A Travellerspoint blog

Panama Day 5: Rainforest Tower, La Laguna, and Summit Golf

Soberania National Park, Panama

all seasons in one day 90 °F

THURSDAY, MARCH 14:

For the fourth morning in a row, we were up at 5:00am (actually, a bit before!) in order to hopefully sneak into the Rainforest Discovery center before they open (at the ridiculous time of 7:00!) so that we could be on top of the Rainforest Discovery Tower at sunrise! Monday morning was great but I had a suspicion we had missed a good chunk of bird activity due to waiting for the official opening.

Sure enough, when we arrived before 6:00am (after listening for owls on the way in along Pipeline Rd), the gate was unmanned so our entrance was serenaded by an incredibly vocal group of Mantled Howler Monkeys as we parked across from the gate, snuck around the gate, and made our way into the Rainforest Discovery Center.

Soon, as daylight daylight suggested its way through the openings in the rainforest canopy, the first few particularly vocal birds of the morning began to call: the tremolo of the BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, the piercing three-note cadence of the GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO, and the omnipresent, rhythmic croak of KEEL-BILLED TOUCANS. We were observing and listening to the jungle coming to life.

I had timed it perfectly and, panting heavily, we summited the Canopy Tower in those precious last few moments of morning before the sun crested above the fog-laden hills. I encouraged Kim and Susie to take it all in: I have had recurring dreams about being on top of this Tower, birding, since I was 13 years old, so I was thoroughly enjoying every second in this most sacred of birding hotspots.

Many birds were vocalizing: MISTLETOE & BROWN-CAPPED TYRANNULETS, my life bird GARTERED TROGONS, and my life bird GREAT ANTSHRIKE. There are many birds, like this BLUE DACNIS, that you can count upon getting up here, and in other respects you never know what else might fly over, call, or turn up in the canopy of the surrounding trees.
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I was rewarded with a brief look of a perching male VIOLET-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD:
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As well as a female:
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Male MASKED TITYRA:
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Female SLATY-TAILED TROGON was great — the first one I have photographed since here in 2013!
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Despite it being one of the most common hummers in Panama, this was the only photo of RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD I got the entire trip:
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COLLARED ARACARI:
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As you can see, getting up the canopy early paid off as it was a lot more productive this morning. We were afforded great looks of a male CINNAMON WOODPECKER:
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And SCALED PIGEON:
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As well as a distant perched CRANE HAWK, a life bird just yesterday!
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I was happy to get good photos of BLACK-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER after getting very subpar photos monday:
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BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKER:
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Mantled Howler Monkey nice and close up:
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We even saw her tongue as she was eating berries!!
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PIED PUFFBIRD:
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And we got absolutely jaw-dropping views of RED-LORED PARROT!!
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Then, one of the other birding guides who had joined us by then along with a group we had run into yesterday shouted “male BLUE COTINGA,” and sure enough, one flew right over the tower and perched in a distant tree! This stunning bird, particularly the male, was a target of the trip for Susie and Kim and I was so glad to get it for them — it also lifted some spirits that were slightly dampened by some camera and G.I. issues.
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Toward the end of our time up at the tower this morning, this hawk flew over which I eventually ended up correctly identifying as BROAD-WINGED HAWK:
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Finally, after a thorough morning of birding from the tower and once everybody else had left, we descended the stairs in the hot, humid weather of the rainforest at 9:30am. After yesterday’s long hike, I didn’t want to suggest anything overly strenuous so the three of us tracked down the CHOCO SCREECH-OWL (in the same spot as monday!):
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Then, I suggested that Kim and Susie return to the Discovery Center to photograph hummingbirds while I took a hike back to the lake again to look for more birds. On the way, I had my best looks yet at RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGER:
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As well as SONG WREN:
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And decent looks at PLAIN-BROWN WOODCREEPER:
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Male WHITE-FLANKED ANTWREN:
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PLAIN-COLORED TANAGER:
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I met back up with the girls at the Discovery Center where the star of the show, among many WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, was this LONG-BILLED HERMIT:
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Brief look at VIOLET-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD:
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Another Hermit:
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On the walk back to the car, we had nice looks at PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROW:
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Here is the Discovery Center entrance station where they collect entry fees and where birders without guides can park their cars:
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Then, while checking out the bridge over Juan Grande Creek, we ran into a biologist by the name of Joe who was from California studying the fish in the freshwater ecosystems of the Pipeline Rd area. He was about to survey Juan Grande Creek and we asked if we could tag along. He was so sweet to lead us around the bends of the creek, pointing out the habits of the resident fish and other animals.
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Unfortunately, photography was hard for this stretch and I barely missed getting a photo of an Anteater, and I was too far along the stream when Kim and Susie got photos of a Poison Dart Frog. It was still a neat side-trip and Joe gave us some good locations for birding later in the day! A big thank you to him.

I just got these shitty photos of a male DOT-WINGED ANTWREN:
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Then, we enjoyed one last trip down Pipeline Road on the way out. I had us stop a few times for birds and monkeys — here is a female WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER:
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And my life bird WHITE-BROWED (TROPICAL) GNATCATCHER — whichever name you prefer, hah!! Super cool!!
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We also had great views of yet another BLACK-BREASTED PUFFBIRD, definitely one of the most cooperative birds of the trip:
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And this PLAIN XENOPS:
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White-necked Capuchin:
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YELLOW-WINGED FLATBILL:
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Then, after our long morning of birding was done, we enjoyed lunch at the food truck in Gamboa at around 12:30. It was our second best meal of the trip, after the delicious lunch we had in Anton Valley tuesday! Kim and Susie are definitely foodies so they also search for the culinary highlights when abroad :)
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Our next stop after lunch was Sendero La Laguna in Gamboa where we were hoping to photograph motmots and manakins, based off of Joe’s description. This KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN greeted us:
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And we were delighted, almost right off the bat, to get stellar looks at this BROAD-BILLED MOTMOT, a lifer just on monday!
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And not even a hop, skip, and a jump down the trail, we had phenomenal looks at our lifer RUFOUS MOTMOT!
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And another BROAD-BILLED:
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And, incredibly, a THIRD motmot species and second lifer, WHOOPING MOTMOT! Note that this charismatic bird used to be considered conspecific with the Turquoise-crowned Motmot which I got in Costa Rica in 2016. You can see why!
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Of course, I was even more excited by the little brown bird on the trail than all this Motmot activity. I had spotted what can be a very difficult life bird to nail down, a SCALY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER!!!! Way cool!!! This bird is related to the woodcreepers.
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Migrants were around, too, like CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER:
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Female VARIABLE SEEDEATER:
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COCOA WOODCREEPER:
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Migrant ACADIAN FLYCATCHER:
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SOUTHERN BENTBILL, a LIFE BIRD!!! A really cool species of flycatcher!!!
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Then, I spotted a green snake slithering up some vines which Mario later in the trip identified from my photos as a Parrotsnake! Our first (thankfully?) snake of the trip!
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BLACK-CROWNED ANTSHRIKE:
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Agouti are common rodents:
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There were some incredible trees with extremely widely-flung, exposed root systems. This one was particularly impressive:
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Took a photo of the trailhead to Sendero La Laguna as we were leaving. A productive stop!
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After a quick drive through the odd town of Gamboa where Kim and Susie were surprised to see so many abandoned-looking buildings, we took the bridge across the Chagres River and checked Gamboa Marina for Lance-tailed Manakin. Several tanagers were present, even in the heat of the day, like this beautiful male CRIMSON-BACKED:
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And GOLDEN-HOODED:
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And PLAIN-COLORED:
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My final stop I had planned for the day was a new one I had never birded before; Parque Municipal Summit. I had never been here before and was expecting a nature park and honestly was disappointed. It was like a glorified zoo with cages for macaws and shit like that. Kim was really put out by the birds in cages (turned out they were being rehabilitated) and engaged in an extended Google translate conversation with a patient park ranger. Turns out some of the birds were injured and others, former pets. Anyway, I don’t take photos of captive birds so I’ll include some of the wild birds seen around the park below.

Most were common species such as SOCIAL FLYCATCHER:
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HOUSE WREN:
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CLAY-COLORED THRUSH:
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YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATERS:
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RUDDY GROUND-DOVE:
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Female CRIMSON-BACKED TANAGER:
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Stunning views of this male RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER:
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RED-CROWNED WOODPECKER:
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And a TURKEY VULTURE right as we were getting ready to leave:
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Kim and Susie needed to get gas before they drive back to the airport early tomorrow morning, so they quickly dropped me off at the hotel (after a brief stop in traffic due to a police security checkpoint) and then headed in the opposite direction for gas. Part of me was curious to see where they were headed since it was on the other side of Soberania National Park; however, I knew I would be making the most of my birding time if I birded the hotel grounds one last time as the grounds, in 2013 and this year, have proven consistently productive for me.

I started off my noticing some heron activity in a hidden wooded stream right by the entrance; I got my hopes up for Agami Heron but the one that flushed turned out just to be a GREEN:
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And out on the pond there was a SNOWY EGRET with its golden yellow slippers:
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Immature LITTLE BLUE HERON:
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VARIABLE SEEDEATERS:
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PALE-VENTED PIGEON:
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COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER:
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Female WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER:
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LESSER GREENLET:
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BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT:
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Male SUMMER TANAGER:
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Another look at a Red-legged Honeycreeper:
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Male SHINY COWBIRD:
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MANGROVE SWALLOW:
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BAND-RUMPED SWIFT was really nice to see fly over:
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And a fantastic addition to the trip list for me was this light-morph SHORT-TAILED HAWK, only my third ever, photographed here with a Turkey Vulture:
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Incredible look at a BLUE-GRAY TANAGER:
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Immature BROAD-WINGED HAWK:
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This GRAY-CHESTED DOVE was nice to see:
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Then, I hiked one of the wooded trails I remembered from 2013 and while I was enjoying this nostalgic experience (and seeing if I could find Rufous-and-white Wren again!), I heard some tapping coming from the trees above. So, I started scanning and after a bit of searching, I located a large woodpecker in the Canopy — could it be Lineated, or better yet, Crimson-crested? YES! CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER! This gorgeous male bird was my photographic lifer and I spent fifteen minutes adjusting my position along the steep switchback to get these photos of this incredible species! Wow!
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I continued following the trail and got birds like WHOOPING MOTMOT:
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As well as BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH, and PIRATIC FLYCATCHER and before I knew it the sun was getting low and I had hiked all the way to the Panama Canal Railroad that is on the edge of the property!
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So, I headed back the way I came along the trail.

After a while, I took a detour to the edge of the golf course and walked along the forest edge back to the hotel. Along the way, I got several birds like WHITE-SHOULDERED TANAGER and others, but no groundbreaking photos.

This male YELLOW-CROWNED EUPHONIA ended my day of birding, right where I had a Thick-billed Euphonia with my dad ten years ago! Cool!
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Bird-of-the-day for me to the Blue Cotinga with runners-up: Rufous Motmot, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, and Crimson-crested Woodpecker. Just super quality rainforest birds!

SO MUCH FUN to bird with Susie and Kim, some of the best travel companions ever. More on that for the next post, as this was unfortunately the last day of birding as a trio before they had to fly home…thank you guys for everything!!

Stay tuned: one more day of insane birding with Mario left!!!!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1278 Species (10 life birds today)

1. Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
2. Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
3. Whooping Motmot
4. Rufous Motmot
5. Great Antshrike
6. Scaly-throated Leaftosser
7. Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
8. Forest Elaenia
9. Rufous Morner
10. Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet

Posted by skwclar 22:03 Archived in Panama

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Comments

Fantastic post, Henry! I am still in awe at how much we saw.

by Susie Nies

Wow!!! What a trip for you three! So great to go along with you with all these photos and stories!

by Poo

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