The Canopy Tower Lodge sits in splendid tropical forest. Photo: Canopy Tower
Note: 2014 tour can be taken in conjunction with the new Panama: Darien Lowlands at Canopy Camp tour (details forthcoming soon).
Panama is one of those fortunate places where two great avifaunas meet. As one moves from the Costa Rican border east toward the Colombian border, Central American birds drop out and such truly Neotropical groups as antbirds, woodcreepers, tyrant flycatchers, hummingbirds and tanagers begin to dominate. It all makes for an exceedingly rich birding experience, and our base at the Canopy Tower affords excellent access to an impressive diversity of birds within just a few miles of the lodge
This tour is timed to take advantage of the beginning of spring migration, when resident breeding birds are joined by wintering migrants and transients from North America. This influx of Nearctic migrants, especially raptors and swallows, makes for a dynamic avian assemblage. The acclaimed Canopy Tower serves as a delightful home base as we explore several remarkable birding areas including Pipeline Road, which offers arguably the best birding in Central America, with over 400 species recorded from this single locale. We’ll also journey further afield to see the humid Caribbean coast and to a nearby cloudforest-clad mountain, which will both offer a different mix of birds from those around the canal.
Following our weeklong stay at the tower, we are offering a new weeklong tour to the recently constructed Canopy Darien Camp, an African-style tented camp lodge situated in the Darien Lowlands.
Day 1: The tour begins with our arrivals in Panama City and transfers to the Canopy Tower in Soberania National Park. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 2: In the light of early dawn, we’ll stand with coffee in hand on the top deck of the Canopy Tower, enjoying the sunrise over the forested hillsides below us. We’ll scan the skies and trees for parrots, pigeons, mixed canopy flocks and the prize of the forest, the stunning Blue Cotinga. After an hour on the deck, we’ll have breakfast and then drive to Plantation Road, a nearby forest trail. In this lowland Atlantic forest we’ll hope to encounter flocks containing Dot-winged, White-flanked and Checker-throated Antwrens, Western Slaty Antshrike, Cocoa Woodcreeper and canopy species such as Yellow and Scarlet-rumped Caciques and Purple-throated Fruitcrow. This trail is often excellent for forest raptors such as Double-toothed and Gray-headed Kites and Slaty-backed and Collared Forest-Falcons. We’ll return to the Canopy Tower for lunch and an early afternoon siesta (in our rooms or in hammocks on the top floor) and the opportunity to watch the hummingbird feeders for Violet-bellied, Blue-chested and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, plus White-necked Jacobin and Long-billed Hermit.
Later we’ll drive north to Gamboa and the famous – if not-so-enchantingly named – Ammo Dump Ponds. Here we’ll find our first waterbirds, including numbers of Wattled Jacanas. White-throated Crake and Gray-necked Wood-Rail lurk in the reedbeds, and there is always the chance of finding a motionless Rufescent Tiger-Heron along the pond margins. Large grassbeds contain mixed groups of Yellow-bellied, Ruddy-breasted and Variable Seedeaters and Thick-billed Seed-Finch, while the tangled vegetation around the larger pond can harbor Buff-breasted and Plain Wrens. Large concentrations of Gray-breasted Martin and Mangrove and Southern Rough-winged Swallows often gather along the canal. Overhead there could be passing Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, Ospreys or terns; the canal offers a corridor for pelagic species to cross the isthmus. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 3: After an early breakfast we’ll pass Gatun Lock and the Panama Canal before reaching the Achiote Road on the Caribbean coast. Achiote is widely regarded as the best place in the canal area for diurnal raptors, and we’ll keep our eyes upward for Semiplumbeous, Savannah, Common Black and Short-tailed Hawks, along with several kites and falcons. We’ll also look for local species such as White-headed Wren, Montezuma and Crested Oropendolas, Spot-crowned Barbet, Pacific (Streaked) Antwren, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bare-crowned Antbird and Red-breasted Blackbird. We’ll have lunch at a beautiful historic fort perched at the mouth of the Chagres River, where we occasionally encounter the odd straggler or passing seabird. Here too we’ll explore a section of mangroves, where Black-tailed Trogon, Streak-headed Woodcreeper and a wealth of migrant warblers often occur.
In the late afternoon we’ll continue to the outskirts of the coastal town of Colón, where we’ll board a train back to the Canopy Tower. The train ride affords great views of Barro Colorado Island, one of the world’s premier biological research stations, specializing in tropical ecology and island biogeography. We’ll also pass through areas full of waterbirds, including large numbers of waders and most likely Snail Kites. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 4: We’ll have another morning watch from the top of the tower, where flocks containing birds such as Green Shrike-Vireo, Brown-capped Tyrannulet and White-shouldered Tanagers should be visible—if we can keep from being distracted by the Red-lored, Mealy, Brown-hooded or Blue-headed Parrots wheeling around below us. Chestnut-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans and Collared Aracari are common around the tower early in the morning, often perching up in nearby Cecropia trees.
After breakfast we’ll walk down the mile-long Canopy Tower entrance road, possibly encountering a troupe of White-faced Capuchins or the very attractive Geoffrey’s Tamarin. The forest floor along the roadside is open in many places, greatly improving our chances of actually seeing such ground-dwelling species as Black-faced Antthrush and Great Tinamou. Three species of motmots, a host of flycatchers and Crimson-crested, Black-cheeked, Lineated and Cinnamon Woodpeckers should help make for a very full morning of birding.
In the mid-afternoon we’ll drive to the nearby Summit Ponds, where edge specialists such as Buff-throated and Streaked Saltator, Gray-headed Chachalaca, Jet Antbird and Golden-fronted Greenlet are often found along the access road. We should also encounter a few mixed flocks of open-country tanagers and flycatchers, including the incredible Crimson-backed Tanager. Around the ponds we could see Boat-billed Heron, Greater and Lesser Kiskadees and kingfishers including Amazon, Green and even American Pygmy.
After dinner we’ll offer an optional night tour back down the road to the ponds. The forest feels like a very different place when it’s dark, with a diverse frog chorus and Western Night Monkeys, Kinkajou, Tamandua and bats competing with a long potential nightbird list including Spectacled, Mottled, Crested, Black-and-white and Tropical Screech-Owls, Pauraque and Great and Common Potoos. Once at the ponds, there is a good chance we’ll witness the antics of the Greater Bulldog Fishing Bat, a large brown bat that spends its evenings hunting surface fish in ponds close to forests. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 5: Today we will venture out for an all-day expedition to Pipeline Road, considered by many the premier birding location in Central America. As our vehicles (carrying our picnic lunch) follow along behind, we’ll walk Pipeline, making a particular effort to locate such difficult species as Sunbittern, King Vulture, Slaty-backed Forest Falcon, Streak-chested Antpitta, Ruddy and Black-striped Woodcreepers, Moustached (Pygmy) Antwren, Forest Elaenia, Blue-crowned and Red-capped Manakins, Song Wren and Pied, White-necked, Black-breasted and White-whiskered Puffbirds. If we’re very fortunate, we might encounter a Harpy Eagle, a few of which are roaming wild in Panama after being released in the last few years; if we run across an ant swarm, we may find it attended by obligate ant followers such as Bicolored, Spotted and the outstanding Ocellated Antbirds. Watching dozens of birds at a swarm, seemingly oblivious to our presence, is an experience that a naturalist can truly revel in. In addition to the birds, the forest here is literally alive with butterflies, dragonflies and a host of frogs. Everywhere we look there will be things of interest, and it won’t be easy to leave. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 6: We’ll leave early this morning for Cerro Azul. Though only about two hours away, these highlands present a whole new world where trees are laden with epiphytes and colorful orchids. Mixed canopy flocks often include a variety of dazzling tanagers such as Emerald, Silver-throated, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Speckled and Black-and-yellow. We have reasonable expectations of seeing the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, the beautiful Violet-capped Hummingbird and the amazingly colorful Yellow-eared Toucanet. These wet forests also offer our best chance for the very local Black-eared Wood-Quail and Black-headed Antthrush. We’ll visit several arrays of hummingbird feeders, where we regularly encounter over 15 species and hundreds of individuals over the course of a few hours. After lunch we’ll drive toward Panama City to investigate the waterfront at Panama Viejo, which plays host to an amazing assemblage of shorebirds. We should encounter thousands of birds of over a dozen species, and we’ll look especially hard for Collared Plover and Cocoi Heron. Night at the Canopy Tower.
Day 7: The tour concludes this morning with timely transport to Panama City’s International Airport or a morning pick-up for those continuing onto our Darien Canopy Camp tour.
Created: 09 May 2013
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
- (2013 Tour Price $2,950)
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 10 with one leader.
** Single Occupancy Note: The “standard” single rooms at Canopy Tower share bathroom facilities (two toilets, one shower) among up to five people. Participants choosing to use these rooms can deduct $275 from the tour price noted above. Space permitting, single travelers may book a double-occupancy room at Canopy Tower with private en suite bathroom facilities. The main tour single-occupancy supplement for such a booking will be $875.