Tucson: Feb. 10 – 23: Visitors!

Tucson: Feb. 10 – 23: Visitors!

We were excited to have family visit us. Our two daughters and our new grandbaby stayed with us in our fifth wheel. The girls have camped with us since they were wee, and we’ve spent time with them in small alpine huts when they were older, so it wasn’t difficult to squeeze them in, it just involved a bit of planning and rearranging. The two month old baby adapted well. The weather was cooler and wetter than normal, but still very usable. We visited the gardens at Tohono Chul on the first full day they were here. Our youngest daughter took plenty of pictures.


We got a good view of the thunderclouds over the desert trail.


The next day, was clear and a bit cooler than normal. We took them on the Picture Wash hike.


Notice how this saguaro seems to be growing right out of the rock! It must have roots that reach down to the ground.


At our snack break, Doug entertained the baby, while Wendy tried to keep the little one in the shade.


Next event was a full day at the Desert Museum. At the morning “Raptor Free Flight” this Ferruginous hawk took off from its perch sooner than Wendy expected, but she was very happy with the resulting photo. Sometimes we could feel the rush of air as the birds skimmed over our heads.


Now that we knew that a good photo could be taken with an iPhone, we kept trying. In the afternoon session, Doug captured this great photo of a Barn owl,


and Wendy took this photo of a Harris’s hawk.


The next day, we had time to get another short hike in before their evening flight. We walked right from our place to a prominent rock on the approach to Panther Peak.

Here’s our posed shot on the way up, right beside our favourite chollas.


A few days later, we had friends from Canada visit. We showed them one of our favourite hikes in Saguaro National Park. We hiked up the Hugh Norris trail past a couple of viewpoints, then turned around. The view on the way back was just as good or better than on the way up. The Avra valley is in the background.


Close to the end of our hike, we saw a snake stretched across the trail just in front of us. It slithered under a bush and Doug was able to use the zoom function on his iPhone to capture this photo of the Diamondback rattlesnake.


A few days later, we made a full day trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The monument was a two and a half hour drive southwest and is close to the Mexican border. After picking up information at the Visitor Center, we headed out to drive the Ajo Mountain loop. Arch Canyon hike, which was part way along the 34 km one-way drive, looked interesting. Here’s a view of the two arches from the start of the trail. The improved trail ended just around the corner of the ridge on the right.


There was a “social” trail that continued upwards. It was steep, and part of the trail was on bedrock, but the rock was very grippy. There were some steps that required us to use our hands, and we found it quite enjoyable. Here is a photo of Wendy at the viewpoint.


On our way back, we took the trail to the arch. Wendy was happy to look out from the top of the ridge. Doug followed a faint trail down, then scrambled upwards so he was able to walk through the lower arch. Here’s a view of the arch from underneath it.


He walked through the arch and down a bit to get this view. Organ Pipe cactus is in the foreground.

Organ Pipe cactus is mostly found in Mexico and in very few places in the United States. It can’t handle frost and often grows on south facing rocky slopes, so the rock will radiate heat and help it stay warmer on the cooler nights.


After our long day to Organ Pipe Cactus NM, we took it easy. Then we had a few days of cooler and rainy weather. (Wendy went to a quilt show on one of those days.) So by the time we were riding our bikes again, we were fairly rested. We ended up riding “The Loop” from our regular starting place in Marana, all the way to Catalina State Park, which was a bit over 43 km total and took us just under three hours.


We want to conclude this post with a scenic photo. The day before our long ride, it had rained most of the day, but it cleared in the late afternoon. We headed out for a walk on the neighbourhood roads just when the light was perfect. On the left is Panther Peak, and the bigger one in the middle is Sombrero, which we wrote about in the last post.


We’ve caught up enough on our posts for awhile. Perhaps we’ll put one together next week, but we’ll see how things go. Until then…

Tucson: Jan. 24 – Feb. 9: Highlights

Tucson: Jan. 24 – Feb. 9: Highlights

We’re getting caught up on our blog posts. This sunset welcomed us on the first night back at our place near Saguaro National Park (West).


We got into a routine of hiking, biking, and birding, then repeating it all again. Here’s Wendy pausing on “The Loop.” This time we biked the Canada del Oro River Park.


Another day we biked the trails in Rillito River Park. Here’s a view of one of the bridges. We enjoy riding the paved trails, even though our knobby tires don’t allow us to go as fast as some other bikes. We get a good workout and see a different view of parts of the city.


We continued our exploration of the trails near our place. We drove less than ten minutes to reach the trailhead for the Panther Peak Wash hike. We can see the ridge that is behind Doug in the photo, from our yard.


The Panther Peak wash is quite wide in spots. Panther Peak is the prominent mountain in the photo below.


We made a loop by coming back the Roadrunner trail. We discovered this crested saguaro across the road from the trailhead. You can tell that other people enjoy visiting it too.

Typically, the saguaro has growth cells on the tips of its arms that grow in a circle. When the growth cells form a straight line instead, a crest is formed. Scientists don’t know for sure what causes this beautiful phenomena. Perhaps it is genetics or deformation due to frost or maybe an imbalance of growth hormones.


We also explored a little farther away. We drove about half an hour to Pima Canyon, which is in the Santa Catalina mountains on the eastern flank of Tucson. The topography and the vegetation is slightly different from the area around our place. The rock is granitic and there are agaves like the one Doug is standing beside. It may have lived fifty to sixty years before flowering and dying. They pare referred to as “century plants,” even though they might not live one hundred years.


We chose to turn around at this nice viewpoint. Nearby, the canyon was dammed in a narrow spot about fifty years ago, with the idea that it would provide water for wildlife.


Here’s a view of the lower section of the trail.


We joined a Tucson Audubon field trip to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which was about seven miles north of the Mexican border. The trail we took was just outside of Arivaca. It was great to see a new area, but we were surprised with the number of participants (over 25).


This Rufous-winged sparrow posed long enough for us to take a photo of him through our scope.


Back to hiking. We ventured out into the State Trust Lands that border the national park. This time, we walked right from our yard. Our high point this day, was the low point to the right of the two bumps in the photo below. (The one on the left is Panther Peak.)


We followed some trails that led to an old road. The road ended, but there seemed to be a route upwards. Wendy took this photo of some of her favourite-looking cactus: Teddybear cholla.


Our route after the old road looked like it went through this cholla patch. There seemed to be enough room to get by the prickles. But these chollas are known for their propensity for attaching themselves to creatures that get to close to them. Wendy’s wide pant legs must have brushed against one. Luckily, Doug now carries pliers in his pack to deal with such difficulties.


We had some beautiful weather at the end of January. It was warm with not much breeze. Wendy had been hankering to do some sewing, so it was a perfect opportunity to try quilting ” en plein aire.” Actually the photo isn’t completely accurate, because within five minutes, Wendy changed into a long sleeve shirt to prevent sunburn.


We also put some “culture” days into our rotation. Once we went to the Arizona State Museum, on the University of Arizona campus. Their permanent display is about the ancient and enduring native cultures of Arizona. They also have an excellent collection of baskets as well as pottery.

Another day, we visited the Tucson Museum of Art. We were captivated by the temporary exhibit, entitled The Western Sublime: Majestic Landscapes of the American West.

Here’s one of Wendy’s favourites. It’s called Storm Mesa by Ed Mell.


Doug liked this portrayal of the Grand Canyon by Thomas Moran.


This photo was taken just a few steps from the entrance to the museum, and is a view of downtown Tucson. The building in the middle is the historic Pima County courthouse. It has recently been restored and now houses the Visitor Center. The bicycles in the foreground are part of the Tugo bike share project.


After viewing the art downtown, we took the scenic route home over Gates Pass. We stopped by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to see the art on display there. We were surprised to see the Organ Pipe cactus with covers, but quickly understood why; a hard freeze was expected the next morning and the growing tips needed protection.


We had a few days where the temperature dropped to freezing. It was still very usable weather though, and on one of those days we walked from our trailer to the start of the trail up Panther Peak. We had discovered a “locals” trail on one of our previous explorations.

Here is Wendy at the boundary of the State Trust Lands and the beginning of the trail. We purchased a permit in order to legally use the trails, although we never saw another person. You can probably recognize Panther Peak in the background.


We were glad that there was a way through the teddybear cholla.


Here’s a view from the top of Panther Peak. Wendy is working on locating our trailer through her binoculars. It was pleasant and calm at the top, so we spent a long time looking in all directions.

Where-we-liveThis is a view from just below the summit, looking south.


Our hike to Panther Peak and back was four hours from our doorstep. The next day was a biking day; the day after that was birding and the third day after meant it was time for another hike! This time, our destination was the taller peak that we can see from our place. On the map, it’s named Safford, but the local name is Sombrero Peak, because it looks like a sombrero when viewed from the east.

We drove to the trailhead which was on the east side of the ridge. The trail climbed gradually to a saddle, then it continued alongside these cliffs.


Here is Wendy nearing the summit. The view behind her is north towards Marana.


On the way down, we took a photo of a couple who were on their way up. They we kind enough to take one of us.


These were the highlights of January 24 to February 9. Lots of hiking and only one bird! Next blog: we have visitors!


Birding in Panama – 6

Birding in Panama – 6

On Friday morning we headed to Mata Ahogado. On the way there, we saw this Yellow-headed caracara on a wall. Our guide stopped the truck and Doug quickly took this picture out of the open window.


The truck dropped us at the top of this hill and we “birded the road.” Downhill was easy walking, but we wondered how we would feel walking back up. But like always, we were well taken care of. We were travelling in two trucks, so the driver of the second truck drove to the bottom of the hill, then walked back up for the other truck. He continued leap-frogging all morning, so we never had to backtrack.


The hills were so steep that the truck used four-wheel drive to go up the paved road. This caution sign warned of steep uphill.


We were rewarded with a view of this Crimson-crested woodpecker. Notice its white V on its back.


This Squirrel cuckoo was in a tree nearby. They seamed to move like a squirrel up tree branches searching for insects.


Almost every home we passed had fruit trees. This Red-crested woodpecker was enjoying an overripe banana.


We got a good look at a Yellow-bellied elaenia, which is a kind of flycatcher.


That afternoon the group went to Cerro Gaital National Monument, which protects 335 hectares of mature cloud forest.

This Orange-bellied trogon was kind enough to stay still until everyone had a good view.


And there was no worry that this Three-toed sloth was going anywhere quickly. This sloth actually has green algae growing on it, which helps it blend in even better.


For our last whole day of birding, we went even higher into the hills than we had been. There was a gated community called Altos del Maria. We saw a few homes and plenty of building sites for sale. This was the second gatehouse that we had to pass through. We needed special permission to bird-watch here.


Our guide, Moyo, knew this was a good area to see an antpitta, so we set ourselves up and waited.


And we were rewarded with a view of a Streak-chested antpitta. The photo below was taken through the scope, because there was such a small window between the branches to be able to see it. That’s why it’s on an angle.


The rainforest flora was almost as interesting as the birds. Wendy probably has fifty photos of trees, ferns and various plants, all taken for their beauty without a thought of identification. We wanted to include at least one.


Here’s a photo of a Broad-billed motmot. We’ve included a photo of one of these birds in an earlier post, but this photo shows its fancy feathered tail better.


The area was right on the continental divide. We walked along a section of the 2.5 km paved Transcontinental Biodiversity Path. It was in a very humid tropical forest that received high rainfall (40-60 cm per year).


Here’s our group, “on a bird.”


Perhaps it was this juvenile Green-heron.


Our guide knew that a Crimson-bellied woodpecker was nesting near to the trail. He knew roughly where it was but it still took some time to find it. This photo is a little grainy because we were a distance away. It was a good find, because the bird is quite rare.


The next morning, after a leisurely start, we were driven back to Panama City. Gretchen and Bob were staying in the same hotel that we stayed at in Casco Viejo. Here’s a view of Casco Viejo from the causeway.


 We spent a night in a hotel right by the airport and flew back to Canada the next morning.

Now, we’re back at our place in Arizona and the land of the cactus. New blog coming soon.


Birding in Panama – 5

Birding in Panama – 5

This blog is about our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday birding adventures. On Tuesday, we had a full day birding in the Pacific Dry Forest with a stop at a beach near Santa Clara.

On the way to the beach, we saw several hawks. This Roadside hawk was appropriately named since it was sitting on a roadside fencepost.


So was this Crested caracara. We saw a few of them following the piece of heavy equipment that was clearing the edge of the road. They were picking off any creature that was disturbed.


There were some open grasslands where we saw this Fork-tailed flycatcher.


This is a House wren, that has a wide range throughout North America. A plain, common bird, but still worth looking at and photographing.


The beach was amazingly beautiful. Gretchen and Wendy were probably looking at Brown pelicans. We also saw Laughing gulls, Royal terns and Sandwich terns along with various other shorebirds.


As soon as we got to the beach house, we changed into our bathing suits and had a dip in the ocean.


A hot lunch had been prepared for us.


After a pleasant break, we continued looking for birds. Our guide heard a Ferruginous pygmy-owl and we spent about half an hour trying to see it in the top of the tall trees. We persevered and got a glimpse of the bird through the leaves.

Doug thought this Marlboro sign was interesting so Wendy posed in front of it.


On Wednesday, we stayed closer to the lodge. The van took a group of nine of us up to La Mesa road and the Candelario trail. The trail was in the forest along the edge of the fields.

With so many people trying to see the same bird, we needed to “stack,” which means a taller person would stand behind a shorter one. In this photo, our guide Eli, is crouching down and using his laser pointer to direct us to the bird. The guides were really good at pointing the laser at a tree trunk and once everyone could see the spot, moving it upwards to a branch near the bird, being careful to not shine the laser directly on the bird.


All the guides were good at taking a photo through the scope with our cell phones. Photos could happen after everyone had had an opportunity to see the bird through the scope and obviously if the bird stayed still long enough.


In this case, Eli was taking a photo of a Helmet-headed lizard, which wasn’t moving quickly. In fact, these lizards sit and wait for a long time, before dashing after a tasty insect. When it moves, it becomes vulnerable to attack from its predators, so it stays motionless as much as it can.


We also saw some hummingbirds in the forest. This one is a female Crowned woodnymph. This photo shows the distinguishing characteristics: green above, grayish-green below with a large pale throat patch, white spot behind the eye and slightly forked tail with white tips on outer feathers. The male Crowned woodnymph looks quite different, with a purple belly and a green throat.


The Rufous-tailed hummingbird was one of the most common hummingbirds in this area so we were able to see many of them and learn to recognize them. The other nice thing was that the male and female of the species were similar.


This Chestnut-sided warbler was a little trickier to identify when we were looking at the photo three weeks after it was taken. It’s a female in first winter plumage, so the “chestnut side” is not visible.


We came out of the forest, into the fields, and into the sunshine.


That afternoon the van drove us up and over the rim to Caimito Road. We hoped to see a Montezuma oropendola, because we had seen many Chestnut-headed oropendolas and some Crested oropendolas. The Montezuma oropendola has interesting pale blue and pink patches on its cheeks. And here’s a photo of one.


Doug got a good photo of this Dusky-capped flycatcher.


We really enjoyed seeing every trogon. They are a bit bigger than our American robin and have a distinctive shape and posture. This is a Gartered trogon.


This Lineated woodpecker is similar to the Pileated woodpecker that we have in Canada. It has a similar call and on first glance looks alike. However, the Lineated has a dark chin and not as much white on its head.


On Thursday, we went on another full day trip, this time going north and east to Rio Indio and Jordanal.

This little bird is more significant than you would think from its appearance and name. We worked hard to see the Bran-coloured flycatcher on a hillside of grasses and bushes, and it was the only one we saw the whole trip.


We were driving in four wheel vehicles because the roads were steep and unpaved. There was a lot of road construction to improve the roads to allow the farmers to get their product to market. There was hardly any traffic, mainly because the people who lived way out here didn’t have vehicles.

Here’s a view of a couple harvesting culantro on the steep slopes of their farm. If you zoom in, you can see the ties attached to the farmer’s waist that he uses to tie the culantro into bunches. Culantro is related to cilantro but has a more intense flavour. Its leaves are long and saw-toothed like a dandelion. We had a chicken dish with culantro at the lodge, and it was delicious.


We saw gorgeous flowers throughout the whole trip. Some of the homes were very basic but they had amazing gardens. We’re including this red flower as an example.


This Plain-coloured tanager seems happy and is not aware that he doesn’t have a fancy name.


This is a female Blue-chested hummingbird, which doesn’t show very much blue on her chest. We saw several of them on our trip.


We only saw one Cinnamon becard on the whole trip, but this one was good enough to stick around so we had a good look at it.


We were also happy to see a Barred puffbird, because they were uncommon but also cool-looking.


You can almost imagine the racket of a noise that is coming from this Crested oropendola.


The amazing thing about seeing this Ringed kingfisher, was that across the river from him was an Amazon kingfisher. The Ringed kingfisher is much larger (48 cm – 93 cm / 19″ – 37″)


This Little blue heron was along the Rio Indio, around the spot that we turned around to go home. Knowing there is a Little blue heron explains why the one we have at home is the Great blue heron


So that wraps up our Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday trips. Only Friday and Saturday of birding left to go!

Birding in Panama – 4

Birding in Panama – 4

On Sunday, we had a leisurely start at Canopy Tower. After our final look at birds from the observation deck and a delicious breakfast, we packed our bags to be ready to leave for Canopy Lodge, in El Valle.

It took us a couple of hours to reach the valley. Our van drove us west along a divided highway. We turned north at the town of Anton and continued up narrow, steep, winding roads to the rim of an ancient volcano, then down equally steep grades to the valley floor and the town of El Valle. Canopy Lodge is up a hill just outside of town.

The lodge is on the other side of a footbridge over a small stream, which adds to the natural feel of the place. It means that all supplies are brought over either in baskets or on a hand-cart.


The main parts of the lodge are all covered outdoor areas. Here is a view of one of the lounge areas. This is where we usually sat in the evening when we went over our sightings for the day.


Along the wall is a bookcase of nature reference books and variety of others books. There is also a section devoted to some local folk art.


This is the dining area, with the second lounge area behind. It cooled off in the evening, but most nights were about 20 degrees C. Doug recalls wearing a jacket once when it was breezy. The kitchen is behind the rock wall.


Wendy is looking at the bird feeding station. We watched the live cam before we visited. You can too. Search: Panama Fruit Feeder Cam at the Canopy Lodge.


It was a popular spot with lodge guests before heading out for their afternoon birding session.


The Gray-headed chachalacas were fun to watch, and they could clear the tray full of fruit in minutes.


The rooms were bigger than at the tower. The windows were only screen, so if it was breezy, the curtains provided some protection. There was a huge duvet which we found we didn’t need.


Our room was at ground level, but some were up a story so could be considered at the canopy level. This is a view of our balcony, which we enjoyed many evenings, and sometimes used for an afternoon outdoor siesta.


The stream at the lodge brought all sorts of creatures including birds. This Water Anole lizard was sunning himself one afternoon.


The first afternoon birding tour was on a road full of fancy homes within view of Cerro Cara Iguana. The mountain got that name because it looks a bit like a sleeping iguana.

While we were walking along the toad, Wendy heard the call of a bird she was familiar with, which didn’t happen very often in Panama. Sure enough, a Summer tanager appeared and we all had a good look.


Next morning, we loaded into the van and headed up the hill beyond the lodge. We parked beside a pond where we had a good view of a Green kingfisher. We saw her a number of times throughout the week.


We walked up the road and it started to sprinkle. Soon it was raining hard so we took shelter in the overhang of the local store. Our guide today was Danilo.


Across the road from the store, there was a remnant of a banana. We watched while different birds came to clean it up. These are Spot-crowned barbets.


The Blue-grey tanagers were waiting nearby.


And a Flame-rumped tanager came by to check it out. The local guides call them Lemon-rumped, which is a better name for them.


We continued up to the “cloud-forest” and walked along a road known as Las Minas Trail.


When we got to an overlook there was some clearing out towards the Pacific.


We saw a few birds, but the fog made it hard to see long distances. This butterfly or maybe moth, caught our attention. We saw many butterflies and moths and can understand those who become butterfly watchers, but know that it would be a complex endeavour and not for us right now. So this photo is just of “a nice rufous and green one.”


We did however, see a nice rufous and yellow bird, known as a Rufous-capped warbler.


That afternoon, we walked up the road from the lodge towards property that is part of the Canopy Family, called “Canopy Adventure.” They offer zip-line tours that criss-cross the stream and waterfall. Gretchen was the only one of our group that went later in the week.

Here’s a view of one of the suspension bridges.


The waterfall was a good backdrop for a photo. Here’s a good one of Gretchen and Bob.


And one of Doug in almost the same place.


We managed to see a pair of Mottled owls that were roosting behind a curtain of branches, but the most exciting find was this Violet-headed hummingbird on her nest.


When we were walking back to the lodge we spotted this Broad-winged hawk perched in a tree. Perhaps he was taking a rest, because he didn’t move much, which allowed us to find a better vantage point and have a good look at him.


So that’s enough for one post. There’s five more days of birding tell you about, and many more birds to show you!

Birding in Panama – 3

Birding in Panama – 3

The Metropolitan Natural Park encompasses 265 hectares and is the only large forested park within a metropolitan capital in Latin America. A large potion of the park is Dry Lowland Pacific Forest, an endangered tropical ecosystem.

On the maintained trails throughout the park, there are signs explaining the plants and animals. This sign gives information about the Keel-billed toucan. I think the name in Spanish refers to its rainbow bill.

And we had a good view of a Keel-billed toucan.


We also saw a family of White-nosed coatis. Coatis are members of the raccoon family, and from our experience, they didn’t have much fear of humans. They are more often foraging on the ground, but they climb trees easily.


That afternoon, we did some bird-watching near the Changres River. We saw a Black-tailed trogon and a White-winged becard, but the best photo was of a Slaty-tailed trogon.


We saw this Central American Agouti in the field near the truck. An agouti is a rodent and is an important member of the rainforest community because they are “scatter hoarders.” This means that when food is plentiful, they will bury excess nuts and fruit.


The next day, on the way to the Rainforest Discovery Center on Pipeline Road, we stopped the truck to let a coati cross the road. Our guide heard an Ocellated antbird. It’s almost only found at Army ant swarms. He used an antbird recording to bring it in.

Each of our guides had a portable speaker that they accessed through Bluetooth and could hang on a bush and fool the bird into thinking there was another bird there. It comes to investigate and you get a chance to see it. It’s not a strategy that should be used when birds are nesting, or overused in any one area. Usually when our guides used the speakers, we were the only people around.

So we were able to see this Ocellated antbird. Quite the weird-looking character!


Here is the bottom of the 175 step tower at the Rainforest Discovery Center. It was fine going up, but we got a little dizzy coming down and had to stop.


Jorge was our guide today. The top of the tower was one of the few times that we were in full sun for a longish period of time, and apart from the Canopy Tower, the only time we were above the canopy.


This colourful character is a Collared aracari.


A Yellow-headed caracara flew by. Although they are raptors, cacarcas have bare heads because they also eat carrion.


This female Blue dacnis perched on the railing for a few moments.


This is the best view of a Pied puffbird that we had all week.


After coming down from the tower, we spent some time looking for a Pheasant cuckoo, a rare bird that our guide had heard call from the tower. This cuckoo lurks in dense undergrowth, and yes, we saw it, but the dense undergrowth didn’t allow for a quality photo.

We followed the trail to this overlook, which although beautiful didn’t produce many birds besides some Wattled jacanas and a distant heron.

Later that afternoon, we visited Summit Ponds again. Here’s a photo of a Gray-cowled wood-rail.


And one of a Green heron catching his dinner.


On Saturday, we revisited the “Ammo Dump Ponds” because we had yet to see the elusive White-throated crake, which other birders at the Tower has seen. We had heard it, but we wanted to see it.

We didn’t see the WHCR, but we saw something better! A rare Yellow-breasted crake. Another birding group had spotted it and let us know. Mostly it walked in the reeds, but it allowed us to see it briefly.


We continued onto Pipeline Road. We saw this American pygmy kingfisher above a pool by the gate.


That afternoon we took some time off of serious birding and visited the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Locks.

Two cruise ships went through the locks while we were there. We also saw some informative exhibits about the history and the workings of the canal.

We’ve now described our first week in Panama. Next we move to Canopy Lodge in El Valle. More birds, more adventures!


Birding in Panama – 2

Birding in Panama – 2

We travelled from Canopy Tower in the back of a four-wheel truck called the “Birdmobile.” This gave us a good view of the rainforest.


Our first afternoon of birding was at Summit Ponds, just a few minutes from the tower. The ponds are near the highest point along the canal.

This Anhinga was sunning himself, just like a cormorant does. Anhingas have longer necks and bills and tails than cormorants and are in a different family.


We were lucky enough to see a couple of Mealy parrots. They were hard to see because they are almost all green and were high in the canopy, yet our guide spotted them and Doug was able to get a good photo.


We were also fortunate to see two Spectacled owls roosting.


The next day, we were driven to the bottom of the Semaphore Hill. From there, we hiked along the Plantation trail in Soberania National Park. The trail passes through mature rainforest and follows a small creek.

We saw the first of many Slaty-tailed trogons that we saw over our two week visit.

That afternoon, we visited the Canopy B&B in nearby Gamboa. There were wonderful birds on their feeders, but this Green iguana stole the show.


Here’s a look at our next birding sites. This spot overlooks a marshy area known as the “Ammo Ponds,” which we examined closely from the road below. From the hill, we had good views of birds and also of the canal in the distance.

For these two days, we enjoyed the company of two nature lovers from Berlin, while we tried to persuade them to become birders.


The next day, we headed for the Pipeline Road for a full day of birding. The road was built in the 1940s as a service road to the oil pipeline that crossed the isthmus and is world-renowned for its birding opportunities.

This juvenile Rufescent tiger-heron was perched on a branch that was overhanging the road. Perhaps it was a little off-track, because it wasn’t very near any water.


Our 4-wheel drive “birdmobile” was able to navigate the muddy ruts in the limited access road. This day, it was only our group of four (us and our friends, Gretchen and Bob) with our guide, Iqua.

The photo below is typical: the guide sets up the telescope on a special bird and we all take turns look at the “scope view.” Doug and Bob work to capture the image and Gretchen and Wendy look at it through binoculars. This time, after a quick look through the ‘scope, Wendy took a photo of the group because the holes in the bridge deck made her feel uneasy.


We can’t remember exactly which bird we were looking at. Perhaps it was this White-tailed trogon,


or this Yellow-throated toucan.


 We also got good views of Howler monkeys.


Since we were out for the whole day, had a picnic lunch in the forest. We had lots of food, and stools to sit on.


Shortly after we had filled our plates, the heavens opened. It was the longest and hardest rain that we had the whole trip. Our jackets kept us mostly dry. Once the rain had stopped, we dried off pretty quickly.

Here’s Bob making the best of a soggy situation.

Walking was our main exercise, but sometimes the small “window” between the leaves required some bending to get a good view. Not really a yoga pose, more like “douga” or “boba.” Here you can see our guide using a green laser pointer to help pinpoint the bird.


Maybe they were getting a photo of a Cocoa woodcreeper. We saw lots of these birds throughout the week.


 Gretchen practices yoga regularly which allowed her to “hold the pose” for as long as she needed.


Bob and Gretchen were probably looking at some kind of bird that is forages for ants in the undergrowth of the rainforest. There are antbirds, antthrushes, antshrikes, antpittas, ant-tanagers and antwrens. This photo is of a Bicolored antbird.


The next day, (Wednesday) was another full-day trip. This time we drove over an hour to the hills above Tocumen towards the two peaks of Cerro Azul and Cerro Jefe.

At lunchtime, we visited the “Hummingbird House,” the name given to the home of two American bird lovers. They have seed feeders along with over a dozen hummingbird feeders, all numbered so the guides could direct your attention to a specific feeder.


The owner removes the bee guards from the feeders so that honeycreepers can drink from them. This one is a female Shining honeycreeper.


Here’s a male Green honeycreeper.


We saw several Bay-headed warblers over our visit, but this view was probably the best.


And of course there were hummingbirds. We all saw a Rufous-crested coquette with our binoculars but it was feeding on some flowers that were obscured by branches and it was difficult to get a well-focused photo. The coquette is one of the cutest and smallest hummingbirds and very common.

This Bronze-tailed plumeteer was more cooperative.


So that’s enough for one blog post. The next one will document the rest of the week of our stay at Canopy Tower.

Birding in Panama – 1

Birding in Panama – 1

We’re introducing our newest fox mascot who travelled with us to Panama, allowing us to stay true to our blog title: Travels with a Fox. “Felty Fox” is only 6cm (2.5 inches) high, so he will likely be harder to see when he is included in future photos. This view is from the lounge at YVR. We left Vancouver in early January.


We had one night in Panama City before going to our birding lodge. We chose to stay in a boutique hotel in Casco Viejo (the old quarter). Villa Palma was decorated in a unique style.


Each of the six rooms was decorated differently. Our room was on the third floor, reached by a spiral staircase. The elevator only went to the second floor.


We explored the narrow streets. Most of the cars stayed on a one-way circuit that looped around the peninsula that makes up the old town. The area has recently been revitalized and made safe for tourists.


Here’s a view from our hotel’s rooftop lounge area, looking towards the skyscrapers of modern Panama City.


And a view westward towards the Pacific.


The next day a “Canopy Family” driver picked us up and drove us to Canopy Tower, our home and birding base for the next week. Canopy Tower was constructed in 1965 as a radar station by the US military. In the mid-1990s is was retrofitted to become a birding lodge. It’s situated on the top of a hill surrounded by the lowland rainforest of Soberania National Park.


Even before we found our room, we were mesmerized by the hummingbirds visiting the feeders just outside the door. This White-vented plumeleteer posed on the nearby fence. We saw over twenty species of hummingbirds in our two week stay.


Since we booked so early (July 2018 for our January 2020 stay), we were able to stay in the Harpy Eagle suite. There was no air-conditioning, but the fan and the evening breezes allowed us to sleep relatively comfortably.


The lounge and the dining area were on the third level, surrounded on all sides by windows and views of the rainforest.

Here’s a view of us and others having a late breakfast on our last day at the tower. Usually we were leaving the tower earlier so we could be looking for birds in the early light.


The food was delicious. Some days we would come back to the tower for lunch after our morning of birding. Those days we would have a break in the middle of the day and set out again at 3:00. Even birds seem to need siestas!


The view from the lounge windows was amazing. Sometimes you could see monkeys clambering through the branches.


The top observation deck allowed views all around, both distant and close views.


Doug captured this Golden-hooded tanager with his 600 mm lens from the observation deck.


We saw many Broad-billed motmots throughout the week, but the first one was special.


Often we only heard and caught glimpses of the Red-lored parrot, but this one came close to the tower one morning.


Here’s a view of sunrise from the tower. If you look closely you can make out the skyscrapers of Panama City on the horizon.


This is the first of a number of posts about our two week trip to Panama. We have many more birds to show you!