Panama's Canal Zone: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Nov 08—14, 2013

Posted by David Ascanio

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David Ascanio

David Ascanio, a Venezuelan birder and naturalist, has spent over 35 years guiding birding tours throughout his native country, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, the...

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Our inaugural Panama’s Canal Zone: Relaxed & Easy Tour provided more than expected: a superb mix of Neotropical birds, frenzied bird feeders, siesta time every day, lots of laughs, beautiful hummingbirds, delicious meals, and above all, easy birding.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird— Photo: David Ascanio

Our headquarters for birding the Panama Canal was the peaceful Canopy B&B in the town of Gamboa, near Lake Gatún. Gamboa is located at the edge of Soberanía National Park, thus providing great opportunities to look for trogons, puffbirds, motmots, caciques, orioles, and several tyrant flycatchers. Additionally, we had daily encounters with euphonias, honeycreepers, tanagers, parakeets, hummingbirds, and becards. The rush of tanagers and parakeets when bananas were served at the bird feeder was remarkable. I could not give it a better name than “Black Friday bird behavior”!

Aside from the Gamboa area, on this weeklong tour we explored other locations, among them, the Discovery Tower (reaching the tower’s top was optional), Semaphore Hill, the Gamboa Resort area, the Chagres River, and Gatún lake (a boat trip). We also birded Metropolitan Park and Pipeline Road.

I believe everyone would agree that seeing the Blue Cotinga through the scope stands out as one of the magical moments of our trip. It was only about 20 minutes after arriving at the top of the tower that Eliecer, in a whispering manner, commented, “I think I’ve got a Blue Cotinga.” In seconds both scopes were positioned to inspect the metallic-blue dot and YES— there was a male perched atop a dead branch. Lines formed immediately behind both scopes and everyone had astonishing views of this amazing bird.

Later, a feeding flock brought sightings of Dot-winged and Checker-throated antwrens, while the diminutive Ruddy-tailed Tyrant remained perched long enough for everyone to see it through the scope as well.

Semaphore Hill was also another great birding location and lived up to its enormous reputation. There we saw (and photographed!) Slaty-tailed Trogon, White-whiskered Puffbird, Rufous Motmot, and Gray-headed Kite.

Our home in Gamboa

Our home in Gamboa— Photo: David Ascanio

At Gamboa, every morning we were serenaded with the bum notes of a pair of Spectacled Owls, as well as the cacophony of several Gray-headed Chachalacas. Additionally, the elusive White-throated Crake sang from a wet grassland contiguous to a pond, while Common Pauraque was active near the lightbulbs, probably feeding on moths attracted by the lights.

Aside from the birding, a visit to the canal museum at the Miraflores Locks provided perspective on the construction of the canal and the process by which it was widened with new locks. A visit to Old Panama (the first settlement by Spaniards) and the Casco Viejo area was an enriching cultural and historical experience.

I want to thank you for joining me on one of VENT’s Relaxed & Easy tours. I hope your experience in Panama was a rewarding learning experience in many ways, from the alpha-male manakin and its exhausting job at the lek to an appreciation of the common English names of hummingbirds and a better understanding of the complexity of Neotropical birds.

I look forward to guiding you again. You may want to consider two of my favorite destinations in Venezuela, or VENT’s newest R&E destination: Costa Rica!