Fall at Panama's Canopy Tower Oct 11—18, 2014

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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“Oh my god, there’s a Sunbittern in the road right next to us!” I “whispered” in a semi-suppressed voice. I had heard a rustling noise to my right and turned to see this localized and infrequently seen species (for this area) emerging from the dense vegetation on the side of Pipeline Road no more than fifteen feet away. I figured it would dart across the road and provide only fleeting views at best for the group. Instead, the bird trotted slowly down the road, moving straight away from us, but allowing lengthy study. When it reached a bright sunlit portion roughly thirty yards away, it suddenly stopped and flared its wings to the side. An incredible tapestry of black, yellow, red, and white was revealed, not unlike an intricately woven Native American blanket, or some magnificent tropical butterfly. For one glorious minute this spectacular Sunbittern simply posed in the light, wings spread wide open, in one of those rare, and simply unforgettable, moments of birding.

Sunbittern, Pipeline Rd., Panama, Oct. 14, 2014

Sunbittern, Pipeline Rd., Panama, Oct. 14, 2014— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Our Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower tour was filled with many highlights and moments that we will not soon forget. That same day on Pipeline Road, we marveled at a Streak-chested Antpitta singing its mournful song in the scope, had a pair of stunning Ocellated Antbirds nearly in our laps, and had killer views of a plethora of other great birds, such as Gray-necked Wood-Rails bathing in the road; Black-tailed, Slaty-tailed, and White-tailed trogons; Rufous and Broad-billed motmots; White-bellied, Chestnut-backed, Spotted, and Bicolored antbirds; Spot-crowned Ant-Vireo; Black-faced Antthrush; Great Jacamar; and Cinnamon Woodpecker to name a few. At the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, we watched two Great Tinamous nearly at our feet, had great views of three species of puffbirds (Black-breasted, White-necked, and White-whiskered), and found a pair of tiny Moustached Antwrens.

Ocellated Antbird, Pipeline Rd., Panama, Oct. 14, 2014

Ocellated Antbird, Pipeline Rd., Panama, Oct. 14, 2014— Photo: Barry Zimmer

One day spent in the foothills of Cerro Azul yielded an entirely new suite of birds. An incredible 15 species of hummingbirds were seen on that day including the likes of White-tipped Sicklebill, Green Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy, Brown Violet-ear (locally rare), Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Violet-capped Hummingbird, Violet-headed Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin, and Crowned Woodnymph among others. Feeders at two private residences were so abuzz with activity that we estimated over 80 individual hummingbirds were in view at once! Not to be outdone, a host of other birds joined the parade with Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle (a first for me in Panama), Spot-crowned Barbet, Speckled Tanager, Shining Honeycreeper, and Scarlet-thighed Dacnis topping the list.

Other highlights for the trip included flights of over a thousand Broad-winged Hawks from the tower; King Vultures; perched Gray-headed Kite; three Blue Cotingas in view at once; Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher from fifteen feet below eye level; an amazing 11 Prothonotary Warblers bathing at one time along a small stream; a brilliant, fluorescent, raspberry-colored Rosy Thrush-Tanager; adorable Geoffroy’s Tamarins; and a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth that spent two days right off the observation deck putting on a show from ten or twelve feet away. The list goes on and on. The richness and diversity of Panama’s natural wonders were in full display all week. I can’t wait to get back!