Panama: Photo Tour
Panama is a beautiful, somewhat chaotic and absolutely wonderful place to spend a winter doing tropical bird photography. Tropical bird photography can be difficult but the wonderful locations Panama has to offer makes it a world-class destination for normally tough species like ant-birds, manakins, a variety of flycatchers, and many other wonderful passerines. What needs to be made clear is Panama is not like Costa Rica. Panama is a bit more rugged and wild and lacks the eco-tourist set-ups that those who have been to Costa Rica are accustomed too. Please note that feeders are not common and with the exception of two locations, will not be visited on this tour. This tour is for those who want to try their hand at field photography. That being said, the field photography is amazing and you’re sure to leave Panama with some incredible images. The itinerary is set to visit a few places and to maximize the opportunities at a smaller variety of species but with the focus on quality output.
10 - 19 January ($4950; single supplement: $635)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 10 Days
Starting City: Panama City
Ending City: Panama City
Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Focus: Birding, Photography
Max group size: 5 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Panama City
Guests should arrive at any point on this day before about 6:30pm. We will meet for an introductory dinner close or in the hotel. No photography is planned for today. If you would like to arrive a day early, we can help you book an extra night in our hotel.
Day 2: Panama City to Gamboa Area
We will visit a local park where we hope to photograph a variety of great passerines like; Lance-tailed Manakin, Rosy Thrush Tanager, Black-crowned Ant-shrike, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, White-necked Puffbird and many more. We will spend the morning here. When the afternoon heat starts to set in, we will head over to Gamboa.
After checking into our hotel and letting the heat die down we will venture out for some afternoon photography, likely around the lodge. The lodge grounds often excellent opportunities at a variety of tanagers like Lemon-rumped, Crimson-backed and Palm. We also have great opportunities for other common birds like American Pygmy Kingfisher, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Yellow-headed Caracara, Lesser Kiskadee, Gartered Trogon and Wattled Jacana, just to name a few.
Days 3-4: Gamboa Area
Today we will visit one of the most iconic places in Central America, perhaps the world, Pipeline Road and surrounding area. This is a fantastic area for small passerine birds like ant-type birds, manakins, and larger birds like tinamous, motmots, raptors and puffbirds. Pipeline road also has a pretty sweet canopy tower where we will hope to find fruit crows, toucans, woodpeckers, warblers and trogons. Our main target here is the Black-breasted Puffbird. This area does have a area with hummingbird feeders so we will have some “easier” photography this morning as well. Ideally what we would like to do while here is find an ant-swarm so that we may stumble upon some of the cute little antbirds that call this area home. If we’re really lucky, a ground-cuckoo may make an appearance but this is not to be expected. We will likely bird this area multiple times in order to make the most of the area.
Day 5: Gamboa Area to El Valle de Anton
We will have one more morning in Gamboa to target species we’d like another crack at or missed and then for the afternoon heat we will travel to El Valle de Anton. Here we will spend several days searching for more wonderful forest birds like Black-crowned Antpitta, Tawny-crested Tanager, Song Wren, Striped Hermit, Golden-crowned Manakin, and many more. This will be our base for the next three (3) nights.
Day 6: Juan Hombron and El Valle de Anton
The morning will be spent on a fun farm-land style road that will eventually take us to the coast; Juan Hombron Road. Here we will look for birds like Panama Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Aplomado Falcon, Purple Gallinule, Crested Bobwhite, Wood Stork and hopefully the very cool Savanna Hawk. We will return to El Valle during the afternoon and spend the later afternoon targeting more species around our hotel like Black-chested Jay, Bat Falcon, Streaked Saltator, Rufous-breasted Wren and more.
Day 7: El Valle de Anton to Panama City
Our final day around El Valle will be a “clean-up” day. We will target species we want more time with or missed. We will then drive back to Panama City, where we'll stay for the final three nights of the tour.
Day 8: Cerro Azul
We will spend the morning in the community of Cerro Azul. These are your two feeder setups for the tour and is a nice and relaxing way to end the trip. We will not only bird the feeders but the “blue hill” does host one of Panama’s endemic species, the Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. We will hopefully photograph a handful of hummingbirds like; White-necked Jacobin, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green Hermit, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Crowned Woodnymph. Other feeder birds like Shining Honeycreeper, Bay-headed Tanager, Collared Aracari, Rufous Motmot, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and many other tanagers should be present. The other big attraction here is the Geoffroy’s Tamarin which comes into feeders and is photographed well in the trees. The afternoon will be spent around Cerro Azul and/or Panama City picking up more species.
Day 9: Clean Up Day
Today is variable. We have the morning to decide what species we’d like to go for again either in Cerro Azul or around Panama City. We will decide what we want to do for the afternoon and then meet for our farewell dinner.
Day 10: Departure from Panama City
The tour ends this morning (no shooting is planned for today). The hotel provides a free airport shuttle.
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.
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 the EU. For other nationalities, please contact your nearest Panamanian embassy or consulate for entry requirements. 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 9; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 10 (if you have a very early flight, you may miss the included hotel breakfast on day 10); some drinks; safe drinking water; Tropical Birding tour leader from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 9; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 9; 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; 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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