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Recap of Panamanian Paradise Rendezvous

By: Mark Garland

Tuesday, November 5 was arrival day. Since several travelers arrived late in the evening we didn’t plan any sort of group gathering, but many of us discovered some good birding on a walkway behind the hotel and adjacent to the Panama Canal. The day ended with a spectacular sunset over the canal!

Wednesday, November 6: We gathered at 7 a.m. for our ride to the airport and our flight to Bocas del Toro.  It started pouring rain just after the plane landed, but as we waited for the luggage to be unloaded a couple of Whimbrels were spotted along the runway! We traveled to the Tranquilo Bay Lodge by boat as the heavy rain continued, and while we all got wet, at least it was warm rain, and spirits remained high. After lunch we had time to explore the grounds at Tranquilo Bay. We birded off the deck of the main lodge, climbed the lodge tower for views of the canopy and the surrounding landscape, and walked through the gardens. There were many birding highlights, including great views of both Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Golden-collared Manakins, Prothonotary Warblers, and others. The day ended with a flight of both Common and Lesser Nighthawks at dusk.

Thursday, November 7: After breakfast, we took a short boat ride to the mainland and visited the Green Acres Chocolate Farm.  The birding here started slowly, but then several mixed flocks came by, with many birds showing up very quickly!  We each struggled to see what we could, but we all got to see Yellow-throated Toucan and Pale-billed Woodpecker.  The tiny Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant also showed up for the group. In the afternoon we walked along trails at Tranquilo Bay, winding our way through the forest to Natalia & Ramon’s farm.  As with each day here, we wrapped up with Happy Hour, the checklist, and a yummy dinner.

Friday, November 8: We started early for a day of birding around the Changuinloa Valley on the Panama mainland.  We traveled by boat for nearly an hour before docking in the port town of Almirante, passing a giant transport ship in the harbor.  Our first birding destination was a quiet back road passing through the coastal hills.  Black Hawk-Eagle, Rufous Motmot and the tiny “blue jeans” poison dart frog were highlights of the morning.  After a picnic lunch augmented by fresh “patacones” from a local restaurant, we visited fields, marshes, and woods along another quiet back road.  Orange-chinned Parakeets and a Bright-rumped Attila proved tough to find, but eventually we found them both, along with a number of other new birds.

Saturday, November 9: This morning featured boat birding at Isla Popa, a nearby island just a short ride away from Isla Bastimentos, where Tranquilo Bay is located.  We cruised slowly along a narrow, mangrove-lined channel, enjoying great looks at Ringed Kingfisher and, after considerable searching, finding a Snowy Cotinga high in the trees. Midday saw more rain, and in the afternoon some went snorkeling, some went into the forest, but most of us just birded near the cabins, spending a lot of time atop the tower.  Tawny-shouldered Tanagers were busy near the cabins, along with many other birds.  From atop the tower we watched dozens of parrots flying by, sometimes right at eye level.

Sunday, November 10: An early start and return to the mainland today, where the plan was to drive up to the continental divide, at about 4,000 feet of elevation.  First, however, we birded the extensive marshy area just inland, where the much-desired Green Ibis was seen, along with a variety of other water birds.  Next, we stopped at a gas station and store where, improbably, adjacent habitat harbored Boat-billed Herons, 2 kinds of kingfisher, and other wildlife.  We finally headed up in elevation, finding some tanagers and other songbirds at mid-elevation and hummingbirds in the cloud forest at the summit. A pair of Black-and-yellow Silky-Flycatchers was an exciting surprise.  The weather was threatening all day and we had some chilly mist up high, but very little rain actually fell on us. Some of the attendees were claiming Bill Thompson had something to do with it 🙂

Monday, November 11: Our day of boat birding, featuring a slow cruise through the old Soropta Canal, had been postponed to our last full day at Tranquilo Bay, as the weather forecasts had suggested that this would be the driest and calmest day.  The forecasts were right! We did have one surprise 5-minute downpour, but otherwise the day was lovely, with enough cloud cover to keep us from sweltering. Our three boats moved slowly down the canal as we spotted birds right and left– Nicaraguan Seed-Finch, Laughing Falcon, American Pygmy-Kingfisher, and many more. We reached the mouth of the Changuinola River and reveled at huge numbers of water birds, spotting even more on a short walk along a secluded beach. After returning through the canal we ventured two miles out into the Caribbean Sea to Swan Cay, where views of Red-billed Tropicbirds amazed us all.

Tuesday, November 12:  We reluctantly packed up and said goodbye to our wonderful hosts and guides from Tranquilo Bay and boarded our boats for the ride to the airport. The flight back to Panama City was quick and easy, and before long we were on our way to the Canopy Tower.  We settled in, met our guides Carlos Bethancourt and Jorge, ate lunch, and took a little time for exploring the tower and spotting a few birds from the rooftop viewing deck.  King Vulture was a highlight for some. A short afternoon birding trip to the “Ammo Ponds” was incredibly productive, adding many new birds for the group. We had great looks at Rufescent Tiger-Heron, along with the elusive White-throated Crake and, for a few lucky members of the group, the tiny Yellow-breasted Crake.

Wednesday, November 13: We started the day atop the tower with coffee, tea, and lots of birds!  Canopy birds at eye level – Green Shrike-Vireo, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Lesser Greenlet, and many more. It was hard to keep up with all the birds our guides were finding.  After breakfast, we drove to the Pipeline Road, and the new birds kept on coming. Our guides somehow managed to get birds quickly into their scopes for awesome views. White-bellied Antbird, Red-capped Manakin, and Black-striped Woodpecker were just a few of the sightings. After lunch back at the Tower (and a cameo appearance by Geoffrey’s Tamarin monkeys during siesta time), we headed out to the Summit Ponds, stopping first along the entrance road to marvel at a Black-and-white Owl and a White-whiskered Puffbird. Those with early morning flights home on Thursday were shuttled to an airport hotel after dinner. We become family during these Reader Rendezvous trips, so it’s always sad to say goodbye as folks head for home.

Thursday, November 14: It was departure day, but those with afternoon flights (or those heading on to further adventures in Central America) enjoyed another morning of birding at the Tower. Thanks to the team at Bird Watcher’s Digest for planning out a wonderful trip that ran flawlessly!

Check out a gallery of the event!