Welcome to Birdquest
Birdquest's Best of Panama birding tour is a marvellously productive exploration of the Canal Zone and the uplands further west, based at just two lodges: famous Canopy Tower and the newer but more comfortable Canopy Lodge. During the extension we visit two more lodges in the highlands of Western Panama with their extraordinary Resplendant Quetzals and many other exciting montane specialities.
Saturday 2nd February —
Tuesday 12th February 2013
Western Panama Post-Tour Extension: Wednesday 12th February – Sunday 17th February (6 days)
Leader: Matt Denton
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy (occasionally Moderate during the extension)
When, a couple of million years ago, a land bridge was formed between isolated South America and North America, sabretooths and other ferocious predators moved south causing havoc among the unique South American fauna. At the same time, other life forms met with golden opportunities to expand their ranges north into unoccupied tropical forests. Many bird and mammal species went extinct, causing opportunities for others to develop and radiate into new ones. Today, Panama, the crossroads between two continents, offers the richest birding in Central America, and a stay at the Canopy Lodges has become synonymous with some of Panama’s best birding. With ten nights shared between these two lodges, we will fully savor the experience of becoming acquainted with these two very different areas and their birds. All of us enjoy the relaxing pace of birding from a lodge, where the comfort of meals and sleep surrounded by good habitat is an ideal routine. This approach makes an ideal Neotropical tour for those who prefer a shorter trip with less travel time, but still desire the opportunity to see some avian rarities.
Historically, the Canal Zone of Central Panama was one of the last gaps in the famous land bridge, which is why many northern bird species reach their southern limit here, and more southerly species reach no farther north. Typical Neotropical families such as tinamous, jacamars, toucans, antbirds, manakins and cotingas all figure prominently, together with tropical versions of northern families such as owls, swallows, wrens and thrushes. Yet another contributor to the area’s bird diversity is the pronounced rainfall gradient from the Pacific coast dry forest to the increasingly more humid Caribbean rainforest. Heading west, the Canal Zone’s low rolling hills soon climb in elevation to the cool foothills of the Talamanca mountain range where motmots, hummingbirds, tanagers and euphonias abound.
Few ecolodges have garnered such high praise in newspapers and magazines as the Canopy Tower in recent years. Cleverly transformed from a United States military radar installation, the Canopy Tower is perched on a hilltop overlooking the rich tropical forests of Soberanía National Park, one of the most accessible rainforests in the world. The diversity of bird and animal life in the park is particularly astounding considering how close it is located to modern Panama City. The opportunity to view birds and mammals in the treetops, even from the guest room windows, makes a stay at the Canopy Tower a marvelous birding experience. The view from the lodge roof is extraordinary, and its tasteful conversion from military installation to observatory includes a comfortable living room and an impressive natural history library. We will awake each morning to bird from the tower or explore one of the many rich forest sites nearby. The famous Pipeline Road will no doubt keep us busy for a long time as we gradually explore its amazing diversity. On at least one day we will take a picnic lunch with us to fully explore this birding mecca. Among the many highlights of our birding here will be such colorful denizens as the stunning Blue Cotinga, the lethargic Green Shrike-Vireo, as well as antswarm professionals like Spotted, Bicolored and Ocellated Antbirds, and restricted-range species such as Garden Emerald, Black-breasted Puffbird, Cinnamon Woodpecker, the awkward Southern Bentbill and Spectacled Antpitta.
More recently, visionary founder Raul Arias de Para’s newest creation is The Canopy Lodge. Located in the pleasantly cool foothills of El Valle de Anton, this charming village retreat is nestled in the caldera of an extinct volcano at an elevation of 2100 feet. The Canopy Lodge of El Valle is the perfect complement to Raul’s extraordinary rainforest tower lodge. Whereas the novelty of the Canopy Tower is its utilitarian structure, the Canopy Lodge features elegant comfort that leaves little to be desired. From the lovely accommodations, to the excellent cuisine and the steady procession of birds to the feeders, birders immediately feel right at home. The rocky mountain stream that runs past the lodge veranda has a resident Sunbittern, and many of the rooms have birding balconies overlooking the lovely surroundings. Besides exploring the lodge grounds, where photographic opportunities are excellent, we will also take field trips to explore nearby trails and country roads at different elevations on both the Pacific and Caribbean slopes. With easily accessible moist foothill forest, the important cloud forest of nearby Cerro Gaital National Monument, and dry Pacific woodland habitat, the El Valle area features an interesting mix of species. Two of the birds that Canopy Lodge has become known for in recent years include Tody Motmot and even the mythical Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, though we shall consider ourselves lucky if we manage to see this reclusive forest floor dweller. One day we will visit the cloud forest of neighboring Altos de Maria for a nice variety of regional endemic species such as Snowcap and Orange-bellied Trogon and other specialities such as Rufous-browed Tyrannulet and Black-crowned Antpitta. On a separate day trip we will cross the Continental Divide to the rich Caribbean slope at Rio Indio where possibilities include White Hawk, Spot-crowned Barbet, Barred Puffbird, and Bare-crowned Antbird.
During the optional extension, we will spend five days in the splendid mountain habitat of western Panama’s Chiriquí province, renowned for its mountain scenery as well as its superb coffee. This region is also justly famous for seeing the Resplendent Quetzal, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Here we will encounter one of the most distinctive avifaunas in Central America composed predominantly of species endemic to western Panama and adjacent Costa Rica. Some of these highland endemics include Prong-billed Barbet, White-throated Mountain-gem, Black-bellied Hummingbird, and Wrenthrush (or Zeledonia) as well as such delightful birds as Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher, Collared Redstart, Flame-throated Warbler, Yellow-thighed Finch and Golden-browed Chlorophonia. The region’s rich volcanic soil is farmed for flowers, oranges and vegetables but higher up lies pristine cloud forest protected by two parks: Volcán Barú National Park and the UNESCO La Amistad Biosphere Reserve. Our tour features lovely accommodation with good food and service near the charming village retreats of Cerro Punta and Boquete, with each of our lodges a compliment to the other due to their location on the eastern and western side of the dormant Barú Volcano. We will also be birding a variety of sites that will include private reserves, the often birdy woodlands of shade-grown coffee plantations, and productive hummingbird feeders where we will be able to enjoy at length the numerous species on display. Thus the majority of the birds seen during the extension will be new for the trip and also new to those who have not yet birded Costa Rica.
Birdquest has operated tours to Panama since 1998.
(Note: The above is a summary of the tour. For more information please download the detailed, day-by-day itinerary. The button is at the top right of the page.)
Accommodation & Road Transport: The lodges are of normal Birdquest standard. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and 4x4 vehicles. Roads are mostly good but there are a few rough unsurfaced roads to traverse.
Walking: The walking effort is easy almost throughout (there are occasional Moderate grade walks during the extension).
Climate: At this season it should be mostly dry and often sunny. It can be quite hot and humid in the lowlands, whilst at higher elevations it is warm to hot, but often cool at night. There may be some rain. During the Western Panama extension, the climate is temperate with usually sunny days but evenings and mornings can be chilly before the sun is fully up. Mountain fog and rain are possible in the highlands but unlikely at this time of year.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are quite good.
Important: Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge have a peak season price around Christmas/New Year and during the best time of year for birding, from January to mid- mid-April. Greatly reduced rates are offered at both locations at other times of year, but these much reduced rates are there for a very good reason! Please bear this in mind when comparing tour prices.
Tour Price: $3820 Panama City/Panama City. Western Panama Post-Tour Extension: $1680. Price includes all transportation (including David-Panama City flight), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: $1092 if you wish for single occupancy of one of the main guest rooms at Canopy Tower and one of the main guestrooms at Canopy Lodge. Alternatively, there are four smaller ‘guide rooms’ that share one bathroom at Canopy Tower. If you opt for one, there is no single supplement and indeed the tour price itself is reduced by $215. At Canopy Lodge there is also a simple but comfortable Canopy Cottage where there are four rooms in total and where each set of two rooms share a bathroom. If you opt for Canopy Cottage there is no single supplement and indeed the tour price itself is reduced by $215. Please check availability with us. Western Panama Post-Tour Extension: $273.
Deposit: 10% of the tour price (excluding any single supplement).
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.