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Day 1: Arrive to Panama City
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly from London Heathrow via connection in either Amsterdam or Madrid to Tocumen International airport, where we will be warmly welcomed by Paco and escorted to our accommodation in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, where we stay for the next seven nights.
Days 2 and 3:
Pipeline Road, Panama Rainforest Discovery Center and Observation Tower
We spend two full days exploring Pipeline Road and the surrounding areas. This is a hotspot of Panamanian birding where we can see an impressive variety of forest birds over a 17k stretch of road. Pipeline Road runs through the famous Soberania National Park where we have the opportunity to explore deeper into the forest on several side-trails. Some of the highlights of this area include Olivaceous Flatbill, Black-tailed Trogon, White-tailed Trogon, Crimson Crested Woodpecker, Western Slaty Antshrike, Checker-throated Antwren, Bicolored Antbird, Red capped Manakin, Blue crowned Manakin and of course we also hope to find rarities including Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo, Pheasant Cuckoo and Great Jacamar to mention a few. There’s no shortage of raptors here! We will be looking for all three species of Forest Falcon, Great Black Hawk, White Hawk, Barred Hawk, Plumbeous Hawk and if we are lucky maybe even Harpy Eagle. This superb area, full of avain riches, really does deserve two days to fully explore its birding potential.
One day we visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center from Pipeline Road. We will enjoy the unique above-canopy vantage point by climbing the 32- metre tall Observation Tower. Views of the vast forest from the tower are simply spectacular; from this vantage point you can see ships on the Panama Canal, the majestic Centennial Bridge, and miles of rainforest! From here, you get a unique eye-level perspective of the rainforest canopy. Many birds, including toucans, parrots, tanagers of various types, hawks and more are seen. The hummingbird feeders at the base of the Tower are good for Long-billed Hermit, White-Necked Jacobin, Violet-bellied and Blue-chested Hummingbirds and White-vented Plumeleteer. Occasionally, a Snowy-bellied Hummingbird is spotted. We will be looking out for Black Breasted Puffbird, Pied Puffbird, Great Black Hawk and the special of the day, Blue Cotinga.
Day 4: Metropolitan Nature Park, Plantation road and Summit ponds Today, right after breakfast, we visit Metropolitan Park. Despite its location inside the city, this incredible park offers an amazing variety of birds and other animals. The forests here are considerably drier than the habitats we have seen thus far, providing a new array of species. A few common birds are Lance-tailed Manakin, White-bellied Antbird, Western Slaty Antshrike, Forest Elaenia, Southern Bentbill, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Short-tailed Swift, Yellow-crowned Amazon, Common Potoo and Yellow-rumped Cacique. We also look for Rufous-brested and Rufous-and-white Wren, Cocoa and Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-necked Puffbird, Crimson-backed Tanager, Golden-fronted Greenlet, Lineated Woodpecker, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and the harder to find endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet. This is also a great place to see mammals, including Coatimundi, Three-toed Sloth and Geoffrey’s Tamarin.
Day 5: Cerro Azul & Cerro Jefe
After breakfast we travel up to the cool foothills of Cerro Azul (2500 ft in elevation) and Cerro Jefe (3,300 ft in elevation) where we will be dazzled by an array of magnificent birds including Emerald, Speckled, Rufous-winged, Golden-hooded, Silver-throated, Bay headed, Hepatic, Olive and Black-and-yellow Tanager. A few other target species include majestic Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Spot-crowned Barbet, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, and endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker and if we are really lucky near-endemic Tacarcuna Bush-tanager. This is part of the most important protected area vital to the health of the Panama Canal watershed, preserved within the Chagres National Park.
Day 6: Semaphore Hill and Ammo Dump
Semaphore Hill is a jungle-lined road winding down another nearby section of the Soberania National Park. In this habitat we look for more forest birds including Slaty Antwren, White-flanked Anwren, Fasciated Antshrike, Marbled Wood-Quail, Great Tinamou, Rufous Motmot and many others. This is a great place to look for antbirds as army ant swarms are a common occurrence, and gorgeous Ocellated Antbird, Spotted Antbird and Bicolored Antbird follow the insects. There are lots of mammals here and in the surrounding Central Panama region, including Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth, Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth, Coatimundi, Mantled Howler Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Geoffroy's Tamarin, Capybara, Kinkajou, and Northern Tamandua.
Later in the day we visit the pond at Ammo Dump, a fantastic spot to see water birds. A few of our targets will be Least Grebe, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, Striated Heron, and hard-to-find Capped Heron. This is also the best place to find White-throated Crake, and Least Bittern, Rufescent Tiger-Heron and American Pygmy Kingfisher are also resident. Here we should also find Olivaceous Piculet, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Southern Lapwing, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Scrub Greenlet and Panama, Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers among others, in the surrounding trees and marshy fields. Hook-billed and Snail Kites, Collared Forest-Falcon, Yellow-headed Caracara, Zone-tailed and Short-tailed Hawks are here sometimes too!
Day 7: Plantation Road, Summit Ponds and Old Gamboa Road.
Today we explore another incredible section of the Canal Corridor region. A mix of secondary forest, open areas, gardens, and patches of dry forest, scrub, grasslands, river banks and natural ponds provide a great day of birding. Plantation Road runs through an old growth forest and areas of secondary forest on the north side of the Continental divide. Much of the trees are tall and have very little forest undergrowth, making spotting forest floor species like tinamous and leaf tossers unusually easy. Here we also hope to see Southern Bentbill, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Blue-crowned Motmot, Buff-rumped Warbler, White-breasted Wood-wren, a variety of antbirds, Gray-headed Tanager, and Plain-Brown and Northern-barred Woodpecker among many others. Next we visit Summit Ponds and finally Old Gamoa Road. As well as nesting Boat-billed Herons, we look for Striated, Green and possibly Capped Heron, as well as Wattled Jacana. This is also a great place to see kingfishers; all six species in the Americas have been seen. We finish our rewarding day of birding at a true hot spot, Old Gamboa Road. The diversity of habitats featured here yield an incredible variety of birdlife including Jet Antbird, Great Antshrike, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Lance-tailed and Golden-collared Manakin, Black-tailed and Royal Flycatcher, Lesser and Great Kiskadee, Buff breasted Wren and Rusty Margined Flycatcher.
Day 8: Transfer to Tranquilo Bay and initial birding
Today we make the transfer to Tranquilo Bay by air to Bocas del Toro (approximately 1 hour flight) where we take a boat to Tranquilo Bay (approx. 40 minutes). We stay for six nights at the unforgettable Bocas del Toro Eco Resort.
After we have settled in, we enter the forest trail in search of Chestnut-backed Antbird, White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwren, Black-crowned Antshrike, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and the geographically misplaced Stub-tailed Spadebill. After a short hike we arrive at Pineapple Hill, a small elevated clearing at the forest’s edge, which is an important forage area for a multitude of neotropical and migratory species. This is an excellent place to see feeding birds such as Golden-collared and Red-Capped Manakin, three species of honeycreeper, Passerini’s, Scarlet, White-lined, and Summer Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Green-breasted Mango, White-necked Jacobin and Purple-crowned Fairy hummingbirds, Scaled Pigeon, Double-toothed Kite, Roadside Hawk and the hard to see White-throated Crake. Another forest trail takes us to a Golden-collared Manakin lek. During the mating season, from December - August, each lek should have displaying males. Further along this trail is an area of high forest canopy, where Three-wattled Bellbirds like to spend midday. This canopy specialist likes to perch underneath the leaves in the shade, presenting an opportunity for photographers. On the way back to the lodge, we search the forest floor for the famous Isla Bastimentos Red Poison Dart Frog. This morph of Oophaga pumilio is studied onsite by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who are researching its evolutionary traits.
After a break, we focus our efforts in the mangrove forest looking for several species of heron, Green Ibis, Mangrove Black Hawk, five kingfisher species, Mangrove Cuckoo, Whimbrel, Willet, Prothonotary Warbler and resident Mangrove Warbler, whose males exhibit a stunning red hood. In the evening we climb the canopy tower to watch from a bird’s-eye view the pandemonium of Red-lored and Mealy Parrots paired up and returning home, as groups of chattering Blue-headed Parrot join the chorus. We also may have close views of White-crowned and Scaled Pigeon, Black-crowned and Masked Tityra, Lineated and Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Blue-grey, Palm, and Plain-colored Tanager, White-vented Euphonia, and scores of flycatchers.
Day 9: Palo Seco Protection Forest
After a delicious Panamanian breakfast, we leave the dock at 6am and travel by boat to the town of Punta Robalo on the mainland. Today we will be birding in the Palo Seco Protection Forest, one of the most vital areas of La Amistad Biosphere Reserve. This incredible area consists of wet Atlantic forest, foothills, and watersheds, part of BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area Central American Caribbean Slope, EBA019. This is a hotbed for restricted range species, and is one of the most important protected areas in the Neotropics. Snowy Cotinga, Chestnut-colored and Cinnamon Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Crimson-colored, Speckled, Emerald, and Silver-throated Tanager, Lattice-tailed Trogon, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green Hermit, Slaty Spinetail, Dull-mantled Antbird, and Band-backed and Black-throated Wren are all possible. We also make every effort to see elusive Lanceolated Monklet.
Other lowland specialties might include Brown Jay, White-crowned Parrot, White-collared Seedeater, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Cinnamon and White-winged Becard, Long-billed Gnatwren, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Black-and-Yellow Tanager, Buff-rumped Warbler, Torrent Tyrranulet, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, and Red-fronted Parrotlet.
Mammal sightings in the area might include sloths, Mantled Howler Monkey, Red-brocket Deer, squirrels and several species of bats. In the late afternoon we will work our way back through the lowland foothills scanning for kettles of raptors, Snowy and Blue Cotinga, and marsh birds including various sandpipers, three species of ibis, Southern Lapwing, Blue-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Common Gallinule. A fresh picnic lunch will be served in the field and we return to the lodge in the evening.
Day 10: Fortuna Forest Reserve
The Continental Divide of the Talamanca Range, between the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui, is one of Panama’s premier birding and wilderness areas. Today we will focus on the area known as Umbrellabird Road, between the Continental Divide and north of Fortuna Reservoir. This is the best area to find Umbrellabirds between the months of March-September, which is considered the breeding season. Fortuna Forest Reserve, established in 1976, is a species-rich area and part of BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area Costa Rica and Panama Highlands, EBA 020. The distinct avifauna in this globally important area include many regional endemics and restricted range species. Our visit here is sure to produce outstanding birds, with opportunities to see Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Red-faced Spinetail, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black and Crested Guan, Blue-and-Gold Tanager, Black-thighed and Blackfaced Grosbeak, and Golden-winged Warbler to mention a few. We enjoy a picnic lunch while overlooking the beautiful vistas of Lake Fortuna. Typical species highlights might include: Azure-hooded Jay, Sulphur-winged and Barred Parakeet, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Flame-colored, White-winged, Carmiol’s, Cherrie’s, Hepatic, and Spangled-cheeked Tanager, Slate-throated Redstart, Tropical Parula, Blue-and-White Swallow, Rufous-winged, Golden-olive and Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Elegant and Tawny-capped Euphonia, Slaty Flowerpiercer, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, and the gorgeous Orange-bellied Trogon. Several raptors are possible including Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Barred Hawk, Great Black-Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kite along with abundant kettles during the migration season. More possibilities worth mentioning include Blue-throated Toucanet, Red-headed and Prong-billed Barbet, White-crowned and White-ruffed Manakin, Broad-billed Motmot, Green-thorntail, Snowybellied, Stripe-tailed, and Rufous-crested Coquette and Black-bellied Hummingbird. The strange Tayra, a weasel-like Neotropical mammal with wrinkled facial skin, has been spotted in this area. A relaxing boat ride back to the lodge might produce Brown Booby, Black and American Royal Tern, Willet, Mangrove Swallow, and Bottlenose Dolphin among others. We will arrive at the lodge in the early evening where we discuss our lists and share the day’s best photos over appetizers and drinks on the veranda, followed by a tasty dinner.
Day 11: Tranquilo Bay Canopy Observation Tower
Tranquilo Bay’s latest eco-adventure soars 100 ft above sea level, bringing you to the top of the forest canopy for a panoramic bird’s-eye view of three distinctly different ecosystems within Bastimentos Island National Marine Park. The bird watching, wildlife, and photo opportunities from this incredible vantage point are exceptional. During the day, as thermals start rising off of the Caribbean Sea, raptors will soar for hours. The tower is an excellent place to scan for Black Hawk-Eagle, Mangrove Black-Hawk, Bat, Laughing, and Peregrine Falcons, Double-toothed Kite and White Hawk.
Beautiful regional endemic Snowy Cotinga can be seen from the tower along with large groups of Montezuma's Oropendola, hordes of parrots, Olive-throated Parakeet, White-crowned and Scaled Pigeon, Blue Dacnis, three species of honeycreeper, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Three-wattled Bellbird, Osprey, several species of hummingbird, Lineated and Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelican, multiple swifts and swallows, Common and Lesser Nighthawk, tanagers, euphonias, and many flycatchers. Many species of mammals and reptiles found at the lodge can also be seen from the tower, as can butterflies, moths and other beautiful insects. Marine species such as dolphins and sea turtles are also possibilities, as we look out over the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea. A good sunset should not be missed. From the tower’s vantage, as the sun sets on Tranquilo Bay, surreal hues of indigo, lavender, and orange paint the western sky over the surrounding forest and stunning Talamanca Range.
Day 12: San San Pond Sak Wetlands – Snyder Canal
Today will be a tranquil day of “birding by boat” within several lush, coastal, wetland habitats. San San Pond Sak Wetlands is a designated Ramsar site, as well as, part of the La Amistad UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is rich with abundant habitats including Atlantic wet lowland forest, Raphia palm swamp, fresh water river course, ocean impact beachfront, and mangroves. Access to this verdant wildlife area will be via boat through the historic Snyder Canal, as birds conveniently fly through the gallery forest back and forth across the waterway.
Panama’s first canal was vital in establishing The United Fruit Company, and the very beginnings of what would become “The Banana Republic”. This is an excellent place to find many lowland bird species, northern and altitudinal migrants, raptors and shorebirds. All six species of kingfishers known to the Americas can be found here and we watch closely for regional endemics like diminutively distributed Nicaraguan Seed- Finch, White-collard Manakin (Almirante race), Olive-backed Euphonia, Black-cowled Oriole, Canebrake Wren, and Three-wattled Bellbird. Also possible are Masked Duck, Common Gallinule, Least Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Potoo, Northern Jacana, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.
Raptor sightings might include Yellow-headed Caracara, Bat, Laughing and Peregrine Falcons, Osprey and Pearl Kite. From the high branches of fruiting trees down to the grassy and shrubby edge, we might find Passerini’s and Golden-hooded Tanager, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Red-breasted Blackbird, Buff-throated Saltator, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, chatters of Olive-throated Parakeet, Streaked and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and the minute Common, Black-headed and Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher.
Mammal sightings might include Mantled Howler Monkey, Crab-eating Racoon, White-nosed Coati, Neotropical River Otter, West Indian Manatee and Bottlenose Dolphin. Soropta Beach, important for migrating and resident shorebirds, is also a nesting ground for Leatherback and Hawksbill sea turtles, in addition to Green Iguana, Basilisk Lizard, Common Boa Constrictor, Spectacled Caiman and American Crocodile. Here on the beach we enjoy a picnic lunch with fresh sea breeze and the shorebirds. This vibrant river mouth and beachfront might produce Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers, Wilson’s, Collared, and Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Least, Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpiper, Common and Lesser Nighthawk, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, four species of tern and Roseate Spoonbill. In the afternoon, sea conditions permitting, we will pass two miles offshore to a breathtaking rookery and reserve known as Swan’s Caye, for beautiful close-up looks at Panama’s only known breeding colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds, as well as Brown Booby and Magnificent Frigatebird. We return to the lodge in the late afternoon.
Day 13: Isla Popa - birds and frogs / Afternoon Tranquilo Bay
Each of the islands in the Bocas del Toro archipelago has interesting wildlife and high levels of endemism, however Isla Popa, the second largest island in the chain, has more species of birds and mammals due to its close proximity to the mainland. A leisurely boat ride of about two kilometers brings us to a dense gallery forest surrounded by rich mangrove lagoons. We bird this phenomenal area by boat, peacefully enjoying flights of Keel-billed and Black-Mandibled Toucan, Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Brown-hooded Parrot, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plumbeus and Swallow-tailed Kite, Pale-billed and Lineated Woodpecker, Mangrove Cuckoo, Pygmy Kingfisher, and hopefully male Snowy Cotinga conspicuously blazing in the sun. This mangrove lagoon has some beautiful Turtle Sea Grass where we can have good views of sponges, starfish, urchins and Upside-down Jellyfish.
On one of the many forest trails at the lodge, a winding spring creek creates a favorite locale for resident hummingbirds to bathe. There are benches set up as viewing stations to comfortably observe and photograph this daily high-octane spectacle. Band-tailed Barbthroat, Purple-crowned Fairy, Crowned Woodnymph, and other hummingbirds fight ruthlessly for the best bathing positions. Once they get their turn at the fresh water, each species has its own dance-like preparations before taking its first splash. Red-capped Manakin, Prothonatary Warbler and Chestnut-backed Antbird might be found along the creek’s shallow edges.
There are various levels of activity throughout the day; however, the most consistent action can be observed in the evening time.
Day 14: Depart Tranquilo Bay
We fly back to the international airport at Panama City, and stay overnight in a hotel near the airport. the following day (Day 15: ) we take our international flight via Amsterdam or Madrid to London Heathrow, where we arrive on the morning of Day 16.