Trip Report – December 2012
DAY 1: We had arrived the evening before in Panama City and driven up to stay the night at Casa de Campo in Cerro Azul. Started our day birding the area by the lodge restaurant and managed to get a life bird before breakfast – Crimson-backed Tanager along with a number of the more common species. Then up to Cerro Jeffre – which was quite quiet but did provide the required Yellow-eared Toucanet, Black & Yellow Tanager and Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker along with 19 other species.
On the way back down to the highway we stopped at a private home with feeders and saw 11 species of hummingbird (including Snowy-bellied & Violet capped Hummingbird, Violet Crowned Woodnymph and Rufous-crested Coquette) Red-crowned Woodpecker and 30 other species. Stopped for lunch just outside Panama City and then drove on to Torti and the Portal Avicar Motel (excellent place!). After checking in we headed to a private reserve – San Francisco Reserve – for some excellent late afternoon birding. Golden-collared Manakin, Blue Ground-dove, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Long-billed Starthroat, Pied Puffbird and more. Night at the Portal Avicar Motel.
DAY 2: Early start (4.30am) to get to Mogue in the Darien – the Emberra village where we are aiming at Harpy Eagle. Unfortunately we were held up at a checkpoint for 3 hours because they could not find a record of our application to enter the Darien, and that meant we missed the tides which lead to a long, boring, and very hot day spent in La Palma waiting for tides. Having said that we got 20 species while waiting at the checkpoint (including 2 life birds for us- Black-chested Jay and Garden Emerald) and another, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird while looking for shady spots outside La Palma. It was then finally time to get back on the boat and travel to Mogue.
Some good birds on the river going into the village – Bare-throated Tigerheron, Yellow-backed Oriole, Crested Oropendola. Night in the Embera Village.
DAY 3: Off to find the Harpy Eagle! We trekked for about 4 hours with a local guide to the spot where the Harpy Eagle was nesting. En route we had, to name a few, Black-tailed and White-tailed Trogons, Grey-cheeked Nunbird, Dot-winged Antwren, Jet & Chestnut-backed Antbird. When we arrived at the nest we were amazed that the Harpy was there- worth the effort! We stayed for a while but was very hot and humid and it had been a hard slog up so we headed back to the village for lunch!
As we headed to the boat to leave the village Black Oropendola flew over our heads which was lucky as it was our last chance for the bird. Staying in the village was a great experience -the people were lovely and the birds great. Back to the Portal Avicar Motel for the night.
DAY 4: A nice breakfast at the motel watching the hummingbirds at the feeders and also got a Buff-breasted Wren in the garden. Then back to the San Francisco reserve. Rufous-crested Coquette, Black-capped Pygmy-tyrant, Blue Cotinga, White-eared Conebill, Violet-bellied Hummingbird were all new for us. Spent the whole day there. Night at the Portal Avicar Motel.
DAYS 5: This was the start of another adventure! We saddled up horses and rode 4 hours up into the Chucanti Mountains to a research
station. It was quite a fun ride (although it rained hard) but hard to bird – did see Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Bat Falcon. A mixed flock greeted us when we arrived which gave us 2 life birds – Fulvous-vented Euphonia and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis plus Crimson-crested Woodpecker, White-vented Plumeteer & Scaly-crested Pygmy-tyrant.
The accommodation was VERY basic but the food was good and we had made sure to bring beer!!!
DAY 6: Not a great night in this dump!! But up early to hike-up and got some good birds! Unfortunately the weather didn’t co-operate and the birding was quite minimal. We hiked for about 7 hours in total – 4.5 hours of it up hill – and only got 3 life birds – Black-striped Woodcreeper, Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush and Tacaruna Bush-tanager.
It was a tough day really although we had views of Golden-crowned Spadebill, Ochraceous Wren, Carmiol’s Tanager, Blue-black Grosbeak and White-whiskered Puffbird -but it was a great deal of effort considering the horse ride and the accommodation etc. Second night at the research station.
DAY 7: We are very happy to leave the research station and enjoy the ride back down before driving into Panama City. We are also glad to be leaving the guide that has organized this first part of our trip because it has not been well organized and not really enjoyable. Checked into the nicest hotel we could find and luxuriated!! Summit Radisson Hotel.
DAY 8: Met our new guide, Mario, who will be with us during our time in the Canal Area. Started birding right in the grounds of the hotel. It was rainy on and off as we moved to a few spots near the hotel and although the birding wasn’t spectacular we added 24 species to our trip list and 3 life birds – Grey-headed Tanager, Collared Forest Falcon and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. Stayed again at the Radisson – clean sheets!!!
DAY 9: Drove across the isthmus to Gatun Locks for a full day birding. Weather still not really co-operating but nice to seen some of the
Canal area. Birded Gatun Lake Road, Lorenza Park and Achiote Road – which were all quite quiet. Then walked the Trogon Trail and hit a flurry of activity including Spot-crowned Barbet, White-headed Wren, Olivacious Flatbill. It was nice to get some activity.
Made a few more stops on Achiote Road and saw Grey-headed Chacalaca, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, White-flanked Antwren and Sulpur-bellied Flycatcher. Another night at the Radisson.
DAY 10: Today was Christmas Day which is always strange in the tropics. Hit Pipeline Road in the morning. It started off well but then it was very quiet. Walked for about 4 kms but not much around life birds for us were Black-breasted Puffbird, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Southern Bentbill, Black-bellied Wren, Semi-plumbeous Hawk.
Then headed to Panama Bay for some shore birding which didn’t add any life birds for us but there were certainly plenty of the expected species around to enjoy.
DAY 11: Left the Canal Area early in the morning and drove to Anton to bird on the Juan Hombron route. Immediately had 4 life birds – Spot-crowned Euphonia, White-fronted Tyrranulet, Brown-throated Parakeet and Golden-fronted Greenlet. Then we drove through a rice field (Savannah Hawk and Crested Caracara) to a stream where we enjoyed Lance-tailed Manakin and Lesser Elainia.
A little further along the main road to Penonome and onto the Mangrove Route where we not only got Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture but I also spotted a roosting Lesser Nighthawk.
Lunch in Penonome and then onto El Valle. A stop en route provided Northern Scrub Flycatcher and then down a steep road into the valley to lovely spot for the night – Cabanas Potosi. (El Valle was our favorite area in Panama – the village is wonderful!)
DAY 12: A lovely breakfast in the village and then some spectacular birding around the area. Our guide really knew the spots to pick and we had some wonderful birds, including Spectacled Owl, Tody Motmot, Blue-crowned Motmot and both Tawny-crested and Flame-rumped Tanagers.
Then it was a drive back to Panama City for the short flight to David, where we rented a car and headed to the Ciudad de David Hotel for the night.
Day 13: Met our next guide ( Ito) and started some lowlands birding which provided a few new birds for the trip (including Scarlet Macaw, Black-headed Antshrike & Yellow green Vireo) but only one life bird – Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet that we found on a quick trip back to the airport.
We then drove up to Volcan where an afternoon trip to the Quetzal Trail was quite fabulous. 22 new species for the trip (including the Resplendent Quetzal, Yellow-thighed Finch, Fiery-throated, Magnificent and Volcan Hummingbird and Black-capped Flycatcher) and 6 life birds for us. Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Black-billed Nightingale-thrush, Black & Yellow Silky, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet and Strip-tailed Hummingbird. It was quite an auspicious start to our birding in the area. Night at the Los Quetzales Eco Lodge
DAY 14: The weather up at Volcan wasn’t great so we decided to drive down to Volcan Lakes – on the drive in we had Cherrie’s Tanager, Masked Yellowthroat and Pale-breasted Spinetail which were all new for us. The lakes themselves were very quiet and we didn’t get the Masked Duck or Ruddy Foliage-gleaner that had been seen a couple of days before so decided to go to Cielito Sur B&B and check out their hummingbird feeders. (I would recommend this as the place to stay in the area). There was nothing new there but it was a great spot to hang out and we enjoyed Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Red-breasted Grosbeak and Sooty-capped Bush-tanager.
After lunch we drove the treacherous route up to the Los Quetzales Cabanas. The weather still wasn’t really co-operating but we had a good number of species near the top cabin including Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush, Tufted Flycatcher and Prong-billed Barbet. But the highlight of the afternoon were fabulous views of Wrenthrush near cabin # 2 before the challenging drive back down. Night at Los Quetzales Lodge.
DAY 15: Over slept so started a little late today but still decided to head over to Finca Hartman anyway. It was very windy but we stood by the farm buildings and enjoyed 4 life birds while having breakfast! Fiery-billed Aracari, White-winged tanager, White-tailed Emerald and Charming Hummingbird all showed up for us!
A walk into the finca to get away from the wind didn’t work and the birds were understandably hunkered down – only 3 new birds for the trip – White-bellied Woodwren, Yellow-bellied Siskin and Streak-headed Woodcreeper.
After lunch we drove down the road towards Boquette to try our luck at a Sunbittern which has been quite a nemesis bird for us. We stopped at each river which the road crossed and were beginning to lose hope as we arrived at the 4th one when there is was!! We have looked for years for this bird and hung around as long as we could, enjoying every minute of it.
After that we meandered back along the road and managed 2 more life birds for the day – Eye-ringed Flatbill and Rufous-breasted Wren. Night at Los Quetzales Lodge.
DAY 16: La Armistad NP was our destination today. We got there early and, despite the continuing rain, enjoyed some great birds. Spotted Barbtail, Streak-breasted Treehunter, Buffy Tufted-cheek and Spangle-cheeked Tanager were all life birds for us. There were an additional 6 species to add to the trip list as well – such us Linneated Foliage-gleaner, Yellow-winged Vireo, FLame-colored Tanager and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch. It was a great morning.
After lunch our first stop was an orchid farm for Buff-breasted Quail Dove – we didn’t see the quail-dvoe it but it was a pleasant garden and we did see Barred Becard. Then our guide took us to a small patch of forest on private land for a second attempt at the Quail Dove – once again we didn’t succeed but there were a number of woodpeckers (Acorn, Hairy & Yellow-bellied Sapsucker) and we were successful in getting the elusive Blue-throated Toucanet. Last night at the Los Quetzales Lodge.
DAY 17: Today we worked our way to Boquette and our first stop was a valley known as Baha Frio. We walked down a shady, grassy path enjoying Crested Guan and Riverside Wren until we came across a tree that was literally dripping in Green & Red Legged Honey Creepers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, hummingbirds and euphonias. It was quite a site – a birders dream!
Then a drive to Boquette to check in and have lunch at Finca Lerida. What a fabulous place with the most amazing gardens. Sulphur-winged Parakets greeted us at the reception. This seemed like a great place to spend our last few days in Panama.
After lunch we drove to Volcan Baru Park and hiked up in the rain to try for Timberline Wren. We were successful with the wren and then as a bonus we got to see Costa Rica Pygmy-owl, Spotted Woodquail and Elegant Euphonia. Night at Finca Lerida
DAY 18: An extremely early start this morning with a long, windy drive to Fortuna Road. Our first brief stop delivered Black Guan and then it was onto Oleoducto Road for Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Black-bellied Hummingbird, White-bellied Mountain-gem and Blue & Gold Tanager ( all life birds) before the clouds rolled in.
Down to the Caribbean coast for 12 new trip species ( no life birds) – Torrent Tyrranulet, Band-backed Wren, to name a few – and for lunch at a gas station/ bus station / restaurant that served Chinese food!
On the drive back to Finca Lerida we stopped for a moment when a Rufous-browed Tyrannulet showed up – what a spot! Night at Finca Lerida
DAY 19: A walk (or more like hike) up beside a river was quite strenuous – partly because of all the mud created by the rain. It wasn’t overly birdy but we got 4 new species for the trip (Brown-capped Vireo, Dark Pewee, American Dipper and Three-striped Warbler) and one life bird – Black-thighed Grosbeak -that took quite a bit of work.
We opted for a lazy afternoon to relax before our trip home tomorrow. Lovely dinner on the terrace of Finca Lerida.
DAY 20: Our final day started with a leisurely breakfast before driving down towards David. En route we made one stop for a final life bird – Scrub Greenlet – before starting our long flights home.
Casa de Campo – Cerro Azul- no longer on the internet
Portal Avicar Motel – Torti
Summit Radisson Hotel – Panama City
Cabanas Potosi – El Valle – cannot locate on the internet
Ciudad de David – David
Los Quetzales Eco Lodge – Volcan
Finca Lerida – Boquette
Guides & Resources
Darien Area – Guido (don’t recommend!)
Canal Area and El Valle – Mario Bernal Greco – email at: [email protected] (recommend)
Chiquiri Highlands – Ito Navarro- email at : [email protected] (recommend)
Field Guide: The Birds of Panama, George R Angehr & Robert Dean
Bird Song – there doesn’t appear to be a CD of the birds of Panama – so we used both the birds of Costa Rica and Columbia which seemed to work just fine.
Lonely Planet Guide