Summer at Panama's Canopy Tower Aug 04—11, 2007

Posted by Tony Nunnery

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Tony Nunnery

Tony Nunnery grew up in Mississippi, then moved to Texas, and graduated from Stephen F. Austin University. After teaching elementary school for several years, he moved to M...

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Panama's Canopy Tower is one of the most written about birding localities in the world. Numerous framed articles from various magazines are proudly displayed on the walls of the dining area in testimony to its immense popularity. And I am confident that the participants on our Summer Canopy Tower trip can affirm the validity of these many articles' adulation.

From the first moments of our visit the splendors began. A Blue Cotinga and a Green Shrike-Vireo were perched in the cecropia trees around the tower, giving those participants who had arrived early the impression that these sought after species were easy to see. As the rest of the group arrived and we all scanned the majestic canopy of the forest surrounding the Canopy Tower, the grandeur of the Green Season's exhibition began in earnest. As a Bat Falcon flew through our view, Blue-headed, Red-lored, and Mealy parrots all perched atop the canopy, while binoculars and scopes focused intently from one to the other. "No, wait, the parrot has been replaced by a Keel-billed Toucan!" said one participant excitedly. "But over here are a Green Honeycreeper and Blue Dacnis!" stuttered another. Plain-colored Tanager and Palm Tanager along with Fulvous-vented Euphonia fed in the cecropia so close to the tower that we hardly needed to use our binoculars. And all this took place before breakfast.

After breakfast we walked leisurely down through the forest of the entrance road. We managed to call a Thrush-like Schiffornis up close for everyone to see. Then a Squirrel Cuckoo entertained us with its long tail and squirrel-like movements as it ran along the branches after insects. Later we all had great views of Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Plain-brown Woodcreeper, and Cocoa Woodcreeper as they climbed the trunks of the trees busily searching for insects hidden beneath the mosses and bromeliads. Also, it was here that we witnessed our first flock as it worked from one side of the road to the other and then back again. This gave us ample time to sort through the various species, which included Western Slaty-Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, White-flanked Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Southern Bentbill, Gray-headed Tanager, and White-shouldered Tanager. As we continued our walk we had Chestnut-backed Antbird, Spotted Antbird, and Bicolored Antbird feeding a few feet away, allowing our first study of these exclusively Neotropical birds. We also had excellent views of both the elusive and hard to see Black-bellied Wren and White-breasted Wood-Wren. All this and more—what a spectacular and wonderful way to start a trip! And we hadn't even had lunch yet! The praise in the magazine articles about the Canopy Tower is well-deserved.

I could go on and on about the astonishing and sensational pageantry of birds, mammals, reptiles, and flowering plants observed and celebrated during our tour, yet I will restrain myself to a few highlights. One of the most memorable birds on the tour was the Bat Falcon. We saw one the first day flying swiftly by in pursuit of something, then one perched on top of the water tower at Summit Ponds, another perched on the observation crane at Metropolitan Park, and yet another exceptional view of a pair at eye level perched on the antennae at Mira Flores Locks. The Spectacled Owl sitting on a day roost at Old Gamboa Road was certainly an unforgettable sighting. Of course there were the five species of trogons, including White-tailed, Violaceous, Black-throated, Black-tailed, and Slaty-tailed, which were all feeding in a fruiting tree over Pipeline Road while we enjoyed our mid-morning snacks. Here also the Streak-chested Antpitta sat and sang for the entire group until we finally—highly satisfied—walked away. A pair of Black-crowned Tityra were bathing in the rain, and we enjoyed memorable looks at a Spot-crowned Barbet on Achiote Road. A Scaly-throated Leaftosser sat at chest level and sang as we all watched admiringly from a few feet away. Plus, everyone in the group got to see (exceptionally well) the White-throated Crake, along with Rufescent Tiger-Heron, at Ammo Dump ponds. We also enjoyed seeing the mantled-howler monkeys with young, feeding in the fruiting trees just outside the Canopy Tower. We watched a group of Geoffroy's tamarins jumping acrobatically from one tree to the next. There were daily sightings of Central American agouti and Hoffman's two-toed sloth, and the helicopter damselfly, tarantula, yellow-tailed gecko, and American crocodile were also showstoppers.

So, read the many magazine articles written about the Canopy Tower and you can be sure that their adulation and praise are not an exaggeration, but true. Better still, go on one of the many trips that VENT offers to Panama, and see first-hand the magnificent manifestation of tropical flora and fauna. And do not be concerned about which time of the year to go, but know that every day, especially during the rainy "Green Season," can be unforgettable and may be indelibly impressed on the mind.

THE GREEN SEASON IN PANAMA

August 4-16, 2007

By Tony Nunnery

Basically there are only two seasons in Panama: the "dry season" from January to April, and the "rainy season" from May to the end of the year. To counteract the negative impression that the term "rainy season" may have on some seeking to visit the Tropics, VENT has cleverly, yet correctly, exchanged it for the term "green season" when advertising options for those who wish to travel during this time of the year. It is not a ploy to deceive, but rather a witty way of expressing the truth that during the "green season," the traveler will experience the beauty of the tropical environs at a time when all is exceedingly lush and green.

For those unfamiliar with the characteristics of both seasons, one is likely to assume the main difference is simply that one is wet and one is dry. However, participants on our recent "Green Season in Panama" tour (August 4-16, 2007) were pleasantly surprised to find a plethora of distinctive "wet season" characteristics. One general misconception is that during the rainy season there are torrential downpours both day and night which impede one's enjoyment and time spent birdwatching. Thus the first pleasant surprise was that although it rained everyday, the rains came mostly like clockwork from noon to three, and\or during the night. Since this is the usual down time for tropical birding anyway, it afforded everyone a chance to leisurely digest and rest after lunch, review and study the many birds seen during the morning walk, or, as done most often, socialize with fellow participants while enjoying the unique experience of the "Green Season" midday rains, while still birding. This engaging and delightful event took place from our "dry" perches atop the upper story of the Canopy Tower, with its 360-degree view of the surrounding forest, or from the spacious open-air dining hall of the Canopy Lodge with its three-sided view of the forest, bird feeders, and mountain stream just a few feet away. Luckily, we managed to have very cooperative weather on those days we were out in the field at this time of day.

Another advantage the rains afforded was increased bird activity during the time when the forest seems unusually quiet during those hot, sunny hours of the dry season. Although the humidity was high, the temperature remained constant throughout the day due to cloud cover. The birds seemed to take advantage of the situation and remained active longer. Also, the rains created an ample supply of food, so that we witnessed many bird species feeding their young, sitting on nests, or building nests. This diligent activity provided us with excellent opportunities to witness their behavior, as well as lengthy views of many species.

As mentioned above, the "Green Season" is a time of cooler temperatures due to increased cloud cover, which in turn stimulates increased bird activity for longer periods during the day. And although it rains most days, that rain is most often from noon to three and/or at night, which does not impede, but rather enhances birdwatching. Also, the very reason "Green Season" can be exchanged for the term "rainy season" is that the forest is at its peak in flora and fauna activity, hence, the reason for lush greens, blooms of many colors, various fruits, and many birds breeding. Although admittedly there is no unproductive time to visit the Tropics, the "Green Season" is a very pleasant and incredibly productive time to visit.