Birding in Boquete, Panama: Chasing targets

Panama Day 6

You know the risks. Chasing something is a gamble and you may have your heart broken in the end. Birders are known to have something they chase. “What’s your target bird?” we’re often asked when we show up in a country or area we’re exploring. I’m not going to lie. I often have a target bird and so does Steve, though we don’t pressure ourselves or our guides to see the target, but hey, if they know where this bird hangs out we certainly would like to see it.

Target #1

On this trip I had a target bird, or rather, a target job to do: Get a decent photo of a toucan–any toucan. Of course I’ve seen toucans in the wild but the lighting was always really lousy, or the the birds were camouflaged in a tree, or they were just much too far for any decent photo, so I’d end up with just a spec in the distance.

toucan "See there, you guys? Yeah, that yellow dot.  That's a toucan!" (from our recent trip to Ecuador)

“See there, you guys? Yeah, that yellow dot. That’s a toucan!” (from our recent trip to Ecuador)

Every time we’d go to Latin America someone always has a story to tell of a great toucan shot. I know, Toucans are the obvious bird to get and to some it might seem rather pedestrian, but let’s not fool ourselves. It’s a crazy looking colorful bird and if I’m going to go back to the office with tales of my global birding adventures, certainly I should have a decent toucan shot to show, no?

Target #2

We also had another target. Well, we had a target. We found out before we left for Panama that we weren’t even going to get this one. It wasn’t a bird, but it was human: Beny Wilson, our guide we had when we were in Panama last year.  (Read my interview with Beny here.)

Unfortunately, Beny was doing a tour with Panama Audubon at the same time we were in Panama. Ah, rats!

It was killing us as we both documented on Facebook and Instagram our travels, realizing how close we were, but unable to adjust our schedules for a meet up.

Beny Lisa - FB!

Damn. It’s just like the Toucan.

So close, but oh so far

On this second day of birding in Boquete we visited the La Fortuna Forest Reserve. The drive was about two hours before we stopped at the summit at the Continental Divide, where Terry always has had good luck finding birds and there they were: two toucans in the distance, of course. Yes, far, far away for any decent shot. (sigh)

These Keel-billed Toucans are more concerned about courting than they are in giving me a close-up shot.

These Keel-billed Toucans are more concerned about courting than they are in giving me a close-up shot.

Here’s a shot of the toucans up close. (I’ve cropped in just so you can get a good look.)

Hey, there they are!

Hey, there they are!

About the same time there was a mystery hawk perched on a tree stump and  while Steve and our guide, Terry, were glued on it with their binoculars I took the time to do what I do best: I took a selfie.

On the Continental Divide at La Fortuna. Caribbean Sea in the background. #Panama

I posted this to both Facebook and Instagram where I wrote: “On the Continental Divide at La Fortuna. Caribbean Sea in the background. #Panama”

We then proceeded to the other side of the mountain and I missed this reply from Beny:

Reply from Beny

In the meantime, we saw birds and had a picnic

It was a very rainy day and normally it stops, but not on this day. At least it wasn’t really cold–not like it can be in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. It’s like when it rains in Hawaii–you really don’t mind it at all, except the birds tend to hunker down. We still soldiered on and had a relaxing morning of birding because we weren’t using any bird song playbacks and I was finding I rather enjoyed it that way.

Steve and Terry cross a stream looking for birds, of course.

Steve and Terry cross a stream looking for birds, of course.

We hung out at the small unmanned ANAM (Autoridad Nacional de Ambiente) station at Oleoducto Road where we picnicked and spent most of the morning and early afternoon because it was quite birdy. We saw the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (natch), warblers (the usual suspects), a White-crowned Parrot,and I finally got a good look at the Purple-crowned Fairy.  I didn’t take a lot of photos like I usually do mostly because of the relaxed way we were birding. In the past I would not take binoculars (I know, crazy, right?), but would look at birds through my camera lens. However, this time I came with new binoculars Steve bought me for my birthday and I was focusing on the birds so I could describe them, not to take a photo of them. No song playbacks and no pressure to get photos. Besides, it was raining so much–heavy at times–that sometimes the birds would just plain disappear and then when the rain would stop we’d see what would pop out.

And then all of a sudden this happened

We heard some toucans calling. It was mating season and they were calling out to pair up. It wasn’t the usual deep croaking, but a higher pitched squawk. There wasn’t just one or two, there were EIGHT!  I couldn’t believe it–I was surrounded by toucans lifting their heavy bills into the air, calling to the females almost in a melancholy, pining way.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan. There were eight of them in the area, all calling out with his mating call. It was pretty spectacular.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

What a special moment it was. You could wring out my heart and a puddle of joy would flow out. I not only got a good photo of the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, but also was witness to such spectacular avian seduction.

Target #1, CHECK!

And then this

It was going to be a long drive (about two hours) back to Tinamou Cottages where we were staying, so we headed back just as the sky finally started to clear.

And then we saw it. A group of birders on the side of the road.


Steve and I hollered for Terry to pull the car over. We jumped out and ran across the street. It wasn’t until Beny saw us get out of the car that his big eyes lit up and that familiar smile I missed so much took over his face.

There was more of that joy that filled my heart and more puddles around us all.


Crazy, I know!

“Panama is really more like a city,” Terry had told us earlier that day.

It is. And glad we found our friend in the city of Panama the country. Target #2—a surprising success!

Bonus video for the day

I shot this über short video while Steve and Terry crossed a stream to check out the other side for birds. (They came back with nothing to report, so I’m glad I didn’t cross the stream of slippery rocks, which was only eight feet from the top of a waterfall, guys.)  I talk about snakes. Yep. Snakes.

Click on it to get it to play.

The day’s bird list

Our bird list for the day. Lifers are in bold. (7 for Lisa and 5 for Steve)

  1. Lesser Scaup
  2. Great Egret
  3. Black Vulture
  4. Turkey Vulture
  5. Yellow-headed Caracara
  6. Broad-winged Hawk
  7. Sharp-chinned Hawk
  8. Road-side Hawk
  9. Bat Falcon
  10. Spotted Sandpiper
  11. White tipped Dove
  12. Sulphur-winged Parakeets
  13. Olive-throated Parakeets
  14. White-crowned Parrot
  15. Squirrel Cuckoo
  16. Groove-billed Ani
  17. White collared Swift
  18. Green Hermit
  19. Violet-headed Hummingbird
  20. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  21. Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer
  22. Purple-crowned Fairy
  23. Collared Araçari
  24. Keel-billed Toucan
  25. Chestnut-mandibled Toucan
  26. Black-cheeked Woodpecker
  27. Red-crowned Woodpecker
  28. Acorn Woodpecker
  29. Lineated Woodpecker
  30. Crimson-crested Woodpecker
  31. Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher
  32. Least Flycatcher
  33. Social Flycatcher
  34. Boat-billed Flycatcher
  35. Tropical Kingbird
  36. Rusty margined Flycatcher? (maybe)
  37. Rufous Mourner
  38. White-ruffed Manakin
  39. Red-caped Manakin
  40. Gray-breasted Martin (nesting together in a hole in a top of a dead Tree.)
  41. Blue-and-white Swallow
  42. House Wren
  43. Long-billed Gnatwren
  44. Swainson’s Thrush
  45. Clay-colored Thrush
  46. Tropical Mockingbird
  47. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  48. Prairie Warbler (Lifer for Lisa)
  49. Bay-breasted Warbler
  50. Mourning Warbler
  51. Wilson’s Warbler
  52. White-lined Tanager
  53. Crimson-collared Tanager
  54. Passerini’s Tanager (Lifer for Lisa)
  55. Blue-gray Tanager
  56. Golden-hooded Tanager
  57. Bananaquit
  58. Buff-throated Saltator
  59. Variable Seedeater (male western caribbean slope form)
  60. Thick-billed Seed Finch
  61. White-naped Brush Finch
  62. Black striped Sparrow
  63. Summer Tanager
  64. Eastern Meadowlark
  65. Great-tailed Grackle
  66. Montezuma Oropendola
  67. Dark Pewee