Panama: Fall at El Valle's Canopy Lodge Oct 08—15, 2016

Posted by Barry Zimmer


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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Every week at the Canopy Lodge is a week in birders’ paradise, and this year’s trip was certainly no exception. From the spectacular birding right on the lodge grounds to the misty foothill slopes of Altos del Maria to the dry Pacific lowlands, this tour offered up an amazing variety, matched with epic quality, of Panamanian birds.

Crimson-backed Tanagers were quite numerous at the feeders.

Crimson-backed Tanager— Photo: Barry Zimmer


We began our tour with a short, pre-breakfast walk around our hotel grounds in Panama City. We tallied over 30 species of birds with highlights including Yellow-headed Caracara, Pale-vented Pigeon, perched Blue-headed Parrots, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Isthmian Wren, stunning Crimson-backed Tanagers, and numerous Yellow-bellied Seedeaters. A short-two-and-a-half-hour drive west of the city took us to El Valle, a small town nestled in the caldera of an extinct volcano. Sitting at over 2,000 feet in elevation, the air was appreciably cooler than that in Panama City. Upon our arrival at the lodge, we immediately started watching the garden feeders just off the dining area. Gem-like Thick-billed Euphonias were the first to visit the bananas, but were soon followed by Crimson-backed, Flame-rumped, and Blue-gray tanagers. A Long-billed Starthroat made an appearance in the Erythrina tree right in front of us, a very vocal Buff-rumped Warbler hopped up on the wall along the stream, and a striking Bay Wren uncharacteristically appeared in the open for a quick drink. A noisy group of Dusky-faced Tanagers moved through the garden, pausing at some ginger flowers for photographic opportunities. Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds buzzed about the vervain and visited the hummingbird feeders. The action was non-stop. Lunch soon followed, but it was interrupted by a pair of Orange-chinned Parakeets feeding on Erythrina blossoms just fifteen feet away, a quick visit from a Purple-crowned Fairy, and then by a stunning Rufous Motmot at the feeders. It was hard to stay focused on eating! Afternoon birding around the Lodge and along the road up to the Canopy Adventure yielded the likes of roosting Mottled Owls right overhead, a pair of Fasciated Antshrikes, Black-chested Jay, and a Rufous-capped Warbler. Day One was certainly a success!

In the afternoon, we birded the Cara Iguana Road. After a rain shower, we located a roosting male Spectacled Owl...

Spectacled Owl— Photo: Barry Zimmer


The following day, we visited the La Mesa area. White Hawk, Bat Falcon, Broad-billed Motmot, the regionally endemic Orange-bellied Trogon, Spotted Woodcreeper, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Tawny-crested Tanager, brilliant Black-and-yellow Tanagers, Tawny-capped Euphonia, and the always uncommon Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch topped the list. In the afternoon, we headed to the Cara Iguana Trail. We waited out a rain shower and were rewarded with roosting Spectacled Owls, a Tody Motmot from thirty feet, Lesson’s Motmot, and Rufous-breasted Wren.

A flowering tree at our second stop hosted a wide variety of birds, including this absolutely stunning male Scarlet-thighed Dacnis.

Scarlet-thighed Dacnis— Photo: Barry Zimmer


Day Three found us above 3,000 feet in the foothills of Altos del Maria. A whole different set of birds greeted us in this locale. Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Green Thorntail, Green-crowned Brilliant, Dull-mantled Antbird, Spotted Antbird, Tufted Flycatcher, Ochraceous Wren, Pale-vented Thrush, Silver-throated Tanager, more Black-and-yellow Tanagers, Common Chlorospingus, Green Honeycreeper, and stunning Scarlet-thighed Dacnis all made appearances. Additionally, the bird of the day, and of the trip, an incredible Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, was seen by four of us on the lake trail. This truly stunning bird is rare throughout its range and was a real treat for those who saw it!

The next day we headed over the Continental Divide and down the Caribbean Slope to the villages of Rio Indio and Jordanal. The localized Barred Puffbird and the very uncommon Sulphur-rumped Tanagers were stars of the day, but we also added White-whiskered Puffbird, more Broad-billed Motmots from lethal range, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Spot-crowned Barbet, Long-tailed Tyrant, Shining Honeycreeper, White-lined and Bay-headed tanagers, and Fulvous-vented Euphonia. Both species of sloth were the icing on the cake.

We had epic views of the endemic Veraguan Mango. No fewer than four individuals were present in this dense

Veraguan Mango— Photo: Barry Zimmer


A visit to the dry and warm Pacific lowlands ensued the following day. There we added an incredible 52 species to our ever-growing list. The Panamanian endemic Veraguan Mango was the bird of the day, but we tallied many other wonderful species including Blue-footed Booby, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Savanna Hawk, Pearl Kite, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Amazon Kingfisher, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Lance-tailed Manakin, and Rufous-browed Peppershrike among others.

On our last day, we birded around the lodge in the morning and headed back to Panama City in the afternoon. The Orange-billed Sparrows finally cooperated for all to see near the dining room, the newly split Gray-cowled Wood-Rail sat up on a feeder and ate bananas, and a tiny Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher allowed scope views along the road! In all, we tallied an impressive 237 species of birds with countless highlights and memories to last a lifetime!