Suzanne and I met up with Brian and Lise at the Panama City Airport the afternoon of Jan 10th, after mechanical difficulties grounded us overnight in Houston. A short birding loop east of town netted us SAVANNAH HAWK and some other open-country species, and then we slopped through the traffic-choked city to our hotel near Gamboa.
Brian's photography targets were all species that have at one time or another wandered north of the Mexican border, and on Saturday we started to "tic" them off of his list. We spent an hour on the balcony of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, taking photos of SOCIAL FLYCATCHER, GREAT KISKADEE, FLAME-RUMPED TANAGER and a host of others visiting the cecropia and close-by blooming trees. From there we journeyed to the near-by Ammo Dump Ponds and added seedeaters and FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER. A short trip up the famous Pipeline Road turned up an THREE-TOED SLOTH, which despite it's lightning speed, we were able to study at leisure. A flock of roving passerines close to the entrance of the road gave us incredible views of PUFFBIRDS, GOLDEN-WINGED & CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERS, WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER, and DOT-WINGED ANTBIRD, among many others. At the Summit Ponds we spotted our first AMAZON KINGFISHER way on the far side of one pond, and a nesting BOAT-BILLED HERON far away in the second pond.
Early on Sunday we met Gonzalo Horno for a four-hour boat trip up the Chagres River. From his nice and steady pontoon boat we were able to get fantastic views and photos of many excellent birds, including GREATER ANI, KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN, MUSCOVY DUCK, WATTLED JACANA, STRIATED HERON, and MANGROVE SWALLOW. But for Brian, the best birds were the kingfishers. Both RINGED and AMAZON KINGFISHERS put on a great show and were most cooperative. We also got fine looks at a young salt-water crocodile and a two-toed sloth.
On Monday morning we drove to the Rainforest Discovery Center and climbed up the winding staircase to the top of the canopy tower. Peering out over the green treetops we were able to see parrots flying, a perched BLUE COTINGA, a SCALY-BREASTED PIGEON, and several distant raptors. Brian got a close-up photo of a GRAY-HEADED KITE. Back at the visitor center's hummingbird feeders we watched dozens of jewel-like energetic hummers, especially the WHITE-NECKED JACOBINS, buzzing about and vying for the sugar water. By the afternoon we'd made our way to the Sierra Llorona Lodge on the Pacific Slope of the isthmus. At the feeders here we enjoyed prolonged and gorgeous views of the BLUE-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRD. That night we had good conditions for owling and tracked down a big SPECTACLED OWL. The following day we toured the Achiote Road and Fort Lorenzo, finding new birds and some fine troops of Howler Monkeys.
The next region we explored was the drier Azuero Peninsula, with prime birding sites like Macanas Marsh. Here we found a wealth of vultures and raptors, including SAVANNAH, SHORT-TAILED, and GRAY HAWKS, a pair of APLOMADO FALCONS and a MERLIN, NORTHERN (CRESTED) and YELLOW CARACARAS, WHITE-TAILED and SNAIL KITES, YELLOW-HEADED and BLACK VULTURES, and an accommodating (after some coaxing) FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL. The marshes and nearby salt flats yielded a fine array of waders, shorebirds, and waterfowl. The huge clouds of BLACK-BELLIED DUCKS were a sight to behold.
The Chiriqui Highlands in the western part of Panama offered a dramatic change from the humid jungle of the Canal Zone and the dry Azuero Peninsula. Temperatures were nice and cool, but at times the high winds and mountain-top drizzle made for challenging birding and photography. We spent time in both the western and eastern side of Volcan Baru. At Volcan Lakes we walked the productive trails on two occasions, finding RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE, FIERY-BILLED ARACARI,our first BELLBIRD, woodcreepers, and a nesting SNOWY-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD. High in the mountains we added LONG-TAILED SILKY FLYCATCHERS and some friends from back home--ACORN WOODPECKER. The Quetzal Lodge feeders were very active, and we added WHITE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM, SCINTILLANT HUMMINGBIRD, and SLATY FLOWERPIERCER. The Finca Lerida Lodge north of Boquette had the finest accommodations and nicest restaurant of our entire stay in Panama. Highlights of our birding at this site included many tanager species, the ethereal sounds of THREE-WATTLED BELLBIRDS, ROSY THRUSH-TANAGER, WHITE-NAPED and CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCHES, and scores of hummingbirds.
Santa Fe National Park
Santa Fe, in the central mountains of Panama, was our final birding destination. At the Coffee Mountain Inn we Brian spotted both BROWN-CAPPED PARROT and JAY for us. Despite encountering our rainiest morning of the trip, we watched for several hours under cover of an old stable, as flocks of warblers and tanagers moved through one of the river valleys in Santa Fe National Park. The highlights were EMERALD TANAGER and BUFF-RUMPED WARBLER. It was an awesome trip, and we can't wait to return to explore more birdy spots in Panama.
VIEW THE BIRD CHECKLIST