birding in the tropics
One of the highlights for most people birding the tropics is getting into the tropical rain forests and cloud forests. As you traipse through these habitats you are always watchful for birds sitting motionless in and around the dense canopy and understory alike. Members of the Trogon family are large and usually noticeable yet they can also sit perfectly still for long periods and be surprisingly difficult to spot at times. Especially when scanning the understory and canopy and even the path ahead simultaneously, you can walk by a silent still bird hading amongst leaves.
Black-tailed Trogon male,
digiscoped with Leica APO Televid spotting scope and C-Lux 2 camera
Yes, even large, colorful birds like these can be missed if sitting quietly. Motmots are usually accommodating as well, but it is still amazing at how many more of these large flashy birds you may hear compared to what you see.
Broad-billed Motmot, digiscoped in Gamboa, Panama
Most Motmot species show the distinctive racket-shaped "paddles" on the end of their long central tail feathers. These are apparently preened and groomed into this unique shape. Since these birds are primarily cavity nesters though, it is not uncommon to see these tail tips worn or broken off.
Broad-billed Motmot with severely frayed tail, showing the
broad bill for which it was named. Canopy Lodge, Panama
Raptors are occasionally seen perched as you wander around as well and I was fortunate enough to get good views of the largest owl species in Central America, the Spectacled Owl. Finding a bird like this requires a bit of luck or local knowledge of a resident pair, sometimes both as they typically sit silently by day.
adult Spectacled Owl, digiscoped in Gamboa, Panama
One advantage of visiting the tropics during the breeding season is that the local birds are often more vocal and sometimes busily feeding youngsters. In some cases as with the Double-toothed Kite below, this can work to your advantage offering closer, extended views.
adult Double-toothed Kite with food for young, digiscoped Pipeline Road, Panama
Along with the Motmots and Trogons there are numerous other bird families that are unrepresented in the temperate regions of the US and Canada. One of these many intriguing families are the spectacular Manakins. Like so many other bird species, females tend to be rather drab and often difficult to separate from each other (like the female Red-capped Manakin seen on its meager nest below).
male Spotted Antbird digiscoped at Canopy Tower
Most of these birds make a living following Army Ant swarms through the forest. These swarms of ants eat everything in their path, so small insects and the like bolt out from under leaves as they approach. This is where many of these ant-named birds come into play.
Streak-chested Antpitta, digiscoped with Leica spotting scope & C-Lux2 camera
Maybe you'll even see the living puffball on stilts, the Antpitta! It was amazing watching as this bird inflated its stomach to twice its normal size before singing its flute-like descending call.