Panama: El Valle's Canopy Lodge Mar 03—10, 2007

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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El Valle’s new Canopy Lodge, located in the foothills of west-central Panama, is a must destination, even for those who have previously visited other parts of Panama. Some highlights from our recent March tour should provide sufficient evidence:

Twenty two species of tanagers. Representing virtually every color in the rainbow, our list of tanagers presented a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of beauty, from the velvety-black Flame-rumped with its contrasting golden rump to the blood-red Crimson-backed to the stunning little Black-and-yellows and the blue, green, and rufous Bay-headeds. One fruiting tree contained several jewel-like Golden-hoodeds, emerald Green Honeycreepers, a roving band of Tawny-crested Tanagers, and a spectacular Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. The lodge feeders alone harbored ten species producing a feeding frenzy of blue, red, and yellow. The incomparable Red-legged Honeycreepers with their turquoise crowns, deep blue and black bodies, and contrasting raspberry legs were certainly show-stoppers.

Snowcap. This tiny (2.5 inches) burgundy colored hummer with the bright white cap and tail is reason enough to visit. Our tours have had great success with this species so far, and it may prove that El Valle is perhaps the best place anywhere to find this extremely localized species. We had stunning views of two or three males, both perched and feeding at eye level from about 15 feet!

Motmots. We enjoyed superb views of four species of motmots. With some effort we located the tiny Tody Motmot on our last full day, enjoying walkaway scope views. Within 15 minutes we were amazed to find another a short distance away. Rufous Motmots, flashy and spectacular, were everyday feeder birds at the lodge. Both Broad-billed and Blue-crowned were also seen exceptionally well and within a short distance of the lodge itself.

This area harbors many uncommon and hard-to-find foothill species. Our trip had Dull-mantled Antbird from literally six feet away, prolonged studies of Yellow-eared and Blue-throated toucanets, a pair of Ochraceous Wrens at eye level about 20 feet away, several Spotted Woodcreepers, two Spotted Barbtails, two Red-faced Spinetails, a handsome male White-ruffed Manakin, scope views of a singing Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, a cooperative pair of Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens, a pair of Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches, and great views of Tawny-capped and White-vented euphonias. Past trips have had some success with the highly-sought Black-crowned Antpitta.

One day of birding in the dry Pacific slope area around El Chiru adds a wide variety of new species. Highlights for us included a Pearl Kite, a pair of Aplomado Falcons sharing a meal, a covey of Crested Bobwhite, the recently split Veraguan Mango, walkaway scope views of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Brown-throated Parakeets, and a Rufous-browed Peppershrike among others.

The lodge itself is spectacular. The large double rooms (each with a patio) face out toward the garden. Here well supplied feeders host a parade of species throughout the day. It is hard to tear oneself away to bird other areas. In addition to the previously mentioned tanagers and motmots, the feeders yielded Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-striped Sparrow, Red-crowned Woodpecker, and Buff-throated and Streaked saltators. The feeders and the stream in front of the lodge can be viewed from the open air dining room. Black-chested Jays, Green Kingfisher, and Collared Aracaris were some of the birds we saw from our tables.

Miscellaneous highlights. A few other species seen on our trip were deserving of special mention. About a hundred yards above the lodge we had nice views of a Sunbittern foraging along the stream edges. A Striped Cuckoo, often heard but seldom seen, provided lengthy scope views along the Zamia Trail. A last day diversion to the Canal Zone yielded a pair of roosting Spectacled Owls and a roosting Great Potoo. A Black-faced Antthrush perched about five feet off the ground just behind the dining room, giving us fantastic looks at this skulker.

As you can see, our El Valle trip was wildly successful. Cooler foothill temperatures, a different variety of birds from the Canal Zone, and superb accommodations combine for a wonderful new destination.