Panama Chronicles - Air and Sea : LUSENET : Stats Forum for Keller-plan Course : One Thread

Hi all,

September has been a bit of a crazy month here in Panama and Beto and I have been doing a little bit of everything. Our work with the shorebirds is going really well and for me the aerial surveys are especially exciting. There is something wonderful about flying in a Cessna 30 to 40 meters from the ground while thousands and thousands of shorebirds flush up around you. On our first flight we surveyed over almost 300 km of shoreline over habitats ranging from huge soupy mudflats and mangrove forests, to extensive sand beaches, to rocky shores sandwiched between crashing waves and forested mountains. It was an entirely different view of Panama, and a wonderful one! On our second flight we flew only 100 km, since the shorebirds are concentrated on the mud flats east of Panama City. Nevertheless, it was an exciting flight because for the first time I saw Roseate Spoonbills, huge flamingo like birds whose bright pink forms took my breath away as they flushed out of mangrove trees and up from mudflats. Admittedly, it could have been the steep turn that the Cessna made that took my breath away … but the birds were still beautiful :-).

Another exciting part of the shorebird work was an expedition that Beto and I took to the mouth of Rio Pasiga about 80 km east of Panama City (if one follows the shoreline). Although aerial surveys of the Upper Panama Bay have been done before, no one has ever ground truthed so far east. We wanted to go to Pasiga because that was where we saw the spoonbills, in addition we found a large concentration of small sandpipers just to the east of Pasiga and we wanted to confirm the percentages of various species in the huge flocks (this was not possible during the aerial survey). Getting to Pasiga involved 2 hours of driving and then 4 hours in a small dugout boat (about 2 times the size of a canoe). The first few hours of the boat trip took us down the Rio Bayano a large river that meanders through rainforest and (rather unfortunately) cow pasture before flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The forested part of the river reminded me of descriptions I have read about boat trips in the Amazon basin.

From the mouth of Rio Bayano we spent another 2 hours on the open ocean. Let me tell you, for a girl with no experience on the ocean in small boats this was quite the adventure. The waves were rolling at 2 to 3 meters, which isn’t that big unless your boat is smaller than them! At first I was pretty nervous, but our boatman was excellent and I soon became accustomed to climbing the waves and “surfing down” the other side. Our destination at the mouth of Rio Pasiga was well worth the trip. There were extensive gravel/slit mudflats backed by mangrove forest that flooded completely when the tide rose. To our delight, unlike the flats close to the city, we could walk on these mudflats. It gave us a glimpse of what the mouths of small rivers in Panama must have looked like before humans began dumping tons of garbage and sewage into the ocean and carting away tons of sand from the shore. There we saw large numbers of shorebirds as well as the sought after spoonbills. It was a successful survey and as is often the case, getting there was half the fun.

A final part of our air and sea adventure has been the portion of September that Beto and I spent underwater! We spent the last two weekends in Portobelo on the Caribbean side of the Isthmus learning to scuba dive. For me it was wonderful to be able to breathe underwater, finally able to examine the corals, sponges and fish that I found so fascinating snorkeling, for long periods of time. Breathing underwater opens a whole new world, and because of that we were able to see not only the fish and other wildlife within 3 meters of the surface (about as deep as I can dive holding my breath and without weights in salt water), but also those down to 20 meters! At one dive site the coral reef had deep channels and with scuba gear we were able to swim through these channels with coral reefs rising about 2 meters on either side of us and schools of colorful fish everywhere we looked! It was an amazing experience.

That’s it for now. I’ll try to send some photos of these last few adventures shortly. My next email will hopefully be from Ecuador and Peru where I’ll be traveling for a few weeks after this shorebird contract ends.

Ciao, Debbie

-- Anonymous, September 23, 2003

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