Fall at Panama's Canopy Tower Oct 13—20, 2012

Posted by David Ascanio


David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent 30+ years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, the Amazon River, ...

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Panama is one of my favorite birding destinations. Imagine this small country as if it were a jigsaw puzzle; it would have a blue corner, some green pieces, some gold pieces, and other sections that would be remarkably rufous and brown.

The Canopy Tower

The Canopy Tower— Photo: David Ascanio

In the same way, our tour participants brought with them different expectations—different pieces of that jigsaw puzzle. Those who wanted to see colorful birds were rewarded with views of trogons, cotingas, toucans, tanagers, motmots, honeycreepers, and hummingbirds. Those who wanted to see elusive and rare species saw Ocellated Antbird, Bicolored Antbird, Moustached Antwren, Streak-chested Antpitta, furtive wrens, White-bellied Antbird, and Rosy Thrush-Tanager. For those who came to see migrating hawks, the Canopy Tower was a great site for watching thousands of Swainson's Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Broad-winged Hawks swarming on thermals to continue their paths to South America.

On Pipeline Road we discovered Little Tinamou, enjoyed watching a lek of Long-billed Hermits, and saw a flock of aracaries, a family group of Cinnamon Woodpeckers, the skulky Fasciated Antshrike, and another family group of Dot-winged Antwrens. This road was built during World War II as a pipeline for transferring fuel from the ocean to the Caribbean Sea. The war finished, the pipeline was never used, and the road remained untouched, leaving behind one of the great lowland forest patches of Central America. This location is so good that it deserved a second visit. On our last morning we visited the Discovery Center and from the tower Alex spotted two male Blue Cotingas! We enjoyed prolonged scope views of both birds.

Cinnamon Woodpecker

Cinnamon Woodpecker— Photo: David Ascanio


Achiote was another special location. In the lowlands of the Caribbean side, we visited swamp forest, black mangrove, red mangrove, farmland, and cocoa plantations. Here, a pair of the unpredictable White-headed Wren was found after an extensive search, and we watched both individuals as they climbed heavy, mossy branches, inspecting them for arthropods. This species is a cousin of the North American Cactus Wren and the South American Striped-backed Wren. We also had scope views of Black-tailed Trogon (in mangroves, unlike the ones found in South America) and Moustached Antwren foraging with a feeding flock containing Western Slaty-Antshrike, White-flanked Antwren, and Spot-crowned Antvireo.

Other field trips included half-day visits to Metropolitan Park (we saw the endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet!), the Ammo Dump (where we had astonishing views of Prothonotary Warbler), the Old Gamboa Road (where we learned about lek-mating behavior while enjoying Lance-tailed Manakin), and Semaphore Hill (where an ant swarm was enjoyed with several army ant specialists).

But our tour was more than birds. Several mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and butterflies filled our daily trips. We also laughed a lot, and I appreciated the camaraderie and good sense of humor, even when the rain seemed to dim our enthusiasm during one afternoon outing. I am confident we will all have great memories of the time we spent at the wonderful Canopy Tower.