16 - 25 March 1999
by Mike Tanis
Approximately eight days birding; traveling with two companions, both of whom could be described as recreational birders and non-listers; visiting six sites, all in western Panama; 175 species recorded. My previous experience in the region was a thirteen day visit to northern Costa Rica in December 94/January 95.
Introduction to birding in Panama:
The small size of the country makes it possible to visit many habitats in a short period of time. The infrastructure for tourist travel is still in the early stages of development. The result is country full of people eager to earn tourist dollars by providing transportation and "tours" of the highlights, but decidedly short on knowledgeable guidance for the birder or ecotourist. Since I was doing this trip as I usually do--self-organized budget birding--this lack of knowledgeable help and information "on the ground" was quite frustrating at times. My information on birding sites came from the sources listed below.
I should mention, though, that there are several tour companies and birding guides within Panama who will provide service of the highest quality. It will be necessary to join a tour or to contact the guides well in advance to secure their services. I will also be somewhat costly, but if you are short on time it will probably pay off in more birds seen with much less difficulty than you would have on your own.
Panama's transportation system is quite functional. Inexpensive flights connect the major cities, and buses connect to everywhere else. There are large luxury buses for the long trips, and crowded, slow, sweaty, dusty buses for the shorter trips. If you have a small group, as we did, taxicabs are a viable option for comfortable and timely travel. You will have to bargain for your fare for each journey, but there are plenty of taxis so competition is in your favor. Expect to pay something like $12-20 per hour; when divided by three people it is not so bad.
On the whole, Panama is a safe place to travel independently, even alone. In most towns and cities, it seemed quite safe for me walking around with my pack and with my binoculars. (Yes, I realize I am tall and male, making me less a potential target for crime than others.) There are some areas of Panama City that would probably be unsafe at night; we spent little time there so I cannot offer much advice. I learned my lesson by being robbed a couple of years ago in Bolivia: never let your most important items out of your direct possession--never out of your hands! Usually theft is by stealth rather than by threat, so just keep your stuff at hand and don't allow yourself to be distracted.
We were never sick in Panama. I ate the salads in the little street restaurants and drank the water that they served. Panama's water supply is generally safe for drinking. However it takes relatively little effort to treat tap water with iodine tablets, or to simply buy soft drinks, tea, or bottled water, which are readily available and inexpensive throughout the country. We were warned in the guidebooks that the water was unsafe in Bocas town, so we bought bottled water there. However, I ate a restaurant salad in Bocas without ill effect.
Panama does not have a serious malaria problem. However, there is chloroquin-resistant malaria in Bocas province. There is a controversy on the traveler's circuit regarding Larium, a malaria prophylaxis. Your doctor will probably recommend and prescribe it to you for travel to Panama. I am no medical doctor, so you should follow his/her final recommendation, BUT Larium does show significant side effects in many people, such as dizziness, nausea, strange and vivid nightmares, and (I think) blood pressure problems. It is not routinely prescribed in Europe or Australia (for tropical travel) for these reasons. The relatively low risk of contracting malaria in Panama may not be worth suffering the effects of Larium. I took Larium for 12 weeks in Asia and suffered consistent dizziness when standing up quickly. I continued to take it in Asia because the malaria risk was higher (and because I didn't know the Larium was to blame). But in Panama I took chloroquin (most but not all malaria is not resistant to chloroquin). Unfortunately, I think I suffered the same side effects from the chloroquin, only less extreme. However, I found the night and evening mosquito population to be surprisingly low. I only remember receiving one mosquito bite the entire trip.
Spanish is the national language. Minimally you should have a solid phrasebook knowledge of Spanish, especially the numbers; at this level is possible to travel in Panama. However, unless you know a bit more, your travel will frequently be a frustrating experience. Furthermore, you will pay more for everything along the way, because you won't have the skills to negotiate prices or the ability to protest all but the grossest ripoffs. Not that the people are always trying to clean you out, but many people will take advantage of the fact that you are a foreigner and are unfamiliar with local practices and prices. So the more Spanish you are capable of speaking, the more enjoyable your trip will be. English is spoken widely by taxi drivers and hotel clerks in Panama City, and by most people in Bocas del Toro and the coastal islands. If you have time to study some grammar before you leave for Panama (and I mean a couple of weeks--not just to peruse on the flight down!), I recommend Juan Kattan-Ibara's "Latin American Spanish."
Panamanians and Conservation:
I found Panamanians to be very friendly. They are proud of their country, so be sure to tell them that you are looking at the birds and wildlife. A conservation ethic is still not reality except for those with education or whose livelihood is based on ecotourism. Most of the national parks are protected by inaccessibility for now, but as the population continues to grow there will be increased pressure to clear more land.
Means of Travel:
I traveled by air from Philadelphia to Panama City (Continental, $365 rt, purchased from a NYC consolidator, Me Again Travel (reliable)).
Bus travel in Panama is inexpensive, and therefore used by all Panamanians who don't own a car. In general the rural buses are cramped and uncomfortable (especially if you are 6'4"!) and the poor condition of almost all of the roads makes most journeys long, dirty, and exhausting. Most buses stop for any and all passengers that flag them down, making some routes a series of stops and starts. Some frequently-traveled routes involving two substantial cities are serviced by companies with luxury buses that make limited stops, which can actually make the journey enjoyable. Carry a sweatshirt on board if they have AC; sometimes it gets freezing cold in there! Also, don't expect the video service or bathrooms to be functional--ours weren't.
If you have to do a long haul by bus, check the airfare for your destination. Air travel is relatively cheap--sometimes only twice the cost of the luxury bus, and a sixth of the travel time. The main limitation is few flight choices; most destinations are served only once or twice daily. Taxis from the international airport to Panama City are standardized at $25. Sometimes a driver from the back of the line may cut a deal for a few dollars less, but be cautious, because the other drivers will get upset! Minivan service is probably about $10 per person in a shared van. The airport is a good 30 minute drive at night from the center of town, and an hour (or more) during daytime traffic. Every taxi driver in Panama City will try (tirelessly) to sell you a tour around town; it nearly drove me insane. I must admit that there are some interesting things to see in town, though. I especially recommend a visit to the Miraflores Locks to see the Canal. I thought I would be bored (because I've seen locks before . . . ) but it was genuinely interesting. Morning is best for photography there.
I did not rent a car in Panama. For the birder, though, this seems to be a country where renting might be the best option because it is not that expensive. The smallest sedans rent for about $35 per day. [Four wheel drive vehicles are quite a bit more expensive, perhaps $80-100 per day. 4WD is not necessary for most birding sites.] If you are renting a vehicle, you will still have to find your own way. After my visit I would feel very comfortable renting and driving on my own, EXCEPT in Panama City, which is crowded and chronically jammed with traffic. Drivers tend to be aggressive and competitive throughout the country, but especially in Panama City. Outside the city, the main roads are for the most part paved, although some were extremely potholed. The Fortuna road, however, was an exception--newly paved sometime in early 1999. Roadsigns seemed to be present along most highways. However, if you are going to rent a vehicle, you had better have the Spanish skills to frequently ask for directions.
Buses are far slower and less convenient, but much cheaper and with little financial risk. If you have a group of two or three and your Spanish is passable, then renting a car is probably the best way to bird Panama.
The Panamanian currency IS the US dollar. It still seems strange to me to enter a foreign country and pay for everything in dollars. They use US coins interchangeably with Panamanian coins (about 50/50 judging from the typical contents of my pockets). I didn't need to obtain more cash while there, but there were ATMs at banks in the cities.
Accommodation and food:
In most towns and cities it is easy to find hotels or guesthouses that are clean and safe, with hot showers and AC for $20-30 per night for a double or triple. Staying alone will generally cost $12-20 per night.
Meals in the small restaurants in towns and cities are remarkably inexpensive. A typical lunch plate of beans, rice, and chicken was usually $1.50 to $2.50. Soft drinks were about $0.50 and beer typically $0.65. Restaurants aimed at tourists or with foreign fast foods (Pizza Hut, MacDonald's, etc.) cost more, usually $5-10. And of course there are higher priced restaurants that I did not visit. Food prices in the markets and small stores are relatively low, although the selection in village stores will be quite limited. In the larger cities there are modern supermarkets with a wide selection of food.
Guidebooks and Information:
I used Lonely Planet's new 1999 "Panama." It was current with pretty good maps. Prices had already increased, but that is to be expected. It was the only source to mention Rancho Ecologico, one of my favorite stops on this trip.
I carried Ridgely and Gwynne's "Guide to the Birds of Panama" and the plates only from Stiles and Skutch's "Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica" as field guides. For birding site information I relied heavily on Ridgely's advice in the back of his book. Other information was culled from the internet including the following web sites:
Finca Hartmann: www.arches.uga.edu/~alanwill/Fh_birds.htm
Panama Audubon (out of date): www.pananet.com/audubon/field.htm
birding in general: www.camacdonald.com/birding/cenpanama.htm
Los Quetzales: www.great-adventures.com/adventure/quetzales.htm
Several organizations offer trips to Cana; just do a web search for "Cana" or "ANCON."
(1) Carry an umbrella; it will enable you to continue to bird in some drizzly or changeable conditions.
(2) For a truly portable field guide, remove the plates from one of your precious volumes. This can be done with a razor blade by cutting down the spine between the glossy and course paper pages. After the two cuts, you will have three pieces, and if you've been careful, the binding glue will hold them together. Next cover the first and last pages of the plates with contact paper. Finally use some clear packing tape to affix stiff plastic covers to the front and back of your new field guide. These covers should be cut with scissors so that they are approximately 6 mm (1/4") larger than the printed pages to protect the corners and edges. My plates are still quite new looking after a lot of regular use. The remaining two segments of text can be bound at your local library or bookbinder into a single volume. While birding, this volume can be left in your room or car for later reference.
1. Guadalupe Town and environs
2. Finca Fernandez
3. Cabinas Los Quetzales
4. Las Lagunas de Volcan
5. Finca Hartmann
6. Rancho Ecologico
7. Bocas del Toro and Isla Colon
8. Isla Bastimentos
9 & 10. other recommendations *numbers in parentheses (43) indicate species seen at site.
Dates: 17-19 March
Notes: We arrived exhausted at 6:30am on a dark, windy, rainy day. We had flown all day on 16 March to Panama City and taken a taxi directly from the airport to the bus station ($24). then we took the 10:45pm luxury bus to David ($15 each), arriving there at 4:30am on 17 March. A protesting taxi driver took us to Guadalupe for $35. [A prearranged taxi in the reverse direction made by other birders was only $25.] As it rained steadily all day I birded mostly in the hotel garden under the protection of the building. We stayed two nights at the Los Quetzales Hotel ($33 for a clean triple with hot shower), a beautiful facility with plentiful flowers, a river, and a garden area. Hummingbird feeders were not filled when we were there, but several hummers were seen in the garden. The staff was very helpful and pleasant and seemed to enjoy serving their guests--they almost looked uneasy taking payment for the lodging and restaurant meals, as if they had never considered charging customers before! The restaurant serves good pizza--avoid the hamburgers, though. Free transportation to their forest cabins was provided one afternoon. One could walk there in an hour, though it is uphill. Birding around town and on the road to Cerro Punta produced typical upland species; most listed below under Finca Fernandez.
Habitat: rural community of flowers and vegetable fields.
Highlights: (27) Yellow-headed caracara (from bus below Cerro Punta), White-tipped dove, Yellow-winged vireo, Rufous-browed peppershrike, Rose-breasted grosbeak.
2. Finca Fernandez
Dates: mornings of 18 and 19 March, both excellent weather.
Notes: About an hour's steady walk from Guadalupe, you can reach the Fernandez farm (directions in Ridgely) on foot. It is easy to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck early in the morning, as most people are heading to work in the fields. The first morning I birded on my own along the road until I reached some decent remnant forest. The quetzal was seen only as a fly-by. By inquiring at the house, Juan Fernandez can be hired as a guide to show the local specialties. I did this my second morning; he agreed to guide me from 7-11am for $15. While he doesn't seem terribly personable, he is helpful and knows the calls. You'll have to use your Spanish, as he knows little more than the bird names in English. He failed to find the Andean pygmy-owl, despite nearly an hour of trying. He enabled me to get good looks at the Wrenthrush and the barest glimpse of the tapaculo.
Habitat: Highland forest, forest edge, and farmland.
Highlights: (47) Sulfur-winged parakeet, Scintillant and Volcano hummingbirds, Acorn woodpecker, Spot-crowned woodcreeper, Silvery-fronted tapaculo, Ruddy-capped and Black-billed nightingale-thrushes, Black-faced solitaire, Long-tailed silky-flycatcher, Black-cheeked warbler, Flame-throated warbler, Golden-browed chlorophonia, Flame-colored tanager, and Yellow-throated brush-finch.
3. Los Quetzales cabins
Date: rainy afternoon 18 March
Notes: The cabins are located only about an hour's uphill walk or 20 min 4WD trip from the Los Quetzales Hotel in Guadalupe. If you are staying at the hotel, they will take you to the cabins and pick you up again at a designated time. Guided walks are possible, but I declined. Regarding accommodation: it costs $55 (an entire floor of cabin#1) or $90 for each of the larger cabins (#2 and #3). #2 and #3 were said to be nicer; they also have the hummingbird feeders and the good views of the cloud forest. You can take your own food and cook for yourself or they will arrange for a lady from town to cook for you. There are a couple of short trails and one much longer, quite muddy trail. As it was raining the entire time, I restricted myself to the area around cabins #2 and #3.
Habitat: Highland forest.
Highlights: (34) Resplendent Quetzal (another fly-by), Band-tailed pigeon, White-tailed emerald, Violet sabrewing, Buffy tufted-cheek, Spot-crowned woodcreeper, Dark pewee, Ochraceous wren, Mountain thrush, both nightingale-thrushes, Black-faced solitaire, and several warblers.
4. Las Lagunas de Volcan
Dates: hot afternoon 19 March
Notes: We rode the bus down from Guadalupe to Volcan ($0.90) and then hired a taxi to drop us at the lakes and return for us three hours later ($10). There are small areas of forest surrounding the lagoons with some marshy areas. Locals were fishing (spearfishing) in the larger lake, catching some giant fish! You must drive across the airport runway to get to the lagoons. The runway area looked very good for field birds late in the afternoon--a few flycatchers and hawks. I saw quite a few birds from our speeding taxi, but couldn't ID any but the meadowlark.
We stayed at the Motel California in Volcan (basic triple $20; didn't produce the promised hot shower); many guests arrived in the wee hours of Saturday morning (from Panama City?). The recommended stop in town is Lizzy's Fried Chicken. You get a large plate of good food and a great salad for about $2.50. The owner, Eddie Buttner, is very friendly and helpful. He allowed me to use the telephone to call the US (about $0.80/min).
Habitat: Foothill forest patches and lagoons with marsh.
Highlights: (24) Least and Pied-billed grebes, Masked duck, Purple and Common gallinules, Coot and Northern jacana, Eastern meadowlark, Buff-throated saltator.
5. Finca Hartmann
Date: sunny hot morning of 20 March
Notes: We arranged with our taxi driver to take us to Santa Clara ($15) and Finca Hartmann, although none of us knew exactly where it was located. We left the hotel in Volcan at 5am and drove at a terrifying clip to Santa Clara in the dark. There we blundered around for a while, waking local residents and relatives of Ratibor Hartmann until we arrived at the Hartmann house before 7am. Mrs. Hartmann drove us the slow 45 minutes to their cabins in the shade coffee plantation and nearby forest.
They are eager to welcome more ecotourists and birders to their place, and I have no hesitation in recommending a visit. With an overnight stay (or two) you could presumably visit even better forest areas higher into the hills. They have a couple of nice cabins for visitors and can provide food and bedding. I don't remember the rates, but I'm sure it would be reasonable, if not a genuine bargain. They are really nice people, and new to the tourism business. As at Los Quetzales, I felt that they were embarrassed to be asking for money from visitors. We were charged $2 each for the visit and $10 altogether for transport to/from the cabins and Santa Clara town. An extensive birdlist is available. There is a website (not recent) and they have a phone and email (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; ph. 775-6006; pager 774-5155; ). Only Mrs. Hartmann speaks some English, so written contact by email is probably best unless your Spanish is good.
We took the bus back to Volcan at 1pm ($1.30), a pleasant, scenic ride in an uncrowded country bus.
Habitat: Foothill/highland forest, shade coffee plantation.
Highlights: (32) Swainson's hawk, Chiriqui quail-dove, Fiery-billed aracari, Blue-crowned motmot, Golden-olive woodpecker, Ruddy woodcreeper, Dusky-capped flycatcher, Rufous-breasted wren, Prothonotary and other warblers, and Scarlet-thighed dacnis.
6. Rancho Ecologico
Date: drizzly morning of 21 March
Notes: Rancho Ecologico is owned by Wilberto Martinez, a highly-regarded birding guide from Panama City. It is at about 500m in elevation on the Caribbean slope, set alongside a river in a gorge with excellent forest all around. It consists of a tall, roomy thatched structure covering several picnic tables, bathrooms, a small kitchen area, and an area containing some tents for sleeping. They have several comfortable mattresses with sheets for sleeping in the tents under cover from rain and screened from insects. Meals will be prepared if requested. We were charged $20 each for lodging and three basic meals (eggs, chicken, plantains, etc). The caretakers (Isabel Martinez and her husband Hornel Guerre) are warm and friendly; Isabel (no relation to Wilberto) is an enthusiastic birder and is familiar with the local species, including several nests at the right time of year. You also should ask her to show you her collection of orchids. I regret staying only one night and birding only one morning. In addition to a large garden area on the edge of good forest with a hummingbird feeder, there is a somewhat hazardous "trail" that leads to a large waterfall in an hour's walk. I considered the trail to be quite dangerous, due to very steep dropoffs and extremely muddy conditions. I only walked about half a mile of this trail before seeking a better place for birding. There is excellent birding along the highway in either direction. The Lanceolated monklet is regularly found in the garden, although not on the morning of my visit. It is also recommended to travel up the road to near the continental divide to bird for highland species--it is only a short drive of less than five miles; Ridgely provides details of where to bird there.
This place is not easy to find in the dark, as warned in Lonely Planet. From Volcan we took a torturous bus ($2.30, but slow, hot, dusty, crowded) to David--40 miles in nearly three hours! In David we contemplated another bus trip, but opted for a taxi due to time constraints and the fear that we would miss Rancho Ecologico in the dark from the bus. [We certainly would have.] Our taxi driver agreed to $33 for the approximately 50 mile trip. After questioning many pedestrians too far in advance of our destination, he began to realize he would have to drive down the Caribbean slope farther than he had hoped, and grumbled from then on. Not one person had heard of the place until we had traveled beyond it by a mile. It is only about 20 miles short of Chiriqui Grande on the Caribbean. It is past the dam for the Fortuna reservoir by at least 6 miles--watch for the reappearance of houses along the highway in a very curvy section. There is a very tiny hand-lettered sign on the right advertising "Guia Martinez." Rancho Ecologico is on the left about 100m further; the sign is in front of the caretakers' house.
NOTE: Isabel told me about a community project that will soon be underway. As best as I understood it with my Spanish, the community plans to build a hotel/guest facility whose purpose is to provide lodging and guidance to ecotourists. I believe it is primarily for Panamanian tourists, although I'm sure it will be open to all. The name will be "MoCelba"--she wrote it down for me. It will have a web site sometime in the future, too. I'm not sure if the facility will have trails, but there is a lot of remaining forest in the area, some of it already protected to provide water for Lago Fortuna.
Habitat: Caribbean foothill and mountain forest, riverside, and garden.
Highlights: (32) Bat falcon, Red-footed (Bronze-tailed?) plummeteer, Wedge-billed woodcreeper, Torrent tyrannulet, Gray-capped flycatcher, Golden-winged and Buff-rumped warblers, Olive-backed euphonia, Crimson-collared tanager, Black-striped sparrow, and Black-headed saltator.
7. Bocas del Toro and Isla Colon
Dates: evenings of 21 and 22 March and mornings of 22 and 23 March
Notes: We took a taxi from Rancho Ecologico to Chiriqui Grande ($10) where we signed up for the water taxi to Bocas town on Isla Colon ($10 each). After almost 90 min wait (for a late-arriving bus?) we departed. Of course we weren't told we would have to go to Almirante and then change boats for another ride to Bocas. It wasn't much of a delay, but it foreshadowed the misleading direction that was frequently provided in Bocas. Everyone there is eager to take your money for transport or a tour or something, but invariably you get something at least a little or even completely different than you expected. We arrived early Sunday evening (a party night, along with Thurs/Fri/Sat) so the music was booming from the local club. We had a reservation at the Hotel Bahia (not necessary; there were many available rooms in town) and received a large, dimly lit but clean, first floor room with electric shower and AC (both worked, triple $27.50/night).
Windows were not secure, but we had no theft during our three nights there. The phone is available in the office for long distance calls ($0.88/min to the US if you dial direct--you don't have to call person to person as I found out the hard way). Interesting spots around town: the American-style Buena Vista (sandwiches $5), a great deck by the water with lots of Lesser nighthawks after dark); a nice brightly lit restaurant (lost the name) across form the central park (basic meals and pizza $4 to $8, ice cream, salads); a snack bar (chicken fried rice $1.25); two places to rent bicycles (Hotel Laguna ($1.50/hr or $8/day, choose carefully!) and La Ballena Cafe); a computer center to send and receive email (next to Don Chicho's, $0.50 for each piece); airport offices (Av. E west of town); Hotel Las Brisas has a good waterfront patio for hanging out. Flying out form Bocas was easy. We made reservations only one day in advance for a flight to Panama City ($45 one way). Both Mapiex and Aeroperlas have daily afternoon flights to PC. Aeroperlas also flies to Costa Rica and David from Bocas.
Our main reason for coming to Bocas was to do some snorkeling, not for birding. We signed up for a day tour at Bocas Water Sports. $15 each included the boat and gear, with two snorkeling stops and one stop at the Red Frog Beach from Magic Bay on Isla Bastimentos. The first snorkel site at Crawl (Coral) Cay was just off the dock of a small restaurant. While it was pleasant to be on a clean dock with nice shade and tables, you can imagine that the snorkeling was not the best it could be. The visibility was OK but not great, the coral small and worn. The fish were colorful, but very limited in variety. I enjoyed it because, well, I can't do this at home and I wasn't spending a lot of money. However, I know how much better snorkeling on a reef can be, so I was disappointed for that reason. Rather humorously, our restaurant had four menu items: the least expensive was "unavailable" leaving crab, lobster, etc. Seeing plantains as a side item, I ordered only fried plantains ($1) and a couple of cold beers ($1 each), and so escaped a pricey lunch. After lunch we visited the second site which had slightly better visibility and a more interesting variety of coral. Still, the fish were limited in variety, although I enjoyed seeing the fish that were there. We were told later at the Water Sports office by an American that the bay itself has been ravaged by the indigenous fishermen with their nets. The estuary is essentially fished out of anything but very small fish. There were very few herons, except for the occasional gray-phase green heron found in this area of Panama. I would imagine that fishing on the accessible reefs has also taken its toll.
My birding on Isla Colon (the island of Bocas town) was done by bicycle, mostly on the road along the north (ocean) coast. I would guess that I birded about 5-8 miles of the road; the best section is immediately after the agricultural co-op center. I repeatedly heard the White-throated crake in the small marsh there, but never glimpsed it. There are patches of forest and small farms, and the beautiful, deserted beach a Playa Bluff (being mined for construction sand when we were there). Birdlife seemed to be quite good for what I expected might be dismal birding on a populated island. Mosquitoes were not too bad even in the morning and evening hours.
I made several inquiries of people in town regarding who knew where to find birds or who was the best person to guide someone to birds. No one could offer much help. At Bocas Water Sports I was told that a man in Bastimentos town (a short boat trip away) had hosted a famous biologist once and arranged for him to visit a place called, mysteriously enough, "Darkland." Darkland is apparently a coastal jungle area on the mainland accessible by boat. None of the boatmen in Bocas town seemed enthusiastic about a trip over there, and none really sounded like they knew where to go for birding, either. One even said, "Darkland? There's nothing over there." I have a feeling it was more of a trip than most were willing to undertake (too far?), because there was never a shortage of offers for boat trips to nearby destinations.
Habitat: Mangrove bays, ocean beaches, Caribbean lowland.
Highlights: (62) Plumbeous kite, Common black-hawk, four species of parrots/parakeets, Common and Lesser nighthawks, Bronzy hermit, Green kingfisher, Black-cheeked woodpecker, Slaty antwren, Panama flycatcher, Ruddy-tailed flycatcher, Black-cowled oriole, Yellow (mangrove) warbler, Mourning and Prothonotary warblers, Northern waterthrush, Olive-crowned yellowthroat, and White-lined tanager.
8. Isla Bastimentos (Magic Bay area)
Date: sunny morning of 24 March
Notes: On our final morning I decided to try to hire a boat to take us to the National Park part of Isla Bastimentos, requiring access by ocean. At 6:15 I had a volunteer boat driver who agreed for $2 each. Too good to be true? Of course. He simply crossed to Bastimentos town (10 min) and dumped us at his brother's dock, saying that his brother would take us (at additional cost of course). His brother was bailing his canoe at that moment, not inspiring us for a safe oceanside journey. I decided to take a safer option and enter from the bay side again at Magic Bay, admitting to myself that we couldn't possibly hike all the way from there to the NP area in the time we had available. But for $7 each he would drop us off and return for us later. We also had to pay $1 each to the indians to use their dock and road to cross to the beach. I still wonder if the NP area of the island remains in pristine condition, or if it has already been carved up for indian family farms (as the Magic Bay area had). The part we visited had a couple of small army ant swarms and leafcutter ants, but I saw virtually the same birds as on Isla Colon, with the exceptions listed below.
Habitat: Mangrove bays, ocean beaches, Caribbean lowland.
Highlights: (40) Crowned woodnymph, Golden-collared manakin, Bay wren, Gray catbird, Long-billed gnatwren, Tropical gnatcatcher, and Red-throated ant-tanager.
9. Recommendations and possibilities for western Panama:
(A) Rancho Ecologico. Spend at least a couple of days here, visiting Ridgely's "Continental Divide Trail" as well.
(B) Finca Hartmann. Worthwhile, even to stay for a couple/three days, especially if you could get to some forest at higher elevations here.
(C) Almirante area. It sure looked like a squalid town from the waterfront, but there has got to be some good birding around here somewhere. Maybe some further research on "Darkland" would turn up some interesting possibilities.
(D) Boquete area. Recommended in Ridgely and many of the commercial tours visit this area.
10. Other areas of Panama:
(A) El Valle. The Rainforest Canopy Adventure grounds were recommended by other birders. The owner also owns the Canopy Tower in the Canal area of Soberania NP.
(B) Cana Field Station, Darien. You'll have to take a tour and shell out some bucks, about $800-$1300 for three or more days, but everything I've heard or read gives excellent reports of the area.
(C) Canal area. Pipeline Road, Chiva Chiva Road, Achiote Road, etc. Too bad I didn't have time to visit, but I'll be back someday . . . .
G: Guadalupe and environs
Q: Los Quetzales cabins
F: Finca Fernandez and environs
L: Lagunas de Volcan
H: Finca Hartmann
E: Rancho Ecologico
C: Isla Colon (Bocas)
B: Isla Bastimentos (Magic Bay area)
I accept full responsibility for any errors or misidentifications
in this list. If you discover any likely errors, please feel free
to point them out to me--I would like to learn from my mistakes!
|Magnificent Frigatebird||C B|
|Brown Pelican||C B|
|Cattle Egret||G Q F L H E C B|
|Green Heron||L C B|
|Little Blue Heron||L C|
|Black Vulture||G Q F L H E C B|
|Turkey Vulture||L H E C B|
|American Swallow-tailed Kite||H E C|
|Plumbeous Kite||C B|
|Broad-winged Hawk||G F H|
|Common Black-hawk||C B|
|Northern Jacana||L C|
|Spotted Sandpiper||L C B|
|Laughing Gull||C B|
|Pale-vented Pigeon||C B|
|Red-lored Amazon||C B|
|Blue-headed Parrot||H C B|
|Crimson-fronted Parakeet||C B|
|Groove-billed Ani||C B|
|White-throated Mountain-gem||G Q F|
|Magnificent Hummingbird||G Q F|
(same as Bronze-tailed Plummeteer?)
|Rufous-tailed Hummingbird||E C B|
|Violet Sabrewing||G Q|
|Resplendent Quetzal||Q F|
|Emerald Toucanet||F E|
|Ringed Kingfisher||L C B|
|Black-cheeked Woodpecker||E C|
|Lineated Woodpecker||E C B|
|Ruddy Treerunner||Q F H|
|Spot-crowned Woodcreeper||Q F|
|Masked Tityra||E C|
|Scissor-tailed Flycatcher||Gualaca area|
|Boat-billed Flycatcher||L H E|
|Great Kiskadee||C B|
|Tropical Kingbird||F L H E C B|
|Social Flycatcher||C B|
|Common Tufted Flycatcher||G Q|
|Yellowish Flycatcher||G Q|
|Mountain Elaenia||G Q F H|
|Paltry (Mistletoe) Tyrannulet||H|
|Gray-breasted Martin||L C|
|Barn Swallow||C B|
|Southern Rough-winged Swallow||L|
|House Wren||G Q F|
|Clay-colored Thrush||G F L H E C B|
|Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush||Q F|
|Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush||Q F|
|Black-faced Solitaire||Q F|
|Lesser Greenlet||E B|
|Red-eyed Vireo||G Q|
|Great-tailed Grackle||G Q F L H E C B|
|Montezuma Oropendola||C B|
|Blackburnian Warbler||Q F H|
|Black-throated Green Warbler||G Q F|
|Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler||C|
|Prothonotary Warbler||H C|
|Lousiana Waterthrush||G Q F|
|Wilson's Warbler||G Q F|
|Collared Redstart||Q F|
|Slate-throated Redstart||Q F|
|Flame-throated Warbler||Q F|
|Olive-crowned Yellowthroat||C B|
|Bananaquit||F C B|
|Scarlet-rumped Tanager||H E C B|
|Blue-gray Tanager||H E C B|
|Palm Tanager||E C B|
|Common Bush-Tanager||Q F|
|Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager||Q F|
|Rufous-collared Sparrow||G Q F|
|Yellow-thighed Finch||Q F|
|Yellow-faced Grassquit||G F|
|Variable Seedeater||E C|
|Blue-black Grassquit||G F|