New Year at Panama's Canopy Tower Dec 27, 2010—Jan 03, 2011

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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Our Holiday Season in Panama tours (Christmas at El Valle's Canopy Lodge and New Year at Panama's Canopy Tower) are specially designed for those who would like to spend their holiday season in an exceptional place while searching for tropical birds. Few places are as exceptional as Panama's Canopy Lodge and Canopy Tower. Where else can you sip your morning coffee while watching various bird species feed on bananas just meters away from your breakfast table? For finding, identifying, and observing a wealth of wonderful tropical birds, these two premier birding locales and their easy access to other high quality habitats with a high diversity of sought after species have proven themselves again and again.

It is always a difficult task to choose the highlights of this tour because there are so many moments when we simply stand in awe at the overwhelming views of local specialties. So once again, while sorting through the many memorable moments of this particular tour, I have narrowed it down to the following observations, knowing that many more will go unmentioned.

First and foremost on our list of highlights has to be our decision to wander off Pipeline Road and step into the forest to witness an ant swarm that we'd heard moving parallel to the road. Much to our pleasure we witnessed Ocellated Antbirds, Spotted Antbirds, Chestnut-backed Antbirds, and Bicolored Antbirds all feeding in a sunlit spot on the forest floor just meters away. Joining them were Plain-brown Woodcreeper, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Speckled Mourner, Gray-headed Tanager, and Cinnamon Woodpecker. Witnessing such a spectacular sight so close-up is one of those rare memorable moments we all hope for, yet are never fully prepared for when they happen. Watching the ants as they hunt for insects, and listening to the sounds of the antbirds excitedly hopping back and forth picking off the fleeing insects is undoubtedly one of the finest experiences in birding. And we were fortunate not once, but also a second time, as we encountered yet another ant swarm along Semaphore Hill—again with the frantically feeding antbirds previously mentioned, as well as Fasciated Antshrike and the rare Ruddy Woodcreeper.

Another highly memorable moment came amid the rain when we found a White Hawk perched near the road in Valle Chiquito. The various photos taken cannot capture the beauty and magnificence of this majestic hawk. Another noteworthy raptor seen was the rare Semiplumbeous Hawk, which we watched as it dropped down to the ground to catch an anole and eat it just a few meters away while we were birding along Pipeline Road. Then there was the Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture that sat on the fence post beside the road at Juan Hombron. However, these were not the only up-close moments we had while birding. We also had excellent views of Least Bittern, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and White-throated Crake at Ammo Dump Ponds. There was a Black Guan that sat in the rain beside the road at Altos de Maria, and again we were fortunate to record the first sighting of Black Guan at the Canopy Lodge after a heavy wind and rainstorm seemed to have blown one down from La Mesa. A Tody Motmot also sat in the rain near the road at Cara Iguana, and a Great Jacamar perched beside Pipeline Road while some took photos. And who can forget the excellent up-close views of the Rufous-and-Green Kingfisher beside the road near San Lorenzo? Each one of these sightings is worth mentioning as a highlight, not only for the extended views and close proximity, but also because each species is rare and unusual to see.

Other rare species we had the good fortune to see included the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker at Cerro Jefe and the Yellow-green Tyrannulet at Metropolitan Park. Then there was the Brownish Twistwing on Pipeline Road, along with the Streak-chested Antpitta. We enjoyed stunning views of the Green Shrike-Vireo from the Canopy Tower. The White-headed Wren made an appearance on Achiote Road, as did Spot-crowned Barbets, and both Pied Puffbird and Black-chested Puffbird. Plus, we were blessed to see the Lance-tailed Manakin at three different locations.

I hope you see what I mean when I say it is always difficult to choose only a few highlights from these tours. I could go on, mentioning the fact that we saw six species of trogons, four species of motmots, three species of owls, and a countless number of flycatchers, wrens, manakins, and tanagers, and yet it does not justify the reasons for choosing certain sightings over others. For in the end, each and every sighting is a memorable moment that confirms VENT's Holiday Season in Panama as an exceptional and incomparable choice for those who want to spend their holidays in search of tropical birds.