Panama 2012

Tour DescriptionPraise for the Panama Tour

Madrone Members Birdwatch in Panama

Blue Cotinga

Blue Cotinga. Photo by Carlos Bethancourt.

In February 2012, nine members of Madrone Audubon traveled to Panama with Talon Tours for a birding and nature adventure.

During the two-week tour we were in the very capable hands of the Canopy Tower Family and their bird and wildlife guide, Carlos Bethancourt. Once we entered the Darien portion of the trip we were joined by local expert, Beny Wilson.

Our tour began in the Canal Zone at Canopy Tower located in the Soberania National Park, close to such well-known birding sites as Pipeline Road, Old Gamboa Road and Ammo Dump Ponds. The birding and wildlife was first class and we saw birds such as Blue Cotinga and White-whiskered Puffbird.

Black-breasted Puffbird

Black-breasted Puffbird. Photo by Carlos Bethancourt.

Another day tour took us to the Caribbean coast where we visited the World Heritage site of the old Spanish Fortress of San Lorenzo. Along Achiote Road we found Black-breasted Puffbird, White-headed Wren (a canopy-dwelling wren) and Black-throated Trogon.

Our return to Canopy Tower was on board the Panama Canal Railway flanking the Panama Canal, passing through lowland rainforests, cruising alongside the Canal’s locks, through the historic Gaillard Cut and crossing over narrow causeways in Gatun Lake.

Carlos roused us during one of our afternoon siestas at the Tower to say that the much sought-after Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo had been seen attending an army ant swarm along Pipeline Road. Soon we were able to watch the ground-cuckoo along with the many antbirds and wood-creepers that were taking advantage of the insects and small animals that flushed in an attempt to escape the army ants.

Rufous-vented-Ground-Cuckoo close-up



Crimson-backed Tanager

Crimson-backed Tanager

Reluctantly, but with anticipation we moved on to Canopy Lodge. This lodge is located two hours by road from the Canal Zone, near the town of El Valle and situated within the crater of an extinct volcano at an elevation of approximately 2000 feet. There we saw many tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, oropendolas and flycatchers, some of which were visiting the fruit feeders that were located close to the outdoor dining area.

Yellow-tailed Oriole

Yellow-tailed Oriole

One memorable day was spent in the lowlands close to the Pacific Coast where our efforts focused on dry forest habitat, watching such birds as a flock of Brown-throated Parakeets that dined on the pink blossoms of the roadside trees.

During a picnic lunch at a beach house we watched Royal and Sandwich Terns, Laughing Gulls and Magnificent Frigatebirds. In addition the local fishing fleet loaded their catch onto the beach while some of our group cooled off with an ocean swim.

On the drive back to the lodge we had excellent views of a perched Pearl Kite and then visited the day roost of a Tropical Screech Owl. We also birded a Cloud Forest within the crater in an area called Altos del Maria. Among the many species of birds present we found the elusive White-tipped Sicklebill and a furtive Dull-mantled Antbird.

We also saw a variety of mammals, including agouti, coati, peccary, several species of monkeys, both species of sloth, and an anteater, a Northern Tamandua.

On the eleventh day some of the group moved on to the airport and their flights home.  The rest of us embarked on an exploratory extension of the tour into an area known as the Darien Lowlands.

Streak-chested Antpitta

Streak-chested Antpitta. Photo by Carlos Bethancourt.

Traveling toward Colombia on the Pan-American Highway we passed through Kuna and Embera Indian villages, and while birding, we found Black Oropendola, Orange-bellied Euphonia, and a group of singing and displaying White-throated Nunbirds.

At the end of the Pan-American Highway lies Yarvisa, a frontier town of 2000 people and 20 bars, on the banks of Rio Chucanque. Time was short, though we did walk the main street absorbing the raw atmosphere and taking photos from the swing bridge that crosses the river. We noted that most of the homes had a satellite dish attached to the roof.

Red-legged Honeycreeper

Red-legged Honeycreeper

After visiting the future site of Canopy Towers’ new African-style tent camp, we birded our way back to Panama City stopping to visit the Embera Indian village of Ipeti. Women artisans of the village showed us how they create their very fine basketry, some of which we could not resist purchasing.

All of the women and men in attendance wore traditional body paint; some of our group chose to be painted in similar fashion after learning that the dyes do fade after a short time.

We were all very impressed with the birding and wildlife in Panama; Talon Tours will offer this tour again in March 2013.

Wonderful Trip

Thanks Ken--it was a wonderful trip and I really enjoyed it. And I know that Karen did, too.

Daphne Smith

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About Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson is the owner of Talon Tours. A native New Zealander, Ken has been leading nature and birdwatching tours worldwide since 1995. Ken has also led focused tours to many national and state parks in the western United States as well as key birding sites during migration. His passion for photography began in the early 1970’s and continues to grow. Ken is known for his easygoing manner and attention to organizational and logistical details.