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Panama - May 2010 (1 Viewer)

Hamhed

Well-known member
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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Hamhed

Well-known member
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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redeyedvideo

It's like water off a duck's back!
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" :eat:

Great report, keep it coming.
 

username

Well-known member
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....:t:
 

etudiant

Registered User
Supporter
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.
 

RobertaG

Well-known member
I've been looking forward to reading your report too, Steve. Looking good so far, bringing back memories already!

Roberta
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
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_Gamboa_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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Hamhed

Well-known member
More from Day 3.
 

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forthbirder

Well-known member
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.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
forthbirder Out of the two countries said:
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-rica/new-traffic-rules-effect-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?
 

forthbirder

Well-known member
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
 

redeyedvideo

It's like water off a duck's back!
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. :t:

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.
 

Birdingcraft

Well-known member
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-rica/new-traffic-rules-effect-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.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
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.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
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. :t:

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?
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
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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