Discover the small country with the big bird list!
Tiny Panama is home to an impressive diversity of life, including almost 1000 species of birds, more than the whole of North America! This amazing biodiversity is thanks to a special combination of factors; a ‘bridge’ for migration between North and South America, with Caribbean and Pacific shorelines, and a wide range of elevations, rising to mountains at over 11,000 feet. Over half the country is forested, almost a third is protected for conservation, and few places on earth can rival such a density of wildlife in such a small area.
Amongst the amazing birdlife are many exotic groups such as Chachalacas, Guans, Tinamous, Quail-Doves, Macaws, Parrots, Parakeets, Hummingbirds, Trogons, Motmots, Toucans, Barbets, Puffbirds, Woodcreepers, Antpittas, Antshrikes, Antbirds, Antwrens, Antvireos, Antthrushes, Tyrannulets, Pygmy-Tyrants, Tityras, Manakins, Becards, Tanagers, Cotingas, Oropendolas, Caciques and Euphonias, and amongst them are numerous truly stunning birds like the spectacular Sunbittern, the incandescent Ruby Topaz Hummingbird, the dazzling Blue Cotinga and the mighty Harpy Eagle, the world’s third heaviest eagle and the national Bird of Panama! There is also the added bonus of several endemics; Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Glow-throated and Escudo Hummingbirds, Azuero Parakeet, Brown-backed Dove, Yellow-green Tyrannulet, Coiba Spinetail, Beautiful Treerunner, Yellow-green Finch, Pirre Bush-Tanager and Green-naped Tanager. Our visit coincides with an influx of North American migrants, including numerous raptors and warblers, giving an extra boost to the bird list!
Our three exclusive bases include the world famous Canopy Tower, ranked number 91 in the top 100 birding sites of the world, with a bird list of almost 550 species! With a breathtaking 360° panorama of Soberanía National Park, few places on earth offer such a comfortable way of observing life in the rainforest canopy. No wonder it is voted one of the top fifty eco-lodges in the world! Our other two bases are owned by the same proprietor, and operated to the same high standard. Canopy Lodge, in a picturesque village inside an extinct volcanic crater at a higher elevation, less than two hours from the tower, has just twelve luxurious bedrooms, while Canopy Camp offers ‘camping’ in style, in eight large safari-type tents, on platforms with chairs and private bathrooms. This fabulous location is at the very end of the Pan-American Highway, next to Darién National Park, an impenetrable jungle on the border with Colombia, where we can hopefully see the magnificent Harpy Eagle! All three lodges have numerous superb birding sites close by, and so there is no need to travel far each day, and we will be accompanied throughout this top quality tour by the lodges’ own English-speaking professional guides, who will be familiar with all the locations, their sights and sounds, and so we can hope to see 350 – 400 different birds!
Day 1 We depart Heathrow airport on an early morning flight with Iberia, via Madrid to Panama City, where we arrive early evening (to be confirmed once flight schedules are known) and take a short shuttle ride to an airport hotel. Dinner (not included in the tour price) and overnight at Riande Airport Hotel.
Day 2 After a leisurely breakfast, we will be met by our local guide and transferred to Canopy Lodge in time for lunch and a leisurely afternoon at the lodge. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Lodge.
Day 3 After breakfast, with Orange-billed Sparrows beside the dining area, it is a short drive to Las Minas, an excellent place to enjoy a wide variety of birds. The road follows the ridgeline, with sweeping vistas of forested mountains, speckled with grasslands and small fincas. The views from here are fantastic, as on a clear day near the summit, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can be seen. Specialities of the region include Barred Hawk, Bat Falcon, Swallow-tailed Kite, Band-rumped Swift, Orange-bellied and Black-throated Trogons, Black-and-yellow and Emerald Tanagers, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Green Thorntail, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, White-ruffed Manakin and the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. Orange-bellied Trogon
After lunch back at the lodge, we head to Cara Iguana Trail, for outstanding foothill birding in quality dry Pacific forest, where we hope to find Lesser and Yellow-bellied Elaenias, Yellow-olive and Panama Flycatchers, Lance-tailed Manakin, Rufous-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Tody and Whooping Motmots and Long-billed Gnatwren. Also resident are Little Tinamou, Striped Cuckoo, Dusky and White-bellied Antbirds and White-winged Becard. Garden Emerald and White-vented Plumeleteer are ‘hummers’ to watch for, while possible migrants include Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Worm-eating and Black-throated Green Warblers. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Lodge.
Day 4 After breakfast, it is a short drive to La Mesa Road, in a visually pleasing blend of forest, pastures and fincas where we look for great birds such as Blue-throated Toucanet, Spot-crowned Barbet, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Silver-throated, Golden-hooded and Tawny-crested Tanagers, Bran-coloured Flycatcher and Spotted Woodcreeper, plus ‘hummers’ like White-tipped Sicklebill and Crowned Woodnymph.
After lunch back at the lodge, we visit the nearby Water Cress Trail, which traverses good forest, framed by the picturesque forested mountains of Cerro Gaital. Top birds here include Black-headed Saltator, Great Antshrike and White-thighed Swallow, plus ‘hummers’ such as Rufous-crested Coquette and Snowcap, and we can also listen for Purplish-backed Quail-Dove. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Lodge.
Day 5 After breakfast we have a full day in the nearby Pacific dry forest with a wonderful list of birds such as Yellow-headed Caracara, Roadside and Short-tailed Hawks, White-tailed Kite, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Brown-throated Parakeet, Blue Ground-Dove, Crested Bobwhite, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and the near endemic Veraguan Mango.
We enjoy a picnic lunch at a beach at Santa Clara, where we hope to spot Least, Western and Spotted Sandpipers, Blue-footed and Brown Boobies, Franklin’s and Laughing Gulls and Elegant Tern. At Juan Hombron rice fields we may find birds like Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Pearl Kite, Common Black Hawk, Great Blue and Tricoloured Herons, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Glossy Ibis, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Southern Lapwing, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Northern Scrub-Flycatcher, Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Pale-breasted Spinetail and Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Lodge.
Day 6 After breakfast, it is a short drive to Cerro Gaital, a steep, mist-shrouded mountain cloaked in mature cloud forest, home to Black Guan, Grey-headed Kite, White Hawk, Scaled Antpitta, Spotted Barbtail, Common Bush-Tanager, Black-headed Antthrush, Slaty Antwren, Spot-crowned and Plain Antvireos, Rufous-capped Warbler, Pale-vented Thrush, Northern Schiffornis, White-tailed Emerald, Green-crowned Brilliant, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Black-faced Grosbeak and Blue Seedeater.
After lunch back at the lodge, we visit nearby Valle Chiquito. This valley passes through lovely woodlands crossed by two rivers. At Río de Jesus we search for Green Kingfisher and Sepia-capped Flycatcher, and there is a nice colony of Chestnut-headed Oropendolas, as well as Zone-tailed and Grey Hawks, Black Hawk-Eagle, Grey-chested Dove, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-backed Oriole, Yellow-billed Cacique, and Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, plus Black-bellied and Bay Wrens. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Lodge.
Day 7 After a leisurely breakfast and a last look at the birds in the lodge grounds, we board a comfortable air-conditioned van for the two hour drive to Canopy Tower, at the top of Semaphore Hill in the rainforest of Soberanía National Park, where the view from the observation deck is incredible, with a unique eye level perspective of the rainforest canopy. Many birds, including toucans, parrots, hawks and various tanagers, as well as monkeys, two species of sloths and other mammals are all commonly seen. From this vantage point you can also see ships transiting the Panama Canal, the majestic Centennial Bridge and miles of rainforest! We can also watch the hummingbird feeders at the base of the tower for Long-billed Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Violet-bellied and Blue-chested Hummingbirds, and occasionally, Snowy-bellied Hummingbird. Lunch, dinner and overnight at Canopy Tower.
Day 8 Our guide will be waiting for us on the deck for early morning birding, while enjoying coffee, tea and freshly squeezed orange juice. Some of the birds we are likely to see here include Scaled Pigeon, Mealy and Red-lored Parrots, Collared Aracari, Green Shrike-Vireo, raptors like King Vulture and Ornate Hawk-Eagle, various flycatchers, and the dazzling Blue Cotinga. After breakfast, we explore the surrounding Soberanía National Park on a pleasant walk down Semaphore Hill Road. This winding, shady road, festooned by wildflowers of many types, is little more than a mile long and crosses a large creek about half way down. The bird list here is extensive and includes birds from the forest interior as well as edge dwellers. Olivaceous Flatbill, Plain Xenops, Lesser Greenlet, Black-breasted and White-whiskered Puffbirds, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Bay-headed and White-shouldered Tanagers and Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots may all be found. This road is also great for raptors like Tiny, Semiplumbeous and Great Black Hawks, and during this season it is easy to see more than ten species of warblers and other songbirds in one morning! We catch a ride back to enjoy a delicious lunch back at the tower.
This afternoon we visit the nearby Ammo Dump Ponds which are the best place to see the elusive White-throated Crake as well as a host of other waterbirds like Least Grebe, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Purple Gallinule and American Pygmy-Kingfisher, plus Tropical Kingbird, Lesser Kiskadee and Social and Rusty-margined Flycatchers. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Tower.
Day 9 After breakfast, we board the ‘Birdmobile’ for a short drive to the famous Pipeline Road, the best place in central Panama to find forest birds, and one of the premier birding spots in the world, where the diversity is incredible! Grey-headed Chachalaca, Gartered, Slaty-tailed, White-tailed and Black-tailed Trogons, Greater Ani, White-necked Puffbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Streaked Flycatcher, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Squirrel Cuckoo, Southern Bentbill, Forest Elaenia, Plain and Buff-breasted Wrens, Yellow Tyrannulet, Fasciated and Black-crowned Antshrikes can all be found here, and during this season the road is also excellent for migrant warblers, flycatchers, grosbeaks and tanagers.
After lunch back at the tower, we visit the nearby botanical gardens, a great place for migratory warblers and other forest edge species including Grey-lined and Crane Hawks, Collared Forest-Falcon, Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Tropical Pewee, Golden-fronted and Scrub Greenlets, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Giant, Shiny and Bronzed Cowbirds. This is also the best place for Streak-headed Woodcreeper, a difficult species to get elsewhere. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Tower.
Day 10 After breakfast, we take a short ride to Plantation Trail, yet another premier birding area. This easy trail follows a small creek through mature rainforest and is a reliable place to find Golden-crowned Spadebill and Black-chested Jay, while other birds to look for include Great Tinamou, Ocellated, Bicoloured, Chestnut-backed and Spotted Antbirds, Plain Brown, Northern Barred and Cocoa Woodcreepers, Crimson-crested and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Song Wren, Dot-winged, Chequer-throated and White-flanked Antwrens, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Grey-headed Tanager, Ruddy-tailed and Royal Flycatchers, and occasionally, the endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet.
After lunch back at the tower, we take a short drive to the picturesque village of Gamboa to look at the feeders, where we are likely to see Red-legged, Shining and Green Honeycreepers, Lemon-rumped, Crimson-backed and Blue-grey Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia and Yellow-bellied and Variable Seedeaters. Next, we visit the Río Chagres, the main tributary for the Panama Canal, where we look for Green, Little Blue and Striated Herons, Pied-billed Grebe, Brown Pelican, Wattled Jacana, Royal Tern, Amazon Kingfisher, Mangrove Swallow, Barred Antshrike, Cinnamon Becard, and even Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Tower.
Day 11 We have a full day on the fabulous Pipeline Road searching for the area’s super rare specialities; Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo and Pheasant Cuckoo! Eight species of wrens, five trogons, four puffbirds, three motmots, three forest-falcons, and many flycatchers, plus Great Jacamar, Common Potoo and the unusual Brownish Twistwing are often found here, while the calls of Streak-chested Antpitta and Black-faced Antthrush will lure us in. We also look out for Golden-collared, Red-capped and Blue-crowned Manakins, always high on the list of favourites. Other possibilities include Brown-hooded Parrot, Black-mandibled and Keel-billed Toucans, Carmiol’s and Sulphur-rumped Tanagers, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Scarlet-rumped Cacique, Russet-winged Schiffornis, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner and Black-striped Woodcreeper. As we cross several rivers, we also search for Sunbittern and Green-and-rufous Kingfisher. To maximize our time in the field, we enjoy a picnic lunch ‘on the road’ with optics at the ready! After lunch, we search for yet more species, including Ruddy Quail-Dove, Marbled Wood-Quail and the elusive Wing-banded Antbird. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Tower.
Day 12 After breakfast, we depart for Canopy Camp Darién, with stops along the way in exciting birding areas. As we drive east along the Pan-American Highway, we watch for roadside birds and open field raptors like Savanna Hawk and Crested Caracara. Our first scheduled stop will be at the bridge at Bayano Lake, a great opportunity to stretch our legs and check the lake which attracts many waterbirds including a large colony of Neotropic Cormorants, as well as Anhinga, Cocoi Heron and the rare Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. We will scan the water’s edge for Pied Water-Tyrant, Smooth-billed Ani and Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. A short trail leading from the water’s edge is a great place for Black Antshrike and Rufous-winged Antwren. At another great stop along the way, the Río Mono Bridge, the forest is home to One-coloured Becard, Pied Puffbird and much more. We also scan the river for the elusive Fasciated Tiger-Heron. While enjoying a lovely Panamanian lunch in Torti, the feeders will no doubt capture our attention as Long-billed Starthroat, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango and many more join us for lunch, providing fantastic photo-opportunities. We rejoin the Pan-American Highway and continue east to arrive at our camp before dusk. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Camp Darién.
Day 13 We meet before sunrise to enjoy the sounds of the birds and a hot drink. Yellow-throated Toucans call from the towering trees, Bright-rumped Attila, White-headed Wren and Golden-headed Manakin sing from the surrounding forests, Pale-bellied Hermit and Sapphire-throated Hummingbird visit the flowers around camp, while Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Barred Puffbird are also often seen. After a hearty breakfast, we explore the forest on Nando’s Trail, hoping to find birds like Red-throated Caracara, Plumbeous Kite, Olive-backed Quail-Dove, Double-banded Greytail and Grey-cheeked Nunlet.
After lunch we can enjoy the hummingbirds and other species around the camp, dip our feet in the rocky stream or have a siesta. Then we head southeast to bird the forests and swampy meadows along the road toward Yaviza at the end of the Pan-American Highway! Bicoloured and Black-collared Hawks, Limpkin, Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Jet Antbird, Spot-breasted Woodpecker and Yellow-hooded and Red-breasted Blackbirds can all be found as we head deeper into Darién. We return to camp in time to freshen up for dinner and then gather to look for Striped, Crested, Black-and-white and Mottled Owls, as well as the weird Great Potoo, and maybe some nocturnal mammals. Overnight at Canopy Camp Darién.
Day 14 After breakfast, we head to the nearby mighty Río Chucunaque where the dry forest is a great place to search for regional specialities such as Blue-and-gold and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Olivaceous Piculet, Black-breasted Puffbird and Orange-crowned Oriole. By mid-morning, we visit the adjacent property of the Tierra Nueva Foundation, whose mission is “working towards the sustainable development of the Darién rainforest.” We explore the trails of this large property, on the lookout for birds like Yellow-breasted and Black-billed Flycatchers, Cinereous Becard, the eastern race of Chestnut-backed Antbird and the magnificent Great Curassow.
After lunch back at camp we bird along the road to Las Lagunas, which ends at small ponds, where we hope to find Muscovy Duck, Blue-headed Parrot, Ringed Kingfisher, Bananaquit, Crested Oropendola, Laughing and Aplomado Falcons and the extraordinary Black-capped Donacobius. With luck, we may also find a shy Little Cuckoo. As dusk draws near, we drive back to camp, watching for Common Pauraque and Tropical Screech-Owl along the way. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Camp Darién.
Day 15 After breakfast we visit Quebrada Felix, a newly discovered site just a short drive from camp! We follow the rocky stream through mature lowland forest in search of some of Panama’s most wanted species like Black-crowned Antpitta, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Speckled Mourner, Moustached Antwren, White-fronted Nunbird and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, with another chance for the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker. Even Crested and Solitary Eagles have been seen here, and this is fast becoming a favourite spot among guides and visitors.
After lunch back at camp, we explore the nearby open areas and mixed forests of Lajas Blancas, which offer a chance to find many Darién specialities such as Cinnamon and Golden-green Woodpeckers, Black Oropendola and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Camp Darién.
Day 16 Today’s goal is to see the majestic Harpy Eagle at a nearby nest site! We make an early start and drive to the Río Chucunaque, to board a boat for a two hour cruise along the Chucunaque and Membrillo rivers, where it is possible to see Green Ibis, Capped Heron and Chestnut-fronted Macaw as well as Howler Monkey, Geoffroy’s Tamarin and Neotropical River Otter. Once we arrive at the local community, it is a one hour walk to the nest site, where other birds include Red-billed Scythebill, Spectacled Parrotlet, Bare-crowned Antbird and many more. We take a picnic lunch with us, and there will be an opportunity to meet the local community and purchase their handmade crafts. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Camp Darién.
Day 17 After breakfast we visit Aligandi, a unique scrub forest with much to be explored. Along the roadsides, we look for Thick-billed Seed-Finch, American Kestrel and other open area birds. A Great Green Macaw nest in the canopy of a huge Cuipo tree is visible from the road, and an adult may be in attendance, or flying over as we explore the area further in search of Orange-crowned Oriole, White-eared Conebill and mixed feeding flocks.
After lunch back at camp, the afternoon is ours to enjoy the camp trails, alive with hummingbird and butterfly activity, where we hope to see Red-rumped Woodpecker, Blue-throated Goldentail and the stunning Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird. Later this afternoon we meet to review our checklist, enjoy cocktails as the sun sets, and once again listen to the calls of owls and night birds around the camp after dark. Dinner and overnight at Canopy Camp Darién.
Day 18 We have a leisurely morning at the camp before leaving for the return journey to Panama City, with lunch en route, before we check in for an early evening flight home, via Madrid, with Iberia. Dinner and overnight in flight (to be confirmed once flight schedules are known).
Day 19 We arrive early afternoon at Heathrow airport (to be confirmed once flight schedules are known).
Please not that at this stage the itinerary may alter slightly according to weather or other local circumstances.
As the lodges are small and popular, it is advisable to book promptly to secure your place(s).
What the price includes:
Return flights from London Heathrow to Panama City, via Madrid, with Iberia (to be confirmed once flight schedules are known), one night en-suite bed and breakfast at a Panama Airport hotel, sixteen nights full board en-suite accommodation, all transport, excursions and reserve entry fees in Panama, fruit juice, sodas and wine with dinner, bird checklist and the services of your guides.
Single supplement: £745
The flight time to Madrid is 2 hours 30 minutes and the onward flight to Panama is 14 hours 40 minutes. The return flight to Madrid is 13 hours 5 minutes and the onward flight to Heathrow takes 2 hours 25 minutes.
A visa is not required for British citizens to visit Panama.
It is advisable to be vaccinated against Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. Anti malarial medication is needed for Darién province.
In Panama in February, temperatures range from 22 – 32°C, and so the average is 27°C. February is the second driest month, with one inch of rain, which is considerably less than we get in the UK in the same month.
Transport will be by modern, spacious air-conditioned vehicle.
We shall be staying in three comfortable and charming lodges, in superb wildlife rich locations, with very little travelling on most days.
The birding involves easy walks with excellent photo-opportunities and we can expect to see 350 – 400 bird species in addition to many mammals, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies.