Panama's Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Nov 07—13, 2014

Posted by David Ascanio


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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As I compile this Field List, my mind is wandering among the wonderful images and memories of our Panama´s Canal Zone Relaxed & Easy tour. It is difficult to pick only a handful as favorites, because there were so many, but here are a few highlights.

Well before the day broke, the chachalacas were communicating in their unique parlance, and smaller gems, such as the Blue Dacnis and the Red-legged Honeycreeper, waited around the bird feeders for the daily fruits.

Blue-chested Hummingbird

Blue-chested Hummingbird— Photo: David Ascanio

Once bananas were served in both feeders, there was an explosion of wings towards them, as if someone had called a “Black Friday deal.” But this didn´t happen without order, as a hierarchy among the attendees was followed. If the Orange-chinned Parakeets were absent, the feeders were packed with tanagers, honeycreepers, thrushes, woodpeckers, and other small passerines that kept coming and going, as if they were taking turns, to enjoy the sweet pulp of the bananas. Alas, once the parakeets noticed the feast and reached the feeder, there was no room for anyone else but them. The feeders then became packed with about 50 or more of these parakeets, and the other species had to wait patiently for them to leave. There was one species that was brave enough to face the parakeets and chase them away: the Whooping Motmot.

White-whiskered Puffbird

White-whiskered Puffbird— Photo: David Ascanio









Another highlight was the number of hummingbirds, and there was a hierarchy among these small gems as well. The two feeders at our lodge were literally owned by a pair of White-necked Jacobins, and if any other species attempted to visit them, the jacobins would attack fiercely! But when these feeder-guards were gone, it was time for the Violet-bellied, Blue-chested, and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds to become revitalized.

One experience that was most assuredly a highlight of the tour was the upper deck of the Canopy Tower itself. There a parade of birds showed up, non-stop and in an organized manner. First, a Cinnamon Woodpecker landed in the branches of a dead tree, then a Black-breasted Puffbird sang from midstory, and this was followed by the loud but tiny Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher that gave a live concert. How about the astonishing and secretive Green Shrike-Vireo that landed right in front of our noses? However, I am sure that one of the most breathtaking sightings of our tour was the Ornate Hawk-Eagle that landed on a huge branch of a tree contiguous to the road as we were coming down the Semaphore Hill, allowing shocking scope views. What an exhilarating moment!

Our visit to Pipeline Road provided even more highlights. What a birding site! We came across attilas, woodpeckers, antbirds, antshrikes, antthrushes, and much more. Photography reached a momentum when a Great Jacamar was seen perched at midstory, singing for several minutes.

Geoffroy's Tamarin

Geoffroy’s Tamarin— Photo: David Ascanio

No tour to Panama would be complete without a visit to Miraflores visitor center we spent some time learning how the locks work while seeing about 5,000+ Turkey Vultures migrating, a Peregrine Falcon, a few Brown Pelicans, and two male Magnificent Frigatebirds among other species.

Our last day found us in the ruins of the first Panama city. Here, with the tide of the Pacific Ocean retreating and exposing the mudflats, we met Venicio, who took us to a museum and then to a mudflat where we observed shorebirds, a few plovers, and a couple of American Avocets. Seeing these migrants was a reminder that many species depend on a network of habitats to survive, and that through our actions we can secure the future of the natural areas of our world.