I'm sitting on the balcony of La Estancia B & B on Ancon Hill in Panama City, watching the BLUEGRAY TANAGERS and VARIABLE SEEDEATERS come and go from the feeders, while ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS call across the canopy. I've been told that the monkeys will show up any minute. It's hot, but more than that, it's humid!
My travel companion, Don Doolittle, and I left San Francisco at midnight on December 2, arriving in Panama City about noon the next day, rented a 4 x 4, and began the search for what remains of Tocumen Wetlands. Major development is happening around the marsh, and the directions for finding it made it pretty sketchy for actually getting there. Later, we found out that we were, in fact, at the marsh. Since the roads became impassable with mud, even for a 4 x 4, we decided to head to the mountains. Best bird at the marsh was RED-BREASTED BLACKBIRD.
In the mountains of eastern Panama, we headquartered ourselves at the Hostal Casa de Campo Country Inn, (www.panamacasadecampo.com) where the very delightful proprietor, Ana Maria, made us feel quite at home. What a treat, falling asleep to the calling TROPICAL SCREECH OWL each night, and waking up to the incessant calls of a HOUSE WREN feeding its youngsters in the nest under the eaves of our balcony. It is very worthwhile to spend the nights in the mountains, rather than down in the city.
For the next four days, we headed off in different directions, and hiked different trails each day. The first day, we birded the "petite Darien, " as the region of Bayano is known. This was a very dripping wet, pouring rain, soaking us to the skin, day! It was well worth it, as the best bird of the day was a group of about 7 RUFOUS-WINGED ANT-WRENS at Monkey River! A female RUFOUS-CRESTED COQUETTE was just out of this world! I can't even image a male!
During the following days, we hiked some steep trails that were so mud-slicked, we could have been ice-skating! Trails hiked included: Vistamares, Calle Maipo, Rio Mono, Cerro Jefe. We also visited the feeders at Birder's View (www.birdersview.com) many times. This was an extremely busy area for birds, not only at the feeders, but also coming to the vegetation near the home. Don managed to capture images of many of the birds since we had clear, unobstructed views, with beautiful sunlight on the tanagers and euphonias while they feasted on the berries of various plants. Specialties here, and on the trails included: VIOLET-CAPPED HUMMINGBIRD, YELLOW-EARED TOUCANET, STRIPE-CHEEKED WOODPECKER, BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER, BLACK-and-YELLOW TANAGER, OLIVE TANAGER, WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER, CRIMSON-BACKED TANAGER, EMERALD TANAGER, SPECKLED TANAGER, BAY-HEADED TANAGER, GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER, GREEN HONEYCREEPER, LONG-TAILED WOODCREEPER, PLAIN XENOPS, PIED PUFFBIRD, WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, VIOLET-HEADED HUMMINBIRD, GREEN THORNTAIL, GARDEN EMERALD, RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, BRONZE-TAILED PLUMELETEER, VIOLACEOUS TROGON, BLACK-TAILED TROGON, RUFOUS MOTMOT, and BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT.
These mountains are a weekend home to many Panamanians who escape the heat of the city for the cooler and breezy climate just an hour from the city. It is also the home for ex-pats from the USA, England, Canada, and Germany. As we made our way from one part of the mountains to another, we would sometimes encounter a few birds in the developed area, but most of the "good" birding is within the national park, which borders the housing area. On our last day, we stopped to look at a hawk, and I noticed a driveway with bird feeders, many bird feeders! Feeling quite bold, we marched up to the front door to meet the owners, Bill & Claudia Ahrens, from the USA. They invited us to enjoy their feeders which we certainly did! Everything seems to eat bananas like crazy and Bill keeps a whole crate-full at the ready. We saw our lifer, BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER here. Thank you, Bill & Claudia!
Finally, we made one more stop at Birder's View, a large house owned by the president of the Panama Audubon Society (www.panamaaudubon.org). The lovely owner told us about a trail with flowering helaconias just below the house. So, we hiked down a good trail to the "helaconia" forest—nearly 100 flowering plants— and saw several WHITE-TIPPED SICKEBILLS! These large, brown hummingbirds, with incredibly recurved bills, literally grasp on to the flowers like a bat, and hang there, feeding! What a treat!
In just a few minutes, we will be flying to Cana with ANCON Expeditions!