The fabulous Canopy Lodge is situated approximately 60 miles west of Panama City in the picturesque El Valle de Anton. This beautiful village and area is nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano (the second largest inhabitated one in the world) and is surrounded by beautiful, jagged ridges and hills.
The surrounding gardens have been specifically planted to attract hummingbirds such as: Stripe-throated and Green hermits, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Garden Emerald, and Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds.
The open air accommodations (seen in the photo above), of the common area and dinning room, offers amazing views of the jungle and birds. Even though you are in "the jungle" you are far from roughing it!
The pictures below are the guest housing. Each has it's own veranda that butts up pretty close to the trees and foliage. giving great views of the many birds that abound
Very nice to see Crimson-backed, Bay-headed, Flame-rumped Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonias, Gray-headed Chachalacas, Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, Chestnut-headed Oropendulas and many others at in your face ranges!
The beds were very comfortable. Sheets and pillow cases very clean. I enjoyed using all eight pillows each night. The screened doors and windows to the balcony, allowed the nice cool, clean evening air and night jungle sounds to fill my room each night, making for absolutely amazing and restful night's sleep.
Birding in style did not end with my living situation. My guide, Danilo and I, also birded "in style" with our mode of transportation. The two of us got to roam the countryside, mountain trails and other environs in a Porsche Cayenne.
I was impressed with this five seat mid-size luxury crossover. It handled the rough terrain pretty readily.
This stuff is pretty amazing! I highly recommend it. Just read the directions and follow them. The Permethrin on my clothes, combined with the topical repellant, Ultrathon on my body, made for a bug bite, chigger and tick free week.
The only bite I received the entire week was from a Tarantula that I was playing with. Lesson learned. Don't play with big hairy spiders.
I wish I had used these two products on my previous trips to Costa Rica, Colombia and Panama. It sure would have saved me lots of grief. Especially with the no see-ums that feasted on me on my first day in Colombia and the chiggers from my first Panama trip!! I will definitely make these two products a main stay on my trip next year, either to Brazil or Ecuador.
DAY ONE: DTW + MIA + PTY = PARADISE
I decided not to sleep, in fear of missing my 6:20am flight. So, I did many chores, packed and repacked my luggage, making sure I had everything and to be sure I had no contraband items in my carry-ons, that might upset the TSA.
My carry-on bags are the same bags I use for my self-defense classes. Items sometimes in these bags are training knives, ammunition, etc. I would hate to have a runaway 9mm round hiding in a corner of a pocket or something. Or having a hunkered down training knife stowed away in a dark recess. Something like that may impede my plans for vacation. Pat downs, cavity searches and interrogations tend to do that.
After I was satisfied my bags were clear of items that would cause a red flag through security and I had all the necessary items one would need for a birding trip to the tropics, I loaded my checked and carry-on luggage into my pick-up and headed out the door for the airport at 2:10am.
The almost hour ride to my typical parking spot at US Park, outside of Detroit Metro Airport was uneventful. Traffic light. Road conditions perfect. No fog. No rain. A perfect start to a perfect getaway.
I parked my truck and was whisked off to the airport by the shuttle at the parking lot. Dropped off at the doors and made my way to the ticketing counter in no time flat.
Thankfully, I upgraded to first class, when I checked in online the day before. I printed out my boarding passes and printed off all other pertinent paper work I would need. Doing so, sure made things so much easier.
Going through security was just as fast and uneventful. No runaway 9mm rounds, no practice knives or any other red flag items were in my gear. So, then it was off to breakfast; then to my gate and wait.
The first leg of my trip would take me to Miami. Three hour flight, in first class (my first time ever flying such). I would again get to enjoy breakfast...second breakfast. Just what a traveling Hobbit needs.
The flight to Miami was nice. There is no doubt that I will not fly economy again if I can help it.
The three hour layover until my flight to Panama City went quickly. Thank goodness. Again, I was in first class for the final leg of my trip. Yes, I am bragging.
The flight to Panama seemed to last an eternity. However, eventually the captain announced we will soon begin our decent. "Flight attendants, please prepare for landing..." I swear, I almost heard him say, "Jeff...get ready to go birding!"
Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring low over the water. Great Egrets and a handful of gulls were also easily seen.
As we were touching down, I could see Crested Caracaras and Savanna Hawks, on the grass along the runway. In the air and perched in trees, were hoards of Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures, White Ibis, and Cattle Egrets. Groups of Southern Lapwings scurried away as the 737 roared past.
Debarking from the plane was quick. Yet another benefit of first class. Customs was uneventful and easy. The gentleman took my passport, asked me a few questions and said, "Welcome back to Panama!" My "muchas gracias" was sincere as I took my passport from him and went to get my luggage and go through my final security clearance and scan of my bags, before meeting my driver outside.
My driver, Lorenzo (who picked me up from the airport on my first trip) was standing there, waiting for me with a smile. Hellos were exchanged as were handshakes. He took my bags and we headed off for the Canopy Lodge van.
Now, Lorenzo is a nice guy and a good driver. Unfortunately for both of us, he doesn't speak a lick of English and my Spanish is limited to ordering beer, inquiring about the location of the restrooms, commenting on the beautiful women and other traveler basics.
The mostly quiet 2 1/2 hour ride from the airport to the lodge was interesting, but I passed the time birding out the windows and practicing my Spanish on Lorenzo. He was gracious, patient and seemed to understand me and I him for the most part.
Some of the birds along the way included: Magnificent Frigatebirds, Laughing Gulls, Ruddy Ground Doves, Great-tailed Grackles, Willets, Road-side Hawk, Savanna Hawk, American Kestrel, Southern Lapwing, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbirds, Rock Pigeon, Brown Pelican and many others.
We drove through various habitats. Up hills. Down hills. Snaked through tight, hair pin curves and
meandered through traffic. Eventually arriving to the village of El Valle and to our final destination, the world famous Canopy Lodge. I was greeted by several staff of the lodge, my bags taken to my room and then I was given my orientation of the grounds and told dinner would be in 20 minutes. Just enough time to checkout the birds before I ate.
Birds were everywhere. Gray-headed Chachalacas, Bay Wrens, Chestnut-headed Oropendulas, Thick-billed Euphonias, Blue-gray, Golden-hooded, Crimson-backed, Flame-rumped and Palm Tanagers abounded. While Stripe-throated and Green Hermits, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Snowy-bellied and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds. darted all around.
A large Basilisk Lizard, darted out from it's hiding place to grab a large mantis. A red-tailed Squirrel ran in front of me, almost running over my feet. Ah, paradise!
I met my guide, Danilo and was given the low down for our first full day of birding, which would start the following morning after breakfast. Breakfast would promptly be at 6:00am. Danilo said his good-bye and I went and sat down to my first dinner at the lodge. it was nice being the only guest at the lodge. To sit quietly at the dinner table, in the open air dining room, watching all the butterflies and birds. Like I said, "Ah, paradise!"
DAY TWO: CARA IGUANA TRAIL
Not far from the lodge is some amazing birding on the Cara Iguana Trail. This area is outstanding for foothill birding in some of the last remaining examples of quality Dry Pacific Forest.
I was excited to start my first full day of birding. After an amazing night's sleep and a belly filling breakfast, Danilo and I loaded up in the Porsche (that still sounds funny to me) and headed out in search of the many birds that call the Dry Pacific Forest home.
After a short 20 minute trip, we arrived at our destination, unloaded the gear we would need for our day's hike. With bottled water in our pockets, binoculars in hand, we set off.
The morning chorus of birds filled the misty, morning air. Birds were flitting around every where, as mixed flocks seemed to drip from the trees. And this is just when we got out of the car. I knew that today would be a banner day. From the highlight list below, there was no doubt that it was.
Highlights: Gray-headed Chachalaca, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Southern Lapwing, White-tipped Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Spectacled Owl that was very, very close. Nothing like getting killer looks of these amazing, huge and beautiful owls.
Hummingbirds were well represented with: White-necked Jacobin, Green Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Long-billed Starthroat, Violet Crowned Woodnymph, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
Further highlights included: Tody Motmots, Rufous Motmot, Green Kingfisher, Spot-crowned Barbet, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Lineated Woodpecker, Barred Forest Falcon, Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-crowned Amazon, Barred Antshrike, White-bellied Antbird, Chestnut-backed Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush, Spotted Woodcreeper, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, White-shouldered Tanager and the always stunning--Orange-billed Sparrow.
Mammals were represented fairly well with: Red-tailed Squirrel, Western Pygmy Squirrel (rare), Variegated Squirrel, Brown-throated Three-Toed Sloth, Central American Agouti, White-tailed Deer and various bats.
Even though the list above is not a complete list of what we saw on this first, full day, it does give you the idea that tropical birding can and will produce exceptional days.
Yes, there are lulls and breaks like birding anywhere, but when you find the birds, the activity can at times be frantic to almost over whelming. All in a good way!
The best bird for me on this day was the Barred Forest Falcon (Lifer). Danilo and I heard one calling in the thick jungle, just off the trail we were on. We located the bird as we scanned the lush forest. All that was visible on the bird was it's head. Nice scope view anyway.
Well, Danilo imitated it's call and within seconds, the bird came flying right at us and landed on a dead snag at eye level just mere feet away. At first, I thought he was aiming to land on me or strike me. He seemed angry and looked very angry...nothing like getting the stink-eye from such a cool hawk at five feet away.
The bird was too close to photograph. My lens doesn't have that close focus capability. So, I just had to stand there, eye to eye with an incredible raptor.
The bird and I had a stare down for roughly five minutes, before he eventually grew tired of the game and flew off
DAY THREE: LA MESA AND LA MINAS
La Mesa is a visually pleasing blend of secondary forest, scrubby pastures, overgrown fincas and grassy borders, is home to many of the area’s specialties. While La Minas is an excellent place to get a wide variety of birds. The road follows the ridge line, with sweeping vistas of forested mountains, speckled with grasslands and small fincas. The views from here are fantastic, as on a clear day near the summit, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can be seen!
Highlights: Swallow-tailed Kite (a kettle of 73 birds), Road-side Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, White-tipped Sicklebill (an awesome hummingbird), Black-throated Mango, Orange-bellied Trogon, Blue-throated Toucanet, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Common Tody-flycatcher, White-throated Spadebill, Tufted Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Panama Flycatcher, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Thrush-like Schiffornis, White-ruffed Manakin, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-green Vireo, Black-chested Jay, Blue-and-white Swallow, Orange-billed Nightengale-Thrush, Black-and-white-Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Dusky-faced Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, White-lined Tanager, Crimson-backed Tanager, Flame-rumped Tanager, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Bay-headed Tanager, Black-headed Saltator, Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Chestnut-capped Brush-finch, Black-striped Sparrow, Hepatic Tanager and Lesser Goldfinch.
The best bird for me this day was my lifer, Orange-bellied Trogon. Like the Barred Forest Falcon the day before, this bird was calling deep in the brush off the trail. Again, we played it's call and the bird came flying in, landing too close for photos. This gorgeous male just sat there, calling and staring at me. Nothing like getting life birds that close!
DAY FOUR: El CHIRU/JUAN HOMBRON BEACH / PLAYA SANTA CLARA
HIGHLIGHTS: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Crested Bobwhite, Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Brown Pelican, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Green heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Lesser yellow-headed Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Savanna Hawk, Roadside hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Black-necked Stilt, Wattled Jacana, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, Whimbrel, Ruddy turnstone (a new bird for Panama for my guide), Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Royal tern, Pale-vented Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Stiped Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Veraguan Mango (Endemic Hummingbird), Garden Emerald, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Sapphire-throated Hummingbird, Whooping Motmot, Crested Caracara, Yellow-headed Caracara, American Kestrel, Brown-throated Parakeet, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Southern-beardless Tyrannulet, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Lance-tailed Manakin, Scrub Greenlet, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Tropical Mockingbird, Yellow warbler, Blue-black Grassquit, Ruddy-breasted Seedeater and Red-breasted Blackbird (an absolutely stunning bird),
DAY FIVE: COMING SOON!
DAY SIX: ALTOS del MARIA:
Set in the mountains on the continental divide east of El Valle, Altos del Maria provides a spectacular addition to the Best of Central Panama Birding Package. Ascending an excellent paved road, we will climb a ridge to our destination, an expansive area of cloud forest at 3,600 ft. This area harbors an exciting variety of highland forest birds and added some amazing and uncommon birds to my life list.
HIGHLIGHTS: White Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Purplish-backed Quail Dove, White-collared Swift, White-tipped Sicklebill, Green Thorntail, Purple-throated Mountain-gem, Violet-headed Hummingbird, White-tailed Emerald, Snowcap, Orange-bellied Trogon, Blue-throated Toucanet, Bat Falcon, Blue-fronted Parrotlet, Plain Antvireo, Slaty Antwren, Dull-mantled Antbird, Black-crowned Antpitta, Brown-billed Scythebill, Red-faced Spinetail, Lesser Elaenia, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, White-throated Spadebill, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Long-tailed tyrant, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Ochraceous Wren, Pale-vented Thrush, White-throated Thrush, Black-and-yellow-Tanager and the first ever recorded Three-wattled Bellbird for this area! This particular one, was a female.
The best bird for this day, was obviously, the bellbird. This was a lifer for both Danilo and I. We were trying to find a Snowcap all day. For some reason, they were hard to come by...that's birding! We stopped at one location, searching the flowers for hummingbirds, mainly the Snowcap. Unfortunately, none were to be found among the many other species of hummingbirds feeding on the flowers.
As I was scanning the trees, a bird flew in front of us and landed on a dead snag. danilo saw it at the same time. He called out, "Jeff, do you see this bird!?" I said, "Yeah, "what the hell is it?" He said, "I don't know, I never seen this before..I was asking you"
We both watched this Flicker sized bird, with streaking on its breast. Danilo was taking it's picture with his iPhone, through his scope. I had an idea of what it was and asked danilo if he had his field guide. I thumbed through the plates until I came across the bellbird drawings. Sure enough, there she was! I don't know who was happier, me or Danilo. He had a huge smile on is face, shook my had and said, "WOW!! Always fun seeing a guide get a lifer and be so excited.
DAY SEVEN: RIO INDIO & JORDANAL
After breakfast we departed for a fun-filled day of Caribbean Slope birding! These fine, forested, new areas are not well-birded—by anybody—so who knows what might turn up! First stop is at Rio Indio, a great spot to try for the area's specialties.
HIGHLIGHTS: Cattle Egret, Swallow-tailed Kite, Black Hawk-Eagle, Short-tailed Hawk, Scaled Pigeon, Mottled Owl, Band-rumped Swift, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Striped-throated hermit, White-vented Plumleteer, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Rufous Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, Barred puffbird, Spot-crowned Barbet, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Blue-headed Parrot, Checker-throated antwren, Black-faced Antthrush, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Yellow Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Paltry Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, Cinnamon Becard, Golden-collared Manakin, Lance-tailed Manakin, Black-bellied Wren, Rufous-and-white Wren, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Sulphur-rumped Tanager, Yellow-bellied seedeater, Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-striped Sparrow, Red-throated Ant-Tanager and Crested Oropendula,
DAY EIGHT: LEAVING PARADISE: a.k.a HOMEWARD BOUND
I always dread leaving!! This trip was no exception. After a very early breakfast, my driver, Lorenzo, picked me up at the lodge and off we went for our 2 1/2 hour drive to the airport. again, the ride was quiet. To pass the time, I scoped out the scenery through the windows, hoping to see at least one new bird before I boarded the plane.
All the usual suspects, bird wise were seen. the only new sighting for me, was a mammal I had hoped to see on my previous trip to Panama a few months before. This came in the form of a Northern Tamandua, which is a medium sized, New World Anteater. Typically a nocturnal beast, this one must have been heading into the jungle for a long day's rest. A nice find and addition to my mammal life life list.
All the birds were those I had seen many days on the trip, that is until we hit the ocean coast that lines the highway into the airport. The sheer volume of birds was astounding. Thousands and thousands and thousands of shorebirds packed themselves tightly, shoulder to shoulder on any and all available mudflats. Gulls, pelicans, frigatebirds, terns, cormorants were in mass. The highlight was a couple of Brown Boobies (lifer) mixed in with the flying Magnificent Frigatebirds...ahh, yeas...score!
This was yet another amazing birding trip! The lodging was top notch. the food very, very good. My guide, Danilo was way beyond awesome! It was great just having the two of us bird the entire time. Nothing like having your own personal guide!!!
THE TRIP LIST: 265 species. Only includes those that were seen. I have to check my lists against each other, in order to see which are lifers. I did mark those that I know are lifers off the top of my head:
DUCKS, SWANS & GEESE (1)
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
CURASSOWS, GUANS & CHACHALACAS (2)
NEW WORLD QUAIL (1)
BOOBIES & GANNETS (1)
Little Blue Heron
IBIS & SPOONBILLS (2)
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
HAWKS, EAGLES & KITES (8)
RAILS, GALLINULES & COOTS (1)
PLOVERS & LAPWINGS (1)
STILTS & AVOCETS (1)
SANDPIPERS & ALLIES (9)
GULLS, TERNS & ALLIES (5)
PIGEONS & DOVES (9)
TYPICAL OWLS (3)
Tropical Screech Owl
Veraguan Mango (Endemic)
Green Crowned Brilliant
Purple-throated Mountain-Gem (rare)
BARBET & TOUCANS (4)
FALCONS & CARCARAS (5)
Barred Forest Falcon
Slaty Antwren (rare)
Dull Mantled Antbird
Black-crowned Antpitta (Great looks at this hard to find bird)
OVENBIRDS & WOODCREEPERS (11)
Brown-billed Scythebill (Great long looks at this rare bird)
TYRANT FLYCATCHERS (32)
TITYRAS, BECARDS & ALLIES (4)
JAYS & CROWS (1)
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
MOCKINGBIRDS & ALLIES (1)
Rosy Thrush Tanager
GENUS INCERTAE SEDIS (3)
BUNTINGS & ALLIES (11)
CARDINALS & ALLIES (4)
BLACKBIRDS & ALLIES (8)
GOLDFINCHES & ALLIES (5)
OLD WORLD SPARROWS (1)