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.
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