Panama's Canopy Tower Jan 24—31, 2016

Posted by Tony Nunnery


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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Largely because of Panama’s geographical position, this little land bridge country can boast of an exceptionally awesome list of avifauna. Consequently, the last two decades have seen a continuous increase in the number of visitors interested in the local birdlife. Victor Emanuel has been an insightful pioneer in this respect by early on introducing and offering birding tours to Panama.

On the first morning of the tour we start the day from the top of the Canopy Tower. The excitement begins just before daybreak as we listen to the sounds of the dawn chorus. The Mottled Owl hoots its last call before going to roost, as Great Tinamous usher in the day with their deep, powerful, whistled notes, among the most stirring sounds of the tropical forest. The loud choruses of roaring, howling, and grunts made by the Black-mantled Howler Monkey begin as if to threaten the sun not to rise. Then the call of the Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon can be heard as the first rays of sun bring in the new day, in spite of the howlers complaints. 

The excitement increases as the first light of the sun outlines a Keel-billed Toucan swinging its head and great bill in all directions while calling out a monotonous croaking like the mechanical sound of winding up an old wooden clock. New sights and sounds are added to the unfolding drama as a wide variety of squawks, shrieks, and grunts are belted out by Red-lored Parrots, Mealy Parrots, and Brown-hooded Parrots flying in every direction over the forest canopy. They too often perch out in the open as scopes and binoculars point in their direction. Soon the Cecropia tree closest to the tower fills up with Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Blue Dacnis, and Fulvous-vented Euphonia. As incredible as this seems, it is truly a common occurrence. Although I have witnessed the same events on a number of tours, I am always amazed, and I enjoy seeing the thrill of those witnessing it for the first time.

After breakfast we engage in a leisurely stroll down the entrance road from the Canopy Tower, which has lovely forest on both sides. The comical Squirrel Cuckoo runs more than it flies along the tree branches, as a Broad-billed Motmot casually perches near the road. A Cinnamon Woodpecker scurries up the trunk of a nearby tree and then comes to rest in full view. The Crimson-crested Woodpecker appears this morning as well. Beside the road we also see both Gartered and Black-throated trogons. A mixed species flock seems to follow us down the road, teasing and tempting us to sort out its many individuals, including Black-crowned Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Dusky Antbird, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, and Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, as well as various others. I remind you, all of this excitement occurs before the mid-morning snack. This phenomenon of seeing interesting bird species repeats itself throughout the tour and keeps us thoroughly entertained during our daily outings.

During our time at Canopy Tower we make 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 considerable evaluation to cover all the truly exciting moments during our tour, therefore I will abbreviate it to a few of the most outstanding bits. For example, when we came across a pair of Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrants building a nest beside the the trail just a few meters above the ground. This tiny sized flycatcher, only 2.5 inches, is normally very difficult to see due to its small size and its tendency to forage high up in the canopy. However, we were able to observe it building its nest so close that we did not even need our binoculars to admire its behavior. Another truly exciting event was at Gamboa. We watched an incredible mixed feeding flock for nearly an hour as the various species it contained fed calmly all around us. Some of the noteworthy species in this flock included Cinnamon Becard, Golden-collared Manakin, Red-capped Manakin, Green Shrike-Vireo, Buff-breasted Wren, Lemon-Rumped Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and both Scarlet-rumped and Yellow-rumped caciques, as well as Yellow-billed Cacique. These and many other species kept us thoroughly entertained for quite some time. An additional high point was the Rufous-crested Coquette that flirted with us as it sat perched before dropping down to feed on the flowers just a meter away. Plus, the Common Potoo on a day perch was a surprising treat. Furthermore, the White-necked Puffbird and the Black-breasted Puffbird seen from the Discovery Center Tower at Pipeline Road gave us great pleasure, accompanied by various species of toucans and parrots as they flew around us before perching out in the open. The White-throated Crake presented itself after much patient searching. And, of course, the Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker was a delight to see, as it is a Panamanian endemic.

But to be sure, all the birds we came across were a delight to see. And as always, the VENT tour to Panama gives us plenty of opportunity to see some of the best and most exciting exotic species of tropical birds, as well as fascinating scenery and wildlife, that this little country of Panama has to offer.