Saturday, October 4, 2014

21 August 2014

In the words of Jim Morrison, "This is the end...".

My last day of a 12-day birding adventure in Panama with friends Simon and Howard. We've pretty much exhausted all of the best birding locations around the canal area, and so today we decided to visit the area around Cerro Azul. As you may recall, Joanna and I scoped this area out three days ago, and so I had a good idea as to where we could go and where some decent flocks of birds were. We departed the Gamboa Resort at about 5:00am and made our way through the growing rush-hour traffic heading east through the city. Within an hour we had arrived at the base of Cerro Azul, and there was just enough light to start birding. The usual roadside birds flitted about, such as Clay-colored Thrush. As we approach Cerro Jeffe National Park, at an elevation of about 800m, the fog started to roll in and visibility quickly diminished. Also diminishing was the quality of the road, as we pressed on further than Joanna and I did. We stopped occasionally to check for birds, but it was tough going in soup-like fog. We did add Keel-billed Toucan, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Blue-black Grassquit, Bay-headed Tanager, and several Clay-colored Thrush.

At the top oft he hill, where several communication towers were located, the road abruptly ended. We had hoped the road would connect through to Cerro Azul, as we knew there was a road not far away that looped back into the private housing estate. Sadly, we were out of luck, and so turned around and gradually descended out of the fog. Along the way we added Tropical Pewee, Eastern Meadowlark, Crimson-backed Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, and Streak-headed Woodcreeper. Our next stop was Los Nubes, a small rural housing estate where I previously had some great birds. However, the weather was not cooperating and the fog and drizzle came and went along with brisk wind. We did find Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Scaled Pigeon, Shiny Cowbirds, and several other common species, but it wasn't as good as in previous visits.

A tad frustrated, and exhaustion clearly setting in from being on the go for 12 days, we headed to Tagua, another area with a few dirt tracks leading to communication towers. Here the birding was a bit better, and we quickly added White-shouldered Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and Fulvous-vented Euphonia in a good-sized mixed feeding flock. A bit further along we found another mixed feeding flock where we added Green Honeycreeper, White-flanked Antwren, Collared Aracari, and a lifer for Howard, the Hepatic Tanager. The remainder of our birding on this road was pretty good, with additions such as Yellow-green Vireo, Lesser Goldfinch, Paltry Tyrannulet, Gartered Trogon, Blue Dacnis, and Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant. Back at the car, and just prior to our departure, another mixed species flock appeared. Here we added Black-throated Trogon, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Lesser Greenlet, Red-throated Ant-Tanager (which were seriously ticked off at something on the ground), Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Long-billed Hermit.

It was now about 1:00pm and time to head back to the resort. Along the way we drove across Corredor Sur, a stretch of highway that traverse a muddy bay where several near-shore marine and shore birds often reside. The unfortunate part is that there is nowhere to stop and view the birds, so at about 80km/h, we added Anhinga, Wood Stork, Laughing Gull, Brown Pelican, and Magnificent Frigatebird. Back at the Gamboa Resort it was time to wind down and pack for our return journey back to Victoria. We added a few common birds for the day while glancing out the window, including Common Gallinule, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Scaled Pigeon, and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck.

Our last piece of this excellent adventure was to go on a 45-minute guided night tour. The tour began at 7:00pm, and so as soon as we finished dinner we jumped onto the open-sided, but covered, trolley. The rain was pouring and the lighting and thunder were cracking, but within five minutes the rain subsided and the tour proceeded. In just 45 minutes we saw Three-toed Sloth, Caiman, Capybara, and our last new trip bird, Common Pauraque. Back at the resort by 7:45pm, we said our good-byes to friends, completed our packing, and went to bed early. We had a long day ahead of us tomorrow, with a wake-up at 5:00am and our first flight at 8:10am. We would arrive home 15 hours and 35 minutes later.

Will I visit Panama again? I've said no at least twice before, but I keep getting drawn back. So, until next time, happy birding wherever you may be.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 65
Total cumulative species for the trip:  316
Total lifers today:  0
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 50

Thursday, September 25, 2014

20 August 2014

Today Simon, Howard and I hired Venicio "Benny" Wilson to take us to the Lake Bayano and Nusagandi region, located about two hours east of Panama City toward the border of Darien Province. Simon had some specific target birds he was after, and this was one of the closest locations to Panama City where we were likely to get them.

To start the tour I first had to wake up at 4:00am...aye yai yai! Benny, and his driver, were to pick us up at 4:30am, but they were running a bit late and didn't arrive until 4:50am. We departed promptly after their arrival, but the vehicle they used was far to small for us all. Regardless of seating arrangements, someone had to squeeze into the back where there was no leg room and a larger cooler dug into your side. Guides really should think about customer comfort for return business.

Transportation woes aside, we navigated our way through early morning rush hour traffic and soon found ourselves on the outskirts of the city travelling at a reasonably good speed. Most of the drive was in twilight, but by 6:00am it was quite light. At Lake Bayano we passed through a security check point, which was immediately followed by crossing a large bridge over the lake where we spotted our first bird of the day, Ringed Kingfisher. Just past this large bridge was a smaller bridge that crossed Rio Mono. This was our first stop of the day, and a location I had previously visited with my dad in 2012. One of our target birds, and a very rare bird for Panama, was a Pearly-breasted Cuckoo. A nest had been found just a few meters from the bridge and we had heard of recent sightings prior to our arrival. This bird would have been a great score, but unfortunately the nest appeared to have failed and there was no indication of the birds remaining in the area. After trying to locate it, as well as a couple of other common birds, Benny announced, "Let's Get Serious" far my most memorable phrase of the trip...I had felt that all birding was relatively "serious", but it seemed funny to think that what we had been doing so far wasn't, but we were about to kick it up a notch.

Despite not seeing the Pearly-breasted Cuckoo we did start to see some good birds, beginning with Black Antshrike (lifer) and Bare-crowned Antbird (lifer), both of which were enticed into view using call playback...this was getting serious (apparently). We then saw White-necked Puffbird, Pied Puffbird, and Rufous-winged Antwren, but missed some key birds that I had seen at this location previously. With birding not going terribly well at the bridge, we made our way to the next stop which was a place called San Francisco, located another 20 minutes further east. The birding was very good, and many of the birds we missed at Rio Mono were found here. The first highlight was Blue Cotinga (two stunning males), followed by Black-tailed Trogon, Black-crowned Tityra, Barred Puffbird (lifer), Yellow-backed Oriole, Long-tailed Tyrant, Streaked Flycatcher (surprisingly overlooked until now), and Black-breasted Puffbird. The birding was going very well, and it continued to do so. A large mixed flock of birds that we found included Cinnamon Becard, Choco Sirystes (lifer), Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Golden-collared Manakin, and Blue Dacnis. Benny then found us a Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher (lifer; so cute!), Yellow-green Tyrannulet, Red-capped Manakin, Orange-billed Sparrow, and White-eared Conebill. We wrapped up our time at San Francisco by adding Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Tropical Pewee (lifer), White-tipped Dove, and Gray-headed Chachalaca.

Sufficiently sweaty, we all squeezed back into the vehicle and drove to the village of Torti where we had lunch in front of a few hummingbird feeders. The feeders were well-attended, and included Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (lifer), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, and Snowy-bellied Hummingbird. Following lunch we drove further east where we navigated some backroads that were much in need of maintenance. Here we found American Kestrel, Roadside Hawk, White-tailed Kite, and Brown-chested Martin (lifer; Austral migrant). At the end of one road we went for a short walk along some overgrown trails...this produced Gray-cheeked Nunlet (lifer), another Black Antshrike, Forest Elaenia, and a very pissed-off bull. After returning to the vehicle we headed back toward Torti and picked up Red-breasted Blackbird and Cocoi Heron along the way. At Torti we diverted onto another rickety backroad and added Buff-rumped Warbler (lifer) and Pacific Antwren (lifer).

By now it was now getting quite late (about 3:00pm) and so we made the long drive back to Nusagandi in hopes of finding Sapayoa. Unfortunately, by the time we did arrive, it was too late and despite trying to locate the bird we had no luck. The only birds we did see at Nusagandi were Swallow-tailed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, and Black-mandibled Toucan. With barely enough light to see, we began the drive back to the resort. Along the way however, we had two very interesting encounters. First, as we were about 80% of the way down the Nusagandi road, a Caiman ran out of the forest and sprinted (as much as Caimans can sprint) across the road. Our driver slammed on the brakes and narrowly missed turning the animal into a belt or pair of boots. Our second encounter, at the bottom of the Nusagandi road, was a drug inspection by the National Police. We handed over our passports and backpacks, and the inside of the vehicle was fully searched. At least the search wasn't "invasive".

We finally arrived back at the resort at about 8:30pm, completely exhausted. It was an excellent day, with 11 new species added to the life list and our trip tally exceeding 300 species. I had hit 50 lifers for the trip...10 species more than I had expected. After a quick shower I was in bed by 9:15pm...I had to be up at 4:50am to head out one last time.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 75
Total cumulative species for the trip:  311
Total lifers today:  11
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 50

19 August 2014

Our adventure today was a trip to Canopy Tower, something we planned four days previously while at Canopy Lodge. Our tour of the tower included breakfast, lunch, and a guided hike down Semaphore Hill. To begin the tour we first had to wake at 5:00am, drop Amelia off with Simon’s wife Joanna at 5:30am, (the tower wouldn't allow young children and Joanna was willing to take care of Amelia…thanks so much), and make the short 20 minute drive to the tower. The tower was an old US Air Force radar facility that has since been converted to an “ecolodge”. The ground floor has a very spacious yet basic lobby, and as you proceed up the spiral staircase around the inside perimeter there are oddly-shaped guest rooms and shared bathrooms. At the top is a large communal dining area, a library, several chairs, desks, and hammocks, and the kitchen. There are also several windows that provide views into the upper canopy of the surrounding forest.

From the dining area a small hatch with a ladder leads to the roof of the tower. Here birders are treated to an above-canopy view of the surrounding forest which provides a unique perspective and opportunity to observe birds at eye-level. This a is a great reprieve from typical tropical forest birding which usually results in birders-neck and a visit to the chiropractor. From the viewing platform, early observations included Thick-billed Euphonia, Green Honeycreeper, Black-cheeked Woodcreeper, Plain-colored Tanager, and Red-lored Amazon. We also spotted our familiar American friend from Canopy Lodge.

As we continued birding from the tower other great birds continued to appear including Band-rumped Swift, Lesser Greenlet, Blue Cotinga (female), Scaled Pigeon, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Mealy Parrot, Piratic Flycatcher, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and my first lifer for the day, Brown-hooded Parrot. We then added Paltry Tyrannulet and Blue Dacnis before heading for breakfast at 7:30am.

Following breakfast we all headed downstairs to commence our walk down Semaphore Hill. At the entrance to the tower were two hummingbird feeders which had Blue-chested and Violet-bellied hummingbird in attendance; an Eastern Wood-Pewee was also near the main entrance. Shortly after beginning our descent we spotted Slaty-tailed Trogon, White-whiskered Puffbird, Blue-crowned Manakin, and Dusky Antbird. The next bird, an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, was a lifer for me. This was soon followed by another lifer, Golden-crowned Spadebill…now this was a smart-looking little bird. Next was a Spotted Antbird, one of my favourite birds for its striking appearance. The birding continued to be very good, with new trip-list birds being Purple-crowned Fairy, Slate-colored Grosbeak, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Bicolored Antbird, Yellow-margined Flycatcher (lifer), Song Wren, and Black-tailed Flycatcher.

At the bottom of Semaphore Hill the daytime temperature and humidity were peaking. A Canopy Tower truck, named “Shrike-Vireo”, met us at the bottom with cold drinks and snacks. After having those, we climbed into the open-back seating and were driven back to the tower. We then sat waiting for lunch, but on inspection of the number of places set at the tables we determined we might not be getting any. However, following a short intervention it was clarified that we were indeed having lunch and new places were set and more food magically appeared. A highlight while having lunch was the appearance of several Geoffery’s Tamarind monkeys just outside the open windows.

We returned to Gamboa resort at about 1:30pm and saved Joanna from Amelia. Joanna (my Joanna), Amelia and I then headed to the bookstore at the Smithsonian Institute, and then to the Amador Causeway. Here we saw several Blue-footed Booby (about 60), Brown Pelican (about 30), Magnificent Frigatebird (about 50) and one Royal Tern. Then the rain began and we returned to the resort, had dinner, and turned in early. Tomorrow was to be the earliest rise of the trip, at 4:00am, not including the first travel day when we got up at 3:30am.

2014 Panama Birding SummaryTotal species today: 61
Total cumulative species for the trip:  286
Total lifers today:  4
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 39

18 August 2014

Simon, Howard and I once again went through the early morning ritual of meeting in the resort lobby at 6:00am…mmm, mini-pastries and bad coffee! Once again we headed to Pipeline Road…this time under the veil of light showers and thick cloud. We plodded along the muddy trail with umbrellas open, but the birding was tough. In just over three hours we only saw four species: White-shouldered Tanager, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and Red-lored Amazon. We may have seen a few other species, but my soggy and lack-luster energy may have caused me to fail to write anything down. I’m sure we saw a trogon at some point.

By the time we got back to the hotel the rain gradually subsided, and following breakfast Joanna, Amelia and I headed decided to explore Cerro Azul. It took about an hour to get there, and our first stop was at a place called Tagua. Here we were able to go for a walk along some mid-elevation (about 800m) roads that led to a series of communication towers. With no sign of rain, birding was decidedly better than the morning. Our first addition was Black-throated Trogon, followed shortly by a large mixed-species flock that include Golden-hooded Tanager, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Bay-headed Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, and Yellow-bellied Elaenia. From where we parked, we slowly walked one of the roads, gradually adding Western Slaty-Antshrike, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and Social Flycatcher. Once again we hit another large mixed-species flock, with highlights including White-lined Tanager, Gartered Trogon,  Checker-throated Antwren, Tacarcuna Bush-Tanager, Masked Tityra, and Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet.

From the towers we returned to the main road and continued to Cerro Jeffe within Chagres National Park, albeit we never quite made it to the summit in our Toyota Yaris…some of the ruts were deeper than the wheels! Inside the park we added Lesser Goldfinch, Thick-billed Euphonia, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, and Plain Wren among others. By now it was  4:00pm and we had planned to meet the group for dinner at 6:00pm. It took a full one hour and fifteen minutes to return to the resort…this was important, as it determined the departure time for when Simon, Howard, and I were to return in a couple of days. Today was the first day of the trip where I did not get any lifers, although I did add a couple species to the trip list.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 41
Total cumulative species for the trip:  273
Total lifers today:  0
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 35

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

17 August 2014

Today’s birding was scaled back significantly from previous days. Simon, Howard and their families were going on a boat tour of the Panama Canal, and Joanna, Amelia and I were going for a tour of the new Museum of Biodiversity (Biomuseo) located on the Amador Causeway. Before doing any of this though, the guys squeezed in about two and a half hours of birding along the first section of Pipeline Road. We arrived at the entrance a little past 6:00am, and among the early birds we saw were Red-lored Amazon, Southern Bentbill, Fasciated Antshrike, Chestnut-backed Antbird, and Dusky Antbird. Further along we added two new trip-birds, Plain-browned Woodcreeper and Great Tinamou, as well other birds we had seen previously such as Dot-winged Antwren, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and Western Slaty-Antshrike. As the time we had went relatively quickly, we soon found ourselves heading back to the vehicle. The only "good" bird we saw was Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, which was a lifer for me.

We arrived back at the resort at about 10:00am and went our separate ways. Joanna, Amelia and I departed for the city at about 10:30am and arrived at the museum around 11:00am. Were it not for the ridiculous cost that the museum charged foreign visitors, or the fact that the museum wasn’t complete, the experience was quite good. There was a very good interpretative display that was both immersive and interactive. All visitors were given what essentially looked like the handset of a cordless phone; as you walk around the display, each had a unique number that you would enter into the handset, which then would play a recorded message talking about the theme of the display. This method of delivery was quite effective, as each individual could initiate or pause the presentation at their own pace, and you could move around the display without having to stay and listen to a fixed-location device. The museum also had an immersive movie where you stood on a glass floor inside a large cube and had projected movie footage on all surfaces. The film went through the seasons, cycles, and layers of life in the tropics, from rising through the forest understory to the forest canopy, to deep into the marine environment. It was as if you were in the forest, as the image below you was the forest floor, above was the canopy and sky, and the sides were a full 360 degree view of the forest. Hands on displays for kids were relatively limiting, but life-size sculptures of past and present animals in Panama were indeed captivating.
Inside the "sculptures" display
Following our visit to the museum we spent a bit of time birding along the Amador Causeway. There was nothing out of the normal here, although we did add a few birds for the trip, including Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Lesser Elaenia, Tricolored Heron, and Black-bellied Plover. Once back at the hotel, Simon, Howard and I reconvened for a short walk along Plantation Road. Now I have previously referred to some of our birding experiences as “slow”, but this walk won the Grand Prize. After about one and a half hours, we tallied just three species: White-flanked Antwren, Olivaceous Flatbill, and Western Slaty-Antshrike. Brutal! We returned to the resort, had dinner, and turned in relatively early.
2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 43
Total cumulative species for the trip:  270
Total lifers today:  1
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 35

16 August 2014

Prior to our bus taking us, and our know-it-all friend, back to Panama City at 10:00am, Simon, Howard and I had a few hours to spend birding around the lodge. We began shortly after 6:30am following breakfast, and with rain looming we weren’t sure what the morning would produce. As expected, the gardens around the lodge had House Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Rufous-capped Warbler, and Bananaquit. Out on the road things were much slower-going, but we did locate Spot-crowned Barbet. I also picked up an Eye-ringed Flycatcher (lifer) that unfortunately was missed by both Simon and Howard (actually, that was a grip-back for the Barred Forest-Falcon). As the morning progressed the rain began to fall, and birding under an umbrella isn’t ideal. We did see Tawny-crested Tanager, Gray-headed Chachalaca, and Bay-headed Tanager, but generally it was unproductive. Before returning to the lodge to finish packing we added Black-chested Jay, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, and a lone Black-faced Antthrush calling in the distance.

At 10:00am we departed the lodge. Not much to report for the nearly two-hour drive back, although the views of the crater were gorgeous and our guide was pulled over for speeding. As we neared closer to the Gamboa Resort, our American friend, who had been asleep for most of the return journey, suddenly work to exclaim that the driver had passed his hotel, the Canopy Tower. Now at first this might seem a bit odd, but here’s some perspective. The Canopy Lodge and the Canopy Tower are the same company. Therefore, our driver’s final destination would be Canopy Tower…it was only 10 minutes between Canopy Tower and the Gamboa Resort, and it made sense to both the driver and to us that we would get dropped off first, and the driver would end the trip at the Tower. Our friend was utterly put off my this notion and made it clear to everyone with a huff and a puff. Too bad.

Hills surrounding El Valle (photo courtesy Simon)

Back at the Gamboa Resort we were greeted by our families. After I cleaned up, and noted a few of the common birds from the balcony of our room, Joanna, Amelia and I headed to the Mira Flores Locks to tour the visitor centre. Amelia really enjoyed the interactive displays and watching the ships pass through…she also saw her first 3D movie on the expansion of the locks; she thought it was funny. At the locks were typical and common birds: Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Kingbird, and Great-tailed Grackle. From the locks we went to Metropolitan National Park. Along the way we got stuck in a terrible traffic jam, and by the time we arrived we only had about 30 minutes to spare before having to head back to the resort for dinner. Of course, the birding was very slow as it was late in the day, very hot, and very humid. We did see Checker-throated Antwren, Rufous-breasted Wren, White-shouldered Tanager, and Palm Tanager, but that was it. Back at the hotel we tallied a few last species for the day, had a shower, and went for dinner. Tomorrow’s plan was going to be more relaxed, although just writing that seems ironic given that Simon, Howard and I planned to birding at 6:00am before “relaxing”.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 32
Total cumulative species for the trip:  263
Total lifers today:  1
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 34

15 August 2014

Another morning to sleep in…up at 5:35am, breakfast at 6:00am, and depart at 6:30am. Today we were spending the day in the area of Alto de la Maria, a private housing estate that was absent of, well, housing. It really was quite remarkable…the estate was gated and manned by a full-time security guard, and inside the compound were paved roads, full services (water, electric), and several marked lots…just no houses. There was even a fully-paved walking trail, built entirely of cement, that weaved through the adjacent forests. We spent the entire morning birding this trail.

To get to Alto de la Maria we first passed through the village of El Valle where we started the day with Ruddy Ground-Dove, Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Pigeon, and Flame-rumped Tanager. Once at Alto de la Maria we parked at a small fish-stocked pond and immediately started working the small wooded area adjacent to the pond where we saw Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Keel-billed Toucan, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, House Wren, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. Once on the trail we began with some real crackers (British for awesome, I think?) such as White-ruffed Manakin, Pale-vented Thrush (lifer), Black-crowned Antpitta (lifer), and Chestnut-backed Antbird. Continuing along we then added Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Snowcap (a female; later in the day we say an amazing male; lifer), Silver-throated Bush-Tanager, and Common Bush-Tanager. At an opening in the forest we spotted a Bat Falcon perched atop a snag, four Red-faced Spinetail hidden amongst the thick underbrush, four Spotted Woodcreeper,  and a Violet-crowned Woodnymph.
The trail soon began to climb, which for a change was not annoyingly steep, muddy or riddled with steps (see some of my Ecuador blog posts for these nightmares, uh, challenges). About a third of the way up our guide heard something of interest, and with his call playback unit out, he soon attracted a Brown-billed Scythebill (lifer). This bird was amazing with its long down-curved bill, but it was frustratingly difficult to see well. It continually darted across the trail, seeking out the darkest undergrowth and moving from branch to branch before we could fix our binoculars on it. After about 15 minutes we all eventually had good looks, and it was worth the effort. Further up the hill we added Green Hermit, and at the top (the Continental Divide) we added Swallow-tailed Kite. The guide also successfully lured an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush in to view…a lifer for Simon, but a bird I had seen previously in Boquette. Just prior to turning around to begin the walk back we added Scaly-breasted Wren (lifer; formerly Southern Nightingale-Wren) to the trip-list.
Shortly after beginning our return to the car I added yet another lifer, White-tipped Sicklebill, which also was difficult to see until eventually it perched and we got great views through the guides' scope. This was shortly followed by a nice mixed feeding flock which included Tawny-capped Euphonia, Spotted Barbtail, Golden-hooded Tanager, and Band-tailed Barbthroat. We also had some decent one-offs during the walk back, including a great look at White-throated Spadebill (lifer), Russet Antshrike, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Black-and-Yellow Tanager. We also saw three Dull-mantled Antbird's (lifer) in short succession. Once back at the small pond we had a picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit and juice. Our lunch however was interrupted when we were informed of a boa constrictor not far from where we were eating. This was an animal to be seen, and we all took pause from our lunch to view the snake, which I estimated to be between seven and nine feet long and about three to four inches in diameter. The snake, relatively docile, was loosely coiled atop a dirt mound and next to a hole in the ground. Upon closer inspection the snake slowly disappeared down the hole…very cool sighting!
Boa constrictor (photo courtesy Simon)
While we finished up lunch we added Short-tailed Hawk to the day list. We then drove to various locations within the houseless housing development to do short walks in search of new species. Our first walk was at the end of an undeveloped cul-de-sac where the guide successfully called out an Orange-bellied Trogon (lifer); a cooperative White-vented Euphonia (lifer) also made an appearance. A little further along we added Hepatic Tanager (well, Simon and I added it…poor Howard did not), Spot-crowned Antvireo, Plain Xenops, Brown Violetear, Green Honeycreeper, and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet (lifer). At this point the wind had begun to pick up, the low cloud was rolling in, and the rain began. To try our luck elsewhere, we moved to another location in the development and walked another short stretch of road. Here we were able to dodge the rain and add Blue-throated Toucanet (formerly Emerald Toucanet), Tawny-crested Tanager, and Olive-sided Flycatcher (an early North American return).
By now the rain had settled in a bit stronger and the day was essentially over. As we worked our way back to the lodge we stopped at a small trail just off the side of the road. While we huddled under some overhanging branches to stay dry, the guide successfully called in a Tody Motmot (lifer) which took relatively little time for us all to get good views. Back at the lodge we ended the day watching the feeders…all of the usual species were seen, as well as a couple of new ones: Crested Oropendola and Black-chested Jay. That was the end of our guided birding in El Valle; it was fantastic!
2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 78
Total cumulative species for the trip:  269
Total lifers today:  13
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 33

Monday, September 22, 2014

14 August 2014

A not-so early rise today at 5:30am, followed by breakfast at 6:00am, and departure from the Canopy Lodge at 6:30am. Today we were heading to the Pacific Lowlands, and once again were joined by the Americans. The drive out of El Valle was striking, with steeply graded roads and hairpin turns through moist sub-tropical forest and up to windswept grassland and water-tolerant agave's. As we slowly descended the crater rim the landscape was increasingly dotted with farms and rural residences. Power lines were commonly occupied by Tropical Kingbirds, and the occasional White-tipped Dove darted across the road. We stopped briefly at one residence to check some birds along the roadside. Here we started the day off with Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Striped Cuckoo, Streaked Saltator, and Lance-tailed Manakin. Eventually we crossed the Inter-American Highway, where the topography was noticeably flat. We spent much of the day in this landscape, where the temperature and humidity were exhausting.

Most of our birding was spent along roads, stopping frequently and walking short sections. Our first stop, which was triggered by an Aplomado Falcon sighting (first lifer for the day), yielded Variable Seedeater, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Blue-Black Grassquit, Yellow-crowned Parrot, and Crested Bobwhite (lifer). A bit further along we added Groove-billed Ani (lifer), Bared Antshrike, Scrub Greenlet, Eastern Meadowlark, and Thick-billed Seed-Finch. The day continued with much of the same…drive a bit, stop a bit, drive a bit, stop a bit. Each stop produced a few new birds, such as Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Cliff Swallow, and several Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures (lifer). The Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture may have been one of my most looked-over species during my first four visits to Panama, as on previous trips the sky has been clouded with Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures, the former which looks very similar to Lesser Yellow-headed. On this trip however, as we were visiting in the North American breeding season, there were relatively few Turkey Vultures present, which made spotting the yellow-heads rather easy. When seen well, two key fields marks give this bird away: 1) a light patch on the upper surface of the primaries, and 2) the comparatively bright yellow-orange head compared to a Turkey Vultures pinkish-gray head.

As the morning graduated into early afternoon bird activity slowly decreased, although the day-list continued to grow at a reasonably healthy pace. New additions included Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-green Vireo, and Savannah Hawk. Our next good birding stop was at a flooded rice field, which contained several ‘waders’ (i.e., shorebirds, herons, egrets). Here the day-list grew with a sudden fervor, with new additions including Wattled Jacana, Green Heron, Glossy Ibis, Wood Stork, Anhinga, Southern Lapwing, White Ibis, Snowy Egret, Pectoral Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, Spotted Sandpiper, Little Blue Heron, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, and Solitary Sandpiper. Amidst all the waders were also a few Crested Caracara, one of which found a tasty vehicle-flattened morsel just in front of our van.

By now, two of the Americans (a couple) had reached the pinnacle of boredom, and at times barely found the enthusiasm to exit the vehicle. Regardless, our guide continued his pursuit of birds and as we drew nearer to lunch, several more birds were added to the list, including Pearl Kite, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Plumbeous Kite, Gray Hawk, and White-winged Becard. Shortly after noon we arrived at the Pacific Ocean where we would enjoy a picnic lunch. At the sandy beach (in the shade though, as it was sweltering) we added Whimbrel, Willet, Semipalmated Sandpiper, and Sanderling. Flying just offshore were several Brown Pelican, Blue-footed Booby, Magnificent Frigatebird, four Peruvian Boobies, two Sandwich Terns, and two Royal Terns. Following lunch we walked a short dirt road behind a few beach houses. Here the guide successfully used call playback to lure out a Pale-breasted Spinetail (lifer). A bit further along the road we added Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Black-crowned Night-Heron.

Howard (right) and I enjoying a birding-lunch on the Pacific coast

It was now time to begin the long, slow journey back. We did stop at a few additional locations in an attempt to find some “target” birds, but we largely came up empty-handed. Some decent additions for the day however included Red-legged Honeycreeper, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Our final stop of the day, which was on the steep, windswept, grassy slopes of the volcanic rim surrounding El Valle, we added Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch. The guide used call playback, and where hope seemed like little less than a glimmer, a single bird suddenly responded. At first we got so-so looks through the scope as the bird was well-hidden in the grass, but shortly after first appearing the bird moved into the open where we all got great views. Finally, we all piled into the van one last time and made the final jaunt back to the lodge.

It had been a long, exhausting day, but there was still light. Simon, Howard and I watched the feeders for a while, continuing to push the tally of birds for the day upward. We added Crimson-backed Tanager, Rufous-capped Warbler, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Thick-billed Euphonia, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Buff-throated Saltator, and Simon’s favourite bird, Bananaquit. The biggest rub of the day for me however was that I had to use the washroom…so I left Simon and Howard at the feeders for about five minutes. Upon my return, both Simon and Howard were browsing their field guide, confirming their identification of a Barred Forest-Falcon that apparently (seemed very fishy and convenient to me) landed in one of the shrubs next to the feeders. Most peculiar, was that one of our American friends had his camera set-up at the same location and somehow didn’t even see the bird, let alone get a picture…Simon. Howard. Were you pulling my leg?

With the last bit of light finally gone we cleaned up for dinner, compiled our day lists, and had dinner at 7:00pm. It was a fantastic day with 104 species seen, including six lifers for me. As for tomorrow’s day of birding, I was really looking forward to spending the day in the cooler, less humid mountains. We also got word that our American friends had expressed an interest in doing something other than birding all day (i.e., they complained about birding all day), and that they were going to go with a different guide. For us, it was icing on the cake.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 104
Total cumulative species for the trip:  219
Total lifers today:  6
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 20

Saturday, September 20, 2014

13 August 2014

Our 4th day of birding in Panama, and today we were to embark on a two-and-half day mini-excursion to El Valle. Simon and Howard arranged this trip several months prior to our departure, which includes three nights at the Canopy Lodge, and two full days of guided birding; one day in the Pacific Lowlands, and one day in the mountains. El Valle is located south west of Panama City, about a two hour drive away. The village itself is nestled in the crater of an extent volcano, which is very picturesque as it is surrounded by towering ridges, lush vegetation, and commonly a layer of low cloud hugging the hillsides.

Prior to our departure from Gamboa Resort, Simon and I did some birding around the grounds. We met at 6:00am in the lobby and birded for about two and a half hours. All of the usual suspects were present, such as Clay-colored Thrush, Plain-colored Tanager, Tropical Kingbird, House Wren, Social Flycatcher, and Lesser Kiskadee. Some notable highlights included Snail Kite, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Ringed Kingfisher, and Buff-breasted Wren. At a small boat dock we spotted a female Great Antshrike; a lifer I thought at first, but later discovered I had seen it previously in was however a Panama check. We worked our way back to the resort, adding Buff-throated Saltator, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Broad-billed Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Flame-rumped Tanager, and Collared Aracari to the day list...we tallied 35 species for the morning walk.

Promptly, at 10:00am, our transportation arrived to take us to El Valle. We didn't see many birds along the way, as much of the journey was along a busy highway. We did however see a Short-tailed Hawk. Once at the lodge, and after a brief orientation and settling into our rooms, we clung to an area at the front of the lodge where a few bird feeders were located. There wasn't a great deal of activity, but we did see several Thick-billed Euphonia, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Bananaquit, a single Long-billed Starthroat, and a peculiar Gray-necked Wood-Rail that preferred to stand on one of the banana feeders to eat bits of rotting banana. In front of the lodge was a small trail that paralleled a small creek; we spent about an hour walking this trail, which led to the main road. Again, birding was relatively quiet, although I did add Dusky-faced Tanager (a lifer) which unfortunately was missed by Simon and Howard. They refer to it as being "gripped-off", a term used when someone gets a new bird that that the other did not. Not surprisingly, the person who was gripped off can "grip back"; I love British birding terminology.

At about 4:00pm one of the guides hosted a walk at La Mesa (one of the many farms in the area), along a trail referred to as Candelario. In addition to Simon, Howard, and myself, we were also accompanied by three Americans...two very uninterested and dull non-birders, and another who clearly knew everything and couldn't stop over-sharing. Despite this, the guide at least was very focused on birding, and the nearly 2-hour walk we did was very good.

In the farms surrounding the trail we saw Southern Lapwing, Great-tailed Grackle, Bananaquit, Black-striped Sparrow, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Thick-billed Euphonia, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Scaled Pigeon, Collared Aracari, and Gray-headed Chachalaca. We then entered a small patch of forest, where the trail was suddenly quite muddy and slippery...the temperature however was wonderfully mild and the humidity was far less oppressive than the lowlands we had so far been exposed to. Inside the forest we soon started to add some good birds, beginning with Spotted Antbird and Plain Antvireo. Those were quickly followed by two lifers: Spot-crowned Antvireo and Spotted Woodcreeper. Further along we saw our first and only Rosy-thrush Tanager for the trip..."saw" is a tad of an understatement. We probably spent 15 minutes trying to locate the bird, which hawk-eagle-thrush-tanager-eye Simon spotted well back in the thick brush...this was a lifer for Howard, and a bird he was excited to finally see.

Further along the trail we added Dot-winged Antwren and Rufous-breasted Wren, soon followed by another lifer for me, Rufous Mourner. We then added White-breasted Wood-Wren, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Silver-throated Tanager, Plain Xenops, and Long-billed Antwren. Toward the end of the trail, and where the light was dimming, the Americans had moved well ahead out of lack of interest in the birds. We however continued to add some good birds, including Slaty Antwren, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, and Sepia-capped Flycatcher (lifer). Our next bird, and a lifer for me, was the tiny Tawny-faced Gnatwren...which flitted endlessly around us in the dark undergrowth staying perched for barely a second or two. It took us at least 10-15 minutes for us all to get good enough views. We ended our our walk by adding Checker-throated Antwren, Stripe-throated Hermit, and Black-chested Jay.

On the way back to the lodge, where we were all looking forward to having dinner, we stopped adjacent to a small farm shop. Here the guide promptly pointed out two roosting Tropical Screech-Owls (lifer), one rufous morph and one gray morph. Apparently the roosting owls were using that exact same spot for for several weeks or months. We arrived back at the lodge a little after 6:00pm, where daylight had now turned to twilight. A delicious dinner was served at 7:00pm, and by 8:30pm I was in bed. Having been to El Valle twice before, I was excited to have added seven new species to my list in just a few hours...the next two days could be very productive...for the life list that is!

The excellent accomodation at Canopy Lodge

2014 Panama Birding SummaryTotal species today: 75
Total cumulative species for the trip: 174
Total lifers today:  7
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 14

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

12 August 2014

Got up today at that's what birder's do!

Simon, Howard and I were on the road by 5:00am after filling up on the daily fruit-fly-coated mini-danishes, semi-stale buns, and warm coffee. This was the true cost that we had come to endure for going birding before 6:30am when the complimentary buffet breakfast was available. Turns out though, we didn't really mind (well, maybe we minded a bit). After a relatively long but fast drive to the Caribbean coast, we arrived at Gatun Locks a little past sunrise. Despite the immense amount of ongoing construction with the expansion of the locks, traffic moved with considerable ease. At the locks, where we only had to wait about 15 minutes before getting to cross, we had Magnificent Frigatebird, Great-tailed Grackle, and Tropical Kingbird...nothing special.

Once across the locks we headed directly toward Achiote Road...dark thunderous clouds loomed. We parked at the second of three "birding" bridges and it was noticeably quiet...perhaps the birds sensed something, as shortly following our walk the rain began to fall, and then pour. We did add Thick-billed Seed-Finch and Red-lored Amazon, but the birding was very slow before we had to get back in the car. We decided to work our way further down the road in hopes of finding a non-rainy place to bird, and it paid of. Soon we are out of the heavy rain and we birded from the car all the way to the small village of Pina, located directly on the coast. Along the way we added Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Flame-rumped Tanager, Red-breasted Blackbird, and Great Kiskadee. Once at Pina we had a great close-up look at Common Black-Hawk, and our first (and what turned out to be only) Wilson's Plover.

Back in the town of Achiote, working between bridges two and three, the rain had subsided and the bird activity had increased. We first added Black-striped Sparrow for the day, followed by Rufous-breasted Hermit, Blue-headed Parrot, Bananaquit, Masked Tityra, Yellow-rumped Cacique, and Purple-throated Fruitcrow.Overhead were several Band-rumped Swifts, small group of Swallow-tailed Kites, a Black Hawk-Eagle, and another Common Black-Hawk. As we wrapped up birding along Achiote Road, we headed to El Trogon trail...sadly, this turned out to be very underwhelming with just four species observed: Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Dot-winged Antwren, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and Keel-billed Toucan. There were plenty of large spiders though...ughh.

Back on Achiote Road, and slowly working our way back to the locks, we added White-tailed Trogon and Yellow-backed Oriole. A little further ahead, along a stretch of road that traverses a large earthen dam that borders Gatun Lake, I finally got my first lifer for the day...a gorgeous adult Savanna Hawk perched very close to the vehicle. A little further ahead we added Ruddy-breasted Seedeater and Fork-tailed Flycatcher. As we neared closer to the dam we stopped to overlook the flood gates and channel. As on previous trips, there was virtually no water in the channel, but there were a handful of good birds...waders as Howard and Simon call them...shorebirds for the rest of us. We quickly added Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and Sanderling. We also added Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and Southern Lapwing. Back at the locks we decided to head toward Fort Simpson for a bit. Before turning around we spotted yet another Common Black-Hawk (I suppose they are common), a nice-looking adult Snail Kite, Ringed Kingfisher, and Collared Aracari.

It was now time to make our way back, but first we had to stop for fuel and a snack in Colon. And its a good thing we did, as shortly after leaving the fueling station Simon spotted my second lifer for the day, a Pearl Kite, perched on a wire. We didn't get a very good look, so quickly did another circuit of the traffic circle we were in and managed to find a small area to pull over and get a better view. About an hour later we were back at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort...the clouds were thick and black, but the rain had just subsided. I did a bit of birding from the balcony of the room and added another Snail Kite, as well as Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Pied-billed Grebe, a fourth Common Black-Hawk, and Anhinga. At 4:00pm, all of us went for a short walk before dinner to the small marina that was near the resort. This turned out to be a good little jaunt as we added Piratic Flycatcher, Blue Dacnis, Golden-hooded Tanager, Greater Ani, and Lesser Kiskadee to the day list. Lastly, and my third lifer of the day, was a single Striated Heron mixed in among several Green Herons. On the walk back to the hotel we had a great look at Armadillo.

Green Heron

2014 Panama Birding Summary

Total species today: 84
Total cumulative species for the trip: 149
Total lifers today:  3
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 7

Sunday, September 14, 2014

11 August 2014

Today I felt guilty for what seemed like sleeping in...we departed the hotel at 6:00am and headed toward Old Gamboa Road and Summit Ponds. We arrived at about 6:20am, and parked in the small parking area opposite the Summit Gardens Botanical Zoo. Here we had Social Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Caracara, Pale-vented Pigeon, Short-tailed Swift, and Clay-colored Thrush. From the parking area we headed down the short paved road toward the canal. Along the way, birding was relatively quiet...we spotted a few Scarlet-rumped Caciques, but things didn't really pick up until we got to the Summit Ponds. Here we had Green Kingfisher, Green Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Capped Heron, Amazon Kingfisher, and Great-tailed Grackle. From the pond we walked along the older portion of Old Gamboa Road, which since my last visit seems to have been left to regrow somewhat...the road was poorly maintained now, and several plants were growing along the surface and fallen trees across the road had not been moved. Birding was very slow, with a handful of common species that we had already seen and the addition of Dusky Antbird and a few Red-lored Amazons flying overhead. At the end of the road we joined another at a T-junction. This road was patrolled by the canal authority, but nobody was around and the birding suddenly picked up. At this opening we had Plain-colored Tanager, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Buff-throated Saltator, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Fasciated Antshrike, Golden-collared Manakin, Jet Antbird, and Black-tailed Flycatcher.

At the point we decided to turn around and walk back along the not-so-productive Old Gamboa Road, we also added Plain Xenops, Whooping Motmot, and Yellow-backed Oriole to the day list. On the walk back the birding picked up a bit from when we first passed. Highlights included White-vented Plumeleteer, Lineated Woodpecker, White-bellied Antbird (very stubborn and difficult to see), and White-shouldered Tanager. Just before returning to the car we added Dot-winged Antwren and a Squirrel Cuckoo, the latter which sat on a branch clobbering a large insect to remove parts of the exoskeleton...I tried for a photo, but no luck.

Somewhat disappointed by the action on Old Gamboa Road we decided to head to back to the hotel...but not without a quick stop at Ammo Dump Ponds. Here we added a few good birds for the day: Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Collared Aracari, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Black-mandibled Toucan (formerly Chestnut-mandibled...turns out the mandible wasn't dark brown after all...go figure). Just as we turned around to leave, eagle-eye Simon spotted a hawk...or should that be hawk-eye spotted a hawk? At long last, it was a lifer that escaped me for years...a nice adult Short-tailed Hawk (light morph) perched in a tree...great looks.

Back at the hotel it was birding poolside...a new endeavour for me as those who know me well know I hate hanging out at the pool. Of course, the sun was blistering, so shade was of the least the pool was cooling for a while. Typical poolside birds weren't much different from typical birds elsewhere, funny enough. Resident birds at the grounds included Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Black Vulture, Wattled Jacana, Blue-gray Tanager, Green Heron, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and several others. Highlights today however included Black Hawk-Eagle (spotted by hawk-eagle-eye), Southern Lapwing, Keel-billed Toucan, Flame-rumped Tanager, Gartered (formerly Violaceous) Trogon, and Black-cheeked Woodpecker. We also saw several species of lizard (including some huge green iguanas), a Coatamundi, and Red-tailed Squirrel (a momma with three babies).

All things considered, given the slow-going birding along Old Gamboa Road, we had some decent species today and a fairly good total. We all turned in to bed early, as Simon, Howard and I were off to Achiote Road tomorrow, on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal.

2014 Panama Birding Summary

Total species today: 77
Total cumulative species for the trip:  120
Total lifers today:  1
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 4

Saturday, August 30, 2014

10 August 2014

5:30am! Ack! Just 6.5 hours of sleep following a 17.5 hour travel day...these birds had better be good!

In the lobby at 6:00am were two familiar faces...Simon and Howard, enjoying the delights of the complementary mini-croissants and coffee...ok, maybe 'enjoying' is a bit overstated, but there were no other food choices. And did I mention how hot and humid it was at 6:00am?

We departed the Gamboa Rainforest Resort a little after 6:00am and headed toward Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park. The resort, also located in the Park, was a mere 10 minutes away from this birding mecca. Very quickly the bird list started to grow, even before we started walking, with early additions including Tropical Mockingbird, Crimson-backed Tanager, Cattle Egret, Gray-necked Wood-Rail (foraging on the road), Thick-billed Seedfinch, Wattled Jacana, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and Blue-gray Tanager. Once out of the car we got the characteristic mini-flocks of Red-lored Parrots moving from their roosts to daily feeding locales, and Black Vultures were beginning to take to the slowly developing thermals.

Our walk began not at the beginning of Pipeline Road, but rather at the junction to where access to the Rainforest Discovery Centre is (about 3 kms down the road). Historically, Simon and I have found that the road beyond this junction tends to have more birds that are typical of interior wet humid tropical forest. Our first good bird of the day was Shining Honeycreeper, followed shortly after by White-flanked Antwren, Western Slaty-Antshrike (now known as Black-crowned Antshrike), Dot-winged Antwren, and White-breasted Wood-Wren. Further along we found Slaty-tailed Trogon (there were actually four at the parking area when we returned). Our first adrenaline rush was the sighting of a Gray-headed Tanager, a species typical of being associated with ant swarms. Close by, we also found Spotted Antbird and Black-faced Antthrush...we were sure we were going to score big, but after going into the forest a short distance, we couldn't find or hear any additional activity.

Back on the trail we added Long-billed Gnatwren, White-whiskered Puffbird, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Manakin, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and Black-breasted Puffbird. Things were going very well...and just about to get better. Simon quickly yelled out "Cuckoo on the trail" and in a glimpse I added my first lifer for the trip; a Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo. Much to my chagrin, I was to be ribbed about this "sighting" for the next several days. Sure, it wasn't a great look, but it was a look nonetheless. I reminded Simon and Howard of their "check" of a silhouetted parrot flying overhead in squawked, the guide called Scaly-naped Parrot, and two checks of the list could be heard in stereo! (ok, to be honest, after much discussion, I added a check too). The remainder of the walk was relatively unproductive in terms of new species for the day, although we did add Red-capped Manakin, Long-billed Hermit, and a Rufous Motmot at a nest.

Back at the resort by 12:00pm, we spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging out at the pool...with binoculars of course, for looking at birds (feathered birds that is). The resort was remarkably 'birdy', with common species on the grounds including Golden-hooded Tanager, Palm Tanager, Orange-chinned Parakeet Gray-breasted Martin, Plain-colored Tanager, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, and Social Flycatcher. Black Vulture was ubiquitous, but amongst the soaring birds were Turkey Vulture, Magnificent Frigatebird, and an early migrant Swainson's Hawk. The plan for the late afternoon was to head to Amador Causeway to chase two potential lifers, but before then Joanna, Amelia and I went for a walk around the grounds. Here we added to the day list such highlights as Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Shiny Cowbird, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Lesser Greenlet, Southern Lapwing, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Barred Antshrike, and Neotropic Cormorant. We also say several Agouti and a group of four Capybara.

We departed for the Amador Causeway at 3:30pm and arrived a little later 4:00pm. Within minutes we had both of our target birds: Blue-footed Booby and Peruvian Booby; check, and check. We ended the day at a nice restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean and a small marina where we had our only Saffron Finch for the trip.

2014 Panama Birding SummaryTotal species today: 75
Total cumulative species for the trip:  75
Total lifers today:  3
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 3

9 August 2014

And so it fifth trip to Panama...13 days of hot, humid, sticky, amazing birdwatching. This time, the trip includes my wife Joanna, daughter Amelia, birding friends Simon and Howard from the UK, their wives Joanna and Jane respectively, and Simon's daughter Melissa.

My portion of the trip began at the un-Godly hour of 3:30am. Fortunately, all we needed to do was load the car and scoop Amelia up (she didn't even wake). My dad picked us up at 4:00am and we were on our way five minutes later to Victoria airport. Our flight departed on time at 6:00am and we landed in Seattle just 35 minutes later. After clearing security we had a nasty breakfast (scored 2 out of 10), then headed for our connecting flight to Atlanta which departed on time at 9:00am. We each passed the time watching movies, reading, and playing games.

We arrived in Atlanta a little before 5:00pm, where once again we had to clear security and continue on to our connecting flight to Panama. We had a little less than an hour to make the connection, so we were relatively rushed given we had never been to this airport before and had to get from Gate A to Gate E. We arrived at our gate with about 5 minutes to spare, so quickly bought some sandwiches and drinks and then boarded the flight.Two and a half hours later we were in Panama, a little past 8:00pm. We cleared security, picked up our luggage, and got our car in record time...just one hour. I quickly programmed the GPS to get to the resort, and 45 minutes later we were there. By the time we were in our room it was a little after 10:00pm...we had been on the go for 16.5 hours; 17.5 hours by the time it was lights out. Fortunately for Joanna and Amelia, they had the luxury of sleeping in the next day. As for me, I was meeting Simon and Howard in the lobby at 6:00am to go birding down Pipeline Road; yes, a birding vacation is more work than work itself...oh, the sacrifices.

Birding highlights today were, well...Northwestern Crow and Glaucous-winged Gull. Hard to pick the best of those. Tomorrow's birding should be somewhat better...I determined about a week ago that if I saw 40 lifers on this trip, the trip would be a huge success; time will tell.

2014 Panama Birding Summary
Total species today: 0
Total cumulative species for the trip:  0
Total lifers today:  0
Total cumulative lifers for the trip: 0

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Birding Panama - 2014

Each time I visit Panama I think there won't be another visit, but now I've been wrong three times so I may as well admit that the country has a strange attraction for me. The current 2014 trip is planned for August 9 to 22, when I will also be joining good friends Simon Buckingham and Howard Jolliffe whom I accompanied in Ecuador in 2013. My wife Joanna and daughter Amelia will also be travelling to Panama, as will Simon's wife and daughter, and Howard's wife. For most of the trip we will be staying at the gorgeous Gamboa Rainforest Resort, located in Gamboa and about 20 minutes from Panama City. I have birded in the area of Gamboa several times and have never been of my favourite birds, an Ornate Hawk-Eagle, was from Summit Gardens only a few minutes away.

During the trip, Simon, Howard and I will also spend three nights at the Canopy Lodge in El Valle, about 1.5 hours south of Panama City. I've made two trips to El Valle in the past, but persistent strong winds made the birding tough on both occasions. Hopefully, among the three days, there will be some good opportunities to add a few lifers from this unique 'crater' village; I'm hoping for about 20 new species in this area.

On another day, the three of us are planning to take a day trip to the Nusagandi and Bayano Lake with a guide. I made the trip to these areas on my last visit in 2012, but Nusagandi was a total bust as it overlapped with Carnival and the road was fully congested. Bayano Lake was more productive at the time and I added many of the specialities for the area...but there are at least five species that should be reasonably easy to get and would be lifers.

The rest of the trip will no doubt include time at Pipeline Road, Old Gamboa Road, Summit Gardens, Amador Causeway and Metropolitan Park.

Stay tuned for updates and daily reports once we're there.