Pre-trip Report to Canopy Camp, Darien, Panama
(Before our regular Panama tour to Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge)
March 1-7, 2014
March 1: Arrival in Panama; Hotel in Panama City
March 2: Pan Am Hwy; Bayano; Rio Mono; Canopy Camp
March 3: Nando’s Trail @ Camp; Sanson Road PM
March 4: Salto Rd; Las Lagunas PM
March 5: Nueva Vigia (Embera Village, La Peñita); Salto Rd to Rio Chucunaque PM
March 6: All day Nueva Vigia
March 7: Transfer to Canopy Tower; Pan Am Hwy; Burbayar; Kuna land
We rose well before the sun on our first morning in Panama in time to eat breakfast and meet with the group before piling into the van and heading towards the Canopy Camp. We met Moyo, our local guide and driver for the next few days, in front of our hotel and hopped on the Pan American Highway, heading east to the lowlands of Darien. Once out of Panama City, the landscape was one consisting mostly of pasture and fragmented forest. It was no surprise then that some of the first birds we saw are species typical of roadsides and open areas – Crested and Yellow-headed Caracara, Cattle Egret, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee and Groove-billed Ani.
Our first stop was just along the roadside of the Pan Am, and within seconds of stepping from the van we spotted a pair of Garden Emeralds, shimmering bright green in the morning sun. We also found Panama and Streaked Flycatcher, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Red-crowned Woodpecker and Tropical Gnatcatcher. Our next stop was at the bridge at Lake Bayano, where we found a nice sized flock of Neotropic Cormorants in flight over the lake. Also in abundance were Cocoi Herons, and there were a few Striated Herons as well. We managed to find a single Pied Water-Tyrant foraging amongst the rocks along the edge of the lake. In the wooded patches around the lake we had a nice mixed flock of both Jet and Dusky Antbirds, Barred Antshrike, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Red-legged Honeycreeper and Golden-collared Manakin. Rio Mono was our next stop and turned out to be the best stop of the morning. Golden-hooded Tanagers greeted us, along with Western Slaty Antshrike, Rufous-winged and White-flanked Antwrens, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Pied Puffbird, Streaked Xenops and a beautiful Blue Dacnis. We also had excellent scope views of our first trogon – a male Black-tailed Trogon.
We continued on and stopped at Portal Avicar Restaurante for lunch and enjoyed watching the hummers at the feeders – Long-billed Starthroat, Snowy-bellied, Rufous-tailed, Sapphire-throated and Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds all made appearances as well as Black-throated Mango, constantly buzzing in and out. We finally arrived at the Canopy Camp in time to get a few hours rest in before exploring and birding around the property. Before dinner we were able to locate Blue-throated Goldentail, Violet-bellied and Blue-chested Hummingbird and we watched as two White-bellied Wrens worked on building a nest in the eaves of the communal building.
The next day we opted to further explore the property around the Canopy Camp, taking ‘Nando’s Trail’ into the dry forest. A Purple-crowned Fairy bathed in the creek and Chestnut-backed Antbirds called from the dense understory. Golden-collared Manakins were common and we heard them wing-snapping all around us. We also managed to find a few Golden-headed Manakins, Black Antshrike, Black-faced Antthrush, Spot-crowned Barbet, Olivaceous Piculet, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Yellow-breasted and what proved to be our only Royal Flycatcher of the trip. For the afternoon we explored the pastureland along Sanson Road, in the vicinity of the Canopy Camp to look for Spot-breasted Woodpecker. After a few minutes of scanning, we eventually found one, and though it was pretty distant we could still make out the brilliant red and yellow coloration and white face. We heard several Striped Cuckoos calling and after a bit of looking we got great looks at 2 birds. Also along this road were Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Blue-black Grassquit and Bat Falcon. Our owl search at the camp was fairly productive, as we heard Black-and-White, Mottled, and Crested Owls. With the help of our local guide we got great scope views of a Mottled Owl, definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
As soon as we stepped from the van on Salto Road the next morning we found a Double-banded Graytail foraging high in the branches, flitting around warbler-like. Here we also had much closer and better views of Spot-breasted Woodpecker. We didn’t quite make it down to Rio Chucunaque before it got too warm, but we had plenty of other goodies, including Whooping Motmot, Gray-cheeked Nunlet, Golden-green Woodpecker, White-bellied Antbird, Sirystes, Blue Cotinga and Crested Oropendola. For the afternoon we went to a cattle ranch and lagoon outside Meteti off Quimba Road. The pastureland here, with several ponds and the nearby river made for quite a productive stop. Southern Lapwings were out in full force along with Wattled Jacanas around the cattle ponds. Along a small stream we found Amazon Kingfisher, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and Limpkin. Down by the marsh by the river we had great looks at a Black-capped Donacobius as it perched on top of the reeds. We also heard White-throated Crake and briefly saw a Gray-necked Wood-Rail. On the long drive back we had multiple Common Pauraques in the dirt road, their eyes illuminated by the van’s headlights.
La Peñita was our destination the next morning and on the drive in we stopped to scan a pond. We found Green Heron standing along the edge and watched Southern Rough-winged Swallows catching insects on the wing. Before getting back in the van we found a pair of Great Antshrikes, both two-tone with brilliant red eyes. Farther along the road a small group of Spectacled Parrotlets flew over, but they were silhouetted and we didn’t get much detail from them. A Crane Hawk flew overhead and perched long enough at the top of a Cecropia for us to get great scope views of this dark gray raptor with long, bright red-orange legs. Walking along the road we heard and eventually saw Bare-crowned Antbird, Bright-rumped Attila, Long-billed Gnatwren, and Great Potoo. We drove a bit farther down the road and found a colony of Black Oropendola. We watched as several individuals rebuilt or made repairs to the long, hanging nests that still remain from previous nesting seasons. As the day grew hot we made our way back towards the camp, stopping at an Embera village along the way. The Embera people were friendly and eager to share with us their process of weaving dried black palm leaves into various decorative vases, plates and masks resembling different bird species – from toucans and quetzals to owls and harpy eagles. It’s always nice to take a little break from birding (occasionally) and enjoy the cultural aspects of the place you are visiting. For the evening, we went back to Salto Road, this time driving all the way down to Rio Chucunaque. Along the way we found a single Laughing Falcon that was perched quite close to us. Surprisingly, it remained on its perch and allowed us to get out of the van to get great scope views and pictures. Down at the river we found a nice mixed flock consisting of Yellow-backed and Orange-crowned Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and One-colored Becards. As dusk crept on we watched several flocks of Blue-headed Parrots fly over before calling it a day and heading back to camp.
Our last full day in the Darien was spent further exploring the primary forest at La Peñita looking for macaws and Harpy Eagle. Although we found neither, our thorough exploration of this area yielded several more great mature forest species. Driving along the road we stopped to get better looks at a Semiplumbeous Hawk perched right above the road. This raptor was lovely to behold, with its clean white underparts contrasting nicely with its dark gray back and red-orange legs and beak. Throughout the day we found several different flocks of mixed species, the best one containing Checker-throated, White-flanked and Rufous-winged Antwrens. While we were having our picnic lunch we heard the cacophony of White-fronted Nunbirds and enjoyed watching them as they perched close to one another and took turns vocalizing. Several Purple-throated Fruitcrows also made themselves visible and we found a single Ruddy Pigeon perched at the very top of a tree. As the day wore on we made our way back to camp. While driving back, our local guide Moyo spotted a pair of Crested Owls roosting in a very dark patch of bamboo. We got great scope views of these incredible owls, a great way to finish our last full day in the Darien.
The next morning we rose early for breakfast and prepared to depart the excellent Canopy Camp and make our way towards the Canopy Tower, located in Soberania National Park in the Canal Zone. It was a long drive back towards Panama City, but of course we broke up the driving and birded along the way. As we neared the Darien border a quick stop along the Pan Am yielded a quick look at Capped Heron as it flew away from us. By late morning we had reached the middle elevation forest of Burbayar. Here was our first real introduction to the world of tanagers and honeycreepers. We found Tawny-crested, Rufous-winged, Emerald, and Black-and-yellow Tanagers as well as Green and Shining Honeycreepers. We also got fantastic looks at both the Green-crowned and Violet-crowned subspecies of the Crowned Woodnymph, a lovely hummingbird. Before hopping back in the van we spotted an Ornate Hawk-Eagle soaring overhead. The lighting wasn’t great, but we nonetheless enjoyed watching this uncommon raptor on the wing. With this last stop, our pre-trip had officially concluded, but our regular tour to the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge was about to begin. We finished our pre-trip with 264 species. Click here to read the trip report for our Venture to the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge.