Birding Panama: Don’t let the rainy season deter you

Nothing foils a birding morning like rain.

And not a light rain, but this kind of rain:

This was our third trip to Panama. Our first trip was during March in 2012, at the peak of bird migration. The second trip was the last week of November 2014 and this time, it was beginning of September—both of those last trips during the rainy season as was this trip. I know, not ideal, but I have the kind of work schedule that dictates when I can take time for holiday and that’s why the last two trips have been at odd times for birding. But no matter. One thing I’ve learned about the Tropics is that rain doesn’t go on all the time. But just to be safe, I always carry along hotel shower caps to help protect my camera.


That shower cap from the hotel sure came in handy.


A bit fancy

Steve and I were staying at the Westin Playa Bonita, which is not typical lodging for birders. It was a bit of a splurge this trip (we were celebrating my 50th birthday) and I was using hotel points, so the stay was free and with my status they upgraded us to an ocean-view suite and we had Club access the whole time we were there.


And they welcomed us with this treat, which we devoured when we arrived late at night after the long flights.


It’s a little fancy for birding, but I’m not going to complain.

Besides, when it’s not raining and you’ve been birding all day, it’s nice to have a swimming pool to cool off and relax in.

Toucans dripping from the trees

We were birding with our friend and guide, Beny Wilson. Beny is an excellent guide we met on our first trip to Panama back in 2012. (Read my interview with Beny here.)  We started too early for Westin to have breakfast ready for us, so we had them prepare box lunches for us, which we ate for our breakfast. We knew rain was in the forecast for the day and so we got to work immediately after the 2-hour drive to the El Valle area.

We birded this area a great deal on our last trip when we stayed at Canopy Lodge (see my trip reports from that trip: Birding in a group and mixed flocks.) But if you know anything about Panama it’s impossible to see everything, so returning to the same area is worth it.

And boy was it.

As we were birding the road in front of the Canopy Lodge and the Canopy Adventure there was a tree full of Keel-billed Toucans. In this picture see if you can find all NINE toucans.


This was the beginning of a trip filled with toucans. After three days of birding I realized I had seen more toucans in those three days than the two previous trips to Panama and our two trips to Ecuador combined.

Same with sloths. Usually we’d see one or two sloths on a trip and they’d also be hidden or in bad light. But this trip produced quite a few and this morning was no exception with this male Three-toed Sloth.

Male three-toed sloth

Male three-toed sloth with back patch

Male three-toed sloth

Male three-toed sloth

And this female Ringed Kingfisher gave us some good views. (And Kingfishers never give me good views. They always seem to fly off before I can get a snap.)


Ringed Kingfisher (female)


But then the rain came. You don’t get much time when you feel the first big drop of rain plop on you. Plop. Plop. Plop. And then down it came from the heavens.

We sat in the car for a spell and the rain wasn’t letting up, so we headed to the grocery store to pick up drinks and snacks since Steve and I hadn’t had a chance to get provisions after we arrived. The rain still wasn’t letting up and so we went to a place Beny recommended for Empanadas, which were wonderful!


Empanadas! This was the spicy beef, but the curry chicken ones were my favorite.


After lunch the sun came out and the rest of the day was wonderful. My next post will have loads of pictures of birds from our afternoon birding. (Who would have thought the afternoon could produce great birds? Well, after a rain, I suppose.)

The list

Here’s the list for this area (Camino entre Canopy Lodge y Canopy Adventure). We were only there a little over an hour before the rain came pouring down on us.

In total, 33 birds and one lifer (in bold). Not too shabby of a list for a small area and a short amount of time, wouldn’t you say?

  1. Scaled Pigeon
  2. Ruddy Ground-Dove
  3. Green Hermit
  4. Stripe-throated Hermit
  5. Crowned Woodnymph
  6. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
  7. Ringed Kingfisher
  8. Spot-crowned Barbet
  9. Collared Aracari
  10. Keel-billed Toucan
  11. Black-cheeked Woodpecker
  12. Lineated Woodpecker
  13. Blue-headed Parrot
  14. Fasciated Antshrike
  15. Chestnut-backed Antbird
  16. Masked Tityra
  17. Black-chested Jay
  18. Bay Wren
  19. Clay-colored Thrush
  20. Rufous-capped Warbler
  21. Flame-rumped Tanager
  22. Crimson-backed Tanager
  23. Blue-gray Tanager
  24. Palm Tanager
  25. Bay-headed Tanager
  26. Blue Dacnis
  27. Green Honeycreeper
  28. Blue-black Grassquit
  29. Variable Seedeater
  30. Black-striped Sparrow
  31. Red-crowned Ant-Tanager
  32. Chestnut-headed Oropendola
  33. Thick-billed Euphonia