attract the bird. Not on that morning, however.
     I assured him that this was the nature of birding and being in the right place at the right time is a great part of success. Obviously we had been in the right place, but not at the right time!
     It was interesting to find a Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) on its nest.

      If you look carefully you can see its head at the top left in the picture above.
     On the way back to the lodge a sighting of a Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) was very agreeable, and we watched it for several minutes.

     When we arrived back Miriam was anxious to share her experiences around the lodge while we were away and had pictures to illustrate her successes.

Red-tailed Squirrel (Sciurus granatensis)

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia edward)

Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus) ♂
Thick-billed Euphonia (Euphonia laniirostris)

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, dorsal view

     You may recall that I mentioned earlier that Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons) seems to take a good deal of pleasure from bathing and we frequently saw it in the stream.

     Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) was common around the lodge, usually announcing its presence with its signature onomatopoeic call.

     House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) was also easily found, often hopping around on the steps going down to the feeders.

     After lunch we were left to our own devices until 15h:00 when we departed with Danilo, Sr to go to Mata Ahogado to see what we could find there.

     At the first stop Miriam saw this old sewing machine stand and could not resist taking a picture of it.

     I suspect that it is not going to be pressed into service any time soon!
     Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus) was not seen with anything like the frequency with which we saw Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri) so we were happy to be able to take this picture.

     Southern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) by contrast was seen almost every day, usually in swift flight, however, so this individual perched was the exception to the rule.

     Elaenias in general are fairly nondescript little flycatchers and it takes  practice and keen attention to learn the various species. Yellow-bellied Elaenia (Elaenia flavogaster) is perhaps easier than others.

     A boldly marked Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus) presents less of a challenge.

     The "best" bird of the afternoon was an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris) but it played hide-and-seek with us so successfully (more hide than seek) that I don't believe anyone got a picture.
     We returned to the lodge for the evening ritual of Happy Hour and the check list update, followed by dinner.
     Miriam and I had arranged for a night tour with Danilo, Sr, and Joseph tagged along too. Danilo played his tape and almost instantly a Tropical Screech Owl (Megascops choliba) responded and perched on the corner of one of the buildings. It was interesting to walk around at night, but it terms of wildlife it produced very little.
     I believe that these pictures are of Giant Toad (Bufo marinus), also known as Cane Toad, a voracious species. Just talk to an Australian about the folly of introducing alien species to places where they don't belong, and the enormous problems that have resulted from the importation of Bufo marinus into Queensland.

     A Vaillant's Frog (Rana vaillanti) is a little more benign.

     Throughout our walk, which lasted about an hour and a half, we heard Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata) almost continuously and I estimated that there were at least four calling, possibly more. Finally Miriam managed to get a picture - and everyone will appreciate this is "just for the record!"

     We were in bed a little after 22h:00 and asleep soon afterwards.

All species 11 April: Scaled Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, White-tipped Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Band-rumped Swift, Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Garden Emerald, Bronze-tailed Plumleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Southern Lapwing, Eastern Cattle Egret, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Black Hawk-Eagle, Tropical Screech Owl, Mottled Owl, Collared Araçari, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Carcara, Blue-headed Parrot, White-bellied Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Black-chested Jay, Grey-breasted Martin, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, House Wren, Rufous-breasted Wren (heard), Rufous-and-white Wren, Isthmian Wren, Bay Wren, White-breasted Wood Wren, Song Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Pale-vented Thrush, Clay-coloured Thrush, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tawny-capped Euphonia (heard), Chestnut-capped Brush Finch, Black-striped Sparrow, Yellow-billed Cacique, Crested Oropendola, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Shiny Cowbird, Giant Cowbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Tennessee Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Rufous-capped Warbler, Canada Warbler, Dusky-faced Tanager, Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Silver-throated Tanager, Blue-black Grassquit, White-lined Tanager, Flame-rumped Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Bananaquit (heard), Yellow-faced Grassquit, Variable Seedeater, Black-headed Saltator, Buff-throated Saltator. 

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Jason Lucio - World Champion Wood Carver

     Can you even begin to imagine what it is like to be best in the WORLD at anything? I am not sure that I can wrap my head around that, but at the tender age of fifteen this was true for Jason Lucio. He won the Fraser Award for the best carving in the under sixteen years of age category at the World Championships held in Ocean City, MD, USA.

    When I visited Jason at his home in Bothwell, ON he told me that back then he was a shy young kid, and was intimidated by the fact that he would have to go up onto the stage to accept his award and get used to the attention that followed his success. He has since gone on to have a highly successful career as a wood carver as we will explore in this piece.
     Jason revealed that when he was young his father was a constant source of encouragement and urged him to exploit the talent he was already exhibiting. It seems to me that so many parents instruct their children to get a "real job" and pursue music, or writing, or weaving,....... or wood carving as a hobby. Jason's father saw the joy his son derived from creating works of great beauty, and invested in equipment for him, and encouraged him to try to make his way in life doing what he loved to do most. I have never met Jason's father but he must be a rare man indeed, a visionary and a remarkable parent.
     As proof of a father's faith in his son, Jason has gone on to win "Best in World" twice. That phrase means exactly what it says, best in the entire world, in every category in the competition. 
     Aside from the recognition, the monetary award, and the enhanced commercial desirability of the winning piece, a commemorative ring is issued to the champion carver.

     As Jason points out, he has two daughters and each will ultimately receive one of these rings, unique to world champion carvers.
     Jason has also won second in the world four times and third in the world once - and in recent years has not even competed!
      The wood most favoured by carvers, especially for decorative pieces, is a species of tupelo, a tree most closely associated with the swamp margins and seasonally flooded bottomlands of the southern United States. It is soft and responds well to contouring and fine detail. It is not inexpensive and the block shown below cost approximately $600 in Canadian funds.

       One of the principal dealers in tupelo goes to the World Championships every year and takes customers' orders with him, and Jason was able to arrange with a friend of his to have it brought back in a pickup truck; otherwise there would have been a hefty freight charge in addition to the cost of the wood. 
     For this reason, carvers very carefully plan the best use of their wood, minimizing wastage.  The head of a life-size duck, for example, is often made as a separate piece to avoid the excessive waste that carving from a single piece would entail. Small pieces are always saved for possible future use.

     Jason kindly showed me exactly how he carves and how he contours and burns feathers using a variety of bits, generally starting out with large bits and moving to ever smaller bits as fine detail work is involved.

      It was impressive to watch the confidence with which he "attacks" a piece of wood and how his steady hand and artistic eye produce curves and pleasing lines from a rectilinear block of wood. The transformation occurring before my eyes was remarkable.
      Jason always creates his own plans, and uses skins and taxidermy to help him to get the right "jizz" of the bird, and for colour fidelity. 
      Let us look at just three of Jason's finished works. 
      Firstly, I have little doubt that this Virginia Rail will leave you gasping. Jason has captured the living qualities of the bird so well, that you almost expect it to walk right off the log.

     The colours, are exquisitely rendered, and applied with hand brushes and air brushes; but you are never able to tell which parts have been air brushed, so skillfully is the work completed. Everything about this piece captures the bird in life. 
     Jason is always striving to present his subjects in non stereotypical ways - interesting poses, birds engaged in lifestyle activities, appealing landscape features and subtle nuances. 
     The following two pieces show us the chain of events in the natural world in all its heart-stopping drama. This is the raw stuff of daily survival, brutal in its own way, yet revealed here as the wonderful primal force that is at the core of much of our love of and respect for nature in all its guises.

     The American Kestrel perched on a rocky outcrop has captured a rodent and even the indent of the talons of the bird are shown. It is in every way a gripping portrayal of the role of predator and prey, on an incredibly interesting substrate, which in itself contributes immeasurably to the portrayal of the bird. I find this a very compelling work indeed.
     It must be remembered that the artist has to create every component of the work and Jason recounted to me a humorous anecdote about how he came up with the material for the whiskers on the mouse. He had tried the bristles of brooms and brushes, and other strands he was able to locate, but nothing quite worked. At the time he had a Black Labrador dog who was sitting at his feet while he worked. Jason glanced down and saw the solution to his dilemma. A little of the dog's whiskers fit the bill perfectly!
     The portrayal of a Sharp-shinned Hawk below was for me the most fabulous piece in a series of nothing but fabulous pieces. 

      How one arrives at a "favourite" work I am not quite sure, but this magnificent oeuvre did it for me. I swear that if I turned and looked at something else and then came back to the hawk I could have been convinced that a Sharp-shin had just flown into the room.
     Every single component of this work conveys perfection and I found it particularly appropriate that Jason had used a Red-breasted Nuthatch to convey the predator/prey relationship of life in the wild. I am often struck that if a prey animal is something generally reviled by people, a snake for example, there is approval for the action of the captor, but disapprobation if it is delicate and pretty.  A raptor seeking food, however,  makes no distinction between cute and not cute, and a nuthatch is fair game, and it illustrates the point that life in the wild is a constant struggle for survival.
     Jason's works are in demand the world over and routinely sell for thousands of dollars.
     In addition to his decorative carvings, Jason creates gunning decoys such as those shown in his hands in the first picture above, and also he is the artist behind a whole range of commercial decoys sold in sporting goods stores.
     A plan is created and Jason produces the bird in wood. This is then sent away to have a resin mould made. That mould is then sent to China, both  unpainted and painted (to show exactly how the finished product should look), where the decoy is mass produced and shipped back to North America for retail sales.

     These decoys are created in a whole range of natural postures and are clearly superior to the run of the mill stereotypical dross so often seen.
     Jason is also in demand as a teacher and has conducted classes as far away as Victoria, British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta.
     I urge you to check out Jason's website at  and his Facebook page at
     Let me make a final point about the fine art of wood carving - and make no mistake, that is what it is - when you acquire a piece it is absolutely unique and there can never be any reproduction of it. I own quite a few high quality original paintings, but with today's techniques to produce a set of numbered prints, supervised by the artist to ensure technical and visual integrity, and signed by the artist, the original and the prints can become virtually indistinguishable. A facsimile of one of Jason's carvings will never greet you in somebody else's home. It is a one and only every time.
    And so I present to you this amazing artist, creator of an art form I have come to admire so much in recent years. a master at everything he does, a maestro in every way. But above all a kind and gentle man, a person who gave freely of his time to me, welcomed me into his home, and shared his creative passion with me. Thank you, Jason. I am forever in your debt.