AN APPROACHING AFTERNOON THUNDER STORM, OVER THE PANAMA JUNGLE, PHOTOGRAPHED FROM ATOP THE WORLD FAMOUS CANOPY TOWER
The facilities are first rate as was the entire staff at the tower and main office. The food was fabulous and plenty of it. In other words, I didn't go hungry. I highly recommend this lodge to any birder and feel, that this would make a great introduction to some one's first tropical birding adventure.
Panama is a beautiful place. I never once felt uneasy or unsafe. The people I met were nothing but friendly. I can't wait for my return trip. For a little, brief history lesson about Panama, check out this link: http://www.infoplease.com/country/panama.html
The Canopy Tower (a former US radar facility) is located within the Soberania National Park and is surrounded by quality forest. The birding atop the tower and along the road down Semaphore Hill and on the Plantation Trail, right out side the tower grounds, was nothing short of fantastic.
On my birding forrays, I visited the Ammo Dump Ponds in Gamboa, Pipeline Road (twice), Summit Ponds, the old Gamboa Road (twice) and the Metropolitan Park. All are within a few minutes drive of the tower.
Quality looks at many secretive species was easy at these locations. There were so many birds at times, in all directions, that it was difficult deciding what bird I wanted to look at.
My longest excursion was to Cerro Azul, which is basically a resort community, a two hour drive from the tower. Cerro Azul (Blue Hill) is where many people in Panama have vacation homes (basically a gated community) in the higher elevations, to escape the Panama heat. The birding at Cerro Azul was unbelievable.
My guides, Michael and Alex, were simply amazing! They are very friendly and have contagious personalities. These two gentleman, native Panamanians, knew their birds inside and out. They knew every call and squeak of every bird and where to find the birds. They are very patient with clients and work amazingly hard to get you on each and every bird. They made great birding companions and became quick friends.
The views from the tower are impressive. Each new sunrise is different than the one before. Some days, the low laying fog and clouds, envelope the hills. Other mornings, the sun lights up the Forest.
I would wake up every morning around 4:00am and make my way up the stairs through the tower, to open the hatch and spend a couple of hours alone atop the tower.
The night's wildlife was still active, as they were making way for the coming day shift. Kinkajou, Owls, Bats, Night Monkey and other nocturnal denizens could occasionally be seen in the beam of my spot light. Other creatures of the night, could be heard calling in the distance or scurrying through the canopy and forest floor below.
Most of all, I enjoyed just watching the sun come up over the jungle. It was peaceful beyond words. It has been a long time since I felt so relaxed. So stress free. No cares. No worries. Just total awe at what became visible with the coming light.
The fruiting Cercropia Trees that are right outside the tower and bedroom windows were animal magnets.These trees are just "outside arms length" and provide food and perches for many birds and mammals, which come to feed on the fruit and leaves each day, as well as predators, who come to feed on those who feed on these trees.
These crazy, yet beautiful, Toucans look fake and are one the more colorful (plumaged and personality) birds of the tropics.
Their beaks, about 4 inces long, are almost a quarter of the bird's entire body.
They are highly social, roaming the jungle in groups of up to 15 birds.
Mammals like Mantled Howler Monkey, Geoffrey's Tamarin, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths and Jamaican Fruit-eating Bats are nothing short of daily events.
Sloths are herbivores (plant eaters), feeding on a low-energy diet of leaves, twigs and fruit. Because of their slow movement and metabolism, it can take up to a month for a sloth to digest a single meal.
Geoffroy's Tamarin is most active during the day and rests in the safety of the tree tops during the night. Geoffroy's tamarins are very sociable animals and inhabit their territory with their rest of the Geoffroy's Tamarin troop which generally have between 3 and 9 members. Geoffroy's tamarin troops are led by the eldest female and have predominantly male members.
The Geoffroy's Tamarin (right)is an omnivorous animal meaning that the Geoffroy's tamarin hunts both plants and other animals in order to survive. Fruits,insects and green plants make up the majority of the Geoffroy's tamarin's diet along with small rodents and reptile eggs and tree sap. Due to it's relatively small size, the Geoffroy's tamarin, has a number of predators within it's natural environment. Wildcats, snakes and birds of prey are primary predators of the Geoffroy's tamarin, along with humans who are destroying their natural habitat.
I acquired a nice list of mammal sightings on this trip: Mantled Howler Monkey, Geoffrey's Tamarin, Agouti, White-nosed Coati, Collared Peccary, Capybara, Verrigated Squirrel, Red-tailed Squirrel, White-tailed Deer, Kinkajou, Western Night Monkey, Jamaican Friut-eating Bat, Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and a variety of unidentified bats that were seen nightly
I was really hoping to see an ant Eater on this trip. It wasn't for the lack of effort, that I didn't. I knew they were around and that I was close to them because their sign, like their scat (pictured right), were around quite frequently.
The mammals were impressive on this trip! Even so, the best for me, were the birds. As a birder, I love Central and South America. I have been to Costa Rica and Columbia and I am totally hooked and addicted to these regions, the people, the food and the wildlife.
THE BIRDS: Vamos a observar aves!
The birding on this trip was amazing! I took very few photos of the birds, because the lighting for photos was not the best, seeing I have a relatively slow lens, for low light photography. Also, there were so many birds in mixed flocks, that taking photos would mean missing birds, and most likely, missing something rare.
I will start out with the bird of the trip for me. This bird was number two on my "most wanted to see" list. Second only to the Harpy Eagle (which I unfortunately didn't see. Next year's trip to Panama will hopefully change that. However, for now, I am more than pleased with this trip's results).
The bird of the trip, was a raptor. A cool raptor. Then again, all raptors are cool. I was fortunate enough to see three of my second most wanted bird: The large and impressive, Black Hawk Eagle. My first sighting was a bird high up in the sky, on Pipeline Road.
That sighting was nice and offered excellent views. However, my best sighting would come on my second to last day of the trip. When I found a perched bird right off the "trail."
He/she was very cooperative, allowing several close views. He flew off but returned again, after Michael, my guide, vocalized his call. Where the bird perched next to us once again, allowing us killer in your face, eye to eye views through the scope.
Though light and small compared to other eagles, this bird is a powerful predator that frequently hunts relatively large prey. It mainly eats large rodents opossums and monkeys as well as, occasionally, bats and birds. Its popular name in Brazil is "Gavião-pega-macaco", which means "monkey-catching hawk". The birds it takes can be quite large, such as toucans,and chachalacas
These pictures do not do this magnificent raptor justice. The pictures also do not impress the closeness of this bird while perched. It was an amazing experience having this bird, stare me in the eye. It's orange eyes seemed to burn right through me.
In this video from my cellphone, you can see just a very small fraction of an Army Ant Swarm
The list of Antbirds, Antwrens, Antshrikes, Antpittas, and Woodcreepers (these are birds)that were present at these swarms were awesome and added many lifers to my growing list of birds.from the trip
These guys took full advantage of gleaning the scurrying insects from the path of the advancing swarm. Sometimes, the antbirds ate the ants,
Another follower of the swarm, was the beautiful Spotted Anbird (left). The photo is blurry, due to low light levels at the forest floor and that, this little dude wouldn't stop moving.