PANAMA’S DARIEN BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Panama’s Darien: Day 1 Our Darien birding tour starts in the evening at Panama City, where we will stay overnight at a hotel close to the airport.
Panama’s Darien: Day 2 This morning we will begin our journey eastwards to Tortí for an overnight stay.
Along the way, we will begin our birding and are likely to come across a number of the more common roadside and open country birds such as Black and Turkey Vultures, White-tailed Kite, Roadside, Grey-lined and Broad-winged Hawks, Pale-vented Pigeon, Plain-breasted and Ruddy Ground Doves, Smooth-billed Ani, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Grey-breasted Martin, Tropical Mockingbird, Shiny Cowbird, Great-tailed Grackle and Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers. Stops at wetter areas may yield Black-bellied Whistling Duck, (American) Great and Western Cattle Egrets, Green Heron, Purple Gallinule, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Red-breasted Blackbird, Thick-billed Seedfinch and Ruddy-breasted and Variable Seedeaters, whilst surrounding scrubby patches will hold additional species such as Red-crowned and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Southern Beardless and Yellow Tyrannulets, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Long-tailed Tyrant, Tropical Gnatcatcher, (Southern) House Wren, Clay-coloured Thrush, Blue-black Grassquit, Bananaquit and Streaked Saltator.
Later we will explore the nearby San Francisco Reserve which is well-known as one of the best localities for the diminutive Panamanian Tyrannulet (sometimes known as Yellow-green Tyrannulet), a rather understated endemic. Also here we will have our first chance of finding a number of other species. Indeed the potential list is rather long, and although we will not find them all, we will have further chances to find these species further along our route.
Along the forest edge, and in clearings, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for the impressive King Vulture, Black Hawk-Eagle, White and Short-tailed Hawks and White-collared, Short-tailed and Band-rumped Swifts, whilst raucous calls may lead us to Brown-hooded and Blue-headed Parrots, Red-lored and Southern Mealy Amazons, Crested and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, Scarlet-rumped and Yellow-rumped Caciques, and Yellow-backed and Orange-crowned Orioles.
Fruiting trees may attract a variety of interesting frugivores such as Spot-crowned Barbet, Collared Aracari, the amazing Keel-billed Toucan, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, the stunning Blue Cotinga, and Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, as well as smaller species such as Rose-breasted and Blue-black Grosbeaks, Summer, Grey-headed, White-shouldered, Crimson-backed, Golden-hooded and Plain-coloured Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers and White-eared Conebill. Nearby flowers should attract some of the possible hummingbirds which include White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-breasted and Long-billed Hermits, the insect-loving Purple-crowned Fairy, Black-throated Mango, Long-billed Starthroat, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Blue-chested, Rufous-tailed and Violet-bellied Hummingbirds, the range-restricted Sapphire-throated and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, and the smart Blue-throated Sapphire.
As we walk the tails, we will keep our eyes open for ground-dwellers such as Great and Little Tinamous (both easier to hear than see), Blue Ground Dove and White-tipped and Grey-chested Doves. Also down in the understorey we’ll be looking and listening out for a variety of antbirds such as Chestnut-backed, Bicolored and Spotted Antbirds, and the sneaky Black-faced Antthrush, and wrens, including Black-bellied, Bay, Isthmian and Buff-breasted Wrens and the amazing Song Wren. Other antbirds present could include Fasciated, Great, Barred and Black-crowned Antshrikes, the localized Black Antshrike, Checker-throated Stipplethroat, Moustached, White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwrens, and the canopy-loving (Northern) Rufous-winged Antwren.
In the mid-storey we’ll be keeping an eye out for flashes of colour as Slaty, Black-tailed, Gartered and Black-throated Trogons, Great Jacamar, and smart Whooping and Broad-billed Motmots are all possible, whilst distinctive calls will hopefully lead us to rather sedate Black-breasted, (Northern) Pied and Barred Puffbirds. We’ll also be keenly listening out for the strange pops and whistles that may lead us to gorgeous Golden-collared, Red-capped and Golden-headed Manakins as well as Russet-winged Schiffornis (much easier to hear than see) and the seldom-seen Speckled Mourner.
Taps and drums will betray the presence of some of the woodpeckers, with possibilities ranging from the tiny Olivaceous Piculet to Black-cheeked, Red-rumped, Cinnamon and the huge Crimson-crested and Lineated Woodpeckers. Similar in behaviour are the woodcreepers, which are represented here by Plain-brown, Cocoa, Black-striped and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, as well as the related Plain Xenops.
It will also be our first chance to get to grips with a variety of Tyrant Flycatchers and allies. Not everyone’s favourite, but one of the largest bird families in the world! As well as the hoped-for Panamanian Tyrannulet, we may also find Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, the strange Southern Bentbill, the tiny Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous, Yellow-olive and Yellow-margined Flatbills, Yellow-crowned and Brown-capped Tyrannulets, Forest Elaenia, Sooty-headed and Mistletoe Tyrannulets, Tropical Pewee, Bright-rumped Attila, Choco Sirystes, the subtle Rufous Mourner, Lesser Kiskadee, and Dusky-capped, Boat-billed, Rusty-margined, White-ringed, Piratic and Streaked Flycatcher, as well as the closely related Cinnamon, One-colored and White-winged Becards, the lovely Northern Royal Flycatcher, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and Sulphur-rumped Myiobius.
Other likely species include Greater Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, Lesser Greenlet, Trilling Gnatwren, Yellow-crowned and Thick-billed Euphonias, Orange-billed Sparrow, a selection of wintering North American Wood Warblers which may include Northern Waterthrush, Golden-winged, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Bay-breasted, American Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers, the stream-loving Buff-rumped Warbler, Dusky-faced Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator and the sweet singing Slate-coloured Grosbeak. If we are lucky, we will find one or two of the scarcer species such as Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, the elusive Central American Pygmy Owl, the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker (though we will have other chances if we fail to find it here) or the near-endemic Sulphur-rumped Tanager.
Panama’s Darien: Day 3 After a morning in the San Fransisco Reserve, we will make our way to another reserve, the rather remote Cerro Chucantí Reserve for a two nights stay. If it has been dry, we will be able to drive up to the reserve, but if not we will need the help of some equine friends. Later in the day, we will begin our exploration of this excellent area.
Panama’s Darien: Day 4 Cerro Chucantí is a relatively recently established reserve that protects a host of interesting and endemic bird species. Cerro Chucantí is the highest point in the Maje Mountain Range, at over 1,400m (4,600ft). Not only does the site show interesting examples of primary tropical rainforest typical from the Darien region, but it is particularly interesting because it is relatively isolated and there are no other taller mountains for more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) around.
To get to the highest forest it may well be necessary to once again travel on horseback, but once up in the moss-laden forests we will soon forget any hardships. A few species are easier to find here than elsewhere on the tour, and we will be making a particular effort to find the smart Russet-crowned Quail-Dove, the near-endemic Violet-capped Hummingbird, the smart Varied Solitaire, and the endemic Beautiful Treerunner and Tarcarcuna Bush Tanager.
Other exciting species we could well come across include the smart little Tody Motmot, the localized Blue-throated Toucanet, the elusive Yellow-eared Toucanet, the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, the localized White-ruffed Manakin, the stunning Blue Cotinga, the smart Green Shrike-Vireo, the colourful Black-and-yellow Tanager and if we’re lucky the rare and elusive Tawny-faced Quail.
We are also likely to come across a number of more widespread species such as Crested Guan, Short-billed Pigeon, Green and Stripe-throated Hermits, White-vented Plumeleteer, Barred Hawk, Russet Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, Long-tailed, Ruddy, Northern Barred and Spotted Woodcreepers, the sneaky Brown-billed Scythebill, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, White-throated and Golden-crowned Spadebills, Olive-striped Flycatcher, Black-capped and Scale-crested Pygmy Tyrants, wintering Acadian Flycatcher, Southern Nightingale Wren, White-breasted and Grey-breasted Wood Wrens, Slaty-backed Nightingale-Thrush, the smart Fulvous-vented Euphonia, Slate-throated Whitestart, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Tooth-billed, Carmiol’s, Bay-headed and Silver-throated Tanagers.
Panama’s Darien: Day 5 After a final morning at Cerro Chucantí, looking for any of the specialities we are still missing, we’ll retrace our steps and make our way to the Meteti area, in the heart of the Darien lowlands, for a two nights stay.
Panama’s Darien: Day 6 During our stay in the Meteti area, we will be hoping to see two of the world’s most impressive raptors, though our chances of doing so will, to a large extent, be governed by the knowledge of currently active nests or recently fledged young, neither of which is guaranteed. However, over the years, this area has become one of the best areas in the world to find both the ultra-impressive Harpy Eagle and the equally desirable Crested Eagle, and we will do our utmost to find these amazing species. Meteti is also one of the best areas to look for the attractive, near-endemic Dusky-backed Jacamar, the localized Double-banded Greytail and the near-endemic Black Oropendola.
It is of course a rich area, and we are likely to find many new species for the trip which may include Grey-headed Chachalaca, Scaled and Ruddy Pigeons, Striped Cuckoo, Pale-bellied Hermit, the amazing Ruby-topaz Hummingbird (not always present), the smart Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Plumbeous, Grey-headed, Double-toothed, Hook-billed and Swallow-tailed Kites, Crane, Savanna, Black-collared, Swainson’s (especially if much migration is happening) and Common Black Hawks, the raucous Red-throated Caracara, Laughing Falcon, American Kestrel, the diminutive Bat Falcon, Collared and Slaty-backed Forest Falcons (both tough to see), White-tailed Trogon, the chunky White-necked Puffbird, the retiring Grey-cheeked Nunlet, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Yellow-throated Toucan, Golden-green Woodpecker, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Black Antshrike (another chance), White-bellied Antbird, Ochre-lored Flatbill, Streaked, Panamanian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Black-tailed Myiobius, Black-chested Jay, the impressive White-headed Wren, Tropical Parula, Yellow-crowned Euphonia and Lemon-rumped Tanager.
Open grassland and wetland areas and riversides will also hold new species such as Magnificent Frigatebird (drifting over), Wood Stork, Neotropic Cormorant, Little Blue Heron, the smart Capped Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Mangrove Swallow, the gorgeous Prothonotary Warbler and Giant Cowbird.
At night we may well find Pauraques along the roadsides, Tropical Screech, Mottled and perhaps Black-and-white or Crested Owls, and we may also come across bizarre Common and Great Potoos, either in the torch beam or at a daytime roost.
Panama’s Darien: Day 7 We will spend another morning in the wonderful areas around Meteti, before making our way south to Yaviza and then on to the famous Pirre Station, also known as Rancho Frio. The journey here will require a boat trip from Yaviza, followed by a 4WD ride and finally a walk to the station itself. We will of course be birding as we go, arriving at Rancho Frio late in the afternoon for a two nights stay.
Panama’s Darien: Day 8 We will spend the entire day birding the rich lowland forests in the vicinity of Rancho Frio, exploring numerous trails where a number of exciting possibilities exist. If we have not already found them, we may have another chance of the great eagles here, as both Harpy Eagle and Crested Eagle are sometimes found breeding in the area. Other more sought-after and localized species that we will hope to find in this area include both Plumbeous and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Spectacled Parrotlet, the scarce Spot-crowned Antvireo, Dull-mantled Antbird (far better looking than its name suggests!), the amazing Ocellated Antbird (most likely if we encounter an army antswarm), the much-wanted Black-crowned Antpitta, the smart Streak-chested Antpitta, the localized Slaty-winged Foliage-gleaner, the much-wanted Black-tipped Cotinga, White-ringed Flycatcher, the strange Lemon-spectacled Tanager and the impressive Scarlet-browed Tanager.
More widespread additions to our trip list could include Muscovy Duck, Ruddy and Plumbeous Pigeons, Band-tailed Barbthroat, the smart Fasciated Tiger Heron, Great Black Hawk, Rufous Motmot, the docile White-whiskered Puffbird, White-fronted Nunbird, huge Blue-and-yellow and Red-and-green Macaws, the elusive Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Dusky Antbird, the attractive Blue-crowned Manakin, the noisy Rufous Piha, the canopy-loving Grey Elaenia, migrant Eastern Wood Pewees, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, the endearing Tawny-faced Gnatwren, the elusive Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Stripe-throated Wren, Black-striped Sparrow, Purple Honeycreeper and Yellow-backed Tanager
If we are fortunate we will also come across a few of the more difficult species such as the impressive Great Curassow, Marbled Wood Quail, shy Ruddy and Olive-backed Quail-Doves, the stunning Crimson-bellied (or Splendid) Woodpecker, Saffron-headed Parrot, the secretive Green Manakin or the beautifully coloured and much-wanted Viridian Dacnis. We will also be on the lookout for the extremely wary Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, though we shall be very fortunate if we manage to see this reclusive forest floor dweller.
At night we will explore the vicinity of our camp for nightbirds, and should have a reasonable chance of finding Choco Screech Owl and Spectacled Owl, whilst Central American Pygmy Owls can sometimes be heard tooting away, even during the day.
Panama’s Darien: Day 9 After a final morning birding around Rancho Frio, we will begin our hike towards Cerro Pirre in earnest, climbing to the campsite at the wonderfully named Rancho Plastico, situated at around 600m (2000ft) for a two nights stay. The birdlife will subtly change as we gain altitude, and we should encounter a number of trip additions during our hike.
Panama’s Darien: Day 10 We will take a break from hiking today, and spend the day birding the sub-montane forests in the vicinity of our camp, though not all of the local trails are easygoing.
We will once again be hoping for a number of localized and highly-sought avian delights, many of which can be a challenge to find. High on our wants list will be the secretive Choco Tinamou, the strange Tooth-billed Hummingbird, the unique (Broad-billed) Sapayoa, the secretive Choco Tapaculo, the much-wanted Sharpbill (which has at times been placed in its own family), and the superb Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, and if we haven’t found them already, this area is often good for the brilliant Yellow-eared Toucanet and the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. We may find a pair of Wing-banded Antbirds noisily flipping over dead leaves on the forest floor or a Rufous-breasted Antthrush revealing its presence by its characteristic double whistle.
Other more widespread new species we may encounter include Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet-headed Hummingbird, the impressive Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Rufous-rumped, Dot-winged and Slaty Antwrens, Zeledon’s Antbird, Dusky Leaftosser, the widespread but never common Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, the shy Lineated Foliage-gleaner, Northern Tufted Flycatcher, the impressive Sooty-headed Wren, the somewhat subtle Pale-vented Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Shining Honeycreeper, smart Speckled, Rufous-winged and Grey-and-gold Tanagers and the isolated local race of Yellow-green Grosbeak.
If we are lucky we will bump into one or two of the trickier inhabitants of the forest such as Tawny-faced Quail, Violaceous Quail-Dove or the hard-to-see Blue-fronted Parrotlet.
Panama’s Darien: Day 11 Today we will break camp and make the steep hike up to the Mt Pirre Ridge Camp, which is situated at around 1100m (6700ft) on Cerro Pirre, for a two nights stay. We will of course be birding as we go, and will begin our exploration of the ridge if time and energy permit.
Panama’s Darien: Day 12 Today we will spend the entire day exploring the highest areas along the Mt Pirre Ridge, looking for the select band of localized endemics that can only really be found in this area. At the red-flowering Cephaelis bushes that line the trail we shall look for Pirre Hummingbird, only found here and on a few neighbouring peaks. On the Cerro Pirre ridge, we will enter a strange world of elfin forest, where rain and wind have contorted moss-draped trees into gnarled shapes. Here live some of the Darien’s most localized endemics: Pirre Warbler, Green-naped Tanager and Pirre Bush-Tanager. Beautiful Treerunner (rarely seen here) and Varied Solitaire also occur, though hopefully, we will have seen these species at Cerro Chucantí. Understorey flowers are defended by the abundant and very territorial Greenish Puffleg, otherwise only known in the Andes of South America, and sooner or later we are likely to encounter a group of Brown-headed Spider Monkeys crashing through the canopy. Other goodies that we’ll be attempting to see at these higher altitudes include the smart Black-eared Wood Quail, the tiny Purple-throated Woodstar, Collared Trogon, the attractive Red-headed Barbet, the tiny Ochraceous Wren, the localized Dagua Thrush, the gorgeous Yellow-collared Chlorophonia, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, migrant Blackburnian Warblers and the fabulous Emerald Tanager.
Panama’s Darien: Day 13 After a final look for any species we have not found at the highest elevations, we will retrace our steps to the camp at Rancho Plastico for an overnight stay, making an effort to find any species that are still eluding us.
Panama’s Darien: Day 14 Once more, we will retrace our steps, this time back to the Pirre Base camp at Rancho Frio for an overnight stay, again targeting any of the species we have not yet found.
Panama’s Darien: Day 15 After some early morning birding, we will make our way back to Yaviza and then by road to Nusagandi for a two nights stay at Burbayar Lodge, set amidst the green hills of the Serranía San Blas, to the east of Panama City.
Panama’s Darien: Day 16 The tall foothill forests of Nusagandi are home to some of Panama’s most prized birds. Along a narrow mountain trail, we shall enter the realm of perhaps the most primitive of all antbirds, the very localized Speckled Antshrike. Another elusive bird inhabiting these solemn forests is the (Broad-billed) Sapayoa, a suboscine of uncertain affinities, that nowadays is usually placed in its own distinct family. Among flocks of noisy Carmiol’s Tanagers and other understorey birds, we shall diligently check out all drab-olive-coloured candidates in case they are this enigmatic species, though most likely we’ll be lead to our quarry by its song!
Other species found in this bird-rich habitat are Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous Kites, Semiplumbeous and Broad-winged Hawks, Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon, Red-throated Caracara (the latter two species are both easier to hear than see!), Blue-chested Hummingbird, Slaty-tailed, Black-tailed, White-tailed Gartered and Black-throated Trogons, (Northern) Pied Puffbird, Collared Aracari, the impressive Yellow-throated Toucan, Cinnamon Woodpecker, the raucous Southern Mealy Amazon, Olivaceous and Spotted Woodcreepers, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Dot-winged Antwren, Russet Antshrike, Dull-mantled Antbird (a much better bird than its name suggests), the compact Brown-capped Tyrannulet, the tiny Black-capped Pygmy-Tyrant, Long-tailed Tyrant, Bright-rumped Attila, smart Blue-crowned and Red-capped Manakins, the noisy Rufous Piha, Russet-winged Schiffornis, the sneaky Trilling Gnatwren, Stripe-throated and Bay Wrens, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Fulvous-vented and White-vented Euphonias, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Bay-breasted Warbler, Bananaquit, Thick-billed Seedfinch and Blue-black Grosbeak. We’ll check fruiting trees and bushes for Green and Shining Honeycreepers, Plain-coloured, Rufous-winged, Tawny-crested and Dusky-faced Tanagers and the near-endemic Sulphur-rumped Tanager.
If we are fortunate we will come across an army antswarm, where we may well find the incredible Ocellated Antbird and Northern Barred Woodcreeper, as well as, if we are really lucky, the very shy Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Black-headed Antthrush or the spectacular Black-crowned Antpitta (or Gnatpitta as it is sometimes known). Other elusive denizens of these foothill forests but within the realm of possibility include Plumbeous and White Hawks, Purplish-backed and Olive-backed Quail-Doves, the scarce Band-tailed Barbthroat, the stunning Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, the scarce endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker and the amazing Song Wren.
We shall visit a patch of woodland in the upper Bayano Valley where we should find the restricted-range Black Antshrike in addition to some more widespread species such as Jet Antbird.
Panama’s Darien: Day 17 After some final birding at Nusagandi we shall have time to pack, wash and change at our lodge. After reluctantly parting from our hosts at Burbayar Lodge, we shall return to Panama City airport where our tour ends in the late afternoon.
GLOW-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD EXTENSION
Glow-throated Hummingbird: Day 1 The extension will begin in the evening at Panama City where we will spend the night.
Glow-throated Hummingbird: Day 1 Today we will make the long drive to the southwest of the Azuero Peninsula for an overnight stay. We will arrive in time to look for some birds prior to entering the park tomorrow.
Glow-throated Hummingbird: Day 3 Today we will make the fairly arduous climb up into the Cerro Hoya National Park, where we will camp at around 1000m (3300ft). We will be sure to see birds along the way, but we will be concentrating on getting to the key area.
Glow-throated Hummingbird: Day 4 Our main focus today will be to search for the rare and extremely poorly known Glow-throated Hummingbird, as species which has seldom been seen and which, is extremely difficult to identify. However, the most recent records (which were themselves a range extension) have come from the area that we will be exploring, and, the main confusion species, the Scintillant Hummingbird, is not known from this isolated mountain range.
The mountain range hosts a number of species that are largely known from further west in Panama, and we are likely to find a good number of species not seen elsewhere on this tour, though all are species that we see on our Western and Central Panama tour. Possible species include Lesser Violetear, Purple-throated Mountaingem, the stunning Violet Sabrewing, Lesson’s Motmot, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Black-hooded Antshrike, the stunning Lance-tailed and Orange-collared Manakins, White-naped Brushfinch and Red-throated Ant Tanager.
Glow-throated Hummingbird: Day 5 After a second morning looking for Glow-throated Hummingbirds and whatever else we can find, we will make our way back down the mountain for an overnight stay.
Glow-throated Hummingbird: Day 6 This morning we can see if we can find the localized Veraguan Mango, before making the drive back to Panama City Airport where the extension will end in the early evening.