Panama: Bocas del Toro Archipelago Mar 27—Apr 05, 2015

Posted by Jeri Langham


Jeri Langham

Jeri M. Langham has a Ph.D. in plant ecology from Washington State University, and after 38 years as a professor of biological sciences at California State University ...

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Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge was built on Bastimentos Island adjacent to the large Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos in Panama’s Bocas del Toro Archipelago. I scouted this location in January 2011 and immediately knew it was a fantastic location for VENT tours. Participants also have opportunities to snorkel, kayak, fish, or swim in the warm Caribbean waters.

An enticing example of what awaits visitors to this marvelous birding paradise can be found in excerpts taken from the journal I write during every tour and later email to all participants. These are from my 14-page journal for the March 2015 tour. Very impressive to me was that we added 22 new birds not seen on the five previous tours, including Striped Cuckoo, American Golden-Plover, and Eastern Meadowlark, which are not shown to be here on the maps in the new field guide.

After landing on Bocas del Toro Island, we were soon loaded in Jim’s boat and headed toward Bastimentos Island, home of Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.

After a wonderful lunch and siesta, we walked in the forest to “pineapple hill” and picked up Black-crowned Antshrike, White-flanked Antwren, and Chestnut-backed Antbird. On pineapple hill we added Short-billed, White-crowned (rare), and Pale-vented pigeons, Golden-collared and Red-capped manakins, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Blue Dacnis, Groove-billed Ani, Green Honeycreeper, Blue-gray Tanager, and also heard a White-throated Crake. We then visited the tiny creek pools where birds come to drink and bathe. We had superb views of male and female Crowned Woodnymph and a tiny Stripe-throated Hermit, as well as a perched Red-capped Manakin.

At our first stop on the mainland, we had a great look at thousands of Swainson’s and Broad-winged hawks that kept streaming over the hillside the entire 40 minutes we were there. At the bridge stop, we hit “pay dirt” with Ramón’s perched Collared Forest-Falcon (the first in my six tours to BDTA), Buff-rumped Warbler, Torrent Tyrannulet, a fly-by American Dipper, Blue-and-gold Tanager (only my second in six tours), Hepatic Tanager, and more. At my favorite “curve” stop, we added Natalia’s perched, immature Hook-billed Kite, a pair of Long-tailed Tyrants, Speckled and Emerald tanagers, and heard only my first Song Wren in six tours here. I could not believe how many “first in my six tours species” we encountered today. At another location some saw Crimson-collared Tanager and others picked up a pair of Bay-breasted Warblers (another first), Philadelphia Vireo, and Tawny-crowned Euphonia. The boat ride home was very fast, as the archipelago waters were almost flat. We celebrated a day where we saw 117 species of birds and added another 10 that were only heard.

We arrived at the mouth of the Soropta Canal, and once across the sandbar there was plenty of activity. Our target bird today was the difficult-to-find Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and we managed to see three males. For the first hour or so the activity was great with Thick-billed Seed-Finch, Squirrel Cuckoo, several Common (Mangrove) Black Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, the Altamira race of White-collared Manakin, and four species of kingfishers, but only a few saw the Gray-headed Kite, which has not been seen on any of my five previous tours here. We also saw two Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths. Once we arrived at the Changuinola River, we hit pay dirt with Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-winged Teal (30+), five species of herons/egrets and, best of all, three Masked Ducks, four Lesser Scaup, and an American Golden-Plover. The latter is not supposed to occur in this part of Panama, but then neither are the 6 Pectoral Sandpipers we saw today.

We ate lunch on the boat not far from where we would get out and walk the beach. There were hundreds of Ruddy Turnstones, sandpipers, and plovers, including only one Black-bellied Plover and one Greater Yellowlegs, but dozens of Spotted Sandpipers, many Least Sandpipers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated and a few Collared plovers. Next was our visit to Swan’s Cay where Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies nest. Once we were 30 yards from Swan’s Cay, we spent about 45 minutes just floating with incredibly beautiful, elegant birds flying around us. Cameras were clicking like mad. Watching those gorgeous birds gliding by with their long tail feathers swaying in the wind, sometimes so close we could almost touch them, was simply fantastic.

At the ANAM ranger station several of us walked down the street and found two Rufous Motmots, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Violet-headed Hummingbird, and Ruddy Quail-Dove.  Those who stayed behind saw a Golden-winged Warbler, Crimson-collared Tanager, and Green Hermit.  From here, my goal was to try to escape the drizzle and fog. However, when we stopped at my favorite curve we encountered one of those Heaven and Hell flocks where it is impossible to get everyone on specific individuals. We added Rufous Mourner and Dusky-faced, Emerald, Silver-throated, Bay-headed, Carmiol’s, and Speckled tanagers, Yellow-throated Chlorospingus, and more. This was a very fun stop.

The drizzle had slowed so we walked this stretch with solid “La Fortuna Forest Preserve” vegetation on the hillside. We added Blue-throated Toucanet, White-throated Thrush, Black-thighed Grosbeak, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Acorn Woodpecker (which always seems out of place to me in Panama since I have them in my backyard at home), Paltry Tyrannulet, Brown-capped Vireo, a Veery, and a number of warblers: Blackburnian, Tennessee, and Black-throated Green.

We boarded our boat and headed for home, with a short stop to watch a Parasitic Jaeger chasing a Pomarine Jaeger. After our mushroom appetizers, drinks, and three-course dinner, we did our daily checklist. It was another great day in the Neotropics and our third in a row with over 100 species.

It was a calm, smooth-as-glass ocean morning as we headed to Isla Popa. We saw a nice male Mangrove Yellow Warbler as we arrived, and then Ramón spotted a distant male Snowy Cotinga. It would fly off one perch, swoop down, and then fly up to another perch. We also had great looks at another Mangrove Cuckoo. We got back to Tranquilo Bay around 10:30 a.m. so many of the group went snorkeling before lunch. Two participants, who have snorkeled and scuba dived in many places around the world, told me the reefs here are fabulous. After lunch, there were various options for the afternoon. Some headed for the bat cave, a trip that includes kayaking and walking to get to the cave entrance. Everyone reported an excellent experience.

Soon after we turned down the road to Valle Risco, we encountered an open field with a cooperative Cocoa Woodcreeper, two Gartered Trogons, lots of parrots, Giant Cowbirds, and a Snowy Cotinga. It was not foggy when we began our walk. There was a steady stream of migrating Turkey Vultures, Swainson’s Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, and Plumbeous Kites. Ken spotted a pair of soaring White Hawks. However, my top two picks were the Sulphur-rumped Tanager that I have been hoping to see since my first visit here and the usually impossible to see Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher. Little Tinamou was heard, and we saw Piratic Flycatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Rufous Motmot, White-crowned Parrot, Keel-billed Toucan, Long-billed Gnatwren, and more.

One big goal today was to see, and hopefully photograph, the Striped Cuckoo I heard three days ago. It finally cooperated beautifully for views and photos. This species was not shown to occur in this part of Panama, so it was important to properly document it. I love finding birds whose range we extend, and it has happened now on all six Bocas del Toro Archipelago tours.