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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Panama: Fall at the Canopy Tower

2017 Narrative

IN BRIEF: For 2017 we offered a slightly shortened Canopy Tower week to kick off our new Western and Eastern Panama Tours. Over the course of five and a half days around the world-famous Canopy Tower we saw 242 species of birds and 15 species of mammals despite the above average rainfall that we experienced for several of the days. Some of the highlights were outstanding views of male Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins around the tower, an antswarm with cooperative Black-chested Jays, Grey-headed Tanagers, and Northern Barred and Plain-Brown Woodpeckers all at point-blank range, a fiesta of colorful tanagers including Bay-headed, Emerald, Speckled, Golden-hooded, Crimson-backed and Flame-rumped, the inquisitive Streak-chested Ant-Pitta along Pipeline Road, garrulous White-headed Wrens in the canopy along Achiote Road and, of course, the showing of 12 species of hummingbirds all swarming around the feeders on Cerro Azul. We also managed to turn up a few rarities, such as migrant Stilt Sandpiper, Magnolia Warbler, and the long-staying American White Pelican at Panama Viejo. Mammal highlights must include our views of Ocelot, several young Nine-banded Armadillos foraging on the forest floor, a female Central American Spider Monkey along Plantation Trail and a mother and baby Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth. This tour continues to impress me, as the diversity and richness of the region, paired with ease of access and the comforts of the lodge make for a truly wonderful experience.

IN FULL: We awoke on our first morning at the tower to find the top of the building enshrouded in clouds. This dampened our visibility for the early morning vigil from the top of the tower, but happily over the course of the hour or so that we stood atop the tower prior to breakfast the clouds came and went, allowing us to see the surrounding trees and a wonderful array of birdlife. The first sighting though was non-avian. Just as we were gathering at the top deck one of the tower workers called up that there was an Ocelot prowling around inside the fence around the lodge! This individual had apparently climbed up a tree and jumped into the lodge grounds and when morning came it could not find a way back out.  It paced back and forth a few times before the staff opened the front gate and the animal darted out and back into the woods. Our view was certainly brief, but any view of these elusive and very attractive cats is truly special, and this marked quite an auspicious start to the tour. While the Ocelot was keeping some of us occupied at the ground level of the tour the rest of the group was watching a flock of busy Collared Aracaris descend upon a fruiting Cercropia tree just a few feet away from the tower top. This same tree proved productive throughout our morning vigil, with groups of Plain-colored and Palm Tanagers passing through for a snack, migrant Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers flitting about at eye-level and even a placidly sitting Black-breasted Puffbird posing for photos.  When the clouds cleared we were able to see a sweeping view of the surrounding forest, and even out as far as the Panama Canal, complete with tall container ships seemingly drifting over the trees. Flocks of Pale-vented Pigeons (with a few Scaled Pigeons along for company) and a few gaudy Keel-billed Toucans were sitting on prominent trees greeting the arrival of the sun. Some scanning revealed a pair of distant Masked Tityras sitting high in an open branching tree as well. The trees immediately around the tower hosted a few canopy birds such as Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Lesser Greenlet and Tropical Gnatcatcher, but it was our excellent views of a foraging Green Shrike-Vireo that likely won the day. Green Shrike Vireos are clad in emerald and leaf green, with a yellow throat and blue nape patch. Rarely coming down to the lower levels of the forest this canopy bird is a bit of a specialty for the tower, although even from the top deck they can be frustrating to pick out from the dense canopy trees that they prefer. A pair of Blue Dacnis and a female Green Honeycreeper wrapped up our sightings before the lure of bacon and pancakes drew us downstairs for breakfast. Even over the table though the birds continued to pop up, and our meal was interrupted by such varied sightings as a male Gartered Trogon and a Broad-billed Motmot that were perched out of one of the windows. Some Scarlet-rumped Caciques paid us a visit as well, and the lively troupe of Geoffrey’s Tamarins that nearly climbed into the lodge in pursuit of some proffered bananas were an especially welcome sight.

After breakfast we set off down the hill for a walk down the Plantation Road, a gravel and mud road that sets off from the base of Semaphore Hill heading vaguely north through Soberania National Park. Just a few meters into the trail we located our first antbird we tracked down a trio of Chestnut-backed Antbirds that were foraging just a few feet away. This is an attractive species, with a chestnut back, black body and pale blue orbital ring. The trail proved to be an excellent introduction to this most neotropical of familes. Over the course of the morning we studied a few pairs of Dot-winged and Checker-throated Antwren, Dusky and Spotted Antbird and Black-crowned Antshrike. The male Spotted Antbird was particularly well received, as this gaudy copper-brown, black and white bird was as obliging as it is stunning. As is generally the case in lowland forest Tyrant Flycatchers also comprised a large part of the avian diversity here. Placid and stout Olivaceous Flatbills showed well, as did a pleasantly tiny and rotund Golden-crowned Spadebill that lingered long enough for scope views. Although they are not likely to win any beauty contests we also enjoyed several Forest Elaenias and one Grey Elaenia (a locally scarce species) perched in the canopy. It was the diminutive and undeniably cute Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher that popped into view just over our heads was perhaps the crowd favorite though. It wasn’t all flycatchers and antbirds though, as a pair of handsome and hammer-crested Cinnamon Woodpeckers showed well high up in the canopy. Near the end of our walk our attentions were diverted by a vocal pair of Purple-throated Fruitcrows just above our heads. We watched them for a while, obtaining excellent views of the male’s brilliant claret colored throat patch. The walk also allowed us to continue our luck with mammals as we encountered three young Nine-banded Armadillos snuffling around on the forest floor, several Agouti crossing the trail in front of us, and (in what surely represents the rarest creature of the day) a female Central American Spider Monkey that was clambering around in the canopy keeping a wary eye on our group. These large and long-limbed monkeys are extirpated from huge swaths of their former range in Central America and the sighting here was only the second ever for our tour (and the first for our local guide Tino). We reached the buses and coolers full of cold drinks just before lunchtime back at the tower.

A short siesta in the early afternoon seemed perfectly timed with the afternoon rains, and we departed soon after the rains ceased, with the air noticeably cooler and fresher. Our afternoon was spent visiting the feeders at the Canopy Bed and Breakfast in the small nearby town of Gamboa. Here we sheltered under the roof as the last of the rain petered out, watching a parade of birds coming in to feed on bananas placed on the bird tables. A continual stream of Blue-grey, Palm and Plain-coloured Tanagers formed the avian backdrop for new species like the luminous Crimson-backed Tanagers (locally known as Sangre del Toro or the Blood of the Bull), noisy flocks of Orange-chinned Parakeets, pushy Clay-coloured Thrushes and Red-crowned Woodpeckers, and a rather immobile Whooping Motmot (part of the old Blue-crowned Motmot complex) that stubbornly refused to come out from its shady perch to fully dazzle us with its plumage. The rest of the afternoon was happily rain free, and we spent it by wandering along the margins of the Ammo Dump marsh making careful studies of the similar Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers and Greater and Lesser Kiskadees, and enjoying close views of an array of species more often found in open areas. Wattled Jacanas showed extremely well, flashing their bright yellow wings as they danced around the open patches of marsh. Also here we located a motionless Rufescent Tiger Heron, and both Striated and Green Herons. The row of trees that ring the pond held Panama Flycatcher, and a cooperative pair of Isthmian (a new split from Plain) Wren. Migrants were well represented here too, with Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided, Yellow and Prothonotary Warblers joining residents like Scrub Greenlet, Black-striped Sparrow and Grey-headed Chachalaca. The overhead wires hosted perched Grey-breasted Martins, Mangrove Swallows and Barn Swallows, as well as the requisite Tropical Kingbirds and a pair of Tropical Mockingbirds. In the vegetation around the lake we picked out some lurking Purple Gallinule and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks tucked into the dense grass. Also here we heard the unmistakable drawn out rattles of several White-throated Crakes and with some patience were able to see a couple of these colourful and small rails as they crept around through the reedbeds. We headed back to the tower in the early evening, heads swimming a bit from the number of birds that we had encountered on the first day.

The next morning we left the tower directly after an early breakfast so we could spend all day exploring the world-famous Pipeline Road. This cross-country dirt road passes through an extensive swath of Soberiana National Park and provides unparalleled access to high quality forest and over 400 species of birds.  Every trip along Pipeline Road is different, and a visiting naturalist soon gets the feeling that they could spend months here and still be picking up new sightings. On this day we found overall bird activity to be a bit depressed, but even so we enjoyed numerous new species and a number of truly special birds. Chief among these was our excellent close-up view of a singing Streak-chested Antpitta that paraded back and forth in front of us, staying just a few yards off the trail in a section of open understory. Nearby we also found a visible and quite cooperative Great Tinamou that was slowly walking across another open area of understory; proving that these vocal but often frustratingly hard birds do actually exist in the flesh! For most of the morning we alternated walking and riding in an open-air safari type truck that the canopy tower employs, stopping wherever activity seemed promising. Early on in the morning we stopped to investigate some calling Bicolored Antbirds and enjoyed point-blank views of these elegantly dressed birds as they bounced around on the edge of the track. Small flocks of Dot-winged and Checker-throated Antwrens appeared at intervals, often with other birds, like White-flanked Antwren, Olivaceous Flatbilll or Fasciated Antshrike in tow. A flame headed Crimson-crested Woodpecker was a good find as it hammered at a cavity in a dead palm, with a couple of Squirrel Cuckoos seemingly watching from a nearby tree. Both Slaty-tailed and Black-throated Trogons put in appearances, and near the Rio Frijoles Bridge we found a family group of the tiny Pied Puffbirds perched up in the high canopy. AA quick flash of red across the trail revealed itself to be a fully plumaged male Red-capped Manakin, complete with its bright yellow leggings and baleful white eyes. As our prior manakins had all been females this was a most welcome find. Another bright species that kept us entertained was a pair of Yellow-backed Oriole, a bright yellow and black species with a haunting melancholy song. Some nice migrants spruced up the day list as well, with a responsive Kentucky Warbler and a somewhat surprising Canada Warbler (which typically winter at higher elevation), vocal Eastern Wood-Pewees and Great Crested Flycatchers and a Red-eyed Vireo. 

Unfortunately the recent heavy rains had caused some tree falls across the road and we were not able to drive back to the continental divide as we customarily do. We walked well past the downed tree but as the skies looked threatening we decided to return to the truck for lunch rather than being caught out by rain too far from shelter. We also decided to return to the tower in the early afternoon for a brief rest and then a trip out to the Gamboa Resort in the later afternoon. Enroute to the tower we startled a Crane Hawk that flew down the road in front of us flaring its banded tail before vanishing into the forest. We also stopped to admire a roosting Great Potoo that was perched up high in the canopy, looking remarkably like one of the Azteca ant nests that populate the canopy here as well. Happily for us the bird even woke up and shuffled around a bit, even yawning so that we could see the wide gape before it went back to sleep.

Our afternoon trip to the banks of the Chagres River and the grounds of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort proved to be quite an adventure. The threatening rains from the late morning finally arrived in full force (which was a trifle bit more than we wished as we were being driven in the open-backed truck) and for much of our visit we waited under a very well-constructed thatched roof gazebo on the grounds. Despite the heavy rain we found a very nice array of new birds here, as once the rain slacked off and the birds began to creep out of their chosen shelters. The lawns were hosting pairs of Varied Seedeaters, Clay-coloured Thrushes, Ruddy Ground-Doves and Rusty-margined Flycatchers, all looking just a little bedraggled and a couple of Flame-rumped Tanagers (here of the yellow-rumped northern subspecies) that looked somehow still perfectly dry. Overhead wires attracted a trio of tropical birds; with a pair of Tropical Mockingbirds, a Tropical Kingbird, and our only Tropical Pewee of the tour. Taller trees supported an impressive number of Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans making a pass at drying out. We also visited the bank of the Chagres River, where the water level was considerably raised due to the recent deluge. In the mats of floating vegetation along the shore we picked out some Common Gallinules (with a few Purples as well). Dozens of Little Blue Herons and a few Snowy and Cattle Egrets were perched along the shoreline, and a couple of Snail Kites were drying out on a tall Cercropia Tree across the channel. As we readied to depart for the tower and dinner we spotted a Ringed Kingfisher and a Spotted Sandpiper perched on the dock among the boats, and a couple of White-tipped Doves stomping around the parking lot.

The next morning dawned cooler and only lightly overcast, and we again spent the first hour of daylight atop the tower, scanning the treetops and admiring the much clearer view of the distant ridges, the canal and Panama City which were all partly obscured by clouds during our first morning on the tower top. Much of the birdlife mirrored our experience from the previous visit, although with the better weather our views of things like Scaled and Pale-vented Pigeons, Masked Tityra and Keel-billed Toucan were all much brighter and crisper this time. Scanning the treetops revealed our first Short-tailed Hawk sitting atop a distant tree, and an attractive Black-cheeked Woodpecker that was creeping up a close-by trunk. During our time on the tower top a nice mixed flock came in near the railing, and we were able to spend quite some time picking out tiny canopy sprites like Brown-capped Tyrannulet and Forest Elaenia, as well as our first good views of White-shouldered Tanager, Lesser Greenlet and Tropical Gnatcatcher. Given that we had enjoyed several neck craning views of these species the day before these eye-level views really drove home just how nice it can be to bird from treetop level. We were also able to see several Band-rumped Swifts zipping by, flashing their namesake bold white rump stripe.

After breakfast we spent a bit of time watching the hummingbird feeders at the base of the tower, with Long-billed Hermit, White-necked Jacobin and Blue-chested Hummingbird being admired in turn. We then spent a couple of hours walking down the nearly 2-mile road that winds down Semaphore Hill. The road passes through some forest with light understory, providing an excellent opportunity for encountering understory flocks with Dot-winged, Checker-throated and White-flanked Antwrens, Black-crowned Antshrike, and Dusky Antbird. We found all of those birds and more on our walk, though overall the forest seemed somewhat quiet. A few Gray-chested Doves flushed off the road at our passage, making us wish that they could follow the script of the Swainson’s Thrushes that seemed to be almost guiding us down the road. At one particularly good corner of the road where a small creek came down from the adjacent hillside we were successful in tracking down a Scaly-throated Leaftosser that furtively walked over a patch of leaf litter that was almost perfectly colour matched. Here too was a perched Rufous Motmot (for some odd reason the only one that we encountered this trip). Just one bend further down the road we stopped to admire some perched Mealy and Red-lored Parrots that were sitting overhead. Once down at the bridge near the bottom of the road we were thrilled to find a flowering Inga tree that was hosting four feeding Violet-bellied Hummingbirds including at least one stunning male. But it was the male Blue-crowned Manakin that was perched in the lower branches of the tree that stole the show. Our views were superlative, as we were able to look down on this tiny jet-black bird sitting in perfect lighting, with its sky blue crown seemingly blazing in the morning sun.

As we had reached the bottom of the road earlier than expected we decided to go a bit further afield before lunch by visiting the nearby Summit Park and Zoo grounds. This proved an excellent choice, as the open gardens offered us a new habitat and a large number of new birds. Likely our best sightings centered around a small but active antswarm of army ants that we found near the Jaguar exhibit. About a dozen handsome Black-chested Jays alerted us to the presence of the ants by their strident calls and flurry of motion around an isolated tree that the ants were foraging on. We wandered over for a closer look at these large cream, blue, and black jays and soon found ourselves looking at several bright Grey-headed Tanagers, two Plain-brown Woodcreepers and an impressively large Northern Barred Woodcreeper (as well as over ten Clay-coloured Thrushes) that were also attracted to the swarm. It was a modest sized antswarm, but as we did not encounter any ants at all on the Pipeline Road it was very nice to see. Near the swarm we tracked down a Thick-billed Seedfinch singing its sweet jumbled song as it perched above the ants. Perhaps the single most impressive sight around the zoo though occurred in the deer enclosure. A large pile of fruit had been placed out for the deer to browse on, and this pile was being visited by a bewildering number of birds. Squadrons of Clay-coloured Thrushes led the packs of Crimson-backed, Palm, and Blue-gray Tanagers down to the food table. A handsome Chestnut-headed Oropendola was hanging out nearby, and at one point an adult male Baltimore Oriole dropped in just to add a splash of orange to the mixture. Just before we left the park to head to lunch back at the tower our attentions were diverted by an incredibly accommodating American Pygmy Kingfisher that was perched above an ornamental pool. These little green and orange sprites have a tendency to sit in dense waterside vegetation, but this one flew right in and perched for us on a cement vase right by the path!

The rains were threatening and the sky was remarkably heavy and dark as we set off for an afternoon around the Summit Ponds and Old Gamboa Road. This diverse area centers around a small forested lake, but includes open grasslands, viney dry forests, and scattered parkland with large emergent trees over a dense grassy understory. At the small, forested Summit Lake we located some loafing Meso-American Sliders, a large American Crocodile and a quietly perched Boat-billed Heron that was sitting amongst the vegetation lining the pond. Past the ponds we walked along the old Gamboa Road, coaxing a skulky White-bellied Antbird out of the dense grasses, and working on the nice diversity of birds along the edge. These included our first White-winged Becard, Tennessee Warblers and Buff-throated Saltator. As we walked back to the vans the skies briefly filled with a pulse of migrating Turkey Vultures that were whirling in front of the approaching storm front, doubtless on their way to their wintering grounds in central South America. We headed back to the tower for dinner and prepared for our first of two all-day outings away from the central Canal Zone the next day.

Our trip to the north coast of the Canal Zone never fails to entertain, and this year was no exception. We were still able to drive over the newly constructed loch doors this year, allowing us to gain an appreciation for the complexities involved in this massive construction project. As there will soon be a new large bridge over the canal it will not be long before all traffic will be routed away from the lochs and over the new road. We stopped at the old lochs for a restroom break and were distracted by the antics of circling Magnificent Frigatebirds over the canal, and also by the opportunity to watch a cruise ship come through the loch system. Eventually though we headed to our first birding destination; a walk along Achiote Road (actually signed to indicate that this is an area for the observation of birds) in the early morning was very productive. Trogons were much in evidence, with White-tailed, Gartered, and Slaty-tailed all putting in appearances, often even sitting out on the exposed electrical wires along the road. Here too were several tiny and really charismatic Pied Puffbirds perched in a roadside Cercropia, with a few Fulvous-vented Euphonias, and a pair of Gray-capped Flycatchers as companions. As is generally the case our morning around the Achiote area was punctuated repeatedly by raptors flying between the steep-sided forested ridges. During the course of the four or so hours that we wandered down the road and side trails we found two Gray-headed Kites, three luminous White Hawks, several Broad-winged Hawks and a Gray-lined Hawk (a recent split from the more northerly distributed Gray Hawk). We also encountered two good mixed flocks; one along the roadside edge and one in the forest interior down a short trail. The edge flock contained some furtive Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, our only Ochre-bellied Flycatcher of the trip, a female White-winged Becard, and a host of migrant birds such as Tennessee, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos and Baltimore Oriole. In contrast, the interior flock gave us superlative views of a pair of responsive Song Wrens that crept up to watch us from some short palm stalks, a trio of Chestnut-backed Antbirds, and a female Golden-collared Manakin. It was near this flock that we located one of the chief target species around Achiote. A vocal pair of large and long-tailed White-headed Wrens popped into view in the canopy of a large and epiphyte laden tree. These attractive wrens have a limited worldwide range, occurring on a narrow strip of the Panama lowlands and adjacent Colombia. We also walked down a small side road and were thrilled to locate a pair of beautiful Pacific Antwrens, popping in and out of a shade-grown coffee plantation. The male is striking, a study in white and black and striped all over. It’s the female that really got the cameras clicking away though, as her apricot coloured head and lightly streaked body are a sight to behold. Although we recorded nearly 100 species just on this road I suspect that the universal favorite sighting for the group was of another species of wren. As we were walking back towards the van we heard some brief song from a pair of Bay Wrens emanating from some dense thickets of heliconia and grass. These almost gaudy wrens can be notoriously difficult to see well, and given the density of the habitat I was not holding out much hope when I played a snippet of Bay Wren song. Happily for us the birds shot up out of the morass of vegetation and showed extremely well as they bopped about in the higher bare sticks. Almost copper above, with a black head and white throat Bay Wrens must be in contention for the most attractive wren in the world.              

After a snack and some coffee in the shelter of a nearby bus stop we drove past some cleared agricultural land in a successful bid to locate a couple of Red-breasted Blackbirds (now called Meadowlarks). One was quite close to the road and showed well, with its jet black back and crimson breast impressing those among us more used to the dull browns and yellows of our more northerly Meadowlarks. We then headed to the spillway below Lake Gatun, where the Chagres River regains its integrity and heads to the sea. The concrete spillway was nearly dry, with just a few inches of water slowly flowing below the bridge. Conditions were perfect for waders, and among the numerous Western and Least Sandpipers we picked out a single Stilt Sandpiper (a rare migrant in Panama). A few Tricolored and Little Blue Herons were stalking the waters as well, and we enjoyed looking down on flying Mangrove Swallows and Gray-breasted Martins. In the afternoon we drove out towards the picturesque Fort San Lorenzo. A lunch stop at the park headquarters was fortuitous for birding as well. The small bridge before the buildings provided an excellent vantage point for a mixed flock which contained Black-and-White and Magnolia Warblers, a female Shining Honeycreeper, a pair of eye-level Yellow-margined Flycatchers and a very active Plain Xenops. Once sated by the tuna curry sandwiches we arrived at the fort itself, perched on a bluff at the mouth of the Chagres River. Some new interpretive signs and renovation work were a welcome sight and quite educational. Though the only new species that we located while at the fort was a young Peregrine Falcon that was zipping around the ramparts and generally harassing passing Pelicans the view here is excellent.

We arrived at our last birding stop of the day at the tall red mangroves that line the road near the entrance to the Fort Sherman marina. Just as we arrived the heavens opened up, and apart from some mangrove crabs scuttling over the roots we saw little before discretion led us back to the bus. Because of the timing of the rain and the likelihood that we would be able to see very little out of the curved train windows we decided to skip our customary train ride back to the Pacific Coast, which generally affords excellent views of the flooded valleys formed by the creation of lake Gatun. Although this meant that we missed out on Limpkin (which we generally see on the train ride) it did mean that we would not be stuck in traffic at the end of the day. We took the temporary ferry back across the canal, a treat that allowed for truly excellent views of the Caribbean lochs and shipping traffic, and then headed back to the tower in time for a brief break before dinner.

Our full day trip away from the tower to Cerro Azul and Cerro Jeffe, east of Panama City provided us with a taste of the highland/foothill forests of central Panama. Unfortunately for us the rains that had started the day before around the mangroves were still in full swing. We had heavy and nearly constant rain for the duration of the morning, which meant that we were largely confined to visiting a private house nestled in the gated community atop the ridge. Happily though this house provides shelter and is extremely good for birds. Within just minutes of our arrival we realized just how many hummingbirds one could fit onto a feeder. We estimated that 50-80 birds were visible at any given time, often zipping in and out right between us as we watched. The diversity here was also impressive, and in about two hour’s vigil we enjoyed Crowned Woodnymph, Green and Long-billed Hermits, pugnacious Bronze-tailed (and White-vented) Plumeleteers, Blue-chested, Violet-capped, Rufous-tailed, and dozens of Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds! In addition to the hummingbirds we had an excellent showing of honeycreepers, with lots of Red-legged and Green, and a simply absurd number of Shining Honeycreepers all crowding in at the feeders. The owners of the house also put out cooked rice and bananas at separate feeders just off the back deck. At those feeders we studied multicoloured Bay-headed Tanagers, dozens of blue and black Thick-billed Euphonia, several Hepatic Tanagers (here of the highland race that bears little resemblance to the form found in the US), Scarlet and Summer Tanagers and some pugnacious little Yellow-faced Grassquits. The show was simply amazing, with birds whirling around in a festival of colour and noise in virtually every direction; making for quite a good backup plan in case of inclement weather! In the late morning the rain cleared out a bit and we were able to wander some of the quiet residential roads that wind up and down the hilltops. Although the road was somewhat quiet we picked up a steady trickle of new birds throughout the morning, with migrants like American Redstart joining more exotic finds like an immature male White-ruffed Manakin, perky little Paltry Tyrannulet and a stunning male Red-capped Manakin that posed excellently for a photo shoot. Just before heading back to our hummingbird haven for lunch we stopped in along the base of the road that winds up to the crest of Cerro Jeffe. Here we hit the jackpot with a fruiting melostome tree that was hosting virtually our entire suite of desired highland tanagers. A busy flock of Black-and-Yellow Tanagers, perhaps one of the most appropriately named birds in the country initially attracted us to the bush and while we watched the group of mostly male birds scamper around the crown we began to notice other birds moving in the dense leaves. The first to resolve itself was a male Emerald Tanager, a rich emerald green bird with black ear-spots and back streaks and a gold nape that alternates between glowing intensely and blending in perfectly. Shortly thereafter a pair of female Tawny-capped Euphonias dropped in, showing their gray flanks nicely. A stunning Speckled Tanager completed the set and eventually put on a show for us by perching up in some bare sticks head on to the group, looking exactly like the field guide illustration. After our success we headed back to our hosts house for a cooked lunch, accompanied again by a wealth of hummingbirds and honeycreepers and a handsome pair of Black-cheeked Woodpeckers. Eventually we pulled ourselves away and started heading downslope, with a stop to admire a Black Phoebe perched on a rock in a rushing rocky stream. After descending the mountain in the mid-afternoon we stopped along the coast at Panama City to marvel at the huge numbers of migrant and wintering shorebirds that use Panama Bay as a stopover or wintering site. The tide was unfortunately very high, but thousands of birds were roosting up against the coastal mangroves. Tight flocks of Willets, Marbled Godwits, Black-bellied Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers and peeps (mostly Western Sandpipers) were all scoped in turn, with a steady stream of birds coming in to join the masses. Mixed in with the resting waders we picked out some perched Gull-billed and Black Terns, a couple of Great Blue Herons and a single Yellow-crowned Night Heron. As we headed across the Panama Viejo Bay we spotted a staked-out American White Pelican (very scarce in Panama) in its regular haunts. While out to sea truly stunning numbers of Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans wheeled around in a swarm of constant motion capping a wonderfully varied day in the field.

-Gavin Bieber

Created: 07 December 2017