Brooklyn Bird Club
Long Pond Greenbelt
|Date: March 11-18, 2013
Reported by: Joe Giunta
Our group consisted of Joe, Kathy, Joya, Irene, Janice, Gerry and Eleanor. Besides myself, Kathy and Joya have had been birding in Panama before but for everyone else it was their first time. It was also the fifth year in a row that Happy Warblers LLC had sponsored a trip to Panama. This trip would be dedicated to birding the highlands of Panama and one day birding the reported best birding spot in all of the Americas, Pipeline Road. The trip was highly successful with a total of 215 species of birds being seen by most members of the group.
Thanks to Gerry McGee a picture history of the trip can be found at:
March 11: Our United/Continental Airways flight, out of Newark/Liberty Airport, took off at 6pm and arrived at Tocuman Airport, Panama City at 9:40pm, about a half hour late. We were greeted at the airport by our guide Jacobo Ortega and by our driver, Chino. They took us to the first of our hotels, La Estancia B&B, in downtown Panama City. Both Jacobo and Chino would remain with us for the next seven days.
March 12: We had breakfast at La Estancia and did some birding from the veranda of the hotel. They had many seed and fruit feeders for birds to come to and for us to watch and enjoy. We saw many of the common birds of Panama City like Variable Seed-eater, Blue-Gray Tanager and Palm Tanager. We also saw Summer Tanager, Masked Tityra and both male and female Barred Antshrike from our balcony viewpoint. Our day would be mostly driving towards our primary destination which was the highlands of Panama and the Los Quetzales hotel. We would make a stop along the way birding some rice fields. Here we saw Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Southern Lapwing and White Ibis. From our van we also picked up Savanna Hawk, Crested Caracara and Yellow-headed Caracara. It was a long ride and it was dark when we finally arrived at our hotel, Los Quetzales. We had dinner right away and prepared for our next day of birding.
March 13: The weather was not the most cooperative. We were in cloud forest and it really felt like it as we had mist and occasional light rain for most of the day. Birding around the lodge would find us Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Flame-colored Tanager and Silver-throated Tanager. At 8:30 we took a tractor drawn wagon to the top of the mountain to find the special birds of this area. We were after the most beautiful bird in the world, the Resplendent Quetzal. When we got to the top of the mountain the rain and fog forced us to take shelter under the deck of one of the mountain cabins. We were dry and we saw some good birds. We picked up Black-and-yellow Silky-flycatcher, Black-billed Nightingale-Thrush and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, all this while we were entertained by many hummingbirds. We saw 7 hummingbird species including Magnificent Hummingbird, Violet Sabrewing and Green Violet-ear. Jacobo whistled in a Prong-billed Barbet. Then, I donít know how he did it, Jacobo said he saw a bird with a long tail. He was then able to whistle in an immature male quetzal. The bird perched right above with. We could see that we had the Resplendent Quetzal but the fog and drizzle left something to be desired. After about 5 minutes the bird flew, not to be seen again. The fog lifted and we walked the trails around the top of the mountain in search of birds. We saw Tufted Flycatcher, Ruddy Treerunner and Collared Redstart. We then saw, by itself, a female quetzal. Great bird and everyone had very good looks. We walked back to the lodge, had lunch and did birding around the grounds of the hotel. Because the weather forecast for the next day promised more of the same Jacobo and I decided to change the order of venues and go to Volcan Ponds next. We would give the weather an extra day to calm down.
March 14: We had breakfast at the usual start time of 6:30. By 7:15 we were in the van and ready to do some birding. The weather in the mountain top was still not good but we were headed away from the nasty stuff to sunshine and better birding conditions. Before reaching the ponds we made a stop at an old airport runway where we picked up Eastern Meadowlark and Yellow-faced Grassquit. Arriving at the ponds we saw our first water birds. Birds like Purple Gallinule, Blue-winged Teal and American Coot were checked off. We also saw both Northern and Wattled Jacanas. It made for an interesting comparison. Walking the trail near the ponds we came upon some fruiting trees that had a large number of tanagers and warblers. We had great looks at Bay-headed Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis as well as Rufous-capped Warbler and Slate-throated Redstart. As for North American migrants we saw Wilsonís Warbler, American Redstart, Golden-winged Warbler and the very common Chestnut-sided Warbler. Flycatchers were also well represented. We saw Eye-ringed Flatbill, Paltry Tyrannulet, and Yellow-bellied Elaenia. We had lunch at a local restaurant in the small town of Volcan and did some birding along the road as we headed back to our hotel. Dinner was at our hotel and we prepared for our next day of birding.
March 15: The weather improved markedly and we were off to the other side of the mountain and the Quetzales Trail. After the usual 6:30 breakfast and 7:15 van departure we arrived at the entrance to the Quetzales Trail. Our driver, Chino, was the first to notice a female Resplendent Quetzal right in front of us. Next was an immature male quetzal about 50 feet away. Birding and quetzal watching even got better. Two adult male quetzals, with long tail feathers were also close by. Our group of birders was surrounded by 4 Resplendent Quetzals. They were feeding on the avocado fruits which were numerous at this location. We stayed about one hour just looking at the quetzals. We forced ourselves away and started to walk the trail. We would hear and finally see Blacked-faced Solitare. Walking the trail some more we would come upon the nest of the Barred Becard. Both male and female were seen well. Jacobo heard the song of Golden-browed Chlorophonia. We would get good looks. Other birds seen on the trail were Flame-throated Warbler, Yellow-thighted Finch and Yellow-winged Vireo. We stayed on this trail for about 4 hours. We had lunch in a local restaurant which featured strawberries and cream as dessert. After lunch and a small break we did some birding in the immediate area. We birded behind the Bambito Hotel and other small roads. We didnít pick up too many new birds except we did see a very nice White-throated Robin. Before the day ended we went back to the entrance of the Quetzales Trial hoping for a repeat with the quetzals and maybe an Aracari which we had missed so far. No luck with either so we headed back to the hotel and dinner.
March 16: This was a travel day for us as we had to return to Panama City. On the way we would stop and bird the area known as Macho de Monte. We again picked up nice birds like Double-toothed Kite, White-crowned Parrot, and Plain Xenops. We also saw a special hummingbird, the Brown Violet-ear. At a lunch stop along the way we saw different birds that added to our list. In one flowering tree we saw Red-legged Honeycreeper, a singing Piratic Flycatcher and a Ďtouristí bird, a Baltimore Oriole. We arrived back at our hotel La Estancia had dinner and prepared for our next day.
March 17: The day started out at the usual time of 6:30 am. We had breakfast at La Estancia and at 7:15 am headed out for our last birding day of the Panama Birding trip. The weather was cloudy and hot, not unlike other days that we had in the Panama City area. Our destination was Pipeline Road, about a 30 minute drive from our downtown hotel. Our guide Jacobo wanted to make a stop at Summit Ponds. The ponds were on the way to Pipeline Road and we hoped to pick up some bird species that we would not get on Pipeline.
Jacobo was right as we saw great birds like Boat-billed Heron, Bat Falcon, Amazon Kingfisher, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Thick-billed Euphonia, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. This all happened on a blacktopped trail of maybe 1000 feet. Then we saw very special birds. A male and female Slaty-tailed Trogon were right in front of us. They fed on some berries from a fruiting tree and didnít seem to care that our group of 7 birders were only 20 feet away. Then came another great sighting: low in the grass was a Striped Cuckoo. Great views as the bird just poised for us. Overhead we had two distinct kettles of birds. One consisted of 50 Broad-winged Hawks migrating north, and another consisted of over 100 Mississippi Kites migrating north just like the Broad-wings. Now what was not supposed to happen, happened. It started to rain. OK, so we went into the van and headed towards Pipeline Road. We made a 5 minute stop at the Ammo Dump ponds just before Pipeline Road and picked up Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a Rufescent Tiger-Heron on a nest with young.
We got to Pipeline Road and it was still raining. The road, really just a wide dirt and gravel trail, was crowded with people. About 7 cars were parked at the entrance with a vehicle from Canopy Tower, filled with birders, just leaving. Since it was Sunday this area attracted many visitors. Years ago, over 10 years ago, you would hardly ever see anyone on Pipeline Road. As a matter of fact, birding books indicated that you may be the only car on Pipeline Road the entire day. Thatís how isolated it was, but not anymore. Jacobo said that we should go back to a newly created exhibit that had a roof to provide us with shelter and wait out the rain. Nobody likes to bird in the rain. The binoculars get wet, visibility decreases, the birds become less active and take shelter. Nobody is happy. We waited one hour and it was still raining. As the leader of the group I felt really bad because the possibility of missing the birds on Pipeline became apparent. Jacobo and I talked it over and decided to take an early lunch and return later. He said that the rain would chase the people away and when it stopped the birding would be ďreally good.Ē It was now 11am and we drove back to Panama City, half an hour away, and had lunch at Nikos, our planned lunch spot. The lunch is the standard Panamanian lunch, chicken, rice, beans etc. but you can get a big dish of ice cream for $1.10. It is always a good idea. Now, the time was approaching 1pm and the rain had stopped, at least in Panama City. We decided to drive back to Pipeline Road and give it a second chance.
Jacobo was right, at least the people had left. Now we had to find the birds. We walked the road finding some great birds. We saw Rufous Motmot, Broad-billed Motmot, two Lineated Woodpeckers, Purple-throated Fruit Crow, and we saw and heard a Great Tinamou. Wow this was really good. Jacobo heard something on the left side of the trail just in the forest a little. We followed him and saw a Song Wren, best view Iíve ever had. We saw Chestnut-backed Antbird and then saw one of my favorites, a male Spotted Antbird. I felt really good as I knew that the group of people that I had with me had seen some really special birds. We went back on the trail and walked down a little more. Jacobo heard something on the right side of the trail. Again we entered the jungle and this time we came upon an army ant swarm. We could see the ants just in front of us and with them were the antbirds. We saw and heard at least 10 Bicolored Antbirds, 6 Spotted Antbirds, 2 Gray-headed Tanagers, a Barred Woodcreeper, a Plain Brown Woodcreeper and to top it off fabulous views of an Oscillated Antbird. I was in birderís heaven; it does not get any better. Then just like a great show the curtain came down as it started to rain again and rain hard, ending this performance. For me Pipeline Road remains the best birding venue in all of the Americas.
March 18: Chino picked us up at 7am and we were on our way back to the airport. On our way to the airport we passed the mudflats next to Panama City. We added Brown Pelican and Wood Stork to our list. We returned on the 10am United/Continental flight and touched down at Newark/Liberty airport about 4pm.
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Species seen - 215