Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Nov 03—10, 2012

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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Picking a favorite bird on a Canopy Lodge tour is a difficult task indeed. Our recent Fall at Panama's Canopy Lodge trip was so full of highlights that it was hard to whittle it down to a few dozen most memorable moments. The dizzying array of colors at the lodge feeders is an excellent starting point: Blood-red Crimson-backed Tanagers; velvety-black Flame-rumped Tanagers with glowing yellow rumps; stunning Rufous Motmots clad in green, blue, and rusty-orange with ridiculous racketed tails; gemlike Thick-billed Euphonias darting from feeder to feeder; powder-blue Blue-gray Tanagers too numerous to count; and wild Chestnut-headed Oropendolas looking like reincarnations of Heckle & Jeckle. The lodge feeder display is indeed a sight to behold.

 
Once the tray feeders were stocked with bananas, the birds appeared quickly. This incredible male Crimson-backed Tanager was a crowd pleaser.

This incredible male Crimson-backed Tanager was a crowd pleaser.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

 
  

Of course, the El Valle region of Panama offers so much more. Around the town of El Valle itself, we had a roosting Tropical Screech-Owl from twenty feet away, fabulous Blue-crowned Motmots, and spiffy Lance-tailed Manakins. Near the Canopy Adventure, we marveled at a roosting White-tipped Sicklebill (a large hummingbird with an improbable decurved bill) at the base of a 200-foot waterfall, had close views of the highly sought Tody Motmot, enjoyed close studies of two-toed and three-toed sloths, had scope views of a perched White Hawk, and had prolonged looks at a male Purple-crowned Fairy perched practically over our heads. Back on the lodge grounds, roosting Mottled Owls right outside our rooms were a treat, as were the male Great Antshrike in the garden, the Long-billed Starthroat that came in daily to the Erythrina tree, Orange-chinned Parakeets, and the Orange-billed Sparrow with its fluorescent bill coming in for bread crumbs behind the dining area.

Venturing further out to an area known locally as La Mesa, we tallied such gems as Spot-crowned Barbet, Blue-throated Toucanet (which we watched from twenty feet for over ten minutes), the always stunning male Spotted Antbird, Silver-throated Tanager, Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, and Blue-headed Parrot. Heading down the Caribbean slope towards Jordanal netted a different group of birds with highlights including Broad-billed Motmot (our fourth motmot species for the trip), the localized Barred Puffbird, a rare White-whiskered Puffbird, Green and Red-legged honeycreepers, a displaying male Crested Oropendola, and White-shouldered Tanager among others.

 
For the first time ever, Spectacled Owls were located in El Valle this past summer. A pair raised this fledged young right in town. It was voted the favorite bird of the tour.

A pair of Spectacled Owls raised this fledged young right in town. It was voted the favorite bird of the tour.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

 
  

 Another day was spent at a higher elevation in Altos del Maria. Despite a foggy and misty day, we had an impressive list with the likes of Snowcap, Collared Aracari, Orange-bellied Trogon, Tufted Flycatcher, the incomparable Black-and-yellow Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Long-tailed Tyrant, and Tawny-capped Euphonia.

Finally we headed down to the dry Pacific lowlands which added a ton of new species to our ever-growing list. Dapper Fork-tailed Flycatchers were numerous. The endemic Veraguan Mango put on a show next to the road. A Straight-billed Woodcreeper landed almost right over our heads. Brown-throated Parakeet, Savanna Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing—the new birds kept rolling in.

Surely from all of these amazing sightings one could pick a favorite bird of the tour. However, the top three picks by the group have yet to be mentioned. The lodge guides had recently found a pair of Elegant Euphonias (a species usually seen only in the westernmost portion of Panama) on a particular trail at Altos del Maria. After some searching we found them just before we had to leave and enjoyed lengthy studies of the male and female below eye level, their glowing sky-blue crowns lighting up even on a foggy day. This was voted the third favorite bird of the tour. Coming in at number two was the comical male Barred Antshrike with its bizarre prison uniform plumage and wild white eyes. We saw two of these wonderful birds during the trip. Finally, topping the list were the adult and fledged juvenile Spectacled Owls that had been found in El Valle for the first time ever. We saw them on two different occasions and were able to study and photograph these amazing owls at leisure. Such are the possibilities at Panama's Canopy Lodge!