New Year at Panama's Canopy Tower Dec 27, 2013—Jan 03, 2014

Posted by Tony Nunnery

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Tony Nunnery

Tony Nunnery grew up in Mississippi, then moved to Texas, and graduated from Stephen F. Austin University. After teaching elementary school for several years, he moved to M...

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After a very productive birding experience during our Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, we set our sights toward the Panama Canal. Here we would begin the New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower portion of the Holiday Season tour. The Canopy Tower is definitely a location that all birders should make an effort to visit at least once. The tower is located within the Soberania National Park and provides excellent birding opportunities literally from every window, and especially from the top of the tower.

Canopy Tower trips always start with sunrise and coffee on top of the tower, listening to the dawn chorus and watching the treetops come alive with birds. Collared Forest-Falcon and Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon called from the trees as a Great Tinamou called from the forest floor. As the morning began to usher in more light, the first bird in the scope was a Keel-billed Toucan. Next, Blue Dacnis and Green Honeycreeper flew in to the Cecropia tree closest to the tower, followed by Palm and Plain-colored tanagers. Then Scarlet-rumped Cacique joined the group before we were called to the scope again to look at a Scaled Pigeon. Red-lored Parrots circled the tower with the morning sun on their wings, as Mantled Howler Monkeys loudly hollered and bellowed from the nearby trees. We turned our attention to a Green Shrike-Vireo incessantly calling, “You can’t see me, you can’t see me!” It is brightly colored, but difficult to see since it has the habit of blending into the foliage and remaining high in the trees. Nonetheless, from our vantage point above the canopy we began our diligent search. Then Ronna shouted, “I see it!” and all binoculars focused in the direction of her pointed finger. There, out in the open in a small window in the foliage, sat the prize our eyes were hoping to find. Heard far more often than seen, we celebrated our good fortune of such an excellent view before heeding the call to come to the breakfast buffet down below. The table conversation was going back over all the excitement of the early morning when Neil called out, “Blue Cotinga!” Just outside the window in the nearest Cecropia tree sat a male Blue Cotinga.

After breakfast we walked down to the entrance where we came across a group of Geoffroy’s Tamarins. A pair of White-whiskered Puffbirds perched on an exposed branch for all to see. We were able to call in a Cinnamon Woodpecker that Gilberete had especially been hoping to see. There was also a mixed flock with Black-crowned Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Red-capped Manakin, and Long-billed Gnatwren. So much excitement and so many birds, and to think this was only the first morning of our tour!

I could write volumes about each day and all the awesome moments that presented themselves, but I will confine myself to just some of the outstanding highlights. I’ll start with our day-trip to Cerro Azul. That morning we visited the garden of Jerry and Linda Harrison where their bird feeders provide a very spectacular show indeed. The hummingbirds there included White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, Green Thorntail, Rufous-crested Coquette (female), White-vented Plumeleteer, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Crowned Woodnymph, and Blue-chested Hummingbird. The birds that visited their banana feeders included Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Crimson-backed Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Palm Tanager, Blue-gray Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. There were also both Hepatic Tanager and Summer Tanager, plus Thick-billed Euphonias. We spent most of the morning sorting through the myriad of birds just an arm’s-length away. There was also a Black Hawk-Eagle that soared overhead. Just before we left, a troop of Geoffroy’s Tamarins acrobatically maneuvered their way to the banana feeders. We thanked Jerry and Linda for opening their home to us before continuing on to our lunch destination.

While eating our lunch we had marvelous looks at Violet-headed and Violet-capped hummingbirds, and an exceptional look at a male Rufous-crested Coquette feeding on Pentas lanceolata flowers. After lunch we came across a mixed flock with Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, White-ruffed Manakin, Long-billed Gnatwren, Golden-winged Warbler, Speckled Tanager, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis. One last stop at Cerro Jefe produced a flock with Black-and-yellow Tanager and Emerald Tanager, but the crowning moment came when we were watching a Slate-colored Seedeater and suddenly saw a pair of Stripe-cheeked Woodpeckers fly in to a tree near the trail. This rather quiet and inconspicuous endemic woodpecker was a fitting end to a memorable day.

A few more notable sightings included a Bat Falcon perched on the water tower at Summit ponds. The flock behind Gamboa Resort produced Collared Aracari, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Cinnamon Becard, Bay Wren, Black-headed Saltator, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, and both Yellow-backed and Yellow-tailed orioles. At famous Pipeline Road we came across Slaty-tailed, White-tailed, and Gartered trogons, plus Cinnamon Woodpecker and Slate- colored Grosbeak. The highlight of the day there was watching a pair of Great Jacamars excavating a nest in an old terminary. David and Nancy jokingly pointed out that this was a civilized and comfortable way to watch birds as we sat in the back of the 4×4 vehicles observing one of the largest of jacamars.

Another day at Pipeline Road found us in the early morning high above the canopy on the Discovery Center Tower. Here we had great looks at Black-breasted Puffbird and Pied Puffbird, as well as Crimson-crested Woodpecker. A Gray-headed Kite perched out in the open on an exposed branch that we quickly placed in the scope to admire. Brown-headed, Red-lored, and Mealy parrots circled the tower on various occasions and perched nearby. We had a very special moment as we looked down on a mixed flock which included Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Green Shrike-Vireo, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher foraging among the closest trees. While birding Metropolitan Park, a pair of Black-throated Trogons perched and posed for cameras just beside the trail, while a male Lance-tailed Manakin seemed to tempt and tease us to look at him. There was also a fast-moving flock with Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Lesser Greenlet, White-shouldered Tanager, and the Panamanian endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet. In addition we had White-bellied Antbird and Orange-billed Sparrow moving along the ground underneath the flock. Of course everyone was excited by the Common Potoo perched on a snag at the entrance of the park.

One last great sighting took place during a night ride in search of owls and mammals. Searching through the trees with a spotlight, we came across something I have never seen on any previous trip, nor had the local guide. Just under the canopy of a tree shone a bright blue object. Upon further inspection it turned out to be a male Blue Cotinga sleeping.

There were many memorable moments with spectacular sightings of various species during both our Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip and our New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower tour. It all made for a fabulous Holiday Season to remember for years to come. As I mentioned before, the Canopy Tower is definitely a location that all birders should make an effort to see at least once, as confirmed by the participants on our tour who were participating in their third VENT trip to Panama. So next Holiday Season, whether it be your first time or an additional time, I highly recommend VENT’s Christmas and New Year tours to Panama. I hope to see you there!