Close to Home

Close to Home

Instead of “Travels with a fox,” this blog could be renamed “Close to home with a fox,” although it’s a bit of a stretch, because we’re in our camper and have forgotten to invite any fox mascots. We figured you might be interested in our other way of camping.

We drove about an hour and a half from our house into the mountains. We knew a spot by a creek that would probably not be occupied, unless by cattle. And there were no other campers, but we did have to do some cow pad removal and gravel restoration of some specific sites.

Here’s a photo of our camp fully set up: bug tent beside the camper, portable solar panel connected, outside cooking area, and shower tent (out of view.) We also brought our quads along.

We camped right beside the creek. Here’s a view from the water just steps from our camper.

The next day, we used our quads to access a hiking trail we knew. We drove up the Forest Service Road, past Summer Lake and on to an old road. When we first discovered this road thirty-six years ago, we could drive up the four kilometres in our full-size pickup. Now most of the road is thick with alders, but there were a few views along the way.

We parked our quads near the top of a former skid road and followed a newly flagged trail for about half an hour to Ruault Lake. The lake was very high for the third week of July. Bear Lake is below the other side of the ridge that is shown in the photo below.

With plenty of time left in the day, we chose to make our way up to the ridge, sometimes following game trails and sometimes bushwacking. As we worked our way upwards, we had good views of Ruault Lake and Mount Ruault.

Soon we were walking along the ridge line.

The flowers were spectacular. There are close-ups of Silky phacelia and Indian paintbrush.

We reached the highest point on the ridge close to noon. From there, we had a great view of Bear Lake, and could even see Cranbrook, although it’s not visible in the photo below. We had an enjoyable lunch, without much wind, with the bonus of cellular coverage so we could send photos to family and friends.

We backtracked along the ridge and then headed down the avalanche path. In the avalanche path we were truly bushwhacking, with no evidence of a trail at all. We joined the Ruault trail about five minutes of walking above our quads. Our total hike was about four kilometres.

The next morning, we explored some newer (and now unused) logging roads around Goat Haven Mountain. We used to spend time in the area when it was thickly forested and intertwined with game trails. We had some great views of Goat Haven and the surrounding mountains.

In the afternoon, we drove our quads to a good fishing spot about five minutes down the road. Doug spent some time casting into likely “fish holding” spots without much success, so he headed downstream to look for more productive waters. As soon as Doug was out of view and earshot, Wendy, who had been struggling to remember how she casted in this kind of stream, caught a fish! And she caught (and released) one more before we left for our home-on-wheels.

We were leaving the next day, but there was no need to leave early, so after taking down most of camp, we headed up the road about two minutes to another fishing spot. This time Doug fished a deep pool and caught (and released) two cutthroat.

After lunch, we drove home in plenty of time for dinner. Over the next few days we got the camper cleaned and restocked; ready for our next adventure.

We put together this blog to record a typical local camping trip with our camper. Each trip is to a different location, so sometimes the activities change, but this account gives you an idea of what we do when we’re “off camping.”

Tucson, AZ: final post

Tucson, AZ: final post

We got back to mountain biking, after Wendy’s scraped knee healed and she purchased some knee pads. She hardly ever falls, but the knee pads are confidence boosters. We went farther than our first outing and covered over thirty kilometres in three and a half hours.


The next week we went out again, but turned around at the “big rocks” to make a twenty kilometre ride.


We’ve birded at El Rio Open Air preserve a number of times. Often the Black-crowned night herons are hidden in the branches. This time, a couple of them were more visible. This photo was taken through the scope.


Doug spent some time at our place practicing with taking photos through the scope. Here’s an Inca dove, one of a half dozen that visit our feeder. These doves are very small (only 20 cm long) and have a beautiful scaly plumage pattern.


On a cooler day when rain was expected, we went birding at the Desert Museum. Many wild flowers were blooming, which made the cactus garden even more gorgeous.


Here are some desert bluebells among the hedgehog cactuses.


The desert museum had a very good specimen of desert honeysuckle. Hummingbirds love these flowers.


We hiked again in the section of Saguaro National Park that is really close to us. This time we headed up some trails we had hiked before. This photo of the pink penstemon was taken on a wash beside the Ringtail trail.


There are a myriad of trails in this area that allow a hiker to make different loops. This time we went over to the Gila Monster trail. A Gila monster is a kind of lizard, but we didn’t see any. We knew when we started hiking that rain was in the forecast, but we hoped we would get home before it started. This photo was taken moments before we felt sprinkles. It was windy and damp for about twenty minutes, but we only needed to put on our wind jackets to be comfortable. We dried off by the time we got back to the truck.


The next day, we set our alarm for 6, because we wanted to go birding at Madera Canyon, an hour drive away. The leftover clouds from the rain the night before made for a spectacular sunrise.


By the time we got to Madera Canyon, the sky was clear. We parked at Proctor Road and hiked on the paved trail.


About five minutes from the parking lot, we heard the Northern beardless-tyrannulet, a bird we had been hoping to see. It flitted around as flycatchers will, but it finally perched long enough on a sunlit branch for Doug to get this photo. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t perch a few centimetres lower, so it’s head was not blocked by the branch, but we were happy to have this good of a view of such a small bird. (Only 11 cm long.) It also has a very limited range in the US. A life-bird for us!


Later that afternoon, we had good views of a Yellow-eyed junco.


On the way home from Madera Canyon we stopped by Canoa Ranch Conservation Area, to see if there was anything interesting. We saw a lot of the same birds that we had seen the last time. Doug is looking through the scope at some Ruddy ducks, a pair of Ring-necked ducks and one Bufflehead. Madera Canyon is in the mountains in the background of the photo.


A few days later, we returned to Madera Canyon. We really wanted to see an Elegant trogon. There was one male in the area that fed on the red berries of the pyracantha bush. He had come to the bush in the morning on the previous two days, so there was a crowd expecting his arrival. The photo below shows some of the people on the road. We were practicing social distancing, so kept a lookout from the trail below. Unfortunately, he didn’t show up that morning.


We walked up to the Santa Rita Lodge gift shop, where they have over a dozen feeders. We had a quick look at the feeders and the surrounding area. Doug got a good photo of an Arizona woodpecker, another bird that has a very limited range in the US.


After lunch, we went back to check out the pyracantha bush and were rewarded with a view of a male Hepatic tanager.


The next day, we found another great area for hiking in the Tortolita Mountains. Pima County maintains the trails and provides signage and maps.


We chose to follow the Alamo Springs trail out of the wash and up along a ridge.


There were plenty of wildflowers and cacti to look at.


It was an excellent trail through interesting terrain.


This rock formation is nick-named “Machu Picchu,” because it looks like it is a man-made structure. After we read the information board, we took a rest on the nearby bench.


We didn’t walk all the way to Alamo Springs, instead we went down the spur trail to the valley bottom and walked along the wash back to the trailhead.


On our last day in Tucson, we went birding at Sweetwater wetlands. The maintenance crew had cleared the edges of the ponds which made it easier to see the birds that like to hide in the reeds. Doug is taking a photo with his iPhone through the scope of a rare and hard to see bird known as …


… an American bittern! You might not see it at first glance.


That afternoon we reorganized the trailer to make it ready to move. We were reluctant to leave the beautiful weather of Arizona, but it became clear that our best place during the coronavirus pandemic was at home in Canada.

The next morning, after some fancy manoeuvres, we were out through the narrow gate and on our way. We drove north and sailed through Phoenix and Las Vegas because there was less traffic than average. At 6:30, we found a spot for the night in the Walmart parking lot in Mesquite, NV.


The next day, we drove twelve hours to make it to Dillon, Montana. We got home on the third day of nine hours. Before we could park the Redwood, Doug needed to get out the quad and plow to clear a space in our regular parking area. It had not been plowed all winter, because we were expecting to get home after everything had melted. Here’s a view of the trailer with the car beside it. Wendy uses the car to move the food from the refrigerator to the house.


We’re home now and doing our fourteen day self-isolation. We hope to be out in the trailer in June. Until then, keep safe and stay healthy.


Tucson: Mar. 1 – 8: Biosphere 2, Buffelgrass & Birds

Tucson: Mar. 1 – 8: Biosphere 2, Buffelgrass & Birds

We visited Biosphere 2 in early March. Biosphere 2 is a research facility, now owned by the University of Arizona. It was originally built between 1987 and 1991 as a closed ecological system meant to demonstrate the viability of such a system to maintain human life in outer space. From 1991 to 1993, four women and four men lived inside and sustained themselves with food that they harvested in the closed system.

Here’s a view of the facility from a knoll just above it.


Nowadays, the facility has guided tours every half hour as well as several small-scale and large-scale research projects. The rainforest biome had recently been reopened after an experiment which they manipulated the water input to simulate a drought and measured the effects on the plant life. Our tour guide said it would take quite a while to deal with all the data that was generated.


Another day, we decided to do our own weed pull on our closest trail, the one up Panther Peak. The brittlebush was now flowering and made a nice contrast to the teddybear cholla.


We came to pull up some buffelgrass that we had noticed on our previous trips. The trail goes right through this patch. Buffelgrass is an invasive grass and is especially bad because it can allow a fire to spread through the saguaros.


It took strength, but most plants came up with roots intact.


Here’s the view after our effort. We will need to go back another time to get the bit we missed.


We stuffed the grass into two garbage bags and then considered how we were getting them out. It was quite rocky and fairly steep where we did the work, so balancing the bag on our heads worked for awhile, but soon our shoulders were sore. We found holding the bag over our shoulder “Santa style” was the preferred method. We’ve since researched about what other people do and found that they leave the grass in the area, but weigh it down with rocks.


We found a new area for hiking that has many short trails that can be combined into loops ranging from an hour to all day. It’s known as the Sweetwater Preserve and is about a twenty minute drive from our place, on the east side of the Tucson Mountains.


Can you spot the Curved-billed thrasher on top of the saguaro?


We did a few days of birding, too. We visited the Canoa Ranch Conservation Area which is in Green Valley, just south of Tucson. There were quite a few other birders there looking especially for a Clay-colored sparrow that had recently been sighted and is rare for this area.

We didn’t see one, but Doug did get this photo of a Brewer’s sparrow with his long lens.


And we visited the Sweetwater Wetlands again. This Greater roadrunner was preening himself in a tree. This photo was taken with an iPhone through the scope.


Until next time…

Tucson: Feb. 24 – Feb. 29: Birds, Flowers, Picacho Peak

Tucson: Feb. 24 – Feb. 29: Birds, Flowers, Picacho Peak

It was time to visit Sabino Canyon again for some birding. Here’s a view of the recreation area before the trail climbs into the canyon.


Doug got out his camera and big lens for the first time since our Panama trip.


He got some good photos. Here’s a male Costa’s hummingbird.


This is a female Northern cardinal.


We walked up the Bluff trail and looked across into the branches of the tall cottonwoods. A Cooper’s hawk was building a nest. We watched as it pulled dead twigs off branches and carried them to the nest. It rested for a few moments and Doug was able to get this shot.


A little further up the trail was this male Broad-billed hummingbird. We had seen them before but only in vicinity of feeders, so it was wonderful to see one “in the wild.” Note his broad, notched tail and bright red bill.


He was preening and shaking out his feathers. Doug caught him fanning his tail.


There were Black-tailed gnatcatchers flirting about in the creasote bushes. One male paused long enough for this photo. He was in breeding plumage which made him very easy to identify.


Here’s a view of Picacho Peak that we took in September when we were staying at the park for a few days. Its centrepiece spire is visible from Tucson as well as from the roads near our place. It was on the list of “mountains to climb that we can see from our winter home.” So we picked a day in February. (February 25 to be exact.)


We left our place by 7 am and were on the trail just after 8. The trail starts on the side you can see in the previous picture and switchbacks up to a shoulder. The route then heads down the cliff face on the other side. Here is Wendy down climbing with help from the cables.


The trail then skirts the cliffs. It’s amazing that this saguaro can survive here.


Soon the real climbing began. Doug climbed this section by leaning back and pulling up.


The trickiest bit had cables on both sides for handholds. It allowed us to get up a section that would have required full-on climbing gear.


This ramp and handrail made for an easy traverse.


We were on the top by about 10:00 and had the place to ourselves. We didn’t stay long though, because it was quite windy.

Picaho-summitOn our way down, we met many people ascending, but we only had to wait at one of the “one-way only” sections.

We took a short side-trip near the trailhead to take photos of the Mexican gold poppies. (Eschscholzia mexicana)


Another day, we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. This view of the cactus garden shows Organ Pipe cactus and Totem cactus surrounding a number of varieties of barrel cactus. Notice the heart-shaped prickly pear cactus on the front left.


After spending months riding the pavement on “The Loop,” we finally found a good place for mountain biking. It’s about a 40 minute drive to the trailhead for us, but it was definitely worth it. Much of the trail is the nice desert riding we enjoy; not too many rocks or too much sand. Here’s Doug on the “Honeybee Loop” trail …


and Wendy just a bit further down the trail. The trails in Honeybee Canyon are reached from the Big Wash trailhead in Oro Valley.


We went birding again to Reid Park. Back in November, we saw this Greater Pewee and got a fuzzy photo of it. It was a rare bird for the area. It seems it decided to stick around for the winter. This time, it cooperated better and Doug was able to get this shot.


The other reason for birding at Reid Park, in the middle of Tucson, was its closeness to the Davis-Monthan Airforce Base. On the day we were birding, the pilots who fly historic warbirds from Korean, Vietnam and WWII were being recertified. Some modern planes were also flown. That meant there were plenty of interesting planes overhead. Doug probably took as many pictures of aircraft as he did of birds that day. Here’s a view of an F-16.


This blog gets us caught up for February. More hiking, biking and birding to come!



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!