Panama's Canal Zone: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Nov 16—22, 2013

Posted by David Ascanio

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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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Giving a name to the rush of bright and colorful tanagers and honeycreepers when bananas are supplied at a feeder in Panama can be an interesting experience. You could call it a mosaic of plumages, a cacophony of birds (thanks to Jim for that one!), a dance of lively colors or, simply, the best way to start a Relaxed & Easy tour!

Orange-chinned Parakeet

Orange-chinned Parakeet— Photo: David Ascanio

This week of birding at the Panama Canal also gave us the opportunity to be delighted by other Neotropical birds including trogons, hummingbirds, toucans, and motmots.

Our first day found us exploring the surroundings of the town of Gamboa. This area (once the headquarters of the dredging division of the canal) is located at the edge of Soberania National Park, thus offering an excellent mix of habitats for many of the birds we saw this week.  Daily parades of Gray-headed Chachalacas competed with Orange-chinned Parakeets to be the most popular bird at the feeders. There were also Green and Red-legged honeycreepers, Blue Dacnises (males and females), Golden-hooded and Plain-colored tanagers, and the ubiquitous Palm Tanager, along with his best friend, the Blue-gray Tanager.

Hummingbirds also had their turn, and what a way to show up! A territorial male White-necked Jacobin decided that both feeders in a corner of the garden were his own. While photographing him (and we never got tired of seeing him), he gave us different views: from his front and back, sideways, with his tail fanned, and even taking a bath during a midday downpour. A few feet away, the Black-breasted Mango took control of the blooming African Tulip tree, and Purple-bellied Hummingbirds had their property at the Discovery Center contiguous to Pipeline Road.

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin— Photo: David Ascanio

We also saw an assortment of unique birds. In Gamboa, the exquisite Song Wren put on an unforgettable show, while army ant specialist Bicolored Antbird sat nicely next to the paved road. At Pipeline Road we enjoyed views of two almost-impossible-to-see tinamous (Little and Great), and a male Golden-collared Manakin was followed by a mini lecture on lek behavior.

Semaphore Hill was our stakeout for Red-capped Manakin, Great Jacamar, and Broad-billed Motmot, along with decidedly less conspicuous birds such as Southern Bentbill and Panama Flycatcher.

On our last morning we visited the Casco Viejo (old quarters) and the ruins of Old Panama. Here we enjoyed lectures about the foundation of the city and the importance of the Panama isthmus in Vasco Nuñez de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean (named Mar del Sur at the time). We also visited the St. Joseph church golden altar, and learned how it was saved from Morgan’s pillage. Our nights in the restored Casco Viejo (old quarters) allowed us to enjoy great architecture as well.

I hope that you enjoyed the mix of birds, mammals, culture, and architecture offered by our Panama’s Canal Zone Relaxed and Easy tour.

There is more to come with our Relaxed & Easy program. Next year we will introduce our Costa Rica R&E tour, and soon after I will design an itinerary for a smooth R&E Cuba tour. Stay tuned!