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Birding Panama for a Weekend in May, 2019 (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
United States
If your first time going to the Neotropics is a short weekend getaway with family like I had, I'd recommend you do the following things before anything else:

1. Find a knowledgeable guide that is best known for birding but has guided non-birders to some extent (don't want to leave the family bored while you're out birding)

2. Be ready to only scrape by the bare minimum of birding in the region (I had 3 days in Panama and only 2 of those were with actual birding)

3. Try going to different eco-regions if possible to get the most variety of species

4. This last one is more targeted if you go to Panama, but do not waste your time and money in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, this is a tourist trap that is a shell of it's former self to the point that even when I told the guide I was staying there, he told me I should have asked him where to stay so he could get me some rooms in the Summit Rainforest & Golf Resort/Hotel. The other hotel has most of the same birdlife seen in Gamboa with a better maintained trail system, cheaper rooms and better staff.

But if you can get past those points on top, I'll now give a kind of crazy and brief trip I did for my first time in the Neotropics, which netted me 179 species (4 of which were heard only and I do not wish to count for my life list) and of those 175 birds seen, over 100 of them were lifers since living in Florida is close to the tropics but nowhere close enough to be there.

May 24, 2019: Arrival, Panama Canal and city birds

After a flight that made us land in the country and getting past immigration around 1PM we were greeted by our local guide and by extension driver Jacobo Ortega. After spending multiple hours planing for the trip, he seemed to be one of the best received guides in the region that wasn't linked with the Canopy Family and his welcoming attitude was appreciated by my non-birder family whom he even allowed to join me on the second day of birding even when it wasn't agreed on.

Something to clarify with not just Jacobo but all other guides, I made sure I got an exact quote before proceeding for anything as I came to find out later from other reviews, a number of self-employed local guides don't give you estimates until the last day of the trip and the prices can be blown up in moments like that. Just a little food for thought, not that I had the issue with Jacobo as the price was decided months before I even entered the country.

Going back to the trip, the weather when we arrived was cloudy to put it mildly, we didn't get rained on but light showers did occur as is expected of the wet season (thankfully the weather turned great the other two days).

After having lunch, we went to the Panama Canal and along the drive I picked up any lifer I could get (which turned out to be most). By the end of the day, I had already seen my first tanagers, Keel-billed Toucan (common sure but still an icon of Central America), and 3 different species of parrots, 2 of which (Blue-headed and Yellow-crowned) would only be seen while in the city. When the sun started to set, we went towards our hotel for the next 3 nights and I looked forward to meeting Jacabo next morning to begin the real birding. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56697702)

May 25, 2019: Birding Pipeline Road and surrounding areas

After waking up before 6 to the loud call of dozens of Red-lored Parrots in the tree outside my window, I did some casual birding in the hotel balcony before going to breakfast and heading out. Nothing special to note from here outside of some common Panama species. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56723781)

From there Jacobo came to pick me and my family for some birding in Ammo Dump Ponds and the legendary Pipeline Road. The ponds were well stocked with a beautiful array of birds with highlights being 5 Rufescent Tiger-Herons, a pair of Gartered Trogons and my first taste of the extravagant number of New World Flycatchers found in the Neotropics as well as some regional specialties like Panama Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Greenlet, and Black-bellied Wren. The White-throated Crakes were heard very strongly but since I couldn't see them, I couldn't count them. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56723792)

Once the birds seem to have subsided there, we went to Pipeline Road, a mouth-watering location that is known as one of the best birding sites in all of the Neotropics, right up there with Manu Road in Peru and the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, and while I was glad for the birds I did get, a singing male Ruddy Quail-Dove, a juvenile Great Potoo, 3 different species of Trogons among other species but compared to the legendary list of the site, it left you wanting a bit more, but that's just how it is when you're birding. Great Tinamous were also heard and we found traces of a mother with chicks, but views were nonexistent. From there we went to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort for lunch where we got views of up-close views Gray-headed Chachalaca (not an amazing bird, but it's always nice to see game birds that are not afraid of people). (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56723792 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S56734216)

After lunch, I left my family in the Resort while Jacobo and I went to the Summit Ponds, as soon as we parked I had brief but exciting views of the widespread Gray-headed Kite and I heard multiple Lance-tailed Manakins, but similar to other birds the views were nonexistent, part of this is due to the trees in the area not being fruiting and Jacobo also mentioned that the birds here are tired of recordings so even though he could whistle in any bird I asked for so far, these beautiful dancers just stayed in the deep bush without showing up. With that said, the birding variety in Summit Ponds almost made me think this one was the legendary Pipeline Road, everything from sun bathing Greater Anis to Boat-billed Herons, 3 species of Kingfisher and a family of Black-chested Jay among many other species. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56734209)

Final stop of the day was again in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and while the birding was good with a tree full of Yellow-rumped Caciques and a few Mealy Parrots among the large flocks of Red-lored Parrots, the absence the region special, Blue Cotinga, made it a bit underwhelming end to a pretty good day overall. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56734153)

May 26, 2019: Birding El Valle del Anton

You read that right and no, I was not too crazy, this was my original itinerary and I'm glad it was, I was able to taste a whole new variety of birdlife (despite the 2-3 hour drive there and back).

The first stop however was made before even reaching the mountains, in an attempt to get some grassland species including Red-breasted Meadowlark (no show) and Crested Bobwhite (heard only). With that said, I was able to find well over a dozen Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures taking sunbaths along with close up views of Fork-tailed Flycatcher and three different species of Seedeaters. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56779282)

Finally we reached El Valle around 9 and after a strong breakfast we took a drive up the mountain to get the great birds of the region, on the first stop made a mix flock gave me eye-level views of Bay-headed and Silver-throated Tanagers, we also viewed a large tree filled with Chestnut-headed Oropendolas and light drizzle made us wait in the car for a break but when that break came, the rewards were good.

We pulled over to a curb in the hopes that some good birds would come in this small gap of the canopy and very obligingly, they did, first a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers, followed by a Black-striped Sparrow and a family of Black-chested Jays, then after spending nearly 10 minutes calling them in, we had a group of 13 Tawny-crested Tanagers that were pushed off by a posing Northern Emerald-Toucanet. From there we went up a trail that provided me with nice views of multiple species of hummingbirds including 2 hermits species and a preening Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. Other highlights of the trail included a pair of nest-building Plain Antvireos and a mixed flock that was attended by Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Tawny-capped Euphonia and White-throated Thrush among others.

From there we drove back through another route that led us a steep incline and while my family was a bit mortified of the driving, the payoff for me was something I'll never forget in the form of an active lek of Golden-collared Manakins. I spent around 15 minutes with these beautiful birds that went crazy when a female came for a visit. On the way back out we were stopped by an active tree that between it and the fruiting wild bananas next to it, I was afforded once again close-up views of Bay-headed and Emerald Tanager, Spot-crowned Barbet and Black-headed Saltator among other species. Finally when going back to town we stopped on a curb hoping the streams below would yield Sunbittern but nothing came. Instead, I had 4 Dusky-faced Tanager foraging in the open to my left and flying White Hawks to my right, so not a bad deal, right? From here is was lunch and a drive back down from the drier side of the mountain. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56778750)

Last stop of the day was on a dry, open wooded area with some pastures nearby that gave a break to find a variety of new birds, Jacobo took here a chance to mimic Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, which led to the clearing around us being mobbed by multiple songbirds including Streaked Saltator, Blue-back Grassquit and the show stopper for me, a single Rufous-browed Peppershrike out in the open. From there is was a long drive back to Gamboa. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56778733)

May 27, 2019: Early morning in Gamboa and going home

This morning I woke up early as usual but since I didn't have much to do, I took a walk around the trails of the resort hoping for maybe a glimpse of a new lifers, none were seen, but I heard both species of Tinamou so there's that. Few species of note were close-up looks of Golden-hooded and Plain-colored Tanagers along with a signing Thick-billed Seed-Finch and a preening Keel-billed Toucan. From there I returned to the room, took a shower and went to the airport, the flight left Panama around 2 PM, but my appetite for the Neotropics and by extension international birding was awakened and I can't wait to go back. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S56790980)

Thank you for everyone who read this report, hopefully the images taken and placed on the checklists were well received and if you need any detailed logistics let me know.
Glad the report was enjoyed and yeah, probably a large number for that time but that's probably due to a combination of having a good local guide and spending each day on a completely different habitat.
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