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!

November Fun in Arizona

November Fun in Arizona

We brought our mountain bikes down with us, but so far we’ve mostly ridden on pavement. There is a great multi-use paved trail system in Tucson called “The Loop,” because is loops around the whole city and into the surrounding towns. We’ve ridden at least six days on the trail system. Here’s a few photos to let you get the idea.

This is Wendy on the Canada del Oro River Park route, with views of some luxury homes behind her.


The same trail continues towards Catalina State Park, through a mesquite desert.


There are many beautiful bridges along the trails. Our place is just on the other side of the mountains in the background.


We did some hiking in the area close to where we live. This is a portion of the Ironwood Forest trail. It’s definitely not the typical forest that we usually hike in.


Another cooler day, we did a longer loop and retraced some of our previous hike. The Brittlebush trail starts up a wash.


Here’s a view along the trail. Prickly pear and saguaro cactuses dominate.


This bright green plant is known as “resurrection plant” and is a species of desert plant in the spikemoss family. During dry weather, it’s stems curl into a tight ball, and uncurl when exposed to moisture. The plant is hardly noticeable when it’s all dried up and it’s quite a surprise to see the green slopes after a rainfall.


We also drove across town to the Santa Catalina Mountains. One day, we joined an Audubon field trip at Sabino Canyon. We saw plenty of birds, but it was a rainy day, so no good photos.

A little farther north is Catalina State Park. We did a short birding hike among the granitic outcrops.


We experienced some interesting weather. These clouds preceded a cold front that brought lots of rain and some cooler temperatures.


That meant that we could enjoy some “comfort” food. Doug made his speciality, Chicken Parmesan for the first time in the Redwood.


Throughout our whole trip here this fall, Wendy has found time to sew. Usually she manages with a small table for her sewing machine. The “living room” was transformed into a “quilt palace” for the last few long seams in her throw size quilt top.


Here is Wendy’s “Arizona” quilt top.


We visited Tohono Chul gardens for the last four Sundays in November to attend concerts. Most times it was quite hot. This photo of Doug from November 24 is noteworthy because the cooler temperatures encouraged a new wardrobe: jacket, pants and shoes!


Jonathan W. Martinez played that day. We throughly enjoyed his original pieces and his use of unconventional techniques. (Guitar as percussion, multiple capos and use of looping.)


We’ve also seen a lot of different wildlife this fall. Here’s a Collared lizard that we saw sunning himself at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.


This coyote was also at the Desert Museum.


One day we went birding at the Sweetwater Wetlands and saw four bobcats. Three of them were a long way off, but this fellow was just down the path from us. He didn’t stick around long.


We were lucky enough to see three javelinas the same day. They trotted out from the bushes and gave us a good view. Javelinas are peccaries; a medium-sized pig-like hoofed mammal. They have a strong odour and we could smell them before we saw them.


And because we promised some birds…

Here are a couple of Northern shovelers, in breeding plumage.


And a male American kestrel.


We’ll be taking a break from the blog until the new year. Have a great Christmas!

Birds at the Desert Museum

Birds at the Desert Museum

This blog is all about the birds we have seen recently at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Enjoy!

This bright fellow is a male Lesser goldfinch.


This male Phainopepla posed nicely on one of the sunny days that we visited the museum.


The Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum is not a typical museum. Most of the displays are outdoors. Many of animals that are on display have huge natural enclosures. There are two enclosed aviaries; one for hummingbirds and one for other desert birds.

From the end of October to the middle of April, they have an extraordinary bird of prey exhibition called “Raptor Free Flight.” The birds fly completely untethered in the open desert. We went to a couple of the presentations and Doug took his larger lens to capture these amazing shots.

Here’s a Barn owl. Barn owls feed almost exclusively on rodents and is nocturnal in the wild.


The raptors will swoop from perch to perch to feed on the meat scraps that have been placed there by the trainers.


Barn owls have the most accurate ability to locate prey by sound out of any animal tested. The shape of their face helps to focus sounds.

This Great-horned owl was injured when it was young and has imprinted on humans. It vocalized throughout the presentation with a call that normally would be used by very young owls.


Great-horned owls are found throughout North America. They forage for birds and small mammals up to the size of rabbits.


The broad ear tufts of feathers are not horns at all, but they help to focus sound.


Below is a Gray hawk. They are found in Southeast Arizona in the summer. Their banded black and white tail is a good identifying feature.


Here’s a photo of a Harris’s hawk. They are found throughout Mexico, and into Southeastern Arizona and a small part of Texas.


Their white uppertail coverts and tail tip and their rufous shoulders make them very distinctive.


Harris’s hawks are the only hawks known to hunt in family groups.

Here’s a view of a Ferruginous hawk. They have a wider range in North America and hunt over arid grasslands and the adjacent farmland. Ferruginous refers to their rusty colour. (Fe: symbol for iron) The feature photo of this blog (visible when you view the blog using an internet browser) is also a Ferruginous hawk.


This strange-looking bird is a Crested caracara. Although it is in the falcon family, it has scavenging behaviour closer to a raven. It will fly relatively low in search of prey (lizards, mammals) and patrol roadways in the early morning to find carrion before vultures fly.


Notice the lack of feathers on its beak, which is an adaptation for eating carrion.


If you are ever in the Tucson area, we highly recommend visiting the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum.

Our next blog will include photos of hiking and biking, and likely some birds as well!

Arizona Yard Birds

Arizona Yard Birds

This whole blog is about the birds that come to our feeders at our place near Picture Rocks, Arizona. Our favourite hummingbird is this male Costa’s. He is very inquisitive and will come right up to Doug when he is filling the feeders. The male Costa’s has a long, flared gorget, that shimmers when it catches the light. Also notice the white “eyebrow.”


Here’s a view of him sitting on a nearby branch.


We also have a number of Lesser goldfinches.


They love the nyger seed that we set out for them.


We also have a few House finches. House finches are found throughout the US and Canada, often in urban areas. In Arizona many of them live in the desert which could have been their original home before they became more widely distributed. We see a lot of them on our desert hikes.


Here’s a female House finch (left) with a male Pyrrhuloxia. The Pyrrhuloxia is similar to a Northern cardinal with a grayer overall colour with rosy-red highlights. Around here, Pyrrhuloxia are found in desert scrub and Northern cardinals in riparian woods.


We have a couple of Gilded flickers that visit the feeders and suet. They are very similar to the Northern flicker that we have at home, but with a brighter cinnamon forehead and an all-brown crown and nape. They also are yellow underwing, unlike the Northern flickers (western) that are red-shafted.


These Gila woodpeckers look a little bit like the Gilded Flicker but without the black chest patch. Male Gilas have red on the top of their head. The two females in the photo below are swallowing simultaneously.


There are a number of Cactus wrens in the area. This one came for some water.


The yellow eye on the Curved-bill thrasher makes it seem that it is always angry. Their call sounds a bit like someone whistling for their dog.


Gambel’s quail usually feed on the ground. When they approach the area, they usually trot along, so we were a bit surprised to see that one had flown up to the feeder.


Soon his buddies joined him.


On the left side of the water dish is a White-crowned sparrow. We have about six or seven that come regularly. In the background, you can see a small portion of the number of Mourning doves that also come to visit the feeders. Some days there are fifty or so. They are also fun to watch.


We also have a few other species that are around the yard, but don’t come to the feeder and generally hide in the trees and bushes. They are: Verdin, Black-tailed gnatcatchers and Phainopepla.

Our next blog will also be all about birds. Doug’s got some great pictures from the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum to share.