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Central Panama Birding Trip Report,Jim Danzenbaker
This report appears with the permission of Raúl Arias de Para
The following is a summary of a birding trip to Panama from March 10 through March 20, 2000. I have birded in Panama three times before and this was a chance to re-acquaint myself with the myriad of species found on PipelineRoad and the surrounding area. I went down to lead a four day tour for a birding company but decided to nestle the tour between four full birding days before and several days after.
woke bright and early, caught the train to San Jose airport and started what would be a grueling 27.5 hour trip to Panama City. A 20 minute delayed departure, a one hour unscheduled stop in Las Vegas for an onboard medical emergency, and a five hour delay in Dallas due to thunderstorms transformed a 10pm scheduled arrival in Panama City to a midnight landing in Miami. Luckily, American Airlines came through with a hotel and breakfast voucher which took some of the sting out of the delay. Not many birds today!
My luck appeared to have changed when I ended up in the last row of first class for the flight to Panama. Well fed but still low on sleep, I arrived at Tocumen International Airport just after 2pm, picked up my rental vehicle from Budget and was on my way. I did not have an adequate map but felt that I could remember my way to the Canal area. I decided on Corredor Sur which allowed for brief glimpses of the abundant shorebirds and waders along the ocean front at Panama Viejo. WHITE IBIS, MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD, and several egrets were in attendance as well as LAUGHING GULLs and miscellaneous terns.
I made good time until reaching the end of the toll road in the Ancon section of Panama City. A 20 minute "follow your nose" drive through the area ended with familiar surrounding and the beginning of the road which parallels the Canal. It was about 3:30 and I was happy to know that I had a full afternoon of birding ahead of me. The birds started with the omnipresent BLACK and TURKEY VULTURES and a few FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERs and TROPICAL KINGBIRDs on the way to Summit Gardens and my first planned birding stop, Old Gamboa Road (also known by some as the Police Academy Pond area).
The birds did not disappoint me as they were immediately evident when I got out of the car. My objective was to confirm the continued presence of the nesting BOAT-BILLED HERONs which took about ten seconds. Although mostly hidden, they were in the same branches bending over the pond where I saw them one year ago. .
A walk down theroad allowed great views of many species including PALE-VENTED PIGEONs,RUDDY GROUND-DOVEs, ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETs, GARDEN EMERALDs, RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDs, SNOWY-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRDs, and a single WHITE-VENTED PLUMELETEER. RED-CROWNED WOODPECKERs foraged in some dead branches while a male and female FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE churred from a few low overhead branches. DUSKY ANTBIRDs were evident in some thick underbrushnext to the road. Flycatchers were everywhere from the diminutive SOUTHERN BEARDLESS TYRANNULETs to the PANAMA FLYCATCHERs and STREAKED FLYCATCHERs. Several MASKED TITYRAs passed through while some North American winterers made their presence known - a YELLOW-THROATED VIREO anda PHILADELPHIA VIREO joined a group of common YELLOW-GREEN VIREOs whileYELLOW WARBLERs and CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLERs seemed to be everywhere. A few BLUE-GRAY TANAGERs and PALM TANAGERs gave their location away with their incessant squeaking while brilliant CRIMSON-BACKED TANAGERs came bombing into the nearby vegetation. I was, again, in heaven.
Looking skyward revealed many BAND-RUMPED SWIFTs and SHORT-TAILED SWIFTs with a fewLESSER-SWALLOW-TAILED SWIFTs mixed in. GRAY-BREASTED MARTINs and BARN SWALLOWs were everywhere. Further down the road, I came face to face with a very close BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT which stayed plastered to its branch until I decided to move on. KEEL-BILLED TOUCANs were common and a WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD surveyed the surrounding scene.
Iceterids were common in the area including raucous groups of YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUEs and a few CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLAs. There were flocks of wintering ORCHARD ORIOLEs with a few BALTIMORE ORIOLEs mixed in. I decided on a stroll up a short pathway between several ponds and was rewarded with a close perched CRANE HAWK and a ROSY THRUSH-TANAGER which called from some thick vegetation but never came out. Further along, I was surprised by a pair of CAPPED HERONs which lit in a tree next to me for stunning views.
As dusk settled in, LESSER NIGHTHAWKs started their buoyant flights and the tremulous calls of LITTLE TINAMOUs emanated from the nearby thickets. Afew GRAY-HEADED CHACHALACAs put in an appearance. After darkness settled in, I got some dinner and then journeyed to Gamboa. Along the road sides near the Ammunition Ponds near the entrance to Pipeline Road, PAURAQUEs sallied for insects in the headlights. The call of a BLACK-AND-WHITE OWL resonated from some large trees near Pipeline Road. A CHUCK-WILL'S WIDOW called from the forest.
The day started early with a short drive through Gamboa. A quick walk to the beginning of Pipeline Road added YELLOW-OLIVE FLYCATCHER, a male WHITE-WINGED BECARD, a few BUFF-THROATED SALTATORs, and the first of many PLAIN-COLORED TANAGERs. I quickly back-tracked to the Ammunition Pondswhich are very productive during the first several hours of daylight. Adult and immature WATTLED JACANAs decorated the marshes with a few PURPLE GALLINULEs. The descending rattle-churring of the WHITE-THROATED CRAKEs were heard many times but this species eluded my eyes this trip.RED-LORED, BLUE-HEADED, and MEALY PARROTs flew overhead while COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHERs and LESSER ELEANIAs actively foraged in the cicropeas. RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPERSs vied for attention with the PLAIN WREN, PROTHONATARY WARBLER and YELLOW-TAILED ORIOLEs. LESSER KISKADEEs called from around the edge of the marshes and VARIABLE SEEDEATERs and a fewYELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATERs foraged in the nearby grasses. A wintering MOURNING WARBLER was a find as I scoped the edge of the marsh for crakes.
While there, I ran into another birder and her husband who recognized me from last November above Bellavista Lodge in Ecuador....a small world. Sherry, Angus, and I birded for a while before they left to head to theCanopy Lodge. A male SLATY-TAILED TROGON and several RED-CAPPED MANAKINs were just where I left them one year ago. The entrance gate to PipelineRoad was locked so I prepared for a long walk. Although activity had already decreased, there was still plenty to see. Pipeline Road lived up to its reputation as being a premier birding locale in the neotropics. Immediately, several SLATY-TAILED TROGONs were calling while the strange drawn out rising calls of RED-CAPPED MANAKINs came from different spots in the forest. GOLDEN-COLLARED MANAKINs were snapping and a few allowed for excellent but brief glimpses - they had other things on their minds besides pleasing birders.
The titmouse like call of the GREENSHRIKE-VIREO and the somewhat monotonous notes of the BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA were everywhere although seeing these two secretive species is a different matter. A GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER (thanks Sherry) and BAY-BREASTED WARBLERs were in an antwren flock that held WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs. Further ahead, a group of PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROWs came into view after I had been hearing them all morning.
The best birds were still ahead. Foraging flocks of antwrens were common which included CHECKER-THROATED, WHITE-FLANKED, and DOT-WINGED ANTWRENs with a few SOUTHERN BENTBILLs mixed in. Several MISSISSIPPI KITEs searched for thermals overhead while migrating swallows continued to flood through. All this was very nice but I was searching for army ant swarms and so I continued onwards. A muddy patch by the road certainly looked uninviting but an immature RUFESCENT TIGER-HERON thought differently. I saw it there for the next three days and, each time, it never ventured very far when I approached. Further on, I heard the tell-tale calls of antbirds but they were frustratingly too far in. However, I did see two very close GRAY-HEADED KITEs and aSEMI-PLUMBEOUS HAWK while I fought with some vegetation.
After three milesand four hours, I opted to turn back. After greeting the tiger-heron again, I heard what I had been searching for - the churring of antbirds and they were close! I walked in about 20 feet and there they were in their favored halls of swarming army ants. After determining where the ants were and where they were going, I found a good spot and sat and stared. As is typical with these ant swarms along Pipeline, BICOLORED ANTBIRDs were the most common. I estimated about 20 in this group. The big surprise was the group of five OCELLATED ANTBIRDs hopping around in the center of it all.This species is fabulous with its bare bright blue skin around the eye,black throat, and chestnut body scalloped with black. They are also big (two inches larger than the Bicolored Antbirds). Also in attendance were the much smaller SPOTTED ANTBIRDs, a few female BLUE-CROWNED MANAKINS, and a host of woodcreepers including PLAIN-BROWN, COCOA (a split fromBuff-throated), and the large and conspicuously plumaged NORTHERN BARRED.Several GRAY-HEADED TANAGERs added come color. While I watched in awe, two BLACK-FACED ANT THRUSHes, with tails cocked, walked by 15 feet away. I stayed there for two hours watching and decided to leave only when the ants started to cross the road and the Ocellateds disappeared into the brush. I was on cloud nine and it helped me drag myself back to the car. I did, however, stop to watch a troop of WHITE-FACED CAPUCHINs and a COATIMUNDI moving through the canopy. Dinner followed and sleep.
I headed for Pipeline again and I wanted to get a good distance along this day. However, the birds prevented me from making much headway. Everything from CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCANs, to YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLEs, to BLUE-CHESTED HUMMINGBIRDs, to BLUE-BLACK GROSBEAKs to BROAD-BILLED MOTMOTs made my planned quick progress a slow walk and I felt like a pinball bouncing back and forth between birds. A BLACK-BREASTED PUFFBIRD put in an appearance in addition to SLATE-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER, PLAIN XENOPS and the numerous RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGER. A BLACK-BELLIED WREN and several BAY WRENs worked the roadside vegetation. I watched SOUTHERN BENTBILLs more than a normal person would and WHITE-TAILED, VIOLACEOUS, and SLATY-TAILED TROGONs were common.
A troop of MANTLED HOWLER MONKEYs of all sizes was great fun as were the local crowd of WHITE-FACED CAPUCHINs. After Pipeline, I birded some of the local marsh areas and found LEAST GREBEs, COMMON GALLINULEs and a single AMERICAN COOT. MANGROVE SWALLOWs winged low over the water. Looking skyward, I saw kettles of migrating TURKEY VULTUREs with many SWAINSON'S HAWKS and BROAD-WINGED HAWKs and several MISSISSIPPIKITEs thrown in. In the afternoon, I walked Plantation Road with good results.
The road is off limits to vehicles (after 30 yards, you'll know why), it is shaded, and it has only a slight incline throughout its length.Since March is the height of the dry season, the crackling underbrush in the surrounding woods was great because the movements of skulking birds could be detected. The trail follows a stream which attracts lots of wildlife when other areas are dry.
The highlights of the afternoon walk included sightings of two SPECTACLED ANTPITTAs (including one at 20 feet for five minutes), WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WREN and a GREAT TINAMOU in flight (a long flight of a brownish-gray volleyball with a neck and legs). Six SONG WRENs flitted across the trail when I realized it was time to return before it got dark. COATIMUNDIs were a distraction on the walk as were a troop of GEOFFREY'S TAMARINs, an attractive small monkey.
I sometimes get into birding ruts and this was no exception but it was Pipeline Road! I started early and was rewarded very quickly. I found the ant swarm again and spent three hours with them. Additional species in the flock included an elegant RUFOUS MOTMOT, a KENTUCKY WARBLER (walking furtively on the outer edge of the swarm), at least five CHESTNUT-BACKED ANTBIRDs, loads of attendant woodcreepers and a few SONG WRENs. I spent most of the morning with this flock and then pushed on. I wanted to walk one of the streams this day so when I arrived at the bridge over the Rio Frijoles, I walked down and started my walk upstream. I hoped for Sunbitterns but I couldn't find any. However, I did find a few new species for the trip including GREEN KINGFISHER, OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, BUFF-RUMPED WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED TANAGER (rare on the Pacific side), and WEDGE-BILLED and BLACK-STRIPED WOODCREEPER.
Groups of antwrens were common and various euphonias made it a very birdy day. I returned to the car ataround 1:30 and headed for the Canopy Tower Lodge, my home for the next three nights and the beginning of the organized tour. After showering and getting organized, I headed to the top observation deck and ended up seeing three individual THREE-TOED SLOTHs! Wow, I had only seen about 6 in all my trips to the tropics. Other birds in the area were a ZONE-TAILED HAWK and a BAT FALCON being mobbed by BAND-RUMPED and SHORT-TAILED SWIFTs.
I left the lodge to make the 40 minute drive to the airport to pick up the incoming tour participants. However, the 40 minute drive doubled in time since rush hour had descended. Miraculously, I traded in one car, and picked up another just in time before meeting the group. We navigated the streets of Panama City and arrived at the lodge by about 9:45.
A quick note about the Canopy Tower: This is a lodge that has been transformed from a US Air Force radar installation to a multilevel wildlife viewing lodge. It stands on top of Semaphore Hill which is near the Continental Divide about seven miles from Pipeline Road. The lower level is a bilingual exhibit area with photos of some of the local wildlife, a review of ornithology in Panama, effects of pollution on the environment, data on the local Howler Monkeys, etc. The second level is taken by rooms which house the guides and a mezzanine area with windows for viewing adifferent level of the surrounding forest. Comfortable six two-person bedrooms with full bathrooms comprise the third level. Above this level is the dining area which is completely surrounded by panaromic windows. Hammocks add a relaxed touch as does a library with a good selection of wildlife books and a comfortable couch.
For the wildlife viewer, the upperlevel is where most of the action is although any level can be great. Just 20 steps up from the dining area, you are on top of the world with a 360 degree view of the surrounding area at canopy level. Sturdy chairs and tables have been conveniently placed so you can rest your drinks and your weary bones as you watch the parade of wildlife. By all accounts, this is decadent birding which I have no problem enjoying! There are established mealtimes which can vary dependent on the day's activities. The meals are delicious and you will not leave hungry. Coffee is served on the observation deck at 6am when most folks are on the deck to view the breaking dawn.
We were all up on the observation deck at 6am to greet the dawn and the birds. The growling sounds of MANTLED HOWLER MONKEYs were everywhere which gave the scene a primeval feel. The first birds started coming into view -a group of RED-LORED PARROTs perched in the top of a tree, several magnificent KEEL-BILLED TOUCANs with their gaudy bills glistening in the early morning light, and several THREE-TOED SLOTHs clinging to the branches where they were the previous evening.
As the light hit the canopy closer to the deck, birds emerged. A pair of glistening GREEN HONEYCREEPERs fed nearby and stopped long enough for excellent scope views while a pair of BLUE DACNIS delighted us. Both PHILADELPHIA VIREO and BAY-BREASTED WARBLER vied for attention with CHESTNUT-MANDIBLED TOUCAN, the numerous TROPICAL KINGBIRDs, SCALED PIGEONs, and YELLOW-GREEN VIREOs. From far down the slope, a brilliant male BLUE COTINGA came into view. Luckily, this would eventually come much closer and afford prolonged views. A ZONE-TAILED HAWK took off and circled below eye level for an interesting view of this species. PALM and BLUE-GRAY TANAGERs seemed to always be in sight, the PALM TANAGERs perching on the deck in search of spilled fruit drink from the night before! GREEN SHRIKE-VIREOs called nearby but continued to remain one with the leaves. A SQUIRREL CUCKOO and TROPICAL GNATCATCHERs foraged in a nearby acacia. Eventually, the BLUE COTINGA was joined by two others and they fed on fruits below the canopy only 40 yards away. They were joined by several GRAY-HEADED CHACHALACAs. A SLATE-COLORED GROSBEAK played hide and seek with us. PLAIN-COLORED TANAGERs and a few YELLOW-CROWNED EUPHONIAs fed nearby. Looking below, a female WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKE foraged in low vegetation while several WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs and LESSER GREENLETs fed nearby. A pair of GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGERs added more color. After a while, things started to slow down and we descended to the dining room for breakfast. Even at breakfast, wildlife continued to emerge and we were interrupted several times. The BLUE COTINGAs were even more beautiful and closer, a VIOLET-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD zipped by, and we were given excellent views of both male and female WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs.
After breakfast, we prepared to walk the paved driveway down Semaphore Hill. Immediately, a male WESTERN SLATY ANTSHRIKE was in view. A few yards further, a male RED-CAPPED MANAKIN buzzed overhead. A COCOA WOODCREEPER crept along some partially hidden branches but was brought into view by the kowa. We were greeted by a troop of GEOFFREY'S TAMARINs at one bend in the road. A prolonged stop yielded several more WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGERs, a beautiful BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT, and a male FULVOUS-VENTED EUPHONIA. A SLATY-TAILED TROGON called nearby. Further down, a LONG-TAILED HERMIT and RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGER were feeding in aheliconia. We finally got great views of multiple VIOLACEOUS TROGONs which we had been hearing most of the morning. Looking skyward revealed a circling BLACK HAWK-EAGLE. While watching a second even more confiding BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT, several DOT-WINGED ANTWRENs came through and fed in clusters of dead leaves.
Noon approached quickly and we were picked up and brought back to the lodge for lunch. A large LAND IGUANA in the road was a treat and we watched it scamper into the underbrush. After our delicious meal, we prepared for the afternoon excursion. Unfortunately, car issues surfaced and our plans were curtailed. This would be the only unforeseen wrinkle during the trip. We did see groups of migrating raptors flying north over the lodge with small numbers of MISSISSIPPI KITEs and SWAINSON'S HAWKs mixed in with the TURKEY VULTUREs. Afternoon turned into evening and we said farewell to the day up at the observation platform. Dinner followed with listing afterwards.
Activity from the observation deck was slower than the preceding day due to increased winds. However, most of the birds from before were there with the addition of a VIOLACEOUS TROGON. The BLUE COTINGAs put on quite a performance. After breakfast, we drove down to Plantation Road for a slow walk up this shaded area. Bird activity was low during the first half of our walk with LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH and a close BROAD-WINGED HAWK providing the highlights. A few BLUE-CROWNED MANAKINs were in the area and we found a flock of SUBTROPICAL (RED-RUMPED) CACIQUEs.
We finally found a flock which kept the new birds coming for an hour or so. Antwrens were conspicuous with DOT-WINGED and CHECKER-THROATED ANTWRENS being common. A BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA was a nice find and stayed visible for about a minute. A diminutive RUDDY-TAILED FLYCATCHER gave good views as did a perched BLACK-BREASTED PUFFBIRD which stayed on its perched for a prolonged period. While watching the Puffbird,we found and watched a beautiful CINNAMON WOODPECKER feeding on a nearby branch. The strange PLAIN XENOPS were common in the area. A FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE and a PLAIN-BROWN WOODCREEPER put in appearances. After turning around and going several yards, we found a WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD stealthily perched on a low twig. Kowa views revealed the individual whiskers. As we exited the covered canopy of the trail, we were delighted to be met by a BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT at eye level.
We piled into the car thinking that our birding was finished for the morning. However, after rounding a bend on the driveway to the lodge, a surprise BLACK HAWK-EAGLE took off from the road and landed on a branch at eye level only 20 feet from the car. It turned around and stared at us, the feathers on its neckand its crest raised, tail spread and wings partially extended. An absolutely spectacular view of this species which is most commonly seen flying overhead. This was voted the most memorable bird of the trip!
After lunch, Anne and I decided to head back to Plantation Road to see if we could refind the flock. We never made it as where we had left them because of other birds. Our efforts were rewarded with good views of DOT-WINGED, CHECKER-THROATED, and WHITE-FLANKED ANTWRENs and a very cooperative OLIVACEOUS FLATBILL which stayed in view for a long time.While we watched, a larger bird flew in and started the telltale sideways twitching of the tale - a RUFOUS MOTMOT. We studied it for about ten minutes noting the field marks that separate it from the smaller Broad-billed Motmot which we had seen earlier. We eventually ran out of time and ascended the hill to pick up Marilynn and Homer.
We headed for the Old Gamboa Road and the Boat-billed Herons. En route, we viewed a BAT FALCON lazily flying overhead. The BOAT-BILLED HERONs were there to greet us. That pond proved very good as we spotted both SOLITARY and SPOTTED SANDPIPERS and quite a few TROPICAL KINGBIRDs. A flock of BAND-RUMPED SWIFTs descended and sipped water which gave a rare view of the dorsal side of a swift. The pale rump was obvious which clinched the identification. Across the street, RED-CROWNED WOODPECKERs and CLAY-COLORED THRUSHes were obvious. Along the adjacent pond, a RINGED KINGFISHER rattled and dove for fish.
At the far end of the pond, a CAPPED HERON stood, plumes swaying in the light breeze. This was one of the target birds. Turning our attention to the Boat-bill pond, we scoured the likely kingfisher perches. Homerfound our target, an AMERICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER which obligingly sat on several close exposed perches over the pond. Much to our delight, it kept coming closer until it was in video camera range. This individual has now seen recorded for the ages.
We left this hotspot and headed down the road. Birds were everywhere including a good selection of large flycatchers -PANAMA, STREAKED, BOAT-BILLED and RUSTY-MARGINED. A DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER called in the background. BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLEs were around in addition to ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKs and YELLOW AND BAY-BREASTEDWARBLERS. TANAGERs included CRIMSON-BACKED, BLUE-GRAY, PALM, andGOLDEN-HOODED while the grasses held VARIABLE SEEDEATERs. Overhead, TURKEY VULTURES, SWAINSON'S HAWKs and BROAD-WINGED HAWKs streamed overhead.Further down the road, hummingbirds were everywhere including GARDEN EMERALDs, RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDs and a WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN.
Furtherdown, we were surprised to find a LINEATED WOODPECKER peering out of its hole. The kowa revealed the individual feathers on the head and the soiled appearance of the bird indicating that his bird had been in the hole for along time. Further ahead, YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUEs and the occasional CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLA were flying to roost. Flocks of ORCHARD ORIOLEs were invisible while RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGERs churred in the low thick vegetation. A TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD perched on a nearby fence post while a PIRATIC FLYCATCHER lit on top of a distant tree. KEEP-BILLED TOUCANs kept flying by. A male WHITE-LINED TANAGER and several STREAKED SALTATORs put in brief appearances.
On our return walk, we spied several COLLARED ARACARIs moving through the canopy. They stopped long enough for scope views. One final check of the Capped Heron pond netted several moreGRAY-HEADED CHACHALACAs and two GRAY-NECKED WOOD-RAILs. Instead of returning straight to the lodge, we opted for a quick trip to theAmmunition Ponds area for PAURAQUEs. We were not disappointed as we saw at least five along the roadside. Dinner was, again, delicious although it was interrupted by the sighting of a KINKAJOU coming in for a banana snack. Listing ended a very successful day.
A very early start since I wanted to be at Ammunition Ponds for the dawn chorus. We were greeted by BLACK-STRIPED SPARROWs, YELLOW-CROWNED EUPHONIAs, BLUE-GRAY TANAGERs and STREAKED FLYCATCHERs. LESSER ELEANIAs frolicked in the cicropeas while a YELLOW-BELLIED ELEANIA watched from adifferent perch. STREAKED SALTATORs were common in addition to the numerous VARIABLE SEEDEATERs. Scoping revealed a PURPLE GALLINULE which was just below a large tree limb where a pair of MUSCOVYs was resting. RED-LORED and BLUE-HEADED PARROTs squawked overhead. LESSER KISKADEEs and COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHERs worked the trees near the marsh while WATTLED JACANAs adorned all parts of the marsh. A PLAIN WREN sang nearby.
We eventually made our way to Pipeline Road after stops for viewing YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUEs and BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUITs. We were greeted by a cacophony of sound as we entered the road. DUSKY ANTBIRDs and RED-THROATEDANT-TANAGERs were churring low in the vegetation while GOLDEN-COLLARED MANAKINs snapped further ahead. PURPLE-THROATED FRUIT CROWs called in the distance. At the base of a heliconia, a LONG-TAILED and a LITTLE HERMIT buzzed while a female GOLDEN-COLLARED MANAKIN and a pair of DUSKY ANTBIRDs worked the backside of the heliconia. We continued onwards although the heat of the day seemed to start early and the activity was already waning quickly. At the first bridge, a BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER worked a tree trunk while several displaying PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROWs put on a good show. Several antwren flocks held SOUTHERN BENTBILL and OLIVACEOUS FLATBILL. The hoped for immature Rufescent Tiger-Heron had unfortunately moved on to, presumably, clearer water and better fishing. Several HOOK-BILLED KITEs and a distant WHITE HAWK increased our raptor list.
I decided that the best way to find our target, an army ant swarm, was to drive slowly, stop frequently, and listen. With only a mile to go before departing, we stopped and immediately saw antbirds next to the car. The BICOLORED ANTBIRDs were beside themselves picking off the fleeing insects.They were, as is typical of Pipeline flocks, the most common. A big surprise was the presence of three OCELLATED ANTBIRDs, a favorite of mineand the first that I have ever seen before the first stream crossing. Several GRAY-HEADED TANAGERs skirted the flock and occasionally allowed for good views. A male FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE came within 8 feet of us as we watched in amazement. PLAIN-BROWN WOODCREEPERs were common and one NORTHERN BARRED WOODCREEPER decided that perching on the ground afforded a better chance to snatch escaping insects than up on a trunk with its cousins. Raucous RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGERs rounded out the cast of characters. All these birds were very close and let us enjoy what I consider to be the ultimate neotropical birding experience.
As the birds slipped slowly away, so did we as mid-day had already arrived. We headed back to another delicious lunch at the lodge. En route, Ammunition Ponds held an early migrant EASTERN KINGBIRD. Lunch was waiting for us and we reveled in the post lunch siesta. Mid-afternoon brought a heavy but brief rain shower which cooled things down a bit. SUBTROPICAL CACIQUEs, GEOFFREY'S TAMARINs, BLUE DACNIS, and a pair of MASKED TITYRAs graced the view from the observation deck. By popular vote, our late afternoon excursion took us back to Old Gamboa Road. We saw most of the same birds that we recorded the previous afternoon and evening with the addition of SNOWY-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRDs, BLACK-THROATED MANGO, and several great views of WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN. LESSER SEED-FINCHes in the grasses by the woodpecker tree added another species to the list. We caught a brief glimpse of the resident BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT but we were unable to find it's perch despite a persistent search.
A final walk up the road past the car revealed a feeding CAPPED HERON with a few other egrets. There may have been four of these elegant waders in this area although we only saw two together at any given time. Dusk was ushered in by the flight of the LESSER NIGHTHAWK and the tremulous whistle of the LITTLE TINAMOU. We returned to the lodge for our final dinner. Afterwards, we piled up the vehicle and made our final descent of Semaphore Hill, negotiated the traffic on Corredor del Norte and the road to the airport and came to rest at the Hotel Riande at the airport. A final listing and farewells followed. Thanks to all for a great trip!
I continued on for several days because I wanted to visit the Cerro Jefe/Azul area for some not so hot and humid birding. This is only about 35 minutes from the airport and it is almost impossible to get lost on theway. My first birding stop was just beyond Goofy Lake (no, that wasn't a misprint) in a wooded area filled with birds. RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER, AMERICAN REDSTART, CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER, and HEPATIC TANAGER popped intoview. A LONG-BILLED GNATWREN was brief but good. HUMMINGBIRDs were busily feeding on a flowering inga tree. SNOWY-BELLIED and RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDs made up the majority of the birds with a few GARDEN EMERALDs mixed in. Others got away.
I traveled further on and stopped to watch amigrating flock of elegant SWALLOW-TAILED KITEs circling up on unseen thermals. They continued to rise and then peeled off, one by one, on their continuing journey northward. A raucous colony of CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLAs greeted me further along as I pushed ever higher. Eventually, I parked the car as the road was getting a little too steep. Unfortunately, the weather was perfectly wrong for birding in an elfin cloud forest - it was sunny and very windy. Therefore, I felt that I would be lucky to see a mosquito let alone a bird.
The first 100 yards or so contained several BLACK-THROATED GREEN and TENNESSEE WARBLERs and a BLUE-BLACK GROSBEAK. A DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER and an EASTERN WOOD-PEWEE were further ahead. After passing through a relatively un-birdy area, I was graced with the highlight of the afternoon although it was not a bird. I noticed something moving in the grasses next to the road and was shocked to see a THREE-TOED SLOTH moving slowly along the ground. It stopped often smelling the air. I don't believe it ever knew that I was there. I soon learned that if you watch a sloth long enough, my metabolism slows down and before I knew it, I had just woken from a quick nap in the middle of the dirt road (no traffic no people). The sloth, even with its deliberate concentrated movements, had not gotten very far. An incredible mammal and I feel that I had an eye into its personality as it slowly ambled away.
Aflock of birds ahead diverted my attention from the sloth. A group of OLIVE TANAGERs with several HEPATIC TANAGERs and a single BLACK-AND-YELLOW TANAGER passed through quickly. The Olive Tanagers stayed around and I could always hear this noisy flock. Nothing else was happening so I drew a retreat to the car and headed downslope. I stopped at a likely spot and enjoyed SPOTTED WOODCREEPER, BLACK-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER, LESSER GOLDFINCHes, RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER, OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER, PHILADELPHIA VIREO, and RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPERs. I decided to return to the flowering inga tree and watched a beautiful LONG-BILLED STARTHROAT feeding and perching. I had not seen this species for a long time. Dinner and overnight followed but not before I heard a RUFOUS NIGHTJAR calling far downslope.
I woke up at dawn in the hopes of finding a few birds. I was encouraged since fog had rolled in during the night but after three hours of wandering around, I had not found anything so I decided to make the most of my time and head back to the Canal via Panama Viejo for shorebirds. From the end of Cincuentenario, many shorebirds were present including WESTERN and SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERs, SEMIPALMATED and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERs, WHIMBREL,a few MARBLED GODWITs and a selection of waders. In a stream nearby, BLACK-NECKED STILTs rested on a bank while three SOUTHERN LAPWINGs patrolled a sandbar. I was surprised to see these but was glad that I did since they are one of my favorites.
Another surprise at this spot was a GRAY-NECKED WOOD-RAIL with wings partially spread. An immature YELLOW-HEADED CARACARA was perched on a light pole and didn't move a muscle as I passed beneath it. A MANGROVE BLACK HAWK was in flight near the end of the road. Nearer Panama Viejo, there were RUDDY TURNSTONEs and a few SURFBIRDs. ROYAL and SANDWICH TERNs were feeding and numerous LITTLE BLUE HERONs, WHITE IBIS, and a YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON graced the mud flats. MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDs and LAUGHING GULLs were everywhere. I decided to head on back to Gamboa Road for one final evening. En route, I stopped by the beginning of Chiva Chiva road. A SAVANNAH HAWK was visible but that was about it. Instead of watching passerines at Old Gamboa, I stared at the migrating raptors for three hours. During this time, I estimated 3,200 TURKEY VULTUREs, 2,800 SWAINSON'S HAWKs, 1,800 BROAD-WINGED HAWKs and a handful of MISSISSIPPI KITEs. A single WOOD STORK flew by and two KING VULTUREs joined a kettle of BLACK VULTUREs. LESSER NIGHTHAWKs and PAURAQUEs rounded out my Canal birding. I splurged and spent the night back at the Hotel Riande.
I woke early for my 9 am flight and then found that I was on the 11am flight to Miami. This translated into more birding time so I visited a spot close to the airport. Birds were very active and included BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK, FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER, and many migrating BARN, CLIFF, and TREE SWALLOWs with a few BANK SWALLOWs and SOUTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWs mixed in. CRESTED CARACARAs flew overhead. In the weedy fields, flocks of hundreds of DICKCISSELs fed on unseen seeds. APALE-BREASTED SPINETAIL skulked in some tall weeds and several large, glossy GREATER ANIs worked a hedge row. ORCHARD ORIOLEs were everywhere. A SAPPHIRE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD put in a brief appearance and a BLUE GROSBEAK was a surprise. Several WHITE-TAILED KITEs hunted along a far treeline. The hour glass finally reached empty on my birding time and I headed to the airport for the long ride home. Thankfully, 12 1/2 hourslater, I arrived in San Jose a little tired but full of lasting memories. Thanks Lynn for the ride home!