The Canopy Tower overlooks a wide swath of lowland forest. Photo: Canopy Tower Staff
Panama is one of those fortunate places where two great avifaunas meet. As one moves from the Costa Rican border east toward the Colombian border, Central American birds drop out and the truly Neotropical groups such as antbirds, woodcreepers, tyrant flycatchers, hummingbirds and tanagers begin to dominate. It all makes for an exceedingly rich birding experience. Our trip is timed to take advantage of the end of Autumn migration, when resident breeding birds are joined by wintering migrants and transients from North America. This influx of Nearctic migrants makes for a very diverse avian assemblage. The acclaimed Canopy Tower serves as a delightful home base as we explore several remarkable birding areas including Pipeline Road, which offers arguably the best lowland birding in Central America, with over 400 species recorded from this single locale! After our stay at the Tower, you have the option of continuing with our new Western Highlands and Bocas del Toro tour. Here we’ll find extensive and lush cloud forest, Caribbean lowlands and a substantially new suite of birds.
Day 1: The tour begins early this evening with an introductory meeting in the main room at the Canopy Tower. Shuttle transfers are arranged to the Canopy Tower from the airport. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 2: In early dawn light, coffee in hand, we’ll stand on the top deck of the Canopy Tower, enjoying the sunrise over the forested hillsides below us and scanning the skies and the trees for parrots, pigeons, mixed canopy flocks and the prize of the forest canopy, the stunning Blue Cotinga. After an hour on the deck we’ll have breakfast and then drive to Plantation Road, a nearby forest trail. In this lowland Atlantic forest we’ll hope to encounter flocks containing Dot-winged, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens, Western Slaty Antshrike, Cocoa Woodcreeper and canopy species such as Yellow and Scarlet-rumped Caciques and Purple-throated Fruitcrow. This trail is often excellent for forest raptors such as Double-toothed and Gray-headed Kites, Black Hawk-Eagle, and Collared Forest-Falcon. We’ll return to the Canopy Tower for lunch and an early afternoon siesta (in our rooms or in hammocks on the top floor) — or to watch the hummingbird feeders for Violet-bellied, Blue-chested and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobin and Long-billed Hermit. Later we’ll drive north along the Panama Canal to Gamboa and the justly famous but perhaps not-so-enchantingly named Ammo Dump Ponds. Here we’ll find our first waterbirds including numbers of Wattled Jacanas. White-throated Crake and Gray-necked Wood-Rail lurk in the reed beds and there is always the chance of finding a motionless Rufescent Tiger-Heron along the pond margins. Here too large grass beds contain mixed groups of Yellow-bellied, Ruddy-breasted and Variable Seedeaters and Thick-billed Seed-Finch while the tangled vegetation around the larger pond holds Buff-breasted and Plain Wrens. Large concentrations of Gray-breasted Martin and Mangrove and Southern Rough-winged Swallows often gather along the canal, which also offers a corridor for pelagic species to cross the isthmus — overhead there could be passing Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, Ospreys or terns. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 3: We’ll rise early for an all-day expedition to Pipeline Road, considered by many to be the premier lowland birding location in Central America. We’ll walk road, followed by our vehicles (with our picnic lunch), and make a particular effort to locate such difficult species as King Vulture, Streak-chested Antpitta, Great Jacamars, Black-striped Woodcreepers, Moustached (Pygmy) Antwren, Forest Elaenia, Blue-crowned and Red-capped Manakins, Pied, White-necked, Black-breasted and White-whiskered Puffbirds and Song Wren. If we’re very fortunate we might encounter a Great Curassow or Tiny Hawk, or any number of other true rarities that call this forest home. We should locate one or two ant swarms attended by obligate ant followers such as Bicolored, Spotted and the superlative Ocellated Antbirds, as well as several species of woodcreeper. Watching dozens of birds in attendance on a swarm, seemingly oblivious to our presence, is an experience a naturalist can truly revel in. In addition to the birds the forest here is literally alive with butterflies, dragonflies and a host of frogs. Everywhere we look, there will be things of interest and it will not be easy to leave. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 4: We’ll again have an early-morning watch from the top of the tower. Canopy flocks containing birds such as Green Shrike-Vireo, Brown-capped Tyrannulet and White-shouldered Tanagers should be visible if we’re not distracted by Red-lored, Mealy, Brown-hooded and/or Blue-headed Parrots wheeling around below us. Keel-billed Toucans and Collared Aracari are common around the tower early in the morning, often perching up in nearby Cecropias. After breakfast we’ll walk down the mile-long Canopy Tower entrance road, possibly encountering a troupe of White-faced Capuchins or the very attractive Geoffrey’s Tamarin. The forest floor along the roadside is open in many places, greatly improving our chances of actually seeing such ground-dwelling species as Black-faced Antthrush and Great Tinamou. Three species of motmots, Crimson-crested, Black-cheeked, Lineated and Cinnamon Woodpeckers and a host of flycatchers should help make for a very full morning of birding. In the mid-afternoon we’ll drive to the nearby Summit Ponds where edge specialists such as Buff-throated Saltator, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Jet Antbird and Golden-fronted Greenlet are often found along the access road. We should also encounter a few mixed flocks of open-country tanagers and flycatchers including the incredible Crimson-backed Tanager. Around the ponds we could see Boat-billed Heron, Greater and Lesser Kiskadees, and kingfishers including Amazon, Green and possibly even American Pygmy. After dinner we’ll offer an optional night tour back down the road to the ponds. The forest feels like a very different place when it’s dark, with a diverse frog chorus and with Western Night Monkeys, Kinkajou, Tamandua and bats competing with a long potential night bird list that includes Spectacled, Mottled, Crested, Black-and-white and Tropical Screech-Owls, Pauraque and Great and Common Potoos. Once at the ponds there is a good chance we’ll witness the antics of the Greater Bulldog Fishing Bat, a large golden bat that spends its evenings hunting surface fish in ponds close to forests. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 5: After an early breakfast we’ll pass over the newly constructed lock systems near Gatun Lock before reaching the Achiote Road on the Caribbean coast. Achiote is widely regarded as the best place in the canal area for diurnal raptors, and we’ll keep our eyes upward for Semiplumbeous, Gray-lined, Common Black, Great Black, and Short-tailed Hawks and several kites and falcons. We’ll also look for local species such as White-headed Wren, Montezuma and Crested Oropendolas, Spot-crowned Barbet, Pacific (Antwren, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bare-crowned Antbird and Red-breasted Blackbird. We’ll have a picnic lunch at an old fort located on a bluff above the Caribbean, and then visit a nearby mangrove forest looking for birds such as Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Mangrove Cuckoo, Black-tailed Trogon and Muscovy Duck. In the late afternoon we’ll continue to the outskirts of the coastal town of Colon, where we’ll board a train back to the Canopy Tower. The train ride affords great views of Barro Colorado Island, one of the world’s premier biological research stations, specializing in tropical ecology and island biogeography. We’ll also pass through areas full of waterbirds, including large numbers of waders and most likely Snail Kites. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 6: We’ll leave early this morning for Cerro Azul. Though only about two hours away, these highlands present a whole new world where trees are laden with epiphytes and colorful orchids. Mixed canopy flocks often include a variety of dazzling tanagers such as Emerald, Silver-throated, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Speckled and Black-and-yellow. We have reasonable expectations of seeing the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, the beautiful Violet-capped Hummingbird and the amazingly colorful Yellow-eared Toucanet. We’ll visit several arrays of hummingbird feeders, where we regularly encounter over 15 species and hundreds of individuals over the course of a few hours. After lunch we’ll drive toward Panama City to investigate the waterfront at Panama Viejo, which plays host to an amazing assemblage of shorebirds. We should encounter thousands of birds of over a dozen species, and we’ll look especially hard for Collared Plover and Cocoi Heron. Night near the Panama Canal.
Day 7: The main tour will conclude this morning with a shuttle to Panama City’s International airport for flights home or to the regional airport for our flight to the Caribbean lowlands on the Western Highlands and Bocas del Toro tour.
Created: 15 December 2016