Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Extension Oct 20—25, 2012

Posted by David Ascanio

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David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent 32 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the Amazon River, ...

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It is virtually impossible to visit any other location in Central America that matches the mosaic of wonderful birds we saw at the Canopy Lodge. A sample includes Tody Motmot, Black-crowned Antpitta, Snowcap, Brown-billed Scythebill, White-tipped Sicklebill, Elegant Euphonia, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Dull-mantled Antbird, Veraguan Mango, and three species of owls: Mottled, Tropical Screech-, and Spectacled.

On this short but bird-rich extension to our Canopy Tower tour, we encountered some old friends including various tanagers, and a couple of motmots and hummingbirds, but we were also introduced to a whole new world of birds in which the Black-crowned Antpitta and Elegant Euphonia stood out as favorites.

Elegant Euphonia, juvenile

Elegant Euphonia, juvenile— Photo: David Ascanio

During our first full day we visited the surroundings of El Valle, an ancient volcanic crater, where a parade of tanagers and warblers gave us a wonderful introduction to the birds of this region. Here, Black-and-yellow Tanager was new for some of us while Tawny-crested Tanager and Rufous-capped Warbler were new for the trip.  In a virtual edge habitat, the secretive Black-crowned Antpitta stood on the trail while giving a rattle-like alarm call. After a deserved siesta, we visited Cariguana, located close to the community of El Valle. Here, among beautiful gardens and spectacular houses, we glimpsed Garden Emerald and came across another pair of the popular Barred Antshrike.

On our second full day in this region we boarded two SUVs and headed to the rough terrain of Altos de María, a landscape of karstic hills that is said to lie at the continental divide of the country. Here, the weather was more pleasant due to the elevation, and the birds were mostly new to our trip. In a non-stop procession, tanagers, euphonias, wrens, toucanets, antbirds, warblers, and hummingbirds showed up timely and in great order. Heliconia flowers were abundant and the expected visitor, the sicklebill, came out in front of us, and while clinging to the bract of the inflorescence, extracted nectar from the tubular flower. The Snowcap was also seen, but it exhibited a different foraging strategy. This diminutive hummingbird explored small flowers and in a fast, hovering maneuver got the nectar quickly, thus preventing other larger hummingbirds from chasing him away. The day ended on a paved trail contiguous to a lagoon where Long-tailed Tyrant, Orange-bellied Trogon, and Green Kingfisher were part of the welcome party. Walking deeper into the woods we found a Buff-rumped Warbler exploring the river’s edge and a Dull-mantled Antbird calling from a dark portion of the forest understory.

Our third and last full day found us in a totally different area: the Pacific lowlands. Here we visited rice fields, scrubby vegetation, farmland, and wetlands, and this mix of habitats gave us the opportunity to see shorebirds, raptors, and many tyrant-flycatchers. Upon arrival we saw Crested Caracaras flying in a straight line as if going in late to work, while the more patient and relaxed Yellow-headed Caracara was soaring in semi-circular fashion close to the flooded grassland. The diminutive Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher was admired showing the golden patches on its, and a Mouse-colored Tyrannulet demonstrated how dull and brown some members of the Tyrannidae family can be.

Our last morning brought us a surprise: among the muddy terrain we were taken to a roost of a family of Spectacled Owls, and later to a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls. After this wonderful conclusion to our birding, we drove to Panama City where we enjoyed sea bass at a restaurant in front of the Panama Canal.

From the serenade of the Plain Wren to the call notes of the antpitta, from the superlative to the diminutive, and from the brightest to the dullest, we experienced some of the best of Panama. Hasta la próxima!