New Year at Panama's Canopy Tower Dec 27, 2015—Jan 03, 2016

Posted by Tony Nunnery

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Tony Nunnery

Tony Nunnery grew up in Mississippi, then moved to Texas, and graduated from Stephen F. Austin University. After teaching elementary school for several years, he moved to M...

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As I mentioned in the Canopy Lodge Pre-Trip report, it is always a pleasure to spend the Holiday Season in Panama guiding for VENT, which allows me to share some of this country’s spectacular natural beauty with others. As stated earlier, one of our main focuses is upon birds of which we have plenty of opportunities to witness. As in previous years, this Holiday Season in Panama Tour provided a variety of memorable moments.

Following a very successful five days of birding on the Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, the Holiday Season in Panama Tour participants prepared to celebrate the New Year by concentrating our attention on another week of exotic tropical birding. The New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower trip begins with sunrise and coffee on the elevated deck surrounding the top of the tower. One of the first birds to be seen was a Keel-billed Toucan perched in a nearby tree, calling as it swung its large colorful bill from one side to another. This was followed by a pair of Red-lored Parrots flying by noisily in the morning sun. Soon afterwards we put the scope on a Scaled Pigeon as a Brown-capped Tyrannulet demanded our attention in a nearby tree. To our delight, that same tree suddenly was visited by Palm Tanagers, Plain-colored Tanagers, and a pair of Blue Dacnis and Green Honeycreepers. The dawn chorus, the sunrise, the birds, the view of the surrounding forest bordering up to the Panama Canal, and the Panama City landscape all contributed to an exciting start for this tour.

After breakfast we strolled down the entrance road from the Canopy Tower, which has lovely forest on both sides. Just a few steps out of the gate we noticed a Great Tinamou sitting quietly near the road in the understory. We were able to admire and thoroughly appreciate this rare sighting before it slowly disappeared into the thick brush. This leisurely stroll down the road also resulted in us having great views of Broad-billed Motmot, Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, and Slate-colored Grosbeak, together with a feeding flock of mixed species which included Fasciated Antshrike, Black-crowned Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, and Spotted Antbird. Another noteworthy sighting came when a Green Shrike-Vireo joined a mixed flock and descended much lower than its usual habit of remaining high in the forest canopy. This brightly colored but difficult to see species fed out in the open mid-canopy as we looked on in admiration. Of course, there were many more exciting moments to be sure, but understand—all this has taken place on the very first morning before midday. It is no wonder so many birders flock to experience the natural beauty and wonders that Panama has to offer.

During our time at Canopy Tower we made various excursions to nearby locations including Cerro Azul, Cerro Jefe, Pipeline Road, Summit Ponds, Gamboa, and Metropolitan Park, as well as enjoying time to visit the Mira Flores Locks at the Panama Canal. It would take a sizable treatise to cover all the truly exciting moments during our tour, therefore I will condense it to a few of the most outstanding bits. For example, the satisfaction of finally, after much patience, observing the White-throated Crake come into full view between the dense reeds. Another exemplar was the Common Potoo perching by day on a branch as it blended in, giving the appearance of a continuation of the branch itself. Then there was the Rufous-crested Coquette flirting with our imagination as it came to rest and display on a nearby branch. Another case in point was the Blue Cotinga that sat perched in the morning sun from the Discovery Center Tower, where we also saw White-necked Puffbird, Collared Aracari, Blue-headed Parrot, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, and Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, together with various other species. The Black-bellied Wren, known only from Costa Rica to Western Colombia, is usually the most difficult Thryothorus Wren to observe. This encounter was no exception; however, it did happen to wander into the open a few times from the dense undergrowth of a thicket nearby while we watched from the open-air vehicle we used to bird along Pipeline Road. Yet another exciting moment occurred when we came across a tanager feeding flock at Cerro Jefe, which included such gems as Speckled Tanager, Rufous-winged Tanager, Emerald Tanager, and Black-and-Yellow Tanager. Who could forget the Great Jacamar that sat out in the open for all to see, or the Black-breasted Puffbird, the White-whiskered Puffbird, or the White-tailed, Gartered, and Black-throated trogons.

And so the memorable moments could go on and on to fill up a lengthy report, but I trust you get the idea of just how exciting and productive a VENT tour to Panama can be. After so many trips leading these tours, I never cease to be amazed at all we observe and never lose appreciation of my opportunity to be able to share these moments with those on the Holiday Season in Panama Tour.