A Travellerspoint blog

Panama Day 2: Rainforest Discovery, Gamboa, & Pipeline Road

Soberania National Park, Panama

all seasons in one day 90 °F

MONDAY, MARCH 11:

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the three of us (Susie, Kim, and I) awoke just after 5:00am on our first morning here in Summit, Panama! We were SO excited to get out into the field and to start finding some great birds. This is the schedule I planned out for today (you can see why Kim said I was “cracking the birding whip”) :)

6:00am: Leave hotel
6:20am: Bird Ammo Dump Ponds on way into Pipeline Rd, leave 6:40am
7:00am: Rainforest Discovery Center Canopy Tower @ Pipeline Rd, leave 10:20am
10:30am: Photograph hummers at Rainforest Discovery Center, leave 11:15am
11:45am: Juan Grande Creek @ Pipeline Rd, leave 12:20pm
12:30pm: STRI dock, leave 12:50pm
1:00pm: Lunch in Gamboa @ Monkey Bar, leave 1:45pm
1:45pm: Bird Gamboa Rainforest Reserve Resort grounds, leave 4:00pm
4:15pm: Bird Pipeline Rd, leave when it is too dark to see
6:45pm: Back to Hotel for dinner

So, by 5:45 we had loaded up the car with our filtered water for the day and were on the road to Ammo Pond and Pipeline Rd. Ammo pond had RUFESCENT TIGER-HERON (more photos later) and this GREEN HERON:
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Immature WATTLED JACANA:
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Many WHITE-THROATED CRAKES were vocalizing and I got a brief glimpse of my lifer (very distant) YELLOW-BREASTED CRAKE, my first lifer of the day!!
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This SOCIAL FLYCATCHER, one of many this trip, is always pleasant to see despite being a super-common bird down here!
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Then, it was time to make our way onto Pipeline Rd on our way to the Rainforest Discovery Center which is a mile and a half down the road. We found this YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUE (note the yellow vent) — essentially a colorful jungle blackbird:
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A bit further down the road there was a group of birders taking photographs and turns out their guide had located this GREAT TINAMOU just off the road! (Large gamebird)
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Then, we saw a boy who looked to be about a nine-year-old taking photos further along the road, and turns out he had found a vocalizing male NORTHERN BLACK-THROATED TROGON, my second life bird of the day, barely after 6:00am!!
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Here is the female (note the chestnut head) — Trogons tend to travel in pairs:
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One note is that we had ordered breakfast to-go boxes from the hotel and it was the worst breakfast of our entire lives. It consisted of a thick elongated bread bun with a paper thin sliver of tasteless ham and cheese in between. And NOTHING else to eat. It was completely inedible. We knew we would be complaining to the hotel later this evening.

We found the gate to the Rainforest Discovery Center closed at 7:00am which was irritating but thankfully after investigating the nearby trailhead, the workers had arrived to let us in (once we paid a somewhat hefty entrance fee that I didn’t remember from 2013). Anyway, within a half an hour, we had made it to the top of the Discovery Center Tower which I remembered fondly from 2013. It was one of the most magical places I had ever birded, and it was JUST like I remembered! (apart from the trees having grown a bit taller)
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Toucans abounded, just like I remembered, including this YELLOW-THROATED (the name used to be “Chestnut-mandibled” when I was here in 2013)
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And KEEL-BILLED with their GORGEOUS bills:
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While everyone else was admiring the Toucans (about a half dozen birders were also up there with us), I of course chose to focus on a small, drab bird — a MISTLETOE TYRANNULET (known as a Paltry Tyrannulet back in 2013, another damn name change!). Note the cap and eye line.
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One particular tree seemed to really attract Tanagers like this vibrant male RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER:
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And female:
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And another bird I remember from my 2013 visit to this tower, a male BLUE DACNIS! Gorgeous!
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Here’s a great comparison shot between the Dacnis and Honeycreeper:
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Another look at the Yellow-throated Toucan:
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Migrant EASTERN KINGBIRD:
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A pair of MASKED TITYRAS were an incredible life bird!! They were like a bright white light that flashed against the forest canopy while flying by.
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And yet another bird I remembered from 2013, a BLUE COTINGA — unfortunately not a vibrant blue male but a more subtly-patterned, camouflaged female. We kept our eyes peeled for a male as they are one of the classic birds of this location.
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Distant BLACK VULTURE:
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Flyover OSPREY:
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A Panamanian guide called out a HOOK-BILLED GUIDE flying over which was a lifer for Susie, Kim, and I! Way cool!
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Pair of ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS:
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By the end of our two-hour viewing session on top of the tower, we were dripping in sweat but satisfied with the wonderful birding which is always completely different from above the canopy:
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After the tower, we headed in the general direction of the wetland on the Discovery Center property but were intercepted by my life bird BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT right alongside the trail!!
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Then, another guide told us about a roosting CHOCO SCREECH-OWL right alongside the trail and sure enough, it wasn’t even a foot off the trail, roosting in a tree just above eye level!! Wow!! What an INCREDIBLE life bird for all of us!
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Since it was right alongside the trail, a selfie was obligatory:
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The guide had also told us of a cooperative BLACK-BREASTED PUFFBIRD just a ways up the path and lo and behold, it was right where it was supposed to be, too! Wow! Lifer!
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More birds on the way to the wetland — a CHECKER-THROATED STIPPLETHROAT — even in its inverted position shown here you can see why its named as it is:
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At the wetland, we enjoyed views of a LESSER KISKADEE:
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Female DOT-WINGED ANTWREN on the edge of the woods:
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Then, the stars truly aligned and a huge raptor started circling overhead in the form of a KING VULTURE, the rarest bird I have ever seen in Panama! Note this is an immature bird with its white armpits. Wow!!! Amazing lifer and the best bird seen today, so far.
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Adult WATTLED JACANA:
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Then, a group of orioles moved into the trees next to us which the guide insisted were Yellow-tailed Orioles and I was unsuccessful in convincing him of the correct ID of these birds: YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLES! Well, you can see why they are named this way…
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Even better looks at the Stipplethroat on the walk back to the Discovery Center:
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And the Discovery Center itself lived up to my fond memories!
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This LONG-BILLED HERMIT was great to see:
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Though by far the most common hummingbird species was WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, including this pretty female:
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I particularly liked Kim’s shot of the female Jacobin bathing in one of the many brief daily rain showers here in the jungle:
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And on the way out of the Discovery Center we came upon a group of Mantled Howler Monkeys:
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Along with a young one:
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One last great bird on the way out was PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROW, another one that I remembered from my last time in Panama.
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On the way out of Pipeline Road, there was a traffic jam for these White-faced Capuchin monkeys:
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Then, another birder told us of a White-necked Puffbird a bit further back along the road, and while searching for it, I spotted another pair of Northern Black-throated Trogons!
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As well as a distant but clinching look at this WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRD, a lifer for the three of us!!!
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Closer back by the Capuchin monkeys, we got some great views of Toucans — Yellow-throated:
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And Keel-billed:
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MASKED TITYRA — just a lifer earlier in the morning — great to see again!!
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On the way out, we stopped at Ammo Ponds again where I spotted a STRIATED HERON, a lifer for Kim and Susie and a Green Heron-lookalike with more muted colors on the breast:
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As well as two beautiful adult RUFESCENT TIGER-HERONS:
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And a stunning juvenile:
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RINGED KINGFISHER:
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MANGROVE SWALLOW:
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Finally, well after 1:00pm, we made our way to the Monkey Bar at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort for a (rather subpar) lunch of fried food, but with a gorgeous view overlooking the Chagres River and — birds!!! Like these THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA that were nesting in the palm trees just below:
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RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER:
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And my lifer FLAME-RUMPED TANAGER — an all-black bird with a silver bill and (currently out of view) bright yellow rump:
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COCOA WOODCREEPER:
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After lunch, it was back in the field and this time we headed to Goethals Blvd in Gamboa for more birding, basically looking for whichever life birds and mixed flocks we could find. One useful tool was Merlin as I had downloaded the Panama bird pack and used it to track new birds to their specific calls and songs. It was really, really helpful in this way — especially since I know not to take its word as truth and to actually find the bird to confirm the ID.

Yellow-rumped Cacique:
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PLAIN-COLORED TANAGER:
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Male YELLOW WARBLER:
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Variable Squirrel:
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Female Red-legged Honeycreeper:
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Social Flycatcher:
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Kim and Susie were overjoyed to find their lifer CRIMSON-BACKED TANAGER in the form of this gorgeous male!!!
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Female Flame-rumped Tanager:
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Female SUMMER TANAGER:
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RUDDY GROUND-DOVE:
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Suffice to say, we had run into a VERY birdy stretch of road. This female BARRED ANTSHRIKE was Kim and Susie’s lifer:
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And a BEAUTIFUL, obliging life bird for all of us — CINNAMON BECARD!
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Two locally-common tanagers: Flame-rumped (left) and BLUE-GRAY (right):
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Then, my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I spotted a vulture overhead that turned out to not be an ubiquitous Black or Turkey, but a full adult KING VULTURE, our second of the day and only my second-ever!!! WOW!!!
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Beautiful looks at another male Red-legged Honeycreeper:
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Female:
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PIRATIC FLYCATCHER, a bird much more commonly heard than seen around here, so it was great to lay eyes on this species!
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PALM TANAGER — I would consider this to be the most common tanager species and one of the most common birds in central Panama. A classic lowland species with a beautiful, twittering song.
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Finally, we wrapped up our birding along Goethals Blvd and on our way out of Gamboa, we stopped very briefly at the Smithsonian Institute, and also to watch this BROAD-WINGED HAWK that was perched just a bit off the road:
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TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD — another species (like the Carib Grackle) that didn’t reside here in the past and wasn’t necessarily introduced, but simply expanded its range into the Panama City/Canal Zone area thanks to habitat fragmentation (which of course is a very unfortunate reality for most other avian species)
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After the brief stop at the Smithsonian where unfortunately an acquaintance of Kim’s (and bat researcher!) was away, it was time to pass by Ammo Ponds again on our way back into Pipeline Road. There were some beautiful PALE-VENTED PIGEONS in the trees above:
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And SCARLET-RUMPED CACIQUES foraging on Pipeline Road itself (rare since they are usually high in the canopy):
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DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER:
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Pipeline Road delivered exactly the results for which I was hoping: multiple mixed flocks!! TENNESSEE WARBLERS abounded:
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BLACK-BREASTED PUFFBIRD:
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We were absolutely entranced by this CINNAMON WOODPECKER that was foraging right alongside the car where we had pulled over, another lifer or Kim and Susie:
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And a lifer for all of us — WESTERN OLIVACEOUS FLATBILL, a species of flycatcher — note the broad bill and full eyering:
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RUDDY-TAILED FLYCATCHER, another lifer for Susie and Kim:
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BAY-BREASTED WARBLER, a fun migrant to get for the day:
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WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER, another new one for the day!!! Beautiful, and living up to its name!!!
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A small (Level 1) antswarm allowed for beautiful looks at this Cocoa Woodpecker:
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And BLACK-CROWNED ANTSHRIKE, a lifer for all of us!
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As well as GRAY-HEADED TANAGER!!!
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And a third lifer in a row, a BLACK-BELLIED WREN!
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And a FOURTH lifer in a row, CHESTNUT-BACKED ANTBIRD!!!
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It was so great to find an antswarm right alongside Pipeline Road, on our first full day in Panama! So, we soon continued on having seen every bird in the swarm and we soon stopped by another mini traffic jam (and I’m talking two whole cars, the road is narrow) which was for this Three-toed Sloth that was, well, sleeping, quite a bit above the road :)
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Not a whole lot to see with that so after a few doc shots of the Sloth, we continued on and found this COLLARED ARACARI, our third toucan species of the day:
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Then, I spotted a kite perched right alongside the road and it turned out to be a lifer for the three of us: DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE, the most common kite species in the area. Way cool and great to nail down this bird with beautiful views!
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Another brief look at a Gray-headed Tanager:
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And my visual lifer LESSER GREENLET (a tiny species of vireo) way up in the canopy:
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Another quick look at the interior-forest species Black-bellied Wren:
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Migrant CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER:
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Susie and Kim continued on with the car to the end of the (drivable) section of Pipeline Road to see if they could find a bird from earlier while I had them let me out by the entrance to the Discovery Center since I had heard some activity in the area.

And boy was I glad I did as I got my photographic lifer LINEATED WOODPECKERS foraging right above the Center’s entrance. WOW! What a bird! These are essentially the Central American counterpoint of Pileated (just Lineated, as in with lines).
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BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKERS were also in the area:
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These little rodents called Agouti are all over the place in the rainforest:
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This MEALY PARROT was noisily settling into its roosting spot above the road as the sun was getting ready to set.
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I soon reunited with Kim and Susie and, after relocating the woodpeckers for them, we drove out from the road after a wonderful full day of birding — 116 species in total! I was so glad I could get them on the woodpeckers as Kim got an impressive shot:
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Right at the entrance to Pipeline Road on the way out, I spotted a pair of songbirds that flew into the tree right next to the road. They turned out to be GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGERS, awesome!
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We ended the day by Ammo Pond as the Panama Canal Railway trundled past.
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And one last bird settling in for the night before we did the same: the silhouette of a RED-LORED PARROT.
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WHAT a DAY! That makes 116 species for the day with 27 life birds in total. Bird-of-the-day to the King Vultures (!) with runner-up to the Choco Screech-Owl. Incredible stuff, and just exactly the stuff about which I was dreaming! (every day leading up to this trip, I would dream about the birds in Panama — no joke!). Definitely among the top 10 birding days ever for me.

Thanks again so much to Kim and Susie for being such incredible birding and traveling companions. We have an amazing week ahead! And on that note, stay tuned: tomorrow we reconnect with my friend from ten years ago: Mario Ocana, for a trip to the Anton Valley to see a completely different subset of birds from the Pipeline Road/lowland rainforest biome.

Happy, happy, happy birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1223 Species (27 life birds on 3-11-24)

LIFERS
1. King Vulture Rainforest Discovery
2. DT Kite Pipeline Road PM
3. HB Kite Canopy Tower 2
4. C S Owl Rainforest Discovery
5. BT Trogon Pipeline Road AM 1
6. NBT Trogon Canopy Tower 7
7. BB Motmot Rainforest Discovery
8. WN Puffbird Pipeline Road AM
9. WW Puffbird Pipeline Road PM
10. BB Puffbird Rainforest Discovery
11. BHT Flycatcher Canopy Tower 6
12. CC Woodpecker Canopy Tower 4
13. Scaled Pigeon Canopy Tower 5
14. BC Antshrike Pipeline Road PM
15. CT Stipplethroat Rainforest Discovery
16. DW Antwren Rainforest Discovery
17. CB Antbird Pipeline Road PM
18. Masked Tityra Canopy Tower 3
19. RT Flycatcher Pipeline Road PM
20. Panama Flycatcher Pipeline Road AM
21. S Bentbill Pipeline Road PM
22. W Olivaceous Flatbill Pipeline Road PM
23. Brown-capped Tyrannulet Canopy Tower 8
24. Yellow-backed Oriole Rainforest Discovery Center
25. Red-throated Ant-Tanager Pipeline Road PM
26. Flame-rumped Tanager Gamboa Rainforest Resort
27. Yellow-throated Crake

Posted by skwclar 13:33 Archived in Panama

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