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.
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.
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.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Common Black Hawk
Spectacled Owl *
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
S. Beardless Tyrannulet
Common Tody Flycatcher
S. Rough-winged Swallow
Lesser Seed Finch
Red-breasted Blackbird *
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.
Am. Swallow-tailed Kite
Great Green Macaw
Fulvous-bellied Antpitta *
Yellow-green Tyrannulet *
Viridian Dacnis *
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.
Bicolored Hawk *
Pygmy Antwren *
S. Nightingale Wren
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.
Saffron-headed Parrot *
Common Tufted Flycatcher
Pirre Bush Tanager
Chestnut-capped Brush Finch
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:
Least Pigmy-Owl *
Golden-headed Quetzal *
Spotted Barbtail *
Beautiful Treerunner *
Ochre-breasted Antpitta *
Bronze-olive Pygmy-Tyrant *
Pirre Warbler *
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:
Brown Violetear *
Rufous-crested Coquette *
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.
Gray-cheeked Nunlet *
Double-banded Graytail *
Black-headed Tody Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
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:
Dull-mantled Antbird *
Lemon-spectacled Tanager *
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.
A total of 354 species for 9 days in Panama! We're planning our trip for next year already.
60 Pleasant St. #401
Arlington, MA 02174-6520