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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Private Panama Canopy Tower in Spring

Karyn Delaney and friends

Tour Information

These notes are designed to help you prepare for your tour.  Please read this document carefully.

TRAVEL TO PANAMA CITY: WINGS and Bon Voyage Travel would be happy to assist with your travel arrangements to Panama. If you would like assistance, please contact Donna Nelson at Bon Voyage Travel at (800) 518-7338 ext 229 or her direct line is (520) 428-7725 and identify yourself as a WINGS client.

ENTERING PANAMA: Panama requires a passport valid for at least three months after entry by U.S. citizens. Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Panamanian embassy.

Anyone coming directly from a country where Yellow Fever is endemic must show proof of a current vaccination.

It is always a good idea to take photocopies of your passport and air ticket with you when traveling abroad. They can prove invaluable in helping you get replacements if your original documents are lost or stolen. You should pack the photocopies separately from the originals. If required by an embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.

COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at hhttp://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_994.html , and the CIA World Factbook background notes on Panama at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pm.html.

HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Please contacting your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure.

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations can be found on the CDC’s  Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list.

Special medications may be unavailable so bring enough to cover your particular needs for the entire trip.

Malaria: It is the opinion of the Centers for Disease Control that travelers to western Panama including the Canal Zone and El Valle are not at risk for malaria.

Zika:  This virus is expanding northward from tropical South America into the northern Caribbean and southern United States and health authorities are still trying to gage its full impact.  Couples who expect/hope to become pregnant should consult their physician. The virus is transmitted by mosquitos of the genus Aedes, a day-flying mosquito typically found near people in crowded urban environments that have only a minimum of public services like sanitation, window screens, and drainage; in other words locations that aren’t on most tour itineraries. WINGS tours spend most of their time in natural areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is altogether absent.  

Elevation:  Maximum elevation reached on the main tour is about 4500 feet.

Insects: Biting insects and arachnids are seldom a major nuisance although chiggers and biting gnats can be locally numerous around the Panama Canal. Careful application of repellent provides good protection and the leader will advise you when it will be necessary. In general, a repellent should contain 30% of the active ingredient, diethyltolumide (DEET). However, care must be taken to avoid getting the DEET repellent on optical equipment as DEET dissolves some rubber and plastic and can damage coated lenses. Camping supply stores and outfitters carry some reasonably effective alternatives, which contain natural products and aren’t corrosive. 

Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

Sun:  Sun in Panama can be very intense. Please bring adequate protection, including a sun hat and a strong sun screen of at least 15 rating.

PACE OF THE TOUR:  We will try to be in the field at dawn. Most days will involve departures close to 7 a.m. with the exception of days spent at Achiote Road and Cerro Azul (5:30 a.m.).  Mornings at the tower, other than on days with very early departures, will start with an hour’s vigil atop the building looking out at the surrounding canopy. Many of the birding sites that we visit on the tour are within 30 minutes of our lodge. On about half the days we will return to the tower for lunch and then a mid-day siesta.  The other half of the days we are away all day, to locations further afield.  Other than some narrow, slightly uneven trails and some steep paved roads at Cerro Azul, the walking presents no particular problem.

Important note: Moving between floors at the Canopy Tower requires climbing several sets of steps repeatedly on a daily basis. Guest rooms are located on the second and third floor of the tower. The dining room and lounge area are located on the fourth floor and the observation deck is five stories above ground level.  There is no elevator. Those with knee problems or mobility issues should take these conditions under  consideration.

LANGUAGE: The major language in Panama is Spanish, but English-speaking persons are widespread. Our leaders’ Spanish ranges from functional to fluent and you will have no need to learn the language. However, understanding even a few basic words may add interest to your trip, so you might consider bringing a small English-Spanish dictionary or phrase book.

CURRENCY: The local currency is the U. S. Dollar.

CLIMATE: The days will likely be between the mid 70s and low 90s and humid, with some afternoon showers. Rarely do these showers reach the intensity or duration that would impact on a birding excursion. High-quality rain gear and a small umbrella will go a long way toward making any rainy periods more enjoyable. At the higher elevations it can be cool (in the 60s), and, if rainy, the temperatures can feel surprisingly chilly. Bring at least one heavier shirt or light jacket to prepare for such conditions.  

ACCOMMODATIONS: Three hotels are used during the tour. The Canopy Tower near Panama City is a retrofitted U.S. radar tower. Although the rooms are not large and the noise-proofing leaves something to be desired, the novelty of your surroundings makes up for any of the hotel’s somewhat spartan conditions. Guests staying in the single rooms will share bathroom facilities (two toilets, one shower) with up to four other people. If space permits, single travelers may request to stay in a double-occupancy room with ensuite restroom facilities. In these cases, a single-occupancy supplement will be applied to the tour price.

FOOD: Breakfasts will be at the Canopy Tower before our morning departures and will involve fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, eggs, bread and a meat dish. Some lunches will be picnic in the field and some will be held at the lodge. All dinners will be at the lodge, save for the final dinner at the hotel in Panama City (for both the main tour and the extension). The food is of very good quality and features local produce and seasonings.

WINGS tours are all-inclusive and no refunds can be issued for any missed tour meals. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any important food allergies or requirements.

LAUNDRY SERVICE: Laundry service is available at the Canopy Tower. At the Tower, however, it can take up to 48 hours to have laundry returned. A dryer is available to dry out any wet gear, and the dried clothes will be available by the next morning.

ELECTRICITY: Electrical current and plugs are the same as in the US, i.e., 110V, 60-cycle, parallel prong. Power failures occur, but not with any regularity. Appliances with especially broad ground prongs may not fit outlets at our hotels. A converter may be available at the desk, but you might want to bring your own. You may want to consult Magellan’s International Travel (www.magellans.com), which features a complete range of adapters and converters.

DRESS: Informal throughout.

FIELD CLOTHING: The best approach to the variable climate is to take several layers of clothing that can be added or subtracted according to changes in temperature. The following items are basic:


Sun hat

Cotton socks

Lightweight sweater

Cotton trousers (jeans)

Tennis shoes or sturdy hiking

Boots for day hikes

High-quality raincoat

Wind-breaker jacket

Rubber boots (not essential but can come in handy for Pipeline Road)

Insect repellent

 

IMPORTANT MISCELLANEOUS ITEMS:


Alarm clock        

Small day pack

Sunscreen          

Binoculars (extra pair)

Field guide (see Bibliography)

Flashlight or good Headlamp

Swim suit

Earplugs (if an exceptionally light sleeper)

Telescope and tripod

Compact umbrella

Shampoo

Spare Batteries for equipment

 

LEADER’S GEAR: The leader will have a spotting scope, laser pointer, a spotlight, a first aid kit, maps and copies of the more important field guides and references.  The leader will also have birdsong playback equipment to use as needed.

LUGGAGE: Bring what you need but carefully consider the utility of each item. If you have it, please pack soft luggage, as soft luggage is more easily packed into the vehicles. Our leader(s) will help with luggage if they can, but please do not expect them to carry excessively heavy bags. Please do not bring any bag that is so heavy that you are unable to lift and carry it yourself. Please bring two smaller lighter bags rather than one very heavy one.

Remember to pack sharp, pointed items, such as pocket knives, etc., in your checked luggage. Since baggage restrictions have been changing rapidly in the current environment, please check with your airlines for the most up-to-date luggage requirements and the latest security restrictions.

Remember too not pack important medicines in checked luggage; always carry them in your carry-on luggage.

In addition to using your WINGS luggage tags, it is a good idea to affix identification to the inside of each piece of luggage.

TRANSPORTATION: Transportation during the tour is by specially modified rainforest trucks, or by vans or comfortable buses. Transfers from the airport and between hotels will be by 15 or 22-passenger vans. 

PHOTOGRAPHY: Scenery and memory shots will be plentiful and simple to obtain but birds are difficult to photograph. Although there will be occasions when bird photography is possible, a birding tour is not normally the best means of pursuing this aim. Digiscoping is perfectly compatible with the tour, though you must bring your own telescope; the leader’s scope will not normally be available for this purpose. If you are a serious photographer, please contact us for further information about photographic possibilities. Be certain to bring as much film or as many memory cards as you think you will use, as it may be difficult to find precisely what you need on short notice.

Camera equipment should be packed in moisture- and dust-proof bags as a precaution.

SPOTTING SCOPES:  Our guide will be bringing a spotting scope for group use.  Should you desire prolonged views or are interested in digiscoping we recommend that you bring your own scope.  There are a number of cases where having a scope would be ideal on this tour: chiefly when scanning the mudflats of Costa De Este, and the treetops from the top of the tower.  Many of the walks on the tour are through closed canopy forest, where the use of a spotting scope is somewhat cumbersome. Spotting scopes are not the easiest item to travel with, and they do require a bit more planning when packing and attention while on tour.  Should you choose to bring a spotting scope you will be required to carry and maintain it during the duration of the tour.  A good rule of thumb when trying to decide whether to take a scope is: if you use a scope regularly in your day-to-day birding, consider bringing it on tour. If you don’t, leave it at home.

INTERNET ACCESS & CELL PHONES: Internet access is generally available in almost every corner of the world, and wireless (Wi-Fi) is increasingly common in hotels, airports, restaurants and cafes. Free public internet and wireless are available at the Canopy Tower.

Cell phones can be useful while on tour but keep in mind that many countries operate on a different cellular technology than US or Canadian carriers. Your phone may be incompatible with the local system, so please check with your local carrier. Fortunately, with the advent of smartphones, it is easy to download applications such as Skype or Google Voice which can make calling home free or very inexpensive. Other options include replacing the data (“SIM”) card in your phone or purchasing a cheap, pre-paid cell phone in-country.

INSURANCE: Theft is a world?wide concern. If you are bringing expensive optical equipment or other valuable items, please be sure that you have appropriate coverage. If in doubt, please seek the advice of your insurance agent. Please be sure that your medical insurance provides adequate coverage outside the United States, as you’ll be responsible for your medical expenses in the unlikely event that you become ill. You may wish to have coverage for your baggage and personal items as well.

TRAVEL INSURANCE: You may want to consider travel insurance. A policy can give welcome protection in the event of a health-related or other trip cancellation. WINGS is pleased to offer Travelex Insurance to our clients. You can get a quote through our website at www.wingsbirds.com/about/#insurance, or contact Travelex directly by phone at 1-800-228-9792. Please refer to Location # 03-0082 when purchasing a policy.
If you purchase a travel insurance policy from Travelex or another carrier, make sure it covers you in the event of a medical emergency, cancellation of a trip, or severe delays. Please note that WINGS and Sunbird are not liable for any medical or repatriation costs resulting from injury or illness during a tour, or for any costs, such as extra accommodation, resulting from a flight delay. Please be sure that your travel or medical insurance provides adequate coverage outside the United States, as you will be responsible for your medical expenses should you become ill. Note too that Medicare does not cover medical expenses incurred outside the United States.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

General Interest

Krichner, John. 1997. A Neotropical Companion. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Skutch, Alexander F. 1980. A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. This is one of several Skutch books well worth reading, accounting his personal experiences in the Neotropics.

Field Guides

Angehr, George R., Robert Dean. 2010. The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide. Cornell University Press. Range maps and updated taxonomy are a plus over Ridgely, but some of the colors and shapes are off.

Ridgely, Robert S., and John A. Gwynne, Jr. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Panama; with Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras. Second Edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. Essential.

DeVries, Philip J. 1987. The Butterflies of Costa Rica (Vol. 1-2). Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Leenders, Twan. 2001. A Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica. Zona Tropical, Miami, FL.

Reid, Fiona A. 1997. A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central America and Southeast Mexico. Oxford University Press, Oxford, NY. 

If you have difficulty locating any title, please contact us. We’ll help you if we can.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF WINGS TOURS: Please take a moment to read About WINGS Tours. This section contains important information about how we conduct tours, e.g., what is included in the tour price, refund and cancellation policies, pace of the tours, and other information that will help you prepare for the tour.

FINAL INFORMATION: Final information with instructions for meeting the group, hotel addresses, etc., will be mailed about three weeks before trip departure. Other news will be communicated as necessary. If you have any questions, please let us know. 

Created: 23 May 2017