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

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
5/31/21

IIRC, this would be the last morning with Jorge, and the goal today was to do the further reaches of Pipeline road, past the wooden bridge. First, we started the morning on the Tower. Slower than prior days, and I think the bird of most significant note was better views of Mistletoe Tyrannulet.

Then it was off to Pipeline, for a very very slow and at times frustrating morning. Bird activity was fairly low and spotty, and we didn't actually see all that much on the walk in. Dodging the giant muddy puddles didn't help matters. There were a lot of folks this morning on the trail, some of which were visiting Americans and some of which were local. About the only new thing of note was Jorge spotting a good size bat roosting by itself under some palms: I was later able to identify this as a Jamaican Fruit-eating Bat. Better views of White Hawk were also acquired. Flyover Frigatebirds in the midst of the rainforest was also a weird experience. Jorge and I did hear the distinctive call of a Streak-chested Antpitta, the main antpitta of the canal zone and a major target. This inspired a very long attempt at the bird, requiring us to bushwack off trail for a bit, unfortunately to no avail. Speaking of cryptic birds, we also heard Ruddy Quail-Dove here as well.

The first actual new bird seen was at the point we turned around: Russet-winged Schiffornis, one of two Schiffornis species in Panama now that taxon has been split, with Northern Schiffornis (I think) the main species around the Canopy Lodge.

Heading back, we fared a bit better, with such species as Northern Barred Woodcreeper, White-tailed Trogon, and Spectacled Caiman, although all birds seen earlier. We found a spot of high activity, but the various species in this spot seemed to frustrate my efforts, remaining fast-moving or only briefly showing up. These included Black-striped Woodcreeper and Black-capped Tody-Flycatcher, all of which evaded views I felt confident enough to consider countable. A Dusky-capped Flycatcher was more cooperative. While I have seen this species in California and Arizona, it's likely this might get split in the future, and the form in the Canal zone might end up a separate species. Not so little was probably the best bird of the morning: A high-flying King Vulture, that I had been hoping to see but had missed so far. a very freshly dead Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth was also found, giving me the best views of this species so far.

From there it was back to the Tower, where I gave Jorge his tip and largely napped.

The afternoon would be with Fidelino, and you guessed it...we headed for the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. This time we would try a different trail, one that wound along a section of the Chagres River. This section was good for water birds, with several species of egrets, Snail Kite, Purple Gallinule, and the ever common Wattled Jacana present. Distantly, using Fidelino's scope, I noted a small heron that was gray. This turned out to be a Striated Heron, a species present in the canal zone but at least nowadays less common than the closely related Green. Technically this wasn't a lifer, as I recorded this species in Kenya during my study abroad. However that was before I was a birder so I wanted to get a proper look at one since I had taken up the hobby.

Heading away from the river we logged some other good birds, including Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Gray-headed Tanager, Golden-collared Manakin, White-bellied Antbird, and so forth. I managed even better views of Rosy Thrush-Tanager, with long protracted views of a cooperative female. Again, a tough bird that had performed well on two separate days so far. Causing neck-strain was another new bird, a Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant that at least stayed still, unlike some of it's relatives (I am still annoyed with the morning's tody-flycatcher).

Arriving back at the vehicle, some of the common garden birds were present, including some cooperative Ruddy Ground Dove. New however was a Piratic Flycatcher.

Then it was back to Tower for dinner and an exhausted sleep.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
6/1/21

So at this point in the trip, my energy levels were definitely taking a bit of a hit. Lack of sleep (I never sleep super well outside my own bed), constant activity in hot and humid environments, and diminishing numbers of new birds were all taking a bit of a toll. So I slept in a bit more than normal. Activity wasn't the best this morning anyway on the Tower, although right before breakfast I was able to add Bright-rumped Attila, a bird we had heard on earlier mornings but hadn't seen. Fidelino was again my guide this morning, and the plan was to just bird everywhere. Unfortunately I had too much citrus this morning, which for whatever reason (increased acid?) seems to make me vulnerable to motion sickness. The driving around soon took a toll on me and we ended up going back early, less I throw up. We stopped at a range of spots this morning before heading back, adding a few new birds, including Semaphore road (more capuchins), Ammo Dump ponds (adding American Pygmy Kingfisher), and the Gamboa Resort (adding Lemon-rumped Tanager). Then I pretty much passed out for much of the morning.

In the afternoon, our main locations were Summit Gardens for tent-making bats, then we would make another try for birds along the farther section of Pipeline.

Summit Gardens is a small zoo and park open to the public, housing a variety of native wildlife. It had been closed for much of the pandemic and only recently reopened, although I think with reduced hours. They also had a new entrance that visitors had to use. As a fan of zoos, the gardens themselves were a place of interest, with several species such as Tayras that I hadn't seen much in American Zoos. Birdwise, the gardens weren't too active. We got there at 2 in the afternoon, which probably explains that. Cowbirds can be good here, both Shiny and Giant, but no love from either.

Our main target here was Pacific Tent-making Bat, which I think is a recent split from Common Tent-making. A good size colony of these can be found in the palms near the Harpy Eagle exhibit, and I was able to get good looks at these. They look a lot like Jamaican Fruit-eating bats, but are much smaller. The most interesting thing at the zoo however was watching a spider monkey casually squeeze itself through a gap in its chain link enclosure and escape. Apparently this is not the first time, but I got some great footage of the monkey casually climbing around the outside as other zoo visitors shrieked in astonishment

Next up was Pipeline. It was quiet like the day before. I can't recall if I had brought this up, but generally Pipeline road had apparently declined a bit in quality as a birding spot, at least for rare birds. While the habitat is still good, improvement of the road up to the Rainforest Discovery Center has increased the number of people using the road (including probably some poachers), so shyer species like Jacamars and such are less common. Just a helpful word of caution.

We only logged something like 9 species of bird this afternoon here. On the mammal front, I spooked a rabbit from some trailside brush. This is the local form of "Forest Rabbit", which has since been split into numerous species. The species found in most of Central America is now known as Gabb's Cottontail or Central American Tapeti, depending on the source you use. Although often sort of the commonest mammal around, rabbits are actually one of the rather uncommon species around the Tower, so this was a good sighting. On the bird front, I was able to add one more species to the triplist: Streak-chested Antpitta! A very cooperative bird was called in, and hung out for quite some time just feet into the forest, hopping around a rusted pipeline in the forest. Great looks, and one of my favorite birds of the trip. Looking back, it sort of amusing that a lot of my favorite sightings were shy brown forest birds, rather than the abundant and colorful tanagers and so forth. Such is birding.

We then made our way back, I think stopping for Lesser Capybara along the way. Ammo Dump Ponds are a reliable spot but the species is largely nocturnal, and although several attempts were made over the trip, we either didn't show up early enough in the morning or late enough in the evening. I suspect the dry season, when vegetation would be a little more diminished, would be an easier time to see Capybara. As is this would be one of the more disappointing dips.

After this final spot, it was back to the Tower. I did make an attempt this day, as this was one of the few rain free afternoons, for Spectral or False Vampire Bat, which are seen at dusk along the Tower's dome. However the evening was completely batless. Even the regular mastiff bats didn't venture out for whatever reason, and given that the spectral bats come to the tower to eat those little bats, it was a doomed effort.

Tomorrow would be my last morning at the Tower!
 

Welsh Peregrine

Well-known member
I’m TetzooQuizzer on Zoochat. Mysticete, any luck with Sapayoa, Pittasoma or Wren-thrush on this trip? Got those, but very envious of your mammals, particularly Tamandua, Night Monkey and identified bats! Got the Capybara however.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Hi Peregrine,

Sapayoa is damn near impossible to get in either the Canal Zone or up near El Valle (The go to Panama location for this species if Burbayer). It's technically on the list but I think only a few records, and none recently. Wren-Thrush is only found in the western highlands, which I never got to and so was never on the radar.

Black-crowned Antpitta is uncommon at best but is gettable up near El Valle. The group the week prior did get good looks at one at the at Altos de Maria, which I did not visit on this trip.

Really do feel I need to hit up the Lodge for a full 7 days, but definitely post-pandemic.
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
6/2/21

Today would be my last morning at the Tower, before transferring to my hotel in Panama City. Not my last morning birding in Panama, but my last at the Tower. Fidelino had originally wanted to go out to hit up some more spots, but I told him I really was more interested in observing birds from the tower, and sort of soaking in that last bit of Canopy Tower.

So I spent a sedate morning birding at the top of the tower. The usual bird were present, with some more notable species being Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, and Squirrel Cuckoo. I also managed really great view of Brown-throated Sloth at eye-level, a nice break from most of the overhead sloths I had seen. Numerous swifts were flying around, allowing me to add a final Canopy Tower species, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift.

Most interesting observation was discovered through the restless activities of a group of songbirds, that seemed to be mobbing something in some adjacent treetops. Fidelino was able to get a eventually get a lock on the focus of attention, a beautiful Green Parrot Snake, my one and only snake for the trip. The snake had snagged a Plain-colored Tanager. Sort of a sad site honestly, as the bird was still alive, the venom (Parrot Snakes are rear-fanged, so not really a threat to humans, but still venomous) took a bit of time to work. Still a fascinating site, as the snake later positioned the bird for feeding and maneuvered from view.

Eventually I was picked up sometime after 10, and taken to my lodging for the evening. the Riande Airport Hotel. This seems a popular hotel for many birders, although not bird-focused, because its convenient to the airport and has a pretty large interior pool/garden area. I would imagine a first time birder could probably log a decent number of common species on their first morning here. I really didn't bird the area though. I did log some pretty impressive Central American Whiptails and a Variegated Squirrel as I headed to lunch

I mostly spent the day collating trip reports and attending work matters. I did still manage to get one more lifer here: A Common House Gecko, one of the innumerable "house geckos" that have spread to everywhere warm and made a home for themselves in urban areas.

As I mentioned, I would have a bit more birding left in the trip. As I had a late flight, I thought I would take advantage of this and contact a guide for the morning, and hit up Metropolitan Park. Metropolitan Park is a good-sized Park in Panama city, which I think is considered the largest tract of rainforest located in an urban area. It's quite a popular park with joggers and the usual folks...Kind of think of it as Central Park if Central Park had sloths and a bit more dense cover. The habitat is also slightly different, being more dry forest, so it has some birds that are not common around the tower. Probably the biggest speciality and the main reason birders visit here if Panamanian/Yellow-green Tyrannulet, one of only a small handful of Panama bird endemics. It's also a good spot for Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Lance-tailed Manakin. I hadn't seen a male manakin yet, and hadn't seen the Tyrannulet at all, so these were key targets for me.

The guide I contacted initially (based on advice on this forum) was Venicio Wilson. He wasn't available, but put me in contact with Jose Perez ([email protected]). Jose used to work for the Tower back in the day, but was now an independent guide. He is a fantastic birder, who has guided for groups such as Tropical Birding and Birdquest in the past. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him.

Metropolitan Park was quite birdy, and although hot, the weather was remarkably good. We tried a couple of different entrances points and their associated trails (sorry, didn't record the specific names), but spent most of our time on the Mono Titi trail, which I think has a reputation as being one of the birdier ones. About the only real issue we had was the park maintaince folks, who had an almost uncanny ability to follow us around and start trimming bushes and mowing lawns just after we reached the area.

We initially tried for Lance-tailed Manakin near the parking lot, however the yard work made playback impossible. We did however find a female. After this, it was time to hit the trail proper, scoping out a known Common Potoo on a roost. Venturing up the trail we would encounter bits of activity. Notable birds included Gartered, Black-throated, and Slaty-tailed Trogons, White-winged Becard, and Ochre-bellied Flycatcher. A Short-tailed Hawk wasn't a lifer, but a nice addition to the day list, especially since the bird was so close, cooperatively perching on a bare tree just off trail.

Eventually Jose heard the Tyrannulet, and soon would begin an absolutely excruciating experience of picking out the relatively drab Tyrannulet as it flitted directly over head in the canopy, alongside Dusky-capped flycatchers and Golden-fronted Greenlets. Just about everytime I would get the bird it would fly off, and when it didn't, it turned into a greenlet. Since coming back from Panama my neck has been killing me, and I am pretty sure this tyrannulet was to blame. Despite spending considerable time (at least a half an hour?), I never was able to get a satisfying look at this individual!

Jose however was pretty confident we could find a more cooperative one, so we continued on, near the top of the trail at a lookout. And then the birding gods showed favor. From our elevated position, we had at least two Panamanian/Yellow-green Tyrannulets at EYE LEVEL and not very far away. We watched them for some time, enjoying the sweet taste of victory. We then headed back down the hill. Jose heard another bird. I had sent him a list of the potential lifers I still hadn't seen, and one of those was calling. With a bit of effort I was soon able to get my bins on a Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, a neat looking if not the most colorful bird.

We continued onward, and soon heard a fair degree of commotion in some nearby brush. This soon materialized into a herd of coatis, my best look so far. One of the babies meandered on directly towards us, probably only getting a few feet away, until his mom or one of his aunts made an alarm call, which caused him to scurry back to the group. Fantastic encounter. Also seen not far away was yet ANOTHER Rosy Thrush-Tanager. This is another speciality, but having seen it well on two separate occasions it was not a target. Jose actually asked about the bird when he picked me up, as he noted it wasn't on my list. As mentioned before, it's can be a tough skulky bird, so Jose was actually relieved we wouldn't have to make a special effort for it.

Getting down to the car we drove a short-distance away, and tried another section of the park for the manakin as well as a woodcreeper whose identity I am completing blanking on. As you can guess by me blanking on it, we didn't see this woodcreeper, but we did see another Plain-brown. We did however get really great looks at a male Lance-tailed Manakin, meaning I had seen at least one male of all the expected Tower area manakins! I know females count as much as males, but it would have been a shame going back to the states and missing this gorgeous bird. Mammals were decent here as well, and included a group of Geoffroy's Tamarin as well as a photogenic Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. As we headed back to the vehicle, logging my final looks at common species such as Plain-colored Tanager and Common Tody-Flycatcher, I would manage to tally one final lifer on the trip. Having gotten two other new "flycatchers" this morning, it was only appropriate then that my final lifer would be a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, a species Jorge had gotten on earlier in the trip but I had not been able to get a view of.

With that it was off to the airport, concluding my trip. I will probably have one more wrap up summary, but hopefully folks have enjoyed this write-up and it might be useful for some folks.
 
Hi Mysticete Great report which I thoroughly enjoyed reading . I did a 14 nights trip (7 nights Canopy Tower 7 nights Canopy Lodge ) back in April 2011 and reading your report brought back some great memories . I had Alexis and Carlos as guides at the Tower and Danilo Snr at the Lodge and all 3 were brilliant birders and good company Glad you had a good trip with some great birds despite the consequences of the COVID pandemic and despite the rain. Wishing you good birding for the future.
Dave Coker
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Final Thoughts!

Obviously I had a blast on this trip and left pretty satisfied. While the time of year made it humid and not pleasant at times, and the rain dampened (pun!) some activities, I still think summer is a good option for those who teach (like me) or who have more limited budgets. Note this mostly applies for El Valle and the Canopy Tower. I would be very hesitant to venture down into the Darien in summer, as if anything it sounds even wetter. European birders might also find winter a bit better, as then you have the wintering warblers and such to also add to your triplist. As someone who lives in Wisconsin, these would be mostly birds I can see easy enough in migration, and I actually preferred not having to sort out wintering birds from the residents.

Travel was irritating and Covid did effect things. However, lack of recent info was probably compensated for by having my own guide for most of the trip. So I don't think Covid overall hurt my trip list any. I do admit, traveling by myself and for much of the trip being the only person did make the trip extra lonely. It is nice to be able to chat with folks, and has made me view the idea of tours more favorably.

As with any trip, there were some misses. I missed several common seedeaters, Blue-headed Amazon, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Amazon Kingfisher, and a few other common things, although nothing that I suspect I won't eventually be able to get elsewhere. On the other hand, I managed some great critters, including Sunbittern, Choco Screech-Owl, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Panamanian Tyrannulet, Tiny Hawk, multiple Tamanduas, and Central American Tapeti.

I would definitely be interested in a future trip to Panama, but probably not to the Tower. The tower was great, but a future trip to the Canal Zone would be one of diminishing returns likely. As far as comfort goes, I definitely preferred the Canopy Lodge, and would be eager to return. With only two full birding days there, I have plenty of potential targets for a return visit. Hitting up the Western Highlands and the Darien might also be fun. I also someday want to make a run at Sapayoa and visit Burbayer, whose lodge has gone through recent improvements and change in management, which should make it more appealing to birders.

However any future trip is off in the future; I'll most likely focus on my ABA list for 2022. But I definitely have been bit by the tropical birding bug, and I am hoping to tackle Malaysia, Brazil, and Ecuador sooner than later...
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
An enjoyable report indeed - many thanks for taking the trouble. Look forward to seeng any pix you might be willing to share.

Cheers
Mike
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Just realised that this Youtube feed is from Canopy Lodge in Panama - so for anyone looking for a sneak preview of some of Mysticete's birds ...

Cheers
Mike
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Yeah...rewatching the feeder and writing up the report has made me crunch some numbers on the possibility of Ecuador next summer...
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Yeah...rewatching the feeder and writing up the report has made me crunch some numbers on the possibility of Ecuador next summer...
If you want a good and budget friendly local guide, I know a good contact. You might want to ask for 10-14 days and make a few days in the Choco region for Sapayoa since you won't get it easily anywhere else in its range.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
I had been thinking about Tropical Birding's Andes Introtour actually.
They are a good company with a great record with my local Audubon chapter, though a bit pricy for me, but definitely one most birders who go to Ecuador recommend just to stay in the Tandayapa Lodge. Hopefully you can make it a memorable trip, pretty sure any trip with Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Andean Condor and Sword-billed Hummingbird would be.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Sadly its going to be awhile before I can confirm anything, as I need to get a better sense of my financials first.

Worst case scenario, if I still want a tropical getaway I can always hit up El Valle for a full week.
 

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