March 16-30, 2001
by Jim Danzenbaker
Michael and Sue arrived at the Canopy Tower during the morning, while Don, Jan, and Bill arrived in the evening. We loaded up the van and headed to the Canopy Tower, navigating through a road-challenged Panama City. We arrived during dinner and were glad to get settled and started on a great tour.
We greeted the dawn at 6 AM on the observation deck. The parade of colorful birds began with TROPICAL KINGBIRD and PALM TANAGER but the bar was quickly raised to TENNESSEE, CHESTNUT-SIDED, and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERs. Appearances by SUMMER and SCARLET TANAGERs and YELLOW-THROATED and PHILADELPHIA VIREOs kept the North American winterers flowing. Male and female GREEN HONEYCREEPERs and BLUE DACNIS added sparks of color. Those of us looking further than the closest trees were rewarded with sightings of CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCANs and the incredible KEEL-BILLED TOUCANs that eventually came very close for crippling telescope views of the multi-colored bill and striking plumage. An immature male BLUE COTINGA was next in line as we marveled at the continuing avian parade.
A brief respite was followed by a sighting of male and female VIOLACEOUS TROGONs below the canopy around the parking area. Several WHITE-NECKED JACOBINs fed in flowers as a flock of striking male and subtly plumaged female WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs noisily gleaned vine-entangled vegetation. A surprise flock of 18 CEDAR WAXWINGs was a very good sighting as this is a rare and irregular winter visitor to Panama. The 7:30 breakfast call came quickly but wildlife didn’t heed our time-out. A female PURPLE-CROWNED FAIRY put in a brief appearance as did a FULVOUS-VENTED EUPHONIA and several TROPICAL GNATCATCHERs. Eventually, the canopy dwelling wildlife except the incessantly calling and invisible GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO did submit to the heat and direct sun of mid-morning and by 9:30, we were planning on our walk down Semaphore Hill.
Immediately, we encountered the commonest member of the antbird family, the WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKE that posed and churred for us. PLAIN XENOPS allowed for only fleeting glimpses. At the first bend, more TROPICAL GNATCATCHERs, CHESTNUT-SIDED and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERs and a COCOA WOODCREEPER were in view. The minor miracle of the day was looking at a single GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO as it sang it’s titmouse-like song from the high canopy. Most saw it but not at all well, but it was better than nothing. Further down, we encountered our first flock that included CHECKER-THROATED and DOT-WINGED ANTWRENs, WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKE, PLAIN XENOPS, WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD and many WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs. Several RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGERs churred from the undergrowth and eventually emerged for decent views. Michael spotted a male BLUE COTINGA but it got away before the rest of us saw it. Beautiful male and female BLUE DACNIS fed in nearby Cecropias. SQUIRREL CUCKOO and the interesting SOUTHERN BENTBILL rounded out the show. Warblers, flycatchers, and euphonias were our constant companions as we approached the bottom of the hill.
Our return trip by rainforest-mobile was delayed several moments by a singing SLATY-TAILED TROGON which sat in view for prolonged observation. A RUFOUS MOTMOT zipped across the road but we couldn’t do anything with it. Lunch awaited us at the lodge and was followed by an afternoon siesta. Hummingbird viewing became the activity of choice for some. SNOWY-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD, WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, and VIOLET-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRDs were numerous and we appreciated up close and personal views of these avian jewels. At 3:30, we loaded the van and proceeded downhill but not before Don had a close encounter with a member of the local COATIMUNDI gang. The reliable BOAT-BILLED HERONs were in their usual spot at Summit Ponds. Both the grande RINGED and diminutive GREEN KINGFISHERs commuted back and forth between the ponds as RUSTY-MARGINED FLYCATCHERs and beautiful glossy GREATER ANIs looked on. Single SOLITARY and SPOTTED SANDPIPERs reminded us of home.
Overhead, BAND-RUMPED and SHORT-TAILED SWIFTs rode unseen air currents but descended for short drinks on the wing that allowed for very rare dorsal views of swifts. Further up, hundreds of TURKEY VULTUREs with several SWAINSON’S and BROAD-WINGED HAWKs sprinkled in continued their long northward migration to breeding grounds in the Northern US and Canada. Although these species are common in migration in Panama, I am in awe when I think of the distances these birds fly on effortless wings. Raptor migration is one of Panama’s hidden secrets which birders from around the world should witness at least once. Afternoon turned to evening and we saw a myriad of birds including WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD, BLUE DACNIS, YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE, GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER, STREAKED SALTATOR, ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEET, and much, much more. A delicious dinner at the Canopy Tower and viewing of a KINKAJOO feasting on bananas ended a very full bird-rich beginning to our Panama adventure.
Awoke early, ate a hearty breakfast, and headed to Ammunition Ponds located across the one-way bridge and on the other side of the town of Gamboa near the beginning of Camino Oleoducto, Pipeline Road. Our early arrival was rewarded with a posing RUFESCENT TIGER-HERON and a GRAY-NECKED WOOD-RAIL. Persistence paid off when we all got excellent views of several WHITE-THROATED CRAKEs lurking in the vegetation 40 feet in front of us. They stopped long enough for Kowa viewing! At times, it was difficult to focus on the birds as columns of ants were marching through the roadside grasses looking for unprotected ankles to munch. Thankfully, only a few bites and we soon realized that the small columns that we saw were part of a larger super swarm that congregated on the road.
To see this seething mass of ants swirling like wind driven dust on the road was both awe inspiring and spine chilling when we thought of what might have been when we stood in the grass. Our birding continued with sightings of COMMON TODY FLYCATCHER, PURPLE GALLINULE, ROADSIDE HAWK, LESSER KISKADEE, BARRED ANTSHRIKE, LESSER ELEANIA, BLACK-STRIPED SPARROW, and much more. With the temperature rising with the tropical sun, we ventured further to the beginning of Pipeline Road where we hoped to encounter some bird flocks. Efforts were rewarded with both SLATY-TAILED and BLACK-TAILED (hola, hola) TROGONs, CHECKER-THROATED and DOT-WINGED ANTWRENs, and BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT. GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO and BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA continued their unceasing calls but were hidden by countless layers of vegetation.
Several meters past the 2-km bridge and the damselfly researchers, we were surrounded by the snapping of manakin wings announcing the presence of brilliantly colored male GOLDEN-COLLARED MANAKINs and the olive-colored females, dull to us but of great interest to the snapping males. We peered through a window in the vegetation for 30 minutes as up to 5 males strutted their stuff in their hidden arena in the woods. Females came and went, each time eliciting the excited snapping response of the males. This sound attracted other birds including BAY WREN, male and female BLUE-CROWNED MANAKINs, and a pair of cooperative FASCIATED ANTSHRIKEs.
We retreated to the Canopy Tower as noon quickly approached with a stop for a few miscellaneous supplies from the only store in the little town of Gamboa. Arrival back at the lodge gave us some time to relax before lunch. However, the appearance of a single KING VULTURE soaring nearby got us out of hammocks and donning binoculars again. Also, Bill’s sighting of a perched raptor brought us pouring downstairs to view the adult DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE through the scope. We realized that best viewing was from up at the hammock level so we trekked upstairs again and snapped numerous photos and got frame-filling Kowa views. It eventually flew off after sketching memories for all. Lunch followed. After a siesta and more KING VULTUREs, we headed down Semaphore Hill to Plantation Road leaving Mike and Sue to monitor the raptor migration above the lodge. Birding was slow on the trail although we did find a group of displaying WHITE-FLANKED ANTWRENs that I found quite fascinating. The puffed-up males appeared aggressive to each other at times and then mellowed dependent upon nearby females.
Further along, Don glimpsed a legged egg--a SPECTACLED ANTPITTA--although it vanished, as is generally the case. PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROWs and SCARLET-RUMPED CACIQUEs moved in loose flocks through the canopy. Trogons allowed for close observation including a single BLACK-THROATED TROGON and several WHITE-TAILED TROGONs that brought the day’s trogon species total to five, all of which were seen well. The tapping of a pair of CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKERs led us to them although viewing was through windows in the vegetation. Sought after tinamous and other skulkers had to wait until another day due to the weekend crowds on the trail. Dusk settled in and we returned to the Canopy Tower in time to relax before a delicious dinner, bird listing, and sleep.
Another early start had us heading directly to the 2-km mark on Pipeline Road where we started our hike. Although the GOLDEN-COLLARED MANAKINs were still active, it was nothing like the previous day. A BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH was coaxed into view. Further along, PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROWs cavorted in the treetops. A particularly difficult flock of small birds eventually produced antwrens, a LONG-BILLED GNATWREN, several North American warblers, tanagers, and a SOUTHERN BENTBILL. WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs were common. The churring of antbirds lured us into the woods where we had excellent views of both male and female SPOTTED ANTBIRDs.
Other skulkers in the woods included BICOLORED ANTBIRD, a single SCALY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER, a wing-flicking BROWNISH TWISTWING, a female RED-CAPPED MANAKIN, a pair of DUSKY ANTBIRDs, and a LONG-BILLED GNATWREN. The hoped for army ant swarm never materialized and we returned to the road with a fresh layer of sweat and a few bites and scrapes. A pair of WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WRENs scolded near the roadside along with SPOTTED and BICOLORED ANTBIRDs. We returned to the vehicle and to the lodge for liquid refreshment and shower before lunch. After lunch, Bill and Jim headed down to the base of Semaphore Hill and the beginning of Plantation Road. Birds were active around the gravel parking area and we were quickly looking at species such as OLIVACEOUS FLATBILL, YELLOW-MARGINED FLYCATCHER, TROPICAL GNATCATCHER, LESSER and GOLDEN-FRONTED GREENLETs, and more warblers, antwrens, tanagers, and Xenops.
A quick walk up Plantation Road was quiet other than a flock of very active and close DOT-WINGED ANTWRENs. An adult RUFESCENT TIGER-HERPON surprised us as we walked across the footbridge since there were only a few drops of water under the bridge. We all returned to Summit Ponds and added a few more species including GRAY-HEADED CHACHALACA, LESSER SEED-FINCH, Sue’s BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, and SOUTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET. Dinner and good conversation were followed by the bird list and plans for another exciting morning on the observation deck.
The Canopy Tower certainly did not disappoint us this morning. It started with the usual TROPICAL KINGBIRDs, BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, and PALM TANAGER but then powered up to a distant Kowa view of a SCALED PIGEON. We then concentrated on parrots with a group of iceberg lettuce colored MEALY PARROTs that conveniently sat on exposed perches below eye level. All field marks were visible and it helped us to easily separate them from the smaller RED-LORED PARROTs that we saw further down the hillside. The call of “male BLUE COTINGA” sent us scrambling for the telescopes once again and we were afforded fine views of this electric blue bird on its canopy perch far below. It eventually made its way to the trees close to the observation deck and we were treated to mind blowing views of this spectacular species on an exposed perch at eye level 40 feet away. The Canopy Tower had certainly lived up to its reputation as the premier location for viewing life in the canopy of the Panamanian rainforest. With our support, it will continue to offer these experiences for years to come.
After breakfast and packing, we drove down to the base of Semaphore Hill where we hoped to relocate the flock that Bill and Jim had found the day before. We were in luck since the flock was still there. In addition to the species seen the previous day, the following were present: LINEATED WOODPECKER, YELLOW-CROWNED TYRANNULET, SQUIRREL CUCKOO, WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD, FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE, and THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA. Overhead, the river of raptors continued with many TURKEY VULTUREs and SWAINSON’S HAWKs. A glimpsed BAT FALCON followed a single ZONE-TAILED HAWK. As if this was not enough, we located a THREE-TOED SLOTH nearby which hung suspended by large toes on long reaching limbs. Needless to say, it was not difficult to track! A short search for a Great Jacamar was in vain. Lunch at the Canopy Tower was followed by our departure for Sierra Llorona near Colon on the Caribbean slope.
In theory, Sierra Llorona (Weeping Mountain) is at the end of a relatively smooth road but the rains of last year turned the road from a lamb to a lion waiting to swallow whole cars which ventured forth without care. A Caravan with 6 people and luggage was a bit much for the road so we took it in with Jim driving and everyone else walking. It was worth the effort since the remainder of the day was spent admiring the winged jewels visiting the feeders. Many dazzling GREEN-CROWNED WOODNYMPHs zipping like winged torpedoes joined familiar WHITE-NECKED JACOBINs. Also, BLUE-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRDs, several RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDs, VIOLET-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRDs, and a single WESTERN LONG-TAILED HERMIT were there. The sun lit up all of these and cameras were put to good use. With the backdrop of the Caribbean Ocean, Gatun Lake, and the surrounding woodland and a swimming pool, it was a good chance to lean back and soak it all in. Afternoon turned to evening and dinner. We then experienced (h)owling in the neotropics which, although not fruitful, did leave us with some stories to tell. One KINKAJOO was seen and a PAURAQUE glimpsed.
Early breakfast and our first assisted assault on the entrance road with Jim and Mike driving and everyone else in Maria’s car. It worked well and we didn’t lose much time. We headed directly to Achiote Road and were lucky to have only a minute’s wait at Gatun Locks, notorious for long delays. We stopped for a sighting of a brilliant RED-BREASTED BLACKBIRD. A pothole slalom course was next but we arrived on Achiote Road unscathed. At a bridge 5 kms down, we stopped to bird, hoping that we arrived in time to view raptors rising on the unseen morning thermals. It was a bit slow at first but we spotted a BLACK-AND-WHITE HAWK-EAGLE soaring on long wings and were able to study it well before it vanished over a ridge. This was an excellent sighting of a rarely seen bird. An incredible view of a PLUMBEOUS KITE that eventually landed in the canopy of a tree for excellent Kowa views delighted all.
Other birds in the area included glimpsed COLLARED ARACARIs, a perched BLACK-BREASTED PUFFBIRD, several SULHUR-RUMPED TANAGERs, a loose group of beautiful YELLOW-TAILED ORIOLEs, and several BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKERs. Unfortunately, the heat of the day won out before we could truly appreciate all that this area had to offer. On the way back to the locks, we stopped for YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLE and several GEOFFREY’S TAMARINs that Michael spotted. We eventually arrived at the Tarpon Club Restaurant for lunch but not before stopping to enjoy a YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA swallowing small pebbles on the road in front of us. Lunch at the Tarpon Club was refreshing and filling with delicious soup, salad, and dessert accompanying the main course. A meal while enjoying a beautiful view of the spillway with egrets, herons, ANHINGA, OSPREY, YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA, and SOUTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWs. Afterwards, a return to Sierra Llorona and a relaxing afternoon with the hummingbirds. Dinner in good company and laughter followed by bird listing.
Awoke and had a delicious breakfast before starting our long day’s journey to the Chiriqui Highlands west of David (Dah-veed), Panama’s second largest city. We had our departure tactics down to a science with Maria taking the people and Jim the luggage through the labyrinth of potholes. Successfully through and after several MASKED TITYRAs, we boarded the Caravan and headed off. We arrived at Miraflores Locks 15 minutes before opening time and opted to visit on another day. The Pan American Highway lay ahead. It is a very good road, 4 lanes for the first several hours and then two lanes after Santiago that enabled us to make good times. We made stops for WHITE-TAILED KITE on a roadside telephone wire and a pair of circling COMMON BLACK-HAWKs and two lumbering WOOD STORKs.
A lunch stop at the Black Lion was refreshing. David came and went and we were soon bearing down on our final destination, Los Quetzales Lodge located in the town of Guadalupe near Volcan Baru. We were soon looking at feeding MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRDs and VIOLET SABREWINGs. We switched from our Bird Treks Caravan to an official 4 –wheel drive Land Rover without knowing what to expect. We found out that when they say, “4-wheel drive vehicle required”, they’re not kidding! Although the road through the forest to Cabin 4 was only 2 kms, it took us 35 minutes to traverse the rocky and narrow trail. At times, we thought that it might have been quicker to walk. Our limbs and faces had to be kept inside lest they receive an eye-opening cleansing treatment from the vegetation overhanging the road.
However, when we arrived at the cabin, it was worth it. Our cabin was at the top of the road surrounded by cloud forest. Hummingbird feeders dripped with MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD, VIOLET SABREWING and WHITE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM. The bi-level cabin contained 3 bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and living space with a fireplace – certainly adequate for our three-night stay. Having unloaded our bags, we boarded the 4-wheel drive and endured the bouncing ride back to the restaurant for dinner. Our bellies full, humor all around, and our minds thinking of the possibilities for the next day, we held on again during our ascent to the cabin, laid plans for the next day and retired.
Waking up in a cloud forest surrounded by birds is an incredible experience. Dawn greeted us with birds everywhere. YELLOW-THIGHED FINCHes and SOOTY-CAPPED BUSH-TANAGERs were very common and heralded the arrival of the local flock of avian inhabitants. Soon we were looking at SPANGLE-CHEEKED TANAGERs, RUDDY TREERUNNERs, BLACK-AND-YELLOW PHAINOPTILAs, YELLOW-WINGED VIREO, COLLARED REDSTARTs and MOUNTAIN ROBINs. A brief walk on a sendero behind the lodge brought us face to face with our first BUFFY TUFTEDCHEEK, SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER, BLACK-CHEEKED WARBLER, GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN, and a female BARRED BECARD. This would not be our last encounter with this flock. Mariano, the local guide accompanied our group down the road where we encountered still more avian treats such as EMERALD TOUCANET, BROWN-CAPPED VIREO, SLATY FLOWERPIERCER, BLACK-FACED SOLITAIRE, and the beautiful FLAME-THROATED WARBLER which brings along its own sun to brighten up the forest.
Our brief stop for lunch at the cabin and intended rest did not last long after Jan’s momentous discovery of a male RESPLENDANT QUETZAL behind the cabin. We all had excellent views of this magnificent bird as it perched at eye level. To my mind, the radiating green plumage, long tail carriage, and brilliant red underparts make this bird one of the most beautiful of all the world’s species. We were never far from the birds all day long and we never made it very far down the hill. We listed during early afternoon when we had ample light.
A late afternoon walk down the road yielded a prize BUFF-FRONTED QUAIL-DOVE walking across the road which everyone saw. Seeing a quail-dove so well is very rare. A stop at a tree where Mariano had seen the first signs of Quetzal nesting the previous day yielded nothing other than calling birds nearby. A few of us walked up to Cabins 2 & 3 to see what they had to offer and were greeted by dueling hummingbirds, a TUFTED FLYCATCHER, and the trip’s first STRIPE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD. A visit to Cabins 2 & 3 became our plan for the following day. A RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH serenaded those back on the road who had not walked to the cabins. We were ready for the bouncing ride through the gauntlet of rocks to the restaurant although even mental preparation did nothing to ward off the bumps. After another enjoyable dinner with great company and conversation, we lurched back to cabin 4 and retired.
True to our plans set forth during the preceding day, we hiked down to Cabins 2 & 3 with a stop en route at Mariano’s Quetzal tree. Although the birds were not at their assigned location, we did see a pair in the surrounding trees. Even with only one tail streamer, the male is a knockout and it seemed absurd for us to leave a visible pair of RESPLENDANT QUETZALs. A YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER allowed good views. We sidestepped the trout pools filled with varying sizes of trout on our way to Cabins 2 & 3. We spent the better part of five hours there marveling at the myriad of hummingbirds darting back and forth to the feeders. At no time were the feeders left unattended and Sue had prolonged hummingbird moments with birds hovering a foot in front of her.
When not viewing hummingbirds, we watched countless other birds including COLLARED REDSTARTs, SLATY FLOWERPIERCERs, FLAME-THROATED WARBLERs, DARK PEWEEs, RUDDY TREERUNNERs, BUFFY TUFTEDCHEEKs, OCHRACEOUS WREN (on the roof slurping up the sun) WILSON’S and BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLERs, BARRED BECARD, and the seemingly ubiquitous SOOTY-CAPPED BUSH-TANAGERs and YELLOW-THIGHED FINCHes. A group of PRONG-BILLED BARBETs arrived and we got incredible views including a dueting pair. This is normally a shy species seen through windows in the forest. Eventually, we returned to our cabin to enjoy a snack lunch before kicking back and relaxing during the afternoon.
Bill and Jim headed out to see a SILVERY-FRONTED TAPACULO (heard everywhere but rarely seen) and were rewarded with fleeting glimpses of this mouse-like bird. Afternoon turned to evening and we, once again, had the opportunity to study the local Cabin 4 bird flock which now included the local buff-bellied race of HAIRY WOODPECKER, a BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER, and a male BARRED BECARD. RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH and BLACK-FACED SOLITAIRE were in evidence both by sight and flute like song. The day ended with an old-fashioned pizza party in front of a roaring fire.
Bags packed, and breakfast eaten, we marched down to Cabins 2 & 3 again and spent the entire morning there. In addition to most of the birds seen the previous day, we added RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE, CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCH, LARGE-FOOTED FINCH, and several stunning LONG-TAILED SILKY-FLYCATCHERs. ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKs and SUMMER TANAGERs fed in nearby trees as a flock of YELLOW-BELLIED SISKINs fed in the canopy. Unfortunately, our time was nearing an end in our cloud forest heaven but we moved on to our next adventure. At the restaurant, we were greeted by the RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWs and several striking LONG-TAILED SILKY-FLYCATCHERs which were building a nest next to the lodge. A few SCINTILLANT HUMMINGBIRDs fed in nearby flowers.
Full from lunch, we packed up and headed down slope with a few stops at river crossings and an official birding stop at the Hotel Bambito. This hotel is surrounded by lush vegetation that is occupied by many bird species, both resident and North American migrants. We marveled at close FLAME-COLORED and SUMMER TANAGERs, a group of 10 ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKs, THICK-BILLED EUPHONIAs, several female SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS, scads of TENNESSEE WARBLERs, numerous YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUITs, our first Western Panama race of GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER, a surprise BLACK-HEADED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, and our first SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTs.
In one corner of the hotel complex Michael found a dead SWAINSON’S THRUSH that had attacked vegetation on the other side of the glass, with predictable consequences. A stunned CLAY-COLORED ROBIN in the same corner was lucky and was moved to a safer haven. BROAD-WINGED HAWKs and a single RED-TAILED HAWK flew overhead as did numerous VAUX’S SWIFT migrating northward to the western US. GREEN VIOLET-EARs darted amongst the flowering bushes. It was unfortunate that we did not have more time here but we had to make tracks for Boquete, a 1½-hour drive.
Before long, we entered the town of Boquete in hopes of finding the Hotel Panamonte that proved to be a skulker. Several stops for directions and the “a-ha” experience of finally seeing a missed hotel sign led us almost to the hotel’s front door step before we saw the hotel. When in a parking area posted by the hotel, always look in the rear view mirror before declaring that the hotel is nowhere to be found! We checked in and then birded the area across the street for a few minutes before dinner. BOAT-BILLED FLYCATCHER, numerous LESSER GOLDFINCHes, LESSER ELEANIAs, BLUE-GRAY TANAGERs and a single YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA were among our rewards. Dinner was at the hotel restaurant and listing in the bar afterwards in front of a roaring fire.
Of course, an early breakfast and then we were met by Jaime, our guide for the trails at Finca Lerida and our search for Three-wattled Bellbird (“Calandria” - Spanish for lark). The day started out rather windy and drizzly but gradually improved. Our first stop was at a trailhead that took us into the cloud forest. Although birds were few, we did see RUDDY PIGEON and SCINTILLANT HUMMINGBIRDs before entering the forest. Before long, we heard the “qwa” calls of Resplendant Quetzals and saw several of these birds during our 45-minute hike. Even though we had already seen them very well at Los Quetzales, we all huddled around when one was sighted. One does not pass up an opportunity to view this radiant bird. Other species in the forest included COMMON BUSH-TANAGER and YELLOW-THROATED BRUSH-FINCH. Chips emanated from the foliage but refused to reveal themselves so our stay on this trail was brief.
Near the beginning of the trail, we stopped to watch the SCINTILLANT HUMMINGBIRDs and a few FLAME-COLORED TANAGERs. SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTs were also in evidence although we were too low for Collared Redstarts. The next trail was magical for us. It started with a single LINEATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER but graduated to much better. On the way to the mirador (overlook) we could hear the 'bonking' calls of Bellbirds and we were driven onwards with high hopes of seeing these birds. We knew they sat motionlessly in the canopy so it would not be easy. Thankfully, we had Jaime on our side and he spotted the first one, an adult male that stayed in view for all to see. We eventually saw three in one spot, two males and the very rarely observed female. At one point, a male flew directly towards me as I watched it through my bins. What a treat!
Interspersed during our Bellbird experience were views of a singing COLLARED TROGON and a pair of TUFTED FLYCATCHERs building a nest. A MISSISSIPPI KITE flew overhead while a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER sang in the background. We eventually found one immature male Bellbird perched in a fairly exposed location and we observed it “singing”. It opened its bill so wide that the lower mandible appeared to touch its upper breast. Then several moments later, it would utter a bonk (although 50% of the time, no sound was made) that could be heard for quite a distance. Afterward, it would close its cavernous mouth and jerkily look around the forest flailing its wattles that hung around its bill. A beautiful view of this very unique bird and a memory I will always treasure. Like the Quetzals, we were forced to leave with the Bellbird still in sight.
Further along the trail, a few birds were evident but not a tremendous variety. The “road” led to a picnic table in a clearing. Much to my surprise, Jaime had already set up our pack lunch complete with tablecloth. A beautiful picnic set in the grandeur of a cathedral of 300-year-old trees was certainly memorable. As we ate, Quetzals called and Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens sang their cheery tunes. It was difficult to leave but leave we must. On the way back up, we stopped to view the Bellbirds again since they had not gone far. A YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER worked a limb in the background – another rare and irregular winter visitor to Panama. Further along, an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER hawked insects from a dead branch while swifts flew overhead. A quick flock contained a single RED-FACED SPINETAIL as well as a few other species that we had previously seen.
Around the bend, a single ACORN WOODPECKER lit on a dead tree while a RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE called from the canopy. RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHes foraged along the road in front of us. Looking skyward yielded kettles of BROAD-WINGED HAWKs rising as the air warmed with the noonday sun. Eventually, we loaded into the vehicle and drove to the main buildings of Finca Lerida and enjoyed a spectacle of feeding hummingbirds. GREEN VIOLET-EARs were the most evident but quite a few of the diminutive SCINTILLANT HUMMINGBIRDs vied for our attention. A single SCALY-BREASTED HUMMINGBIRD fed on a hibiscus blossom and a few RUFOUS-TAILED and SNOWY-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRDs zipped between blossoms. A single ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH fed on the ground for all to see while Michael spotted a THREE-WATTLED BELLBIRD on an exposed dead limb above the distant canopy (what a great yard bird for the finca!). SLATY FLOWERPIERCERs danced between flowers in front of us while several adult male INDIGO BUNTINGs fed in the grass. It was glorious to experience this avian feast!
We then continued driving along a circular route that wound around the inside of a caldera. Lush vegetation was on either side of us. A productive stop along a fast moving stream yielded a pair of AMERICAN DIPPERs with a nest (Jaime’s first Dipper nest) and a distant TORRENT TYRANNULET. Our eventual return to the hotel was an opportunity to relax or do a little shopping in town or visit the post office for a while before heading out again for some roadside birding north of town. Birds were everywhere along the roadside including WHITE-LINED TANAGER, SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS, BLUE DACNIS, RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER, GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER, YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATER, INDIGO BUNTING, RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER, BALTIMORE ORIOLE, and much more.
A group of three BLUE GROUND-DOVEs got away quickly. BROAD-WINGED HAWKs were descending from their migration heights and allowed for good viewing. Back at the hotel, several of us walked down to the river crossing and were rewarded with excellent very close views of at least five male RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPERs and a pair of SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS. A YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA perched nearby as BLUE-AND-WHITE SWALLOWs hawked insects overhead. Bill’s final birds of the day included a pair of PASSERINI’S TANAGERs and BROAD-WINGED HAWKs going to roost. Dinner and listing followed.
Another long travel day lay ahead of us. We started birding at the bridge near the hotel in search of the Scarlet-thighed Dacnis from the previous evening. However, the wind had picked up and the Dacnis were not found. Bill did find a MOURNING WARBLER and we had beautiful views of BROAD-WINGED HAWKs lifting up from the surrounding forest. It is definitely rewarding to see these birds so close instead of as distant specks seen from a hawk watch.
After breakfast, we boarded the Caravan and were off to Panama City. En route, we found several FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERs and groups of BROWN-THROATED PARAKEETs. A stop at a roadside stand for souvenirs was an opportunity to stretch our legs and see what was around the area. A surprise included a single PEARL KITE carrying a lizard. Some us found that binoculars should be carried all the time regardless of what kind of stop is made. BROWN-CAPPED VIREO, BLUE-GRAY and PALM TANAGER and LESSER ELEANIAs were also in the area. The roadside vendor seemed happy to see through the binoculars!
We ventured onwards to our lunch at Black Lion. Unfortunately, our timing was about an hour off and we decided not to visit Miraflores Locks this day since we would have only a short time there. Driving through Panama City proved to be a challenge especially with a stop at the Continental Airlines office to clear up some necessary business. Brightly colored buses, maniacal attack taxis, detours, and major intersections without traffic lights all led to a harrowing adventure although the Caravan came through unscathed. Luckily, we did too although we may have trimmed some time off our collective lives! Past the airport we traveled and started our ascent to Cerro Azul and our overnight stay at Casa de Campo.
En route, we stopped to marvel at a low flying flock of SWAINSON’S HAWKs skimming the tree line. In the evening air, these birds were looking for a roost and we were there to observe them in perfect light. Further ahead, a flock of 300 MISSISSIPPI KITEs circled, a treat for me since I hardly ever see this species in the US. Finally, we descended on Casa de Campo, found our rooms (with keys already in the locks for us) and filed down for dinner. Afterward, we listed the few birds of the day. Later in the evening, PAURAQUEs called and a COMMON POTOO sang its enchanting descending flute-like call although too late to arouse those of us who slept.
A TROPICAL SCREECH-OWL called close to the Hostel in the wee hours of the morning. We began our day with a RUFOUS MOTMOT, CRIMSON-BACKED TANAGERs, and CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLAs in a nearby cecropia. A PLAIN WREN called from the sunflowers near the parking area. After breakfast, Ana Maria joined us for our day’s birding in the Cerro Azul area. Although birding was a bit slow, we found a few birds at the trail at Calle Maipo including excellent views of WHITE-RUFFED MANAKIN, OLIVE TANAGERs, and STRIPE-THROATED (LITTLE) HERMIT. A BRONZE-TAILED PLUMELETEER was glimpsed and some of us saw GREEN HERMIT. A flock of North American warblers included BLACK-AND-WHITE, BAY-BREASTED, WILSON’S, AMERICAN REDSTART, and a single MOURNING WARBLER. The prize of the trail was not avian though. A leg-less amphibian was found which was a first for all of us. Photos were taken and I hope some turn out well for eventual posting to a website.
Back along the main road, we found a RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER amongst a flock of BLUE-GRAY and OLIVE TANAGERs. Although almost lost, we found our way to Rosabel and Karl Kaufmanns’s villa for lunch. They have a beautiful house overlooking the Chagras National Park so seemingly anything is possible at their location. Birds around their house included YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUITs coming to their seed feeder and a single calling SLATE-COLORED GROSBEAK. Birding along a trail on their property was a bit slow until a small flock came in heralded by the presence of a group of 5 spectacular BLACK-AND-YELLOW TANAGERs with HEPATIC and BAY-HEADED TANAGERs, and RED-LEGGED and GREEN HONEYCREEPERs and a single male SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS added for good measure. A pair of SLATY-TAILED TROGONs also put in an appearance. A single female VIOLET-HEADED HUMMINGBIRD fed in nearby blossoms although it did not compare to the views of hummingbirds that we were used to experiencing!
the way back to Casa de Campo was exciting with fine views of
GOLDEN-HOODED, BLUE-GRAY, and PALM TANAGERs, RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER,
least 10 THICK-BILLED EUPHONIAs clustered together, and our sought
good view of a male SCARLET-THIGHED DACNIS for the whole group to see.
Back at Casa de Campo, several of us wandered down the road and were
to some activity in a tree on a nearby hillside. This tree had berries
streaming from it and held our attention for the next three hours. In
time there, we had a minimum of 32 species with the following estimated
|Scaled Pigeon||2||Plain-colored Tanager||8|
|Squirrel Cuckoo||1||Bay-headed Tanager||6|
|Brown-hooded Parrot||7||Golden-hooded Tanager||8|
|Snowy-bellied Hummingbird||1||Red-legged Honeycreeper||15|
|Rufous-tailed Hummingbird||1||Yellow-crowned Euphonia||6|
|Long-billed Starthroat||1||Thick-billed Euphonia||8|
|Keel-billed Toucan||1||Blue-gray Tanager||10|
|Red-crowned Woodpecker||2||Palm Tanager||4|
|Spotted Woodcreeper (probable)||1||Summer Tanager||12|
|Paltry Tyrannulet||2||Crimson-backed Tanager||8|
|Streaked Flycatcher||2||Streaked Saltator||6|
|Social Flycatcher||2||Buff-throated Saltator||2|
|Tropical Kingbird||3||Rose-breasted Grosbeak||4|
|Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant||1||Black-striped Sparrow||2|
|Clay-colored Robin||10||Variable Seedeater||3|
|Tennessee Warbler||25||Baltimore Oriole||3|
|Bay-breasted Warbler||1||Chestnut-headed Oropendola||5|
Add the TURKEY and BLACK VULTUREs, MISSISSIPPI and SWALLOW-TAILED KITEs, SWAINSON’S and BROAD-WINGED HAWKs, and swallows and swifts overhead and we certainly had a reason for extending our stay. Nobody left disappointed. This evening, before dinner, we spotlighted a PAURAQUE hawking insects along the road. Dinner and listing was enjoyed in the company of Ana Maria.
Today, our last full day in Panama began early with plans to visit the ridgeline cloud forest with good tanager variety potential. Unfortunately, sometimes potential doesn’t go much further than that. Low wind and fog greeted us which was perfect weather but the birds did not cooperate. Only birds were a probable Orange-bellied Trogon, a pair of NORTHERN BARRED WOODCREEPERs, several SCALED PIGEONs, a female VIOLET-CAPPED HUMMINGBIRD, and a flock of OLIVE TANAGERs. Obviously, this didn’t hold our interest for very long so we returned to Casa de Campo and the berry bush. New birds for that area included a beautiful pair of VIOLACEOUS TROGONs and a COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER. However, the time of day was working against us so the activity was not close to the previous evening.
We left Casa de Campo after lunch with visions of SWALLOW-TAILED KITEs, MISSISSIPPI KITEs, RUFOUS MOTMOTs and CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLAs in our minds. It didn’t take long to get to the bottom of the hill and register at the Riande Hotel for our final night. A few moments later, we were back in the van and trying our luck at crossing Panama City on the way to Miraflores Locks. This time, we knew what to expect and took everything in stride even though it was still quite hectic.
Several hours at the Locks for some while Bill and Jim returned to Old Gamboa Road. A surprise pair of WHITE-BELLIED ANTBIRDs in the rushes was new. Overhead, thousands of SWAINSON’S HAWKs streamed overhead with BROAD-WINGED HAWKs, MISSISSIPPI KITEs, and TURKEY VULTUREs sprinkled in for variety. Back at the Locks, MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDs were the obvious avian favorites while the large ships took center stage. Back together again, we crossed Panama City one last time en route to the Riande. We decided to stop for shorebird viewing for our final birding spectacle. Thousands of LAUGHING GULLs greeted us and shorebird numbers were in the thousands including WILLETs, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERs, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERs. Interspersed were lesser numbers of SEMIPALMATED PLOVERs, WESTERN SANDPIPERs, RED KNOTs, and WHIMBREL. A single WILSON’S PLOVER was found.
Several GULL-BILLED and COMMON TERNs fed over the incoming tide and three ROYAL TERNs were also seen. From behind us, YELLOW-HEADED CARACARAs watched with interest. Our final bird was a MERLIN racing along the shoreline wreaking havoc on the shorebirds that had already been whipped into a frenzy by the incoming tide. We looked in awe at the incredible numbers of shorebird flocks flying in unison low over the water and higher overhead, most heading inland possibly beginning a long nocturnal migration. It was a fitting climax to our incredible two-week Panama birding adventure. Back at the hotel, we met for dinner one last time, listed, and presented our Top Ten lists.
I look back at our two-week trip with many pleasant memories: Blue Cotinga, swirling ants, shining Greater Anis, hummingbirds galore, Sloth, Trogons, incredible Quetzals, Bellbirds, and the ongoing river of raptors. I am glad that I had the opportunity to share in these experiences with you and look forward to returning. I hope you had as much fun as I did! Please share your own experiences with your friends and talk up Panama as a fantastic bird-watching destination. I hope our birding paths will cross again.