Panama's Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp Oct 17—25, 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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After a very successful morning birding along the Agua Caliente Road and Las Lagunas region, we had settled in to a shady area along the creek to enjoy our picnic lunch. The morning had been very productive, highlighted by a half-dozen spectacular Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, a pair of Gray-cheeked Nunlets from fifteen feet, and three Pied Puffbirds, among many other wonderful sightings.

Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Las Lagunas, Panama, October 20, 2014

Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Las Lagunas, Panama, Oct. 20, 2014— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Generally the heat of the day is the least productive for birding, and we planned on working our way back to the Canopy Camp after eating for a midafternoon break. But as lunch wound down, a Rufous-tailed Jacamar began calling from the nearby thicket. We quickly scrambled over to the forest edge, where we were almost immediately greeted by a pair of Black Antshrikes working the lower vines. This extremely localized species has a tiny world range, and was one of our big targets. As we enjoyed stellar views of the antshrikes, the Rufous-tailed Jacamar flew in almost overhead. Suddenly a pair of White-headed Wrens was spotted in the tree behind us, and as we turned to look at those, a female Amazon Kingfisher lit below eye level on a streamside perch. Where to look first? A calling Cinnamon Woodpecker created further distraction, and just as that bird was spotted, a pair of Pacific Antwrens began singing behind us. At first the antwrens proved elusive, but they were eventually lured into a vine tangle over the creek. Up to the left, a male Spot-crowned Barbet appeared and was followed very quickly by a pair of Red-rumped Woodpeckers. The flurry of bird activity was incredible, and as we turned to head back to the van, we noticed several birds bathing on a gravel bar in the middle of the stream behind us. A brilliant male Crimson-backed Tanager, two Blue-gray Tanagers, a Yellow Warbler, and a Clay-colored Thrush, all side by side, created a stunning combination of colors. Two Orange-crowned Orioles and a spectacular male Baltimore Oriole sat out in a sparsely leafed tree, creating yet another distraction. Finally, as we were almost back at the van, a Whooping Motmot glided in low and posed for a scope view. Overhead, the original Rufous-tailed Jacamar now darted out and grabbed a huge Blue Morpho in mid-air. It then perched in front of us to consume its lunch! Thus passed thirty minutes of one day of our wildly successful Canopy Camp Darien tour!

Rufous-crested Coquette, Canopy Camp, Darien, Panama, October 21, 2014

Rufous-crested Coquette, Canopy Camp, Darien, Panama, Oct. 21, 2014— Photo: Barry Zimmer

The new Canopy Camp was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Wonderful accommodations with private bathrooms, great food, and superb birding right on the grounds. We hadn’t been at the camp more than two minutes the day we arrived when three Red-throated Caracaras flew overhead, while the next morning at breakfast a Barred Puffbird interrupted our meal. Within a couple of hundred yards of the camp we tallied a great list, including the likes of Collared Forest-Falcon (a pair with one rare black morph bird), King Vulture, a flight of over 3,000 migrating raptors, Ruddy Pigeon, Keel-billed and Black-mandibled toucans, Pale-bellied Hermit, an incredible male Rufous-crested Coquette, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Olivaceous Piculets at a nest, Black-tailed Trogon, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Long-tailed Tyrant, displaying Golden-collared Manakins, and White-eared Conebill among others. 

In addition we visited a number of nearby sites which proved equally productive. The El Salto Road produced Bicolored Hawk, Golden-green Woodpecker, Red-Billed Scythebill, Bare-crowned Antbird, Double-banded Graytail, a Black-faced Antthrush so close you could almost touch it, Rufous-winged Antwren, Golden-headed Manakin, and a fly-by male Blue Cotinga, The nearby Tierra Nueva trail yielded a perched Black Hawk-Eagle, displaying Purple-throated Fruit Crows, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, and Chestnut-backed Antbird. A boat trip up the Rio Chucunaque to a remote Indian village was highlighted by three rarely seen Spectacled Parrotlets no more than 20 feet away at eye level, as well as Green Ibis, Little Cuckoo, Striped Cuckoo, and Spotted Antbird. In the vicinity of Yaviza, we found Black Oropendolas coming in to roost. This is yet another very range restricted species. The Nusagandi area produced the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, while the San Francisco Reserve gave us the endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet. Hummingbird feeders in Torti were abuzz with eight species including the likes of Black-throated Mango, Rufous-breasted Hermit, and Snowy-bellied, Scaly-breasted, and Sapphire-throated hummingbirds.

In all, we tallied an impressive 250 species of birds for the week, including 20 or so species whose Panamanian range is restricted to the eastern Darien lowlands. We also enjoyed many sightings of adorable Geoffroy’s Tamarins, in addition to White-throated Capuchins, Mantled Howler Monkeys, and two species of sloth. I can’t wait until next year!