This is the first of two posts of a travelogue about a birding trip my wife Karen and I took to Panama through Red Hill Birding in March, 2023. During our nine days there we saw over 230 species of birds, many of them Lifers. There were six additional birders with us and we all had a great time together. For the sake of brevity, this post contains links to pages that elaborate (with more text and pictures) on various subjects. Be sure to check out these links to see all the pictures of the birds and sights we saw while in Panama.
If you would like to go to Part 2 of the travelogue which covers the sights around the Canopy Tower CLICK HERE. If you would like to go to the Panama Birding Travelogue Sitemap with links to all the pages about Panama Birding CLICK HERE.
Birding at the Airport Hotel
Upon arrival in Panama City we were taken nearby to the Hotel Rionde, where we stayed one night before our tour officially started. The hotel rooms surrounded a large courtyard, a pool, gardens – and birds. Although the trip didn’t “officially” begin until the next morning, our Red Hill Birding Guide Adam Sell was kind enough to take us around the courtyard in search of birds. The very first birds we saw at the hotel were Lifers – a pair of Thick-billed Euphonias building a nest. Below is a picture of male:
If you would like to see more pictures of the birds we saw at the Hotel Rionde CLICK HERE.
As previously mentioned, the trip was organized by Red Hill Birding and Adam Sell was our Red Hill guide during the trip. Adam was joined by a local guide named Carlos each day we were in Panama. Together they made a great team – fun, smart, knowledgeable, and got us on the birds every time. Carlos is an employee of the Canopy Family, the organization that provided all of our food and lodging. The Canopy Family owns four establishments: Canopy Lodge, Canopy Tower, Canopy Camp, and Canopy B&B. We stayed in the Canopy Lodge for four nights and the Canopy Tower for four nights. Below is a map showing the location of all our eBird checklist locations – the cluster of pins in the center were all around the Canopy Lodge near the Anton Valley and the town of Coclé and the pins northwest of Panama City were in and around the Canopy Tower. Part 1 of the travelogue is about our stay at the Canopy Lodge and Part 2 is about our experiences while staying at the Canopy Tower.
After our first night in Panama City, we loaded up the van early and went to Canopy Lodge. It is situated at an elevation of 2,000 feet – most of our birding was done at higher elevations but it was a wonderful base camp and we saw lots of great birds right there. Here are a few pics of the Canopy Lodge. The first one shows the little red footbridge over the stream that takes you to the Lodge and the covered dining area.
Here’s a view the awning where we had breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Note the director’s chairs in the background. We would often sit there to view the birds coming into the feeding station below the wall.
Here’s a pic of that feeding station; it was always stocked with bananas, mangos, and cooked rice. You might notice a small red squirrel on the feeder in the pic.
Canopy Lodge Feeders
Whenever we were at the Canopy Lodge we tended to gather near the feeders or the stream. There were birds around the feeders all the time so we were able to become familiar with them. This first picture , a Bay Wren (a Lifer), loved flitting in and out of the hedge that you see in the foreground of the picture above. If you would like to see more pictures of the birds we saw at the Canopy Lodge Feeder CLICK HERE.
If you would like to see more pictures of the birds we saw at the Canopy Lodge Feeder CLICK HERE.
Canopy Lodge Stream Birds
Although we saw great birds by the Canopy Lodge feeders at all hours, the stream was best in the morning. Larger birds would hop from rock to rock or along the bank, giving us great views. Here are some of the birds that showed up in the stream right outside of the Canopy Lodge.
The large Fasciated Tiger-Heron showed up one morning in search of some breakfast.
If you would like to see pictures of some of the other birds we saw in the stream CLICK HERE.
Birds Seen Around the Canopy Lodge
Each day after we traveled into the countryside in search of birds we returned to the Canopy Lodge by early afternoon. This afforded us the opportunity to look for birds on the grounds and along the road that went by the Lodge. Here is a picture of a Keel-billed Toucan.
If you would like to see pictures of some of the other birds found near the Canopy Lodge CLICK HERE.
Each of the four mornings were stayed at the Canopy Lodge we would venture out into the countryside in search of birds. All of our travels were to higher elevations; at each elevation we would tend to see different birds. One of our first stops was off of La Mesa Road by a dairy farm. Here I was excited to get my first look at some Southern Lapwings, a large noisy bird that tended to group together in the open fields.
We continued uphill and stoped along the road at Carmen La Mesa-Rio Indio. Among other birds that we saw, I had my first look at a Chestnut-capped Warbler:
We stayed there a while and watched a male and female Tawny-capped Euphonia building a nest.
Later that same morning we came across a pair of Collared Trogon (Orange Bellied). Here’s a picture of the male. If you would like to see more pictures of the Trogons we saw in Panama CLICK HERE.
If you would like to see more pictures of the Trogons we saw in Panama CLICK HERE.
Toward the end of our first day Adam pulled the van over to the side of a road. To our right there was a steep embankment, which we climbed up to get to the edge of the forest. There we waited patiently for one of the cutest birds we saw in Panama – a Tody Motmot. This small secretive bird lived low to the ground and barely made a noise but we were able to stay still and quiet long enough for it to hop out in view.
We ended up our first full day of birding Panama’s uplands in the backyard of the Rodriquez family. They had many feeders set up there, which brought in a wide variety of birds. Below is a shot of a Red-legged Honeycreeper, always a crowd pleaser. If you would like to see more pictures of the birds that came to the Rodriguez family feeder, including White-lined Tanager, Summer Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Buff-throated and Streaked Saltator, and Lesson’s Motmot ClICK HERE.
Click Here to see more of the birds at the Rodriguez family feeders.
There were some interesting owls in Panama and we had very good looks at three different species. After the first night on our Red Hill Birding trip in Panama our Tour Leader Adam Sell reported that he had heard a Tropical Screech Owl right behind his room at the Panama Family Lodge. The next night we decided to go and look for the owl by standing on the landing behind Adam’s room. We soon heard movement and Adam switched on his flashlight right on the owl, which appeared to have just captured a large flying insect. If you would like to see a couple pictures of the Tropical Screech Owl, Black and White Owls, and Spectacled Owls Click Here.
The next day we went to Finca Candelario, a private farm. What made this location so interesting is that the Canopy Family actually pays the farmer NOT to cut down any more trees. The fields are lined with tall trees and as soon as you step into the forest you can’t even see the fields anymore. Here’s a picture of Karen stepping out of the forest back into the field.
Because part of the forest had been cleared for farming the area provided two quite different habitats: open space and dense forest. In the vegetation bordering the open space we were able to see several wonderful birds. One of my favorites was the Barred Antshrike with its funky hairdo!
As we wandered through the fields we spotted a pair of Southern Lapwings announcing our presence. Farmers often rely on the calls of the Lapwings to alert them to animal or human intruders.
Another favorite was a Lifer Cuckoo – the Squirrel Cuckoo was high up in a tall bush foraging for food.
There were also a number of Smooth-billed Anis perched on the sparse trees within the fields. Look at the beautiful feathers – at first place they are black but upon closer inspection you’ll see browns and purple shades mixed in.
As we went into the forested area it got dark – the canopy prevented much light from penetrating all the way to the ground – so photography was difficult. There were several varieties of Tanagers in the forest like the Silver-throated Tanager below. If you would like to see more pictures of the Tanagers I saw in Panama Click Here.
Our fourth and final day staying at the Canopy Family Lodge continued to be filled with Lifers and beautiful birds. We traveled to Valle Bonito, a residential community under development. This large tract of land contained beautiful houses, empty lots, and forested areas – a variety of habitats suitable for a variety of bird species.
One of our first stops was along a road higher up the mountain beneath a high canopy. As we scanned the birds high above us our local guide Carlos almost lost his mind! He let out a string of OMG! OMG! OMG! so long I lost count – it had to be a good bird. Sure enough it was a Yellow-eared Toucanet. To give an idea of how infrequently this bird is seen in Panama, there are only 268 photographs of one in eBird (compared to 1,900 pics of Keel-billed Toucans). Being high above us it was tough to get a good picture of it but I was able to get one with my camera and Carlos was able to snap a picture through his scope.
Our final stop during our stay in higher elevations was at Kathy’s house. Kathy’s maintained a number of hummingbird feeders and worked with the Canopy Family to host bird enthusiasts there. We sat quite close to the feeders to get great looks at all seven of the hummers that frequented her front yard.
Below are pictures of a Green-crowned Brilliant and a White-necked Jacobin. If you would like to see more pictures of the hummingbirds I saw while in Panama Click Here.
Regretfully, we had to leave the Canopy Family Lodge. As walked up the path to the parking lot we spotted this brilliantly orange bill attached to an Orange-billed Sparrow. It kept to the dense underbrush, just far enough to prevent a clear shot of it.
As we made our way north-east toward the Canopy Family Tower we made a couple of birding stops near Cocle, Panama. We walked along a seldom-used road between cultivated fields in search of new species and we found several. The first one we came upon was a group of Brown-headed Parakeets eating pink flowers high up in a tree.
It was a beautiful day and a number of birds soared overhead, including Yellow-headed Lesser-Vultures.
I don’t know how Carlos found it but a hundred yards down the road there was a dead tree. He set up his scope and asked us to report what we saw. Can you spot a bird in this picture?
Peering into the scope I saw the bird immediately but didn’t say what it was so as to not spoil it for the others waiting to look. Some did recognize the Common Potoo, others didn’t see it all because it blended in so seamlessly with the tree. Here’s a closeup of the bird, which is just to the right of center in the above picture.
By the time we reached our lodging at the Canopy Family Tower we were half-way through our Panama Birding Experience. To continue reading and see more beautiful pictures of Panamanian birds Click Here to start Part 2 of this travelogue.
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