Panama: Birding with a Camera® (BwC)

Tour Overview:

Panama is a longtime favorite of birders looking to gorge on tropical birds, either as a first tropical destination, or to supplement previous trips to other ones. The appeal of Panama to visiting birders is obvious; it is graced with a birdlist of over 1000 species in a country that mimics South Carolina in size, making long drives unnecessary, and many sites being easily visited by way of day trips from a business style hotel on a quiet edge of the country’s capital. It is also equipped with excellent US-style facilities throughout, and the widespread use of the US Dollar also makes things easy for people traveling from that part of the world. The reason for its extraordinary diversity is that Panama can be said to lie at the crossroads of North, Central and South America, which gives rise to a very different selection of birds as you move west to east through the country. This Birding With A Camera® tour focuses on the most accessible part of the country, Central Panama, combining this with higher elevation forests and habitats in western Panama. In the far west lies the Chiriqui Highlands (home of the Resplendent Quetzal), which are shared only with Costa Rica. East from there in Central Panama is the arguably the most famous engineering project built in the region, the Panama Canal. The canal also happens to be located in one of the richest lowland birding areas of the country, where legendary birding sites like Gamboa, Pipeline Road and Soberania National Park are all located just a short distance from Panama’s capital city.

Upcoming Departures:

2023

2 - 13 December ($5930; single supplement: $830)

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Detailed Itinerary

Other Tour Details:

Length: 12 Days

Starting City: Panama City

Ending City: Panama City

Pace: Moderate

Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Focus: Birding, Photography

Max group size: 8 + 1 leader

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This itinerary is being updated

Day 1: Arrival in Panama City

The tour begins this evening. Our hotel is very close to the airport and has a free shuttle bus.

 

Day 2: Cerro Azul

We will take a day trip to a private housing complex, built in forested foothills just to east of Panama City. As well as being pleasantly cooler than the lowland capital, the modest rise in altitude gives rise to a markedly different bird list. A highlight  of Cerro Azul is a set of spectacular private feeders (note: visiting these feeders is contingent on the owners being home) that attract such varied species like hummingbirds such as Rufous-crested Coquette, White-necked Jacobin, and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, tanagers, like Plain-colored and Bay-headed, and Shining Honeycreepers, plus even the occasional monkey drops in too (Geoffroy’s Tamarin)! Away from the feeders, the surrounding forests are home to a heady selection of possibilities, like Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, White-ruffed Manakin, Blue Cotinga, and Rufous-winged and Speckled Tanagers. At the end of what will be a unique day of the tour, we shall return to our comfortable, modern hotel on the edge of Panama City for one more night.

Day 3: Metropolitan Park to El Valle de Anton

Parque Natural Metropolitano is a superb birding site in the heart of the city. The reason for its inclusion here is that it is the single best site in Panama for Rosy Thrush-Tanager, and is also good for Yellow-green Tyrannulet (endemic) and Lance-tailed Manakin. Other birds in the area include Squirrel Cuckoo, White-vented Plumeleteer, Short-tailed Hawk, White-necked Puffbird, Black-crowned Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky and White-bellied Antbirds, Brown capped Tyrannulet, Black-tailed Flycatcher, Golden-collared Manakin, Green-fronted and Lesser Greenlets, Orange-billed Sparrow, and Yellow-backed Oriole. Geoffroy’s Tamarins also roam the park. After lunch, we'll drive a few hours to El Valle de Anton. where we will spent the next two nights.

Day 4: El Valle de Anton

This area in the foothills of the mountains is cool and pleasant in terms of climate, and has plenty of birds to offer too, being a good area for species like Tody Motmot, Crimson-backed Tanager, and Black-crowned Antpitta. Other species in this area include Lesson’s Motmot, Gray-headed Chachalaca, White-tipped Sicklebill, Garden Emerald, Violet-headed Hummingbird, White-tailed Emerald, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Barred Antshrike, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Checker-throated Antwren, Panama Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and Black-faced Grosbeak.

Day 5: Juan Hombron to Panama City

Having spent a full day in the forests of the foothills the day before, this day will see us head south to the open country and coastline of the Pacific lowlands around Juan Hombron. The birding in this area is easier going than forest can be, and we will be seeking out species like Savanna Hawk, White-tailed Kite, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Crested Bobwhite, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Striped Cuckoo, Veraguan Mango, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Scrub Greenlet, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, and Lance-tailed Manakin. In addition to these we will check the coast for shorebirds and wetland species like Glossy and White Ibises, Magnificent Frigatebird, Elegant Tern, Northern Jacana, and Wood Stork, among others. In the afternoon, we will drive to the canal zone, where we will be based for three nights.

Day 6-7: Gamboa, Pipeline Road, and Canal Zone

This is not just one of the most famous Panama birding spots, but one of the most revered in all of neotropical birding. Certain, flashy tropical bird groups are well represented here, with 5 species of trogon regular (Black-tailed, Black-throated, Slaty-tailed, White-tailed and Gartered), 3 regular toucan species (Keel-billed, Yellow Throated Toucans and Collared Aracari), 3 motmots are regular too (Broad-billed, Rufous and Whooping), and 4 different puffbirds are frequently found there (Black-breasted, White-necked, White-whiskered and Pied). Antswarms can occur at any time in this area, and when they do, they provide one of the great neotropical birding experiences, with chances to see Spotted, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds all at the same swarm with other attendant species like Red-capped Manakin. A canopy observation tower will be visited on one of these mornings too, to get up close with canopy species like Blue Cotinga, Fasciated Antshrike, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Red-lored and Mealy Parrots, Moustached Antwren, Black-chested Jay, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Green Shrike-Vireo, Blue Dacnis, and Scarlet-rumped Cacique.

Day 8: Canal Zone to Volcán

After another morning of birding in this rich area, we'll catch a flight to the western city of David and drive about an hour and a half up into the Chiriqui Highlands, a mountain chain shared only with nearby Costa Rica. We'll spend three nights in Volcán.

Days 9-10: Volcán area

We will have two full days to explore the western highlands of Panama, visiting several different sites in the region. At Volcán Baru National Park, Resplendent Quetzal will be a priority on our long target list for the area. Other species of note in this national park include, Prong-billed Barbet, Yellow-winged Vireo, Flame-throated Warbler, Collared Redstart, Black-faced Solitaire, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. We'll also visit La Amistad National Park, sometimes referred to as “PILA”. We’ll have a second shot at the quetzal here, but also chances at Spangle-cheeked Tanagers mixing with Ruddy Treerunners and Black-cheeked Warblers in mixed feeding flocks that might also contain Buffy Tuftedcheek, Tufted Flycatcher and Spot-crowned Woodcreepers too. Northern Emerald-Toucanet and Sulphur-winged Parakeet are both also found here. Hummingbird feeders in the area give us a chance to see and photograph species like White-throated Mountain-Gem, and Fiery-throated, Stripe-tailed, and Volcano and Talamanca Hummingbirds. On one of our days here, we will drive down into the foothills to a small, private reserve called Birding Paradise. This is a wonderful birding area, with feeders, that holds a lot of species and therefore promise for the day – hummingbirds are well represented there with Long-billed Starthroat, Scaly-breasted, Snowy-bellied, and Charming Hummingbirds all present. Other forest birds, which occur at this mid-elevation site, include Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, Costa Rican Brushfinch, Lesson’s Motmot, Olivaceous Piculet, Crimson-fronted and Brown-throated Parakeets, Black-hooded Antshrike, Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner, Orange-collared Manakin, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, and Spot-crowned Euphonia all possible, among many other species. Time permitting, we visit other sites in the area, such as a reed-fringed lake that is home to "Chiriqui Yellowthroat", a distinctive subspecies of Olive-crowned Yellowthroat which is split by many.

Day 11: Volcán to Panama City. After a final morning of birding in this area, we will catch a flight back to Panama city and transfer to our airport hotel for the final night of the tour

 

Day 12: Departure

The tour ends this morning (no birding is planned). The hotel has a free shuttle to the airport.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. There are some early starts, and long days in the field (breakfasts at 5:00-5:30am are typical), although this is not a tough trip. There are no long drives on this tour, with the longest being under three hours.

 

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. Most of the walking will be easy, although there may be some trail walking on at least half of the days. 

 

CLIMATE: Panama is tropical and so temperatures remain fairly constant year-round; in the lowlands, it will be hot and humid, with temperatures ranging between 70-90 Fahrenheit (21-31 Celsius), and humidity generally at around 80%. In the foothills and mountains temperatures will be considerably cooler, at around 50-66 Fahrenheit (10-19 Celsius). Some rain can be expected.

 

ACCOMMODATION: Very good to excellent on all nights; all hotels have full-time electricity, wi-fi, hot water and en-suite facilities everywhere, and lowland hotels have AC. 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY: There are good to very good photo opps at Cerro Azul at the feeders there, in the mountains at the feeders at Cielito Sur, and we will also visit several feeder sites around Gamboa too. Outside of the feeders the photography is more challenging, although Panama provides some of the easiest access to forest birds in the Americas, and there are usually plenty of on the fly opportunities away from feeders too.

WHEN TO GO: Panama offers good year-round birding, and therefore birders often visit in all months of the year. The highest bird lists are gathered in September to April, when the resident tropical birds are joined by considerable numbers of migrant boreal species too, so this is typically when most birders visit. December to April represent the driest months of the year, and are therefore popular.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required for entry into Panama. It must be valid for at least six months past the time of your scheduled return. A visa is NOT currently required for citizens of the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and most Western European countries. For other nationalities, please contact your nearest Panamanian embassy or consulate for entry requirements. There are two further requirements for entering Panama: (1) that you can show you have sufficient funds for entering the country; usually considered to be $500 US Dollars or more. This can be proven by either carrying cash in excess of this amount, or carrying a recent bank statement, showing funds in excess of this amount are available to you. In reality, this is rarely asked of tourists entering Panama, but everyone on the tour should be prepared for this, in the case of the rare circumstance they may request proof of funds. (2) Proof of onward travel; please bring a print out of your return flight ticket home, (or onward to somewhere else), showing that you have an outbound flight from Panama at the end of your stay in the country.Travel requirements are subject to change; if you are unsure, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help.

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 11; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 12; some drinks as well as safe drinking water; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the evening of day 11; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the afternoon of day 1 to the afternoon of day 11; tips to drivers (if used), local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; internal flights; entrance fees to birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

 

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for any luggage porters used; international flights; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

 

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