Panama with Avocet Tours, Part 2

Feb 20
Breakfast was early this morning and we were on our way to Pipeline Road by shortly after 6:30. We spent our morning at the Rain forest Discovery Center and surrounding areas, where after climbing the 177 step tower (counted by Nancy), we watched birds frolicking in the canopy of the massive trees. The best bird of all was a male Blue Cotinga which stood out like sore thumb among the greenery. Purple-throated Fruitcrows, also a member of the cotinga family, were seen quite well as they landed close to us in a treetop. Don was quite lucky to catch a glimpse of the almost mythical Green Shrike-Vireo this morning, but the bird disappeared before the rest of us could see it, though we all heard it continually singing. Mealy Parrots flew past several times, as did a few Blue-headed Parrots and Red-lored Parrots. Alex pointed out a Gray-headed Kite that we saw quite well through the scope. Paltry Tyrannulet was briefly seen and was a new addition to the trip list, and a male Fasciated Antshrike popped into view for a few moments as well.

Purple-crowned Fairy
Purple-crowned Fairy. Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

After an enjoyable time atop the tower we descended to an area with feeders where we watched birds as we nibbled on snacks and drank cold drinks. Hummingbird feeders were busy here with White-necked Jacobins running the show, along with a few others such as Long-billed Hermit, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy and a stunning male Rufous-crested Coquette in attendance. A Black-cheeked Woodpecker paused long enough for us to enjoy scope views, and we had brief but good views of a Golden-collared Manakin.

Rufous Motmot1
Rufous Motmot. Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Next we explored some of the trails near the center where along the way we caught a glimpse of the tiny, Long-billed Gnatwren, new for the trip list. Also heard was a Thrush-like Schiffornis, but could not see it. At the end of the trail was a wetland where Striated Heron, Green Heron and Little Blue Heron were added to the day list, along with our first Pied-billed Grebe of the tour.

Tanwy-crested Tanager.jpg
Female Tawny-crested Tanager. Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Overhead a Cinnamon Becard entered its rather bulky nest. Alex pointed out some very cool butterflies today including his favorite, the 88, and others including the Postman, a Malachite, a Julia Heliconian and the always stunning Blue Morpho. After a quick stop at the little gift shop for some retail therapy we were stopped by other birders along the road and to our delight they pointed out a small army ant swarm. Following the swarm were two species of antbirds, Spotted Antbird, which we have already seen, and a new species for the trip, Bicolored Antbird. Also in the area was a Rufous Motmot, quite a large bird compared to the Broad-billed Motmots we have seen several times.
After lunch the group visited the museum and the locks at Miraflores along the Panama Canal.

Feb 21
Our last full day at the Canopy Tower was quite enjoyable and it began as we watched the sunrise while we sipped coffee on the observation deck. Mealy Parrots, Scaled Pigeon, Lesser Greenlet, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blue Dacnis, Palm Tanager and Keel-billed Toucans, all seen almost daily here, were again noted. New for our list, however, was a very nice Black-breasted Puffbird that we got good views of through the scope.

Flame-rumped Tanager
Flame-rumped Tanager. Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

After breakfast we made our way to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort area where we spent a couple of hours exploring the habitat along the shores of the Chagres River. A house with some banana feeders attracted several species including our first Flame-rumped Tanagers of the tour, along with others such as Blue-gray Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper and Clay-colored Thrush. A few interesting raptors were noted including a very nice White Hawk soaring above with some vultures.

white hawk
White Hawk & Turkey Vulture. Gamboa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Alex also pointed out an adult King Vulture that sailed high overhead. Close to the water, a Zone-tailed Hawk made a low pass and its presence startled a young Lesser Kiskadee that was just about to leave its nest. A Common Tody-Flycatcher was in the process of building a nest only a few meters away from the kiskadee nest. More goodies followed, with excellent views of a pair of Dusky Antbirds as they foraged low to the ground. A pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons were most obliging, as this species often seems to be, and posed for photos once again.

slaty-tailed trogon1
Slaty-tailed Trogon at Gamboa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

The large trees had several Chestnut-sided Warblers and Bay-breasted Warblers hopping about, catching insects. Alex led us into the jungle where he pointed up high into a hole in a palm tree and a Western Night Monkey poked its head out to see what all the commotion was about, another fantastic mammal for the trip list.

night monkey
Western Night Monkey, Gamboa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

This afternoon we had some free time so some folks strolled down Semaphore Hill, finding such goodies as White-breasted Wood-Wren, Chestnut-backed Antbird and yet another White Hawk. Those who went down Semaphore Hill were also treated to views of a Nine-banded Armadillo and a number of White-nosed Coatis. A few of us stayed back and watched for raptors from the tower. There were over a hundred Turkey Vultures noted, several with pale crescents on the back of their heads, a trait shown only by local Central American and South American resident Turkey Vultures. In with the vultures were at least two dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, though they had to go down on the list as ‘leader only’. A pair of Short-tailed Hawks were nice to see, and one sailed quite close to the top of the tower. This evening we had a delicious barbecue put on the by the staff here. They really know how to cook a great meal at the Canopy Tower!

canopy bbq
Bbq, Canopy Tower style! Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Feb 22
Our last morning on the Canopy Tower and we still found a found a new bird, a Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. After breakfast we ‘saddled up’ and joined Lorenzo for the two hour drive to El Valle. Half way along our journey we stopped at a supermarket for some shopping. Once we left the Pan American Highway we climbed up in elevation and the habitat became much drier. The scenery was fantastic as we neared El Valle, the village nearest our lodge, which is situated in the bottom of an ancient volcano caldera. Once we arrived at the lodge we were greeted by Tino, the resident manager, who gave us a brief orientation, and we then watched the banana feeders. These feeders were busy with a selection of tanagers, including two that were new for our list; the rather drab Dusky-faced Tanager and the lovely Silver-throated Tanager.

Dusky-faced Tanager
Dusky-faced Tanager. Canopy Lodge, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Other common feeder birds here include Thick-billed Euphonia, Clay-colored Thrush and Chestnut-headed Oropendola. The group gasped with excitement when the big and bold Rufous Motmot appeared at the feeder. A Red-tailed Squirrel arrived on the scene and took a whole banana, but it did not get to enjoy its meal in peace, as a whole group of Gray-headed Chachalacas followed it and snatched the fruit away.

Gray-headed Chachalaca.jpg
Gray-headed Chachalaca. Canopy Lodge, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Along the lovely little river that runs through the front of the property at Canopy Lodge we had great views of Buff-rumped Warblers this afternoon as they hopped along from rock to rock, sort of like a cross between a dipper and a waterthrush. Speaking of waterthrush, we had nice looks at a Louisiana Waterthrush along the river as well. Some of the group caught a glimpse of a Green Kingfisher.

Buff-rumped Warbler1
Buff-rumped Warbler. Canopy Lodge, Panama, Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

After all the excitement of birding the lodge gardens we enjoyed a scrumptious lunch and then went for a walk up the road to El Macho, a pretty waterfall in a lush green canyon. Along the way there were many birds to stop and look at including a very attractive female Spot-crowned Barbet. Summer Tanagers were seen several times with immature males, adult females and one or two lovely red males noted. Bananaquit are quite common in this area and we saw several this afternoon. Rufous-capped Warblers are also pleasantly common here, and in addition to them we saw other warblers including Canada, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided and some saw Prothonotary Warbler.

Rufous-capped Warbler.jpg
Rufous-capped Warbler. Canopy Lodge, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Daryll snapped a photo of the first Wood Thrush of the tour. Up at the waterfall Alex had a look for a roosting Mottled Owl but couldn’t find it, though he did show us a nice shiny Tiger Rat Snake that was curled up in a tree at eye level. Broad-billed Motmots sat very obligingly beside the road, just waiting to have their photographs taken.

broad-billed motmot1
Broad-billed Motmot. Panama. Canopy Lodge, Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

A brief view of a stunning hummingbird, the Purple-crowned Woodnymph, was had near the entrance to El Macho and we also caught a glimpse of our first Shining Honeycreeper of the tour. We enjoyed dinner with a cool evening breeze a welcome change from the warmer, more humid climate we had spent the past week in at the Canopy Tower.

Feb 23
We had breakfast on the open air patio of the Canopy Lodge while a light rain fell. Before we left the lodge a pair of Gray-necked Wood-Rails came into view along the edge of the little river and we all saw them well from the bridge.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Gray-necked Wood Rail. Canopy Lodge, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Just after 7 AM we were on our way, split into two vehicles, one driven by Alex and another by Danilo. We climbed up the bumpy road to La Mesa, a flat area dominated by patches of cloud forest and extensive chicken farms. Birding at La Mesa was sensational this morning, and some may even say it was an epic morning. As we began climbing up the road some of the first additions to the trip list included a rather drab Lesser Elaenia, as well as cute little Yellow-faced Grassquits.

Yellow-faced Grassquit
Yellow-faced Grassquit. La Mesa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Farther along yet, we walked a track through the forest where we encountered some rather mind-boggling numbers of birds in a mixed flock. There were quite a few Tawny-crested Tanagers about, with smaller numbers of Bay-headed, Palm, Plain-colored, Blue-gray, Silver-throated, Crimson-backed and Red-crowed Ant-Tanagers present. Orange-bellied Trogons showed off very nicely, one of which posed right beside the trail for the photographers in the group.

Orange-bellied Trogon
Orange-bellied Trogon. La Mesa, Panama, Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Also very obliging was our first Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, a tiny bird with a long name, put in a brief appearance along with a Tufted Flycatcher. A rather drab, but new bird for the list, was a Pale-vented Thrush that sat quietly high up in the trees. Warblers were numerous with Golden-winged, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Canada, Blackburnian and Magnolia warblers counted.

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer2
Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, La Mesa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

New species just kept coming, with the likes of Spotted Woodcreeper, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch and Broad-winged Hawk tallied. A Northern Schiffornis was seen well, a recent split from Thrush-like Schiffornis. We heard but could not see a Barred Forest-Falcon and a Black-faced Antthrush. After all this excitement Alex and Danilo pulled out some snacks and cold drinks which distracted us from the birds for a short time.

Next up we headed into the forest in search of lovely Heliconia flowers where we just might get lucky and find an unusual hummingbird, the White-tipped Sicklebill. We were quickly distracted however, by an army ant swarm where over a dozen species were in attendance. Birds seen at the swarm included a Brown-billed Scythebill, an unusual woodcreeper with a rather ridiculously long, curved bill. Also here was Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Rufous-and-white Wren, Bay Wren, Song Wren, Northern Waterthrush, Squirrel Cuckoo and several tanager species. Suddenly Liz came back down the trail and exclaimed that she had found the White-tipped Sicklebill next to some heliconias! We chased after her down the path and easily found the flowers, but no bird.

Heliconia. La Mesa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

After a few moments Alex spotted the sicklebill sitting quietly near the flowers and we all had great views of it before it flew off into the forest. By the end of the morning we had tallied around 80 species, not a bad morning of birding. Lunch back at the lodge was delicious as usual, with spaghetti on the menu.

White-tipped Sicklebill
White-tipped Sicklebill. La Mesa, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

At 3 PM we gathered once again to head down into El Valle and we explore an area known as Cara Iguana. First, however, we returned to Chorro El Macho where we had searched for Mottled Owl the previous day. This time we had luck as Alex located a roosting Mottled Owl in the woods not far from the path.

Mottled Owl
Mottled Owl. El Valle, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

We then made our way to Cara Iguana, along what is known to locals as the millionaire road. Alex jokingly pointed out ‘his house’, a monster mansion with luxurious gardens. Once at Cara Iguana we walked down a narrow path and searched in the tall trees for yet another owl species, Spectacled Owl. It didn’t take Alex long to locate a pair of Spectacled Owls roosting and we had fantastic looks at these large and striking owls. We tried unsuccessfully for Tody Motmot here, but as a consolation prize we had a Common Potoo, pointed out by a local gardener. Yellow-green Vireo had to go down as ‘leader only’, and a few people got a glimpse of a Yellow-throated Vireo here. Another ‘old friend’ from back in Canada, a male American Redstart flashed about in the treetops. Alex pointed out several Yellow-crowned Euphonias, new for the list, as was a male ‘black-backed’ race of Lesser Goldfinch. A female White-lined Tanager very briefly flashed by as well. We returned to the lodge for dinner, before which we tallied up our bird list. We had seen 111 species today, as a collective group.

Spectacled Owl
Spectacled Owl. El Valle, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Feb 24

I was feeling a little under the weather today so I stayed back at the Canopy Lodge while the group went off for a full day field trip to the beach. Along the way they stopped and after a little effort they were rewarded with great views of Tody Motmot, one of the more sought-after species. They carried on to savanna habitats in the lowlands where they encountered a grass fire which produced quite an assortment of predatory birds that were eating critters fleeing the fire. Included in this list were the beautiful Savannah Hawk and an ultra-rare dark morph Long-winged Harrier! This species has only been recorded in Panama a handful of times. Swainson’s Hawks were apparently quite common today as well. A Barn Owl, the only for the tour, was also a nice catch here. Alex showed the group two other owl species today as well, a Tropical Screech-Owl that was roosting in a cavity and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl at the beach house at Santa Clara. While at the beach house the group had a nice lunch and enjoyed some more new birds, including Sandwich Tern and a couple of shorebirds such as Willet and Whimbrel. Rufous-browed Peppershrike was heard but could not be seen.
On the way back through El Valle, they stopped in at the market for a while before returning to the Canopy Lodge for dinner.

Feb 25
Breakfast was at 6:30 and after that we made our way to an area known as Altos del Maria, a high elevation cloud forest which is unfortunately slated for development. On the upside, the developers have put in a series of paved roads (very steep paved roads) which currently offer access to the area. When we arrived in the morning it was very misty, cool and breezy, but once the fog burned off it was very pleasant. Birding was sensation here and we staked out some flowers in search of hummingbirds. We were rewarded with rather brief views of a female Snowcap, one of our real target birds for the day, as well as a second view of the White-tipped Sicklebill and our very first Band-tailed Barbthroat at some heliconias. Also a nice sighting at our first stop were several Brown-hooded Parakeets eating bananas as we watched through the scope.

Tufted Flycatcher
Tufted Flycatcher. Altos del Maria, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

We climbed higher yet and began encountering very cute Tufted Flycatchers in numbers, as well as up to three uncommon Yellow-eared Toucanets. Also new for the list were Blue-throated Toucanets, formerly known as part of the Emerald Toucanet complex which has been split into several species. Golden-winged, Blackburnian, Rufous-capped and several Canada warblers were nice to see this morning. Alex, Eduardo and Danilo, our guides for the day, pulled up the vehicles and produced some very welcome snacks and coffee that kept us going for the rest of the morning. We found a small mixed flock just as a drizzle began to fall, which included Spotted Barbtail, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant and Spotted Woodcreeper.

Spotted Barbtail.jpg
Spotted Barbtail. Altos del Maria, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Next we walked a lovely paved trail through the rain forest, which followed a pristine creek. Birding here was also spectacular and the highlights were many. Alex showed us a nice Streak-chested Antpitta, only the second for the tour. Another mixed flock high in the trees contained several new species; Yellow-and-black Tanager, Rusty-faced Spinetail and Rufous-browed Tyrannulet to name just a few. New for the mammal list were two Pygmy Squirrels that chased one another briefly before disappearing. We retraced our steps along the same path and were rewarded with another lovely sighting, a Long-tailed Tyrant high in the trees, before we enjoyed lunch beside a small pond.

Golden-hooded Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager. Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

After lunch we tried a trail for the elusive Black-crowned Antpitta but came up empty handed, though we were rewarded with a female Green-crowned Brilliant, spotted by Nancy. ‘One last try for the antpitta’, Alex exclaimed and we continued to the end of the road where we walked down the hill to the edge of the rain forest. We listened for the antpitta, which Danilo heard, and after much effort we were rewarded with satisfactory views of this large and elusive antpitta as is called from its perch on the forest floor! This was a fantastic way to finish our day, and we returned to El Valle and the Canopy Lodge in the late afternoon. Our tour was wrapping up and just before 5 PM we said goodbye to Daryll and Fern as they departed for Panama City.

canopy lodge group
Group members watching feeders at Canopy Lodge, Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

Feb 26
We awoke to the sounds of the wind whistling through the trees, a daily occurrence, at the Canopy Lodge, for one last time today. After breakfast we departed the lodge at 10 AM, but not before a little last minute birding. Watching the banana feeders produced the usual suspects; Thick-billed Euphonia, Rufous Motmot, Blue-gray Tanager, Clay-colored Thrush and Gray-headed Chachalacas.

clay-colored thrush1
Clay-colored Trush. Panama. Feb 2016. Chris Charlesworth.

I strolled down a side path which led to the compost area where I was rewarded with the sighting of a Gray-cheeked Thrush, a rather uncommon winter species in this area. I took several others back to the same area in hopes we might find the thrush, but it was not there. We did, however, see quite a few birds here including Dusky-faced Tanager, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Gray-necked Wood Rail and Rufous Motmot. Two lovely Orange-billed Sparrows scratched about on the ground here as well, offering excellent views. Reluctantly we said goodbye to Alex who had been a sensational guide for our Panamanian adventure. We began the two hour journey back to Panama City, and at one point I was rather worried about missing my flight because of a traffic incident. Luckily, the traffic cleared up and we made it to Panama City with plenty of time, dropping off six participants at the Allbrook Inn. By the end of it all we had tallied 305 species of birds, and quite a formidable list of mammals and other critters as well, and all agreed it had been a very enjoyable trip indeed! Join us on our next trip to the area in early 2018??

Group photo. Panama Tour, Feb 2016.

Chris Charlesworth, Avocet Tours



2 thoughts on “Panama with Avocet Tours, Part 2”

  1. This has been so interesting to read and help us remember the time we spent at the Towers and Lodge several years ago. It was probably one of our favourite trips. We had booked it directly with the Towers owner. We also spent several days at Gamboa Rainforest Resort.
    Now because of health reasons we can not travel like this, it is just great to think back to our birding trips there as well as Costa Rica, Peru and Ecuador and some time in Venezuela. Venezuela we toured in a rental car from Caracas to the middle of the Andes in Merida, down the west side, northern beaches and back to Caracas. This was just before the change of government that made travel not so desirable. We carried a Venezuela bird book in Spanish but were able to identify a lot of birds.
    Thanks again for sharing
    Roland and Carol Stickle

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