SIB Travels: Panama

It was over a year ago that Melanie Jerome started asking people if they wanted to join her for a birding vacation to Panama. She had heard great things about Canopy Tower. Bob and Eileen Mercer and myself (Judy Morr) thought it sounded like a good idea. We decided to go in March which is the end of the dry season and the beginning of migration. Melanie and I opted for the 7 night all inclusive package at the Canopy Tower while Bob and Eileen made their trip into a 10 night package, adding 3 days at the Canopy Lodge before joining us at the Tower. The trip was everything we hoped it would be!

Bob graciously kept the eBird lists and was our photographer. He shared both with us and SIBBig. Each of us could then remove any birds we didn’t get the chance to see or add ones we saw that he didn’t. The complete list of birds are available for your review in the eBird Trip Report for SIBBig. In their 10 days, Bob and Eileen went on 17 tours and saw 262 different species of which 96 were “lifers” plus 5 heard but not seen lifers. For her 7 days, Melanie went on 11 tours, observed 197 species of which 154 were lifers. I had 13 tours in 7 days, seeing 214 species of which 180 were lifers. Since we also birded at hotels, during drives, from the Lodge and the Tower the group reported a total of 267 species on 38 checklists! Needless to say, not only were our feet and legs sore, we had severe cases of “warbler neck” since many of the birds were high in the canopy. Our brains were also tired from trying to absorb all these new species. It was like being a beginning birder all over again. The guides were all excellent, helping us find and then see the birds.

White-necked Jacobin

How do we tell you about all those tours and birds without boring you? We decided to talk about a few favorites rather than the details. First of all were the hummingbirds. 17 unique species of hummingbirds were reported! Both the Lodge and the Tower had hummingbird feeders placed near the tour gathering places.

The most frequently reported bird at the Tower is the White-necked Jacobin. We reported this hummingbird on 9 separate checklists in 5 locations! Our last tour included a conservative count of 12 individuals seen at the Panama Rain Forest Discovery Center. Melanie and Eileen were able to attract White-necked Jacobin to their hand held feeders while I had them swarming just inches from my head.

The Panama Rain Forest Discovery Center was one of the easiest walks of the tour with 63 species seen. Besides the Hummingbird Center, there was a trail to a pond where we had a close view of the Lesser Kiskadee and Rufescent Tiger-Heron. The 5:30 start for our day was so we could get to the top of the 100-foot tower near dawn. We were rewarded for climbing the 172 steps with good views of the Blue Cotinga, Yellow-throated Toucan, Black-tailed Trogan and a Crane Hawk. Jose, a worker at the Hummingbird Center took us on the short walk to where he knew the Choco Screech-owl was napping. We finally saw the Great Tinamou on our way out of the Discovery Center….our last day of tours.

Owls were not on my radar as I was planning for the trip. In addition to the Choco Screech-owl, there was a pair of Black-and-white Owls that could be counted on to be perched in their tree on the steep road leading up to Canopy Tower. An adult Spectacled Owl and its chick were seen in a tree on the way to one excursion. In addition, Bob and Eileen saw a Mottled Owl and a Tropical Screech-owl while they were at the Lodge.

Bat Falcon

Near the Spectacled Owls, we stopped at the veranda of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. From their balcony, we saw another trip favorite….a pair of Bat Falcon. Interestingly, this location also provided glimpses of some birds known to us…Little Blue Heron, Snowy Heron, and Anhinga. This was where we got the best view of the Magnificent Frigatebird soaring overhead. At the marina, we were able to get a good comparison of Great Kiskadee, Lesser Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird and a Social Flycatcher. I’m still unsure I could distinguish these birds. These are all in the flycatcher family. For the trip, we reported 36 unique flycatcher species. No wonder I got confused!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the tours of Pipeline Road. This “road” is really a dirt lane through the rain forest originally built in the mid-30s to service an oil pipeline still visible along it’s edge. The pipeline was never used but we spent one full day and another half day walking this road, observing birds. The near 12,000 steps each day over uneven terrain was worth it to see the 69 species. My favorite bird of the trip was seen both days on Pipeline Road.

Red-capped Manakin

The Red-capped Manakin is only 4 inches so smaller than many of the other tropical birds. Besides his beautiful red head contrasted to his black body, he became my favorite when it was my turn to look through the scope, he did his signature dance….the moon dance. The guides called him the Michael Jackson bird.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow

Another interesting bird was the Purple-throated Fruitcrow. When just hanging out, his throat was a nice deep purple. But when he was attracting attention, the throat became a bright crimson. The Broad-billed Motmot was seen on Pipeline as one of it’s 6 checklists. A name like Motmot can’t be wasted so we saw 5 different motmot species on the trip. The beautiful colors of motmots made for a favorite photo shoot.

Most days we started our mornings by climbing the ladder from the common area on the third floor (our fourth floor) to the outside observation deck. (Did I mention the Tower didn’t have an elevator?) From there, not only could we see the canal and beautiful sunrises but also numerous birds.

Green Honeycreeper

The gorgeous Green Honeycreeper was a regular morning visitor as were the Orange -chinned Parakeets, Yellow-billed Toucan, Keel-billed Toucan and Mealy Parrot. This is one of 6 locations for seeing the Masked Tityra (one of our favorites). This is probably a good time to mention that tanagers were almost a ho-hum siting. 12 different tanager species were seen on the trip (Did you know that grosbeaks and tanagers are in the same family?). We saw the following tanagers at the Tower (with their total number of checklists for all locations): Summer Tanagers (5), Scarlett Tanagers (4), Palm Tanager (10), Golden-hooded Tanager (7), Plain-colored Tanager (10), and Blue-gray Tanager (18).

Rosy-thrush Tanager

One of the guide’s target birds for us was the Rosy Thrush-Tanager. This bird has a big voice but doesn’t like to be seen. In our first visit to Sendero La Chunga we had no luck hearing or seeing this bird at its known location. The next day, the guides worked for about an hour trying to encourage this bird to show himself but we only heard him. On our last tour of the week, we returned to Sendero La Chunga. The guide played and played it’s call and finally the bird responded. It came out and nicely posed for us, singing away. He kept singing and singing near us with good opportunities for photos. Finally after 10 minutes, we left him while he continued to sing and sing.

White Hawk

One of our “tours” was a walk down that steep hill from the Tower. (Luckily they sent us the Bird Mobile to take us back up the hill). This hill gave us numerous good experiences on various days. In addition to the Black-and-white Owls, the day of the walk, we were distracted by the Geoffroy’s Tamarin (Squirrel Monkey) playing in the trees. As we stopped to watch them, Melanie saw a White Hawk fly in and it nicely posed for us.

Most trips up and down the hill saw a Central American Agouti (think big tailless rat) cross the road. One time, we stopped to watch a Northern Tamandua (anteater) devour a hanging ant nest. The spooky howl of the Mantled Howler Monkeys were heard (and often seen) almost daily. We saw both Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloths and Brown-throated Three-towed Sloth literally hanging out in trees. On one of our return trips to the Tower, our guide stopped the Bird Mobile on a busy road to return a sloth from the road to a safe tree nearby. Other mammals seen include White-faced Capuchin, Variegated Squirrel, Red-tailed Squirrel and Lesser Capybara.

The Semaphore Hill Road also gave us a Ringed Kingfisher and a Green Kingfisher. A Collared Aracari and both a White-whiskered Puffbird and a Black-breasted Puffbird were seen. I thought I recognized a Piliated Woodpecker but instead, we saw a Crimson-Crested Woodpecker which our guides later compared to the Lineated Woodpecker, both of which are closely related to our Piliated Woodpecker.

I haven’t even mentioned the 11 warbler species seen nor the 10 wren species. If you want to see the complete list, check out the eBird Trip Report. By clicking through the lists, you can even see Bob’s pictures which he attached to the list.

Submitted by: Judy Morr
Photos by: Bob Mercer

Author: sibirders

SEABROOK ISLAND BIRDERS / “watching, learning, protecting” Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) are residents, renters and guests of Seabrook Island, SC who have an interest in learning, protecting and providing for the well-being of the incredible variety of birds that inhabit Seabrook Island throughout the year.

6 thoughts on “SIB Travels: Panama”

  1. Wow Judy great trip
    Thanks for sharing
    I was excited that you saw a toucan and a sloth, very cool.
    Glad you’re back


  2. I Finally got to read your wonderful Panama trip article ! What amazing birds & photos ! I want to go ! Thanks for sharing !


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