Birdwatcher's Paradise in Panama
This itinerary concentrates on the abundant birdlife of the former Canal Zone, Western Panama, and even a sample of the avian riches of the Darien in Eastern Panama. Not only are these areas incredibly diverse in terms of tropical habitats and bird species, but they also happen to be easily accessible.
Day 1: Arrival in Panama
After your evening arrival at the Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, you will be driven to the historic town of Gamboa in the vicinity of Gatun Lake, Panama Canal. Located in the buffer zone of the Soberania National Park , the area of Gamboa offers outstanding opportunities for wildlife observation in the adjacent rainforests.
In the nearby gardens you can find a great diversity of animals, ranging from dozens of species of butterflies and moths, to iguanas and lizards, as well as scores of mammals like sloths, tamarin monkeys, night monkeys, kinkajous, agoutis, pacas, coatis, armadillos.
Additionally, the bird diversity is impressive with nearly 200 species recorded.
Day 2: Birding around Gamboa
Early today we will start discovering the many bird species found right around our Lodge. We may be lucky to see some of three species of toucans, motmots, trogons, myriad tanagers as well as hummingbirds and honeycreepers attending the nectar feeders. With such an array of birds we will have a hard time pulling ourselves away from the breakfast table to start birding in the nearby forest.
The various habitats around the town of Gamboa boast a great number of birds, including open fields where Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Thick-billed Seedfinch, as well as Blue-black Grassquit and Variable Seedeater. Wetlands nearby could yield Yellow-tailed Oriole, Rufescent Tiger-heron, Greater Ani, Wattled Jacana, Purple Gallinule, and with some luck a few glimpses of the elusive White-throated Crake.
Day 3: Birding the Pipeline Road
Today we will have the opportunity to explore one of Panama´s most famous and proliphic birding hotspots: The Pipeline Road. The Panama Audubon Society´s Christmas Bird Count along the Pipeline Rd. often times records more than 300 different species in a 24-hr period.
As we explore the vegetation alongside the road we may discover mixed species foraging flocks with dozens of birds from various species including White-flanked, Checker-throated and Dot-winged Antwren; along with Western-slaty Antshrike, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Flatbill, and the nearly endemic Southern Bentbill.
Further searching may reveal other interesting inhabitants of the tropical rainforests including forgaing Black-chested Jays or Purple-throated Fruitcrows, as well the possibility of large insect predators like Black-breasted Puffbirds and the Great Jacamar among many others.
In addition, we will also search the skies above for raptors like White Hawk, Bat Falcon, Black Hawk-eagle, and even a majestic King Vulture.
Day 4: Fly to David and Birding Western foothills
Early today we will fly to David in Chiriqui Province. We will arrive in good time to explore the fields around the airport in search of Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, maybe a flock of the endemic race of Brown-throated Parakeets, or the near endemic Black-hooded Antshrike or Orange-collared Manakin.
Afterwards we will start our ascend to the nearby mountains. We will stop in the foothills to search for some of the areas desired birds. We will be looking for numerous colorful tanagers including Bay-headed, Speckled, and Silver-throated Tanagers. We may also discover Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Red-faced Spinetail, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, as well as the nearly-endemic Fiery-billed Aracari.
Later in the afternoon we will drive over the other side of the majestic Baru Volcano to the quaint town of Volcan.
Day 5: La Amistad International Park
Breakfast will find us in La Amistad International Park (jointly protected by Panama and Costa Rica). Endemism is high in this Important Bird Area (IBA) and we will make special efforts to see many birds restricted to the Talamanca Range.
We are not only referring to the plain brown flycatchers like the Dark Pewee or Yellowish Flycatcher, but to some of the gaudiest birds in the world, like the myriad hummingbirds, brightly colored tanagers, Emerald (Blue-throated) Toucanet, Spangledcheeked Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, and the gorgeous Resplendent Quetzal.
We will have lunch at a restaurant operated by a local women’s cooperative within the park. We will taste some great local flavors while on the lookout for passing mixed species flocks that could contain any of the specialties we may have missed so far like Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tufted Cheek, Prong-billed Barbet and more.
Day 6: Search for Quetzal at the Baru Volcano National Park
Early today we will explore the forests along the Los Quetzales Trail at the Baru Volcano National Park. Because of its importance in preserving unique elements of the flora and fauna, the UNESCO has declared this area a Biosphere Reserve. Amidst the cloud forest we may spot Buffy Tufted-cheek, Spangle-cheeked Tanager, Sooty-capped Bush-tanager, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, and Large-footed Finch. Flowering bushes by the trail may yield White-throated Mountain-gem, as well as other regional endemics like Stripe-tailed and Volcano Hummingbirds.
Our most precious prize bird today would be to come across what some people consider the most beautiful bird in the New World: The Resplendent Quetzal.
Time-permitting we may take a tour of the nearby Dracula Orchid Farm. Here not only will we enjoy the sight of more than 2,000 different species of these colorful flowers; but we will also keep our eyes open for Silver-throated Tanager, Black-faced Solitaire, Slaty Flower-piercer.
Late in the afternoon we will catch our flight back to Panama City and return to our home-based in the town of Gamboa.
Day 7: Birding the Soberania National Park
Following breakfast, we will return to the Soberania National Park. You will understand why we will bird once again here, when you learn that in these rainforests dwell most of the 500 species of birds recorded for the Panama Canal Watershed area.
Here we would be fortunate to come across some of the most typical Neotropical bird families like motmots, puffbirds, trogons, antbirds and more. Returning to the same park would allow us to encounter additional species that we may not have seen so far, as well as second chances at getting better looks at species that we have encountered briefly before.
In addition, however, we may encounter other most interesting wildlife like Tamandua anteaters, both Two and Three-toed sloths, and any of the five species of primates recorded for the park: Howlers, Capuchin, Spider, Tamarin or with some luck a Western Night monkey roosting inside a hollow trunk.
In the afternoon we may opt to visit nearby ponds in search of waterbirds, like the Rufescent Tiger-heron, Tricolored herons, Snowy and Little Blue egrets. It may also be possible to find a couple of the resident kingfishers: Ringed, Amazon, Green or the tiny American Pygmy Kingfisher. With some luck, we may even find an elusive Least Bittern or a Sungrebe.
Day 8: Birding Eastern Panama (Cerro Azul to Bayano)
Today we will be birding the foothills of the Chagres National Park. With over 320,000 acres this is the largest protected area in the Panama Canal Watershed. Here we can find humid forest species like Rufous-crested Coquette, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-tipped Sicklebill, and even the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker.
At close to 3,000 feet above sea level, in the Cerro Jefe area you will come across some mountain specialties like the Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Spotted Woodcreeper, White-ruffed Manakin, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Black-and-Yellow, Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, and Olive Tanagers; as well as an opportunity for the nearly endemic Tacarcuna Bush-tanager.
In the afternoon we will continue our journey into Eastern Panama. Following a scenic drive along the Pan-American highway, we may stop at the Bayano Lake to look for some Darien specialties like Cocoi Heron and Pied Water-tyrant. Additionally we may stop at nearby patches of forest by the road. This area is excellent for finding a number of South American specialties like Golden-Green Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Antwren, One-colored Becard, and perhaps even the nearly endemic Black Antshrike.
Day 9: Searching for Darien specialties
Today we will explore a newly-discovered birding Hot Spot in Eastern Panama province. The privately-owned San Francisco Nature Reserve is one of the last remnants of lowland rainforest near the Pan-American Highway.
This site exhibits an enormous diversity of birdlife, in part because of the variety of habitats that range from open fields, farmland, riparian forest, ponds, forest edge, as well as second growth forest and even primary forest. Here we might be treated to uncommon lowland humid forest species like Blue Cotinga, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Speckled Mourner, Great Jacamar, Royal Flycatcher and rarities like Black-crowned Antpitta, Wing-banded Antbird, and Barred Puffbird.
However, the greatest appeal of this special place is the occurrence of some South American Specialties otherwise restricted to the mythical Darien region, like Red-billed Scythebill, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Rufous-winged Antwren, Orange-Crowned Oriole, White-eared Conebill, among others.
Day 10: Departure
In the morning you will be driven to the Tocumen International Airport. With enough time, we could scout the nearby open areas searching for Savannah or Roadside hawk, Shiny Cowbird, Woodstork, and any other birds that may have eluded us, or you may continue on a Post-trip Extension to the Darien Jungle Expedition
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Birdwatcher's Paradise in Panama (10 days/ 9 nights): USD$1,885 per person plus sales tax (7%) from Panama City, based on double occupancy. Single Supplement: USD$385 plus sales tax (7%)
Includes: Lodging in comfortable motels/lodges, all meals, all local terrestrial and air transportation within Panama, transfers, entrance fees, bilingual birding guide.
Does not Include: International airfare to Panama City, Panama, tourist card (USD$5), Airport departure tax (USD$50), alcoholic drinks, travel insurance, gratuities, and expenses of a personal nature (laundry, mini-bar, phone calls, medication, etc.).
In addition to the dates below, this program is available throughout the year upon request (click here)
- Fri. Apr 5 - Sun. Apr 14, 2019
- Fri. Nov 11 - Sun. Nov 20, 2019 (Spectacular Fall Migration ! )
- Fri. Feb 21 - Sun. Mar 1, 2020
- Fri Mar 20 - Sun. Mar 29, 2020