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Panamania! May 23-June 3 2021: My first visit to the Neotropics (1 Viewer)

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
I can tell you that the Gamboa Rainforest Resort was barren like that since 2019, if not earlier, when I visited and made the mistake of using that hotel as the place for my family to stay. The staff is undertrained and overworked, so the hotel has a history of being managed into the ground and most people working there just do it to get something on their resume before going to work in better places.

As a result, a lot of the great things of the location, like access to protected rainforest and shrubby habitat close to the lake, is badly treated and you see a lot of trash, one of my few decent photos I took of Wattled Jacana was of a few birds that were foraging over the trash in the lake.
Interesting. Seems like it should do well, but I suppose we should be fortunate they didn't just try to make it private homes.

At least the pandemic seems to have kept the garbage down?
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Interesting. Seems like it should do well, but I suppose we should be fortunate they didn't just try to make it private homes.

At least the pandemic seems to have kept the garbage down?
The guide I hired told me that they were trying to sell the property but nobody wanted to purchase it, makes me wonder how much does the Canopy Tower help in assuring the property isn't just taken over.

While the management is horrible, it is still a good location for a lot of hard to find species, it was the only place I managed to see chachalacas in my weekend trip to Panama, and the trails, although horribly maintained, do hold good birds, I remember that in one morning I heard both Great and Little Tinamou, of which Little was not heard anywhere else I went including Pipeline Road, though seeing them was impossible.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
While my first trip wasn't too productive, later trip were, so I can agree it's a good spot. Wouldn't surprise me if Canopy Family wasn't helping out in some manner. They seem to be actively doing a lot of maintainence on trails for property they don't own (Summit Ponds, Pipeline, etc).
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
While my first trip wasn't too productive, later trip were, so I can agree it's a good spot. Wouldn't surprise me if Canopy Family wasn't helping out in some manner. They seem to be actively doing a lot of maintainence on trails for property they don't own (Summit Ponds, Pipeline, etc).
Good to know, next time I visit Panama I am considering whether to do it through the Canopy Family or a different local guide, but looks like Canopy Family is the way to go if you know exactly what you want in the area, plus having canopy views in lowland rainforest are hard to come by and extremely productive.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
5/28/21

Today was an early morning start, as the plan was to hit Pipeline road early. This area basically has 3 sort of major birding areas that the guides will focus on during different trips: the drivable first part up to the bridge, the less drivable part past the bridge, and then the adjacent Rainforest Discovery Center and associated trails

I was with Fidelino this morning and the goal was the first half of pipeline. In the dim morning light, we got lucky and had a couple of Great Tinamou cross the road. Tinamous are easy to hear but hard to see, and I wasn't sure I would get one on this trip.

Unfortunately, we would run into trouble not long after: The storm the day before had resulted in a good size tree falling across the road. I can't recall exactly how long we were delayed, but it was probably an hour. We did use that time to bird what we could and the beginning portion of the trail. But it did sort of defeat the point of getting up early. While waiting for the road to be cleared, we birded the very beginning. It was a bit slow, but I was able to add Southern Bentbill, Black-tailed and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Plain-brown Woodcreeper (probably the second most common Woodcreeper), Gray-headed Tanager (a much prettier bird than the field guide illustrates), and Black-breasted Puffbird. I checked out an abandoned shelter near the start of the road, thinking it could be good for bats. And indeed it was: giving me good views of Lesser White-lined Bats, one of the easier to see Canal zone bats, as the seem to roost everywhere.

Eventually the road was cleared and we were able to move on, although some of the most productive time was probably lost. Working the road we were able to add Gartered Trogon, Yellow-backed Oriole, and Yellow-throated Trogon. While watching the Toucans however, I had one of my favorite experiences of the trip. Out of the corner of the eye I noticed some movement, and turned around to see a Northern Tamandua ambling along the road opposite of us! It didn't see terribly concerned, but it did quickly head uphill.

Moments later...Fidelino would see some movement in a tree on the opposite side of the road. that movement soon turned into a SECOND TAMANDUA, mere moments from the first. Given they were on opposite sides of the road and this one was in a tree some distance from us, this had to be a second anteater. Tamandua is a mammal that is seen regularly at the Tower, but is easily missable, and here I had two different animals in 5 minutes. This animal was very cooperative, foraging and napping, and I was able to get some great pictures and even video. What an experience!

After showing off our Tamandua to some random tourists, and as the anteater settled into a nap, we continue down the road. We went just a little bit past the big wood bridge, adding Song Wren and Moustached Antwren to the trip list. Walking back to the car revealed another animal: a White-nosed Coati was chilling near the road edge before disappearing at our arrival. This was probably a male, as male coatis are solitary, while females and young live in groups. A Slender Anole was also seen well.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Noon saw the advent of more rain, which meant another hour delay in when we would go on our afternoon trip. I did spend some time around the tower and at the base, where the hummingbird feeders were located at. Spending some time here allowed me to see Long-billed and Stripe-throated Hermits, as well as White-vented Plumeleteer and Blue-chested Hummingbird. Fidelino was my guide again, and as the rain abated he wanted to retry the Gamboa Rainforest Resort grounds, as we weren't really able to do the trails there.

The rain stayed away, allowing us to explore this area more thoroughly. I think we visited the Sendero trail although my notes are a bit poor here. Many of the same birds seen the other day were recorded, although we did get some new birds in the form of Yellow-tailed Oriole, White-bellied Antbird, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, White-winged Becard, and Yellow-margined Flycatcher. It was a more productive day but it did come in spurts.

Back to to the Tower and dinner, where I would meet another group of guests. 4 birders from Tennessee were visiting having just come from the Darien Canopy Camp, part of a private tour organized by Tropical Birding. These folks were more hardcore than me, and each sported cameras that probably cost more than my car. They were also far more hardcore, having a very narrow list of targets which led them to get up most mornings at 4:00 am and frequently got back as I was going to bed. Not sure exactly why someone would stay at the Tower if they never actually took advantage of...well the tower, but to each of there own. The Olingo visited again, causing much excitement from the photographers, and after dinner they went out spotlighting for owls. I had wanted to go out, and I think that group sort of encouraged Fidelino to take me out as well separately. We drove down Semaphore hill, trying to spotlight and play owl calls, with no luck. heading back up, we did see that the Tropical birding folks were much more successful, having parked and spotlighted something. I asked to get out and see what they were looking at, to find them spotlighting a very cooperative Choco Screech-Owl. I would later find out that of the different owl calls my guide tried, this was the one species he didn't bother with, as he heard that the Tropical birding group wanted to see one.

I admit this sort of rubbed me the wrong way, since it would have been nice to be informed of this before hand. But I saw the owl so I guess it all evened out. I admit to being amused by the fact that the Tropical birding group was so focused on the owl that they didn't notice that they were standing in the middle of a leafcutter ant trail. Hilarity ensued.

Not having seen any other nocturnal mammals or owls, I headed back to bed. The only major note to close on was waking up to the calls of a Black-and-white Owl somewhere nearby, although I fell back to sleep rather than trying to see it sadly.
 

etudiant

Registered User
Supporter
Not having seen any other nocturnal mammals or owls, I headed back to bed. The only major note to close on was waking up to the calls of a Black-and-white Owl somewhere nearby, although I fell back to sleep rather than trying to see it sadly.
Way back when I birded Costa Rica with Happy Warblers, our guide led us to a Black and White Owl roosting in a vest pocket park in a suburb of San Jose.
It was a bit strange to have a group of gringos descend on a small park after dusk, apparently oblivious to the svelte young things wandering about, looking fixedly up into the canopy of a large tree.
That said, the owl was seriously impressive, even in poor light. I assume it stayed because the pickings were so good it was worth the periodic disturbance from birders. The locals evidently thought nothing of it.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Way back when I birded Costa Rica with Happy Warblers, our guide led us to a Black and White Owl roosting in a vest pocket park in a suburb of San Jose.
It was a bit strange to have a group of gringos descend on a small park after dusk, apparently oblivious to the svelte young things wandering about, looking fixedly up into the canopy of a large tree.
That said, the owl was seriously impressive, even in poor light. I assume it stayed because the pickings were so good it was worth the periodic disturbance from birders. The locals evidently thought nothing of it.
I think the Tower folks often know of a roost for this species, although its not as reliable as Mottled or Spectacled Owl. However the downside of the slow number of tourists is that the guides really don't have the leads they normally would on owl roosts
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Enjoying your report Mysticete- Kinkajou and Tamandua are animals I recall from reading Gerald Durrell's books in my childhood and always wanted to see. Look forward to any pix you might have.

Cheers
Mike
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
5/28/21

Today was an early morning start, as the plan was to hit Pipeline road early. This area basically has 3 sort of major birding areas that the guides will focus on during different trips: the drivable first part up to the bridge, the less drivable part past the bridge, and then the adjacent Rainforest Discovery Center and associated trails

I was with Fidelino this morning and the goal was the first half of pipeline. In the dim morning light, we got lucky and had a couple of Great Tinamou cross the road. Tinamous are easy to hear but hard to see, and I wasn't sure I would get one on this trip.

Unfortunately, we would run into trouble not long after: The storm the day before had resulted in a good size tree falling across the road. I can't recall exactly how long we were delayed, but it was probably an hour. We did use that time to bird what we could and the beginning portion of the trail. But it did sort of defeat the point of getting up early. While waiting for the road to be cleared, we birded the very beginning. It was a bit slow, but I was able to add Southern Bentbill, Black-tailed and Slaty-tailed Trogons, Plain-brown Woodcreeper (probably the second most common Woodcreeper), Gray-headed Tanager (a much prettier bird than the field guide illustrates), and Black-breasted Puffbird. I checked out an abandoned shelter near the start of the road, thinking it could be good for bats. And indeed it was: giving me good views of Lesser White-lined Bats, one of the easier to see Canal zone bats, as the seem to roost everywhere.
Grey-headed Tanager is a good bird to get, usually sighted with ant swarms I believe, I know that my only sighting in Costa Rica was with ants.
 

AveryBartels

Well-known member
Grey-headed Tanager is a good bird to get, usually sighted with ant swarms I believe, I know that my only sighting in Costa Rica was with ants.
Yes, often attending ant-swarms. Of the classic ant-swarm followers though, they are perhaps the most frequently seen away from ants.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Yep, I had them I think practically daily after my first encounter, and found them to be quite common in the Canal Zone, and sometimes seen away from ants. Antwise, the real prizes here are Occelated Antbird and Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo

Andy, have you been to Panama? If not I strongly recommend it post pandemic.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Another day, another morning at Fidelino. Like I did the first day, this morning started on top of the tower. We saw a good variety of species, many the same as the day before, including another female Blue Cotinga and Green Shrike-Vireo. New however for the trip were Brown-capped Tyrannulet and Fulvous-vented Euphonia. I can't really emphasize how awesome the tower is for birds like the tyrannulet, which can be seen at eye-level here. My neck still is suffering from trying to spot tiny fast-moving tyrannulets directly overhead.

The morning's trip would be a walk down Semaphore Hill road. This would be a very slow and very hot morning, without a whole lot of new species for the efforts. Managed to see additional sightings of Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and Spotted Antbird. Had really great looks at a cooperative White-breasted Wood-Wren. Only new bird this morning was Blue-crowned Manakin. We spent a lot of time on a Barred-Forest Falcon that was heard but never seen. Would have loved to get a Forest-Falcon on this trip, especially since evidence supports them as a separate family. Sadly this would not be. Midway down we had another great sighting: our THIRD Tamandua, which performed well. Again, let me reiterate: people can spend a week not getting this species at all, and here I managed three different individuals.

Getting down to the base of the road, we checked the large wooden bridge for bats. More Lesser White-lined Bats, but another new bat as well: Common Long-tongued Bat. We eventually got back to the Tower. Lunch was had, and I tried to spend some time on top of the Tower before the inevitable afternoon rain. Managed to see a nice closely-perched Double-toothed Kite, but no other fly over raptors. Raptors had at this point been a group I had not had much luck on so far this trip, but that luck would radically change this afternoon...
 
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Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Yep, I had them I think practically daily after my first encounter, and found them to be quite common in the Canal Zone, and sometimes seen away from ants. Antwise, the real prizes here are Occelated Antbird and Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo

Andy, have you been to Panama? If not I strongly recommend it post pandemic.
No I haven't but will, one day.;
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Supporter
I admit this sort of rubbed me the wrong way, since it would have been nice to be informed of this before hand. But I saw the owl so I guess it all evened out. I admit to being amused by the fact that the Tropical birding group was so focused on the owl that they didn't notice that they were standing in the middle of a leafcutter ant trail. Hilarity ensued.

Not having seen any other nocturnal mammals or owls, I headed back to bed. The only major note to close on was waking up to the calls of a Black-and-white Owl somewhere nearby, although I fell back to sleep rather than trying to see it sadly.
We have also had this when guides in Central / Northern South America didn't want to call birds or have me play the call because another group led by a colleague were looking for the target bird. Sorry but if we hadn't seen it we usually did it anyway.
 

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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
In the afternoon I would be with Jorge, and the destination today would (eventually) be Summit Ponds. Unfortunately, once again rain delayed us from heading out there, as the rain seemed to be centered on that location. However, taking advantage of some intel, we drove over to the entrance of the Raddison Rainforest Resort. Mere feet from a busy highway was a known roost for Panamanian Night Monkey, and sure enough, two of the cute little buggers had there heads pointing out of cavity they lived in. However, it was then back to the lodge.

Sometime later, with the rain letting up, we finally decided to brave the weather. Summit Ponds are a set of paired ponds located next to a national police training center. Panama doesn't have a "real" standing army, so these folks pretty much pull that duty. Getting waved through we walked the short road to the pond and largely stayed in the vicinity of them. Initially walking to the ponds revealed much of the same common species we had seen in similar human disturbed habitat earlier in the trip, although I did get better views of Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth. The ponds themselves were a bit more productive. We saw our only canal zone Gray-cowled Wood-Rail here, and the trees around the ponds contained several new birds, including Blue-Black Grassquit, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Forest Elaenia, and a female Lance-tailed Manakin. Good identifiable views of the latter, but its always nice to see the male manakin...not the same if a female is all you see.

Jorge could here the distinct call of a Black-faced Antthrush, another new potential family for me and one I was keen to connective with. We had heard this species before, but never nearby. Using playback however and a bit of luck we soon found a cooperative bird, that was content to largely forage in view while we were there. Antthrushes are weird songbirds that the field guide can't quite get across. They basically move and sort of are shaped like miniature chickens. Just a neat species.

Scanning the trees around the ponds soon caused Jorge to almost have a fit, as he observed a small bird of prey that is rare for the area: Tiny Hawk! This bird flew before I got onto it, but not far, and with a lot of work Jorge soon found it and got it within the scope. The tropical birding folks were jealous of this encounter, although as far as rare birds go, I have to admit appearance wise it wasn't the most spectacular bird, being essentially a smaller than normal standard accipiter. Still, I appreciated adding a new raptor to the list.

Another bird we looked for here was Boat-billed Heron, which looks like the bastard offspring of a night heron and a shoebill. Summit Ponds is the only reliable location around the tower for this species, and they often can be found around the ponds. They are nocturnal though which can sometimes make them hard to see. Shortly before we left one landed on a log in the water, giving us good looks at this weird bird.

Soon it was time to head back, although we did add one more new bird to the list, a Bat Falcon perched on a tall attenna, no doubt waiting for the emergence of its typical bat prey

After this it was back to the tower. I don't think there was much new to report, although we did have another Coati on the way back, along Semaphore road.
 
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foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Like others I am also enjoying the report, especially with the current shortage of vicarious birding reading!. Another country to add to the growing list of places to visit...
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
5/30/21

Today would be another day, heading out of the Tower around 6:00 am. Today I would be spending the entire day with Jorge, which I was more than happy to do. The major goal this morning was to bird around the Rainforest Discovery Center. This private preserve is located in the pipeline area and has its own tree-top tower, as well as hummingbird feeders, a small system of trails, and a large pond. I think looking back this was by far one of my favorite mornings while staying at the Canopy Tower and I think one of the best locations overall. Definitely a strong recommend, especially for those folks who want the canopy experience without staying at the Tower.

First off though, we made a stop at Ammo Ponds to retry for kingfishers (which had a poor showing so far on this trip) and the crake, who Jorge says is usually more active in the morning. While looking for kingfishers (with no luck), we observed some rustling near one of the fences. which soon turned out to be Tamandua #4! Jorge said he had never seen a guest log so many Tamanduas in one trip, although this one certainly gave the worst views. We also ran into another group of birders, a local private guide (Canadian born) with her own company, Whitehawk tours, who was guiding two elderly Americans. They had a couple of White-throated Crakes that were cooperative, and we soon were able to get views at this species we dipped on earlier

After that, it was off to Rainforest Discovery Center. We made a beeline to the observation tower, birding the trails along the way. This was productive, giving me several more skulky forest floor birds, in this case a cooperative Black-faced Antthrush, Orange-billed Sparrows and a Scaly-throated Leaftosser. This was another high priority target, as leaftossers are with miners sometimes put in there own family. Other new birds seen on the way to the observation tower included White-flanked Antwren and Spot-crowned Antvireo.

Then was the long laborious climb up Cirith Ungol...I mean the observation deck. While heading up we came across several roosting Lesser White-lined Bats. Overall, I found the observation deck here to be a different birding experience than the one at the tower. The tower felt like it was a bit better for small songbirds, with more trees surrounding the towers. In contrast, being closer to Pipeline Road made this a bit better for larger birds. Oddly enough despite missing any kingfishers at ammo dump pond, we had a flyby Green Kingfisher here. Beyond many of the birds that also frequented the Tower, we added Short-billed Pigeon, Pied Puffbird, Linneated Woodpecker, White-necked Jacobin, and a Gray-headed Kite. We also had a pair of Blue Cotingas, this time including a beautiful male bird.

Coming down to the Tower we next headed to the fairly large pond (really a lake). On the way along the trails we encountered a nice cluster of activity, which included Slate-colored Grosbeaks and Dusky Antbird. Most exciting was a Speckled Mourner, an uncommon bird for the tower area. Upon reaching the Pond, we spent some time scanning the pond and pond edges. Howler Monkey called from around the pond, and an impressive American Crocodile lurked in the lake. Having just seen Speckled Mourner, a Rufous Mourner decided to show up for comparative purposes.

We then headed out towards the entrance, first visiting the hummingbird feeder area. This was popular with both tourists and locals, who are able to get up close to to some attractive hummers. Interestingly, the hummers here were almost entirely different from those at the Tower, With White-necked Jacobin, Crowned Woodnymph, and Blue-chested Hummingbird the dominant species. Jorge also took me to look UNDER the building. Beyond the ubiquitous white-lined bats, a colony of Sheba's Short-tailed Bat was also present, increasing my bat list.

We continued down the trail, along the way encountered White-tailed Trogon (the last of the trogons I needed locally) and the recently split Trilling Gnatwren. This used to be Long-billed: SACC split it and renamed it Trilling (vs Chattering), and IOC followed suite. NACC also just split it, but for some reason kept it Long-billed. Because we need more confusion in bird names apparently. New on the mammal front was Panamanian White-faced Capuchin, split from the Capuchins in the Darien, although to be perfectly honest I think the primate splitting might be going a bit too far and I could see them getting lumped back together. This was the final realistically possible (Barro Colorado has Spider Monkeys, but no access due to COVID) primate I needed from the Tower area, and surprisingly uncommon. I think its fully possible to do a week at the Tower and not see any.

On the entrance road we scored big: a very large army antswarm was moving along and across the road! We had seen a few tiny swarms, but this was the real deal. Present here were numerous birds, most I had seen earlier, including Gray-headed Tanager, Northern Barred and Plain Brown Woodcreepers, Song Wren, Checker-throated Stipplethroat, and Bicolored and Spotted Antbird, most right next to the road at hip level or even lower, and sometimes in the road itself. No ground-cuckoos, but another trip-highlight was present: several Ocellated Antbirds! A really cool and uncommon species, and an obligate antswarm follower. Not following the ants but also new was a high overhead flying White Hawk.

Now it was time to head back, but the morning would have one more awesome surprise in store. As we arrived at the entrance of the Canopy Tower, Jorge soon excitedly dashed out of the vehicle with it barely stopped, and quickly got me on a beautiful and close perched Black Hawk-Eagle right over the road. It didn't stick around long, but still truly awesome views in the brief time I was able to observe it.
 
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Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Way back when I birded Costa Rica with Happy Warblers, our guide led us to a Black and White Owl roosting in a vest pocket park in a suburb of San Jose.
It was a bit strange to have a group of gringos descend on a small park after dusk, apparently oblivious to the svelte young things wandering about, looking fixedly up into the canopy of a large tree.
That said, the owl was seriously impressive, even in poor light. I assume it stayed because the pickings were so good it was worth the periodic disturbance from birders. The locals evidently thought nothing of it.
When I went, the locals thought nothing of the gringos looking for the owl. In fact, one of them helped us find them.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
The afternoon would be somewhat slower, with the eventual plan to revisit Summit Ponds, this time walking further down Old Gamboa road to visit a reliable roost for Spectacled Owl. Before that, we visited a place not currently listed on the current itinerary of places they take folks, a section of Camino Del Cruces National Park near the Tower. We strolled around for about an hour, with the major targets being Panamanian/Yellow-green Tyrannulet (one of only a small number of Panama endemics) and Rosy Thrush-Tanager. It was however completely dead. We literally only saw two birds, some lesser greenlets and the only White-necked Puffbird of the trip. So the puffbird meant that it wasn't a complete loss.

After that we headed over to Summit Ponds. Many of the species seen were the same as the day before, although some of the rarer and more unusual species were not seen today obviously. A Spectacled Caiman in the pond was a nice herp addition for the trip. We continued past the pond down the very overgrown road. The Tower was hoping to send some folks in to chop down the tall grass, but property access issues were preventing that. This was chigger city, a bane of my Panama existence. It was worth it though, as we managed to find a very wet and unhappy looking Spectacled Owl (To continue on the spectacled theme). We then headed back towards the pond. Along the way I added two more birds to the trip list, a Jet Antbird and a Rosy Thrush-Tanager. The latter is a specialty of the Tower, and a major target now that it has been split off as it's own monospecific family. The views were brief, but were of a completely unobscured male. It was great to get this bird, which I wasn't convinced I would see. Saw a few other interesting birds, including Black-chested Jay, Green Shrike-vireo, and so forth, but that was it for new birds. We ran into the tour group from yesterday morning and were able to point out the caiman, after which we headed back to the Tower.

Had dinner at the tower after dark. The Olingo was still visiting, however other species didn't seem much interested in visiting the banana feeder, at least when we were around. However on the other side of the Tower, while I was eating dinner, Jorge was able to spotlight a Central American Woolly Opossum. After this it was time to bed, to be suitably rested for tomorrow's pipeline adventure with Jorge.
 

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