Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
One of my local birding partners, organized this trip through his Panama guide and we all arrived on the same flight into Panama City. On the descent into Panama City we could see the lush jungle that surrounded the area, Metropolitan Park, Punta Culebra and several more localities we would visit. Kathi greeted us once we were through the customs and loaded us into our van for our first nights stay at the Country Inn & Suits, which was very nice. The grounds looked good for birding.
We rose early in preparation for breakfast and while it was still dark I could hear unfamiliar birds begin calling. I recognized a Tropical Kingbird and soon others began to chime in. A Clay-colored Thrush chimed in as I left the porch and we all headed for breakfast.
After we ate we grabbed our gear and loaded up our bus then hit the grounds of the hotel for some birding. Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Great-tailed Grackle and Blue-grey Tanagers were all singing and calling in the palms and other trees around the front of the entrance. A Northern Caracara looked down at us from one of the palms. As we walked through the front gardens we heard then found a Red-crowned Woodpecker in a dead palm.
The repeated clicking notes of a Common Tody-Flycatcher attracted our attention near the wire fence and as we passed the tennis courts a flurry of activity from across the garden in a group of bushes had us all looking at a flock of bright yellow Saffron Finches. A Variable Seedeater joined the fray and a Yellow-bellied Elaenia alighted the top of one of the bushes. The high pitched, whistled song of “three beers” had us looking above us for a Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and above him in the sky Short-tailed Swifts circled overhead. Eager to continue the birding we went back to the van and drove to Metropolitan Park.
We arrived a short time later and got out at one of the gates and were immediately in green surrounds with birds calling everywhere. Twenty yards up the path we turned left into a small clearing surrounded by trees. A Yellow-olive Flycatcher called monotonously from the bushes next to us and the high, metallic call of “Bean, Bean” told us a brightly colored Yellow-crowned Euphonia was in the tree above us. He afforded us some great views and pictures. We could slso hear Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet and Summer Tanager in the background.
Loud, raucous calls from over head emerged from several Orange-chinned Parakeets that landed near us and the lonely call of a Paltry Tyrannulet from on top of a lone tree gave us some great views.
We proceeded up the path but before long were stopped by a fantastic White-necked Puffbird sitting with its back to us in a distant tree. We got some good scope views before we heard a Plain Wren calling ahead of us. A big blooming tree also held Plain-colored Tanagers that were busy eating fruits. We found the wren but the calls of a Green Shrike-Vireo had us all scanning the top of the tree to find this elusive green bird. We stayed here for a while as birds were coming in and out and got great views of Yellow-backed Oriole in a nearby Cecropia, a Snowy-bellied Hummingbird collecting bugs and a White-vented Plumeleteer sipped nectar from a high flowering vine. The puffbird came in close right above us while a Black-striped Sparrow skulked through the vines in the bushes behind us. There were plenty of Crimson-backed Tanagers circling us but we moved on up the trail into the forest for some more birding.
No sooner had we gone up the trail about 50 feet when a pair of Dusky Antbirds began calling back and forth to each other and while they were at it a long two note song of a Black-throated Trogon began to emerge from behind us.
We scanned the vines and tangles and with a little playback the male came in close followed by the female for some fantastic close up views.
We continued up the trail towards the top seeing some great birds with the highlights being Blue-crowned Motmot, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Red-crowned and Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, White-bellied Antbird, Dot-winged Antbird, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Long-billed Gnatwren and Brown-capped Tyrannulet among the many birds we saw.
We came out at the top and were enjoying the view when a juvenile Hook-billed Kite began to circle up the slope of the mountain towards us. We had fantastic views and at one point it circled right over the top of the trees above us for some brilliant looks. From up here we could enjoy views of the city before we headed back down. Just before we loaded up the bus to head for lunch we stopped at the guard station and he pointed out a Common Potoo sitting on a dead snag just under the canopy. We had some amazing looks at this bird through the scope and at one point it opened its eyes and looked down at us with amazing yellow irides. A female Slaty-tailed Trogon flew in next to the guard station for some fantistic looks too.
After lunch we headed for Punta Culebra, a jut of land heading out into the ocean. It was warm when we arrived but we saw some great birds in a set of small bushes overlooking the ocean. We stayed here for about thirty minutes and the birds kept coming and most times really close. Crimson-backed Tanagers, Garden Emerald, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Buff-bellied Wren and Brown-throated Parakeet were some of the highlights and behind us in some taller trees we found Panama Flycatcher and Barred Antshrike.
Along the rocky shoreline we found Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Wilson’s Plover, Neotropic Cormorant and Laughing Gulls.
We walked all around the point and back to the van before heading into town. We walked through the city enjoying some of the architecture of the old city and birded along the shore line. The best find was a Peregrine Falcon that was harassing some White Ibis and Snowy Egrets chasing some and forcing one into the water.
We made our way back to the bus drove to a coastal mudflat where we pulled in at a police station where we could look down a canal where there was Little-blue Heron, Green Heron, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Whimbrel, Black-necked Stilt, Purple Gallinule, Snowy, Cattle and Great Egret and Spotted Sandpiper. We then drove over to the ocean side where there were extensive mudflats as the tide was out but coming in and pushing birds closer to us. Whimbrel, Greater Yellowlegs, Laughing Gull, Black Skimmer and Southern Lapwing were all seen well. The best find was a pair of Marbled Godwits that were probing the shore. Our guide Kilo was talking about how few are seen here when about twenty landed right in the scope view we had. Perfect timing. We eventually got back to the hotel to change then went out along the shroeline for dinner.
This morning Ed and I went out and enjoyed the grounds finding plenty of Grackles and Blue-grey Tanagers. We also found a Yellow-bellied Elaenia singing its morning song and we could hear a Western Slaty Antshrike calling from the woods but never found it. The usual Thrushes and Flycatchers were about and a pair of Red-crowned Woodpeckers too.
After breakfast we loaded into the van and began the drive up into the highlands. Our destination was Cerro Azul. It took us a while to get there and when we arrived it was cloudless and sunny with plenty of wind. This was the bad news. We hiked through the forest here but there was little about and it was eerily quiet. At the entrance we found a small group of birds including Western Slaty-Antshirke, Spot-crowned Tody-Tyrant, Dot-winged Antbird and Long-billed Gnatwren. Up along the trails our best and one of our only finds was a group of Black-and-Yellow Tanagers that we all had good looks at. A pair of Yellow-faced Grassquits accompanied us up the trail for a while until we called up the van and headed back to Birders View Lodge for lunch.
At Birders View the hummingbird feeders were filled up and in no time the place was humming, pun intended. Our first hummer was a fantastic female Rufous-crested Coquette that Merikay found along a row of flowering bushes. No sooner had I snapped some pictures of that when I got to the overlook of the valley when a White Hawk began to rise up the slope against the verdant green back ground. Just fantastic.
During lunch we enjoyed the feeders seeing a variety of hummingbirds including, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Violet-capped and Violet-headed Hummingbirds. The Plumeleteer was the most aggressive fending off birds from the feeders. We rested here for a while enjoying the views and birds. Several of us meandered around to see what else we could find. Out front in a flowering bush I found a Bananaquit and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and a Paltry Tyrannulet called from close by and eventually came into the tree right in front of me.
A pair of Boat-billed Flycatchers called to each other from high up in the canopy next to the house which was interrupted by sudden calls from the overlook. Several of us rushed out to find a distant Black Hawk-Eagle gliding very distant over the forest. No satisfying looks were had but the next raptor, a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle came in really close and we got some fantastic views.
Later we all gathered and walked down into some heliconias forest to look for White-tipped Sicklebill but to no avail. We trudged back and eventually loaded into the van to head south along the PanAmerican Highway.
After a while we arrived at a checkpoint in front of a large bridge over the Bayano lake and quickly crossed and stopped on the other side. We checked the waters edge finding several Cocoi Heron, a Least Grebe, my twelfth world Grebe and one of my main targets here and a Pied Water-Tyrant, not seen by all.
In the brush and green forest behind us we coaxed out a pair of Jet Antbirds with some playback and they showed well coming close in to an orange tree growing right in front of us.
As that was one of our main targets we continued south for a while before we passed where the “Secret Trail” our guide was looking for and had to turn around. We pulled up at the side of the road and got out just as a Zone-tailed Hawk passed over us in the company of some Turkey Vultures. We proceeded up the trail, which was well hidden from the road, into some primary forest. We were close to the first clearing when a small group of birds began to move through the canopy and we got good, but brief, views of White-eared Conebill before they were gone. In the clearing we could see an old fire had been built but at the edge of the clearing into the forest we saw a trogon fly in and got scope on it showing a fantastic male Black-tailed Trogon with his yellow bill and red eye ring. A spectacular bird and the only one I was able to get pictures of on the trip. Others were heard but not seen.
We ventured in a bit farther hearing some manakins and spooking up a Streaked Flycatcher. Further along the trail we found a noisy Plain Xenops and a pair of Spotted Antbirds that came in close but never into great views.
On the way back we found a lovely Cinnamon Woodpecker above us in a cecropia while a White-flanked Antwren scurried through some vine tangles. Some playback brought out a Golden-collared Manakin which showed well flying up and down the tree line then across and onto a distant roost for some good looks. At the clearing Kilo heard a Black Antshrike and we got good looks at the pair as they were quite close and responded to a bit of playback. The female with her rufous back and mottled head was a crowd pleaser.
We got back to the van and loaded up and drove on to the town of Torti where we would spend the night. The hostel was adequate and basic but then again we were only sleeping there and you need to stop there to get to our next destination. We ate dinner at a local restaurant which was nice then headed back to our rooms to clean up and charge batteries for the next day.
We were up early in expectation of another good days birding. We ate breakfast while it was still dark at the local restaurant and as the sun began to come up we could hear birds begin to call all around us.
We loaded up the bus and drove about a mile to the San Francisco Nature Reserve affectionately known as “El Padre or the Priest”, by our guide Kilo, as it is owned by a priest from Wisconsin. Regardless of who owned it the place was fantastic. We pulled through the gates and began to drive the dirt road towards some forested hills. We pulled up along the dirt road after a minute as there were two bright, Red-breasted Blackbirds sitting on a couple of bushes in the early morning light. We enjoyed some quick looks at them before driving up a bit further. We had the windows open to listen to all the calls and soon it got overwhelming with the amount of bird activity along the bush line on either side of the road so we got out and began to walk. There were birds everywhere in the bushes and trees along this stretch of dirt road. Plain-breasted Ground-Dove were cooing in the trees and a pair of Boat-billed Flycatchers made a racket as they chased each other around. The sweet song of a Yellow-tailed Oriole got our attention and in the warm morning sunlight the bird glowed among the green leaves in front of us.
A distant Bright-rumped Atilla and Lineated Woodpecker were heard from the far treeline and a sudden burst of load calls and songs let us know that a pair of Buff-breasted Wrens were here. They showed quite well as they busied themselves through the bushes around us.
A Spot-breasted Woodpecker alighted a leafless branch behind us and began to call. We all had good looks at it but with the light behind it they were not great. As I crept forward back down the road to try and get a picture a Tropical Pewee landed right above me in an overhanging branch. We got great looks, pictures and recordings when it began to call. Blue-black Grassquits, Long-billed Starthroat and Ruddy Ground-Dove were also seen along this stretch before we got back on the bus and drove to the end of the road where we got out again to make our way on foot.
When we were all out several Orange-chinned Parakeets called from the cecropia tree above us and three Greater Ani’s passed by stopping in cover but giving us some good looks.
From here we walked the road passed a field of Tarrow Root and into the forest beyond. From a dead snag a pair of Long-tailed Tyrants sallied forth for food. A small clearing beyond a banana plantation was very active and we spent a while here enjoying White-winged Becard, Thick-billed Euphonia, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, White-ringed Flycatcher, a Blue Cotinga flyby which was unsatisfying and several vultures.
I could hear some manakins behind me along the river so climbed the bank to try and see down but too many trees blocked my path. I was looking down at a heliconia when a Western Long-tailed Hermit sidled up to it and sipped some nectar.
I walked around and into the woods along the trail and took a left down to the river. The swift flowing creek ambled around several large boulders but there no birds here so I went back to the group. Several close loud calls brought me up short as a pair of Dusky-faced Tanagers bobbed from tree to tree in front of me until they passed by. I could hear the manakins behind me again so climbed down the bank and through some banana trees to get close to the creek. As I was almost there several Golden-collared Manakins flew across the creek wing snapping and calling. They were all about me and when the males flew I could hear their wings rustle like dry paper. They danced from limb to limb chasing several females and it was fantastic to watch. As I was recording them a Buff-rumped Warbler sang from the creek behind me. Soon enough the manakins had moved through and I climbed out of the trees and back up the main trail. The group had caught up by now and they also enjoyed the manakins as they proceeded down the forest next to us.
We all crossed the river with a brief stop for Northern Royal Flycatcher, which was never seen, and climbed a trail up above the creek that ran next to a steep sided hill. We were surrounded by thick green foliage on both sides. A trogon called behind us and once we were in deep into the forest a new call reached our ears. A Speckled Mourner alighted a distant cecropia and we all had good looks at this bird as it flew in close before passing over the trail.
We continued on along this thickly forested trail finding some great birds. I stopped at one point to record a trogon when the wonderfully musical song of a Blue-black Grosbeak erupted from the forest right in front of me. The bird was very obliging and sang many times right in front of us.
We also had great looks at a pair of Gartered Trogons singing and eating right in front of us. A noisy pair of Bay Wrens came up the river bank in front of us and crossed the path coming close and giving us some good but brief views. While enjoying the trogons we also got to see a pair of Black-headed Tody-Flycatchers in a cecropia above us. We headed back after a while to catch the bus out for lunch and an afternoon siesta. Near the end of the trail we found a lovely tarantula while enjoying great looks at a pair of Black-crowned Tityra’s before heading back.
In the afternoon we were back at El Padre and this time we took the right branch past the tarrow field through an open forested area. Birds seemed close in here too as they foraged through the trees around us. We had great looks at Slaty-tailed Trogon, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Fulvous-vented Euphonia singing its very mechanical song, lekking Western Long-tailed Hermits and many others.
While enjoying the trogon a Great Jacamar flew in and landed in front of us for some fantastic scope views, albeit short. A Great Antshrike called from deep inside the foliage but was not seen very well by anyone. Keel-billed Toucans called above us in the canopy and in a clearing we found a Scarlet-thighed Dacnis in the top of a cecropia while looking at Palm and Blue-gray Tanagers. Our next tanager was a fantastic Sulphur-rumped Tanager that landed on a close cecropia before flying across the trail. Ed found a Pied Puffbird that we all had good looks at as it sat on a dead tree branch. Farther down the trail on the way back the musical notes of a Song Wren stopped us for a listen and some looks, mostly at movement but some had a brief view.
At the end of this forested trail we came back out at the tarrow field and while scanning the distant tree line Kilo found a pair of Spot-crowned Barbets building a nest in the dead snag of a tall tree. We all enjoyed great views of these birds and as we drew closer were treated to even better looks. We ended up back in the clearing past the tarrow fields where we found two spectacular Keel-billed Toucans that quickly disappeared into the trees behind and were gone. An overflying White Hawk drifted by really close for some of the best views of the trip.
We headed back along the tarrow fields and stopped at the edge to scan the treeline for birds and after a bit Kilo exclaimed “Blue Cotinga”. This was one David, who'd dipped on it the past two trips, as well as the rest of us were keen to see. Very distant scope views showed the colors well against the green background but the details were not very sharp. Luckily for us it flew towards us and landed in the tree the Barbets had been occupying. Then we got great scope views of this fantastic bird. We continued to one of the small ponds and after climbing through some underbrush came out in front of the small body of water. A Striated Heron was across the pond in a banana tree while three Smooth-billed Ani’s gathered on the shoreline closest too us in another tree. A Rusty-margined Flycatcher watched proceedings while a Red-crowned Woodpecker called from behind us before dropping off the exposed limb it was on and into flight.
As it was nearing dusk Red-lored Amazon’s were coming into roost and making quite a racket. Little Tinamou began to call all around us and a Red-billed Scythebill called once but was never lured out. We loaded back into the van to head back to Torti and the hostel.
We were ready for breakfast early and packed up everything and loaded up a new smaller van for the trip south. We ate our breakfast and as the sun was rising we enjoyed a little birding before we departed with the highlights being a pair of Collared Aracari's preening in a tree over looking the restaurant.
We said goodbye to Torti and drove south stopping along the way to get rid of excess baggage that we wouldn’t need for the next couple of days. Along the two hour drive we did have some great birds of note. A lone Roadside Hawk showed particularly well and our new guide Benni, found a Merlin perched in a Cecropia overlooking the road. Not one I expected to see here.
We got to the docks at Porto Quimba and were met by our local guides, a wife and husband from the Embera tribe. Their traditional dress was beautiful and their skin was artfully decorated with traditional dyes. We waited for the clearance and loading and climbed into one of the motorized boats that would take us down river.
Once aboard we spent the next hour out in the vast expanse of the mouth of Tuira River passing the town of La Palma in the distance and closer in by the town of Chepigna. The river narrowed here and after a while we took a right channel which I thought was a new river but it turned out to be a massive island in the middle of the river. Along the way Royal Tern and Laughing Gulls circled above us with a few Magnificent Frigatebirds joining in.
The mouth of the Marea River opened up on the near shoreline and we entered here and began to wind our way deep into the Darien jungle. White Ibis, Little Blue Heron, Common Black Hawk, Spotted Sandpiper and Whimbrel were seen perched in trees along the edge of the river. After a while of dodging logs as the river narrowed our boat pilot missed one and caught the propeller which stalled the engine. A few tugs on the line yielded no results. We waited while Bright-rumped Atilla’s called in the distance and the river flowed back out into the river mouth beyond. If it didn’t start soon we might be high and dry here until the next tide came in. Eventually the motor turned over and we got going. Both Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers spooked in front of us and flew down the river. Neotropic Cormorants were often seen, necks protruding from the water, which we noticed was becoming shallower and shallower. Sometimes we would scrape by into the next channel and eventually we came to a spot in the river where ahead of us four or five Embera women stood ankle deep in the river. An amazing scene with their bright orange, yellow and red skirts bare skin and body paint and an array of beaded necklaces. Bright smiles beamed at us from dark mouths and they began to trot towards us as we beached on a sandbar. Before we knew it their numbers had swelled and at least ten girls and women began to push the boat over the shoals. Once across they set off over the bank and were gone till we came around another short bend to find them there waiting at the next sandbar. With beaming smiles and laughter they pushed us over the next sandbar. Feeling a bit embarrassed to be pushed by a bunch of girls David and I decided we would get out next time and help. The next sandbar came but this time we pulled up onto it on purpose. There before us stood the gathering of young Embera girls and each one took one of our hands and led us into the village. We climbed a mud bank and followed a well worn path past a few homes perched on stilts and open on three sides with thatched roofs.
On all sides was jungle, green and verdant with vines, epiphytes and lichens hanging from tall boughs. The pathway opened up into a long grassy field where several houses were situated next to the river. A pathway led to the back of the compound past some more houses and we entered back into the jungle and along a mud path up to an open air platform. The smell of wood smoke and cooking food told my stomach this is where we would be eating.
The girls sat with us for a while as we ate and drank. The heat was palpable here but we were glad to be sitting down and at our destination. Several of the Embera brought our luggage up from the second boat and after lunch we headed up to our lodge. Once the rooms were sorted out and our stuff laid out we went out and birded with Benni.
He took us behind the lodge and down a path that came out at the back of the village and we took a wooded trail along the river finding Chestnut-backed Antbird, Common Black Hawk, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Collared Aracari, Dot-winged Antwren, Olivaceous Flatbill and Golden-collared Manakin.
When we emerged back out next to the village we found a leafless tree on the opposite bank which was loaded with birds. During the coarse of the next half hour we watched Cinnamon Becard, Blue-grey Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Collared Aracari building a nest in the neighboring dead palm, and Spot-breasted Woodpecker which showed the best of the trip with clear looks at it’s green and red plumage. Blue-headed Parrots landed in a tree behind and a Black Oropendola did a fly by. A Pale-tailed Barbthroat hawked for insects under an overhanging tree and a Black-throated Mango landed in the “bird tree”, as we were calling it, for some nice scope views. Tropical Kingbirds and a Lesser Kiskadee added to the tyrant list for the trip.
We left reluctantly but decided to walk through the village along the river and back to our lodgings. Black-chested Jay were heard and finally seen on the way back and as dusk began to settle Little Tinamou began to call from below the lodge. They seemed almost underneath us but never showed. They serenaded us for a while before dinner then we settled in for some rest and lights out.
A dawn chorus of Little Tinamou and Pauraque greeted us when we woke for breakfast. I could hear a Pauraque close and wanted a good recording so followed the trail down the slope that led down to the back of the village. I would stop and record and move closer. In the gray dawn light I was able to find the trail and the bird was getting closer as I moved down. Halfway down is a small clearing and as I moved to the edge I could hear the bird calling. I took one step out into the open and it flew from its perch over the clearing, showing it’s white wing patches then circled back towards me and back into the forest. I climbed back up to the lodge and could hear another on the trail leading to the kitchen hut so followed down that trail. As I drew closer anther flew off and down the trail coming out in dim light through a clearing and back into the jungle. Luckily I still had my recorder going when a pair of Rufous Motmots began to call to each other. Their onomatopoeic calls echoed up the valley in the morning light.
After breakfast we loaded up our gear for the next night and began our long hike into the jungle. We stopped at the kitchen for water and I could hear Great Antshrike calling back and forth to each other one close the other farther distant. A Western Slaty-Antshirke was seen by a few of us really close at the edge of the clearing. I followed a narrow trail into the forest for a few meters when a Rufous Motmot flew up from its perch and landed in front of me. It looked at me for a second then crossed the path an landed farther back in the jungle. It was here that some squeaky calls and rustling movement caught my attention as three Geoffrey’s Tamarins passed by in front of me.
I turned round and went back to the “kitchen” where the group still was getting water. I loaded up myself before we moved out. This was the start of a long and arduous trek through four miles of hilly, hot jungle that was infested with good birds. It’s rough but someone had to do it. The first part of the trail was fairly flat and we enjoyed some good birds like Pale-breasted Hermit, Blue-crowned Motmot, Chestnut-backed and Jet Antbirds. At one point we came to a clearing with a giant Cuepo tree that had several Oropendola nests hanging from it. There were several birds in the tree including Black Oropendola and Yellow-rumped Cacique. Behind us the throaty calls of Black-crowned Tityra afforded us the best looks of the trip while Piratic Flycatchers called out in the trees. We crossed this open field passing a wild coffee tree at the edge of the forest on the other side.
After several more hours of hiking, a stop for lunch, where we exchanged guide's, Benni going back with another group and Guido accompanying us the rest of the way, several grueling hills and a steep descent we pulled up at a small jutting point in the trail and there before us through a hole in the canopy was a huge Cuepo tree. Lodged in its massive boughs was the huge stick nest of a Harpy Eagle. Once all our breath was collected we enjoyed fantastic views of the young bird stretching its wings or sitting motionless. We all spent a while taking pictures and marveling at the amazing creature before us.
Other birds began to grab our attention after a while and the call of a trogon had me scurrying down hill to get a look. It was a White-tailed Trogon calling from right above the trail. A real neck stiffener as it was straight up through a small gap in the foliage. It flew across and landed close which was good as we were able to see it without the stiff necks. Next a pair of Golden-crowned Manakins began to call from down below us then as they flew past they were seen perched behind us. Chestnut-mandibled Toucans called from the canopy above us but always out of sight. We still had to hike down to the camp so reluctantly left the Harpy and hiked down hill towards a rolling creek. We crossed the shallow water to our camp to find the tents already up and gladly set down our gear.
A ninety degree bend in the creek had caused a pool to form and a large tree had fallen in a while back creating a small dam behind which the pool had deepened. It looked cool and inviting and I stripped down waded into the cool, clear water. Small cichlids scurried out of my way and the water leached the heat out of me. It was amazingly refreshing on my insect ravaged legs.
We settled in for the evening with some dinner and well earned rest. Several Red-throated Caracaras called loudly from above us and several people got some life looks which was good. As dusk settled in the frogs began their nightly chorus and the soft strains of a “Choco” Vermiculated Screech-Owl ushered us into the darkness.
The dawn chorus began after we had been awake for a while. Chestnut-backed Antbirds were drowned out by the bellows of two troops of competing Howler Monkeys. In between the roars a Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon “Kaw”ed at us from high in the canopy. A Bright-rumped Atilla called next as I was walking to the creek for breakfast. The loud blast of a pair of Bay Wrens from the edge of the creek seemed oddly loud for this time of the morning. As I got close I could see them in the foliage at the edge of the water. Ankle deep in cool water I waited as the female belted out the first few chords to be picked up by the male then the last refrain carried by the female again. The timing was amazing and right in front of me where I could see both birds in the foliage. The male on top of a toppled branch and the female just underneath, heads back singing in unison. Fantastically loud for such small birds.
A Great Green Macaw flew over croaking as it went and the mechanical song of a Euphonia from a nearby branch blended in with all the myriad sounds coming from the widening light. After the Bay Wrens had stopped calling I followed the creek up stream for a bit and found Green Kingfisher perched on an exposed snag. I got the scope on it and some of us got some great views before it flew off to be seen again past the bend in the creek at the back of the pool. It’s larger cousin a Ringed Kingfisher passed by overhead and perched a bit farther down the river on an overhanging branch for all to see.
Back by the “bathroom”, just a cleared spot in the jungle really, a pair of Chestnut-backed Antbirds called to each other and moved quite close before passing by. We packed up back at the tents while a Buff-rumped Warbler sang from the creek beyond and we began the long hike back to the village.
The hike back didn’t seem as long and when we came across an antswarm things started to heat up. Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds jumped through the low foliage after insects along with a Spotted Antbird and a Cocoa Woodcreeper.
A mixed canopy flock gave some interest as three White-flanked Antwrens called noisly from above along with Dot-winged Antwren, Golden-fronted Greenlet and White-throated Wood-Wren. Thrush-like Schiffornis, Rufous Piha and Rufous Mourner were also seen well here.
About half a mile from the village the heavens opened up and it began to pour down. I scurried off as I had a load of camera gear I didn’t want wet and a ziplock back helped to keep my small camera and recorder dry. I was soaked by the time I got back but the rain stopped and I quickly dried up my gear. We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the balcony of the lodge enjoying the view and birds like Great-crested Flycatcher, Black-chested Jay, Red-lored Amazon, Orange-crowned Oriole, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet and Blue-and-Yellow Macaw. As night closed in we ate dinner and listened as a Great Antshrike and Little Tinamou sang.
Sometime in the middle of the night the loud blasting calls of Grey-necked Wood-Rail underneath the lodge woke everyone and set off all the dogs in the village. From across the valley I could hear another rail answering back.
Another morning in the jungle with all its myriad sounds greeted the dawn light. Pauraque and Little Tinamou got out the last of their nocturnal calls before the daylight birds began. We were going to bird around the lodge and village today so there was no real hurry to get going. A pair of Cocoa Woodcreepers called to each other as they explored a Cecropia tree next to the balcony. Black-chested Jay’s called in the distance as we got going.
Five meters along the trail to the kitchen we stopped to try for nunlet and they duly responded and came in close and began to call. A pair of Grey-cheeked Nunlets were seen by all and right then I was wishing I hadn’t packed up my camera for the Embera to take to the boat. We continued down past the kitchen and along the path to the village. A Buff-breasted Wren called from a forested gulley as we approached the school building where we stopped. The single note call of a Yellow-breasted Flycatcher got our attention and with a little playback the bird flew into the tree above us then back over the school into another tree. What seemed like a white plastic bag to someone turned out to be a roosting King Vulture once they got bins on it. Wings outstretched in the morning sunlight we all got some nice scope views of this bird.
We continued on down to the river and walked along there for a bit enjoying some leisurely birding while we waited for the tribal presentation the Emberea had in store for us.
Once ready they showed us their homes and how they lived and did some traditional dances for us which was interesting. We all bought some traditional necklaces and woven baskets and carvings. It was nice to take a piece of their culture back with us. We ate lunch and passed out some goodies of our own and the kids especially loved the bag of candy Fran brought with her that Guido tossed into the air for them to fight for. A bit of football had me exhausted before long and as I was losing to the girls I figured I’d save face and duck out before I got too embraced. They walked us by hand out of the village to our waiting boat and we birded along the river here finding some new species including Grey-capped Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler and Streak-headed Woodcreeper.
We all climbed down the bank and loaded up the boat. As they pushed us off the girls began to sing to us one last time and when finished waved and beamed their smiles at us before turning and disappearing back to their homes. I was sad to see them go as I had enjoyed being around such bright and warm people.
The rest of the day was spent in travel. We took the boat back to the dock then loaded into the van and drove West along the Pan-American Highway. We continued all the way into Panama city and then north to Gamboa arriving at 8:00 at night. We were all tired and worn out but quickly cleaned up and got into bed for a nice air-conditioned nights sleep.
We woke to the sounds of birds calling in the yard. It was still dark when I made my first coffee and sat on the porch listening to the birds calling. Common Pauraque and a pair of Blue-crowned Motmot’s called from the forest beyond the yard.
After breakfast we made our way over to the famous Pipeline road. We birded the road up to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center but didn’t find much. At the center we relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the hummingbird feeders getting great views of White-necked Jacobin, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Blue-chested Hummingbird and White-vented Plumeleteer. While enjoying the hummers a pair of Broad-billed Motmots landed in the trees next to us and preyed on the insects while we watched. Nice close views.
We walked from here down into a patch of jungle where we heard some birds calling and decided to see what we could find. A mixed canopy flock was here and we found Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren and Spotted Antbird. We could hear an Streak-breasted Antpitta calling from deep in the forest so imitated it with some whistles. It called back and moved a little closer but never into visual range. So we went to the mountain. Guido moved up the trail to find a suitable spot to climb in and I followed in with my camera until we could hear the bird clearly. We were looking down into a thickly forested gulley and the calls were constant and rising up at us. Guido found the bird and with his laser pointer found it for me. I had great looks but was not in a position to get a picture. The rest of the group came in and Guido got the bird in the scope. I moved left and found a clear spot in the foliage and got some great pictures. Always difficult to get pictures of an Antpitta I was really pleased. It just sat on the branch it was on and sang away. Brilliant.
We stopped back at the Discovery center and loaded up on drinks and shirts before hiking into the forest again. We walked around for a while finding some good species but very few. The best was the tiny Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant. It came in close with a little play back and we all had some good looks at it.
We took another path down to a lake where we found Sungrebe, Snail Kite, Wattled Jacana and Northern and Southern Rough-winged Swallows.
In the bus on the way out we passed a trogon and got out for some great looks at this close bird. We had seen it in the Darien but this White-tailed Trogon was right next to the road and we were able to get some nice pictures before driving back to Soberania Lodge for lunch and an afternoon rest. After lunch we enjoyed the birds that came to the feeder including Blue-grey Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Northern Waterthrush, Palm Tanager and the local Central American Agouti’s. A pair of Grey-headed Chachalaca’s also flew into a tree in the yard and began to preen while a pair of Yellow-bellied Elaenia’s called from the brush at the end of the yard.
We had a couple hours drive to El Valle so we packed up and left planning to stop by the ammo dump ponds but soon as we were out of the neighborhood we spotted a pair of Bat Falcons resting on a dead tree. The pair were fantastic and approachable. Amazing to see such size difference between male and female. We snapped plenty of pictures then headed west stopping along the way to try find some dry savannah species and had some luck where we pulled off finding Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Streaked Saltator. After a snack stop we drove into the mountains and the wonderfully cloud forested area of El Valled de Anton. Our hotel for the night had wonderful gardens and the temperature up here was cool and inviting. Dinner was outside in the cool breeze then we sat near an open fire to do the bird list before heading for bed.
An early breakfast again had us looking at a pair of House Wrens pulling bugs from the lamps and listening to the dawn chorus around us. We loaded into the van and headed into town. It had been raining so we needed a four wheel drive and found a guy in town and loaded into the back of his vehicle and drove up into the cloud forest. The road finally became too steep and slippery even for this so we all climbed out to do some birding. The group split in two with some of us continuing up the slope and others enjoying the plethora of birds around the truck.
Guido, Jerry, Merikay and I climbed up the hill following a washed out gravel road that just became a pathway. It was beginning to look like a bad idea when near the top we began to get some birds. First a Golden-winged Warlber showed up with a Silver-throated Tanager and a Black-and-Yellow Tanager and Common Bush-Tanager. We continued up till it became flatter and the path easy to walk. Thick vegetation lined the hillsides and moist clouds rolled past from time to time.
Where the trial went flat we stopped for a while as the activity was excellent here. Just standing here and walking up a few yards we had Black-and-white, Wilson’s, and a beautiful male Golden-winged Warlber. A Tawny-capped Euphonia collected berries from a fruiting tree in front of us. Hepatic Tanager and Grey-breasted Wood-Wrens called from close by but were not seen. A flock of Brown-hooded Parrots landed in a flowering tree down the slope and we all got some good looks at these birds. While enjoying them a small flock passed right by at eye level including three Rufous-browned Tyrannulets. Guido had only seen these once before and way up in the canopy. They danced from limb to limb in front of us for a few minutes before they were gone. We got amazing looks at these scarce birds.
We hiked back down to the flat area where our driver, Arrial was scoping a bird and waved to us frantically but by the time we got there it was gone. A Snowcap. We decided to wait for a while and got some more new birds including Tufted Flycatcher and Violet-crowned Woodnymph as well as a very obliging Rufous-capped Warbler. We were about to give up when Arrial called out “Snowcap” and there it was perched on a narrow limb underneath a close by tree. I got a look through my binoculars and by the time I turned to get my camera and tell Merikay it had flown off.
We moved off from here hiking back down the trail to the vehicle. When we came out of the cloud forest and it opened up again we had some good looks at a mixed flock that moved up the hill past us. Tawny-capped Tanager, White-lined and White-shouldered Tanager. A female Barred Antshrike followed by the male and more White-lined Tanagers farther down showed well. Several Social Flycatchers rummaged around in a group of trees along the path and the distant metallic blue of a Scarlet-thighed Dacnis shone like a beacon from a cecropia.
We met the group at the bottom who had similar success but with different birds and we loaded up and drove back to hotel for lunch.
Back in the grounds we had some time before we ate so myself, Ed, Merikay and Jerry ended up out in the garden enjoying Crimson-backed, White-lined and Summer Tanagers along with Buff-throated and Streaked Saltator, Yellow-billed Cacique, Barred Antshrike and Clay-colored Thrush.
After lunch we drove up a different road into the cloud forest and before we stopped a Rufous Motmot flew in front of the bus and stopped close to the road for some fantastic views. We pulled up at the top of a hill and continued on foot up the winding road finding a good flock that included Olive-striped Flycatcher, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager and others.
We tried for Tody Motmot without success. I walked up the street a bit looking for other species and go a bit ahead of the group. When I turned round to see where they were I saw a large bird move in the trees above me and found a brilliant Lineated Woodpecker. As the bus caught up I walked up the road to catch it as three Scarlet-rumped Caciques flew into a tree above me. I could see the blue eyes, which Guido told me was their identifying feature. We drove up to higher ground where we got out and birded along a creek. A small flock at the top of the road had several Thick-billed Euphonia, Bay-headed Tanager and a Silver-throated Tanager.
At the top of the road it leveled out near a chicken farm and an adjacent field produced several birds including Black-striped Sparrow, Mourning Warbler and a female Thick-billed Euphonia. Along the road we came across several Keel-billed Toucans as they flew across the road and when we came to a park we stopped at the entrance to see another Rufous Motmot and a pair Cocoa Woodcreepers. Sadly we needed to head back to Gamboa for the night so reluctantly got in the bus and headed back. We stopped on the way back at a great pizza place before getting back to the lodge for another nice air-conditioned nights sleep.
This morning we were in no hurry as it was our last. Pauraque called from the woods beyond along with Blue-crowned Motmot. Clay-colored Thrushes joined in and as I was out recording the Pauraque’s I heard a Spectacled Owl calling up the hill in the brightening darkness. I waited for a few minutes to see what else might call and that’s when I heard the drawn out “kaw…kaw…kaw” of a Collared Forest-Falcon. It called several times before the light was all the way up and we had to go.
We stopped at the airport to check the open grassy areas finding Cattle Tyrant, Snowy Egret, Shiny Cowbird and a distant Peregrine Falcon perched in the distance. We said goodbye to our guides and made our way through customs and home again.
Panama is a wonderful place and the birds are fantastic. I recommend at least two weeks to allow visiting the western part of the country. I favored here over Costa Rica though the birding is good in both places, the Darien experience was amazing and something I don’t think you can get with their neighbors to the north. We did miss several of our target species and having three different guides was not helpful but the places we went afforded us some amazing birds, wonderful people and spectacular scenery. My pristine copy of “A Guide to the Birds of Panama” that had sat on the shelf unused for years without a dog eared corner came back well used, front cover falling off, thanks to getting soaked on the way back from the Harpy eagle nest and dirty, job done. It lacks range maps which is a major draw back but other than that the artwork for the most part is accurate and helpful.
You can see my photos from this tour in my Panama 2009 Flickr album.
You can hear the sounds of this tour on Xeno-canto.
H = Heard only
Little Tinamou H
Magnificent Frigate Bird
Great Blue Heron
Common Black Hawk
Red-throated Caracara H
Northern Crested Carcara
Collared Forest-Falcon H
Grey-necked Wood-Rail H
Blue Ground-Dove H
Great Green Macaw
Red-lored Amazon parrot
Vermiculated Screech-Owl H
Spectacled Owl H
Western Long-tailed Hermit
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Grey-breasted Wood-Wren H
White-breasted Wood-Wren H
Stripe-throated Wren H
Great Crested Flycatcher