Having been welcomed at the Panama City airport and whisked off to Canopy Tower, located in the Soberania National Park, we enjoyed an excellent lunch and met with our guide for the tour, Carlos Bethancourt. After lunch we settled into our rooms and then ascended to the roof of the tower for our first spot of birding and the above-canopy views from the Panama Canal all the way to Panama City.
Though this ten-day tour did not officially start until the next morning we watched Western Long-tailed Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Violet-bellied and Blue-chested Hummingbirds at the lodge feeders before being guided along Semaphore Hill Road and the Plantation Road trail. Slowly birding Semaphore Hill Road we saw three different Great Tinamou casually feeding within a few feet of the side of the road, and a stunning male White-tailed Trogon. At the entry to Plantation Trail we watched a pair of White-necked Puffbirds.
The next morning we enjoyed fresh coffee and very good views of perched Grey-headed Kite and Green Shrike-vireo from the tower before heading back down Semaphore Road where we watched Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and Black Hawk-Eagle. Following an excellent lunch at the tower we headed out to Ammo Dump Ponds where a Rufescent Tiger-Heron put on a lengthy show of hunting. We also had extended looks at a Gray-necked Wood-Rail and a pair of Barred Antshrikes. Orioles were also present with Orchard, Yellow-tailed and Baltimore all represented.
On our third morning we left the tower early for a full day of birding along Pipeline Road where we started the day with lengthy looks at a perched Gray Hawk and a group of White-faced Capuchin Monkeys that chose to cross the road above us. Further along the road we watched as two Squirrel Cuckoos demonstrated their hunting techniques and witnessed the dispatch of a large caterpillar. Hummingbirds we encountered included White-necked Jacobin and Violet-bellied Hummingbird, while trogons were well represented with White-tailed, Violaceous, Black-throated and Slaty-tailed all hunting along the roadside.
After a much-appreciated picnic lunch we encountered a very active Army Ant swarm that was well attended by Plain-brown, Northern-barred, Cocoa and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Dot-winged Antwren, Spotted, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds and Gray-headed Tanager, a feast for the senses as we kept one eye on the birds and the other on the ant columns that wove around us. Some of the many other birds we saw along the road include Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Brownish Twistwing, a flock of Purple-throated Fruitcrows and a Song Wren that perched near the roadside and lived up to its name.
We made an early start on our fourth morning and drove north to Achiote Road on the Atlantic side of the country where soon after crossing the Panama Canal locks we launched into the beginnings of a busy day of birding. Our first sighting after crossing the locks was a perched Savannah Hawk followed soon after by a flock of Crested Oropendolas. Red-breasted Blackbirds and Black-striped Sparrows were present in the nearby grasses. A little further up the road we found a patch of forest containing Orange-chinned Parakeet, Violaceous and Black-tailed Trogons, Black-breasted Puffbird, Spot-crowned Barbet and Buff-throated Saltator. Rounding off the morning’s birding we watched the canopy-dwelling White-headed Wren and lekking Golden-collared Manakins.
After a very fulfilling picnic lunch we drove to the old Spanish fortress of Fort Lorenzo, a World Heritage Site, located at the entrance of the Chagress River. Birds we saw here included Palm Warbler, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Yellow-headed Caracara and both Common and Great Black-Hawks. For the 40-mile return trip across the isthmus we boarded the historic Panama Canal Railroad and enjoyed comfortable viewing of the canal and the many Snail Kites from the elevated observation car. No matter how good the day, it is always nice to return home to a refreshing shower and a cold beer or complimentary glass of Chilean wine.
On day five of the tour we spent the morning at Summit Ponds and Old Gamboa Road, then ate lunch and took a short rest at the tower. The rest of the afternoon we birded on and near the banks of the Chagres River. Highlights of the morning included a flock of Black Vultures numbering in the hundreds, nesting Boat-billed Herons, Gray Hawk, an uncommon migrant White-eyed Vireo, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Blue Ground-Dove, Rufous-breasted Wren and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Spectacled Caiman and American Crocodile were also present. Some of our sightings for the afternoon included Panama and Great-crested Flycatcher, Southern Lapwing, Yellow-backed and Yellow-tailed Orioles, Flame-rumped and Golden-hooded Tanagers, Buff-breasted Wren, Cinnamon Becard, Piratic Flycatcher, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Blue-crowned Motmot.
We spent the morning of our sixth day birding the Metropolitan Park in Panama City and then scoped the mudflats along the city shores for shorebirds and waders. In Metropolitan Park the only people we encountered were researchers from Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Here we had our first good looks at a troop of Geoffroy’s Tamarin along with Coati and Agouti. Birds that we encountered here include Rosy Thrush-Tanager, White-shouldered, Red-crowned and Red-throated Tanagers, Golden-winged Warbler, White-winged Becard, Lance-tailed Manakin, Yellow-olive Flycatcher and Golden-crowned Spadebill.
Despite encountering a very low tide on the coast the numbers of birds present for viewing was stunning. Waders included Great Blue, Cocoi, Little Blue, and Tricolored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. As many as ten species of plovers and sandpipers dotted the shore and both Laughing and Franklin’s Gulls were present. Following lunch at the tower some of us visited the Miraflores Locks and learned of the history of the canal at the Visitor Center and watched the conveyance of shipping through the different levels of the Panama Canal. In addition we had the best looks imaginable of close-soaring Magnificent Frigatebirds.
Following an outdoor Barbeque we took a very successful “night drive” in search of the nocturnal fauna in the forest surrounding the tower. Sightings included four Two-toed Sloths, two Western Night Monkeys, two Kinkajous, one Common Opossum and a calling Choco Screech-Owl.
Sunrise from the top of the tower is always a special time and it was so on the morning of our seventh day as the staff supplied us with cups of fresh coffee while we watched White-bellied Hummingbirds, Green Honeycreepers and Blue Dacnis working the flowers of the canopy at eye level. Following a leisurely breakfast we again birded Semaphore Hill Road and Plantation Road Trail picking up some of the species we had missed earlier. Slowly birding our way down the hill we added sightings of Great Potoo, Black-chested Jay, Collared Aracari and Purple-throated Fruitcrow. Nest-building Western Slaty-Antshrikes and Broad-billed Motmots were interesting to watch along the Plantation Road Trail as were the antics of Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins.
Following lunch it was time to depart Canopy Tower for Canopy Lodge and the second part of our tour. Enroute to the lodge we stopped at Summit Gardens to visit the Harpy Eagle display and in addition picked up Greater Ani, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and Baltimore Oriole. Upon arriving at the lodge we spotted our first bird, a Long-billed Starthroat hawking insects along the banks of the stream. Another great day and as we drifted off to sleep a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls called from outside the rooms.
A leisurely morning at the lodge allowed us time to view the many birds that came to the well-stocked fruit feeders, enjoy the wonderful breakfast they provided us and drink more good coffee. Some of the birds seen at the feeders were Thick-billed Euphonia, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Buff-throated Saltator, Rufous-capped Warbler, Banaquit, Clay-colored Thrush and several species of tanagers including Dusky-faced Tanager. Leaving the grounds of the lodge we walked up the road toward the “Waterfall Trail” and added Broad-winged Hawk, Bay-breasted Warbler and Bay Wren to our morning list.
Along the roadside a Forest Rabbit appeared before bounding across the road and disappearing from view. It was our first sighting of this animal but the rabbit was soon forgotten as a Greater Grison ran out of the bush hot on its trail. The sighting of such an uncommon and striking mammal was so gratifying that it became my “bird of the day.” Once on the Waterfall Trail our most notable sighting was a very accommodating Tody Motmot, a life bird for many of the group. Following lunch and some rest time we headed off to a private residence to take a look at a pair of roosting Tropical Screech Owls and saw Panama Flycatcher and White-vented Plumeleteer as a bonus.
On the morning of our ninth day we climbed in altitude and visited Los Altos del Maria, a gated community located at about 3,000 feet in elevation. The birding was good and we quickly started to locate new species beginning with Spotted Barbtail, Tufted Flycatcher, Common Bush-Tanager, and Gray-breasted Wood-Wren. As the morning started to warm, sustained with trail mix fortified with M&M’s, we continued our search and soon located both Brown-hooded and Blue-headed Parrots, a much-desired White-tipped Sicklebill, Stripe-throated Hermit, Brown Violet-ear, and Black and Yellow Tanager. We ended the morning with great looks at an Orange-bellied Trogon.
Our afternoon consisted of a little shopping with the local artisans at the Sunday Market in El Valle before a brisk confrontation with the extreme weather of a Cloud Forest where we enjoyed Silver-throated Tanager, Yellow-faced Grassquit and a pair of Blue-throated Toucanettes.
Day ten was the final day of our tour and involved us taking two four by four pickups driven by Carlos and Danilo, up to 3,000 feet beyond the picturesque valleys and farming communities of Rio Indio. The open hills, farm fields and forest edges proved to be especially productive with many new species seen. From the roadside we watched six species of raptors including White Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk and Black Hawk-Eagle. In addition to large flocks of White-collared and Band-rumped Swifts we enjoyed sightings of Streaked, Buff-throated and Black-headed Saltators.
At several of the stops along the road we enjoyed mixed flocks containing Bay-headed, Tawny-crested and White-lined Tanagers, plus Bay, Rufous and White and Plain Wrens, Cinnamon and White-winged Becard and Yellow-throated Vireo. Descending to eighteen hundred feet we ate a picnic lunch and bathed our feet in a stream in the valley of Jordanal. After lunch a short walk brought us to the home territory of a Barred Puffbird that sat and sang in full view until we needed to head back to the pickups for the drive home. Along the way we found Plain and Spot-crowned Antvireos, and Jet and Dull-mantled Antbirds, an exciting ending to a great trip.
Our thanks and gratitude go out to all the guides, drivers and staff of Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge for taking such good care of us.
Thanks Ken–it was a wonderful trip and I really enjoyed it. And I know that Karen did, too.