Sometimes misfortune is a Blessing in Disguise – Discovery of Birding

Panama Professional Bird Guide

16C_1032-1-2(Beny Wilson, Panama Bird Guide:  507-6112-2082,

When we first met Beny 2 years ago we were not avid birders… Ray had suffered a back injury that required us to change our usual activities to something more “tame.” A friend suggested we might like birding because of our interest in wildlife–we were skeptical but decided to give it a try and Panama seemed like the perfect place.

After our first 8-hour day on the famous Pipeline Road, dripping with sweat and swatting bugs that had no respect for bug spray, we weren’t sure what to think… until we downloaded our memory card and started looking at the pictures we took.  Suddenly those small, twitchy creatures jumped out of the screen in amazing detail, allowing us a small glimpse into the avian world – we were hooked!

Location: Summit Ponds

16A_3227 1-1-2.jpg(Blue-crowned Motmot.  Sometimes birds surprise you and come so close, they are almost out of the focal range of the lens, but the detail you can capture is mind-blowing!)

16A_3837 1-1.jpg(Male Crimson-backed Tanager.  These birds are quite common in Panama, but the colour is so vibrant we never tire of watching them.)

Location: Ammo Pond

IMG_5824-2.jpg(Ammo Pond)

Beny has the eyes of a hawk and a guide of his caliber can make such a difference.  When he starts acting like a kid at Christmas, you know you have been gifted something special, like when he spotted a Yellow-breasted Crake at Ammo Pond.  These birds are extremely rare–the last time Beny saw one was three years ago!

16A_3591 2(Yellow-breasted Crake.  We would normally not include such a “bad” photo in our blog but the rarity of this bird made it an exception.  Due to the dense vegetation of its habitat it is very difficult to see, much less photograph.  Just getting this “head shot” was a challenge.)

Location: La Laguna Sendero

Sometimes you get lucky and lightening strikes twice on the same day.  While hiking the Laguna Trail, Beny spotted a bird he wasn’t sure about (needless to say we were shocked).  It turned out to be a dark-phase juvenile Gray-headed Kite.  The dark phase was a “life bird” for Beny (which undoubtedly means it is also one for us)–score two!

16A_4038 1-1.jpg(Dark phase juvenile Gray-headed Kite)

16A_4130-1.jpg(Black-bellied Whistling Ducks)

As we finished the Laguna Trail we ended up by the Canal and saw several waterfowl wading about in a picturesque setting.  It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

Thinking back to the circumstances under which we first met Beny we can’t believe how our misfortune turned into such a blessing.  One that we can appreciate for many years to come!

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Unexpected Dinner Guest – Black-crowned Night-Heron

Panama has an amazing restaurant scene, everything is made from scratch and there is a broad range of cuisine available to suit every palette.  It is also a great way to people watch –you never know who might drop in!

One evening we were enjoying dinner outside on the Bay of Panama and we noticed a heron sitting on the roof line of the restaurant.  Of course we didn’t have a camera with us but this Black-crowned Night-Heron was incredibly patient and waited 10 minutes for us to grab the camera and come back to the restaurant.  It continued to pose for about half an hour because it was waiting for an opportunity to grab one of the fish swimming below.  We were very lucky he sat in one of the restaurant’s spot lights otherwise we would never have captured this shot because we don’t use flash on wildlife.
(Black-crowned Night Heron – unexpected dinner guest)

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Panama Rainforest – A bird’s eye view!

How do you see what’s going on at the top of the rainforest canopy in Panama?  You climb a 130 foot tower with 174 steps, of course!  Many of you know we visit Panama frequently and the rainforest along the Panama Canal is one of our favourite day trips from Panama City.

(Top of the 130 foot observation tower)

Being the early birds that we are, we were on the road around 5:30am bound for the Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre on the world renowned Pipeline Road.  While driving the 40 minutes to reach the observation tower we were wondering if the day was going to be a bust.  It was dark and raining – one of the first rains in five months  (Panama is starting to transition from the dry season to the wet season), but just as we arrived the rain stopped and it turned out to be a beautiful morning – not too hot…that was until we had to climb the 174 steps lugging heavy camera gear!

The results were worth it!

16A_1770 1-1-2.jpg
(Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan)

16A_2211 1-1.jpg
(Purpled-throated Fruitcrow – male)

(White-necked Jacobin – male)

We have been to the tower several times before, but this was the best bird viewing day we’ve had so far.  We saw between 60-70 different species (thanks in large part to Carlos Bethancourt who was guiding a group from the USA and saved us hours of time trying to ID the birds we photographed.)

Some of the birds we saw included the following:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Gray-headed Kite, Band-rumped Swift, White-necked Puffbird, Pied Puffbird, Keel-billed Toucan, Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker, Blue-headed Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, Mealy Parrot, Dusky Antbird, Paltry Tyrannulet, Southern Bentbill, Great Kiskadee, Eastern Kingbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Blue Cotinga, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Greenbelt, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Yellow Warbler, White-shouldered Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Shining Honeycreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Moustached Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Fasciated Antshrike, Scaled Pigeon, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, White-necked Jacobin, Slaty-tailed Trogan, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, White-vented Plumeleteer.

More to come from Panama…stay tuned!

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Sharp-tailed Grouse – So you think you can dance?

Move over Calgary Stampede, there’s a rival to your claim of being the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!

When we were offered a rare invitation to witness Sharp-tailed Grouse at a lek in southern Alberta, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  A lek is an open area where male birds carry on courtship behaviour each spring.

As this location is on private land we are not permitted to disclose the location of the lek to protect the species, but we can certainly share the experience!

Males arrive at the lek very early – around dawn.  As spectators, we had to get up at 4:15 am in order to arrive on location before sunrise so as not to disturb the birds once they start the courtship rituals.  We carefully made our way to the site and used a blind to remain hidden from the birds.

There were about 30-40 male Sharp-tailed Grouse at the lek and they were “dancing” all around the site.  Heads down, tails up, wings outstretched and stamping their feet rapidly – about 20 times per second !  We can see where all the native dancers at the Stampede got their moves from!  When you hear, and see, 30-40 grouse doing this simultaneously it is truly an amazing act of nature to witness.  Their feathers rattle, they inflate their purple neck sacks, and they make very interesting cooing and gulping sounds at the same time–much like festive Macarena dance!

16A_6012 3-1(male courtship dance at first light)

(head down, tail up, and gyrating!)

The males were competing for dominance, as only the dominant male (or two) out of the whole group, will be selected by the females to sire the next generation.  The males faced off in head to head battles (often striking one another) until the matter was settled.

16A_6291 4-1
(males facing off for dominance)

Eventually about 3 females arrived and that’s when the males really ramped up the jigging and shaking!  The females walked around slowly perusing the wares on display, selected the male that had the best moves, made quick work of the business at hand, and carried on.

16A_6087 5-1
(female arrives to evaluate the dancing – note the abnormal “crossbill-like” beak)

Our lek experience lasted about 3 hours and eventually, when it was evident no more females were coming, the males became quiet and still (probably exhausted from the effort).  Just a silently as they arrived, they all flew off.

(closeup of a male – nice eyebrows!)

It was an awesome outdoor show, one we have never been privileged to witness before!  We never cease to be amazed at the variety of wildlife and birds right here in Alberta.  We think the Sharp-tailed Grouse know how to dance 🙂

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Great Horned Owls… In Our Yard!!!

We moved to an acreage near Spruce Meadows about two months ago.  The very next morning, while enjoying our morning coffee around 5:30am (yes, we are “early birds” lol),  we heard a soft “hoot hoot hoot” nearby.  We recognized the sound as a call from a Great Horned Owl  – we were thrilled!

Over the next few weeks this owl remained elusive. We often heard it in the wee hours of the morning but never saw it.  Then one morning something changed– there was an answer back — there were TWO owls communicating with each other!  Needless to say we were pretty excited and wondered if they had a nest somewhere nearby — although we searched we couldn’t find it.

Finally last week we had our first sighting!  We were sitting down to dinner when a large bird flew low along the back fence-line and then swooped up and landed on the very top of a 45 foot tall spruce tree.  It was dusk but we managed to snatch a few photos of the owl while perched on this high vantage point as it began its evening hunt for food.  OUR dinner got cold while all this happened 😉

16A_4466 1-1-4
(on the tree top in low light at dusk)

This morning we were walking outside when two owls flew out of a spruce next to the house and and landed in another tree about 150 yards away.  They were perched in plain view, with good light, and we were able to capture a few good photos of this lovely owl couple 🙂

16C_0495-1(this appears to be the smaller of the two which would indicate it is the male)

16C_0571 copy-1-2(if we’re right about the male, by default this would be the female)

Now the big question is… do they have a nest in the tree and do they have young ones?  We intend to find out (without bothering the owls, of course).

Stay tuned…hopefully we’ll have some photos of cute owlets soon!

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Magic Moment… Mating Hooded Mergansers!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It was a perfect evening for exploring side roads in the Priddis area when we came upon a picturesque little pond.  As we rolled to a stop, we noticed a beaver in the pond working away on a piece of wood.  A few minutes later we found its mate and we watched and photographed the beavers doing their busy work around the pond.


We hadn’t noticed a pair of Hooded Mergansers sleeping on a grass tuft in the pond until their nap was over and they started swimming across the water.  The evening light was perfect and we watched them swim, dive, and preen for at least half an hour until something special happened.

First, we witnessed the Hooded Mergansers “dance” with each other – a beautiful ritual of splashing and preening in synchronicity.  We suspected the dance might lead from one thing to another…and we were not disappointed!


After some time, the female laid her head down low against the water, and waited patiently for Mr. Handsome to strut his stuff… but Mr. Handsome wasn’t in a hurry and seemed more interested in putting on a good show than getting on with the show!  He raised his crest over and over, splished and splashed until everything was just right.  However, our boy eventually finished his performance and the pair mated right in front of our eyes. In the photo, you can see how he was holding her crest with his beak and “steering” her in the water.

It’s not everyday you see Hooded Mergansers, let alone mating Hooded Mergansers, so we are extremely fortunate to witness nature at its very best this evening – a magic moment.


Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds