Panama: Christmas at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Dec 22—27, 2006

Posted by Steve Hilty

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Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is the senior author of A Guide to the Birds of Colombia, and author of Birds of Venezuela, both by Princeton University Press, as well as the popular Birds of ...

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Raul Arias’s new lodge in the foothills west of the Canal Zone area has opened an exciting new birding destination that perfectly complements the lowlands of the Canal Zone. It short, it offers refreshing temperatures, great food and service, and easy access to an array of habitats that offer tremendous birding possibilities. Access from Panama City is quick and comfortable on good to excellent roads and, once at the lodge, birding or relaxing on the veranda begins immediately with a variety of species appraising the fruit offerings (mostly bananas) at several feeding trays conveniently numbered for ease in locating new and exciting arrivals. Hummingbirds of a half-dozen species forage in lush flowering gardens or visit feeders.

Several day-trips of varying lengths access an array of primary and secondary habitats by bus and four-wheel-drive. Our trip coincided with the beginning of an El Niño year and, this year, Panama was experiencing unusually heavy rainfall for December. During our visit the heavy rainfall continued, but little affected our activities. It rained hard late most afternoons and sporadically at night but, during our four days, we lost only an hour to rain one afternoon. This was more than offset by the benefit of delightfully cool temperatures and overcast conditions?both of which helped keep bird activity strong throughout the day.

This was my first visit to the El Valle area and I was surprised by the amount of good forest habitat that remains?far more than I expected?and the quality of birds that can be seen in this area. Tino, the resident guide at the Canopy Lodge, skillfully guided us to all the best birding spots, including a site known as Altos del María which taxed even the abilities of our intrepid, four-wheel-drive equipped chauffeurs as they negotiated slippery and exhilarating hills with daunting courage. It was worth it. We came away with three of the best prizes of the trip?a lovely little Snowcap, a Dull-mantled Antbird (which is a good deal brighter than its name would suggest), and a rare and seldom seen Black-crowned Antpitta which did its best to outwit and outmaneuver our tape playback tactics.

While the name, Canopy Lodge, doesn’t convey much information about this lodge, or the charm of the place, or its lovely setting, this lodge is a gem. It fairly bursts with flowers and birds, the food and rooms are generous, even extravagant beyond all necessity (it was obviously good enough for movie stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who stayed a night just two days after our departure). It offers privacy, exotic surroundings, and a luxurious getaway surely fit to please even the most discriminating traveler. I liked this hotel and I predict that a lot of birders and naturalists are going to make a pilgrimage to this lovely site in the future. I hope you liked it as much as my wife Bev and I did. She wanted to stay longer. So will you.