Panama's Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp Jan 16—24, 2016

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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Kevin Zimmer was supposed to lead this wonderful VENT adventure in Eastern Panama’s Darién Lowlands, with nights at the luxurious Canopy Camp Darién. Unfortunately, Kevin was not able to leave home and I was asked to step in for him since I was just finishing the Canopy Tower and El Valle tour I lead every January. For all of the tours I lead, I write a journal each night describing the places we visit and some of the most exciting experiences we share each day. After returning home, I edit the journal and send it to all tour participants. For my Tour Report, I included target birds and some of the birds that were listed by participants in their “Top Ten.” I picked paragraphs that had different forms of transportation and included some hiking, and also tried to point out the beauty and diversity of Canopy Camp and its great dinners. The huge porch is magnificent for sitting after dark listening to the night sounds before heading back to our luxury tents.

We departed from the Riande Airport Hotel about 6:15 a.m., and soon we were rewarded with a male Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth hanging right over the road and, in the same tree, two Orange-chinned Parakeets building a nest in a termitarium. Later, a field had multiple Red-breasted Blackbirds and four Savannah Hawks. Driving east on the Pan-American Highway, we eventually reached our turnoff for Nusagandi and headed up the hill. Scarlet-thighed Dacnis was a treat. We also saw Black-and-yellow Tanager, Rufous Piha, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, and Blue-crowned Manakin.

Seven species of hummers were at the nectar feeders at our lunch stop in Tortí: Snowy-bellied, Rufous-tailed, and Scaly-breasted hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Long-billed Starthroat, and Black-throated Mango. Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Orchard Oriole, and Barred Antshrike made the stop even better.

We finally made it to our destination, Canopy Camp Darién. Before dinner, some of you added several species from the nectar feeders and banana feeders. All saw the King Vulture and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas.

After breakfast we began to bird from the area around Canopy Camp. A Swallow-tailed Kite made a pass over the hill along with a Plumbeous Kite. One of my favorites this morning was the White-tailed Trogon we called in near my tent. Some of the birds we identified near camp were Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Streaked Flycatcher, Blue-throated Goldentail, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Masked Tityra, Plain-colored Tanager, and Red-rumped Woodpecker. Down along the main entrance road we added Orange-crowned Oriole, Barred Antshrike, White-winged and Cinnamon becards, Plain Wren, and Common Black Hawk.

Once we reached the Pan-American Highway, we turned toward Yavisa. A tiny Spectacled Parrotlet landed in the tree twice, and a few dozen Blue-headed Parrots flew by before Moyo called our attention to a sleeping Great Potoo in full view. What a super start! About 20 minutes later we turned onto an unpaved road at Aligandi. We had not gone far when we heard a Striped Cuckoo. Neal spotted it and we all enjoyed scope views. While here we added Black and Great antshrikes to our ever-growing list of species seen. Our next stop was even more fun with both Spot-breasted and Cinnamon woodpeckers, White-bellied Antbird, Bright-rumped Attila, and superb looks and photographs of White-headed Wrens.

A locked gate set us up for an earlier picnic lunch than planned, but also enabled us to see a pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws fly by, get partial looks at Black-bellied Wren, and get good looks at Streak-headed and a pair of Cocoa woodcreepers. Eventually we got a key for the locked gate and arrived at the tree with hanging nests of Black Oropendolas.

The 4×4 allowed us to get into the forest reserve area where we hiked the trail that crosses back and forth over Quebrada Felix. On the drive in we added Red-throated Caracara, Bat Falcon, and White-necked Puffbird. It was extremely nice walking along this trail that was made by workers from Canopy Camp Darién. We saw many birds, but the best was the main target for this morning, Black-crowned Antpitta. Others were Golden-headed Manakin, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Stripe-cheeked and Lineated woodpeckers, White-fronted Nunbird, Buff-rumped Warbler, and two Spectacled Owls.

There were several target birds on this stretch of second growth forest. The first, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, was my number one target this afternoon, and it made us work to see it. This tiny bird chose a deep thicket and would perch just one or two feet off the ground, allowing only small windows through which it could be seen. The Double-banded Graytail chose to show itself in the tallest tree along the road. In the same tree, we got better views of Sirystes and also saw Black-crowned Tityra.

We split into two boats with three of you with me and three of you with Moyo. It was fairly quiet as we motored up the river until we reached the place where the Rio Tuquesa joins the Rio Chucunaque. Here we lucked out and got to watch a Tayra (member of the weasel family) high up in a Cecropia tree until it eventually climbed down and disappeared. What an incredible start to this day! Minutes later we disembarked and climbed up to a shady overlook to begin playing the call of Dusky-backed Jacamar…a lifer for me, when it finally showed up! Canopy Camp Darién guide Nando Quiroz discovered this pair a year ago. In a bamboo thicket, we managed to see the elusive Bare-crowned Antbird that had driven us crazy yesterday. As we meandered down this great trail, we picked up new birds and had better looks at some species we had already seen on this tour; among them were Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher, and Golden-collared Manakin. As we approached the long narrow forest lagoon, we saw a Green Ibis, and then near the far end of the lagoon we took a quick break on a nice bench overlooking the water.  

A large group of Greater Anis was seen by all, but then we split up with several of you walking along the lagoon edge with Moyo. His group saw Bicolored and Spotted antbirds, Black-crowned and Black antshrikes, and American Pygmy Kingfisher. The group that stayed with me saw a Cocoi Heron, Golden-winged Warbler, Plain Xenops, and Spectacled Caiman. When the group rejoined, we had the usual snack and drinks and then found Moustached Antwren before heading to the Native Indian village of Nuevo Vigia. 

After dinner we loaded up in the open truck and headed out for spotlighting. Best was the Black-and-white Owl we saw. Unfortunately, the Mottled Owl flew away before you got off the truck and reached Moyo, but we did see a Great Potoo, a Common Opossum, and about a dozen Common Pauraques. We heard a distant Crested Owl and several Common Potoos before heading back to camp. Another wonderful day in the Neotropics!

Stopping at the river, we picked up two very cooperative Pied Puffbirds, the tiniest of the puffbirds in Panama. A gorgeous pair of Crimson-backed Tanagers allowed photos to be taken. Crossing the river again, we added a Limpkin and then changed from the van to the open 4×4 truck for the rest of the unpaved road to a farm we call Las Lagunas. Along the way we enjoyed great looks at a pair of tiny Pacific Antwrens and a huge Lineated Woodpecker.  We bounced a few kilometers down the pasture and then enjoyed Wattled Jaçanas and new birds like Pied Water-Tyrant, Sora, Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Anhinga, and Black-capped Donacobius.

Walking into the forest on Nando’s Trail at Canopy Camp made it possible for us to see and photograph the Golden-collared Manakins. On the way out, Bob and I saw an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Blue-chested and Violet-bellied hummingbirds. On a short trip out to the Pan-American Highway for some birding along the road, we added Prothonotary and Tennessee warblers and Sooty-headed Tyrannulet. We also had much better looks at Black-chested Jay. Most impressive were the 50+ Blue-headed Parrots squawking away and perched from the ground to the tallest trees. Patacones were our appetizer tonight as we completed our checklist for the day and then enjoyed a spaghetti dinner and chocolate ice cream for dessert. As I sit here typing the journal for today, there is a Crested Owl calling up the hill and a mournful Common Potoo calling in the distance.