Panama's Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp Oct 03—11, 2015

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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We arrived at the spot along the Rio Tuquesa around 8:30 AM, where some ten months earlier one of the Canopy Camp guides had discovered a pair of Dusky-backed Jacamars. This range restricted species (found only in easternmost Panama and in northern Colombia) is seldom seen by anyone. We had high hopes, however, as we knew that groups prior to ours had been able to relocate these special birds. Our boat trip upriver to this location had already netted us many great birds for the morning, including Green-and rufous Kingfisher, Crane Hawk, a pair of Chestnut-fronted Macaws, and a dozen or more Black Oropendolas (whose world range is as tiny as that of the jacamars). We quickly disembarked and set up a vigil watching the cecropia trees across the river where the jacamars had been known to hang out. Quickly someone in the group spotted a stunning Semiplumbeous Hawk perched almost right over our heads. While enjoying superb views of the hawk, we noticed a striking Capped Heron flying across the river. It landed in a bare tree allowing excellent scope views. Shortly an immature Gray-headed Kite appeared and also perched out in the open. A Pied Puffbird was next in the procession. Many good birds were being seen, but no sign of the jacamars. On this sunny morning, the temperatures were rising and our hopes diminishing as time passed. Then, suddenly,Domi (our local guide) heard the jacamar give a faint call on our side of the river. We quickly rushed to a spot where we could scan the tree tops and within moments had found not one, but two Dusky-backed Jacamars side by side! For the next twenty minutes we were able to watch and photograph these incredible birds, which were a lifer for everyone in the group, including me!

The prize of the day, and perhaps the whole trip, was a pair of Dusky-backed Jacamars along the Rio Tuquesa. This range restricted species is rarely seen anywhere.

Dusky-backed Jacamar— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Of course, this was just one exciting moment of many on our just completed Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp tour. We started our tour in the foothills of Nusagandi as we worked our way eastward towards the Darien. Our time in this area was brief, but we tallied stellar views of Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant (the smallest passerine in the world at 2.5”), Bay Wren, Bat Falcon, perched Brown-hooded Parrots, Black-mandibled and Keel-billed toucans, Collared Aracari, Green Honeycreeper, and a flock of Tawny-crested Tanagers to name a few. Continuing on to the town of Torti along the Pan-American Highway, we enjoyed not only a tasty lunch, but also seven species of hummingbirds visiting the restaurant feeders. With Rufous-tailed, Snowy-bellied, Scaly-breasted, Sapphire-throated, and Blue-chested hummingbirds, Rufous-breasted Hermit, and Long-billed Starthroats buzzing all around, it was hard to concentrate on eating! By late afternoon we had arrived at the Canopy Camp, a luxurious African-style tented camp replete with spacious accommodations, private bathrooms, hot water showers, and delicious food. A flight of 4,000 Broad-winged Hawks over the camp clearing capped off a great day.

Back at Torti for lunch, this Snowy-bellied Hummingbird stole the show!

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Throughout the ensuing week we would have countless memorable moments. Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Black-collared Hawk, and perched Black Oropendola were all tallied at Yaviza. Red-throated Caracara, Golden-green Woodpecker, Double-banded Graytail, Black Antshrike, male Blue Cotinga, Choco Sirystes, and Golden-headed Manakin were seen along the El Salto Road. The Agua Caliente Road and Las Lagunas area yielded Red-throated Caracara, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Black-capped Donacobius, Pied Water-Tyrant, Pacific Antwren, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, and Yellow-hooded Blackbird. The Embera village of Nuevo Vigia produced the highly sought Spectacled Parrotlet in addition to Little Cuckoo, while the grounds of the camp itself gave us Black-tailed Trogon, Black-faced Antthrush, Golden-collared Manakin, Spot-crowned Barbet, Pale-bellied Hermit, Barred Puffbird, and Mottled Owl.

On our final day heading back into Panama City, we made a midafternoon stop near Lake Bayano. We were still missing one big target, the White-eared Conebill, but incredibly we found a pair right next to the road as time was running out! Our luck had continued all the way to the end.