23 February 2009
Today we went birding along Old Gamboa Road, and then for a little while in Summit Gardens Botanical Park and Zoo, which is more commonly referred to as just Summit Gardens. We departed the Albrook Inn at about 6:30am and arrived at the Summit Gardens parking lot by about 7:00am. Access to Old Gamboa Road is via a short dirt track located immediately across from the Summit Gardens parking area, toward the canal. Neither of us had ever birded the area before, and although I had read the Bird-Finding Guide about birding this area, I hadn't committed the directions to memory. Consequently we both thought that the access road was in fact Old Gamboa Road, and therein lies the problem. After birding the approximately 400-m long access road we arrived at a T-junction. Ultimately we wanted to visit the Old Gamboa ponds at which the Bird-Finding guide indicates that one or more Boat-billed Herons commonly roost; the problem was that we weren't sure which way to go.
Bird activity along the access road was typical for the region, although notable highlights included Gray-headed Chachalaca (our second sighting), Chestnut-rumped Oropendola, Keel-billed Toucan, Lance-tailed Manakin, and my first new species for the day, Blue-headed Parrot. Where the access road joined Old Gamboa Road the birding was excellent, owing largely to the mix of habitats that occur here. In a matter of just 30 minutes we spotted at least 20 species, including Streaked Saltator (our second sighting), Streaked Flycathcer, Great Kiskadee, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Bright-rumped Attila, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green Honeycreeper, and several others, including an excellent look at an adult Crane Hawk perched high on a dead limb.
After thoroughly birding the junction we made the decision to head west, or to the right, along Old Gamboa Road. We later learned that this was not the way to the ponds, but in the end it really didn't matter as we were having a great time and would be returning here in a few days with a guide. The section of road that we did walk was about 1 km long before ending at a small farm with a horse corral. Along the way we spotted mostly common species that we had seen several times before, but one surprise, and a new species, was a White-whiskered Puffbird that Joanna spotted perched on a low branch in the deep shade overhanging a small wet area. Among the four puffbirds that occur in Panama, this is the one that looks least like the others.
As we returned to Summit Gardens we spotted a number of additional species we had not seen on the walk in, including Carmiol's Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Masked Tityra, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Crimson-backed Tanager. At about 10:30am we entered Summit Gardens at a cost of $1 per person. For a fully maintained botanical garden and zoo with several trails, public facilities, and flora and fauna, it was remarkable that it only cost $1. From my limited experience, extreme differences in value-for-dollar were common in Panama. Summit Gardens was one of the best deals, whereas the hotel shuttle that cost 20x more than a taxi for the same journey in 2008 was the worst deal. The cost of birding along Pipeline Road was the most variable (free, $5, or $15) and most suspicious.
We walked around most of Summit Gardens in a little over an hour and visited most of the animal pens and botanical displays. The largest avian pen was for a pair of Harpy Eagles, the largest bird of prey in the world and one of the most endangered. As part of a joint conservation effort, Summit Gardens cooperates with the Peregrine Fund to captivly-rear and reintroduce Harpy Eagles into the wild. Despite several species being on display (i.e., caged), Summit Gardens boasts a large variety of species that are free to come and go as they please. Undoubtedly the park is attractive to a good number of bird species because of both the botanical gardens and the promise of food scraps either in the animal pens, or left behind by picnickers. As we made our way around the park we tallied a number of common, free-roaming, species, most notable of which was Great-tailed Grackle. We also spotted a Streak-headed Woodcreeper, an adult Gray Hawk, several Golden-hooded Tanagers, a pair of Shiny Cowbirds, and the most spectacular bird of the day (and perhaps the trip), a gorgeous Ornate Hawk-Eagle (photo to right) that landed high in a tree but afforded us excellent views before flying away.
At about lunch time we decided we would eat in the park, but after thoroughly searching we discovered that food was not available, and so we decided to head back to the hotel, have a shower, and visit the Albrook Mall (ugh, how touristy!). Albrook Mall is the mall-of-malls for Panama City - it is as big as any I have ever seen, perhaps bigger. The best part of the mall was that it was air-conditioned, and it was just as well as Joanna and I were beginning to feel a bit run-down with the long days and intense heat and humidity. We treated ourselves to some Popeye's Chicken for lunch, and despite this not being the healthiest choice, it certainly was tasty.
We browsed the mall for about an hour, which like other malls, was comprised mainly of clothing stores. In the storefronts were manakins (not the feathered variety), which for one very obvious reason, caught our eye more than usual. All of the manakins were female, and very chesty, in the order of DD or bigger, with small wastes and hips. These were not the 'normal' manakins of North American malls, and the contrast was extraordinary. After buying a few small souvenirs we decided to go back to the hotel and rest. I was beginning to feel particularly tired, and in fact had developed the chills. What we both needed was a good rest, and by 7:00pm we were asleep, hoping to be refreshed for tomorrows visit to the cloud forests of Cerro Azul and Cerro Jeffe.
Total number of species seen today = 52
Total number of lifers seen today = 3
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 219
Total cumulative lifers seen for trip = 78
Number of species seen at Old Gamboa Road today = 41
Number of species seen at Summit Gardens today = 9