October Big Day 2020: The Biggest Birding Day of the Year!

Golden-collared Manakin, one of the birds we expect to see at Pipeline Road during the October Big Day

The October Big Day 2020 is coming up this weekend on Saturday, October 17. We at Whitehawk, along with our sister company, Birding the Strait, plan to make the most out of it. This is an initiative of Cornell Lab of Ornithology which basically consists of going birding, and uploading as many bird lists to eBird as possible in 24 hours. All the data that is collected is of great use for scientists and conservationists to better understand and protect birds.

Whitehawk’s October Big Day 2020: Two Teams in Two Continents

As in previous editions of the Global Big Day, both Whitehawk and Birding the Strait will be participating. Yeray and the Birding the Strait team will be immersed in finding European specialties in the province of Cadiz. This is one of the best birding regions in Spain. Indeed, Cadiz has the second-largest list of bird species in Spain, according to eBird data. They will be separating into two groups. One will cover the sea on an exciting pelagic birding trip, and the other will cover the land. Read more about Birding the Strait’s October Big Day 2020 here.

In Panama, our team will spend the day birding in some of the best birding locations in Central America. Our goal is to pick up as many species as possible in several different locations and on several different checklists. Let’s hope for great weather this year (as October is the rainiest part of our green season in Panama) to make the most of it.

Pipeline Road Panama
Pipeline Road, one of the best birding areas in Central America

October Big Day: Birding Pipeline Road & the Gamboa Area

Here is the plan! Marta and Edwin will get an early start with some birding before dawn. They plan to head in far into Pipeline Road by foot and begin the October Big Day by listening and searching out nocturnal birds. Mottled, Black-and-white, and Crested owls are all possible, as well as the smaller Tropical and Choco screech-owls. They will listen for Collared and Slaty-backed forest-falcons at dawn.

They will spend the morning slowly making their way back toward the entrance of Pipeline Road, a world-renowned area and one of the top birding sites in Central America. A good morning here could merit well over 200 species. The lowland rainforest found bordering the Panama Canal is home to hundreds of species of resident Neotropical birds. Two tinamous, five manakins, five trogons, three motmots, four puffbirds, dozens of antbirds, woodcreepers, raptors, a splendid plethora of flycatchers, hummingbirds, wrens, and much more are found here.

Some of the species they will be particularly seeking out include Agami Heron along the quiet babbling streams, Speckled Mourner, Blue Cotinga, Great Curassow, Great Tinamou, Pheasant Cuckoo, Tiny Hawk, Semiplumbeous Hawk, Golden-collared Manakin, and the diminutive Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant. If lucky to stumble upon an army ant swarm, they may find Ocellated, Bicolored, Spotted, and Chestnut-backed antbirds, as well as Gray-headed Tanagers and if really lucky, a Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo!

At some point during the morning, Jenn will meet up with Marta and Edwin and join in on the birding fun!

Ocellated Antbird Panama Whitehawk Birding October Big Day
We hope to come across the spectacular Ocellated Antbird, a specialty of Pipeline Road

More Big Day Birding Beyond Pipeline Road

After leaving Pipeline, they will carry on for a quick stop at the Ammo Ponds in Gamboa. Here they can scan for Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Lesser Kiskadee, and Greater Ani. White-throated Crakes are common in the dense marshy grasses. If time permits, a visit to Summit Ponds could merit Boat-billed Herons and up to 5 species of kingfishers, among many others.

In the afternoon, they will wrap up the day by picking up some additional open area species around the local green spaces in Clayton. Lesser Elaenia, Crane Hawk, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, and Garden Emerald are possibilities. They will try to find an established pair of Cattle Tyrant rummaging around the open spaces. They will aim to get their binos on a pair of Least Grebe in the pond.

Crane Hawk Panama Whitehawk Birding October Big Day
Crane Hawk is fairly common around the residential area and parklands of Clayton

What should we expect?

We are planning on making this year our best Global Big Day yet! In addition to the resident birds found here year-round, October is the peak of the migration season in Panama. Many Neotropical migrants including songbirds, shorebirds, and raptors are flooding through the isthmus. Some of the common migrants we expect to pick up during the October Big Day are Summer Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Broad-winged and Swainson’s hawks, Common Nighthawk, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Kingbird, and a plethora of colorful wood-warblers. The possibilities seem endless this time of year! We’re pretty excited.

But overall, the Global Big Day is not about who has the biggest list or who sees the rarest species. It is about celebrating all birds and sharing them with everyone. We will be posting our sightings on our social networks and using the hashtag #octoberbigday on Instagram and Facebook. You can also keep an eye on the official October Big Day page by the Cornell Lab.

How you can participate on the October Big Day 2020

Of course, anyone can join the October Big Day 2020 and make a contribution to bird research and conservation. If you are new to eBird, it’s very easy to get an eBird account. You can sign up and find all the information you need here. It’s entirely free and very intuitive to use. However, it’s always good to check out the free eBird Essentials course.

If you have an eBird account and you are familiar with it, you already know how it works. You simply have to watch birds on October 17. You have 24 hours to see or hear as many birds as possible. Just count them and mark them on your checklists. Every single list helps!

The October Big Day 2020 is a good reason to enjoy a day of birding in the field. Whether you go with your family, a group of friends, or on your own, be safe, respect the local health guidelines, and have fun!

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