Waterloo - Tocumen International Airport - Canopy Tower
After we had decided to go to Panama, to revisit the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge where we had stayed twelve years earlier, John and Geraldine Sanderson told us that they would like to make the same trip. So it was that they picked us up in order to travel to Pearson International Airport together.
We were at the terminal in lots of time and waited in the boarding lounge, reading a little and people-watching, until it was time to board the plane.
The Copa Airlines flight was far from full and Miriam and I had aisle seats, Miriam having moved from the centre seat she had been assigned next to me. This gave us much more room - not that sitting cheek by jowl with Miriam would have been anything but sheer delight, but a little extra space and the ease to get up without clambering over someone was much appreciated.
It was indicated on our reservation confirmation that no meals were provided so we had made sandwiches at home to take aboard, but dinner was in fact served - and it was quite good. The main feature was chicken and rice, served with a glass of a pleasant Sauvignon Blanc.
We touched down at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City at 14h:50 local time and were through the formalities fairly quickly. One could be forgiven for thinking that customs and immigration officers around the world are chosen for their surliness, and the woman we got at Tocumen was no exception. To smile, it seemed, or to use more than two words at a time, was an impossible task. After photographing us and taking our fingerprints, however, she stamped our passports and we were on our way.
Lorenzo, from the Canopy Tower was there to meet us and we had a smooth forty-five minute drive to our home for the next week. On the way up Semaphore Hill we had the amazing sighting of a Little Tinamou (Crypturellus soui) walking in the gully. It quickly scooted off into the forest, but not before we all saw it well.
In total contrast to the glumness displayed at the airport, the staff at the Canopy Tower greeted us with nothing but beaming smiles and warm expressions of welcome.
Having checked into our room we went up onto the observation deck where we witnessed a spectacular migration of Swainson's Hawks (Buteo swainsoni), with a smaller number of Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura). Two resident King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa) were very exciting to see.
About forty Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) were headed north, and although the Canopy Tower Guide, Alex Sáurez, seemed a little skeptical, I remain convinced that this is what I saw.Dinner was a fine affair with a delicious salad of broccoli and avocado, followed by chicken lasagna, plantain and squash. Both red and white wine were on the table.
But it was at the buffet table that the most bizarre event of the trip; in fact the strangest event of recent memory, occurred. John likes to say grace by holding hands and reciting a verse. I have always felt uncomfortable doing this, especially since it is totally antithetical to my non-religious beliefs, and had advised John, a couple of weeks before leaving that I had no intention of sitting around the table in Panama doing it. In fact, I stated that outside of his home, I no longer had any intention of doing it anywhere.
While getting our food, John announced to me that he no longer considered us friends, and that we would have to find our own way home from Toronto since he would not be taking us. I was stunned. Obviously this was planned ahead of time, and why he would not have advised us before leaving so that we could have taken our own car, or had friends drive us to the airport, seems to indicate a particular level of viciousness. And all this because he cannot impose his religious incantation, his ritual, on others? Is this the action of a good Christian? Does this display the universal values of kindness, love, charity and humility? I will leave it to you to judge.
Geraldine, to her eternal credit, wavered not one bit in her usual level of conviviality and warm friendship.
By now we had met Larry Roel, a birder from South Carolina, and were struck by his gregarious outgoing nature and became firm friends.
We retired to our room and both Miriam and I had a peaceful, restful night's sleep.
All species 01 April: Little Tinamou, Rock Pigeon, White-collared Swift, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, King Vulture, Swainson's Hawk, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Tree Swallow, Tropical Mockingbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Palm Tanager.
02 April 2019
Observation Deck - Semaphore Hill - Ammo Ponds - Canopy Tower
I awoke around 04h:30, well rested. The Mantled Howlers (Alouatta palliata) perhaps slept well too, but they were in full voice by around 05h:00. I read for a little while, checked my emails (WIFI was always a little temperamental and although we could receive emails we were unable to send from Outlook Express), and then joined Alex and others on the observation deck to check the awakening going on in the rain forest all around us.
A troupe of White-faced Capuchins (Cebus capucinus) scampered through the trees, never stopping for an instant, so they were hard to photograph.
I should mention here that there will not be many photographs accompanying today's account. Miriam had the misfortune to accidentally erase a whole bunch of pictures from her memory card (more about this later). I didn't take many shots and her results are always better than mine anyway.
Nothing quite says "tropical" like a toucan and several Collared Araçaris (Pteroglossus torquatus) close to the deck were a singular delight for all present.
There is always coffee available on the observation deck for us North Americans who need our early morning coffee fix, and coffee and araçari seemed like a pretty good combination. Keel-billed Toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus) were seen off in the distance too. Palm Tanagers (Thraupis palmarum) were always close at hand. The constant call of Green Shrike-Vireo (Vireolanius pulchellus) was heard from the moment I arrived on deck, and we got a couple of fairly decent looks too.
We went down for breakfast and I had a little fruit, sausages, fried bananas and more coffee. No doubt Miriam had fruit and yogurt, her standard fare most mornings.
When we went down to begin our morning's walk we checked the hummingbird feeders, which were quite active. White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) was always the dominant species, but several other species were present too, including a single Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis). A couple of Black-breasted Puffbirds (Notharchus pectoralis) were close by.
Birders of course often come back after a day in the field with muddy boots. Do you think the staff at the Canopy Tower would appreciate you cleaning them off before entering the building?
It was a rare day when we did not see several Central American Agoutis (Dasyprocta punctata), many of which have become quite tame, well accustomed to human activity.
Sloths are quite common too, but finding them is a different matter entirely, so we were quite fortunate to have this Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) so visible on our walk down Semaphore Hill.
Alex had a special treat in store for us when we reached the bottom of the hill. A pair of Black-and-white Owls (Ciccaba nigrolineata) is always a memorable sighting.
A Canopy Tower birdmobile came down to pick us up to take us back for lunch, which consisted of sea bass, potatoes and salad.
I took a nap after lunch while Miriam read and at 15h:00 we once again boarded the birdmobile, joined by a couple from Rochester, NY named John and Norma, to visit the Ammo Ponds.
The target bird at this location is White-throated Crake (Laterallus albigularis) but we were unsuccessful in spotting one. We did, however, see a juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) still in the nest.
A couple of adult birds stalked through the marsh too.
In a grassy area several seedeaters and grassquits moved around, feeding and chasing each other, including this male Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina).
At a bit of a distance a Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana) seemed to be having great success capturing insects.
A Blue-grey Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) perched in a tree was much more photogenic.
There were many other species, including a fabulous male Blue Cotinga (Cotinga nattererii) and I know that Miriam had a large number of photographs; it can only get better from here.
After a while we climbed aboard the birdmobile again and headed for "home." Happy hour was very pleasant and we completed our checklist with a glass of wine and crackers and dip. I checked a couple of finer points on birds we had seen using the excellent reference library at the Canopy Tower for all peruse.
Dinner was Greek salad, beef (very overcooked and tough), rice and vegetables, following which we sat around and chatted with Larry and a couple of others until it was time to turn in for the night.
All species 02 April: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Pale-vented Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, Smooth-billed Ani, Short-tailed Swift, White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed Hermit, Black-throated Mango, White-vented Plumleteer, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, Least Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Wood Stork, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Green Heron, Striated Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Black-and-white Owl, Black-throated Trogon, Broad-billed Motmot (heard), Black-breasted Puffbird, Collared Araçari, Keel-billed Toucan, Red-crowned Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker (heard), Crimson-crested Woodpecker (heard), Yellow-headed Caracara, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Mealy Amazon, Black-crowned Antshrike (heard), Cocoa Woodcreeper, Grey Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Common Tody Flycatcher, Olivaceous Flatbill, Yellow-olive Flycatcher (heard), Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Bright-rumped Attila, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Panama Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Blue Cotinga, Green Shrike Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Grey-breasted Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Song Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher (heard), Clay-coloured Thrush, Tropical Mockingbird, Thick-billed Euphonia, Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Bay-breasted Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Blue-grey Tanager, Palm Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plain-coloured Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, Blue-black Grassquit, White-shouldered Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Variable Seedeater, Slate-coloured Grosbeak.
03 April 2019
Canopy Tower - Pipeline Road - Canopy Tower
Before even leaving the room the Green Shrike-Vireo was calling its now familiar "Here I am" refrain. We had an early breakfast at 06h:00, consisting of potato puffs, papaya, yogurt and coffee (for me) and we left a little after 06h:30 for a full day of birding on the legendary Pipeline Road.
Right from the moment we arrived there were birds everywhere. A nearby tree was host to a couple of Red-lored Amazons (Amazona autumnalis), clearly visible for appreciative birders to enjoy.
And quite close a Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos) went about its business.
One of the stars at this stop was a Golden-crowned Spadebill (Platyrinchus coronatus), perched low and at times in full view. I captured the following decidedly awful picture.....
.....but Miriam, with her patience, skill and equipment achieved a couple of amazing shots as the bird raised its crown in display. Even Alex, the guide was excited, never having seen the bird exhibit such behaviour before.
Alas, it was shortly after this, having accidentally hit a button or something equally innocuous, that her card was wiped clean. Not only did we lose the spadebill shots, but everything she had taken the previous day, and all the other pictures so far that morning - honeycreepers, woodpeckers, a Grey-chested Dove (Leptotila cassinii) on the nest - all gone.
Nothing could be done, so we spent about thirty seconds saying things like damn (perhaps even words a little stronger!) and moved on. As the old aphorism says, there really is no point crying over spilled milk.
A clear view of a Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) lifted our spirits right back to their supercharged normal.
Larry and Geraldine seemed to enjoy it.
And so did Miriam.
At a small facility along Pipeline Road, there is a gift shop, a place to buy snacks and we stopped there for everyone to take advantage of washrooms. Thank goodness we did, for it was here that we saw, in all its scintillating glory, a Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aureus).
This is a bird to take your breath away, and when the sun struck its back it positively shimmered. There are eighteen species of Jacamar in the Americas and Great Jacamar was my sixth species. It seems that all too often when one sees a bird for the first time it is flitting around, mostly half concealed , and flies off all too soon. This jacamar stayed put for several minutes and it was truly a wonderful encounter.
It was followed up in short order by great views of a Black-crowned Antshrike (Thamnophilus atrinucha), well captured by Miriam, of course.
Dot-winged Antwren (Micorhopias quixensis) is a familiar bird of ground cover and forest understorey, with the female (first two pictures below) being arguably more attractive than the male.
As has been noted earlier Central American Agouti was seen almost every day, often several times, but it was especially appealing to come across this individual with a baby.
It was around this time that we also observed a Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana), an anteater that is active both day and night. It saw us, however, around the same time we saw it, and before there was any chance at all for a picture, it was gone. It was a wonderful encounter, nonetheless.
Black-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes pucherani) is quite common, but it can be frustratingly difficult to photograph at times.
Trogons appeal to everyone. Even the most casual observer is struck by them, and often they will perch in one spot for several minutes allowing birders and photographers alike to drink in their beauty.
|Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena)|
This one joined Miriam right on her plate.
Another seemed to prefer Geraldine's hat as a perch.
Any help with butterfly ID would be much appreciated.
It struck me that a bird guide today needs many skills. Alex was driver, guide, maître de table, and increasingly photographer, as many clients pass their smart phones to the guide to digiscope for them. Larry was the consummate considerate individual who had to be coaxed into handing his phone to the guide and always after everyone had used the scope to see the bird well. There were others who immediately thrust the phone into the hands of the guide seemingly as a matter of right. It was interesting that these same people tended to be always first at the scope and hogged it, often not readily moving aside for others to take a look. Birding étiquette (aka simple courtesy) seems to be lost on some.
After lunch Alex left us and was replaced by Jorge Pineta, another Canopy Tower guide, personable and skillful, persistent in his search for a bird, a dedicated professional in every way.
Antpittas are notoriously difficult birds to see, and Jorge was determined that we should see Streak-chested Antpitta (Hylopezus perspicillatus).
After a good deal of dedicated searching we had one in view and Jorge was able to capture a couple of pictures on Larry's smart phone. Larry has kindly permitted me to use them and I know that he will approve of the fact that I have added Jorge's name to the pictures.
We spent a productive and enjoyable afternoon birding with Jorge and benefitted in no small measure from his excellent field skills and agreeable personality. I am sure this Yellow-throated Toucan (Rampastos ambiguus) would be in complete agreement.
Black-breasted Puffbird turned out to be fairly common, this one picked out by Larry's sharp eyes.
And just before getting back into the vehicle to return to the Canopy Tower this female Black-tailed Trogon (Trogon melanurus) was perched in full view.
Back at the Tower Happy Hour was indeed a "happy hour" and we did the list, chatted with Larry and other guests and had dinner - avocado and pineapple salad, fish (probably sea bass), rice and beans and vegetables.
It had been a wonderful day of birding with two fine guides. Whenever a list of "places to bird before I die" is published Pipeline Road is invariably included. I was grateful to have my second opportunity to bird in this legendary location.
All species 03 April: Great Tinamou (heard), Scaled Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, Grey-chested Dove, Greater Ani, Great Potoo, Short-tailed Swift, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Wattled Jacana, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Short-tailed Hawk, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Black-tailed Trogon, White-tailed Trogon, Whooping Motmot (heard), Black-breasted Puffbird, Great Jacamar, Collared Araçari, Keel-billed Toucan, Yellow-throated Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Caracara, Brown-hooded Parrot, Red-lored Amazon, Black-crowned Antshrike, Spot-crowned Antvireo (heard), Checker-throated Antwren, Dot-winged Antwren, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Strea-chested Antpitta, Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Black-striped Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Grey Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Southern Bentbill, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Red-capped Manakin, Green Shrike-Vireo (heard), Lesser Greenlet (heard), Grey-breasted Martin, Black-bellied Wren, Song Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Trpical Gnatcatcher, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Yellow-backed Oriole (heard), Great-tailed Grackle, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Grey-headed Tanager, White-shouldered Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis.