Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Panama Canal I - 20 Mar 2016

A freighter joining us in the canal
For the first time since our first day on the ship I finally had a fairly-decent night’s sleep. We awoke at 6 am and found ourselves at the entrance to the Panama Canal. The ship was nearly stopped, and was positioning itself for a trip through the locks. As a “Panamax” ship, the Norwegian Pearl was as long and wide as allowable for the locks with only 2-feet clearance on all sides. Several tugboats were helping to position it at the entrance. Small, mechanical train cars would help pull it / steer it through the locks. Robin and took the time to grab a quick fruit snack and get our mile-walk in.

We were surprised to see several dozen people on the upper deck watching the transit even before dawn broke. The captain came on the PA and spent the next 2 hours narrating the process of passing through the locks. At a price tag of almost $400K the Pearl pays one of the largest transit fees to pass through the locks.

We finished our walk just as the sun came up and the Great-tailed Grackles started their squawking in the trees lining the canal banks. We returned to our room and watched the proceedings from our balcony. 85F and high humidity, however, wreaked havoc on the cameras (once again) when I stepped out onto the balcony from the (relatively) cool cabin. It would take better than 20 minutes for the lenses to stop fogging enough to get pics of our ship and a second freighter that was passing through at the same time. Skies were overcast and the sun was just starting to rise, so low light was ruling the day.

The Panama jungles lining the banks were active with birds. Most were the resident Geat-tailed Grackles, but flocks of Keel-billed Toucans started appearing in the bare trees 100 yds away.

Overhead a pair of Magnificent Frigatebirds soared and waited for fish to appear from the roiling waters of the locks filling with fresh water coming from Ghatun Lake. I was horribly frustrated trying to set up the spotting scope and digiscoping gear on the balcony as condensation covered everything. I would manage a few long-distance shots as we started moving through the 2nd set of locks.

Parakeets were flying across the canal in pairs, but were too far away to properly identify. I would later make out all-green parakeets with red on their tertials (or hindwings). Still, I would have problems identifying them. An apparent female American Kestrel was also spotted, but showed enough rufous on the back and head to suggest a European Kestrel (?). Also, a black bird with a bright yellow bill and yellow-tipped black tail was seen – Crested Oropendola! As the ship passed through the 3rd lock and approached Ghatun Lake I finally got a decent pic of a flyover Yellow-headed Caracara. Across the channel and on the fences a pair of Tropical Kingbirds plus a Great Kiskadee was observed.

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