Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Nov 02—09, 2013

Posted by Barry Zimmer


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...

Related Trips

The initial introduction to the Canopy Lodge is always a memorable one, and this year was no different. The well-stocked feeders here attract an amazing array of birds and it seems as though every color in the rainbow is represented.

Powder-blue Blue-gray Tanagers arrived first and in numbers. Then, suddenly, a flash of deep velvety-red revealed the presence of a male Crimson-backed Tanager. This species is known locally as “sangre de toro,” or blood of the bull, and there is no mystery as to where this name originated. Thick-billed Euphonias, like little gold and blue jewels, dropped out of the shrubbery onto the tray feeders. A pair of Flame-rumped Tanagers came next—the male with its plush black plumage and improbably bright yellow rump. A Palm Tanager was spotted joining the feeding frenzy, followed quickly by a Summer Tanager, several Clay-colored Thrushes, and three goofy-looking Chestnut-headed Oropendolas. To the left, a brilliant Snowy-bellied Hummingbird flitted about a Firebush, while a male Green Kingfisher appeared on a bare snag over the creek. A female Fulvous-vented Euphonia, a relative rarity at this location, arrived, and then a raucous group of Black-chested Jays filtered through the upper canopy in the garden.

More than a half-dozen tanager species come in to the feeders regularly. The Crimson-backed Tanager may be the most attractive of that bunch.

Crimson-backed Tanager— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Suddenly, a flash of rufous, green, and blue announced the arrival of the king of the feeders, the Rufous Motmot. With its incredible tail and stunning plumage, this bird is always a crowd pleaser. A couple of Gray-headed Chachalacas dropped down to one feeder, scattering the tanagers away. This species has only recently discovered the joys of eating bananas here, but has now become a regular member of the cast. Next in the ongoing parade was a small group of Collared Aracaries. A Bananaquit probed some Erythrina flowers while a Rufous-capped Warbler skulked through the streamside thicket. A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird noisily defended a patch of Vervain, and a pair of Red-crowned Woodpeckers chattered away on a Cecropia trunk.

We had been at the lodge for about 20 minutes and the activity had been nonstop. The staff was trying to hand out keys and give room assignments, but it was hard to tear ourselves away from the activity. I had finally persuaded everyone to turn their backs on the feeders long enough to find out which room they were in, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a Violet-headed Hummingbird just 20 feet away. This species is only occasionally seen at the lodge itself, and I began to think that getting to our rooms was a lost cause!

Another shot of a Rufous Motmot in all its glory!

Rufous Motmot— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Of course a visit to the Canopy Lodge is about so much more than the amazing feeder spectacle in the garden. Nestled into the caldera of an ancient volcano and surrounded by good, accessible foothills forests, there are a great number of special mid-elevation species to be found nearby. In an area above the lodge known as La Mesa we had fantastic views of the rarely seen Black-crowned Antpitta, an even rarer Tiny Hawk, Russet Antshrike, Slaty Antwren, Silver-throated and Tawny-capped tanagers, and a Dull-mantled Antbird from ten feet. A family of Spot-crowned Barbets, several Keel-billed Toucans, Broad-billed Motmot, and a group of Dusky-faced Tanagers were along the roadside just above the lodge, while brilliant Orange-billed Sparrows at dawn outside the dining room were a group favorite.

At an even higher elevation in Altos del Maria, we enjoyed the likes of Snowcap, Brown Violetear, White-tailed Emerald, Emerald Toucanet, Orange-bellied Trogon, Streak-chested Antpitta,  Spotted Woodcreeper, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Ochraceous Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Pale-vented Thrush, and the adorable Dwarf Squirrel.

Normally a very skulking species, this male Great Antshrike and the begging juvenile that was following it around sat right out in the open for several minutes near Jordanal.

Great Antshrike and begging juvenile— Photo: Barry Zimmer



On the Caribbean slope near the village of Jordanal, highlights included prolonged, walkaway scope views of a pair of Barred Puffbirds, a family group of Long-tailed Tyrants, a male Great Antshrike with a begging juvenile in tow that sat out in the open for five minutes, two more Tiny Hawks, White Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Blue-headed Parrot, Crested Oropendola, Rufous Mourner, Buff-rumped Warbler, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and more.

Shorter, somewhat drier forest at Cariguana and Valle Chiquito produced the likes of Tody Motmot, Blue-crowned Motmot, the rarely seen White-thighed Swallow, a roosting family of Spectacled Owls, Common Potoo, Streaked Flycatcher, and Yellow-backed Oriole among others.

Finally, we visited the Pacific lowlands in the vicinity of Juan Hombron and El Chiru. On this last day, we added an impressive 47 new species to our ever-growing list. Aplomado Falcon, Pearl Kite, Savannah Hawk, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Brown-throated Parakeet, Lance-tailed Manakin, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, and Fork-tailed Flycatcher were among the more memorable.

A roosting Mottled Owl at the Canopy Adventure just before we left for Panama City was the icing on the cake.

In all we topped 240 species for our wonderful week in Panama, enjoyed the cooler temperatures of the foothills, and saw myriad foothills specialties. Who could ask for more?