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Old Friday 25th February 2011, 10:50   #1
Gavia
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Panama - January 2011 - Canopy Tower & Lodge

Panama Trip Report
12-27 January 2011
Canopy Tower and Lodge


This was the second trip to Panama for the Canadian-based Maritimes Nature Travel Club. The first was in 2005, and that trip report is available on-line here.

In 2005 we spent two weeks in-country, the first week at the Canopy Tower, and the second week at a coastal resort on Playa Blanca. During the second week we contracted with Canopy Tower for three day-trips to the El Valle de Anton area, where the Canopy Lodge is now located (it was under construction in 2005).

For our return trip we booked our first week, as earlier, at the Canopy Tower, and the second week at the Canopy Lodge. I pre-arranged all our group’s outings with Raul Parias, the owner and operator of the Tower and the Lodge.

Day One - January 12

Most of our group, 11 of 14 participants, were to fly from Halifax to Panama City via Newark, New Jersey. We always try, whenever possible, to avoid any U.S. city in our travel plans, but regrettably there is as yet no direct service between Canada and Panama, though one will commence next June. One couple were flying from Toronto via Houston, and our last (but not least) participant flew from Germany via Amsterdam.

A nasty winter storm had passed over the New England states on January 11, and though snowfall amounts were modest by Canadian standards most of the U.S. airports, Newark Liberty included, cancelled most flights on the 11th. U.S.-based airports always seem to be unprepared for clearing even modest amounts of snow from runways. Perhaps only Heathrow is worse?

The storm was scheduled to increase in intensity and move into the Halifax area by the afternoon of January 12, our departure date. Our flight to Newark was delayed by three hours, not because of conditions in Halifax, but because they still had not cleared the runways of snow in Newark.

Our flight did eventually depart Halifax, though 4.5 hours late, which meant we would miss our connecting flight to Panama City. Did I mention that our carrier was Continental, one of the wretched U.S. based airlines? It is in the process of amalgamating with United Airlines, and I can’t foresee that there will be any improvement in reliability or customer service.

Our superb travel agent in Halifax had already booked us onto the next day’s afternoon flight from Newark to Panama City, which meant that we would arrive only one day late. We arrived, perforce, in Newark, but most of our checked luggage did not. Continental chose to put most of our checked bags on a later flight out of Halifax, and that flight, being a turboprop, was duly cancelled. This, of course, according to Continental, was not its fault, as they blame everything on the weather.

We overnighted at one of a series of Marriot hotels (one without a restaurant), but an adjacent Marriot Hotel did have a restaurant, and it was within walking distance. All our group had, fortunately, taken travel insurance for this trip, so our unexpected hotel and meal expenses would be reimbursed, but I am sure everyone became bored with my frequent reminders to "keep your receipts".

Day Two - January 13

We spent the morning in the hotel, having a leisurely (and unprepossessing) breakfast, the cost of which was included in the room price. By looking out of the hotel over the urban barren city scape that surrounds Liberty airport, we did manage to catch sight of a few routine local species with which to begin our trip list: the Big Three (Rock Pigeon, House Sparrow, European Starling), and a few odds and ends, such as Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, and Great Black-backed Gull.

There was free WIFI at the hotel (unlike Liberty airport, where one must pay), so I was in correspondence with the staff at the Canopy Tower, rearranging our intinerary for the first week, since we were to miss a day. We scrubbed two "soft" non-nature outings, including a tour of the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. Sometimes sacrifices must be made.

We headed to the airport at noon in the hopes of learning more regarding the missing luggage (8 of 11 in the group were without their checked bags), and were distressed to learn that the bags would not arrive in time for our late afternoon flight to Panama City. We duly boarded that flight, and were surprised that Continental did provide a hot meal of a sort, but they charged for everything else on the plane, including the privilege of watching the seat-back TV.

We were delayed in our departure from Newark by the long queues for plane de-icing, and as we picked up only a little time on our 5.5 hour flight, we arrived in Panama City just before midnight. We were picked up by Canopy Tower staff, and met our main guide for our Tower stay, Alexis. The transfer to the Tower was efficient (we saw Peccary in the van’s headlights), and we were in our beds before 0200. We were fortunate there was little jet lag (Panama is on Eastern Standard time), as we were facing a short night’s sleep. But our adventure could now truly begin.

Stay tuned for the next posting, likely later today.
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Old Friday 25th February 2011, 14:13   #2
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 14 morning

Day Three - January 14 - Morning

The Canopy Tower is a former radar installation, and there is an exterior platform circling the radar dome, at eye level with the upper canopy of the forest. The tower sits on top of Semaphore Hill, at roughly 300 metres elevation, and you can look down onto the canal, and to the south to Panama City. The door to the exterior platform is opened at 0600, roughly 30 minutes before sunrise, and coffee and tea are available. So one grabs a hot beverage and heads out to watch the sun rise, and listen to the dawn chorus, dominated at first by Brown Howler Monkeys. A Great Tinamou was calling, as was Green Shrike-Vireo, and Blue-headed and Red-lored Parrots flew by. A Keel-billed Toucan put on a nice show, and there were sightings of commoner species, such as Palm Tanagers (quite unafraid), and some Neotropic migrants, of which Bay-breasted Warbler was the most common. A distant White Hawk went on to the list, as did White-shouldered and Blue-gray Tanagers, and Scarlet-rumped Caciques.

Our first morning on the Canopy Walk was also a time to greet the other three participants in our group, who had arrived on schedule a day earlier. They had spent the previous morning birding in the immediate area of the Tower, and had enjoyed the tour of the Multiflores Locks in the afternoon (the tour that the rest of us cancelled in light of our late arrival). Gerd, Alex, and Joyce were also too polite to list all the birds we’d missed the previous day – we eventually caught up with most of their discoveries.

Breakfast was at 0730 and, as with all meals at the Tower, it was a delight. The coffee had already been proven to be superb (this is Panama, after all), but the cold and hot buffet had more than enough to keep everyone content. Dietary restrictions are catered too, though these should be announced in advance of arrival. I was personally thrilled to see a wonderful platter of thick bacon (a.k.a “death strips”), a decadent culinary treat that never sees the light of day in our home kitchen.

After breakfast we assembled at the base of the Tower for our first gentle excursion, a walk down the nearly 2 km-long access road that winds up Semaphore Hill. But we started by enjoying the show at the Tower’s hummingbird feeders, with six species on offer through the day (see list, below - the most common were the Jacobin, and the Blue-chested and Violet-bellied Hummingbirds).

The first day’s birding in a tropical habitat is always exciting, and there were many attractive species observed, and for most of the group (for 12 of the 14 this was the first trip to Panama) there were many lifers. Some highlights included Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Gartered Trogon (a former subspecies of Violaceous Trogon, now split), White-necked and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Southern Bentbill, and Golden-winged Warbler. We also began to come to grips with the various “ant thingies”, the difficult-to-view-and-photograph-and-identify assemblage of the various antbirds, antwrens, antshrikes, et al.

When we were about half-way down the access road a Tower vehicle arrived with a mid-morning snack of pastries, water, and fruit juices.

At the base of the hill, where the access road joins the main road along the Panama Canal, the guides had a stake-out roost for Great Potoo, which was my only lifer for the day.

The Tower's "Rainfomobile" then arrived to drive us up the hill back to the tower for lunch.

Here is our morning list, with my Panama lifers in bold, and my World lifer in blue. I've also included a few photos - the puffbird is a "record shot", ie, a bit fuzzy, but it was important to me.

Day List for Semaphore Hill (including Canopy Tower) - 54 species:

Great Tinamou (heard only)
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
White Hawk
Scaled Pigeon
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Great Potoo
Band-rumped Swift
Long-billed Hermit
White-necked Jacobin
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
White-vented Plumeleteer
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Broad-billed Motmot
White-necked Puffbird
White-whiskered Puffbird
Keel-billed Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Western Slaty-Antshrike
Checker-throated Antwren
White-flanked Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Forest Elaenia
Southern Bentbill
Olivaceous Flatbill
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher (heard only)
Great Crested Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Lesser Greenlet
Green Shrike-Vireo (heard only)
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Long-billed Gnatwren
Golden-winged Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-backed Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Green Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue-black Grosbeak
Scarlet-rumped Cacique

More later on the afternoon's excursion.
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Old Friday 25th February 2011, 14:42   #3
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It does sound like Continental did screw things up for you

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Old Saturday 26th February 2011, 12:48   #4
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 14 afternoon

Day Three - January 14 - Afternoon

Upon our return to the Tower we learned that the luggage would not arrive that day. Maybe tomorrow. Continental was then the recipient of many fine curses, no one of which would make the luggage appear more quickly, but they provided momentary solace for the cursers.

Lunch (unlike Continental’s customer support) was fabulous. The Tower employed the same superb cook that was present on our previous visit, and the food was always wonderful, as was his special home-made hot sauce. I was going to have to moderate my portions at mealtime. Tomorrow.

Lunch was at 1230, and our afternoon excursion was not scheduled to start until 1500. Some took the chance to take a nap, others chose to photograph hummers at the feeders, and those doing so discovered a Brown-capped Tyrannulet nest, with hungry fledglings. More opportunities to fill those camera memory cards.

Paul was one of our three keen photographers, and the one with the biggest lens. He was, however, in spiritual and physical agony, as his tripod was in one of the missing suitcases, and he was having to hand-hold his massive camera array. Even with all his straps and cords to distribute the weight across his upper torso, it was a lot of weight to lug around. But he persevered. Hank and Merv had more modest, yet still imposing, cameras and lenses, and Merv birded solely with his camera, eschewing binoculars. All three photographers were taking large numbers of photos, and Paul’s laptop ran all night long to accommodate the vital back-up process.

By contrast I used a Panasonic point-and-shoot, with a stabilized 24X lens. It has limitations (anything over 100 ISO is grainy), but it is easy to carry, and the nightly back-up takes 2 minutes. I still manage some nice shots, and I’m not aiming for magazine covers, in any case.

We left after 1500 and drove down the hill, then north along the canal, over the Chagres River, to the famous “Ammo Ponds”. There was quite a different array of species on offer, most associated with the wetland area, or the adjacent Panama Canal. Some were guaranteed to elicit wonder and approval, such as Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Black-throated Mango, Wattled Jacana, and Crimson-crested Woodpecker. There were many swallows and martins, and when they rested on power lines it was useful to be able to compare Southern and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. The Crimson-backed Tanager was showy, as were the Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Purple Gallinule, Yellow-tailed Oriole, and Yellow-rumped Cacique.

I’ve attached a few photos with this posting, including a digiscoped female Black-throated Mango - a record shot only, but this lovely species deserves every photo.

Afternoon List for the Ammo Ponds - 42 species:

personal Panama Life Birds in boldface.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Gray Hawk
Yellow-headed Caracara
White-throated Crake (many heard (loudly!), and one briefly glimpsed)
Purple Gallinule
Wattled Jacana
Pale-vented Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Greater Ani
Black-throated Mango
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Barred Antshrike
Great Kiskadee
Rusty-margined Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Clay-colored Thrush
Tropical Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-backed Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue-black Grassquit
Variable Seedeater
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Yellow-rumped Cacique

Next up: January 15, and our first excursion to the Pipeline Road.
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Old Saturday 26th February 2011, 13:01   #5
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 14 - more Photos

Day Three - January 14 - More Photos

I'm attaching four more photos from this day - a Banded Peacock butterfly (one of the few that stopped for a photo), and three shots from the Chagres River. The old highway that follows the Panama Canal between Panama City and Colon has to cross the Chagres River, and there is but a single lane for vehicles (and one for trains). The traffic lights at either end of the bridge, intended to direct traffic flow, are (on available evidence) completely ignored. But there are few accidents since the road surface precludes speedy crossings.

We made this crossing almost daily, with most of the group on the open Rainfomobile, and a couple of us following in a cramped 4X4.
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Old Sunday 27th February 2011, 13:30   #6
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 15 morning

Day Four - January 15

Morning

There was still no luggage. Patience was wearing thinner than repeatedly hand-washed T-shirts. We were filled with thoughts of revenge and retribution.

I recalled a wonderful viral video by the Canadian singer Dave Carroll called “United Breaks Guitars”, and I wondered if a similar video directed at Continental might be called for.

While travelling to Panama I’d listened to the song “Valparaiso” by the Irish singer Rita Connolly, and it became my daily Ohrwurm, (or Earworm). You can listen to a snip of the melody here, and the song’s lyrics are here.

I began re-writing the lyrics to suit our particular despair. This is what I’ve come up with:

------------------------------------------

He was singing about Continental,
Singing as though in a dream.
A southern vacation with birds in the trees.
He thought of his suitcase and started to scream.

Chorus:
And he cried “Continental. Continental.
When will I see my lost luggage again?
Continental, Continental,
Hardens the heart of a kind-hearted man.”
He was singing of phoning the airline,
“Your call is important, please hold”
Fair words and foul words, of begging and pleas,
Bags gone astray o’er the wide southern seas.

Repeat Chorus:

We all sat in the baggage claim office,
Our tears falling onto the floor.
“No luggage today” and that’s not a surprise,
The only bags there were the ones ‘neath our eyes.

Repeat Chorus:

-------------------------------------------

But now back to our regular program.

We had an early 0530 breakfast so that we could be at the start of the Pipeline Road at first light. But we were waylaid by a large feeding flock at the turn-off to the Pipeline Road, with Brown-hooded Parrots doing a star turn, along with Golden-collared Manakin, Black-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and others.

The feeding flock eventually melted away, so we headed for the entrance gate to the Pipeline Road, but not before the group astride the “Rainfomobile” saw two Little Tinamous run across the road; those of us in the 4X4 truck missed them, regretably.

We alternately walked and drove the section of the Pipeline Road as far as the turn-off to the Rainforest Discovery Centre. We had no further feeding flocks, but we came upon a few birds, such as Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Black-tailed Trogon, Lineated Woodpecker, and Bicolored Antbird.

I also managed a few more butterfly photos, which will be posted later today. None were identified, but this is not surprising given that there are more than 1500 species in Panama.

There were other attractions as well. It was not the main flowering season but one plant caught everyone’s eye (photo below), and there were always insects to keep us entertained. This was especially so for the ubiquitous Leafcutter Ants, which were encountered many times a day. On this morning, however, we saw a new side to their relentless activity – their recycling efforts. I deemed this worthy of a short video, which I’ve uploaded to Youtube. You can view it here.

Despite the flurry of activity at the start of this field trip the final tally for our first Pipeline Road adventure was only 36 species.

Once we left the Pipeline Road we made a short stop at the Ammo Ponds, and were glad we did, as we had a quick view of a rarely-seen raptor, the Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon. A small flock of Smooth-billed Anis was also new for our trip list.

Here are our morning bird lists. Life Panama Birds are in Bold, and Life World Birds in Blue.

Pipeline Road Bird List - 36 species


Little Tinamou
Black Hawk-Eagle
Brown-hooded Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Black-tailed Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Pied Puffbird
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Black-tailed Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Piratic Flycatcher
Golden-collared Manakin
Cinnamon Becard
Golden-fronted Greenlet
Green Shrike-Vireo
Plain Wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Bay-breasted Warbler
Plain-colored Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Shining Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Buff-throated Saltator
Summer Tanager
Blue-black Grosbeak
Yellow-tailed Oriole


Ammo Ponds Bird List - 15 January - 14 species

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Great Egret
Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon
White-throated Crake
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
Wattled Jacana
Smooth-billed Ani
Great Kiskadee
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Tropical Mockingbird

And I've attached a few photos from the morning.
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Last edited by Gavia : Sunday 27th February 2011 at 14:00. Reason: Added a species to the list
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Old Sunday 27th February 2011, 13:33   #7
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 15 butterflies

Panama - 15 January 2011 - Pipeline Road Butterflies

I've attached a few photos of butterflies from our Pipeline Road excursion. If anyone can proffer an ID, I'd be grateful.
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Old Monday 28th February 2011, 13:23   #8
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 15 afternoon

Day Four - January 15

Afternoon

We had lunch at the Tower, and in the early afternoon interlude before our 1500 departure some of the group taking photographs around the hummingbird feeders were fortunate to witness a brief visit of a female Rufous-crested Coquette which, eschewing the feeders, probed a few flowers before zipping away. This is considered a rare hummer at the Tower, so those who saw it felt privileged.

At 1500 we boarded the Rainfomobile and the truck, and headed to the Gamboa Resort, on the north side of the Chagres River, just across the one-way bridge. At the bridge, while waiting our turn to cross, we saw a short-tailed Fork-tailed Flycatcher, that still seemed quite regal despite not bearing the long train.

The Gamboa Resort is very large, the antithesis of the Canopy Tower resort, and we were unanimous in deciding that we’d chosen the better facility for our base of operations. The Gamboa operation even has its own internal shuttle service – heaven forebear that the guests should have to walk. We walked, naturally, and enjoyed a surprising variety of bird life. There were feeders, and a mix of habitats: grass, shrubs, trees, thickets, and river edge.

Southern Lapwings greeted us as we disembarked our vehicles, and there were flycatchers everywhere, not surprising given the amount of edge habitat, including Great and Lesser Kiskadees, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and Streaked, Boat-billed, and Social Flycatchers. The platform feeders attracted many tanagers, including Flame-rumped and Crimson-backed, and a Black-striped Sparrow foraged on the ground underneath. Another female Rufous-crested Coquette appeared, and this time everyone saw it.

Other enjoyable sightings included Whooping Motmot (one of the recent multi-species split of Blue-crowned Motmot), Gray-headed Chachalaca, Black-striped Woodcreeper, and Blue-black Grosbeak.

As dusk fell we headed back to the Tower for a wonderful supper.

Here is our list from Gamboa. Despite its length there were no life birds for me, but for most in our group there were many.

Bird List from Gamboa Resort, Chagres River - 67 species

Gray-headed Chachalaca
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Snail Kite
Yellow-headed Caracara
White-throated Crake (heard only)
Southern Lapwing
Wattled Jacana
Pale-vented Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Blue-headed Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Band-rumped Swift
White-necked Jacobin
Black-throated Mango
Rufous-crested Coquette
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Whooping Motmot
Keel-billed Toucan
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Great Antshrike (heard only)
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Rusty-margined Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Blue Cotinga
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
Buff-breasted Wren
House Wren
Clay-colored Thrush
Tropical Mockingbird
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
White-shouldered Tanager
Crimson-backed Tanager
Flame-rumped Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Variable Seedeater
Thick-billed Seed-Finch
Black-striped Sparrow
Blue-black Grosbeak
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Chestnut-headed Oropendola

A few more photos are attached. Next up: Plantation Trail, and news of the lost luggage.
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Old Tuesday 1st March 2011, 17:40   #9
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 16 morning

Day Five - January 16

Morning

We awoke to the usual chorus of Mantled Howler Monkeys and Great Tinamous. We were on the Tower’s canopy level just after six, and spent the next 90 minutes enjoying the dawn activity. Each morning is different, and on this day all of us caught up with views of the reclusive Green Shrike-Vireo, though it took some time – it is a loud singer, but very difficult to spot. But Alexis is remarkable at finding birds.

A perched raptor at a great distance caused some consternation. Even through the scope there was little detail to discern, though Alexis confidently proclaimed the bird to be a Semiplumbeous Hawk. This would have been a lifer for all of us, myself included, but I couldn’t, myself, consider the view to be “countable”. I had complete faith in Alexis’ ID, and would put the bird on the list, but each member of the group would have to decide what was appropriate for his or her own life-list – as it should be. A distant Collared Forest-Falcon was nearly as unobliging.

Our morning’s excursion was to be on the Plantation Trail, part of the trail system in Soberanica National Park. The trail head is at the foot of Semaphore Hill, with the parking lot adjacent to the gate for the Canopy Tower’s access road. Gerd, Pat, and I were ready before the planned departure of the Rainfomobile, so we started walking down the hill, to be picked up by the rest of the group once they were en route. We were glad we made this decision. It was rather quiet for the first few hundred metres but I then noticed quite a commotion from a flock of small birds near the road, and it was Pat that picked out the cause for the avian alarm calls – a large Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor imperator). It was motionless (and it was too shady for my point-and-shoot camera), but an assortment of birds flitted about, in some consternation. The mob changed members frequently, but we picked out Fasciated Antbird, Orange-billed Sparrow, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, and a variety of the more common “ant thingys”. We remained in situ until we were joined by the rest of the group, and everyone enjoyed views of the snake. The snake gradually withdrew from the scene, so we headed to the start of the Plantation Trail.

The excitement with the snake meant that we were somewhat late starting our hike, and there was less bird activity than we might have wished for. We also had the novelty of sharing the trail with non-birders, as it is popular with mountain bikers and joggers, though there few of either. Their infrequent passage was not an imposition.

Though birds were short on quantity we enjoyed some quality. A few species stood out in particular. A pair of Black-faced Antthrushes were cooperative, as were a noisy flock of Purple-throated Fruitcrows that attended us for many minutes. We had intimate views of another puffbird species, the White-whiskered Puffbird, a female. The highlight, though, was Alexis’s discovery of a perched Semiplumbeous Hawk – yes, the same species (and same individual?) that had taunted us with distant looks from the Tower earlier that morning. The bird lingered permitting extended viewing through the scope, which erased any doubts anyone had about including this lovely bird on their life lists.

The morning’s hike seemed to pass by very rapidly, and we returned to the Tower to be welcomed by the over-due news that the lost luggage would arrive just after lunch. Cheers all ‘round. Our afternoon outing was not scheduled until 1500 which gave people time to reacquaint themselves with their belongings, or to photograph hummingbirds.

Morning List - Semaphore Hill (including both Canopy Tower & Plantation Trail) - 52 species

Panama Life Birds in Bold
World Life Bird in Blue

Great Tinamou (Heard only)
Gray-headed Kite
Semiplumbeous Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Gray Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Collared Forest-Falcon
Mealy Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Short-tailed Swift
Long-billed Hermit
White-necked Jacobin
Rufous-crested Coquette
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
White-vented Plumeleteer
Black-throated Trogon
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
White-whiskered Puffbird
Keel-billed Toucan
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Fasciated Antshrike
Western Slaty-Antshrike
Checker-throated Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Black-faced Antthrush
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Paltry Tyrannulet
Olivaceous Flatbill
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Tennessee Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
White-shouldered Tanager
Palm Tanager
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Orange-billed Sparrow
Summer Tanager
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Fulvous-vented Euphonia

Next: a return to the Chagres River.
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Last edited by Gavia : Wednesday 2nd March 2011 at 13:57. Reason: Changed Species name for Howler Monkey, added scientific name for Boa Constrictor.
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Old Tuesday 1st March 2011, 17:43   #10
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 16 - additional photos

Here are a few hummingbird photos I grabbed with my point-and-shoot after lunch at The Tower. They are of the commoner species, as I never seemed able to capture decent shots of the scarcer hummers. The coquette made a repeat visit, for example.
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Old Tuesday 1st March 2011, 18:07   #11
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I am really enjoying the read! Good for you with the luggage -- reminds me of a trip to Chile where our luggage arrived on day 4.

Niels
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Old Tuesday 1st March 2011, 18:25   #12
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Yes...great report. Hoping to visit Panama sometime in the next couple of years. Would be great to get a taste of the neotropics
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Old Tuesday 1st March 2011, 18:44   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
I am really enjoying the read! Good for you with the luggage -- reminds me of a trip to Chile where our luggage arrived on day 4.

Niels
I felt a bit of guilt regarding the luggage, since mine was one of three bags that didn't go astrey.
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Old Tuesday 1st March 2011, 20:58   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mysticete View Post
Yes...great report. Hoping to visit Panama sometime in the next couple of years. Would be great to get a taste of the neotropics
Both Panama and Costa Rica are definitely worth a visit

Niels
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Old Wednesday 2nd March 2011, 00:22   #15
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Blake,
one question: my book by Emmons: neotropical rainforest mammals shows Brown Howler Monkey as a South American species, with the only howler for Central America being the Mantled HM. Is the book out of date?

thanks
Niels
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Old Wednesday 2nd March 2011, 09:10   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by njlarsen View Post
Blake,
one question: my book by Emmons: neotropical rainforest mammals shows Brown Howler Monkey as a South American species, with the only howler for Central America being the Mantled HM. Is the book out of date?

thanks
Niels
I have been in error. The Howler Monkey in Panama is the Mantled Howler Monkey, currently being described as consisting of three subspecies. The subspecies in Panama is Alouatta palliata aequatorialis, known as the Ecuadorian Mantled Howler, whose range is Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Peru.

Cheers.
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Old Wednesday 2nd March 2011, 13:54   #17
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 16 afternoon

Day Five - January 16

Afternoon

Our second excursion of the day was a repeat visit to the Chagres River, but this time outside of the Gamboa Resort, in public land closer to the one-way bridge crossing at the mouth of the river. There was a different mix of species than our first visit to the river, and while several new trip birds were a bit less than stunning (American Coot and Spotted Sandpiper for example), some provoked more interest, especially a lovely male Prothonotary Warbler which, although not a lifer for most in the group, is a neotropic migrant rarely seen in eastern Canada, so was eagerly sought out. And everyone had lovely looks. Imagine the size of the twitch when this species eventually makes it to Britain.

The Royal Tern was new to our list, as were the Great-tailed Grackles, but most were repeats of earlier excursions. But there were new photographic opportunities (the Greater Anis posed wonderfully), and everyone enjoyed the close (but not too close) views of American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).

Afternoon List - Chagres River - 52 species
(Coincidently the same number of species as our morning list)

(Panama Life Birds in Bold)

Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigatebird
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
Yellow-headed Caracara
Bat Falcon
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Wattled Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Royal Tern
Pale-vented Pigeon
Scaled Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
Greater Ani
Black-throated Mango
Blue-chested Hummingbird
Gartered Trogon
Keel-billed Toucan
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Rusty-margined Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Buff-breasted Wren (heard only)
House Wren
Clay-colored Thrush
Yellow Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Green Honeycreeper
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Variable Seedeater
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-rumped Cacique

Some new mammals for our day list, seen on the morning Plantation Trail walk, were Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and Geoffroy's Tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi). And we saw a Basilisk Lizard (a.k.a. Jesus Lizard) (Basiliscus sp.).

Coming up tomorrow: our long day trip to Achiote and the Caribbean coast.
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 12:49   #18
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The link address for the Leafcutter Video has changed. (Long story). It is now available for viewing here.
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 14:00   #19
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 17 - Caribbean Coast

Day Six - January 17 - The Caribbean Coast

This day’s outing required our earliest start time – though not as early as I’d feared. On our previous trip, six years earlier, we’d had to leave the Tower by 0330 for the nearly three-hour drive to the Achiote Road, near Colón, on the Caribbean coastline. The highway linking Panama City with Colón was two lane, winding, and tedious in the dark. But it was necessary to reach the bird-rich Achiote Road area at dawn. In 2011, however, we didn’t have to depart until 0500, because since 2005 a 4-lane toll highway had been built linking the two cities, and a long day-trip became less arduous.

The Achiote Road area is renowned for its rich bird life, much of which is due to its passing through the San Lorenzo National Park (Área Protegida San Lorenzo).

Just how avian rich is it? This is the site of the Atlantic Canal Area Christmas Bird Count circle, whose participants routinely tally the highest total of any Christmas Bird Count in the country, between 320 and 350 species. We weren’t expecting any such totals ourselves, but we were hoping for a productive day.

Before we could start our birding we had first to cross the Panama Canal, which we did at the series of locks closest to Colón, the Gatún Locks. We had roughly a 10 minute wait, not onerous, unlike our 2005 outing, where we were stuck for more than an hour. While we waited we watched the interplay of locks, cargo vessels, and a stunning yacht, whose name was spelled out in bright lights in the early dawn – the “Vibrant Curiosity”. We ourselves were curious regarding this vessel, and we later Googled it. What did we find? Click here.

We covered only a small stretch of the road, but had plenty of sight and sound to distract us. There were many new birds. Red-lored Parrot. Green Hermit. White-tailed Trogon. Crane Hawk (overhead). Black-breasted and Pied Puffbirds. Great Antshrike (heard only). Gray-capped Flycatcher. Golden-hooded Tanager. Yellow-crowned Euphonia. Black-crowned Tityra. And many more.

It was necessary to bird only from the road, as the area, a former U.S. military firing range, still has unexploded ordnance. No point risking your life for a life bird.

We didn’t linger over our mid-morning snack, as there was more to see. We investigated more forest and fields (finding Slaty-tailed Trogon, Limpkin, and Short-tailed Hawk), and explored a stretch of river (the northern extension of the Rio Chagres, flowing out of Gatún Lake), with a variety of herons, and a remarkable concentration of Black Vultures. This latter assemblage was worthy of a short video, which you can view here.

We made a quick stop at a roadside restaurant to use their washrooms. A trail behind the restaurant led up a hillside, beside a seasonal Hawk-watching Station, which is only active during the migration periods.

But we were ready for a break by the time lunch rolled around – and what a lunch! The Canopy Tower really knows how to put on a picnic.

Following our leisurely lunch we drove to San Lorenzo Fort for a too-brief visit. There were lovely views of the Caribbean Sea, and the ruins of the fort were photogenic. Our “dream bird” was Yellowish Pipit, and of course we didn’t see one, but we did add a couple of unexpected trip birds, Yellow-rumped “Myrtle” Warbler (Dendroica coronata coronata), and “Western” Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum palmarum).

After our fort visit we stopped in a Mangrove area in an unsuccessful search for Mangrove Cuckoo, and had to be content with lovely views of White-tailed Trogon.

But again we couldn’t linger, as we had a train to catch, and didn’t wish to risk missing it by getting hung up in traffic waiting to cross back over the Gatún Locks. But we crossed with time to spare, and spent some of it seeking out (and finding) Saffron Finch.

We then boarded the Panama Canal Railway Company’s Transcontinental Train, which takes a bit more than one hour to cross the continent. The train was not full, though the single dome car was. our group had dome car seats, and with the bar serving local beers for just one dollar each, we got a nice buzz on as we made our quick air-conditioned traverse of Panama. We expected to see Snail Kites on this trip, and were not disappointed – we saw more than 50, including a congregation of at least 25 birds.

We were back to the Tower in time for supper. A great day.

In addition to the birds we saw this day (list to follow) we also had some new mammals for our list: Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides), Crab-eating Raccoon (Procyon cancrivorus), and Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni). Despite intermittent showers during the morning I managed to photograph a variety of butterflies and dragonflies. I’ll post some photos of these soon in an subsequent post to this report.

Day’s Bird List - 17 Jan - Achiote Road & San Lorenzo - 111 species


Panama Life Birds in Boldface.
World Life Birds in Orange.

Brown Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Crane Hawk
Common Black-Hawk
Gray Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Yellow-headed Caracara
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
White-throated Crake
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
Limpkin
Southern Lapwing
Wattled Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
Rock Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Orange-chinned Parakeet
Brown-hooded Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Mealy Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Greater Ani
Smooth-billed Ani
Band-rumped Swift
Green Hermit
Long-billed Hermit
White-necked Jacobin
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Slaty-tailed Trogon
White-tailed Trogon
Gartered Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Black-breasted Puffbird
Pied Puffbird
Spot-crowned Barbet
Collared Aracari
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Red-crowned Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Great Antshrike
Western Slaty-Antshrike
Dot-winged Antwren
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Black-faced Antthrush
Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet
Common Tody-Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Gray-capped Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Golden-collared Manakin
Black-crowned Tityra
Lesser Greenlet
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
White-headed Wren
Black-bellied Wren
Bay Wren
Plain Wren
House Wren
Tennessee Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler
Bananaquit
White-shouldered Tanager
Flame-rumped Tanager
Blue-gray Tanager
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Buff-throated Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Variable Seedeater
Saffron Finch
Red-breasted Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Yellow-backed Oriole
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Chestnut-headed Oropendola
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
Thick-billed Euphonia
Fulvous-vented Euphonia

I've attached a few bird photos.

Coming next: some extra photos from Jan 17 and the Caribbean Coast.
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 14:05   #20
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 17 - Supplementary Photos

Here are a few landscape photos for the day's outing. I enjoy the double portrait in the fifth image. . .

Coming up: the day's signs.
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 14:08   #21
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 17 - Signs

I love photographing signs. Here are my favourites for the day.

Coming up: butterflies.
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 14:13   #22
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 17 - Butterflies pt 1

Here are three butterflies to which I placed tentative identifications:

Banded Peacock (Anartia fatima)
Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)
Rare Emporer, female (Doxocopa linda plesaurina)

Next up: two unidentifed butterflies
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Name:	Rare Emporer, female (Doxocopa linda plesaurina) - Achiote Road - copyright by Blake Maybank.jpg
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 14:16   #23
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 17 - Butterflies pt 2

Here are upper and under-wing shots of two unidentified butterflies -- there were many other such shots, but these two individuals seem to offer the best chance of being identified via photograph.

Next up (and last for the day): dragonflies
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Old Thursday 3rd March 2011, 14:21   #24
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 17 - Dragonflies

I know - it is difficult to ID dragonflies, even with good photographs. But the views below at least show the beauty of the unidentified dragonflies in question.

The next post will be from Jan. 18, and the Rainforest Discovery Centre.
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Name:	dragonfly C, unidentified -  Achiote Road - copyright by Blake Maybank.jpg
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Old Saturday 5th March 2011, 14:02   #25
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Panama - January 2011 - Jan. 18 - Pipeline Road

Day 7 - January 18 - Pipeline Road

We headed back to the Pipeline Road, this time for the Full Monty treatment, aboard 4WD vehicles, which were required to tackle the untamed muddy road. With Alexis’s advice we walked certain stretches of the road, and we were then driven further along to the next likely portion.

But wait: what is this Pipeline Road of which I speak? A quick orientation. The road was built by the U.S. military in W.W.II to aid in the construction and maintenance of an oil pipeline, to be use in the event that the canal became inoperational. But it was never used, and since W.W.II the road has been more or less left to its own devices. The road now lies completely with Soberanía National Park, and while there has been intermittent grading and clearing of the road, it has become a rougher and rougher ride, now requiring 4WD vehicles in all seasons. Progress along the road is measured by the crossing of small rivers, and the bridges are also becomming increasingly dubious. How long is the road? I’ve read a reference to it being 17+ km, but from the map it looks to be longer.

I have prepared an orientation map, included with this post as one of the photos. It was based on a map at the Plantation Trailhead parking lot, but I’ve jazzed it up. And along the Pipeline Road I’ve indicated a “Wash-Out”, at roughly KM 9.2. This occurred last December during a period of extremely heavy rains, that caused much disruption across the country, and even caused the Canal to be closed for a period of time. Will the national park (or the national government) repair or rebuild the road at the wash-out? I deem it unlikely which, if my prediction holds, means that half the Pipeline Road will no longer be of practical access, save for those will to undertake a long hike.

To further complete your orientation of the Pipeline Road I took a hand-held video of the rougher sections of the road from the perspective of the 4WD truck, which followed the 4WD “Birdmobile”. Thrills, chills, but no spills. The video (13 minutes long, an eternity) is on-line on Youtube. There is no narration, but it will at least impart a sense of what driving the road is like. The video is here.

One of the day’s highlights came early on, with the sighting of a Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) , munching its way through an ant nest (it looked as if it were eating a cob of corn). This was a fine addition to our mammal list, as were the White-headed (or White-faced) Capuchins (Cebus capucinus) we saw soon after. There were many new birds: we added two more manakins (Blue-crowned and Red-capped) to our trip list, and the Great Jacamar, which unfortunately was heard only. Alexis continued to show his mettle as our leader, and despite us birding within a jungle he never stopped looking up, and he thereby alerted us to King Vulture and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts.

The activity was neither constant nor frenetic, but there were many birds and other diversions, such that before we knew it (notwithstanding the mid-morning snack and the wonderful picnic lunch), it was mid-afternoon, and time to drive back. In any case we could go no further along the Pipeline Road, for we had reached the Wash-Out. And we were perhaps tired of all the various incarnations of "ant-thingys", with 13 species recorded for the day.

So we slithered and slipped and slogged our way back the way we’d come, but our day was not over. Alexis, who needed no further excuse to demonstrate his superb birding and leadership qualities, did something quite remarkable. Despite driving the Birdmobile, and keeping one eye always on the road, he noted something off the road down a shrubby, shaded slope, a grayish lump that aroused his curiosity. The vehicles stopped, and he proudly pointed out a Great Tinamou which, confident of its camouflage, remained still (or nearly so) for quite a while, allowing everyone extended views of this secretive (usually “heard-only”) species, and despite the low light level I snapped a record shot or two.

This was a most satisfying end to a memorable day of birding.


Bird List - 19 January 2011 - The Pipeline Road - 69 species

Panama Life Birds are in Boldface.
World Life Birds are in Orange.

Great Tinamou
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
King Vulture
Black Hawk-Eagle
Gray-chested Dove
Brown-hooded Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Band-rumped Swift
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Long-billed Hermit
Stripe-throated Hermit
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Black-throated Trogon
Rufous Motmot
Broad-billed Motmot
Green Kingfisher
Pied Puffbird
White-whiskered Puffbird
Great Jacamar
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan
Black-cheeked Woodpecker
Cinnamon Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Plain Xenops
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Black-striped Woodcreeper
Fasciated Antshrike
Western Slaty-Antshrike
Spot-crowned Antvireo
Checker-throated Antwren
Moustached Antwren
White-flanked Antwren
Dot-winged Antwren
Dusky Antbird
Chestnut-backed Antbird
Bicolored Antbird
Spotted Antbird
Black-faced Antthrush
Streak-chested Antpitta
Brown-capped Tyrannulet
Forest Elaenia
Gray Elaenia
Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant
Yellow-margined Flycatcher
Golden-crowned Spadebill
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Acadian Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Blue-crowned Manakin
Red-capped Manakin
Green Shrike-Vireo
Bay Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Song Wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Tennessee Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler
Kentucky Warbler
Gray-headed Tanager
White-shouldered Tanager
Flame-rumped Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Green Honeycreeper
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
Chestnut-headed Oropendola

Some orientation and landscape photos are attached. I'll place some wildlife photos next.
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