Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Nov 01—08, 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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The loud chatter had increased from a barely audible, distant sound to nearly in our laps, yet we still could not see our elusive target. We had come to the Monte Azul lookout in hopes of seeing the highly prized Black-crowned Antpitta, a shy, rarely seen, ravine-dwelling member of the gnateater family. Twice the bird passed within 20 feet of us, but remained hidden in the dense vegetation. Now it had gone silent, and our hopes began to dim. Suddenly, however, the bird appeared in full view in the middle of the trail to our left. It posed for nearly 30 seconds, allowing us to admire the striking black and white scalloped underparts, the black head, and deep chestnut back, all tied into an odd, egg-shaped body with long legs. Like a phantom, the bird disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived, but everyone in the group had enjoyed superb views. This Black-crowned Antpitta was ultimately voted the favorite bird of the tour!

Thick-billed Euphonia, Canopy Lodge, Panama, November 7, 2014

Thick-billed Euphonia, Canopy Lodge, Panama, November 7, 2014— Photo: Barry Zimmer

This was just one moment of our excellent, weeklong trip to the Canopy Lodge in the foothills of Cocle, Panama. Starting in Panama City, we received a nice introduction to Panamanian avifauna right outside our hotel along the Panama Canal. Yellow-headed Caracara (at the swimming pool), a wonderful pair of Yellow-crowned Parrots, a female Barred Antshrike, and several Yellow-bellied Seedeaters were some of the more noteworthy birds among the 35 species tallied pre-breakfast. We arrived at the Canopy Lodge late that morning and were quickly greeted by one of the better feeder shows anywhere. Six species of tanagers (highlighted by incredible Crimson-backed and Flame-rumped), a dozen or more gem-like Thick-billed Euphonias, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Buff-throated Saltator, Baltimore Oriole, and a majestic Rufous Motmot arrived in short order. A dizzying array of activity continued with Buff-rumped Warblers along the stream, a Green Hermit feeding near the parking area, a couple of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds chasing each other through the garden, and a Purple-crowned Fairy overhead. The only question was where to look first? Predictably our lunch was interrupted also, this time by the flight of an estimated 8,500 Swainson’s Hawks pouring over the dining area. After lunch, we birded our way up the road above the lodge and found a pair of Tody Motmots, many Keel-billed Toucans, a Black Hawk-Eagle, Black-chested Jays, and Dusky-faced Tanagers.

Snowcap, Altos del Maria, Panama, November 4, 2014

Snowcap, Altos del Maria, Panama, November 4, 2014— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Each day during the week seemed more successful than the last. The La Mesa area yielded such gems as Orange-bellied Trogon, Golden-collared Manakin, Black-faced Antthrush, Spot-crowned and Plain antvireos, Slaty and Checker-throated antwrens, and Spotted Woodcreeper. The Cariguana trail produced roosting Spectacled Owls, another Tody Motmot, Blue-crowned Motmot, and Three-toed Sloth. The cloud forests of Altos del Maria may have been the most exciting of all, with highlights including the aforementioned Black-crowned Antpitta, five Snowcaps (including three males at eye level 20 feet away as we ate lunch!), Green Thorntail, White-tailed Emerald, seven Orange-bellied Trogons, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, and Tawny-crested , Silver-throated, and brilliant Black-and-yellow tanagers.

The road to Rio Indio and Jordanal (on the Caribbean Slope) offered up a different set of birds, including seven Barred Puffbirds, Gartered Trogon, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Broad-billed Motmot (completing our “motmot slam”), Long-tailed Tyrant, Sulphur-rumped Tanager, and Crested Oropendola. Pacific lowlands near Juan Hombron and Santa Clara added more than 40 species to our rapidly growing list with Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (perched 15 feet away!), Savanna Hawk, a hundred or more Southern Lapwings, Bat Falcons perched right overhead, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, the endemic Veraguan Mango, Garden Emerald, and Brown-throated Parakeet topping the list. Finally, our last morning at the lodge produced several new birds with White-tipped Sicklebill, Emerald Toucanet, and a roosting Tropical Screech-Owl among the more memorable.

In all, we tallied an impressive 255 species (a tour record), including 17 species of hummingbirds, 4 motmots, and 20+ species of tanagers. All of this while based out of the Canopy Lodge with its wonderful accommodations and excellent food. A fantastic trip all the way around!