Panama: Bocas del Toro Archipelago Mar 21—Apr 01, 2012

Posted by Jeri Langham


Jeri Langham

Jeri M. Langham has a Ph.D. in plant ecology from Washington State University, and after 38 years as a professor of biological sciences at California State University ...

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Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge was built on Bastimentos Island adjacent to the large Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos in Panama's Bocas del Toro Archipelago. I scouted this location in January 2011 and immediately knew it was a fantastic location for future tours. The owners and I designed an exploratory tour, and it was better than I anticipated. We saw 272 species and heard an additional 8 that never showed themselves. This is superb for a tour that only has six full and two half-days of birding. Participants also have the opportunity to snorkel, kayak, fish, or swim in the warm Caribbean waters.

Here are a few excerpts from the journal I write during every tour and later email to all participants:

The large area near our cabanas is a treasure trove of fruit. Maybe my favorite experience was the time spent at the Golden-collared Manakin lek. This is the best display I have seen in over a decade. From here we hit the narrow trail into the rainforest. There were some long quiet stretches, but we eventually reached a wonderful spot near "pineapple hill." The male Red-capped Manakins here were my favorites. We also saw Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Plain-colored Tanager, White-vented Euphonia, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, Green Honeycreepers, and a brown-throated three-toed sloth in a Cecropia tree. Outside of the rainforest again, we encountered a Stripe-throated Hermit and some Red-lored Parrots. At the open field by our cabanas, some saw Blue-headed Parrots, more White-vented Euphonias, and Boat-billed Flycatchers. Showers awaited us all before coming down to the main lodge building for appetizers and cold drinks prior to a delicious 4-course meal.

About 6:15 a.m. we were zooming along in the big boat to Chiriqui Grande, an old oil town on the mainland. The action really began when our van turned onto Twin Tanks Road and we got out. There was non-stop action for over an hour: Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Collared Araçari, Short-tailed Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, Scarlet-fronted and Olive-throated parakeets, and many more. A little further on we confirmed the presence of Smooth-billed Ani (not shown on the field guide map for here) along with great looks of Groove-billed Ani on a fence post. There were also lots of parrots, and we picked up our first Keel-billed Toucan and heard Black-mandibled Toucan. After lunch I got my first lifer of the tour, a Sulphur-winged Parakeet. For me the most impressive show of the late afternoon was a kettle of about 200 migrating Swainson's Hawks, and later 1,500–2,000 Swainson's Hawks cruising along a far ridge. At the dock we added Mangrove Swallow and Parasitic Jaeger, and on the way home a Pomarine Jaeger. The sunset was wonderful, and our checklist produced 121 species seen today with an additional 9 that were only heard. This place is fantastic!

The Soropta Canal was built long ago to bring bananas down from Costa Rica on barges for loading onto large cargo ships in the Archipelago Bay. Today we took two boats into the canal, one with all the supplies, food, drinks, extra gasoline, and two workers with Jay Viola (co-owner) as skipper. Jim Kimball (co-owner) was skipper of the second boat and it was large enough for both local guides, all of us, and for seven plastic deck chairs as well. This is really wonderful birding. Our big target bird today was the difficult-to-find Nicaraguan Seed Finch. I heard one singing, but it took a while before it perched where we could see its large (for a finch) black body and huge pink bill. We would eventually see three males along the canal. For the first hour or so there were sometimes several birds being called out at the same time, and one simply did not know which to look at first. The treat of the day, maybe the whole tour for some, was still to come. We zoomed out of the canal to Swan's Cay, about one mile offshore, where Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies nest. We spent about 40 minutes just floating off the cay with dozens of incredibly beautiful birds flying around us. Cameras were clicking non-stop. It was simply fantastic watching those gorgeous birds gliding by with their long tail feathers swaying in the wind, sometimes so close we could almost touch them. A few landed on their nests. It was very difficult to leave and head back for dinner.

We were down on the dock ready to go to the Chocolate Farm by 7:45 a.m. It is a wonderful plantation with huge overstory trees and a nice understory of cacao trees. As we walked up the stairs from the dock, mantled howlers (monkeys) greeted us with their roars. We could not have asked for a more productive morning, finally getting to see some of the larger birds: Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Pale-billed Woodpecker, both Cocoa and Northern Barred woodcreepers, Black-chested Jay, and both Slaty-tailed and Gartered (Violaceous) trogons. We had great looks at some greater white-lined bats. I gave a mini lecture on cauliflory and adventitious flowers. Dave (the owner) gave us a great tour of his small chocolate factory, showing us how chocolate is made from the cacao fruits and then offering some to taste and bars for sale.

The treat of my morning was Natalia saying, "I hear a raptor," and seconds later I heard a Black Hawk-Eagle calling on the far ridge. As we were all watching, it landed on a large tree limb. While I was getting it in the scope, a second one landed next to it, and then he jumped aboard. I have never seen this incredible species mate. Needless to say we were all riding high. Due to the time of day and the heat, it was pretty quiet, but soon a distant King Vulture got everyone excited, and the Bat Falcon we had glimpsed in flight was located perching on a tall dead tree in a cattle pasture. We must have spent 25 minutes looking at it in the scopes and watching it fly out and back again several times. As I was sitting in the main lodge writing this journal, Jim opened the front door and told me to come quickly. A Black-and-white Owl had landed on the railing of the porch. WOW! I was sorry that everyone had headed to bed long ago. I simply love this place and can't wait to come back again twice each year, once in March and again in September, the two driest times of the year and also the peak of migration.