Highlights of Avian Panama

Ancon Expeditions of Panama
Calle Elvira Mendez
Edificio Dorado, Planta Baja
Box 0832-1509(WTC)
Panama, Rep of Panama
Tel: 507-269-9415
Fax: 507-264-3713
Email: info@anconexpeditions.com

Bird watching in Panama is very easy and rewarding. Its geographical position as an isthmus allows contact with two great motherlodes of avian diversity. You can see Resplendent Quetzals and Umbrella birds in the West as well as four types of Macaws and Harpy Eagles in the East. In the central part, the forests of the Panama Canal watershed are within a 45 minute drive from Panama City and harbor more than 400 bird species. In all, Panama hosts 940 species in 40,000 square miles.

Arrive at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. Met by Guide Hernan Arauz. Transfer to Canopy Tower in Soberanía National Park (approx. 1:15 hrs) driving from the Airport. Welcome dinner and briefing by Guide.
Night at the Canopy Tower with Dinner.

Canopy Tower
Canopy Tower
Awake to the dawn chorus and spend most of the morning feasting your eyes from The Canopy Tower, the greatest vantage point for bird observation in central Panama. With a spectacular 360 degree view, above all emergent forest giants, you can see the southern range of the Panama Canal watershed as well the channel across the Continental Divide at Gailliard Cut. This platform is the world's greatest place to get the stunning Blue Cotinga, the "always heard but never seen" Green shrike Vireo and large flocks of Keel billed and Chestnut mandible Toucans. Other canopy flocks contain Masked Tityras, Green, Red legged and Shining Honeycreepers, Red capped and Golden collared Manakins. See at eye level passing flocks of Red Lored, Mealy and Blue headed Parrots. Being here is a true birder's privilege.

After breakfast at your convenience in the lower deck we will continue hiking down the paved road that snakes down Semaphore Hill through one of the most scenic lowland rainforests in the Americas. This forest is great for several antwrens such as Dot winged, White flanked, Checkered throated and Pygmy being regulars. Rufous, Blue crowned and Broad billed Motmots call from the dense ravines and Black striped, Plain brown and Barred Woodcreepers are always visible from the road. Our hike takes us to Plantation Road, where the endemic Yellow Green Tyrannulet has been reported on several occasions. This road offers great possibilities for deep forest species such as Brownish twistwing, Blue crowned Manakin, Crimson crested Woodpecker, Black breasted Puffbird among many others. At noon, we are shuttled back to the Tower by vehicles for refreshments and lunch. In the mid to late afternoon another bird walk is scheduled, as well as later at night for owling, all around the Tower and down the road.
Night at the Canopy Tower with Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner (BLD).

Harpy Eagle
Harpy Eagle
This morning after breakfast we board our van and drive to the nearby Pipeline Road (20 min drive). Before entering the road we bird the scrub habitat near the ponds looking for Crimson backed Tanagers, Yellow backed and yellow tailed Orioles, Rufescent Tiger Heron, White throated Crake as well as several tyrannulets and greenlets. We start birding the Pipeline Road from the gate looking for White bellied Antbird, Purple throated Fruitcrow, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Blue throated Goldentail, any of the five Trogons present. With the use of a high clearance vehicle we continue farther in looking for army ant swarms or mixed flocks that make this road world famous. Royal Flycatcher, Brown capped Tyrannulet, Agami Heron, Tiny Hawk, Sirystes are among 400 plus other species that inhabit these rich forests.

After lunch at the Tower we continue to Panama City for a visit to the mudflats in Old Panama. During the right time in the northern migrating months, this area becomes a world class shore birding site. "Clouds" of Plovers, Sandpipers and Dowitchers, Godwits, Curlews, Stilts interact with resident Gulls and Terns. Afterwards we pay a visit to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal and stop at a handicraft market, before heading back to the Tower for dinner and more owling and night creature observation.
Night at the Canopy Tower with BLD.

Early this morning after breakfast, we leave for the domestic airport to board a commercial flight to David in the western province of Chiriqui (1 hour flight). Upon arrival in David, we transfer by van to the cool and scenic highlands of Cerro Punta and Guadalupe. After checking in the cozy Hotel Los Quetzales, we proceed by van to the headquarters of La Amistad International Park to explore the El Retoño trail. This trail is a great introduction to the birds of the Talamanca Endemic Bird Area (EBA). We'll look for Ruddy Treerunner, Large footed Finch, Black capped Flycatcher, Buff fronted Quail Dove, Yellow winged Vireo, Silvery throated Jay, Spangle cheeked Tanager and other highland specialties. After lunch at the Hotel we proceed to the Lagoons of Volcan for some foothills birding in the mid-late afternoon.
Night at Hotel Los Quetzales with BLD.
Resplendent Quetzal

After breakfast, early morning departure in 4x4 vehicles up the cloudforests of Baru Volcano National Park at Cabañas Los Quetzales. This 20 minute ride takes us to one of the most scenic and uniquely beautiful places in Central America. From the cabins, nestled in the side of this mountain range you can witnessed at eye level an unrivaled highland avian canopy show. Prong billed Barbet, Barred Becard, Black and Yellow Silky Flycatcher, Slaty Finch, Resplendent Quetzal are regulars among many other western highland birds. Of particular interest are the hummingbird feeders around the cabins. Violet Sabrewing, White throated Mountain Gem, Admirable hummingbird, Green crowned Brilliant, Volcano Hummingbird fly and feast in front of your eyes. Using our cozy cabin as a base to eat and rest (a buffet lunch is served in the cabins), we will explore all adjacent trails looking for Black cheeked Warbler, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Common tufted Flycatcher, Wrenthrush, Silvery fronted Tapaculo, Black faced Solitaire, Spot crowned Woodcreeper and many others.
Night at Hotel Los Quetzales with BLD.

After an early breakfast we board our van for the western region of Santa Clara and Finca Hartman. This new birding destination offers great birding in a transitional area between the highlands and the lower foothills of the western mountain range. We will look for Fiery billed Aracari, Black chested Jay, White tailed Emerald, Golden bellied Flycatcher, always keeping our eyes out for the rare Yellow billed Cotinga. After lunch back at the Hotel to relax or bird the surrounding gardens.
Night at Hotel Los Quetzales with BLD.

Early morning departure for David to board Panama City bound scheduled flight. Upon arrival in Panama City we will transfer to our chartered aircraft bound for Cana in Darien National Park. Following is a description of this magnificent place, its trails and the birds to look for. We will stay here three nights (including one night at the Pirre Mt. camp).

The pristine valley of Cana in the eastern slope of Pirre mountain range in Panama's Darien National Park is, without any doubt, the country's most productive birdwatching site in terms of quantity and quality of avian sightings. It can also be regarded as one of the top 10 sites on the planet.

This powerful statement derives from the fact that professionally led 6 day birding tours to the area usually yield bird lists of over 300 species. The combination of open area habitat, mature second growth and foothill / highland primary forests are unique and located in the most remote and secluded area of Panama, which happens to be the most interesting point of contact for Central and South American avifauna.

Hiking out of Cana to the nearest human settlement (a tiny indigenous village) takes 2 days. This isolation and the protection granted by the Park and its Ranger Station at Cruzamono (a day hike from Cana) are effective in preserving habitat for endangered game species such as Great Curasow, Macaws, White lipped Peccary, Black headed Spider Monkey and Jaguar.

One thing you will notice in Cana is how rare birds elsewhere are commonly seen in the trails around Cana. As the Station's N#1 attraction Blue and Yellow, Red and Green, Great Green and Chestnut fronted Macaws fly over the camp all day. From the rustic veranda you can see Flame rumped, Crimson backed, Swallow Tanagers, Golden headed Manakins, Streaked Antwren all feeding in the shrubs growing in front of the main house. These also attract several hummingbirds such as Rufous tailed, Snowy bellied, Blue chested, Black throated Mango, Violet capped, Rufous crested Coquette, White necked Jacobin, Green Thorntail, Blue throated Goldentail and Brown violet ear.

The open skies should be watched for soaring King Vultures, Ornate, Black and Black and White Hawk Eagles, White Hawk, Solitary Eagle. It is also a good place to look for passing White collared Swifts. All bare branches should be checked for Barred Puffbird, Dusky backed Jacamar, Long tailed Tyrant. Low brushes near the House abound with Slaty Spinetail, Jet Antbird and Yellow billed Caciques.

The top of big trees in the near hills are good places to find the Black tipped Cotinga and the loud Red throated Caracara. Rusty margined and Grey capped Flycatchers are active all day in the creek behind the Station. The trees behind the camp are great for White headed Wren, Cinereous Becard, Black chested Jay and occasionally Laughing Falcon.

Owling is more productive in the late hours of the night (specially in the cloudforest camp). Spectacled, Mottled, Black and White and Least Pygmy Owls are always possibilities. Pauraque is always present in the airstrip at night.

Migrants are a very interesting group of birds in Cana. Previously unreported species seen by the author include Palm Warbler, Dicksissel, Cedar Waxwing and Snail Kite.

The Boca de Cupe Trail is the longest of them all and is the only way out by land (you could walk this trail in 2 days). Essentially a flat trail out of the station for 5 miles out, we get on it from the Cana airstrip. In the first 100 meters check for Little Cuckoo, White fronted Nunbird, any of the 5 Trogon species. This trail is great for rarities such as Gray cheeked Nunlet (look for it 1 or 2 feet above floor at the edge of the trail), Viridian Dacnis (usually accompanying mixed flocks of tanagers and dacnises at fruiting trees), Great Jacamar (easily seen and called in once his mournful whistle is learned), Scarlet browed Tanager (same as Viridian Dacnis), Great Potoo (sleeping high in trees), Fulvous bellied Antpitta (constantly calling from the deep tangles), Ornate Hawk Eagle, as well as army antswarms and the prized Rufous vented Ground Cuckoo.

Rusting Train
Rusting Train
Trail of the Mine is a 2 km (approx.) loop trail from the main camp to the site where rusting machinery from last century lay abandoned. This is a great introductory trail with great emphasis on the historical importance of the site. It crosses the higher waters of the Cana river (creek). Good for Brownish Twiswing its 2 strong whistles give his position away), Great Curasow (its grave hum tells of his presence), Crested Guan (noisy in the canopy), Rufous Motmot (in deep ravines and near water), Spotted Barbtail (skulking at low elevation), Dusky faced Tanagers (passing flocks and hard to see well), Striped cheeked Woodpecker (low and middle elevation skulker), Olivaceous Piculet (low sounding pecking) . Great antswarm possibilities. The author had three Ground Cuckoo encounters in four tours to the area.

The Seteganti Trail is an exceptional trail which combines open area, scrub and mature forest. Starts at the Station ends at Seteganti River. Great for Woodpeckers (Red crowned, Black cheeked, Cinnamon, Crimson crested, Lineated, Crimson bellied with its powerful two stroke beat and Red rumped). Other possible rarities include Red billed Sythebill, Brown Violetear, Green Manakin. The endemic Dusky backed Jacamar is easily seen here perched in exposed Cecropia branches.

The Pirre Mountain Trail. This famous trail is better birded coming down than going up. Its 6 miles take approximately 5 hours of uphill hiking through exceptionally rich habitat of foothill and cloudforest. Early encounters in the trail are usually Great Jacamar, White whiskered and Black breasted Puffbirds. Little, Great and Choco Tinamou are present. At the 2,250 ' zone look for the rare Yellow Green Grosbeak among other flock attendants such as Sharpbill, Stripe cheeked Woodpecker, Blue Cotinga, Lemon spectacled and Silver throated Tanagers. Twigs over the trail or around bends should always be checked for Tody Motmot, Black capped Pygmy Tyrant, Golden crowned Spadebill. This trail is great for Golden headed and White ruffed Manakins. Yellow eared Toucanet is common in the half of the trail. Large antswarms in this trail have yielded attendance of 3 or more Ground cuckoos with scores of Bicolored, Spotted, Ocellated and Immaculate Antbirds, Black crowned and Scaled Antpittas and several Woodcreepers.

The Cloudforest Trail begins at 4,000' at the Cloudforest camp and ends at 4,700'. Birding around the camp is very productive. Check the Hotlips around camp for Pirre Hummingbird, Greenish Puffleg, Green crowned Brilliant and the rare Purple throated Woodstar. Chestnut capped Brush Finches and leaftossers approach the camp very close. Rare Dusky Pigeons feed on Melostome fruit over the camp. The edges of openings should be watched for mixed flocks with
Violaceous Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Gray and Gold Tanagers, Spot crowned Barbet, Yellow collared Chlorophonia. Scan the midlevel growing Ericacea sp flowers for the Tooth billed Hummingbird flashing its white tipped tail as he feeds. Bring a tape player and give a try to the Nariño Tapaculo, Thrushlike Mourner and Southern Nightingale Wren. Other possibilities include Rufous breasted Anthrush, Slaty Antwren, Scale crested Pigmy tyrant, Plain Antvireo, Red headed Barbet. This is an unpredictable trail…we are looking for specialties like Beautiful Treerunner, Golden headed Quetzal, Varied Solitaire and many others. January 27-February 5 and April 6-15 (both 2001).

We board a chartered flight which will land at Tocumen International Airport to connect with the midday flights out. Breakfast provided.

Trip Dates and Cost

Price Includes:
Lodging, all land, air and water transportation within Panama, all airport/hotel transfers on scheduled arrival and departure dates, meals as specified in the itinerary, entrance fees, guides' services and expenses, and services of an in-bound land operator for airline reconfirmations and tour operations.

Price Does Not Include:
International airfare, airport departure taxes ($20 per person as of November, 2000), tourist card ($5 per person as of November, 2000), meals not specified in the itinerary, alcoholic beverages, personal equipment, extras in hotels (laundry, telephone calls, room service, etc.), gratuities.

Weight Restrictions:
Weight restrictions apply to luggage in both commercial and chartered flights within Panama. A maximum of 25 lbs. per person is allowed. Arrangements can be made at the Panama City hotel to store luggage that will not be needed. Excess baggage charges assessed by commercial carriers are the responsibility of the passenger.

Travel within Darien National Park is accomplished with great preparation on the part of our staff to try to make our guests as comfortable as possible. Potential guests are expected to make themselves aware of the nature and demands of the experience and prudently judge whether or not they are suited to this type of an experience. A desire to experience the outdoors, a spirit of adventure, and willingness to sacrifice creature comforts are essential qualifications. Participants should be physically fit and able to hike at a moderate pace for up to eight hours, the average time required to reach the Pirre Camp. Medical limitations and concerns should be brought to the attention of Ancon Expeditions of Panama several weeks prior to the program's departure date.

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