Today we woke at 4:40am for an early departure to Achiote Road on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. We departed the hotel at 5:10am and took the new express route to Gatun Locks at which we arrived at 6:15am. Here we waited nearly 30 minutes before being able to cross as two large ships made their way through. Since I was last here two years ago, a number of changes have taken place in the area owing to the construction of the expansion of the new locks to be opened in 2014. At the locks we tallied all of the typical species, including Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Great-tailed Grackle, Black and Turkey vultures, Osprey, and Orange-chinned Parakeet. We also added Tropical Mockingbird to our list, a species that had thus far evaded us.
Once through the locks we crossed the large earthen dam where Dad spotted a Red-breasted Blackbird enroute to Achiote Road. Our plan for the area was to work the three primary bridges, beginning with parking at the first and walking to the second, the driving to the third and working that area. From the first to second bridge we tallied an impressive number of species, and some good ones for the area. Our first highlight was Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, of which we had excellent views. That was soon followed by Mealy Parrot, my first lifer of the day and another bird which allowed us stunning views. Further along the road we picked up Violaceous Trogon, Dot-winged Antwren, Fasciated Antshrike, and Thick-billed Euphonia. After that, things just kept getting better.
Our next highlight was Black-cheeked Woodpecker, quickly followed by a beautiful Spot-crowned Barbet and Yellow-backed Oriole. Then, my second lifer for the day, amounting to no more than a 2-second look, was a Band-tailed Barbthroat; unmistakable by its white-tipped tail, slight curved yellowish-black bill, and rusty-orange throat patch. Soon after seeing that bird we spotted Slaty-tailed Trogon, Golden-collared Manakin, Flame-rumped Tanager, Blue-black Grosbeak, and Masked Tityra.
Among one of the many things that makes Achiote Road great for birding is its diversity and abundance of raptors. Depending on the conditions of the day they can be hit or miss as we have learned, but today turned out to be quite good. Shortly after seeing the tityra’s we spotted a gorgeous adult Crane Hawk soar low over our heads. That was soon followed by three Gray-headed Kites and a flock of more than 30 Broad-winged Hawks. Later on, during our walk back from the second bridge, we had a good look at Common Black-Hawk in flight and two perched Hook-billed Kite’s.
As we approached the second bridge another group of birders were coming toward us. The group was being led by Carlos of Birding Panama Tours, and as it turns out, the birders were not only from Vancouver, but were on the same flight as us when we came down. Among the group were Joanne MacKenzie and George Clulow, two birders I had met on more than one occasion in British Columbia. After a short chat, and a glimpse of a Band-rumped Swift, we parted ways and continued our respective birding trips. Dad and I slowly walked back to the car, along the way picking up Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-headed Parrot, Collared Aracari, and Plain Xenops.
At the third bridge we had only two species: Orange-chinned Parakeet and Little Blue Heron. The heat of the day was now beginning to take its toll and the birds were becoming much less active. We returned to the second bridge for another scan, and although we only got one species, it was a lifer: Rufous-breasted Hermit. From here we went to El Trogon trail and walked the under shaded canopy hoping to pick something up. We only got one species, a Southern Bentbill. From the trail we drove the main road through Achiote town scanning the roadsides for birds. Some of the fields were quite wet and in the pools were dozens of Cattle Egrets and Little Blue Herons, and ones or twos of Wood Stork, Tricolored Heron, Great Egret and Common Moorhen.
By now it was 12:30pm and so we decided to start making our way back to Panama City. As we left Achiote Road, we spotted six Black-chested Jays, my second-ever sighting. During the drive back we saw very little, and so to liven things up we decided to stop in at Ammo Dump ponds. We weren’t expecting much being that it was 1:30pm and very hot, but to our surprise it was very good. In just 20 minutes we tallied 31 species. The best bird was a White-throated Crake, my second-ever sighting and by far the best look. Other highlights included Barred Antshrike, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Greater Ani, and Shiny Cowbird.
We arrived back at the hotel at 2:30pm where we had a quick shower and a drink before deciding to head back out to Summit Ponds at 4:30pm. Once we arrived we had only about 1 hour before sunset, but as it turned out, that one hour was amazing. We parked our car at the ponds and the first bird we spotted was Greater Ani, quickly followed by Anhinga, Keel-billed Toucan, Green Kingfisher, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, and Boat-billed Heron. We also saw our first-ever Anteater, literally no more than 10 feet away as it moved through the underbrush and at one point climbed partially up a small tree exposing itself to our binoculars; if only we had a camera!
As we walked the trail we spotted Southern Bentbill, Blue-black Grosbeak, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Violet-bellied Hummingbird and Black-bellied Wren. We also met up with a birding tour group from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. We didn’t exactly tag along with the group, but we did tend to walk at about the same pace and stop to watch the same birds. At the end of the trail the chap leading the walk located a roosting Spectacled Owl and allowed everyone, including us, to have a look through his scope. After that we made a bee-line back to the car, and as if the day had not been amazing enough, there, at the pond, was two Capped Heron’s sitting in the trees. Again, the Gamboa Lodge leader let everyone have a look through his scope – what a great bird, and icing on the cake.
We returned to the hotel by about 6:45pm and went for dinner at the adjacent restaurant. While we waited for food I tallied the notes for the day, only to reveal the final surprise of the day – we had seen 100 species today!
Total species seen today = 100
Total cumulative species seen for trip = 199
Total lifers today = 3
Total cumulative lifers for the trip = 17