Feb 22

The Dawn Chorus along Big Tree Loop

The Dawn Chorus at Mount Totumas Cloud Forest in Western Panama. The recording starts a few minutes before dawn and goes for 60 minutes.

I lowered my butt onto a rock and began to wait. Dink frogs and a few night insects were still in full chorus, but they should be winding down shortly. It was 5:45 AM, and soon the diurnal creatures would begin to stir. The woods at Mount Totumas remained dark, for twilight is short at 8 degrees north latitude. A little before six, as the light began to intensify, birds started to sing, first a few chips here and there. The dawn chorus had begun.

Then a Black-faced Solitaire started its flute-like song—individual notes coming every few seconds. The bird was down over the hill, some distance away, and the chips of a Flame-colored Tanager overwhelmed the solitaire. So, I closed my eyes to concentrate on this small thrush relative. Pauses between each set of notes always raise my anticipation for the next. Their sweetness and harmony nurture a warmth inside of me. Incredibly, this species uses both of its syrinxes simultaneously to make two notes at once, like it was playing the flute and an oboe at the same time.

I was jolted alert at five after six by the hoarse, deep howl of a monkey. It sounded just like the individual had awoken, stretched hard, complained loudly, and then lay back down. No additional monkey sounds came for several minutes before the troop of howler monkeys came alive. They yelled and sang for a good ten minutes before going quiet. I imagined them up in several trees spread across the branches, rejoicing in a new day. Their morning voices are joyous, like someone singing at the top of their lungs in the shower. It was one of the key things I’d hoped to experience on this tropical morning. It sounded as though they’d started to move away from me, but I still scanned the trees, hoping the troop might come my way on its search for young, tasty leaves.

For the next three-quarters of an hour, I sat still, just listening to the sounds of the forest. Insects clicked and rasped as the birds put on a show. Shortly, Slate-throated Redstarts and Resplendent Quetzals added their tunes to the tanager and solitaire. The squeaky sounds of Common Chlorospingus seemed everywhere. Then, about 20 minutes into the morning, I heard the overly loud Three-wattled Bellbird let out its raucous scream. The duet of a pair of Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens filled the air at one point, as did the rattles of Spotted Wood-Quail.  

A little after 7 AM, I rose to head back to the lodge to meet my friends for breakfast. Dawn was magical!

The montane forest of Western Panama is lush and full of species. Several hundred tree species grow here and the bird diversity includes several hundred regular inhabitants. The elevation is around 6500 feet and the temperatures do not vary much during the year. April is the start of the rainy season and when many bird species breed.

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