Panama: El Valle's Canopy Lodge Jan 19—26, 2008

Posted by Brennan Mulrooney

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Brennan Mulrooney

Brennan Mulrooney was born and raised in San Diego, California. Growing up, his heart and mind were captured by the ocean. He split his summer days between helping out behi...

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Each morning, as the day's first light started to brighten the sky, the sounds of El Valle roused us from our slumber. There were the clear, descending whistled notes of the Black-faced Antthrush, the scratchy chips of an Orange-billed Sparrow, the rollicking song of a Bay Wren, and the strange hooting of a Rufous Motmot. Though our beds were mighty comfortable, we knew that there was hot, fresh-brewed coffee on the veranda and a show to be seen at the feeders. 

Each day we were treated to a dazzling display of color as a constant parade of tanagers, euphonias, thrushes, and warblers visited for the banana buffet. The palette ranged from subtle to sensational as we enjoyed olive and black-clad Dusky-faced Tanagers mixed in with eye-popping Crimson-backed Tanagers, ubiquitous Clay-colored Robins, breathtaking Red-legged Honeycreepers, and diminutive Thick-billed Euphonias alongside hulking Rufous Motmots. All told we saw or heard over 50 species from the lodge grounds, and we added immensely to that by taking some short drives and a couple of longer field trips.

The Canopy Lodge's foothill location provided us with wonderfully comfortable temperatures for the duration of our stay, and though it was a bit breezy at times, we had very little rain. Our longer days in the field added to our experience by taking us to different habitats and, therefore, a different suite of birds. In the Caribbean slope cloud forests of Altos del Maria we saw a tiny jewel-like hummingbird simply called Snowcap. We were lucky to see a gorgeous male Black-and-yellow Tanager feeding at the side of the road. We also enjoyed great looks at a Russet Antshrike, an uncommon and localized species only recently discovered in this area, as well as a stunning male Scarlet-thighed Dacnis that allowed scope views for all. At one stop we were treated to a flock of Collared Aracaris, who were replaced by a pair of Blue-throated Toucanets, and then a pair of the charismatic and cartoonish Keel-billed Toucans; not bad for 15 minutes in one spot!

On another day we headed down into the warmer and drier Pacific lowlands and found several birds that we saw nowhere else. Our first stop was intended as a "pit stop," but the discovery of a nearby flowering tree kept us there for quite a while, watching a great mixed flock that included Orchard and Baltimore orioles, a pair of Great Antshrikes, Yellow-bellied Elaenias, and a pair of Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds. Later that morning we had great looks at several Fork-tailed Flycatchers and a very cooperative Streaked Flycatcher right next to an equally accommodating Panama Flycatcher. While we were enjoying a confiding family group of Groove-billed Anis, we spotted a nice male Blue-black Grassquit that allowed scope views for all. Certainly a highlight of the morning was watching a pair of Brown-throated Parakeets interacting at the entrance to their nest cavity. Savannah Hawks and Yellow-headed Caracaras perched in the scopes for us, and we had a thrilling close range fly-by from a Pearl Kite, a species that has only recently colonized Panama from the south. Perhaps the best bird of the morning was a gorgeous male Veraguan Mango that remained perched long enough for the whole group to enjoy multiple scope views. This species is the result of a recent taxonomic split and is endemic to the Pacific lowlands of Panama.

But how can you top the show at the feeders? It seemed that no matter where we were, they kept luring us back. We had over 20 species coming in for us to enjoy…as we relaxed in the comfy chairs…with drinks in our hands. What's not to love? I know that I'm already thinking about the next time I'll return to the Canopy Lodge.