A Travellerspoint blog

Panama Day 3: El Valle de Antón with Mario Ocaña

Coclé, Panama

all seasons in one day 82 °F

TUESDAY, MARCH 12:

Today, Susie, Kim, and I were up by 4:45am to meet my guide from TEN years ago here in Panama, Mario Ocana, for a day of birding the higher elevation evergreen-forest specialties of El Valle (Anton Valley), a montane region two hours west of Panama City.

What an absolute trip it was to see Mario himself waiting in the hotel lobby for us — he looked the same as ten years ago and we greeted each other with a big hug — as if there hadn’t been a day in between!

We were also thrilled to bird with Mario’s friend, Sam Britton, who graciously drove us the entire day and was an excellent birding companion as well (he is another local Panama City-area guide who I can highly, highly recommend). Anyway, the drive itself was beautiful and transformed from completely pitch black night as we were crossing the Panama Canal to a gorgeous morning as we started approaching the hills of the Altos de Campana mountain range.
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The three of us also scarfed down our slightly-more-edible take-away breakfast from the hotel this morning (with actual eggs, what a concept!) but thankfully were kept distracted by these amazing views.
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Mario also pointed out my life bird GROOVE-BILLED ANI along the drive, though he assured us we would get better views in other birding spots later in the day so we continued our westward journey.
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We enjoyed a beautiful rainbow after one of the intermittent rain showers cleared.
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Soon, we entered Antón where Mario stopped the car alongside a farmer’s market to pickup some fresh papaya fruit.
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Then, it was off to our first stop on the outskirts of the Canopy Lodge where we were immediately treated to beautiful views of VIOLET-HEADED HUMMINGBIRD:
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And my life bird RUFOUS-CRESTED COQUETTE, a unique hummingbird species that was a target bird for me today! Yay! A super great bird to clinch for the day that can be very difficult to track down.
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Soon after, we pulled off the side of the road again where we had female FLAME-RUMPED TANAGER:
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And my flyover lifer CRESTED OROPENDOLAS! Cool!
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Soon, we arrived at our first main stop of the morning, a private property nestled deep inside the hills surrounding Anton Valley. This YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT greeted us as we stepped out of the vehicle:
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Once inside the property, RUSTY-MARGINED FLYCATCHER was a good ID by Mario — note the rusty wing margins (this is one of the five Kiskadee-like flycatchers in the area). Here it is along with another Flame-rumped Tanager:
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The property owners had prepared an incredible feeder setup that attracted a great deal of CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLAS:
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And a variety of passerines like BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR (center) along with CRIMSON-BACKED, BLUE-GRAY, and Flame-rumped Tanagers:
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And a male THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA:
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Male Flame-rumped Tanager:
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Our lifer BLACK-STRIPED SPARROW foraged along the fence line:
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NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH was a nice migrant:
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BANANAQUIT!
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The rump of a nonbreeding CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER:
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Female SHINY COWBIRD:
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I almost dismissed this as a Tropical Kingbird until Mario correctly ID’d the bird as our lifer GRAY-HEADED FLYCATCHER!
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PLAIN-COLORED TANAGER on the feeder setup:
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Then, our beautiful lifer male TAWNY-CAPPED EUPHONIA came into the feeder station! I’m obsessed with that cap!
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PALM TANAGERS in the trees above:
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Another Yellow-faced Grassquit:
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More Thick-billed Euphonias:
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And a really nice surprise was this LINEATED WOODPECKER that flew into a bare tree in the yard next to us! Too cool!
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Just as we were getting ready to head out on a hike going into the hills behind the property, Mario spotted and quickly identified these two BLUE-HEADED PARROTS sitting in a tree at the distant edge of the property:
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Then, Mario pointed out a bird at the top of a tree that happened to be Kim, Susie, and my lifer STREAKED SALTATOR! A brief, but clinching look — cool!
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Then, we had beautiful views of a small species of woodcreeper — PLAIN XENOPS!
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And a few migrant warblers like this TENNESSEE:
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And a really fun species — can you spot the GOLDEN-WINGED?
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Cool foliage we were walking over — touch me nots!
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YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA:
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Male THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA:
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Then, Mario spotted some chunky passerine-like birds in the tops of the trees above the trail and they turned out to be our lifer SPOT-CROWNED BARBETS! A specialty bird of the foothills, he was thrilled to show us this species which is a wonderful target bird of the Anton Valley region.
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BLUE-WINGED WARBLER was also nice:
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And CHESTNUT-CAPPED, a central American resident warbler:
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THICK-BILLED SEEDFINCH, another lifer!
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And female SCALY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, yet ANOTHER lifer! This trail was so birdy!
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We heard a few GOLDEN-COLLARED MANAKINS and this drab female made a brief appearance:
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As well as our lifer CROWNED WOODNYMPH, a beautiful hummingbird species!
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Then, I heard some birds rooting around underneath the bush off the side of the trail and I correctly identified them as my CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCH, an uncommon local speciality in Panama and lifer for me and definitely one of my target birds for the day. Too cool!!!
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Next, a nice mixed flock of birds really started to come in, led by this brilliant male BAY-HEADED TANAGER, another target bird and lifer of the day, which was an absolutely beautiful highlight of the walk. This hike just kept getting better and better and we were racking up the species and lifers, thanks to Mario and Sam!
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And a SILVER-THROATED TANAGER, a fairly common passerine of mountainous areas, came in for stunning views:
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VARIABLE SEEDEATER:
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I then spotted a large, chunky passerine above the trail and it turned out to be a BLACK-FACED GROSBEAK! A lifer for Kim and Susie and one of Mario’s main target birds for us today. Too cool!!!
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One unphotographed highlight was a male ROSY THRUSH-TANAGER that unmistakably zipped by the trail, unfortunately not sticking around for photographs. On the way down, though, we were treated to incredible views of this YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA building its nest:
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Another Scaly-throated Hummingbird was great to see:
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As well as this weird moth with a false “double head” to distract predators!
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CATTLE EGRET:
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Papaya from the earlier market that we enjoyed while watching the birds in the yard again after the hike:
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We originally identified this as a Gray-lined Hawk (which we got later in the day), but upon further inspection of the photos afterward it turned out this was a BROAD-WINGED HAWK:
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A major highlight for the feeding station was the rarest of the three Saltators in the area (according to Mario), a BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR:
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As well as a male THICK-BILLED EUPHONIA:
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BLACK VULTURE, definitely one of the most common birds in Panama:
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By the end of the hike, we had amassed 82 species for this single hotspot. Incredible for a hike through the forest! As you can see, the activity was just out of this world.

Then, we drove to our next stop, another trail that would take us through both forest and open hill habitat. Among other lifers, we would be looking for Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch. The view from the “trailhead” was just gorgeous looking out over Anton Valley as we enjoyed a late-morning snack:
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Male FLAME-RUMPED TANAGER:
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And a fun life bird was GIANT COWBIRD which we put in the scope and everyone got a great view:
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Another Yellow-bellied Elaenia:
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Then, just a short way along the trail Mario spotted our lifer EMERALD TANAGER, an incredibly vibrant species that, as you can see, camouflages into the mossy trees extremely well. This was one amazing bird that I was SO hoping to see this trip, and even though its frenetic motion only allowed for mediocre photos, I was so glad to snag this bird!!!! Just unreal!!
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A fun bird seen on the adjacent property was this SMOOTH-BILLED ANI:
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Our lifer RED-CROWNED ANT-TANAGER (you can see the red crown) was another fun species along the trail:
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As well as our lifer BLACK-CHESTED JAYS!!
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Then, Mario said “Look up into that tree” extremely nonchalantly, and there was an incredible, huge Three-toed Sloth! I acted naturally and only took a few photos at first since the girls were still behind us and I wanted to surprise them since this was their photographic lifer.
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Of course, they were overjoyed — their favorite “bird” of the day so far :)
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Soon, the trail opened up, revealing beautiful vistas of the surrounding valley:
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And after a bit of effort in this open area, we tracked down one of our main targets of the day: the beautifully-patterned WEDGE-TAILED GRASS-FINCH!
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Here’s how close we were to the bird, it was amazing!
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MISTLETOE TYRRANULET on the walk back to the car:
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Then, Mario took us to a trail, Cerro Gaital—
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—where GREEN HERMITS were singing all around us — I had never before heard such vocal hummingbirds:
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Another good hummingbird sighting here was the female BRONE-TAILED PLUMELETEER:
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Male SPOT-CROWNED ANTVIREO was nice:
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SPOTTED WOODCREEPER was a wonderful lifer alongside this trail:
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Female of the Antvireo:
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Distant GRAY-HEADED CHACHALACA, a large gamebird:
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COLLARED ARACARI:
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A huge highlight of this articular trail was seeing our life bird WHITE-RUFFED MANAKIN, another specialty species of the Anton Valley — we were overjoyed to get this handsome, tiny bird!
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Then, our last trail of the afternoon was a bit quiet other than our vocal life bird SCALY-CRESTED PYGMY-TYRANTS and this incredible Toad!!!
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By this point, it was mid-afternoon and we were all hungry as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we requested a restaurant with traditional Panamanian fare, and as usual, Mario did not disappoint. He took us to Restaurantes Los Hermanos in Anton Valley which I cannot recommend enough! It was our best meal the entire week.
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Pollo, plantanos, and salad. Yum. Kim and Susie also got fried yucca.
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After a tasty meal, we began our drive back to the Panama City area, which was equally as beautiful as this early morning’s drive. We stopped briefly for a few herons including this GREAT BLUE:
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And a bit of evening birding at Nueva Gorgona by the coast yielded a bunch of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS (the tiny dots) in this brackish salt pond:
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And we ended the day on the beach of the Pacific Ocean, watching WILLETS feed in the sunset. Very beautiful and a serene way to end our day!
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I cannot recommend Mario enough. He was incredibly generous with his time (gave us the entire day, for the price of a 6-hour tour!), got us 126 species for the day, and found me 33 lifers (and almost 100 for Kim and Susie!) and the vast majority of birds on my extremely demanding target list for the day :) . It was SO amazing to bird with him after 10 years and, just like in my report after our day of birding in 2013, this was not only one of the best birding days of my life but one of the best DAYS of my life so far!!!
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Mario had us pick our favorite three birds of the day so I will list my THREE favorites: Rufous-crested Coquette, Emerald Tanager, and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch.

Happy, AMAZING birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1256 Species

33 life birds today:

1. Groove-billed Ani Panama Pacific coast
2. White-tipped Sicklebill Anton Valley Panama
3. Green Hermit Anton Valley Panama
4. Rufous-crested Coquette Anton Valley Panama
5. Green-tailed Thorntail Anton Valley Panama
6. Scaly-breasted Hummingbird Anton Valley Panama
7. Gray-lined Hawk Anton Valley Panama
8. Spot-crowned Barbet Anton Valley Panama
9. Blue-headed Parrot Anton Valley Panama
10. Plain Antvireo Anton Valley Panama
11. Spot-crowned Antvireo Anton Valley Panama
12. Slaty Antwren Anton Valley Panama
13. White-ruffed Manakin Anton Valley Panama
14. Scale-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant Anton Valley Panama
15. Yellow Tyrannulet Anton Valley Panama
16. Black-chested Jay Anton Valley Panama
17. Tawny-faced Gnatwren Anton Valley Panama
18. Long-billed Gnatwren Anton Valley Panama
19. Scaly-breasted Wren Anton Valley Panama
20. Tawny-capped Euphonia Anton Valley Panama
21. Rosy Thrush-Tanager Anton Valley Panama
22. Common Chlorospingus Anton Valley Panama
23. Black-striped Sparrow Anton Valley Panama
24. Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch Anton Valley Panama
25. Crested Oropendola Anton Valley Panama
26. Giant Cowbird Anton Valley Panama
27. Dusky-faced Tanager Anton Valley Panama
28. Red-crowned Ant-Tanager Anton Valley Panama
29. Bay-headed Tanager Anton Valley Panama
30. Emerald Tanager Anton Valley Panama
31. Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch Anton Valley Panama
32. Thick-billed Seed-Finch Anton Valley Panama
33. Streaked Saltator Anton Valley Panama

Posted by skwclar 15:12 Archived in Panama

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Comments

WOW!!!!!!!!

by liz cifani

Oh my…that coquette! Squeeeeee! What an amazing day!

by Poo

WOW!!What an amazing variety of birds and many 'lifers' -thanks for sharing it all including the toad portrait!

by Mary Mc

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