Trip Report: Panama Custom Tour (Mar. 2021)

Guided by Sam Woods. This was a custom tour.

Panama always offers up excellence in the realm of birding in the tropics, with over a thousand bird species found in this Isthmus that connects Central and South America. This impressive bird list is aided by the geography, which differs starkly from west to east. Our focus on this tour, was to visit the most revered birding zone of all, the Canal Zone, including the famed Pipeline Road. We combined with this an extended stay at Canopy Camp in The Darien of eastern Panama, as well as a single, cracking, day in the cooler eastern foothills of Cerro Azul. Bird highlights were many; puffbirds “performed”, with Black-breasted Puffbird and Gray-cheeked Nunlet arguably the starlets from this group. Exotic, familiar, tropical groups like motmots and trogons were also represented too, with a confiding Tody Motmot at Cerro Azul the most unexpected of the four motmots encountered, while among the five trogons seen, a shocking violet, green and yellow male Gartered Trogon from the canopy deck at the Rainforest Discovery Center was a standout one from that family. The tour started out poorly for manakins, but areas in and around Soberania National Park made up for this sloth-like start, with half a dozen species seen, including the smart White-ruffed Manakin in the foothills, an approachable male Blue-crowned Manakin behind our hotel near Gamboa, several glowing Golden-collared Manakins, and a pair of displaying Red-capped Manakins too. A bright blue male Blue Cotinga appeared in a forest canopy, a Streak-chested Antpitta stood to attention on a fallen tree, and a pair of Black-crowned Antpittas performed better than we could have ever hoped for, even giving us walk away photo opps. as it sung to us at close range in The Darien.

Hummingbirds were also liberally scattered through the tour, with nearly twenty species, including Black-throated Mango, Sapphire-throated and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, and the local Pale-bellied Hermit, among them. However, all of these birds paled in comparison to the greatest highlight of them all, a huge Harpy Eagle (photo page 4 John Blakemore), which was a central reason for visiting Canopy Camp in The Darien, where the skilled local guides are very well-connected with local landowners and farmers, who inform them of the very latest Harpy Eagle movements. Having missed out during our first shot near a well-established, traditional site near Yaviza, we were relieved to see a confiding begging, nearly full grown, juvenile at a second local site that had only relatively recently been discovered by the wider birding community. This eagle handsomely won the bird of the trip award, almost before the trip even began! Other notable birds recorded included Spotted Antbird, White-headed and Bicolored Wrens, Double-banded Graytail, Choco Sirystes, Speckled Tanager, White-eared Conebill, Great Jacamar, Barred Puffbird, Black Oropendola, Yellow-backed and Orange-crowned Orioles, and Spot-breasted, and Golden-green Woodpeckers, to name only a few!

The tropics is a place for non-avian wonders of the natural world too, and we took in a three-toed sloth that had crossed a paved highway in The Darien, then promptly opted to sleep right by the roadside in a head-high, leafless tree a few meters from us! Other, non-bird, highlights included Mantled Howlers giving their eerie calls, a twee group of tamarins (Geoffroy’s Tamarins) in the Canopy Camp garden, a charming group of Panamanian Night Monkeys near Gamboa readying for their night-time forays, a few Lesser Capybaras feeding on a rainforest side golf course, and plenty of gigantic, metallic, Blue Morpho butterflies. We also stood alongside Panama’s most famous feature of all, the Panama Canal, as giant ships were towed through the locks loaded with shipping containers, betraying the country’s position as one of the World’s most important hubs for global trade.

Full TROPICAL BIRDING Panama March 2021 Custom Tour Trip Report here
(pdf format; 7.5 MB size file)