Birding Panama: Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge
At Canopy Tower, just a 30-minute drive from bustling downtown Panama City, you’re apt to be awakened by howler monkeys. Before the sun is even up, small feeding flocks begin foraging in the treetops. A short while later, you can watch honeycreepers search for fruit and nectar and hawks glide by while enjoying your first cup of coffee on the tower’s breathtaking circular balcony.
Canopy Tower is a renovated U.S. radar installation that has become one of the most recognizable eco-lodges in Latin America. The domed hilltop facility sits within Panama’s Soberania National Park and is surrounded by rainforest.
The bird list for the tower and nearby sites is nearly 600 species. During a brief stay, you’re likely to see more than 15 species of hawks and falcons, about 20 species of hummingbirds, and a dozen antbird and tanager species. With the help of the tower’s resident guides, you may see such hard-to-find species as purplish-backed quail-dove, sapphire-throated hummingbird, black-crowned antpitta, and lance-tailed manakin.
The upper level of Canopy Tower has a large, open, circular room that serves as dining area, library, and lounge. Its many windows provide a glimpse into the canopy, where you’ll likely see howler monkeys, an occasional Geoffrey’s tamarin monkey, and woolly sloths coiled around bare branches.
The unmistakable highlight, though, is the rooftop walkway that circles the old radar dome. Guests can enjoy watching and listening to the rainforest come to life all around them in the morning.
Best of all, you’ll have a front-row seat to watch caracaras, parrots, bat falcons, and short-tailed hawks glide by and kettles of raptors circle just overhead. Almost at arms length, you’ll see yellow-tailed orioles and several species of honeycreepers and tanagers, including blue dacnis, scour the canopy in small feeding flocks. The action is nearly nonstop from sunrise to midmorning.
Not all the action takes place atop the tower, however. Feeders and flowering bushes near the tower entrance attract a variety of hummingbirds. You should see plenty of blue-chested hummingbirds as well as rufous-tailed hummingbirds and white-necked jacobins and perhaps a sapphire-throated hummingbird. Photographers will enjoy the well-lit, natural perches these small birds use.
Day trips from Canopy Tower will take you to a variety of nearby habitats. Probably the most popular trip is a morning walk along Pipeline Road, a narrow, unimproved track that was etched into the rainforest during World War II. Part of Soberania National Park, the road is often considered Central America’s premier birding spot, with more than 450 species sighted on it.
Canopy Tower can accommodate about 20 guests in modestly furnished but comfortable rooms.
Canopy Lodge, a sister eco-lodge, is perched on the hillside of a caldera—a collapsed volcanic cone—that is nearly four miles across. It sits in a lush tropical valley about 60 miles west of Panama City.
Opened in 2005, Canopy Lodge is lavish compared with Canopy Tower, and features an expansive veranda from which guests can watch birds feast at platform feeders. The covered veranda is open on three sides and serves as dining room and library. The lodge has double rooms that are large and comfortable, each with a small balcony. Single rooms are available but are much less spacious.
At an elevation of 2,000 feet, Canopy Lodge’s cloud forest and coastal grassland habitats complement the birding experiences of Canopy Tower. Both facilities have several local birding guides. Day trips to nearby national parks and villages are available.
Although many birders visit Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge as part of a tour group, it’s easy to arrange a visit yourself. Several short-stay packages are available that include meals, lodging, airport transfers, a variety of side trips, and excellent bilingual guides. For more information, visit the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge websites at www.canopytower.com and www.canopylodge.com.