Before when I would vacation, the only resources I would need were travel guides. You don’t have to do a lot of research when you just want to hang out at a pool or on a beach. If I was going to Europe, a travel guide could tell me where to shop, where to eat, where to stay and what museums to visit and their hours.

Birding is a whole new ball game. It requires homework.

Thankfully in marriage we’ve learned that the split in responsibilities matches up with our interests and core competencies. (It’s why Steve doesn’t fold the laundry and I do.) I love to make all the travel plans, not just because I enjoy putting all the puzzle pieces together when planning the itinerary, but I’m a bit of a control freak and to be honest, if I let Steve choose the accommodations we’d be tenting it the whole way. Or sleeping in places that read on their website as “simple,” “we cater to hikers/surfers,” and “best value in town.”

Sorry, I don’t go on vacation to get head lice.

So Steve lets me take on the challenge of balancing the travel budget with things that make me happy (balcony! fireplace! spa! world-renowned chef! more than two stars–any stars!) while he does the homework about birds.

The thing about Panama is that you can go pretty much anywhere and see some lifers. Our trip for the next two weeks is going to focus on the Western side of Panama. We’ll hit the Eastern side next time we go to Panama and maybe there will be some decent accommodations in the Darien region by then. (I hear that the Canopy Tower group is working on a Canopy Tent facility in the Darien region. Given their high-caliber accommodations, I would only expect high quality from them. Fingers crossed.)

Here are our primary sources of information for our Panama trip. Steve (who is also Rainman) has studied the map and I think he has it memorized now. (I’ll find him on the floor with the map spread out, studying it for hours.) This map we ordered from Amazon and it’s turned out to be a great map. It’s printed on that really great durable paper that kind of feels like it’s Tyvek. Probably not the same, but almost.

I actually bought The Birds of Panama field guide for Steve after reading the reviews for it on Amazon. It seems to be the one that got the best reviews and this latest edition (2010), according to the reviewers, is much better than the earlier editions. It has everything in the right place, with range maps and today’s customary set-up with the text, range maps and plates all on the same double-page spread. It’s a little hefty, though not as much as the Birds of Belize tome, which we dragged around Belize. Thank goodness!

After Steve began studying The Birds of Panama field guide he learned that we needed to order A Bird-finding Guide to Panama, which is a narrative terrific guide that tells you exactly where to find the birds you’re looking for. In fact, if you were to visit without hiring a guide this book would get you to where you needed to find the birds you’re chasing. The detail goes as far as telling you to “drive to the gate, walk about 10 feet where you see the sign and take the path….” It also has recommendations for accommodations that cater to birders and even lists bird guides.” Steve’s got Post-it flags all throughout this book and he even left it for me to study for my own education when he was out of town so I would be prepared.

Other resources we’ve turned to have been the usual: Birdingpal.com, contacting the accommodations for advice, TripAdvisor, and just general searches on the Web.

We’ve already got our bird guides arranged and we’re packing our bags right now. We even got a whole new wardrobe at Eddie Bauer. They have a great Travex line that’s lightweight, breathable, and water resistant. Perfect for the humid tropical temps of Panama.

Be sure to stay tuned as I’ll be blogging and posting photos along the way.

If anyone out there has been to Panama and has any great advice or recommendations, feel free to comment here and let us know.