16 Jan 2017

Welcome "Summer"

The transition between seasons – “winter” and “summer”, which in fact are “rainy season” and “dry season in Panama,” – happens at the same time as these much-anticipated holidays: Christmas and New Year.

Around this time each year we get the dry season, school holidays, “cooler” weather, trips to the beach … seasons change, and everybody cheers up! In this bulletin, we will talk about the dry season, now that it has started.

For years, scientists have stated that tropical environments are more stable and predictable than temperate ones, showing no significant variations throughout the year. Those scientists have not lived here. We all have seen and felt the consequences of the variation in precipitation. We have our own seasonality.


Foto by Aaron O'dea

We are able to see some of these changes. For example, we can see how some trees shed their leaves during the dry season, the “explosive” blooming of the tabebuia (guayacán), purpleheart (nazareno), and oak trees after the first rains, or the southbound migration of birds of prey in October and November (and their return to the north over the Caribbean slope at the end of the dry season).

Other changes can be heard, like the song of the male clay-colored thrush from March to June. This song was usually thought to be a “call for rain”; however, it is actually a mating song. What about the gradually increasing croak of toads and frogs that is so common in the city as it starts to rain? Or the seasonal variations in the song of cicadas, in those areas where they can still be found.

Some other changes we can smell, like the scent of trees or flora, ever-present in the countryside during the dry season. Or the unique smell of wet soil after that first rain, even in the city.

Foto by Ralph Kränzlein (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

Undoubtedly, rain is a decisive variable for our seasons. In the central region of the country, the average annual precipitation is approximately 2.5 meters. During the dry season, total precipitation is less than 10 centimeters… the rest of the 2.5 meters falls during the rainy season!

Less insects fly during the dry season. The decomposition of fallen leaves is slower, and few wild birds and mammals are able to breed under the environmental conditions of the dry season. Specific seasonal variations also set the tone for the rest of the year: some birds sing and nest earlier when the rain falls ahead of time and, if there is a harsh dry season (no rain to make flowers topple over), the month of June on that particular year will see an abundant production of mangoes.

And you, my friend, how do you know that the dry season has started? I made this question to several people and, as expected, “the north wind” was the most popular answer. However, there were other answers as well. A friend from the wounaan community told me that he could tell the dry season had started by watching the cuipo trees. He said that the lack of leaves on these trees was the most evident sign of the change of seasons in the province of Darien.

A group of fishermen from the Cébaco Island, located in the Pacific coast of the province of Veraguas, mentioned that the signal for them is the appearance of sea bass (at this point they use fishhook or bait, rather than fishnets, to avoid scaring the fish away). Another friend who lives in Santa Fe, also in the province of Veraguas, told me that what really confirmed the change of season there was the “dry breeze” coming from the south, from the Pacific. “Yes, it is true: there is the North Wind, which was felt last year by mid-November. Nevertheless, it is only when that wind from the south comes, and makes everything dry on its way, that we can say that the season has changed. Then the North Wind comes again and stays for the season.”

Yibe Torres lives on o wooden house in Jaqué, a beautiful coastal town in the province of Darien. When asked, Yibe told me: “people here rejoice on the swaying of the leaves on the trees, on the splashing sounds produced by the wind. It is an awakening, for everybody. Even people change! We smile more often, we become “warmer”. There is also a significant change in animal behavior, particularly in birds and fishes.”

Aurora Jiménez and her husband Pedro, who live in Panama City, have school-age kids and the both gave a more realistic answer: “for us, what marks the beginning of the dry season is that we need to come up with different kinds of chores to keep the kids busy.”

Welcome, summer!