Panama: Bocas del Toro Archipelago Mar 24—Apr 02, 2017

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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Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge was built on Bastimentos Island adjacent to the large Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos in Panama’s Bocas del Toro Archipelago. I scouted this location in January 2011 and immediately knew it was a fantastic location for VENT tours. Participants also have opportunities to snorkel, kayak, paddleboard, fish and/or swim in the warm Caribbean waters. 

An enticing example of what awaits visitors to this marvelous birding paradise can be found in excerpts taken from the journal I write during every tour and later email to all participants. These are from my 17-page journal for the March 2017 tour. Very impressive to me was that we added 11 new birds not seen on the eight previous tours.

After settling into our cabanas, we met for an introductory walk around the grounds. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird was the most common, but we added Bananaquit, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, and Red-lored Parrot, and I gave a number of mini lectures on flowers of different kinds as we proceeded to the Golden-collared Manakin lek…great looks as these males put on a show for us!

We departed about 6:20 a.m. heading to Punta Robalo on relatively flat seas. On arrival we saw Royal Terns, a Laughing Gull, and a Mangrove Swallow. We boarded the van, and off we went up to the Oleoducto Highway. We picked up Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Northern Jaçana, Green Ibis and more at the first stop, but the Great Antshrike would not let us see him. At the next stop, we had super views of Red-breasted Blackbird.  Behind the gas station we saw our first Boat-billed Herons. At Willie Mazú we observed a Cinnamon Becard gathering nest material, and the Dusky-faced Tanagers finally showed themselves, along with Long-tailed Tyrant, Blackburnian Warbler, and Green Honeycreeper. We headed for the side road on the Continental Divide and stopped to look for the Blue-and-white Swallows that are usually there and then hit the big one, as two Barred Hawks gave us brief looks. On the next stretch we saw gorgeous Golden-browed Chlorophonias, but only some saw Zeledon’s Antbird and Lineated Foliage-Gleaner.  As we returned to the main highway, we made two quick stops with Emerald Tanager as the top find.

Our target bird today, in the Soropta Canal, was the difficult-to-find-elsewhere Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, and we managed to see a close male just after entering the canal. Other special birds were three Crested Guans, Black-cowled Oriole, Double-toothed Kite, Prothonotary Warbler, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, and three species of kingfishers. From the Canal, we entered the Changuinola River where we hit pay dirt with Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Blue-winged Teal (12+), one Caspian Tern, dozens of my first American Wigeon for this tour, and seven species of herons/egrets. Another very unusual encounter was a flock of about 20 Glossy Ibises—only my second for this tour. We ate lunch on the shady, sandy shore near the mouth of the river, and then some of us took the boat to the other side of the river mouth to get a better look at the shorebirds: Wilson’s, Semipalmated, and a few Collared plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Spotted Sandpipers, and Sanderlings.  

We returned via Soropta Canal for our visit to Swan’s Cay where Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies nest. Watching those gorgeous birds gliding by with their long tail feathers swaying in the wind, sometimes so close we could almost touch them, was simply fantastic. Some even landed on their nest cavities.

As we left the building to head for the dock to visit Isla Popa and the Green Acres Chocolate Farm, I spotted a male Red-capped Manakin eating berries very close to the top of the stairs. Near Isla Popa, I called in a nice male Mangrove Yellow Warbler and then a very cooperative Mangrove Cuckoo. At Green Acres, we got to see several Black-chested Jays, one of which was feeding a juvenile. Gartered Trogons were singing. Green-and-black poison dart frogs were seen. I was very successful with calling in both Cocoa and Streak-headed woodcreepers.  As we completed the loop, we met up with Robert so he could show us how chocolate is made from the cacao seeds.

This morning, shortly after arriving at Punta Robalo by boat, we encountered maybe my best ever Swainson’s Hawk migration. There were already hundreds of birds circling above us, but it kept getting better and better, as many were still perched nearby on hillside trees. We must have spent at least 20 minutes getting more and more excited by the spectacle above us. This is why I come here at precisely this time every year. Estimating the numbers as the clouds of birds increased was nearly impossible, but I am confident guessing at least 4,000-5,000 birds.

We continued uphill and had great luck with Speckled Tanagers and Black-faced Grosbeaks. Other birds seen on the mainland today included Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Acorn Woodpecker, Sulphur-winged Parakeets, and a cooperative Blue-throated Toucanet. Later I called in two Prong-billed Barbets, and then Natalia spotted the male Orange-bellied Trogon that was calling deep in the forest. At the Smithsonian Station a male Hepatic Tanager cooperated, but I enjoyed most the incredible looks we had of a male Tropical Parula. However, we also had a male Orange-bellied Trogon that flew to the lawn twice to catch and then eat a large moth. After our appetizers, drinks, and three-course dinner, we did our daily checklist. It was another great day in the Neotropics, our third in a row with over 100 species!

Soon after we turned down the road to Valle Risco, we encountered an open field with perched White-crowned Parrots. Here we also had fly-by Crimson-fronted Parakeets, a poor look at a flyover Snowy Cotinga, and scope views of a Melodious Blackbird. We also got to see the beginning of today’s migration spectacle with our only Short-tailed Hawk. Our unpaved hiking road down to Valle Risco has little to no traffic and descends slowly down the side of the mountain, offering many views of the valley floor below. Little Tinamou was heard several times, and we saw Northern Barred-Woodcreeper; Streak-headed and Cocoa woodcreepers; two White Hawks; Long-billed Gnatwren; Scaly-breasted Wren; Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, the second smallest passerine in the Americas; Rufous Motmot; Blue jeans poison dart frog; and more. From here we drove to the road that leads to the town of La Gloria. We had excellent looks at Golden-hooded Tanager, finally got good looks at the common Lesser Greenlet, and saw a tiny Pied Puffbird. We then moved on and tried another road near El Junquito. Here we added wonderful views of Piratic Flycatcher and Chestnut-headed Oropendola.

A singing Grayish Saltator made us do some birding in the tiny village of Punta Robalo this morning, where I finally was able to call in two White-throated Crakes seen by all of us! Slaty Spinetail and Gray-headed Kite were the two best birds on Two Tanks Road. 

Early on the final morning of our stay, you observed Montezuma Oropendolas, several White-crowned and Pale-vented pigeons, Lineated Woodpecker, many parrots, and some close warblers from the Tranquilo Bay observation tower that is the height of a six-story building. Following our last buffet breakfast, some of you joined Jay on an adventure to the bat caves, which involves some kayaking through the mangroves. Others went birding at the bathing pools and had great looks at Lineated Woodpecker and bathing Crowned Woodnymphs.

I always look forward to my visit each year to this wonderful piece of paradise operated by the owners who take wonderful care of us. It is always over much too soon!