Trip Report: Panama, The Canal Zone and Foothills (Feb. 2017)

Guided by Sam Woods (with Luis Paz throughout). This was a custom tour.

The Isthmus of Panama links the great continents of North and South America, and this unique position bridging these two large landmasses, contributes to its extraordinarily high bird list (over 1000 species), which offers a flavor of not only North and Central American birds, but also South American ones too. Likes it immediate neighbor, Costa Rica; Panama also offers good accommodations to be based in while birding the famous nearby hotspots. None of the drives on this tour extended beyond two hours either, providing proof of yet another incentive to go birding in Panama. The easy connections to North America and the official use of the US Dollar, also add to the obvious allure of the country, as a comfortable birding destination, open to those even dipping their toe into the tropics for the first time, or old hands looking for specialties. On this tour, however, were a number of veterans of birding the tropics, and also veterans from bird tours of old with Tropical Birding, making it easily accessible to all, and trouble-free. We stayed in modern, business-style hotels throughout, making it a very comfortable tour indeed.

The backdrop and centerpiece to our birding was the mighty Panama Canal, a mind-boggling feat of engineering just as impressive today as it ever was. To the east of the this man-made channel, lies some of the most revered areas for tropical birding in the World, namely the Gamboa/Pipeline Road area, which is the number one site for birding in the country, and therefore was an early shoe in on this customized itinerary. We combined the exciting lowland birding of the Canal Zone with the pleasantly cooler sites of Cerro Azul to the east, and El Valle de Anton and Altos del Maria to the west, all of which are located within the Panamanian foothills, and brought us a markedly different suite of birds. Finally, we also visited open country on the Pacific Coast where extra species were added on this varied itinerary for birds, bird habitats, and birding styles.

Panama is about sampling the considerable avian riches of the American tropics, and we of course did this, and yielded a long list of highlight birds and animals in the process: 4 species of puffbird (including Black-breasted Puffbird), 6 species of trogon (including, Orange-bellied Trogon), 5 species of motmot (including the scarce Tody Motmot); and a set of striking tanagers to stimulate our birding taste buds: Black-and-yellow, Rufous-winged, and Rosy Thrush Tanagers all featured. There was plenty of others to write home about to, like the gaudy Golden-collared Manakin, evergreen Keel-billed Toucan, a glowing male Blue Cotinga, and daytime Great Potoos to name a few, not to mention multiple sloth sightings, including a mother Brown-throated Thee-toed Sloth with a baby clasped to her belly, while she gorged on treetops fruits. An outstanding, long look at a male Rufous-crested Coquette, with its crest “punked up”, was also a worthy standout, and an incredibly close Black-crowned Antpitta was also very worthy of mention.

Full TROPICAL BIRDING Panama Feb. 2017 Trip Report here
(pdf format; 9.1 MB size file)