Saturday, 25 September 2021


On March 23, 2020, Laura and I boarded a flight from San José, Costa Rica back to Toronto, Canada, along with my parents, who had spent the previous ten days exploring with us during the Canadian "March Break". Our intention was to spend another month or more in Costa Rica, but the presence of a global pandemic forced us to return home. At the time, I thought that we would be back to our travels in a few months, or perhaps that autumn, but the timeline kept getting pushed back. Eventually Laura and I resigned ourselves to the fact that we would not be traveling for quite some time and so we picked up work contracts and passed the time in Canada.

After exactly 18 months, Laura and I are back at it. On September 22 we boarded a flight from Toronto back to Central America, though this time our destination was Panama. It feels great to be back in the tropics!

White-nosed Coatimundi - Canopy Tower, Panama

Many readers of this blog may be wondering about the safety of traveling now. Laura and I feel very safe in Panama so far. Vaccination rates are quite high, and masking is very prevalent everywhere we have been. Of course, Laura and I are taking every precaution to be safe, and we are spending most of our waking hours on our own, exploring outside. 

What will our plan be for the next little while? We have a flight booked home in late December, though we will not be spending the entirety the next three months in Panama. If all goes to plan we will explore Panama for around six weeks, and perhaps elsewhere in Central America for the rest. 

Our first week will be based in the Gamboa area; lowland rainforest not far from Panama City. Following that we will explore the western highlands and Caribbean region for a few weeks, and we have a plan in the works to visit the easternmost province in Panama: Darién. I will try to blog about our adventures when time (and internet) allow. 

Species wise, I do not have very many bird targets at all in Panama - perhaps 20 species - due to a successful trip in 2014, along with some exploration in the two adjacent countries, Costa Rica and Colombia. This is Laura's first visit to Panama, so many birds will be new for her (though she has seen quite a few of them in Colombia and Costa Rica as well). Of course we are interested in much more than just birds and Panama has so much to offer in that regard.

On September 23, we took a taxi from our accommodations in Panama City and arrived at the famous Canopy Tower - an old radar tower that has been converted into a birding lodge. Our friend Carlos Bethancourt works here and it has been great to spend some time with him, catching up and birding. We birded mostly from the top of the canopy tower for the morning. As time went on our species list slowly grew, and included great birds such as Black-breasted Puffbird, King Vulture, Green Shrike-Vireo, Gartered Trogon and a pair of Black-headed Tody-Flycatchers. 

Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher - Canopy Tower, Panama

Black-breasted Puffbird - Canopy Tower, Panama

Cinnamon Woodpecker - Canopy Tower, Panama

Gartered Trogon - Canopy Tower, Panama

This crazy cockroach was hanging out on the side of the tower. 

Paratropes bilunata - Canopy Tower, Panama

The butterfly diversity from the tower was just ridiculous. Most were a little too far for my 300 mm lens.

Archaeoprepona demophon - Canopy Tower, Panama

At the time, I thought that this was some sort of longwing butterfly, in the tribe Ithomiini. It is actually a type of moth called Prometheus zagraea. The Neotropical representatives in this family (Castniidae) are often referred to as Giant Butterfly-Moths. This was actually the first observation of this species on iNaturalist. 

Prometheus zagraea - Canopy Tower, Panama

I added a few migrant species to my Panama list including Purple Martin and Red-eyed Vireo. My personal highlight was the sheer number of raptors, specifically, Mississippi Kites. A flock of around 400 birds were roosting on the tops of the trees and they soon took to the sky, heading eastwards towards the Darién and then South America. In this photo, the skyline of Panama City provides a backdrop to the kites. 

Mississippi Kites - Canopy Tower, Panama

Swallow-tailed Kite - Canopy Tower, Panama

Swallow-tailed Kites - Canopy Power, Panama

It took some time, but slowly the soundscape of the Central American lowlands began coming back to me. Species which were once familiar by ear I had temporarily forgotten, but with time I began to remember the vocalizations of birds like Black-faced Antthrush, Brown-capped Tyrannulet, Bicolored Antbird, Lesser Greenlet and Broad-billed Motmot. 

Broad-billed Motmot - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Laura and I ventured down the entrance road (Semaphore Hill) for a brief pre-lunch walk. A nice mixed flock passed through the trees (making us wish we were up on the tower!), and we also enjoyed numerous insects and herps. A pair of Speckled Mourners vocalized, and a Broad-billed Motmot (pictured above) provided incredible views. 

Neotropical Green Anole (Anolis biporcatus) - Semaphore Hill, Panama

It is not too difficult to find crazy looking caterpillars in the tropical lowlands. This one has been christened with the common name of the Shag Carpet Caterpillar Moth. 

Prothysana felderi - Semaphore Hill, Panama

White-breasted Wood-Wren - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Panama City Anole (Anolis apletophallus) - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Euptychia jesia - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Just as we returned to the lodge, Laura and I simultaneously noticed the familiar shape of a snake shooting off across the grass towards the lodge. I made a lunge and came up with the beautiful animal. I believe this is Mastigodryas alternatus, a type of racer.  

Mastigodryas alternatus - Canopy Tower, Panama

That afternoon saw us back on the tower where we stayed until dusk. Vismig (visible migration) was in effect, with more raptors as well as some flocks of Common Nighthawks winging it towards the Darién. 

Common Nighthawk - Canopy Tower, Panama

Green Honeycreeper - Canopy Tower, Panama

Scarlet-rumped Cacique - Canopy Tower, Panama

The local gang of howler monkeys were feeding on fresh cecropia leaves and flowers, only metres from where we were standing. 

Mantled Howler Monkey - Canopy Tower, Panama

Mantled Howler Monkey - Canopy Tower, Panama

Mantled Howler Monkey - Canopy Tower, Panama

Prior to a delicious dinner, I set up my moth light and sheet, eager for what would arrive. September is one of the rainiest months of the year in this region of Panama, and high rainfall levels often correspond with excellent moth diversity. The Canopy Tower also sets up a blacklight each evening. 

After dinner, Laura and I grabbed our flashlights to check out the action on the sheet. We were not disappointed! The moth diversity was just incredible. Here is just a small selection of the highlights. At some point I will go through and actually figure out what species these all are. But it is hard to find the time at the moment!

We left the sheets to percolate some more and headed out on foot down the road away from the lodge. We only stayed out for an hour or so (it had been a long day), but, even in that time, we had quite a few highlights. 

Three snakes made appearances: two Common Blunt-headed Treesnakes and a single Cat-eyed Snake. Not bad at all for only an hour!

Northern Cat-eyed Snake (Leptodeira septentrionalis) - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Common Blunt-headed Treesnake (Imantodes cenchoa) - Semaphore Hill, Panama

This beautiful treefrog was breeding near an old water-filled cistern partway down the entrance road. I believe that this is Cruziohyla sylviae, a rarely encountered species. One of the local guides had earlier shown us some eggs that had been produced by this species at the cistern. 

Cruziohyla sylviae - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Cruziohyla sylviae eggs - Semaphore Hill, Panama

We photographed a few frogs, lizards and insects as well. 

Pristimantis taeniatus - Canopy Tower, Panama

Harpactorinae sp. - Canopy Tower, Panama

Anolis sp. - Canopy Tower, Panama

Straight-snouted Weevil sp. (Brentidae) - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Neotropical Green Anole (Anolis biporcatus) - Semaphore Hill, Panama

Upon returning back to the lodge, one more check of the sheets was in order, followed by a much-needed rest. It had been quite the day!

1 comment:

Gary in Nova Scotia said...

Great pics from Day 1, thanks Josh.