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PANAMA -- Cana and Cerro Pirre, Darien

16 - 25 February 1996

by David Oliver

This is a report of a trip from February 16-25, 1996 to Panama.  We visited primarily the area around Cana and Cerro Pirre in the Darien, with a couple of days in the canal area.  This was my fourth trip to Panama and my second to the Cana area in the Darien.  I visited Cana in February 1994 and I was very pleasantly surprised at the "improvements" in the accommodations.   A porch added to the cabin at Cana, along with generator powered electricity for two hours a day, added only more pleasant living conditions without spoiling the wild experience.  Also the camping conditions on Cerro Pirre have been "improved".  Although tents still provided the sleeping quarters, a table and benches and been built for dining and believe me these were very much appreciated.

Our group of  Massachusetts birders included Mark Blazis, Scott Blazis, Jonathan Center,
Paula Chasson, Sally Clifton, Stephanie and Tom Donaldson, Alan Leggett, David Oliver and Eric Salmela.  We would be guided by Wilberto Martinez, a resident Panamanian.  Wilberto, an old friend from our previous trips to Panama, treats us specially and is being helped by members of his family.  His son Wendell and brother Robin provided much help for our group when we arrived in Panama City and the next day as Wilberto was already in the Darien.  Willie's brother Abdiel joined us for our excursion into the Darien.

Here follows a daily account of our birding in Panama.

16 February

We just get out of Logan Airport in Boston as a snow storm approaches (one of many this winter!).   With a delay in Miami, we arrive very late in Panama City.  Whisked off to the Hotel Aramo in Panama City for much needed sleep.

17 February

Our team meets at 5:00 am for a two hour drive across Panama for a full day's birding in Colon Province on the Caribbean side of the Canal area.  We are bothered by rain on and off all day (the only rain of the whole trip).   We visited Achiote Road, S-9 Road, the parachute landing area, and Gatun Locks area.  Lunch and dinner were at the Tarpon Club, where I saw my first ever American Crocodile.  Mammals seen today included Coati, Capuchin and Howler Monkeys, Kinkajou, and both Two-toed and Three-toed Sloths.  After dinner, we go out owling and hear Crested owl and get a very close look at a Spectacled Owl!  The rain has become steady this evening and we have to settle for one spectacular Spectacled Owl.  Our bird list for the day follows.  All names are per Ridgeley's Birds of Panama and I apologize for omitting scientific names.

Species marked with an asterisk were lifers for me.

Pied-billed Grebe
Brown Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Striated Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Gray-headed Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Common Black Hawk
Gray Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Black Hawk-Eagle
Gray-headed Chachalaca
Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Wattled Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Rock Dove
Pale-vented Pigeon
Short-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-lored Amazon
Squirrel Cuckoo
Greater Ani
Smooth-billed Ani
Crested Owl
Spectacled Owl *
Short-tailed Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Rufous-breasted Hermit
Band-tailed Barbthroat
Long-tailed Hermit
White-necked Jacobin
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Sapphire-throated Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
White-tailed Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
White-necked Puffbird
Pied Puffbird
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Dusky Antbird
Black-faced Antthrush
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
S.  Beardless Tyrannulet
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Common Tody Flycatcher
Long-tailed Tyrant
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Panama Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Streaked Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Masked Tityra
Golden-collared Manakin
Gray-breasted Martin
S.  Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Black-chested Jay
Rufous-breasted Wren
House Wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Clay-colored Thrush
Tropical Mockingbird
Scrub Greenlet
Tennessee Warbler
Tropical Parula
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Plain-colored Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Thick-billed Euphonia
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-backed Tanager
Flame-rumped Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator
Blue-black Grosbeak
Black-striped Sparrow
Blue-black Grassquit
Variable Seedeater
Lesser Seed Finch
Saffron Finch
Red-breasted Blackbird *
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-backed Oriole
Northern Oriole
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Crested Oropendola
Chestnut-headed Oropendola

18 February

I slept until 6:30 this morning! We are going to the domestic airport this morning for our flight to the Darien.  One plane will take six of the group directly to Cana and the other four of us will be flown to El Real and then picked up by the other plane for the short hop to Cana.  El Real has a longer runway than Cana, so it can accommodate a larger plane, but since Cana has only a grass airstrip, we must be ferried in and out in smaller groups.

The airstrip at El Real provided us with more looks at Red-breasted Blackbirds.  It is wondrous flying from El Real to Cana.  The twenty-five minute flight brings you over mile after mile of uninterrupted jungle.  After experiencing an exciting landing at Cana, we meet up with Willie.  We settled into our quarters at the station and have lunch, before beginning our adventure in this fabulous birding area.  Although we will have no rain for the remainder of the trip, it has been raining here for a few days and the trails are very muddy and the streams are swollen with water.  On our trip two years ago, I wore sneakers for the whole trip, but this year my rubber boots never left my feet! (Well, I did take them off at night.) Mammals spotted today included White-lipped Peccary, Geoffrey's Tamarin, and Red-tailed Squirrel.  The following list of birds are new birds for the trip that we added today at Cana and along the Boca de Cupe trail.

Fasciated Tiger-Heron
King Vulture
Am.  Swallow-tailed Kite
Scaled Pigeon
Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Great Green Macaw
Red-and-green Macaw
Common Pauraque
White-collared Swift
Green Thorntail
White-vented Plumeleteer
Dusky-backed Jacamar
Crimson-bellied Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner
Plain Xenops
Buff-throated Woodcreeper
Slaty Antshrike
Checker-throated Antwren
White-flanked Antwren
Spotted Antbird
Fulvous-bellied Antpitta *
Gray Elaenia
Yellow-green Tyrannulet *
Brownish Twistwing
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Black-billed Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Speckled Mourner
Piratic Flycatcher
One-colored Becard
Black-tipped Cotinga
Golden-headed Manakin
Black-bellied Wren
Stripe-throated Wren
White-breasted Wood-wren
Tawny-faced Gnatwren
Slate-throated Gnatcatcher
White-throated Thrush
Viridian Dacnis *
Purple Honeycreeper
Yellow-backed Tanager
Swallow Tanager
Giant Cowbird
Yellow-tailed Oriole

19 February

What an absolutely delightful place! Imagine macaws flying by in pairs while sitting on the porch of our cabin watching a flowering Immortal tree attracting ten species of hummingbirds and numerous tanagers and honeycreepers.  In a hole in the tree are a pair of nesting Chestnut-mandibled Toucans.  Two years ago this hole hosted a pair of Chestnut-fronted Macaws.
This morning we hike out the Boca de Cupe trail again.  We all see and some photograph the Fulvous-bellied Antpitta.  After lunch back at the station, we hike the Riverside and Mining trails.  We added agouti to our mammal list.  Birding is of course fantastic.  New birds added for the trip follow.

Great Tinamou
Bicolored Hawk *
Crested Guan
Marbled Wood-Quail
Ruddy Pigeon
Little Cuckoo
Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo
Band-rumped Swift
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird
Blue-throated Goldentail
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Purple-crowned Fairy
Tody Motmot
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
White-fronted Nunbird
Great Jacamar
Spot-crowned Barbet
Olivaceous Piculet
Red-rumped Woodpecker
Linneated Woodpecker
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Streak-headed Woodcreeper
Fasciated Antshrike
Great Antshrike
Pygmy Antwren *
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Immaculate Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Black-crowned Antpitta
Spectacled Antpitta
Olivaceous Flatbill
Rufous Mourner
Rusty-margined Flycatcher
Blue Cotinga
White-headed Wren
Bay Wren
S.  Nightingale Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Black-and-white Warbler
Mourning Warbler
Bay-headed Tanager
Rufous-winged Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Shiny Cowbird

20 February

Today is the hike up Cerro Pirre.  We will climb uphill for seven hours with frequent stops for birds.  It is a tough hike but we all get there in good shape.  We are very fortunate to see two Night Monkeys in a tree, staring at us as we do the same to them.  We arrive about 2:30 in the afternoon and settle into our camp.  We are approximately 2/3 of the way to the top of Cerro Pirre.  It is cooler here and almost chilly at night.  Of course for us Bostonians it is delightful compared to the winter we've been having.  The following birds were added in the climb up the mountain.

White Hawk
Tawny-faced Quail
Russet-crowned Quail-Dove
Saffron-headed Parrot *
Crowned Woodnymph
Rufous-cheeked Hummingbird
Greenish Puffleg
Collared Trogon
Black-breasted Puffbird
Red-headed Barbet
Emerald Toucanet
Yellow-eared Toucanet
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Tawny-throated Leaftosser
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Plain Antvireo
Rufous-winged Antwren
Slaty Antwren
Wing-banded Antbird
Rufous-breasted Antthrush
Olive-striped Flycatcher
Common Tufted Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Cinereous Becard
Rufous Piha
White-ruffed Manakin
Sooty-headed Wren
Rufous-and-white Wren
Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush
Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo
American Redstart
Gray-and-gold Tanager
Silver-throated Tanager
Speckled Tanager
Green-naped Tanager
Fulvous-vented Euphonia
Hepatic Tanager
Pirre Bush Tanager
Black-and-yellow Tanager
Slate-colored Grosbeak
Yellow-green Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Chestnut-capped Brush Finch

21 February

We have discovered that the "camp birds" are the Chestnut-capped Brush Finches and the Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrushes.  They hop all around the camp site and provide much amusement for us.  At night we listen to the calls of Vermiculated Screech and Least Pigmy Owls and a pair of Spectacled Owls call our camp part of their territory.  They call right overhead! Today we hike the rest of the way to the top of Cerro Pirre and then back down to camp.  It's an exciting day with a few of my most wanted birds.  (Pirre Warbler, Beautiful Treerunner, and Ochre-breasted Antpitta and hearing a Golden-headed Quetzal!) These birds were added today:

Vermiculated Screech-Owl
Least Pigmy-Owl *
Tooth-billed Hummingbird
Golden-headed Quetzal *
Spotted Barbtail *
Beautiful Treerunner *
Lineated Foliage-gleaner
Ochre-breasted Antpitta *
Narino Tapaculo
Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant *
Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Ochraceous Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Varied Solitaire
Blackburnian Warbler
Slate-throated Redstart
Pirre Warbler *
Orange-bellied Euphonia

22 February

Today we hike back down the mountain to Cana.  Along the way we pick up a couple of more mammals: Spider Monkey and Dwarf Squirrel.  Another Spectacled Owl was spotted on our descent.  Perhaps the highlight of the day was finding an ant swarm with it's attendant antbirds and a Collared Forest-Falcon.  We arrive back at the station and some of us go "swimming" (more like wading!) In the blocked up stream behind the cabin.  The rest of the afternoon is spent resting on the porch and watching THE TREE.  Species added today were:

Little Tinamou
Barred Hawk
Red-throated Caracara
Barred Forest-Falcon
Collared Forest-Falcon
Violaceous Quail-Dove
Mealy Amazon
Brown Violetear *
Black-throated Mango
Rufous-crested Coquette *
Streaked Xenops
Barred Woodcreeper
Brown-billed Scythebill
Russet Antshrike
Ocellated Antbird
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Cinnamon Becard
Black-crowned Tityra
Lesser Greenlet
Summer Tanager

23 February

Once again today we explored the Boca de Cupe trail.  This time we walked the farthest we have yet on this trail.  It was estimated that we walked three miles out, of course stopping frequently for wonderful birding.  Two more ant swarms were studied today.  A Spectacled Antpitta provided wonderful views and was photographed as well.  Can you believe that we had four species of antpittas and three of them were photographed?  After lunch, time was spent watching our tree and it's many species of visiting birds.  As a going away present the Choco Indians at the station offered to "paint" us.  They grind up a fruit called jagua and then squeeze the juices out to produce a juice which is painted on the body for decoration.  I have a band put on my arm and three weeks later it is still visible.  New birds for the trip follow.

Plumbeous Kite
Little Hermit
Black-tailed Trogon
Gray-cheeked Nunlet *
Double-banded Graytail *
Jet Antbird
Bare-crowned Antbird
Black-headed Tody Flycatcher
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
White-ringed Flycatcher
Golden-fronted Greenlet
Orange-billed Sparrow

24 February

Our last day in "Paradise".  We take a quick three hour walk up the Riverside trail in the morning and then wait for our planes to pick us up.  They should have come around 10:00 but didn't show up until 2:00.  I really can't complain about the delay.  It just gave us more time to enjoy the fabulous place.  I must say that I did enjoy my first shave and HOT shower in a week back in Panama City.  Our last morning in Cana we added:

Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Violet-headed Hummingbird
Barred Puffbird
White-whiskered Puffbird
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner
Long-tailed Woodcreeper
Dot-winged Antwren
Dull-mantled Antbird *
Sepia-capped Flycatcher
Eye-ringed Flatbill
Royal Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila
Tawny-crowned Greenlet
Louisiana Waterthrush
Buff-rumped Warbler
Emerald Tanager
Lemon-spectacled Tanager *
Gray-headed Tanager
Scarlet-browed Tanager

25 February

We even managed to cram some birding in our last day in Panama.  We started the day with a breakfast buffet and then off to Old Gamboa Road for birding until 10:00.  We then stop at the Panama Canal and watch a couple of ships moving through the locks.  A little shopping follows and a stop at Panama Viejo for some quick shore birding.  A pair of Peregrines stood sentinel in the long abandoned church bell tower and thousands of shorebirds fill the mudflats.  Before dashing to the airport we add the following birds.

Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
White Ibis
Crested Caracara
Peregrine Falcon
Black-bellied Plover
Marbled Godwit
Western Sandpiper
Gull-billed Tern
Sandwich Tern
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Amazon Kingfisher
White-bellied Antbird
Greenish Elaenia
Southern Bentbill
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Lance-tailed Manakin
Buff-breasted Wren
Yellow-green Vireo
Rosy Thrush-Tanager
Orchard Oriole
Yellow-billed Cacique
House Sparrow

A total of 354 species for 9 days in Panama! We're planning our trip for next year already.

David Oliver
60 Pleasant St.  #401
Arlington, MA 02174-6520