Panama Digiscoping Trip!
Leica's first annual Panama Digiscoping workshop was a fantastic success! The group's trip list over 8 days reached 266 bird species and this was as we crept along digiscoping and taking half day trips in the AM and shorter evening trips from the Canopy Tower and Lodge respectively. Highlights include 6 Trogon species, 5 Antbird species, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoos, 19 hummingbird species, 3 Puffbird species, 4 Motmot species, 4 Toucan species, 25 species of hawks & owls, two types of sloths, monkeys, Kinkajou, and Jaguarundi oh my! While I'd love to take credit for the great success of the program, I can not. I really need to thank our fantastic hosts for the wonderful experience they provided (I'll cover the birds in subsequent blogs never fear).
A bit of history first. Canopy Tower is an old US radar site that has been magnificently converted into a very unique eco-lodge. The second and third floors provide accommodations for guests, the fourth floor is an open, common area equipped with kitchen, dining area, and comfortable seating. There is also a very complete library of wildlife tomes, and even a computer with internet access here. The fifth floor is an open air deck that sits above the canopy of the surrounding Soberania National Park.
This spectacular vantage offers unbelievable views of some of the many local wildlife species. For example, each morning shortly before dawn, the "WHoowaa" of the Mottled Owl gave way to the calls of the local Howler Monkey troops and Rufous Motmots. That was my alarm clock telling me to go hit the deck. It was a fantastic way to wake up with coffee and binoculars at the ready watching the wildlife parade go by. False Vampire Bats might swing by as troops of Howlers fed within 50 feet at or just below eye level. Scaled Pigeon, Palm Tanager, & Scarlet-rumped Caciques nested near by and were always in attendance as Keel-billed Toucans and various Amazon parrot species would perch on dead snags surrounding the tower on all sides. The vociferous squawking of Mealy, Red-lored, Blue-crowned, and Brown-hooded Parrots as they flapped low across the canopy was a spectacular site. Of course, I did say I was saving that for later, huh?!?....
Back to our hosts:
Over the past few years, I've met the owner Raul Arias de Para and some of his staff wildlife guides (Carlos & Jose) at various bird festivals throughout the US and have always felt they were very sincere individuals. Now, however, after visiting them on their home turf, my opinion is much higher. The message on the entrance mat is the real deal, and the entire staff of the Canopy Tower (and Canopy Lodge) go out of their way to insure you feel this simple message is true. Raul, is obviously passionate about insuring Canopy guests receive high quality service, and it is obvious that all who work alongside him understand this well. I definitely felt that the staff was eager to tend to every request we may have had, and from a birding standpoint I felt our guide Carlos Bethancourt was unbelievable!
After 4 glorious days at Canopy Tower we shuttled over to the 2 year old, luxurious Canopy Lodge in El Valle, Panama. The image above shows the breath-taking grounds as you first see them upon entering. The construction is beautiful, but being the birdbrain that I am, I was soon drawn to the platform feeders & gardens that produced 4 life birds for me within moments of walking across the bridge (Violet-headed Hummingbird, Garden Emerald, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, & Dusky-faced Tanager). We arrived shortly after our typical lunch time and the staff (as always) was well prepared for a group of hungry birders.