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Panama - May 2010

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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 00:38   #1
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Panama - May 2010

Day One - May 13th

Panama had been on our list of desired locations for a birding trip for some time. We made serious inquiries in the fall of 2009 but for many different reasons, we ended up spending Christmas in Costa Rica for the third time. No regrets there, I'll have to say.
In late May, the stars were in alignment for the Panama trip to finally happen. Not being superstitious fliers, we arrived in the evening of May 13th from Charlotte, North Carolina, via Delta Airlines. After a very reasonable period in the Customs and Immigration lines, (no visa required), we were met by Fernando, a driver for Casa Las Americas (http://www.casalasamericas.com). Though we didn't realize it at the time, he proved to be the safest Panamanian driver we were to experience. His English was very good, relieving us of our continuing struggles with the Spanish language. Thirty minutes later at 10pm, we were in a very nice bedroom, preparing to spend our first night south of the Panama Canal.
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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 00:59   #2
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Day Two - May 14th

Our first bird on any of our tropical trips is usually at the airport and something common. We've frequently seen birds before disembarking - Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Great-tailed Grackle, Swallows, etc. We were in position to change that this time and the first light of day didn't disappoint. Twenty feet from the patio in a hillside bush was a calling male Barred Antshrike, one of our favorite species. Other more common birds showed themselves as well, Tropical Kingbird, Clay-colored Thrush and a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird at one of the two feeders. I wandered to the back, past the pool into the smallish yard and was onto many good birds immediately. Crimson-backed Tanager, common for the area but new for me, was first to be identified. Another common bird for Panama, the Red-crowned Woodpecker, made the lifer list also. The species count climbed quickly.
When breakfast was ready, so was my stomach but not my mind. Has anyone starved to death for refusing to quit birding long enough to eat? I can see that possibility... The food was excellent, which made it possible to distract us from the flurry of morning birds. We particularly enjoyed a fried fresh-corn patty called a changa.
One reason we chose Casa Las Americas was for its proximity to a supermarket (called simply "99") and so after breakfast, we made that short walk, loading our cloth bag with all it would hold in preparation for spending 6 days in Gamboa where there were reportedly very few food options. Thanks to staff and Ron, the owner, of Casa Las Americas, for arranging a taxi to pick us up and take us to the impressive CoopSaca bus terminal, adjacent to the Albrook Mall in northwestern Panama City. Unfortunately, the buses to Gamboa run every two hours these days, not the one hour we'd expected. Hard to complain at 65 cents each. By the time we located and bought the correct tickets, we'd missed the 10am bus so it was 90 minutes at 90 degrees and not a bird in sight, with the exception of a high flying Vulture.
Eventually, the orange and white bus came, taking us north through Paraiso, past Summit Gardens, Semaphore Road and across the Chagres River bridge, arriving an hour later in Gamboa. Loaded with groceries and our two carry-on's each, we were hoping to be dropped off close to our lodging at Ivan's B&B (http://www.gamboaecotours.com) but were unable to make the driver understand where we wanted to go. Ivan's suggestion of asking for "El Triangulo" was met with a blank look but we understand now that he meant a bus stop on the back road to the resort, about a half of a block from the B&B where there is a triangular plot of grass.
With the help of several locals on the bus, the driver actually dropped us off at Ivan's door, and we gratefully stepped under the cool overhangs. Ivan was nowhere to be found but his son showed us our room. Shedding our bags and food, we quickly refreshed ourselves, loaded our daypacks and left to find the head of Pipeline Road.
By 3:30, we were there, having walked through Gamboa and along the Canal, past the Ammo Dump Ponds, not without stopping several hundred times, of course. Every bush held potential; every winged movement got our attention. Clouds and a light breeze were our friends that afternoon and the light rain that followed made for a very bearable walk. Not that we would have noticed. Birding was that good.
That evening, we had a very nice fish dinner, spoke at length with Ivan and also Tom Friedel from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (http://www.birdphotos.com/). The day's events and acclimatization had left us drained. Our eyes didn't stay open long after that.

Bird are listed in order of appearance and only include new birds for the trip. * are life birds.

Casa Las Americas:
Barred Antshrike
Blue-gray Tanager
Tropical Kingbird
*Red-crowned Woodpecker
Clay-colored Thrush
Great-tailed Grackle
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Variable Seedeater
*Crimson-backed Tanager
*Pale-vented Pigeon
Streaked Saltator
*Yellow-crowned Parrot
Blue-black Grassquit
Rock Dove
House Wren
Social Flycatcher
Orange-chinned Parakeets

Ivan's B&B:
Blue-crowned Motmot
Gray-headed Chacalaca
*Buff-breasted Wren

Gamboa town and outskirts:
Streaked Flycatcher
Purple Gallinule
Gray-capped Flycatcher
*Ruddy-breasted Seedeater
*Panama Flycatcher
*Yellow-rumped Cacique
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Plain-colored Tanager
Brown Pelican
*Piratic Flycatcher
*Lesser Seed Finch
Common Tody-Flycatcher
*Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Yellow-crowned Euphonia
*Wattled Jacana
*Black-breasted Mango
Red-legged Honeycreeper
*Southern lapwing
Eastern Kingbird
*Red-lored Parrot
Violeceous Trogon
Yellow-headed Caracara
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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 05:15   #3
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Has anyone starved to death for refusing to quit birding long enough to eat? I can see that possibility...
It's almost happened to me once or twice! I've often been heard to say "I'll eat when I get home"

Great report, keep it coming.
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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 08:17   #4
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Have been interested in visiting Panama for quite a while now....so look forward to more updates on this thread Hamhed..!

Birds..environment...[and those 'changas']! sounding good already....
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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 16:14   #5
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The connotation of "starved to death" is so negative.
Better marketing would be to make it a feature "loose weight birding in...." Fill in the name of the country you're visiting.
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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 18:54   #6
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Glad to start reading your report from Panama! Sounds like a great first day of birding.
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Old Thursday 17th June 2010, 21:51   #7
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I've been looking forward to reading your report too, Steve. Looking good so far, bringing back memories already!

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Old Friday 18th June 2010, 11:11   #8
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Thanks, everyone, for the encouraging comments. I'll try to keep up the pace.
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Old Friday 18th June 2010, 11:12   #9
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Day Three - May 16th

A tropical storm moved in that night but seemed to taper off by 5:30 when we arose for our early breakfast at 6am (thank you Gladys!). It was not too early or dim for the White-necked Jacobin to visit the feeder near the breakfast table. However, we lingered not; the birds of Pipeline Road were calling. Too bad that the storm had other ideas and at 6:50 heavy rains has us hiding partway across town, under a large and very handy picnic shelter. Dozens of Red-lored Parrots were gathered noisily in the trees across the grassy clearing, almost drowned out by the downpour on the roof of the shelter.

(While we wait for the rain to quit, I might mention the we found a Gamboa map online here: http://www.zonu.com/mapas_panama/Map...a_Panama_2.htm
We spent a good bit of time walking the streets of Gamboa so the map was a valuable resource.)

An hour passed before we left in a light rain, hoping the storm had no more water for Gamboa. Feeling late for our Pipeline Road debut, we tried ignoring the Ammo Dump Ponds, calling birds and interesting Finches. But, we were weak and our stride grew shorter as each new bird would present itself. Gray-breasted Martins, Great Kiskadees, Tropical Kingbirds, White-vented Pigeons, Grassquits, Caciques, Seedeaters were all common and so difficult to ignore.

Pipeline Road, when we finally got there, was a little quieter but some quality birds were more the rule. For instance, while trying to get on an antbird of some sort, I realized I was looking at two Little Tinamous, who slunk away but not before we got a good view. The Antbird turned out to be a White-flanked Antwren, another excellent bird.
Fearing more rain, we decided to head for the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, where if necessary, we could at least watch hummingbirds from the Center's large covered deck. Tom Friedel was already there, with his cannon-sized Canon DSLR, and after we spent some time gathering lifers at the feeders, we decided to walk together to Calamito Lake. Not surprisingly, we missed the hoped-for Sungrebes. Wattled Jacanas were plentiful and a Snail Kite perched briefly very near the observation deck. Rusty-margined Flycatchers played along the water's edge. We walked to the 100 foot tower and climbed it in the afternoon heat. Again, we didn't expect much and weren't disappointed. Early morning might be the best time for that exposed location. The trails yielded a few good birds, not overwhelming in numbers, but seeing birds like Song Wren, Black-throated Trogon, Cinnamon Woodpecker made for some interesting exploration.

The overcast skies kept the temperatures to a moderate level. No additional rain came down that afternoon. We stopped by the Center to spend a few more minutes only inches from a dizzying number of hummingbirds. On the 4 km walk back, we spied both Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans in the same Cecropia tree on Pipeline Road. It was getting fairly late and Ivan came out to the edge of town in his golf cart, looking for his lodgers. Despite the hours we had been on our feet that day, we declined a ride back. Puzzling to Ivan, no doubt, but there was still 30 minutes of potential birding left before dusk.

After a supper of pasta and flan, Ivan took us to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort to see if we could avoid getting caught up in the national census that was being held in the morning. It was possible to be "precounted" at the resort library the night before. Otherwise, we were to stay at Ivan's until the census workers came by, potentially making a mess of our morning birding plans. The line was long and not moving, however, so we left, electing to take our chances on Sunday with the rest of the general population. It was unclear to us why, as foreign travelers, that we needed to be counted.
Ivan drove us back along the back entrance road to the resort, passing by a narrow wetlands, the sound of frogs filling the night air.

Ivan's:
White-necked Jacobin
Anhinga
Gray-breasted Martin

Galliard Road/Gamboa:
Great Egret
Gray-necked Wood-Rail
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Gray-headed Tanager
Dot-winged Antwren
Chestnut-backed Antbird
*Fasciated Antshrike
*Black-tailed Flycatcher
Tropical Mockingbird

Pipeline Road:
Collared Aracari
Scarlet-rumped Cacique
*White-flanked Antwren
*Little Tinamou
*Slaty-tailed Trogon
Squirrel Cuckoo
Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan

PRDC:
Long-billed Hermit
*White-vented Plumleteer
Violet-bellied Hummingbird
Little Hermit
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
*Broad-billed Motmot
*Purple-throated Fruitcrow
*Garden Emerald

PRDC trails and lake:
*Rusty-margined Flycatcher
*Greater Ani
White-tipped Dove
Snail Kite
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
*Cinnamon Woodpecker
*Black-throated Trogon
*Song Wren
*Southern Bentbill
Dusky Antbird
Blue Dacnis
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Old Friday 18th June 2010, 11:19   #10
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More from Day 3.
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Old Friday 18th June 2010, 19:36   #11
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Hi Hamhead. Enjoying the report so far and some cracking pictures. You mentioned that you had been to Costa Rica several times. At some point I would love to go to Central America, but could only afford one trip. Out of the two countries, Panama and Costa Rica, which one would you recommend for a once on a lifetime birding and wildlife trip? Thanks, Mark.
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Old Friday 18th June 2010, 19:50   #12
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Some great birds and great pictures! Congrats on many of those and especially seeing Little Tinamous instead of just hearing them.
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Old Saturday 19th June 2010, 05:10   #13
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This is bringing back some great memories, here's my Fasciated Antshrike, great birds aren't they!
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Old Saturday 19th June 2010, 11:51   #14
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[quote=forthbirder Out of the two countries, Panama and Costa Rica, which one would you recommend for a once on a lifetime birding and wildlife trip? [/QUOTE]

Hi, Mark - I may have more experience than you but with only one trip to Panama, I'm not sure I have any good arguments for one country versus the other. That said, it seems to me that more of Costa Rica is accessible and a smaller country (19,700 sq miles for CR vs 30,193 sq miles for Pa) with almost the same amount of birds. CR has been doing the tourism thing for a long time and has much infrastructure set up for travelers though we had a little less trouble figuring out the bus system in Panama.
If you are looking more for adventure, Panama, especially eastern Panama, has a good bit of relatively uninhabited territory with a taste of some South American species. For us Americans, one convenience is that the currency is the same and the American influence, especially in the Canal area, is prevalent.
Budget-wise, again for us, Costa Rica is cheaper and quicker to fly to. I heard it said that Panama is cheaper for travelers but with our limited experience, it seems about the same. Certainly, the bus system is inexpensive in both countries. Car and bus drivers in either place have apparently gone to a "Vehicular Suicide" training school. Here's a post from a CR blog writer about changes to that status quo:
http://www.moon.com/blogs/cuba-costa...ect-costa-rica
Patrick - have you seen any evidence of the new law making a difference?

For a guy who has limited experience, Mark, I've given you an earful. Maybe, if your budget is limited and you've never been to either country, you should go to the cheapest country you can arrange with the hope that the savings will be seed money for another adventure. It's a good subject to be discussed; maybe you could start a thread with the question.

Cool video on the Antshrike, redeyedvideo. What type of camera equipment did you take that with?
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Old Saturday 19th June 2010, 12:21   #15
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Thanks for the reply Hamhead. I had been tentatively thinking about Costa Rica, with visits being made to Carara, Osa peninsula,and Arenal areas. Visited the cloudforest in Ecuador several years ago and loved it, gave me a real wish for more Neotropical birding. Can't stop dreaming of waking up at Canopy tower, or watching a flight of Scarlet Macaws.
Which country did you find to have most welcoming locals? My Spanish is severly limited and it costs a fortune to fly to either country from Scotland so for the time being I will have to do my Central American birding through trip reports like yours. All the best, Mark
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Old Saturday 19th June 2010, 15:30   #16
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Cool video on the Antshrike, redeyedvideo. What type of camera equipment did you take that with?
Thanks Hamhed, I had a Canon XM2 (GL2) Camcorder which I've since upgraded to a Sony HDR-FX7, all the more reason to go back as there are one or two species I would love to see. You have some great photos which are giving me some I.D. challenges, I look forward to more.

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Can't stop dreaming of waking up at Canopy tower,
Yep, that's a truly memorable experience and not just for the birds, plenty of monkeys & marmosets too.
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Old Saturday 19th June 2010, 16:33   #17
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Hi, Mark - I may have more experience than you but with only one trip to Panama, I'm not sure I have any good arguments for one country versus the other. That said, it seems to me that more of Costa Rica is accessible and a smaller country (19,700 sq miles for CR vs 30,193 sq miles for Pa) with almost the same amount of birds. CR has been doing the tourism thing for a long time and has much infrastructure set up for travelers though we had a little less trouble figuring out the bus system in Panama.
If you are looking more for adventure, Panama, especially eastern Panama, has a good bit of relatively uninhabited territory with a taste of some South American species. For us Americans, one convenience is that the currency is the same and the American influence, especially in the Canal area, is prevalent.
Budget-wise, again for us, Costa Rica is cheaper and quicker to fly to. I heard it said that Panama is cheaper for travelers but with our limited experience, it seems about the same. Certainly, the bus system is inexpensive in both countries. Car and bus drivers in either place have apparently gone to a "Vehicular Suicide" training school. Here's a post from a CR blog writer about changes to that status quo:
http://www.moon.com/blogs/cuba-costa...ect-costa-rica
Patrick - have you seen any evidence of the new law making a difference?

For a guy who has limited experience, Mark, I've given you an earful. Maybe, if your budget is limited and you've never been to either country, you should go to the cheapest country you can arrange with the hope that the savings will be seed money for another adventure. It's a good subject to be discussed; maybe you could start a thread with the question.

Cool video on the Antshrike, redeyedvideo. What type of camera equipment did you take that with?
"Vehicular Suicide Training School" hahaha, nice one. Yes, there are a bunch of new laws but I doubt they will make much of a difference. In my opinion, drivers in Panama are more dangerous but probably not by much (although taxi and bus drivers are certainly more dangerous). Check out this post from my blog for a typically harrowing experience with public transportation that involved a race with a bus, drinking and driving, and breaking down on the Pan-American highway.

Would be neat to see a thread on comparing the two countries for birding. This is a recurring topic and there may already be a thread about it. I have also discussed this same topic with a number of people who live in Costa Rica, including a friend of mine who illustrated a new field guide for the birds of Panama that might be available in a year (? hopefully sooner).

He, I, and others usually come to the conclusion that both countries are about equal for birding. Both are great and have some similarities and differences that make a separate trip to both countries worthwhile even though they are in the same region.

In general, it seems like Panama is better for lowland Caribbean slope forest and Costa Rica better for middle elevation and highland forest but in the long run, birders will have a great time no matter which of these two birdy countries they visit.
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 11:06   #18
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Thanks for the reply Hamhead. I had been tentatively thinking about Costa Rica, with visits being made to Carara, Osa peninsula,and Arenal areas. Visited the cloudforest in Ecuador several years ago and loved it, gave me a real wish for more Neotropical birding. Can't stop dreaming of waking up at Canopy tower, or watching a flight of Scarlet Macaws.
Which country did you find to have most welcoming locals? My Spanish is severly limited and it costs a fortune to fly to either country from Scotland so for the time being I will have to do my Central American birding through trip reports like yours. All the best, Mark
We haven't been to osa or Arenal yet but Carara was good to us including plenty of Scarlet Macaws. Maybe Patrick will do a blog entry someday about the Macaw breeding center, Amigos de las Aves. (http://www.hatchedtoflyfree.org/)

We walked up Semaphore Road to the Canopy Tower while staying in Gamboa. The off-season rates were $140 a night EACH! We've never slept in a bed that comfy or eaten food that good. The Panama Rainforest Discovery Center has a taller tower and as I will describe later, the birds on our walk up and down the road were not very active. For us, Ivan's was a better choice.

Our Spanish is pretty bad also, Mark, but most Spanish people in either country are very helpful, especially if you remain calm when communications break down at important moments, i.e., at the head of the line in a bus station, twenty people behind you, all late for their own buses, and the teller spits out something that sounds like all one word, the noise of the terminal drowning out all but one or two words, which you need a dictionary for anyway... A lot of smiles and "lo siento's" (I'm sorry) and "por favor's" (please) go a long way.
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 11:10   #19
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Thanks Hamhed, I had a Canon XM2 (GL2) Camcorder which I've since upgraded to a Sony HDR-FX7, all the more reason to go back as there are one or two species I would love to see. You have some great photos which are giving me some I.D. challenges, I look forward to more.

Yep, that's a truly memorable experience and not just for the birds, plenty of monkeys & marmosets too.
My pictures are not often call "great". Thank you for that. I figure if we spend enough time in the field and shoot enough shots, a few might be postable. I'm seeing the value of videos more and more for bird i.d.. You must have used a tripod, or is there software that can reduce camera shake?
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 11:16   #20
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Would be neat to see a thread on comparing the two countries for birding. This is a recurring topic and there may already be a thread about it. I have also discussed this same topic with a number of people who live in Costa Rica, including a friend of mine who illustrated a new field guide for the birds of Panama that might be available in a year (? hopefully sooner).

I heard about this possibility from Ivan, Patrick. As usual, I split my copy of Ridgley's guide, from Page 209 to Plate 40, made up an index page and covered the front and back with clear packing tape. I'll try to get a picture and post it. Does anyone else do this on a regular basis or do they just carry all 500+ pages of the unaltered version?
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 11:20   #21
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Day Four - May 17th

Chirps of House Geckos would lull us to sleep at night and we were growing accustomed to waking at first light to the gentle whooping of Blue-crowned Motmots. But then, like a cheap alarm clock, the Chacalacas would sound off. In my teenage years, I might have slept through that sound but no longer. We were up with the birds and planning to be at the Chagres River for an hour before breakfast and our participation in the census.

We had not yet learned how to walk directly to a destination without being slowed in our progress by an endless parade of interesting birds. Using the back entrance road again, trying to walk with purpose, we did get to the river on the grounds of the Gamboa Resort but had little time there before we hustled back. The open lawns there held Martins, Lapwings and Seedeaters; the thin swath of marshes along the shoreline had our first Kingfisher, an Amazon.

Breakfast done, we watched feeder birds until mid-morning before deciding to skew the census numbers and make a break for the La Laguna trail with Tom. More quality birds here but thicker and brushier than the forest we had been in previously. The going was slow as we crept along stealthily, seeing some good birds at all levels of the vegetation. We eventually came to a fork in the trail, with the left fork crudely signed "birds" and no marker whatever on the right. Well, left was obviously a trap set by the census people so we chose right and ended up at the head of the lagoon in a clearing by a small stream. Our first bird was our first American Pygmy Kingfisher and we were so transfixed, that the camera was forgotten. Tom may have gotten some pictures but the bird flew before Liz or I could react. Close by, I heard an odd snapping sound on a low hillside across the stream. By crouching and angling for a decent view, I was able to get a brief view of a Golden-collared Manakin. It was high up the hill by the time Liz joined me. As we left this spot, rain began to fall and with his expensive camera gear, Tom elected to head back. We pressed on the "birds" fork, expecting to be netted and properly counted, maybe even tatooed but instead came up along the side of the main lagoon, though it was filled with vegetation, not a great deal of water could be seen. A short distance later, the trail spilled out onto the main entrance road to the Gamboa Resort, just past the gate guard. As we stepped onto the road, the shower ended.

We left Goethals Boulevard, as the resort entrance road is called and made our way in the now hot afternoon sun across town, back to Ivans. Cooling off a bit, restocking on water and food, we decided our next move was to check out an old set of steps going to the Gamboa water tower. Ivan had pointed out the stake in the frog marsh that marked the way, neglecting to mention that many of the steps were broken or fallen away and that the slope was something akin to climbing a Mayan ruin. I think by now he saw us as a hardy sort of birder and was testing our limits. The climb was in the shade but the humidity pooled in the pockets of our shorts as we made our way up to the tower. A paved access road led away from the tower and we followed it, first up and then down before it became obvious heavy rain was moving closer and we wouldn't have time for any more exploration. A intriguing set of steps led from the road steeply up through the forest. Later, we were told that those steps led to the Resort tower. We found at least one pair of Red-capped Manakins near the tower shuffling and dancing along the tree limbs, the second Manakin lek of the day. Otherwise, birding was very slow.

After cleaning up at Ivans, we elected to go to the Resort with Tom to sample their salad bar. For us vegetarians, it was a good decision; we ate all we wanted of pasta, vegetables, bread and soup in an elegant atmosphere, well, elegant compared to the restaurants we normally frequent. The cost, $29 for two, including tip and tax was about the same as eating at Ivans. A good choice also compared to meals at the marina off Goethals Boulevard that start at $40 each. We finished off the evening washing out sweaty clothing and dodging bats while we wrote out our bird lists on the open porch.
Chagres River/Gamboa Resort:
Green Heron
Buff-throated Saltator
Common Moorhen
Amazon Kingfisher
Mangrove Swallow
*Flame-rumped tanager
Linneated Woodpecker
Palm Tanager
Golden-hooded Tanager
Great Kiskadee

La Laguna Trail:
Chestnut-headed Oropendula
White-shouldered Tanager
*Thick-billed Euphonia
*Checker-throated Antwren
*Blue-black Grosbeak
*White-bellied Antbird
Lesser Greenlet
*American Pygmy Kingfisher
*Golden-collared Manakin

Gamboa Watertank area:
Red-capped Manakin
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 11:28   #22
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More pics.
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 12:57   #23
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Nice report
I've noticed the Palm Tanager pic is labelled Plain-colored Tanager.
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Old Sunday 20th June 2010, 19:35   #24
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Originally Posted by Motmot View Post
Nice report
I've noticed the Palm Tanager pic is labelled Plain-colored Tanager.
Like Walt Whitman, I'm simply not being too precise. Thanks for the correction. We initially confused the two and apparently still haven't straightened them out in my mind.

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Old Tuesday 22nd June 2010, 01:43   #25
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Day Five - May 18th

Today was planned for a morning at Plantation Trail, a short bus ride away. We first left Ivans early for a quick check at the head of the La Laguna trail where we had heard Golden-collared Manakins but there was no Manakin sounds in the very early hours. The Howler monkeys, Red-lored Parrots and frogs were in full morning song. The frogs (or insects) sounded like a 1920's paddy wagon responding to a crime scene, "deedle, deedle, deedle" they sang in a raspy barrage of sound.

Breakfast eaten in record time, we were at El Triangulo on Harding Avenue, the official name of the back entrance road to Gamboa Resort, just after 7. The 7:15 bus came along as expected, at 7:35 and we were standing at the head of the trail 20 minutes later. And, 1 minute after that, we were joined by a Sobernia Park guard, who traded us two official day passes for $10. He also gave us a large map of the park, which I would have preferred to frame but had to fold instead.

Light conditions on the trail in the low morning light were not ideal for birding or photography so we moved slowly, not wanting to miss anything and expecting a fabulous few hours on this world renown old road. Several hours and over a kilometer later, we stopped for a sit down snack break at one of the few benches with a very small list of birds. True, they were all good birds but either we had gone suddenly blind and deaf or this was the least birdy place in Panama we had been yet. We kept going for another hour but there wasn't enough activity to keep us interested. The reputation of the place gave us a little extra momentum, however, if it hadn't been pleasant walking with almost no bugs and a good amount of shade, we might have turned around much sooner.

When we did get back to the trailhead, crossing paths briefly with Tom Freidel, we turned left and slowly walked up the steep Semaphore Hill Road, with the intention of inquiring about lodging at the Canopy Tower. The sky was partly sunny and the road was partly shaded hence we evaporated many pints of Ivans water into the surrounding air thus making it more humid. What a vicious circle!

We were greeted at the top by chain-link fencing, concertina wire and two guards. No gun tower, so we felt safe enough to ask about going to the office which we were let in to do. It was a pleasure to walk on a level surface but a shock to hear the pricing. We had heard and were hoping for better than $280 for a single night. They were gracious enough to allow us to fill our water bottles, perhaps to prevent heart failure, and in moments, we were retreating through the gate and down the hill. We spent some time along the highway waiting for the bus and boarded just as the first few drops fell. In Gamboa, we were dropped off in a downpour at the far end of town. Taking shelter under the overhang of an empty building, we tried to outwait the rain, hoping for some time at the Ammo Dump Ponds. It continued hard then slowed and we made a break for Ivans, getting caught in a fresh onslaught halfway there.

Later, when the rain had passed, we spent the evening walking the streets of Gamboa, a nicely laid out town, with interesting architecture and an occasional bird to train our bins on. I think the humidity was over 300%; our glasses and binoculars kept fogging, requiring constant wiping. Nevertheless, we walked and gawked until dark, covering almost every street in Gamboa.

Ivan offered us a good deal for tomorrow's trip to Pipeline Road. He had a gas powered golf cart that we could rent for the day with the caveat that we never park it and leave it. We took it out for a quick instructional run after dark, a simple to operate machine that would save some serious shoe leather.

Plantation Trail:
*Western Slaty Antshrike
*Rufous Motmot
*Plain Brown Woodcreeper
*Spotted Antbird

Semaphore Hill Road:
Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Gamboa:
Black-striped Sparrow
Cocoa Woodcreeper
Masked Tityra
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